March 22, 2015

Our last full day in China began as usual with a delicious breakfast in the hotel before heading out to the Great Wall. A couple of travelers needed a Starbucks fix before departing and ventured across the street for some caffeine. None will ever complain about the price of a cup of Starbucks on the island as one cup in Beijing was $5.00. We drove out of the city toward the mountains north of Beijing.

The Great Wall was built to protect the country from Mongolian enemies to the north. The Mongols were known to terrorize the 7 kingdoms in what became China, so the first emperor of unified China had the wall constructed to connect ancient walls that were previously built as fortification. The emperor’s goal was to connect the old walls to make solid wall from the ocean in the east to the Gobi Desert in the west. Our guide told us that the wall runs for 22,196km but is not a continuous wall today. Castles, fortresses, and posts served as defense of Beijing, the capital. From 221 BC built to the 16th century, reconstruction of the wall took place and kept out the Mongols for the most part. In 1291 Mongols broke through part of the wall and occupied China for 99 years. The Wall divided China from Mongolia, but today the other side of the Wall is called Inner Mongolia and is part of China. What was known as Outer Mongolia is technically the independent country of Mongolia. Soldiers worked three year terms on defending the wall. They built fires of manure that burned dark smoke to indicate to other soldiers on the wall if Mongols were attacking. One fire indicated 500 Mongols in the attacking horde. We began our ascent up the 1700 steps-yes, 1700 steps—both ways, at 11:00 AM. Sufficient time has passed so the author, who runs many miles a day, is able to A.) breathe, B.) take a step without knees buckling, and C.) type without concerns of vertigo. All kidding aside, it is the most strenuous hike most of us have ever encountered. Mother Nature was kind to us with sunny skies. The wind was brisk in the mountains, but fortunately the steps (all 3.400 of them) were not slick with rain or the view covered in haze. The day could not have been nicer. We layered on the clothing and hats at the outset as the wind was chilly despite the sun. Layers shed and pounds dropped in sweat as we made our trek up the Ju Yong Pass section of the Great Wall. Not to brag but the author did reach the top ahead of the much younger, more nimble travelers. (25 minutes, but no one was keeping track of the time!) Of course, many of us celebrated our conquering of the Great Wall of China with some snack, souvenirs, and soaking up the sun in what Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack called “the good side of the Wall.”

Lunch after our climb was delicious but the location was a bit suspect. It honestly was one of the students’ favorite lunches, but should be filed under the category “Wouldn’t walk in here unless a Chinese guide named Grace assured us it was safe.” We then visited the Ming Tombs built between 1409 and 1644 for thirteen emperors’ burial sites. In addition to the thirteen imperial tombs, there were burial tombs for 13 concubines and one eunuch. (Side note-the students are quite well-versed on the concubine/eunuch duties and lifestyle after their myriad questions on the subject at the Forbidden City a few days ago.) Before returning to the hotel, we stopped at the Olympic Park for a quick walk around the park to admire the incredible architecture of structures such as the Birds Nest and the Hydro Cube. Our final dinner in Beijing was at restaurant Mrs. Perolio knew would provide a memorable dinner to wrap up our China trip. Packing has begun with careful planning to how to store Chinese swords, Rolex watches, and fashionable “fur” hats. I’m sure we will be a spectacle as we deplane in Palm Beach.

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March 21, 2015

Today we stepped back in time with a visit to Beijing’s Hutong district. Hutong is a Mongolian term for water well. This particular district of the city is 700 years old. Originally only the rich lived here in the Ming Dynasty. The homes were known for their large courtyards. The present Hutong district is 4000 square km. nad home to 10000 families in the community. Virtually no home within the Hutong district has its own bathroom facilities; residents of the community use communal showers and restrooms outside of the home. Once we arrived at the Hutong district, we met our guide for the area who secured rickshaws for the group, and we were transported deep into the alleyways of the Hutong. The smells, sights, and sounds of the alleys cannot be described with words here in the blog. There is Palm beach traffic. There is I-95 traffic. And then there is rickshaw traffic!

Our destination was the home of Cricket Man. Cricket Man raises all kinds of birds, lizards, turtles, grasshoppers, and crickets. One of the birds greeted us with "ni hoa!"His prized possessions are his fighting crickets that he claims are more valuable than horses. (They only live 100 days so my money is on a horse, but…) Cricket gambling is popular in China, and there is actually a cricket fighting season, which is in the fall. He spent a lot of time showing us the many newspapers and magazines in which he has been featured-including The New York Times. He demonstrated the homes for his crickets and special tools for picking them up to avoid breaking their legs. His interpreter said the crickets fight against other crickets of the same weight. (I must pause for a minute to express the fact that I can't believe I'm typing a report on the sport of cricket fighting!) He even has a tool to train the crickets-much like a baton or wand to train an animal. Small bowl serves as the arena for the fighting events. (Again, I’m not making up this information for the blog.) Crickets live roughly 100 days; he even has coffins for the best crickets. There are special markets in Beijjng to buy crickets if a person does not raise his own. Grasshoppers, on the other hand, live 200 days but are not used for fighting. He raises them simply for their peaceful singing. While cricket man demonstrated his passion for his crickets in the sitting room/dining room of the house, his wife's cooking filled the house with amazing garlic and spices as she prepared our lunch. A quick couple of steps out of the dining room through the bedroom and into the spotless kitchen revealed where the amazing aroma originated. Our lunch was the best lunch we had on the trip. The author seemed to devour the majority of the plate of tiger beans which were similar to a fried or popped kernel of hominy. Alfi did his best to guarantee our table would have not a speck of food on the plate of dumplings and fried eggs. Everyone agreed that experiencing a local’s home AND enjoying a home-cooked meal was another highlight of the day.

After the rickshaws returned us to our bus following lunch, we traveled back across town to meet children from an orphanage at a local park. Like so much of the trip, mere words on a page cannot convey the emotional impact of the day to day experiences here in China. Please try to imagine how squeals of laughter and smiles enabled our students to talk with our friends from the orphanage. We painted, threw Frisbees, kicked balls, and chased one another through the park. How proud you would be to see the students jump in and take the hands of the children to throw a ball and start a game. I can't tell you how impressive our students are who looked past language, customs, and disabilities to create a memorable day in the park. It reminds me of something we showed our 8th graders in HGD from Ted Talk. The speaker addressed the notion that we always ask ourselves, “Where did the time go?” or say things like, “I can’t believe another year has passed” because we only remember the events in our lives that truly have meaning and seem to happen only once in awhile. If asked to name how many days in the past few years we actually remember, the number is often quite low. There is no question that March 21, 2015 in a dusty park in the inner city of Beijing will be one of those days for a handful of students from PBDA and some very special children from an orphanage in China. The children from the orphanage seemed to always want to hold a hand. Simple, undivided attention should never be underestimated.

Dinner back at the orphanage was carryout from KFC that the author retrieved with the assistance of Dion and a staff member at the orphanage. It involved gridlock traffic, an automobile resembling a van, a lot of pointing, a few side streets that most certainly are not to be found on Google Maps.


March 20, 2015

Beautiful morning. Sunny, spring-like weather. We began the day touring the Summer Palace built in 1755 for use by the emperor from April to November.

Many items painted yellow as it is the royal color of the emperor. Other symbols throughout the summer palace are the phoenix which symbolizes the empress and the dragon which symbolizes the emperor. As we walked down to the lake at the summer palace, we noticed some elderly gentlemen using an enormous calligraphy brush to draw characters on the slate sidewalk. We watched them for awhile then they asked our students to demonstrate their calligraphy skills.

David, Martina, and Isabella showed how hard they've worked in Mrs. Perolio's class and received loud applause from the Chinese tourists in the garden for their calligraphy!

David was quite popular as throughout the day with many tourists who took turns taking pictures with the "blonde American."

After a delicious Chinese lunch (similar to what we’ve been served throughout the trip-but probably the best lunch so far), we visited Tianamen Square in the afternoon. Tianamen Square is adjacent to the Forbidden City. The Square measures 800 x 500 meters and contains the Great Hall of the People where the president works as well as the national congress. The National Museum of China and Mao’s mausoleum are also in the Square. We crossed through the Tianamen Gate into the Forbidden City under Mao's portrait.

The Imperial City surrounds The Forbidden City where the guards lived to protect the emperor. There are nine gates into the Forbidden City; we entered by the Dragon Road that is the main axis of the Forbidden City.

This road was only used by the emperor. Not even the empress could use it. She was only allowed to use it once in her wedding day. Inside the Forbidden City there 9,999 rooms covering 720,000 square meters. One million workers worked 15 years to build the Forbidden City between1405-1420. After leaving the Forbidden City we enjoyed a short bus ride back to the hotel to shower and change clothes before leaving the Regent Beijing on foot for a delicious dinner.


March 19, 2015

We began an incredible day with a stroll along Wangfujing Street which is the major shopping street in Beijing.

It is home to numerous watch and jewelry stores as well as countless designer shops and electronics stores. We window shopped our way to a side street where only a few of the vendors were open for business as most of them stay open til past midnight. We were enthralled by the Mongolian barbeque vendor who had specialties like skewered scorpions, crickets, and starfish. Bowls of tripe were also available for the brave.

The scorpions on a stick we will call them were all moving and crawling awaiting their turn on the grill. Many photo opportunities-but no purchases! We walked to the intersection of Wangfujing and Chang-an Avenue where the Beijing Hotel sits. This was the site of Nixon’s farewell thank you dinner in 1972 after his historic meetings with Mao to open relations between the two nations. We noticed a heavy police presence on all intersections in this part of the city. We were told that there is police presence on a regular basis, but there is a greater on right now because the national Congress just wrapped up its annual meeting here in Beijing on March 15th. Mrs. Perolio took us into a mall along the shopping street on our way back to the hotel where everyone shopped for Chinese candies. Virtually everyone bought white rabbits (capable of pulling out the best of dental work) and the famous coconut candies. Something as simple as purchasing candy proved to be an education experience as the students had to select the candy they wanted, have it weighed by an employee, get a receipt for it, take the receipt to another part of the store where a different employee (one we were told was better with numbers than the sales clerks) accepted payment for the candy, accept a proof of payment, return to the sales clerk who was holding the bags, then finally get the candy to enjoy later-hopefully saving some to share upon return to Palm Beach.

We came back to the hotel and changed into uniforms for our visit to Mrs. Perolio’s school, Yu Ying School. On our way to the school we drove past Tianamen Square, the largest square in the world. Grace, our guide, told us that Beijing has been China’s capital for 800 years. When we arrived at the school we were greeted by students who had competed to be our hosts and hostesses who gave us a tour of the school campus where 5000 students attend.

It is considered to be the best school in all of China. The students were on their hour recess in the middle of the day when we arrived so some of our students enjoyed pick up games of basketball with the Yu Ying students. An interesting observation was that not one teacher could be seen on the campus supervising the 5,000 students engaged in activities such as soccer, roller blading, basketball, ping pong, and hanging out with friends. The students all wanted to know if the Chinese students were always so well behaved and not in need of adults to monitor them. We attended calligraphy class, math class, and English class with our hosts and hostesses.

In one group, our students painted Chinese masks and learned about the importance of tea in the culture.

Chinese students played instruments while others served us tea and presented us with calligraphy art.

They learned we had not eaten lunch yet and immediately brought out plentiful snacks to enjoy while we interacted with our new friends. Without question, this is the highlight of the trip thus far. Both Chinese and American students truly enjoyed spending time together and sharing stories from each others’ schools. Our students were amazed to learn that students at Yu Ying are on campus from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM. The Chinese students were captivated by pictures we shared of our small classes and our proximity to the ocean. Before leaving both schools’ students “replanted” the friendship tree planted originally several years ago on a previous visit. It is our hope that some students and teachers from Yu Ying will be our guests at PBDA very soon! The students did a quick change of clothes on the bus to get out of uniform and prepare for the craziness that is the Pearl Market-what an education we all received today. It’s a shame we can’t post videos to this blog of the students’ bargaining skills.

While we were all excited to find many things we didn’t know we needed, it was the thrill of the bargain that electrified the students. At every turn, students were comparing who had the best bargain and who got the vendor to knock off the most money. Our time in the Pearl Market will most likely mean additional fees for checked luggage, but maybe with our new bargaining skills we can get the airline staff to give us a deal! Our busy, rewarding day culminated with a delicious Peking Duck dinner. We learned that this now famous dish was at one time only consumed by the emperor and his wife. Now there are literally hundreds of Peking Duck, or Beijing Duck as it’s known here, restaurants in the city. No food went to waste tonight-and our chop stick skills are showing tremendous signs of improvement. Reflecting on the day on the bus ride back to our hotel, we all agreed that having the opportunity to meet teenagers from the other side of the world not only made a lasting impression on all of us, but it reminded us of how important it is to take time to learn as much as we can about those whose culture, language, and customs differ from our own so that we can also appreciate the important similarities in our lives.


March 18, 2015

We enjoyed a lazier morning today since we flew to Beijing for the final leg of the trip. Another outstanding breakfast in the hotel before shipping off to the airport in Xi An for our 90 minute flight to Beijing.
Flight was on time. Flight was smooth. All luggage arrived. Grace, our guide, met us on time.
Can't ask for more than that. The ride from the airport to our hotel took about an hour in heavy traffic. Immediately we noticed the lack of smog and pollution we experienced in Shanghai and Xi An. Nice "refreshing" change.

We drove past numerous embassies on the way to the hotel as our location is in the heart of the government and business center of downtown. Dion, our local contact in the city, reunited with the group at the hotel.
He has been with PBDA for many trips to Beijing and will be with us when we visit the orphanage later in the stay. We passed on hellos from teachers who know and love Dion. Outside our hotel rooms windows it looks a little like a mini Times Square. The group settled into fantastic rooms before a pizza party in Mrs. Barbieri's and Mrs. Perolio's room. The group is meeting soon for a night swim in the hotel's spectacular pool to wrap a relaxing day. Tomorrow will be a busy day with market shopping and a visit to Mrs. Perolio's school in Beijing.


March 17, 2015

March 17, 2015

We were not disappointed with our hotel in Xi An this morning as we had a delicious breakfast with plenty of choices including many Korean dishes and numerous noodles made from the local grain, wheat. This morning we learned more information about the city of Xi An. Eight million people live here. There are eight rivers and numerous mountains surrounding the city giving the city good feng shui. Xi An has 46 universities. School is free here for the first nine years. High school and university cost money. High school students go to school on Saturday for exam prep to compete for the limited spots at the universities. Another interesting note about the city is that no cabs operate in the city between 3-5 PM so drivers can switch cars to the next driver. Our guide Sam informed us that thirteen different dynasties built capitals in the city throughout history. The first dynasty was that of Emperor Qin Shuhuang. He was prince of his kingdom, and his father was the king. Qin conquered the seven other kingdoms and unified them under one dynasty. Emperor Qin was very arrogant and made rules without any input. He thought he was right all the time. He was cruel, and he killed those who questioned him. Qin even had scholars burned alive with their books for questioning him. Prior to visiting the Terracotta Warrior Museum, we visited an exhibition to see how the terracotta warriors were made 2,000 years ago.

In 200 BC - 2000 years ago- artists came from all over China to make the terracotta warriors. Heads, arms, and legs were made separately in molds and then joined together and painted. They held real weapons in their hands in the vaults. Workers were punished if the warriors broke in the kiln. 200,000 workers worked 10 years to make 8,000 warriors and horses buried in the vaults.

Clay used to make the warriors was mixed with rice water to make it soft and sticky. One theory to explain why the warriors were made stems from the emperor’s superstition and that they were needed to protect him in the afterlife. When the warriors were finally completed, he gave the order to kill all of the workers to keep the secret of how they were made. Roughly 1/3 of the workers were killed, and the other 2/3 escaped. Later a rebellion took place after emperor’s death, and some of the escaped workers burned and damaged the statues to get posthumous revenge on the emperor. Soon after this the dynasty declined. It was the first and shortest dynasty in Chinese history. But much was accomplished under Qin’s rule. In addition to having the thousands of terracotta warriors built, he ordered the Great Wall to built where many perished constructing it.

Some positives, however, of his dynasty are he standardized the written Chinese language, currency, and measurement. He also started building roads. (Xi An would later be an important entry point on the famous Silk Road.)

There are three important aspects of the warriors to note when visiting the museum. 1) The faces of the soldiers are all different. No two are alike. The faces are the faces of the real workers who made them not those of the soldiers. All of the warriors have mustaches because the emperor thought this made the soldiers look brave. The faces were each made by hand whereas the body and limbs were made in molds. 2) The height of the soldiers averaged between 5-6 feet. Real soldiers from the time would be smaller. They were made to look taller and stronger to symbolize power. 3) Details of the warriors include features such as hair, wrinkles, armor, and shoes. Speaking of shoes, we noted that the archers’ shoes had ribbed soles much like an athletic shoe of today to help him grip the ground when running. If shoes on the warriors curved up on the ends it indicated a higher rank. Shoes that were flat indicated a lower ranking soldier. Farmers found clay fragments in 1974 while digging a well. They sold the fragments to a market having no way of knowing they were from the terracotta warriors and horses buried 2,000 years ago. Excavation began in 1976, and the museum opened in 1979. We were fortunate to meet one of the four farmers who discovered the site.

He was at the museum signing books for visitors. Before lunch and after a documentary film about the accidental discovery and excavation of the site, we visited pit 1. Lunch included noodles from the region. The long noodles symbolize long life for those who eat them. After lunch we visited pits 2 and 3 as well as a section of the museum housing two bronze chariots. A few of our travelers provided entertainment for myriads of international visitors to the museum today by demonstrating their unprecedented talent. Videos and photos were taken of these street performers who resisted the temptation to put out a hat to collect coins.

One final note on the emperor. He was buried two miles west of the soldiers in a mausoleum that covers 56 square miles! Before returning to the hotel, we stopped at the Wild Good Pagoda.

Built in 652 AD to house the Buddhist sutras brought back from India, it is home today to monks. We visited several Buddhist shrines

as well as Happy Buddha where legend says if you rub his stomach you will have good luck, and if you rub his ears it will bring you intelligence. (We encouraged much rubbing/scraping of the ears before departure!)

Within the grounds of the pagoda there is an ancient calligraphy school where we saw a demonstration on the art form of calligraphy. Tonight’s dinner was an international buffet at the hotel with a vast array of options. There was a band playing in the dining room while we ate. Our talented sixth grade girls got on stage and performed beautifully after our dinner.

What a great example of a Lollipop Moment to borrow a phrase from our Link Crew activity a few weeks ago. The girls sounded fantastic and represented PBDA very well.

And their teachers could not have been prouder!!! They had a huge following of international guests at the hotel who were taking pictures and videos of their performance. Off to Beijing tomorrow.

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March 16, 2014

Up bright and early (5:30) to enjoy our final breakfast feast in Shanghai at 6:00 AM.
Rain greeted us as we loaded the bus with luggage for the drive to the Meglev (magnetic train) station. The train actually does not touch the tracks but uses magnetic levitation. We kept our luggage and carryon bags on the coach, and our driver drove them to the airport after dropping us off at 7:4 to catch the 8:00 AM train to the airport.
While we definitely could have carried our bags with us on the high-speed train, it would have been complicated to maneuver the station in the morning crowds and the rain. The 7 minute and 21 second trip from the city to the airport was definitely an experience not to be forgotten.

The Meglev travels at a maximum speed of 440kph, but this is only during morning and afternoon rush hours. The rest of the day it crawls along at 300+kph as it uses less energy at the slower speed. The train departed a few seconds before 8:00 AM.
By 8:00:58 we had already surpassed 150kph.
By 8:02 AM we were cruising along at 301kph!
Special window glass is used on the Meglev train to make it possible to look out the window and not get sick from the speed and the blur of scenery outside the windows. We could tell we were going fast, but at no point was the scenery out the window a blur. Incredible invention of the special glass! At one point a Meglev train headed back into the city passed us on the opposite track, but it happened in such a flash that the only indication it had happened was a sudden pop of noise, and then it was gone. We arrived at 8:07 and then walked to the terminal to get our luggage.
Check in on Juneyao Airlines was quick, and we began our trek to gate C91. (Could have been worse. The gates in that terminal continued to gate C221! Only slightly bigger than PBI.) We boarded our flight for an on-time departure and then sat for an hour and a half due to air traffic control grounding planes because of too much traffic at the airport. As we sat on the plane for 90 additional minutes enjoying the complimentary scalding hot green tea, the blog author began to feel less guilty about the possible weight gained at the Renaissance breakfasts because we all began to shed pounds in the inferno that was flight 1211. (It rivaled the sauna at the gym where the group relaxed the previous night!) Our late departure meant we would need to adjust the schedule upon arrival in Xi An so that we were not biking the wall surrounding the ancient capital in the dark. Sam, our Xi An guide, met us and helped get our bags onto one bus for transport to the hotel. Another bus took us from the airport into the city which was just under an hour's drive. As we traveled into the city, Sam explained our itinerary for the two days and some history of the city. About 20 minutes from the heart of Xi An we all realized as we were listening to Sam that we had been passing literally miles and miles and miles of high-rise construction. Old buildings were being torn down and mega high-rises were under construction creating a skyline filled with cranes and rising steel. It should be noted here that our assessment of the construction was contained to what we could see immediately along the highway as the pollution/smog blocked out anything very far from the road. When we arrived in Xi An we immediately went to the ancient wall built originally of clay in AD 200. Bricks were added later in the Ming Dynasty beginning in 1369 (123 years BEFORE Columbus hopped on a boat).
We picked up bikes on top of the wall
and began what our guide Sam assured us was an 8 mile ride around the ancient city center. Your author would like to interject here and report that he's pretty sure that his blue jeans and dress shoes would estimate the mileage closer to 13 miles. (didn't have time to change clothes due to late arrival)
The ride was great as we saw the ramparts from which enemies would be fired upon by archers and the like to protect the city. After the bike tour of the city wall, we checked into the Sheraton and cleaned up before heading to the Tang Dynasty dinner and cultural show. Dinner was an overwhelming spread of local side dishes and 17 different kinds of dumplings: seafood, vegetable, pork, chicken, shrimp. Many of the delicious, hand-made dumplings were beautifully presented in the shape of living creatures: frogs, hedgehogs, swans, chickens.Truly amazing.

The post-dinner cultural show highlighted the legacies of the Tang Dynasty. The music, costumes, and performances, while Vegas-esque, were colorful, beautiful, and expertly presented.
Tomorrow we will spend a good part of the day visiting the Terracotta Warriors Museum and the Wild Goose Pagoda. All Bulldogs are having a great time-learning a tremendous amount, experiencing unique foods, and representing PBDA with class. You'd all be proud; we are!


March 15, 2015

Another outstanding day in Shanghai-despite the damp, foggy weather. Breakfast--would be easy to get used to the delicious breakfasts here at the Renaissance. Travelers appeared more adventurous this morning and opted for nontraditional American breakfast items and ventured out to the soups and Chinese dishes we would associate with lunch. (Personal fan of the steaming bowl of soup with noodles, Chinese mushrooms, sesame oil, hot peppers, and spinach.) Brandon Love, PBDS alum and son of Mr. Tummon, joined us for the second day of touring Shanghai. Brandon is living in the city teaching English. Not only was he incredibly helpful the past two days with helping supervise the students, Brandon blended in perfectly with the group and was able to share his first-hand experiences of living here in China. (He also asked us to send a hello to his former teachers at Palm Beach Day.) Today's commentary from Peter as we drove to the Shanghai Aquarium focused on social issues of marriage and education. We learned about the One Child policy in China that states that families are to have only one child. Even though parents are permitted to have more than one child (if willing to pay), he said nearly all couples prefer one child due to the expense of educating and raising children in China. A large portion of income goes to tutoring and providing educational opportunities to give a child an advantage over others in the competitive game of admission to top-notch secondary schools and universities. Peter shared an example of the typical hourly rate for a child to be tutored in English is around $50-quite expensive for most Chinese families. Another goal for Chinese families is to send their children to the United States for college which almost guarantees them a good job in China when they graduate. Peter explained that another financial hurdle to sending a child to the US for college is taking the SAT test. Unlike in the United States where there are thousands of locations to take the standardized SAT test, there is not one SAT testing location in all of China. Parents must pay for their children to travel to Hong Kong or Singapore for the exam as the SAT does not trust that the test would be administered fairly in China as the practice of "influencing" test results cannot be prevented. Farmers in the rural areas of China are not bound to the One Child policy as the government recognizes the need for farm families to have more than one child to not only help with the duties of the farm but to also take care of the elderly. Peter explained that the difference between rural and urban care for the elderly is that the government takes care of the elderly when families are not able to in the cities, whereas in the rural areas caring for the older members of the family is the sole responsibility of the younger generation. Our guide shared with the students how many marriages in China have been arranged by parents for many, many years. In fact, Peter's father selected his wife for him. He said the idea of "get married first, then fall in love second" was common here. He did say, however, that is daughter has no intention of following in this ancient custom as is common with most of the younger generation. Peter explained to the students that in China respect for elders and following their guidance an decisions remains of utmost importance. Peter said that when his father retired a few years ago, his goal was to move out of Shanghai where he had lived all of his life and to retire in the suburbs of the city. Peter said he did not want to leave Shanghai but since his father decided that's what the family would do, the family moved to satisfy the older family member's wishes. We were not able to go up the Pearl Tower to the observation deck today due to low clouds and limited visibility. We, therefore, stayed inside and made our first stop of the day at the Shanghai Aquarium where Mr. Costa joined us again.

The building is not only beautiful, but it contains amazing marine life-primarily that found in the Pacific Ocean. Some of the highlights for the students were the Chinese soft-shelled albino turtles found in the Yangtze River, blue lobsters, the Pacific spotted bamboo sharks, spa fish that "kissed" our hands when we stuck our hands in the tanks, the freshwater sawfish, spotted seals, garden eels that look like they are growing out of the sand along the bottom, Pacific sea nettles, and the fried egg jelly fish.

After the aquarium we at lunch at the Shanghai Sea Palace floating restaurant and enjoyed another good meal of local food. The damp weather after lunch did not keep us from enjoying the exhibits at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. It's a shame we didn't have Mr. Wagner and Mr. Sarko along as they would have loved the interactive exhibits. We've returned to the hotel to start parking for the trip to Xi An tomorrow and to enjoy the hotel's beautiful pool before we meet up for dinner at 6:00 PM. We have an exciting surprise for the students tomorrow as we leave Shanghai....more on that later.


March 14, 2015

What a way to wrap up our day! Mr. Costa treated the group to an amazing dinner at a Chinese dumpling restaurant in Shanghai. We enjoyed what seemed like an endless stream of dumplings and side dishes that make any dumpling ever consumed in the US seem quite bland. The group surprised Mr. Costa with a birthday cake and with the singing of Happy Birthday in Mandarin-well, at least some serenaded him in the local language. Thank you, Mr. Costa, for an incredible evening!!


March 14, 2015

The morning began for many with brighter eyes and more energy after a productive night of sleep. Breakfast was an amazing spread of sushi, traditional American options, won ton soups, fried won tons, Chinese egg rolls and roll ups, as well as European meats and breads, pastries, and fresh fruit. No one left hungry-some left miserable. As we left the hotel for our city tour today, we learned many things about the city of Shanghai. The only natural disaster to plague the city has been flooding. To alleviate this problem General Wong built canals to prevent flooding of the original fishing village of Shanghai. This is important for a city today of over 24 million that grew from a "small" city of 4.5 million only four decades ago. One of the amazing engineering accomplishments of the city is the high-speed train that connects the international airport with the city-traveling on magnets so the train actually never touches the tracks and at a blistering 440 KPH. We learned a little bit about the historic capitals of China-we will be visiting two of them later: Beijing means northern capital, Nanjing means southern capital, and Xi An means wester capital. Our guide explained that the after the Opium War, the city was divided into concessions for numerous foreign countries whose laws were controlled by those particular countries and differed from Chinese law as well as the other nations who had concessions in the city making it possible for someone to escape the law simply by moving to a foreign concession within the city of Shanghai in order to avoid arrest. Peter, our guide, explained that after WWII ended in 1945, the Chinese government took back control of all foreign concessions. Beginning in 1945, a four-year civil war began between the Nationalists who supported Chiang Kai Shek and the farmers who supported Mao. Chiang Kai Shek fled to Taiwan. We drove past numerous (understatement) apartment buildings this morning and learned that nearly 90% of all Chinese live in some kind of condo or apartment building because it is too expensive to own a single-family house. Peter told us that 100% of the buildings, however, are owned by the Chinese government. Peter also explained to the students that to help prevent too many cars from being on the already overcrowded roads in Shanghai, the city imposes a fee of nearly $13,000 US to simply get a license for an automobile. We spent the majority of the morning at Yu Garden which was a wealthy family's home/garden. This minister worked for the emperor. The name Yu Garden means happy garden. The beautiful structures, flowering trees, and waterways provided a relaxing, educational activity this morning-and the rain held off so the weather was ideal for sightseeing. The garden was laid out in a maze-like facing because the Chinese believe that straight paths and buildings are unlucky so the winding paths in the garden bring luck to the people. Several of the students had their first experience at the Yu Garden with Chinese public bathrooms. (Will save the details for them to share with you upon their return!) While we don't see many Chinese flags flying throughout the city, our guide informed us that the five stars on the flag each have a meaning: big star represents the communist party and the four smaller stars represent China's one billion farmers, the workers, the military, and the students respectively. Before lunch we stopped at the Apple store in Shanghai-wall to wall people. Peter explained that the cost of Apple products, although assembled here in China, are much more expensive than buying in the States.Mr. Costa met us for lunch today for a traditional family-style Chinese meal served near the Bund. After lunch we opted for the Shanghai Museum of Art as the rain that had held off all morning started to make sightseeing outside a bit damp and cool. We enjoyed amazing collections of bronze, jade, calligraphy, paintings, and currency. Some of the jade dates back the 13th century BC! We've come back to the hotel (3:00 PM) for a break and opportunity to rest (some are in the gym working out) before we meet Mr. Costa for a special dinner at a famous restaurant in Shanghai known for its dumplings. Seeing a pattern to the amount of food we are consuming?


March 12-13,2015

3:40 AM Alarm
4:30 AM Meet at PBI
5:30 AM Security check
5:45 AM Bulldog travelers invade Starbucks

Our day began well before sunrise for our trip halfway around the globe. Everyone was on time, and everyone remembered passports. Good signs. After our bumpy ride (and a jet bridge that would not work) we eventually met Grayson before boarding United flight 86 for the 14.5 hour flight to Shanghai. Almost immediately the feeding frenzy began: granola bars, slices of pizza bragged while dashing through the terminal, and the always popular "chicken or pasta" entrée. It was exactly like dining at Palm Beach Grill, but we managed to eat enough to sustain us during the trip. Somewhere over the Arctic Ocean another wave of food arrived before everyone-well, almost everyone-settled in for some rest. While most of us did catch a couple of hours of shut-eye, some were too distracted by countless movies and things like the Great Wall of China out the right side of the plane. Martina and Jonah took the prize for most hours slept. Grayson slept zero. (I personally spent the flight time over Mongolia with Gonzalo's elbows in my ribs.) Excitement built as we approached the end of the flight, and we filled out the China immigration forms. One last meal (our first Asian delicacy of noodles, soy sauce, and chicken-for breakfast) revived us so the immigration and customs process was a breeze. All luggage arrived-another good omen for the trip. After clearing the necessary entry stages, we met our guide Peter and boarded the bus for the ride into Shanghai. We stopped for a stroll along the Bund in downtown Shanghai along the river to enjoy the beautiful skyline of the modern section of the city. We learned that Shanghai literally means city on the sea; we learned the Chinese are crazy about the Japanese-built skyscraper that looks like beer bottle opener; and we learned the importance of checking the bus for sleeping travelers. (Deep breath-we still have everyone we left Palm Beach with Thursday morning.) We checked into our beautiful hotel, Renaissance Shanghai Putuo, around 5:15 PM and headed to our rooms for quick showers. Our hotel is above a myriad of restaurants where the students enjoyed a variety of rice, noodle, wok, and soup dishes before retiring to our rooms for some much-needed sleep. Weather was mild this afternoon with temperature in the low 60s.

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2015 China Partnership

PBDA's China travelers are ready for their March 12 departure. Follow their adventures here.


Sunday, March 16

Our final day in Beijing was spent at the Living Hope Orphanage just outside the city. The orphanage is unique because the children there are not officially orphans. In China, the government takes responsibility for orphans. The children that we visit have living family members who, for one reason or another, cannot or will not care for them. Living Hope identifies children in such circumstances and takes official steps to take over their care. Those children are then enrolled in the local public school, live together at the orphanage, and are shepherded through their education by the caring adults who have become their new family.

Palm Beach Day Academy has had an association with the orphanage for six years. Dion, our friend and guide in China, who is involved with Living Hope, indicated that those six years are proof enough of the commitment between our two schools. He explained that the relationship has become important to the children as they recover from their former circumstances and become aware that there are kind people around the world who care about them. Many of the children, especially the older ones, recognize our faces, and we know their names and their hopes for the future. Several have visited PBDA over the past six years.

The 2014 visit began with an early departure from our hotel for the hour drive to the orphanage. On arrival, our students and the children from the orphanage reconnected from yesterday and new friendships were launched. The plan for the day is always to provide activities that don’t require much talking. One group drew a book, another played Twister while a group of older boys played a lively game of basketball. In every case, the large family of over fifty “brothers and sisters” engulfed our students with obvious affection.

Annette Johnson, putting her experience with PBDA’s lip dub video to good use, organized the children and adults into making a music video, all in about 10 minutes. She went to work editing the video while the rest of us enjoyed a Papa Johns lunch, provided by the China Partnership. She pulled it all together in time to show the video to us all on the big screen in the cafeteria to the delight of everyone in the room.

The day at the orphanage finished with the traditional Friendship Cake, and then it was time to say goodbye and board the bus for our hotel and our last night in China. On the way through the traffic, Hannah, our China Tour guide, struggled to express her emotions about what she had witnessed today. Her English is perfectly adequate for explaining the history and sites of China, however it failed her when it came to this moment. It was clear that in her position as a tour guide to many groups, she found ours to be unique and was especially impressed that American children, who enjoy so much freedom and opportunities, are so open and caring about children in her country.

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Saturday, March 15

Children from the Living Hope Orphanage met us at our hotel this morning. Together, we boarded a bus for the hour drive to the Great Wall. This year, the China Partnership group visited a section of the wall, the Ba Da Ling, that it hadn't visited before. The decision to change locations was based on the new location's proximity to the Ming Dynasty Tombs. At the Great Wall, our group joined the many other tourists for the arduous climb. The climb up and climb down covered a distance that was probably no more than three miles in all. Considering that the wall is over 3,000 miles long, exists in remote and mountainous regions, and was built hundreds of years ago, our climbers could easily understand why the wall is considered to be one of the seven wonders. No matter how far we climbed, the wall stretched on in front of us and disappeared over the crest of the mountain to continue on for hundreds of miles in both directions. A beautifully clear day made the experience even more enjoyable.

After pausing for a group photo on the wall and enjoying the brisk breeze and chatter in multiple languages, we climbed back down to the bus to go to lunch where our students and the children from the orphanage had an opportunity to be together and do their best to communicate. Then it was off to the Ming Dynasty Tombs. The Tombs were built in the early 1400s by the third Ming Emperor who also built the Forbidden City. In all, thirteen emperors from the Ming Dynasty are entombed at this location. One thing is clear, as much as we hear about the history of China, we realize that a story that covers thousands of years and that is spread out over a huge country is quite complex and extremely interesting.


Friday, March 14

Today we made a transition from tourists to ambassadors. But not before spending an hour and a half at Beijing's Pearl Market. Inside the market, everything is negotiable and no one pays more than half the initially stated price. Some of the products are off-brand, but others appear to be the real thing. According to Dion, brand name articles, that are being sold well below the price we would pay in the U.S., are not exactly knock-offs, but rather are legitimately produced by the manufacturers for markets such as the one in Beijing.

However, once we got the Pearl Market out of our system, we boarded the bus for the short drive to the childhood school of Mrs. Perolio, The Yu Ying School in West Beijing. For the past three years, PBDA has had a growing relationship with children and faculty at the Yu Ying School. Last year, we and they planted a Friendship Tree on the school grounds that we ceremoniously watered on this visit. Then we were escorted to a classroom for a lesson on Peking Opera, conducted in Chinese. The classroom was packed. We learned later that the students that were with us had competed with other classes for the honor of hosting our group. The two groups exchanged performances. Abigail, Perry and Francesca bravely performed for us. The Chinese children, who were mostly 12 and 13 year olds, also performed on the piano, flute and erthu, a traditional Chinese string instrument.

Our students were given a tour of the campus by their Chinese peers and as the groups moved along, the awkward early greetings gave way to giggles and chatter. Before long the entire purpose of the China Partnership was in full view. Gently and gradually, the children from two distant cultures were learning that there were exactly zero real differences between them.

We finished the day with a walk through the shopping district near our hotel and stopped for ice cream to celebrate Stephanie’s 13thbirthday.


Thursday, March 13

Beijing's sky was bright blue this morning as we set out for a full day. Our old friend Dion, who has been PBDA's tour guide in Beijing for every one of our visits, was waiting for us in the lobby after breakfast. He and Hannah shepherded us onto the bus for a drive out to Beijing's Summer Palace. On the way, Hannah pointed out the "Birdsnest," the site of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She also explained the history of the Summer Palace that the Emperors and Empresses constructed in Northwestern Beijing. The expansive lakes, hills, gardens and buildings are beautifully spectacular and were especially so on such a clear day. Our group walked the walkways along the lakefront toward the Marble Boat that, as we were told, was built to allow the Empress to enjoy boating without the risk of sea sickness. On the way to the Marble Boat we were drawn up a small hill to the sound of a band and chorus. Inside an open pavilion a band played while a matronly conductor lead a chorus just outside. A large crowd of onlookers were packed into the small space around the pavilion. It was obvious that only we found the scene oddly curious. Somehow, a brightly costumed women, who was clearly enthusiastic about the music, was attracted to our group, and, with smiling determination, and without saying a word, organized us into a dancing circle. Like it or not, we had little choice, not only to join the party, but also to become its focus, at least temporarily.

We are getting used to getting attention as we encounter crowds of Chinese people. Frequently, one or more of them will come close to observe us and our guide. Occasionally one of our girls will be asked to pose for a photo with a beaming local who seems thrilled to be associated with us for reasons we don't really understand.

Once we had walked through the Summer Palace we went to lunch where Mr. Gramentine struck up a conversation with travelers from Ohio who were Ohio State fans. Then, we were off to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. To enter the square we had to join a huge line of others who were waiting to cross the road under the direction of the police to get to a security check point before entering. Although we were prepared to wait our turn, our guide went ahead and spoke to a policeman at the front of the line and somehow managed to convince him that we should not have to wait. Feeling awkward about the privilege we crossed the wide road while the waiting Chinese looked on.

Inside the square, our guide told us more about the history of China and Beijing and the square. Our students listened politely, but were spellbound by Dion's telling of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. We moved on toward the Forbidden City, stopped for a few photos of ourselves or to accommodate requests from strangers and eventually reached the underground passage to the ancient residence of China's last emperors. The Forbidden City is a series of large formal plazas between ornate ceremonial buildings arranged in a straight line. Hannah and Dion took a few opportunities to explain the former uses of the various buildings and the significance of some of the architectural features. At one point, Mr. Gramentine bumped into his Ohio State friends from lunch and stopped to pose for a photo with them. Eventually we exited through the gardens and were met by our bus for a very short drive back to our hotel.

Dinner was at a restaurant famous for its Peking Duck. Back at our hotel, everyone gathered in Mrs. Mendoza's room to learn the latest trivia questions. Each day, the student teams are given the questions and compete to answer them the most quickly and accurately.


Wednesday, March 12

Despite being awakened for the second early travel day in two days, our 17 travelers were on time with bags packed at 5:00 am, ready and eager for the flight to Beijing. We said goodbye to our guide Sam at the security check-in and were on our way. At the trip’s mid point it has become obvious that our group has developed a comfortable bond. Sharing every moment and every meal, working together to move our mountain of luggage on and off the bus, into and out of overhead compartments and across hundreds of yards of distance, looking out for each other’s stuff, and laughing a lot, this group has become a traveling family.

Safely in Beijing, we were pleased to see blue skis – a rare sight in this famously polluted city. Once the bus driver found his way through the perpetually stopped traffic and just before we got to our hotel the decision was made to stop at McDonalds. There were no mysteries or adventures or exotic flavors waiting for us there and chop sticks were nowhere in sight, but the familiar red containers of fries disappeared as soon as they reached the tables and booths.

At the hotel there was time to settle in before all of the students were in the pool while the adults sat poolside for a short afternoon of free time. Then we had dinner in the hotel and enjoyed a birthday cake that the hotel provided for Mrs. Mendoza's birthday, which she is celebrating in Beijing for the second time.

Our tour guide, Hannah, met us after dinner to take us to the Chaoyang Theater for an acrobat show.

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Tuesday, March 11

In a string of extraordinary days, this one was unique. This morning we headed for the Terracotta Warriors in Lintong, outside Xi’an. Along the way, our guide, Sam, told us how the clay soldiers, horses and chariots came to be created and destroyed. Riding into the country side we learned that 200,000 workers created the army by developing the process, molding the 7,000 life size figures, placing them into underground structures that covered acres of land, and eventually finding a reason to destroy them all.

When he was 13 in 246 BC, Qin Shi Huang ascended to the throne and began the work of unifying all of China. At the same time, he began planning for his afterlife where he believed he would still require the army that he’d relied on for the unification of China. It took 200,000 workers to complete the project in 11 years. Although they were loyal and skilled, the workers were unaware that their emperor planned to have all of them killed once the project was complete so that the whereabouts of the warriors would remain a secret.

Two thirds of the workforce escaped death and, when the Emperor died, they returned to re-enter the underground chambers, take the weapons from the soldiers and destroy the clay figures they had finished only years before. They set fire to the wooden timbers which ultimately caused the entire chamber to collapse on itself and be lost for 2,000 years. In 1974, peasant farmers digging a well, found pottery fragment that eventually led to the discovery of all 7,000 soldiers.

Even after hearing that incredible story, our group was stunned, as most people are, at the sight of the restored soldiers and horses standing in the trenches. We spent roughly three hours with the soldiers, imagining the events that took place in this location two millenia ago.

We finished the day with a stop at the Muslim market in Xi’an. The sights, sounds and smells of this vibrant and lively place were in sharp contrast to the thoughtful reverence we felt with the warriors. Haggling skills were put to good use and unlike their first attempts back in Shanghai, our students held their own and cut good deals.

Now we are back at the hotel preparing again for an early wake-up and departure for the final city on our three-city tour, Beijing.


Monday, March 10

The wake-up call came all too early this morning. Our early flight required that we assemble with packed bags at 5:00 am to immediately load the bus and head for the airport. We boarded a China Eastern flight the old fashioned way by walking up the open stairs out on the tarmac. Apart from a lunch that was full of surprises and mysteries, the flight was uneventful and got us to our destination, Xi’an. We were met there by our new guide, Sam, who clearly explained the historical significance of Xi’an which grew to importance partly due to its relationship with the Silk Road. Thirteen Dynasties were based in Xi’an, and, as difficult as it is to quickly comprehend the history of China, Sam helped us to appreciate the role his city has played in the ancient history of the Chinese people.

Once settled in at the hotel, our group was on the road again to visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, a Buddhist temple built in 652 AD. The weather had turned sunny and cool – the perfect weather for enjoying the temple gardens and sights.

We next headed for Xi’an’s ancient city wall. The wall is a massive structure that once protected the Emperors’ palace. Now the wall serves as a giant park since the top of the wall is as broad and flat as a two lane highway. Some of the students rented single and tandem bicycles to ride around on the enclosed roadway above the city.

Once they were all rounded up we headed for a special Dumpling Banquet and Tang Dynasty Stage Show which included traditional dances presented by young performers dressed in authentically recreated ceremonial costumes from centuries ago.

That was more than enough for one day. Tomorrow we see the Terracotta Soldiers.


Sunday, March 9

Our second and final day in Shanghai began with a hopeful view of the sun. Mostly recovered from jet lag, our group assembled in the hotel lobby early for a day in Shanghai. Our bus and guide were waiting to first take us across the Huangpu River from Western Shanghai to Eastern Shanghai to the site of the World Expo 2010. Although the Expo has been closed for three years it remains an attraction. Eastern Shanghai, as our guide explained, was undeveloped as recently as 1989. In fact, until it was transformed, those living in Western Shanghai didn’t consider it a fully integrated part of Shanghai. But, once the government decided to modernize that real estate, the current cluster of unique structures rapidly began to rise to create the exciting skyline that exists today. Our bus driver drove us among the sky scrapers that we’d viewed from The Bund yesterday. It was difficult to imagine none of them being there a mere twenty-five years ago.

Western Shanghai can still claim centuries of rich history, however, and so we headed back to the west. A brief stop in the French Concession allowed us to learn about the days when the English and French built whole communities for themselves in districts of Shanghai, bringing with them their country’s architecture, plants and lifestyle. Those days ended abruptly when the Japanese invaded in 1937. We visited the Old Stone Houses that the French left behind.

From there, we visited the Shanghai Museum which houses 120,000 precious works of art created in China over the last several thousand years.

On our way back to the hotel, our driver made two passes through Nanjing Road, one of the world’s busiest shopping districts. Once we saw the size of the crowd that was window shopping there, we concluded that keeping our group together in one unit would only be possible if we stayed on the bus. So we did.

Tomorrow, we depart early for Xi’an.