Thursday, April 9th – Friday, April 10th

Our last day in Beijing began with a trip to the Confucius Institute headquarters, to be welcomed by them and to express our thanks for their sponsorship of our trip. There are around 125 countries with Confucius Institutes, and over 700 Confucius classrooms (of which two are on the St. Francis campuses) The Confucius Institute headquarters has a hands-on museum of sorts, where students were able to get computer-generated pictures of themselves in Chinese opera gear, input their birthdays to obtain paper cuttings of their Chinese zodiac sign, and more. We also visited their library of Chinese-language books and textbooks.

Lunch was an array of Chinese dishes at a local restaurant (no duck this time, though) and afterward we began our shopping and bargaining odyssey. The plan was to go to the Silk Market only, but since we were ahead of schedule, we stopped first at another one with a variety of interesting items, including lots of electronics. It was a good introduction to the practice of bargaining. We were advised to begin at 10% of the asking price and under no circumstances go above 50%; in addition, it was suggested we know what we were willing to spend and then walk away if the price wasn’t met. Students and parents worked their way into bargaining and everyone felt successful. (Georges Ghali led the way fearlessly, seeming to enjoy the bargaining itself as much as whether or not he ended up with the item.) The first market was a good preparation for the Silk Market, which was six floors of all kinds of goods. Favorites included Rolexes, Beats, Nikes, and silk scarves, and Sam Borden purchased an erhu (a traditional Chinese musical instrument) so that he can learn to play it and construct his own for his Senior Project.

We ate dinner at a buffet that was essentially the food court of the Silk Market and then proceeded to Beijing West Train Station to catch our overnight train to Xi’an. The train is a new experience for most of the students (and many of the parents). We arrived in Xi’an this morning promptly at 8:00 and boarded a bus for the hourlong ride to the Terra Cotta Warriors site. (We also met up with our local guide, who brought McDonald’s breakfasts for us.) Most of the students had seen the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit when it came to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, so it was very exciting to see where it all came from! Pits 1, 2, and 3 are all accessible (2 including glass display cases of individual pieces to be viewed up close), along with a smaller building at the end that houses a real and a replica chariot.

Following lunch, we drove back to Xi’an and climbed to the top of the old City Wall. We then either walked part of or biked entirely around its 13 kilometer perimeter. The bikers in particular seemed to enjoy their time on the Wall – it was a gorgeous sunny 70-degree afternoon.

Dinner tonight is the long-promised dumpling banquet, followed by some traditional entertainment. Everyone is defin

Tuesday, April 7th

Last night’s conversations with Chinese students turned out to be a highlight of the days here on the campus of North China Electric Power University. The local high school student I mentioned yesterday did come to the session and spent time afterward with several of our girls, including bringing them a local ice cream delight as a gift. Some of the boys went to play basketball with their conversation partners afterward, and made plans to play with them again tonight.

Today, all students finished up their language classes and YCT tests; the adults took their tests as well. Students gave their teachers farewell gifts this afternoon, and then Janna took the students to a local market where they practiced their bargaining skills again. Everyone is enjoying a free late afternoon/evening before heading off for a full day of sightseeing tomorrow.

The adults’ path took them to the Lamasery, where Tibetan Buddhist monks did and still do live, followed by the Confucius Temple, a place of study and testing for young Chinese men for centuries. We also walked through some of the Hutong (alley) area, as we did yesterday as well, and browsed in a few shops. (However, other than Bob, we need the students to help us bargain!)

We spend all day tomorrow and Thursday seeing sites here in Beijing, followed by our overnight train trip to Xi’an, leaving Thursday evening and arriving Friday morning.

Wednesday, April 8th

We had a fabulous day of touring! It got off to a good start when our tour guide (“Henry”) hooked us up with individual listening devices so we could each hear him speak into a microphone as we moved throughout the sites. He told us these devices are only used for the highest level of tour groups, so we are apparently special indeed.

We began with the Summer Palace, the aptly named summertime residence of the emperors. The “Dragon Lady” (Empress Dowager Cixi) has particular influence there, as she rebuilt much of it in the late 1800s during her 48 years in power. We rode a dragon boat across the lake and enjoyed the beautiful buildings and walkways.

Following the Summer Palace, we had an arranged lunch at which the students got to try Peking duck (the adults had had it out at our lunches earlier in the week). In addition, we had dishes of chicken, shrimp, beef, eggplant, tofu, and bok choy with mushrooms, followed by several dessert offerings and then duck soup to finish the meal off.

Our first stop after lunch was Tian’anmen Square. Before entering, we saw a truly great Beijing site: the first KFC in China, built in 1989 (It is open 24 hours and has a drive-thru; Henry the tour guide says he likes McDonalds better but he does enjoy a KFC breakfast and in fact had one today). Once in the Square, we saw Mao’s mausoleum, his enormous picture of him hanging over the square, the flag ceremonially raised each morning and lowered each night, and the various other buildings around the square. (The baby Wyven also got in a shot with Mao’s picture in the background.)

Following Tian’anmen Square, we walked to the Forbidden City and saw some of the buildings and courtyards inside it. Of particular note there was the interest we garnered from Chinese tourists. Ellie Davenport had people lined up to take pictures with her, as perhaps they had never seen such a blond Westerner. Then Charlie Owen was literally grabbed and thrown into a photo with another tourist.

After the Forbidden City, we went by the Olympic Park to see the Bird’s Nest stadium and the Water Cube. This evening, we are using up all the money on our university-provided meal cards (which are luckily also good at various stores and markets on the campus), packing for our train trip to Xi’an and preparing to check out of the hotel in the morning and say goodbye to the North China Electric Power University.

First Day in Beijing

Our flights were smooth yesterday (minus the lack of movies/TV on the Detroit-Seattle-Beijing group’s long flight). We checked into our hotel on the North China Electric Power University campus and were in our rooms by 10:00 p.m. Everyone is getting the hang of boiling the tap water in the provided electric kettles to use for brushing teeth and drinking.

This morning, we went to breakfast at NCEPU’s Dining Hall #2 – options galore and I don’t think anyone spent more than 10 yuan (which is less than $2) from our prepaid meal cards. There aren’t signs next to the food so most of us are not sure exactly what we’re selecting, but it was all quite good.

We toured the campus, listened to a welcome and a lecture on Chinese history and culture, and then took the placement tests. Each student is assigned to either Group A or Group B for the classes that begin tomorrow.

After lunch (in Dining Hall 1 or 2), we boarded a bus to visit the Great Wall. Today is Qingming Festival in China, a holiday dedicated to remembering one’s ancestors and often celebrated with cemetery visits. Because of the holiday traffic, it took about an hour and a half to reach the Badaling section of the Great Wall. We all climbed the South Wall as it was slightly less crowded. Many Chinese people asked for photos with members of our group. After the climb down (arguably more difficult than going up because of the incredibly steep slope), we visited some shops and then had a buffet dinner.

Sunday, April 5th

Students began their language classes today, highlighted by a bus trip (local Beijing bus) to a supermarket! They enjoyed checking out all the offerings and purchasing mainly candy, drinks, and interestingly flavored potato chips. They had a long break in the middle of the day, and they engaged in various things during the break, ranging from lunch in one of the dining halls to basketball with Chinese students on the campus court to checking out some Chinese television, including a “Wipeout”-esque show.

The adult group, led by tour guide extraordinaire Bob Jones, set out for the Temple of Heaven. We took a bus and two subways, followed by a walk to the Temple’s South entrance. The various sites that emperors visited to make sacrifices were all beautiful, and we learned the importance of the number 9 in Chinese culture (3 sets of 9 steps up to the Circular Mound Altar). Following the visit, we happened upon a restaurant near the subway station that served Peking duck, and for the sum of 480 yuan (about $8 US apiece), dined on the duck and other dishes: eggplant, bok choy, tofu, pork, rice, and “squirrel-fish” – a fish shown to us live and then scaled, scored, and deep fried, presented with its mouth open, its tail curled up, and its body looking like (sorry, but no other way to accurately describe it) an Outback Steakhouse bloomin’ onion. We returned to greet the students bearing their supermarket purchases and ready for a dinner break before their evening classes

Monday, April 6th

Today was another day of language classes for the students, including another test (their final one is coming up tomorrow). Their evening activity was pairing up and conversing with Chinese students.

As today concluded the holiday, university students returned to campus in droves. Two St. Francis students happened to encounter a local high school student who has studied in the U.S. They invited her to the conversation event tonight and exchanged email addresses!

The students are all doing well, and have developed some basic routines during these days on campus. They have preferences as to Dining Hall #2 vs. Dining Hall #1; some like visiting the markets near the dining halls or in the hotel to purchase snacks regularly! Whoever wants to eat breakfast meets each morning at 7:30; the majority of students show up for that and generally we all go to the second floor of Dining Hall #2, which continues to have an impressive array of choices. Where they each eat lunch is up to them, and they take their major break in the day then. They have another break for dinner, but the regular dining halls only serve dinner 5:00 – 6:30, so if they are not hungry then, they can wait until after their evening activities are over and visit the third floor of Dining Hall #1, which serves “Western” food and stays open late.

Today the adults visited the National Chinese Art Museum and enjoyed the largely contemporary art exhibits. We had a dumpling lunch and then visited Jingshan Park and Beihai Park. The former gave us a fantastic view of the Forbidden City from above – it is larger than I had even imagined! We visit there with the students later this week. The latter featured a lake with gorgeous boats – gondolas and others we could only describe as round boats that resemble watermelon – and various Buddhist shrines. We feel we are getting quite practiced at the bus and subway system!

Day Two of Classes

Today was our second day of classes! We learned and practiced new material. The day’s schedule was normal with an added surprise for our night class. Students from the college came to converse and allow us to put the newly learned vocabulary to use in a real life situation. Apart from practicing conversations, we also discussed culture differences and similarities. Thank you to all of the college students who donated their time to allow us to practice our Mandarin!


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We are here!

After a long day of flying, we finally arrived safely, albeit exhausted, in Beijing. The next morning, we started the day with our first meal in Beijing in one of the university dining halls. Next was the YCT Camp Opening Ceremony, where we received an “Overview of Chinese Culture” lecture and took the initial placement exam to divide our group of students into two. After a quick tour of the campus and lunch, we departed for the Great Wall of China. Two hours later, we arrived and decided to climb the south side of the wall. Although it is a much more difficult climb, it is shorter, less crowded, and does not reach as high of an altitude as the north side. The climb was much faster than we had anticipated and was successfully completed by all who participated. We had dinner at a nearby buffet and then returned back to the university campus for a well-deserved night of rest. Yesterday was our first day of classes, and the two individual classes studied for the entire day, with a lunch break and adventure to the nearby supermarket by public transportation. We look forward to the next few days of classes before our excursions to the heart of Beijing and Xi’an.


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One week until departure!

One week from today, we will be en route to Beijing (via Detroit and Seattle for one group and Chicago for the other).  We arrive in Beijing on Friday, April 3rd around 8:00 p.m. (Louisville time, this will be Friday morning around 8:00 a.m.)  Students and parents are excitedly practicing our Chinese in preparation for the language classes.  Today we received the polo shirts and backpacks from the Confucius Institute (everyone will be getting theirs today or tomorrow).  It’s getting close!


2015 St. Francis Intensive Language Trip

Ms. Janna Chiang, Mr. Bob Jones, and Ms. Suzanne Gorman, will be leading a group of 22 students from St. Francis, and 8 parents to China on April 2, 2015. The core purpose of the trip is two-fold.  The first leg of the trip, the students will undergo and intensive language program, with the second leg of the trip being a cultural program.  The students also do sight seeing while in Beijing (Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, etc.), and then depart Beijing via overnight rail to beautiful Xi’an, China, which is the home of the Terrcotta Warriors.   Please follow their journey to the East.