China Capstone blog - 3/16

Fisher's views on the Capstone so far:

Best activity so far: In Suzhou, making friends with my pen pal Frank. I liked the first garden we visited in Suzhou, the Humble Administrators because it's pretty and natural. In Hangzhou, the really big tea plantation was really neat, when we hiked up to the top of the hill. In Xi'an, the Terra Cotta warriors and bike riding on a tandem with my sister all the way around the city wall.

Best food so far: Rice (he's on the white food diet even in China!)

Best junk food so far: Ice cream cone at McDonalds in Xi'an.

Opinion of the squat toliets: Bad

Differences from last trip in 2007: More Terra Cotta warriors are on display, people are busier.

Most interesting thing learned so far: how tea is grown, how to paint a "farmer's painting"

Patti's commentary:

The pick up from the Blue Tassel school went smoothly. All the kids were happy to see their parents, but then went right back to their classes. Coach Rob should be impressed with our kids - there was a 3,000 meter run at the school during the week. Of all the 5th graders (Blue Tassel and TIS), Hughes came in 3rd, Theo 4th and Fisher 8th!

We went on to Wuzhen Water Village, which is a working historical site. My impression was basically a Chinese bed museum. The next stop was Hangzhou. First stop in the morning was the Buddhist Temple with 72 Buddhas carved into the river rock wall. Within the the temple itself, there was a lot of incense burning going on. The kids were able to interview a monk (Fisher says the monks there had hair!). After a short drive we went to a village owned tea plantation. After a lunch at a farmer's house, the kids interviewed the farmer about his crop. The view was spectacular - the hills were covered with terraced tea bushes. Then down the road to a tea house, where we learned about drinking green tea. We tasted the grade A stuff, but they were really pushing the Emperor's grade (1200 yuan a kilo!). We tried in vain to stop at West Lake for boat ride, but it was Saturday, the day was beautiful and the traffic horrific. So we just went on to the airport for our 7:30 pm flight to Xi'an.

In Xi'an, because of a cold front moving in, we switched around the schedule. The day started with a Sunday morning bike ride on the city wall. The west and North wall segments were basically amazingly empty of people. Next stop was the stone tablets museum, impressive for the sheer volume of carved writings. We almost missed the musical fountain near the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Huge fountain, where at noon & 2 pm, music is piped in over loudspeakers and the fountains are synchronized with the music. As with everything, when China does something, it is big and impressive. After a bus ride, we arrived at a Hu province village, which is renowned for its farmers' paintings. The kids had a lesson from a famous painter and each was able to paint his own farmer painting. There was also instruction on papercutting. A short recess at a nearby park led to a basketball game between locals & our kids. Dinner was in a farmer's house (actually 2 houses because the group was so big).

Monday was Terra Cotta warrior day. Even the 2nd time around, the warriors are impressive. So many clay figures, so much work involved in the whole layout, which still has yet to be totally uncovered. Lunch was noodles - the shaved and hand formed spaghetti like noodles. Always a highlight. The afternoon was spent at the Banpo Neolithic site. This 6000 year old village was discovered in the 50's, but it was not until the last 10 years that extensive excavation has taken place. The actual village site is enclosed in a building, so the sites of houses, fire pits and burial pits can be seen. Hong was very impressed with this site. The Tang Dynasty show capped off the evening - highlights included the mask changing man and the squeaky horn player who sounds like a cross between Mickey Mouse and a duck.

Tuesday was electrical issue day for the group. Hotel electricity was turned off at 8 am for some government testing. The hotel did have a back up generator, so the only issue was the backlog in the elevators, which stopped working for 5 to 10 minutes. The kids were supposed to go to a clay workshop first thing, but on the way, the studio called to say its electricity was completely off. So, Big Wild Goose Pagoda became first on the list. All the kids and many adults made the 7 level 255 stair climb to the top. This is the leaning tower of Pisa of China. The afternoon was spent at the Muslim quarter - first at the mosque and then shopping in the stalls and at the huge shopping mall.

That evening we took the overnight train to Beijing. Getting into the train station itself was an epic event. So many people and so much noise! Up stairs, down stairs, upstairs and downstairs again before we got to our train. We took up 7 of the 9 soft sleeper compartments. The pictures I saw of this compartment were definitely taken with a wide angle lens. The compartment was not much bigger than Alfonso's office - 2 upper bunks and 2 lower with a very skinny aisle between them. Sleep was okay, but nothing to write home about. Yes, the toilets were nasty - the western toilet worked for about an hour, then the only light blew and I think the toilet itself was clogged. Squat was pretty sticky by the morning.

Wednesday we arrived in Beijing at 8:30 to a cold, crisp and clear day. This afternoon we're off to the Lama temple.