China Capstone blog - updated 3/7


I am happy to be traveling with such great people who have the same goals as I do, for our children. On our tours around Shanghai and Suzhou, we are amazed by many things, like how endless the cities are, how beautifully our driver navigates the chaotic roads, and most importantly, how Hong Laoshi and the students turn our tours into a constant learning experience (with SuperGuide Frank’s help, of course!).

On Saturday, our first full day in China, we saw the highest and the fastest that China had to offer. The Jin Mao Tower is tall (1381 feet or 420 meters) and fast; the elevator travels 540 meters per minute. While in the elevator, the children took coins and stood them on edge on the floor. The elevator ride was so smooth that the coins stood fine for much of the ride. From its observation deck, we could see China’s tallest - Shanghai World Financial Center (492 meters), and nearby the Shanghai Tower is beginning construction, which will be even taller.

Then we got to experience the Maglev train. The 30km trip from Longyang Road Station to Pudong International Airport took 7 minutes, and we reached a speed of 431 kilometers per hour (268 mph). After our train ride, the students were encouraged to ask someone in the station a
question. We stood close by as we watched our students nervously ask a question in Chinese. And then with more confidence, ask a follow-up question. It makes me so proud to see my child navigate a new situation with competence!

Hong takes many opportunities to engage the students in learning. We get a lot of discrete attention as the class gathers and reads information signs in Chinese. On the bus, Hong and the students take over Frank’s microphone to ask and answer questions. Before a site, the students
answer questions that prepare them to be knowledgeable observers. For instance, on Sunday they reviewed the elements of a traditional Chinese Garden. After our visits, the students all share something they liked or found interesting about the site. Hong, the students, and Frank have a
fabulous classroom at the front of the bus.

Another of our stops on Saturday was at the promenade along the west bank of the Pudong River, which is a great place from which to gaze at the Bund’s architectural showcase. Our students’ assignment, here, was to ask 10 people along the promenade why they like Shanghai. They had already practiced this at the Maglev station, but still, approaching the people was a little daunting at first. But as Joe, Kestrel and Matt and I walked down the promenade, some college-age ladies asked if they could have a picture with Joe and Kestrel, and this made it easy for Joe to ask his
question. After that, it was easier to approach more people.

Besides their blond hair, Joe’s mastery of Mandarin attracted a lot of attention. At one point, Joe asked a fellow sitting on a stone bench his question. The man answered, and asked one in return. They had a nice long conversation. A few people stopped to listen, and then a few more, and many more! We had quite the crowd around us. In many situations, Joe’s voice is just a little too loud, but his natural tendency to project served him well on the Bund. Joe and Kestrel and classmates, including Hughes and Nina, came away feeling like rock stars. I think all the students came away from their interviews on the Bund with great confidence.

Sunday, we bussed from Shanghai to Suzhou – the garden city.

From Colette, 5th grade parent

From March 6

The sun came out in full force today - beautiful day to drop the 5th graders and Hong at the boarding school. We arrived a little before 9 am, greeted at the gate by about 25 Blue Tassel 5th graders and a few teachers. We were escorted by this entourage up the circular driveway to a meeting room, where the rest of the 5th graders were waiting. After the usual general greeting, we watched a video on the Blue Tassel School. Lauren and Katie then introduced our group. Individual TIS students were called up to give an introduction of themselves. Fisher was first up and very nervous - continually backing away from the microphone. The Chinese kids liked the pictures of Fisher's house and snowshoeing. Fisher's penpal

was then called up and he briefly introduced himself, both boys shook hands and sat down. Theo was next up and charged ahead with his presentation which included impressive pictures of his family at Mt. Everest base camp. Hughes wowed the crowd with a picture of his father standing next to Barack Obama (Marcus said he was just a senator at the time). Keiran was the last one up and with good reason - his presentation included a video of Officer Mike (aka dad) getting tased! Other presentations were well received and after each, the penpal was called forward and formally introduced to TIS 5th grader.

After this assembly, we were all given a short tour of classrooms and then went onto the dormitories. The boys, at least, were 5 kids to a room, with at most 2 TIS kids in a room. Every two rooms shared a bathroom with one western toliet and 3 squat toliets. The 5th graders and their penpals then went to their classrooms to drop their backpacks. Back down in the courtyard, we said goodbyes and walked back out to the bus. There didn't seem to be any tears on the 5th graders side, but I'm sure there were a couple of moms who were very misty!


from March 5
Saturday we first went to the Jin Mao tower. The weather and visibility were decent, so we had a great view of the city. The 88 story elevator ride was so smooth, that a 1 yuan coin placed on edge on the elevator floor did stay completely still the whole way up (each kid did try this!). Next was hot pot lunch, complete with a personal cooking apron (even the boys - we have photographic proof!), so when cooking in your individual hot pot, you stayed relatively clean.

After hot pot, we headed out for a ride on the Mag lev train to the airport and back. The trained hit 431 km/hr at 3 minutes into the 7 minute ride. The 5th grade students were then tasked to each ask another traveler why they were riding the mag lev or at the mag lev station. Most were reclucant to approach strangers, but Hughes got right down to business. With each sucessive traveler, the 5th graders' confidence in approaching a stranger, using their Chinese and being understood, increased tremendously. From the mag lev, we headed to the Bund, where Hong then assigned the 5th graders to once again ask 10 people on the Bund if they liked Shanghai and why. Again, most of the kids were reluctant at first, but carried out the assignment bravely. Lauren and Katie were quite the team, with Katie attracting attention with her blonde hair. People would ask to take their picture, but they were grilled afterwards by these two 5th graders about their thoughts of Shanghai. A short stop on Nanjing Road overwhelmed us all with the sea of Chinese window shoppers taking up the whole street. Dinner then followed at a mongolian bbq.

Sunday morning we left Shanghai at 8:30 and arrived in Suzhou at 10 in a Portland type rainy day (mist/drops/stop all together briefly/mist/drops). First up was the Humble Administrator's Garden, with is anything but humble - the place is huge for a Chinese garden. The 5th graders were tasked to find 4 different aspects of the garden - windows, doors, paths, plants, ect. The Tai Lake stones/boulders were huge and the kids all enjoyed the areas where they could climb the rocks. After lunch, we went to the Master of Nets Garden, much smaller than the humble administrator's spread, but still very nice, even in the rain. Then came the highlight of the day - a boat ride on the Grand Canal. If you ask the 5th graders, they will all tell you the best part of the ride was when they turned around - the driver ran into some lady's stone steps/porch and she was mad. Really lit into the driver and was even on the cell phone complaining!

Tomorrow is the big day at the school.