On Saturday, March 14, 17 students and three Chinese-teaching faculty members, Shen, Latimer, and DiResta, met at Terminal E for a 5:10 PM Hainan Airlines flight to Beijing. Excitement levels were very high, though the 13-hour direct flight did drain everybody’s energy. Nevertheless, once on the ground in Beijing Sunday night, the group happily proceeded to the Beijing Hotel, located in the center of the city, while also meeting Mike, our tour guide, and Li Shi Fu, our famous bus driver, on the way. Actually being in China was almost indescribable for some of us, like Alex Ackerman, who described the country: “Like nowhere I had ever been before. I had always wanted to go there since I was little, and now I was in awe. It was breathtaking.”
Activities, food, and language immersion began immediately the next morning, as the group travelled to the Temple of Heaven for sightseeing, as well as lessons on Taiqi, Jianzi (Chinese hacky sack), and Devil Sticks. The first day continued with the Beijing ShiChaHai Sports School for Kung Fu instruction, and the old Hutong neighborhood for a rickshaw tour, along with lunch at a local house, calligraphy, Chinese Yo-yo, and mask painting. Tuesday was highlighted by a two and a half hour trip north to the Great Wall. While it was tough work getting to up to the wall (Third Former Henry Wyett claimed it was “more like the Great Haul”), the view at the top, and the beauty of walking along it, is really more incredible in person than in any photos or paintings available. Bennett Morris looks back on the Wall with awe: “It was surreal to be halfway across the world on one of the world’s seven wonders, after reading so much about it, and then finally being able to experience what embodies such a great deal of Chinese history.”
Our magnificent journey on the Great Wall was succeeded by a night in rural Hexi village where everyone learned to make dumplings and enjoyed the Chinese Basketball Association Finals with locals. The group was fortunate enough to gain insights into city life the next night, contrasting it with life in the countryside, through an evening with an SYA China student and their host family, which followed a trip to the zoo and a visit to the No. 2 High School in Beijing. Thursday morning, we were all awed by Tiananmen Square and the massive Forbidden City, before enjoying a shopping spree at the Pearl Market during which everyone tested their bargaining skill and loaded up on fake merchandise to bring home.
Following an intense afternoon of shopping and chaos, we travelled to one of Beijing’s train stations for an 11-hour sleeper train to Xi’an. In Xi’an, we were able to bike all the way around Xi’an’s ancient city wall, visit the magnificent Terracotta Warriors, the Shaanxi Provincial History Museum, and a trip to an orphanage for children whose parents are in jail. Being able to play with the kids there, aged from 6 months to 23 years old, and organize a fun basketball game, all in Chinese, was a highlight for many. A Saturday night bullet train ride back to Beijing preceded a scavenger hunt throughout Beijing, hot pot lunch, more shopping at the Silk Market, an acrobatics show, and a trip to the Night Market for scorpion, grasshopper, and other crazy delicacies on Sunday. After an early morning trip to Wangfujing, we found ourselves on a sad, nostalgic bus ride Monday morning to the airport after an amazing week, complete with so much value, fun, and adventure.