J is for Jodie’s Journeys
I am so behind on my personal journey writing. Check back soon for details concerning Steve and I’s volunteer work in Nepal and my second Fulbright-Hays Trip, this time to Bulgaria.
From My Writer’s Notebooks – My Fulbright-Hays Trip to China, Summer 2011
For me, it has now been six years since I embarked on the enlightening Fulbright-Hays trip to China and Hong Kong. While travel truly does broaden the mind and raise the spirit, it has taken me the full six years to adequately digest all that I experienced and absorbed during my first trip to Asia. It was also my first trip traveling with a group of fellow teachers. Our cohort consisted of 16 teachers, most much younger than myself. We met at the tranquil Vallombrosa Center in San Francisco for our two-day pre-departure orientation as complete strangers, but after five weeks together by the time we left Hong Kong, we had built both acquaintances and friendships that will influence many of us for the rest of our lives.
Along with the other 15 teachers, we were blessed by having two incredibly knowledgeable and helpful guides: Dr. Richard Belsky; our scholar escort from America, and Mr. Zhai, our local expert guide in China. Dr. Richard Belsky joined our group in San Francisco, and I will never be without a mental picture of Mr. Zhai’s warm smile as we arrived in China. He met us at the airport in Shanghai and never seemed to leave us. It was because of these two wonderful people that I always felt I was in good hands even though I was traveling throughout a country with such a vastly different culture.
Arriving in China after a 12-hour flight over the northern Pacific from San Francisco, we landed in the incredibly vibrant city of Shanghai. We stayed in a hotel in Pedong, where we first became acquainted with the early morning rituals of the Chinese people. As I am an early riser by nature I was able to get a great deal of writing done as I watched the locals exercising in the parks, men and women walking to work, government workers keeping the city clean by sweeping the streets with brooms made of rough natural bristles, caged birds being hung in the trees throughout the park, groups of children meeting at the hotel for special events, and street vendors setting up their booths or carts for the day. As with any traveler, the food we were offered were strangely provocative. Breakfast in our hotel was a buffet that offered many choices and always included white rice. Our first lunch in Shanghai included 100-year-old eggs and tree ear (fungus), which while I wasn’t brave enough to try, Graham (one of my fellow teacher-adventurer) said were both very tasty. Personally, I enjoyed the crunchy salty green beans that made me think of Mom and some scrumptious fried pumpkin bites.
Our days were filled with cultural / educational meeting / lectures and sightseeing excursions. They treated our group as if we were very important dignitaries in Shanghai, always wanting to show us the very best. Even so the presenters we met with seemed to try to give us as realistic view of their country and lives as possible. From Stella Zhuangyu showing us the documentary film “Please Vote for Me” at the Shanghai International University, to a blogger from Microsoft candidly discussing internet filters and restrictions on freedom of speech in China we were given proudly modern viewpoints. Dr. Ni Shixiong was among the first China scholar to be sent the US in 1979. He has visited all fifty states of the United States. In our “talk between friends” he explained China’s Foreign Policy and Strategies of their “Peaceful Rise” in peace, by peace, and for peace.
- Shanghai Urban Planning Museum. A whole museum devoted to propaganda in the form of full room size, to scale city development models and human holograms, boasted to highlight the past, present, and future of Shanghai. With the slogan, “City, Citizens, Environment, and Development” the museum is regarded as the “Window of the City” where people can know about Shanghai. I remember being in awe, yet a bit creeped out, that anything could be so well thought out and projected. The city of Shanghai was laid out with existing buildings in one color, buildings currently being constructed in a second color, and building planned for the next 10 years in a third color. With the way property is privately owned in the United States, no one (private or government) could ever begin to plan so precociously the exact destruction and growth of an entire city. At least a couple of the younger teachers were quite disturbed by the implications of the museum. It did represent a huge difference from an environment where individuals own their homes and properties and one in which everything is ultimately owned and controlled by the government.
- Oriental T.V. Tower. We walked in the stifling China heat from the Urban Planning Museum, to the plaza leading up to this ultra-modern tower. The heat was nearly unbearable and any small breeze of air was appreciated. So I suppose it wasn’t completely unreasonable for Allison (another one of my fellow teacher-adventurer) to be a bit suspicious of the colorful flags arched high above the plaza flying perfectly from the top of their high poles. The look on Rick’s (Dr. Richard Belsky) face when she suggested that the Chinese government was somehow using fans or something to make the flags blow out just right, was priceless.
- Jade Buddha Temple in the Old City of Shanghai. Our first exposure to a Buddhist environment was beautiful and strange to most of us. The temple founded in 1882 under the reign of Guangxu Emperor during the Qing dynasty is one of the few active Buddhist monasteries in Shanghai with around 70 monks who reside, pray, study and conduct religious ceremonies on holy occasions. The slow peaceful monks in saffron-colored robes were taking care of the needs of the people coming to the temple for meditation and funeral rites. The complex consists of several halls, including Heavenly King Hall, Grand Hall, Reclining Buddha Hall, and of course Jade Buddha Hall, with a central open courtyard that housed ceremonial fires and produced a transcendent atmosphere. Then near the end of our visit, we witnessed an impressive procession of monks chanting and playing musical instruments around a group of women burning boxes of things on the ceremonial fire. It was solemn and peaceful. Rick explained later that it was a common funeral ceremony.
- Shanghai Acrobatic Show – Our program simply said acrobatics. What an understatement. It was a circus type program. I literally caught myself sitting on the edge of my seat with my mouth gaping open more than once. There was a wide variety in the types of performances, but my absolute favorite was a ballet in the air. A young man and a young woman were dressed in pure white as they moved in a beautiful, romantic, and breathtaking symbiotic dance high above the stage.
- The Bund and a river cruise down the Huangpu river. The Bund is a mile-long stretch of waterfront promenade along the Huangpu River. It is considered to be one of the most recognizable symbols and the pride of Shanghai. The architecture along the Bund comprises such a wide array of Western styles, as well as Chinese styles, that it is renowned the world over as a “World Architectural Exhibition”. The 52 buildings that officially make up the Bund span Art Deco, Baroque, Beaux-Arts, Gothic, Neo-Classical, Renaissance and Romanesque styles. Shanghai boasts the largest and richest collection of Art Deco structures in the world. So while most of our group was walking the Bund, looking at all of the architecture and unique style of lighting up the buildings with led building size advertisements, I decided to take a rest. The China heat and thick pollution were sometimes getting the best of me. There were plenty of marble or stone benches shaped like large rectangles or squares that one could sit on. The mistake I made was pulling my legs up to sit with them crossed (we use to call it, sitting Indian style). This drew the attention of a young policeman patrolling the Bund, He walked over to me and without a word pointed at my feet and then back to the ground. I quickly unfolded my legs and obediently dropped my feet back off the bench and back down to the sidewalk. I thought about what the look on Rick’s face would be if he had to come rescue me from a local police station as I watched the young policeman make the same kind of hand motion to children who were climbing on the railing. The children, like me, obeyed without objection, but most of the children went right back to resting their feet on the railing as soon as the officer turned the other way or walked a little further down the Bund. I kept my feet off the bench. As the evening rolled in we climbed down another uncountable number of stone steps to board a riverboat for our cruise down the Huangpu river. The buildings along the Bund came alive with the bright led lighting against the black skyline of the night. While on the boat it was interesting that all the Chinese tourists were looking at the direction of Pedong (modern) and all the Western tourists were on the other side of the boat looking at Bund (Western-style architecture leftover from the imperial days.) Our favorite sight was the Citibank building decorated in the communist flag of China. To see the hammer and sickle right below the Citibank logo spoke clearly to the conflicting ideals of modern China.
- Visiting a Silk Worm Factory in Suzhou. China is known for its silk and Suzhou is the most famous place for silk production. We started our bus ride to the city of Suzhou with a box lunch from KFC. Along the way we passed several duck farms and listened to our local guide do standup comedy, He was actually really funny and he had the greatest laugh. Suzhou is the largest city located on the Grand Canal. I had been to a silkworm factory in Turkey so much of the story of the life of the silkworm was already familiar to me. It was when we left the factory floor area and went into the showroom that was most interesting to me. Women were pulling the silk, stretching it out until large sheets of silk were produced to fill comforters. Some of our group even attempted stretching the silk. I, of course, being the shopper that I am, picked out and purchased a beautiful silk comforter. Then we watched a fashion show and moved on to the clothing showroom. I will never forget walking up toward some beautiful silk blouses just to have a sales attendant tell me, “No sizes here for you.”
We flew on China Air from Shanghai to the beautiful mountain city of Chongqing in the southwest of China. Our comfortable upscale hotel was snuggled beneath The Peoples Great Hall in Remin Square. The city had gone to great efforts to make this a “Flourishing Education Exchange and Co-Operation and Friendship Forever Between Chongqing China and U.S.A.” Mr. Minghua Fu, the Secretary-General of CQ shared with us the mission of the Municipal Education Association for International Exchange. We also had two Chinese volunteers with us during our visit in Chongqing; a sweat young woman going into her senior year in the fall who for our ease told us that her American name was Elenor, and David a young boy who had just finished his middle school. Many of us on the trip found this to be our favorite city, and I think having these volunteers with us was a significant part of making it our favorite. David and Elenor helped us really experience some of the local perspectives on all things Chinese, and especially with China’s fascination with Mao Zedong and provided us with numerous examples of the communist party’s view of China’s history.
“Mao Zedong is 7 parts right and 3 parts wrong,” David explained to us. This was something we had, and continued to hear, during our visit to China. Mao was referred to as the nation’s father, and we were told that even when fathers are not correct they are always to be respected.
My list of highlights from Chongqing include:
- 1.Visiting the Chongqing Municipal Qijiang High School – We drove almost an hour into the “suburbs” of Chongqing to be greeted at the gate by a banner welcoming us, cheering crowds of people, the local news media, and hundreds of screaming kids. We had an escort of seven or eight education officials. The students were lined up along the sidewalks and on all four stories of their classroom building. They were excited to see us, all smiles and waves, and giggles. I can honestly say for that moment, and much of the rest of the day I felt like a rock star. The royal treatment we were given upon this visit was just one of the many examples of Chinese hospitality we experienced throughout the trip. The students all treated us like we were so important and that they were so very happy to have us in their school. While visiting the school, we were broken into smaller groups and given the opportunity to go observe an English lesson. Unfortunately, the class I visited was on the fourth floor of the school. The higher altitude and heat almost did me in before we ever made it to the classroom I was visiting. Due to the difficult time I was having breathing, several of the students were concerned and watched me to make sure I was going to be all right. Still, it was incredible to be in the classroom while a teacher was teaching to normal Chinese students. There were 60 students in the class I was visiting. They were in three rows of three or four desks the small unadorned room. I took a picture of the stacks of books piled in each desk. The students were all so attentive to the teacher. She gave multi-step instructions, gave the group time, and then had students fill in answers on the board. Many of these students were attending school in the summer to improve their English and improve their chances of scoring well on the national exams. Every year, students throughout the country are expected to take a national exam that will greatly determine which university they will attend, which will greatly determine what career they will ultimately have. Needless to say, there is a great deal of pressure put on these students to do well on the exam, and so many of these students volunteer to take extra courses in the summer. After the lesson, we walked outside to an area called “English Square” and were given free time to talk with the students, them asking us questions and vice-versa. Their enthusiasm for American culture was abundant and many wanted to get pictures of themselves with the American visitors. After this scheduled “free-time” we were treated to another presentation of local teachers and administrators.
- Our evening visit to a traditional village to observe first hand how efficient communism works. When we pulled into the village, every man, woman, and child was lined up on the road cheering, waiting to greet us. It was one of the most amazing things I have yet to experience. Again, we were made to feel like rock stars and welcomed guests. The entire village had turned out for the evening. There were seats set up in front of a stage, and we were treated to a live show of local village music performed by youth and adults. Apparently, the village specialized in traditional percussion instruments.After the “concert,” we got the chance to meet some of the villagers before we were swept down into their fields where we were given baskets and asked to pick the vegetables we would like to eat for dinner. That evening, we had the most amazing meal of locally grown vegetables sitting outside in the village, eating with the teachers from the school visit and the elders of the village.
- Visiting the Dazu Rock Carvings at Baoding Shan The Carvings, which can be dated back to the 7th century, are hand carved, detailed depictions of Buddhist and Taoist beliefs. We were up in the mountains in shaded areas going in and out of caves and rock formations, which was much more pleasant than the hot days in Shanghai.
- Dumpling Luncheon: Every type of dumpling you could think of was made readily available to us. Bonus- we were able to see how they were made!
- Celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party:- Signs, Banners, and Public Displays like the one below were abundant throughout China, not just in Chongqing.
- Old City of Chongqing: Shopping for anything Chinese.
- Taking a Dinner Cruise Down the Yantze: Food was good, company was good, views were good, and this was one of the only times wine was available….enough said.
- Family Homestay Everyone’s experience was so different from one and others. We all felt really bad for Cassie who was probably the most excited about the family stay and had one of the least pleasant experiences. The family that she stayed with had an elderly grandfather who stayed away all night and watched her. I, on the other hand, had a very pleasant, yet a bit uncomfortable visit with a very kind family. A young couple picked me up at the hotel with a small bag in their hand. The bag contained two dictionaries. While both parents spoke some English, understanding each other was a chore. The husband, Wu bo Zhu and his wife May were both teachers at a local university. Their young teenage daughter could speak English but really wasn’t too interested in interacting with me. We took a taxi and I got the feeling that the family did not own a car. They lived in a nice apartment. Any foreigner in China must be registered with the local police station if they are spending the night at a private residence, so we walked into the local police station closes to their apartment. The idea that we had to register me with the police was intimidating, but the small police stations was not a whole lot different than what we would expect in the U.S. There was a very handsome, serious-looking young male police officer at the front window. There was a kind looking policewoman at a dest behind the window with a two or three-year-old boy playing on the bench beside her. The child was very active and when he smiled his whole face just beamed, and he was smiling most of the time we were at the police station. At one point he motioned toward me and said something. May giggled and told me he had called me grandmother, but I think he had probably said something like the strange old lady. At any rate, he kept me entertained for the 30 minutes or so it took to get me registered to stay in the neighborhood overnight. Each of the police officers took me staying with a local family very seriously. They had each looked at my passport several times, looked up information on the computer, and asked questions about my purpose for being in China and their local neighborhood. The family took me sightseeing and back to their apartment where May, Wu’s sister and I washed our hands and then made fresh dumpling. Wu laughed at May and told her that her dumplings were ugly but would still taste good. I am sure that my dumplings were much more ugly than May’s, but Wu was much too polite to say so. They also took me to a very upscale hot pot restaurant, The Small Swan, for dinner and a show. I was the only westerner in the restaurant for the entire three hours or so that we were there. The show was fabulous. Women in elaborate costumes and headdress danced and sang. An MC in a sparkly silver suit jacket welcomed the guest from America and all eyes turned to me. He told me that the music reached all languages before he sang something lovely in Chinese. The showcase of the whole performance was by far the Face Changer. I had never seen anything like it. An elaborately costumed man danced around the stage, dramatically revealing changing masked faces. Sometimes the mask changed as he swept his arm across his face, but as the performance continued the face changes took place quicker and sometimes simply with the tilt of his head. It really was an incredible show demonstrating a kind of lost art, much like that of a special kind of magic.
- Peasant’s Woodprints Academy where we were shown how traditional peasant wood carvings were made. As a gift from the schools’ principal, we were all given our own unique print to take home. Again, amazing hospitality.
- Our hotpot lunch at a local restaurant that specialized in organic mushrooms. After a huge lunch of hotpot with mushrooms and chicken we were entertained by singing waitresses. This was the first time I actually saw the blacken chicken feet in our soup. It was interesting that the leaders of our group (all men) were taken into a side room with closed doors for their meal and entertainment.
- Terracotta Warriors:- It was like being in one of the movies. These guys are really as impressive as they look when you see them in movies or pictures. To go inside and see the pit of terracotta warriors and know that they had been created by the first emperor of China Qin Shi Huang, around 210 BC with the intent that they would protect him in his afterlife was truly otherworldly. It is mind-blowing to think that this whole life-size army was standing watch underground for so many years. Having only been discovered in 1974 by local farmers who accidentally came upon them, they spent more time buried than above ground. It really makes you wonder what else is buried in the earth just waiting to be rediscovered.
- Visiting the Xi’an Great Mosque and Muslim Quarter: I love walking soaking up the life and culture found only in some of the older sections of cities, and so the Muslim quarter was the perfect place for me to ramble along. The Xi’an Great Mosque dates to 742 AD and is a huge architectural complex. We walked through an old wooden archway as if we were entering an ancient world. Once was not enough for me, after our first group tour, I had to return to the Muslim Quarter for some shopping on my own. Located behind the Drum Tower, the Muslim Quarter is an ancient part of the city that prospered during the hight of the Silk Road. The streets and alleys are filled with vendors selling all types of souvenirs, and services such as haircuts and dental work. This was one of the largest market bazaars I have ever seen, and of course, It was from here that I took a city bus back across town to our hotel. I had so many bags filled with all of my purchases and it was during the evening rush hour when tired workers were taking the bus home for the day. Still, they were very patient and helpful to the funny American lady who couldn’t speak any Chinese and didn’t know where she was going.
- A visit to the Buddha lamasery: Tucked away, behind Xian’s City Walls lies this Tibetan Buddhist lamasery. When we first arrived we were personally greeted by the Vice Abbot, who thanked us for coming and personally welcomed each one of us with a khatag, a long white scarf that is traditionally used to welcome and farewell people in Tibetan Buddhism. We were given time to walk around, spin the prayer wheels, light a prayer in the main chamber, and afterwards, he invited us for salty tea. Everyone else in our group tried to act like the tea was good, but it was horrible, not like anything we drink intentionally in America. The Buddhists were so generous and kind. They gave each one of us a bag that included a boxed prayer bead bracelet from the lamasery, as well as a prayer flag and a book. There was a very nice shop on the way out of the lamasery and after selecting several things I was informed that there was no charge for anything in the store.
- The Old City Wall of Xian – Many of our group road bikes around the top of the city wall. I watched a large group of middle-aged Chinese women learning an umbrella dance in the courtyard below.
- Our visit to a Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital was another one of my favorite experiences in China. We were each asked what health issue we would like to be treated for. Some of the other teachers said things like headaches or sinus problems. I looked at Dr. Wong, a very handsome young doctor with an infectious smile and told him my problem was, “my big belly.” He looked very serious and told me that obesity is a big problem in China as well. I don’t think I say 10 overweight people during my entire visit to China. Still, he directed me to one of the small exam, treatment rooms. I was laid on the table, on my back and instructed to pull up the bottom of my shirt and lower the waistband of my pants to expose my belly. The next thing I knew the doctor was inserting three very long needles into my belly, and one in each arm about three inches above each wrist. I didn’t even really feel the needles in my belly, but I could definitely feel the movement of energy along both of my arms. They left the needles in place for about forty minutes. Interestingly, during that time the doctor told me to find a place to keep up the acupuncture at home for the next several weeks, to exercise and watch my diet to cure obesity. They gave me the five needles to take home with me as souvenirs of my visit to the traditional Chinese medicine hospital. We also visited the herb pharmacy. There were draws full of various herbs and dried animal parts. A doctor writes a patient a prescription and then the pharmacist weighs out and blends the perception combinations.
We took the night train from Xian to Beijing. Having always loved traveling by train, I was especially excited for this part of our adventure. Although it began with a long wait in a very crowded train station, it was another chance to mingle with and talk to many Chinese people. As we had found all over China, the average citizen was very interested in the American tourist. They wanted to talk with us and had so many questions. Once on the train, there were four of us women in one very small sleeping car. Our first thought was that the four of us and our bags were never going to fit in the space. It is amazing just how much really can be stowed away in one of those compartments. Many of the younger members of our group drank and socialized most of the night. I was probably one of the first to climb up into my berth and get some sleep. I dozed off to the sound of jokes and laughter as many of my new friends were drinking wine and buying beer from the food service car. Unfortunately, the rocking and rolling of sleeping on the train didn’t agree with me and by the time they came around to serve coffee just prior to our arrival in Beijing I wasn’t feeling well. The rush off the train and out through the crowded train station was definitely a struggle for me, but the rest of Beijing was incredible.
- The Great Wall: I know I’ve mentioned movies before, but I think really visiting The Great Wall of China was one of the coolest things I have ever done, and I felt like I was reliving every movie I have ever seen filmed atop of the enormous structure. It really is just like it is in the movies. You can look in any direction and not see any end to the wall. There are actually multiple places to visit the Great Wall, our group drove about an hour outside of Beijing to the Mutianyu section of the wall; it is slightly less crowded than the Badaling section, which is right outside Beijing. We didn’t have a perfect sunny day, in fact, it was gloomy and muggy, but the experience was so amazing that nothing could have taken away from the experience. We all stopped in at the local Subway and purchased sandwiches to eat either before going up the wall or for a picnic once up on the wall. You could hike up a ridiculous number of steps or take a ski lift up to the wall. I, of course, took the lift. It was the calmest, most peaceful gliding ride high above the treetops. From the observation deck, you had a choice to climb up stone stairs to the top of the wall on one side or to climb down a much longer steeper set of stairs on the other side. Both options took you to different points on the wall. Once on top of the wall, you could choose to walk in either direction, quite literally for miles. It was truly one of the most majestic sights I have ever seen, the Great Wall of China stretching out, winding up and down the contours of the mountains for as far as the eye could see. Then the ride back down from the observation deck was a whole new experience for me. I rode the Speed Chute toboggan sled. It was incredible! Holding the handle down sped you up, pulling the handle up slowed you down. You leaned into the curves and raced back down the mountain. It was like the Chinese version of a theme park thrill ride combined with one of the greatest wonders of the world. My only problem was not speeding down so fast that I ran over the woman in front of me. I loved the rush and the speed of the ride almost as much as I had enjoyed the slow calm ride up the mountain.
- Visiting a Hutong: After the bus ride back into Beijing, 0n the same day we visited the Great Wall, we went on an afternoon tour of a Hutong around the Drum Tower. A Hutong is an old Beijing neighborhood built along an ancient alley or lane, that if it were not for tourism at this point, would probably be torn down. This is where many average Chinese families live. The Hutongs are made up of narrow roads and alleyways that connect a series of courtyard homes. Courtyard homes are small cement homes that open up to a shared courtyard in the back. After taking a ride through the streets in a cycle rickshaw, we had dinner in a hutong family’s home. We were greeted at the door of one Manchurian family for dinner in their home. We never saw the wife after we first met her, (presumably she was cooking the whole time), but the father enthusiastically shared with us his love of Kung Fu, showing us some moves and a video of his oldest son, Weichao Liu who made the news in the U.S. for coaching and giving lessons. He was the national WuShu champion prior to becoming the head coach of the Houston Gymnastics Academy in the U.S.A. The father played a musical instrument, told incredible stories, and showed us a few WuShu (Kung Fu) moves. He shared with us that he had been trained by the same coach and had been on the same team as Jet Li. Now he is the WuShu coach at the local school not far from his home. He and his wife were allowed to have two children because they are Manchu. His younger son helped serve our dinner. Mr. Liu explained that his family had owned the quadrangle (home or block of homes) for five generations. He would not want to live anywhere else and would not sell for any amount of money. I think I liked Mr. Liu so much because he reminded me of my uncle Jay. He had a rougher kind of handsomeness, was proud of his family and his simple working man life. A couple of years after our visit, I read an article in the New York Times talking about the struggle of the Chinese hutong families to keep their neighborhoods the way they are. The article entitled “Beijing Favors The Fake Over the Authentic in Architecture” featured comments from Mr. Liu. Two paragraphs of the article read: “But not for Liu Jinmin. Liu, a retired martial artist in his late 50’s, was born in a hutong near Gulou. He now lives in another one with a dramatic view of the stone Bell Tower, where he hosts tourist groups for lunch. In exchange for moving out, Liu has been offered a high-rise apartment an hour and a half away by bus, beyond the Fourth Ring Road – far from the hospital his elderly father visits, the sports school his sons attend and the spot right outside his door, where his friends gather to play mahjong. Liu believes that destroying the hutongs means destroying the fabric of old Beijing life. Every household has its stories. Once ordinary people leave, the culture that goes with them will leave, he told me a couple of weeks ago. Liu isn’t going anywhere: He said he had spent two months in prison for protesting the destruction of his previous courtyard home. It was torn down anyway.
- The Imperial Palace: We visited the Imperial Palace on Wednesday, July 27, 2011. This was also the day I left my camera in the park and lost all of the incredible pictures that I had not yet downloaded. So, I was a bit distracted, wanting to kick myself for just walking off and leaving my camera set, I still loved the scope and complexity of the Imperial Palace complex.
- My Tailor Made Silk Chinese Dress: I picked out the silk, the style and was measured. They did the rest. It is a beautiful classic Chinese style outer dress coat of black silk with a vibrant red silk print on the inside. I love it.
- Going to the Beijing Opera: Even though the opera in Beijing has become somewhat appropriated to modern culture, there are still a few that exist in the traditional form. We were fortunate enough to go to one of these old opera houses, which actually also served as the meeting place for the KMT Nationalist Part in the early 20th century. The open center courtyard of the old building was its self very interesting. There happen to be heavy rain along with a thunder and lightning storm going on outside. We were treated to two shows; the first was about a woman trying to find her lover on the river, the second; “Monkey King Wreaks Havoc in Hell” was one of the most entertaining live performances I have attended. I laughed so hard and truly enjoyed the evening.
- Peking Duck at one of the true old Peking restaurants was quite a treat. The duck was crispy and actually very good.
- Eating at “Mao’s Red Bay restaurant”: This was a Cultural Revolution-themed restaurant! It was decorated with cultural revolution posters and served all of Mao’s favorite dishes, enough said.
- Tiananmen Square: While impressive, this was more of a stop for the social study teachers. I can say I have been there.
This concluded the official part of the Fulbright-Hays trip to China. However, leaving the mainland to visit the optional add-on of Hong Kong made the trip complete.
Our Hong Kong hotel had an incredible view of the Hong Kong Harbor, was incredibly relaxing, and a great step back into a more familiar world.
- Lamma Island – We took a 20-minute scenic ferry ride out away from the high rises of Hong Kong to the rolling green peaks of the beautiful lush Lamma Island. Once on the island, we walked to a beautiful beach about 25 minutes from the ferry.
- The Peak – Our group’s last meal together was on the terrace of an amazing restaurant on The Peak. We overlooked the breathtaking view of Hong Kong and the surrounding islands. Our meal began just as the sun was beginning to go down leaving the perfect mix of soft bright light and accroaching gray shadows across the cityscape and over the tips of the far mountains. There was a quiet little fountain in the center of the terrace. As the pinks of the sunset slowly evaporated into darkness, the full magnitude of the enchanting beauty of the lit Hong Kong skyline settled in and around us.