by Anne Bingham | Chinese Language Faculty
The Stony Brook School began offering Mandarin Chinese as a World Language option to students in the Fall of 2014. Five years later, on a bright and clear June morning, eleven of our Chinese language students (plus two other staffers and myself), gathered behind Johnston, happily loading suitcases and giving extra hugs to parents before setting off on a 15 hour flight around the world for an adventure of a lifetime—a language travel trip to China!
We landed in Shanghai at night, bleary-eyed and hungry, yet excited to have finally arrived. We changed planes in Shanghai then headed north to the capital, Beijing. With a little less than four hours of sleep, students shuffled in for their first Chinese breakfast of steamed buns, various meats, vegetables, and green tea.
After breakfast, we met up with two other schools, both from Georgia, and headed off to visit a local theatre school. We all stood impressed, watching several classes of middle and high school students perform Chinese dancing and acrobatic moves at a special performing arts prep school. The Chinese students challenged Brookers to try some of these gymnastic dance moves themselves. It was a great time of cross-cultural bonding, full of laughs and smiles. As a parting gift, we handed out red festive bags full of American candy then recited Li Bai’s famous Tang Dynasty Poem, “Thoughts on a Still Night.”
For lunch, our bus stopped at a local McDonald’s of all places! The tour director explained, “We have a busy day, we need to grab something fast.” One by one, students began to order, hanbaobao, yi pingshui (a burger and a bottle of water). Students were surprised to find out that the Chinese version actually tasted better than the McDonald’s in the U.S. Chinese locals smiled and looked on as we sampled our selections. By the time we finished lunch, the rain outside began to fall hard. We stepped through deep puddles of rain back to the bus and then on towards Tian An Men Square. This large, famous public square is where, on October 1, 1949, Chairman Mao stood and declared the official founding of The People’s Republic of China. From The Square we made our way towards the Forbidden City which was built during the Ming Dynasty. Students who have been studying Mandarin Chinese also have been learning about China’s rich history and culture over the past four years. Visiting these sites gave students the chance to connect what they had learned in the classroom with what they were seeing in real life.
Later that night we all enjoyed a lovely Beijing Duck dinner in an upscale crowded restaurant. For those who have never tried it, it is a crispy fried duck, wrapped in a thin pancake with plum sauce and cilantro. For our second day in Beijing, we set out to climb a section of the Great Wall. It was a clear sunny day. The air quality was fine and there we were, arm in arm, with cherished friends from school, in an almost surreal moment, standing on The Great Wall of China! The view from on top of The Wall was spectacular.
Later that evening we ate an authentic family-style meal with Chinese families in the Hutong area of Beijing. Hutongs are traditional Chinese homes dating back 200 years where several families live in close community in a courtyard setting. After dinner, we went to a public square and participated in a Kungfu lesson taught by a Kungfu master. Students then went for a rickshaw ride while others played soccer in the park with local children. Before leaving Beijing the next day, we experienced a traditional tea ceremony and learned how the various types of teas can offer health benefits.
The following morning we headed to the ancient city of Xi’an. We rode bikes on top of an ancient city wall designed to create a compound to protect the emperor. The following morning we visited Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s famous “Soldier Horse Tomb” filled with life-sized replicas of actual soldiers and their horses crafted 2,000 years ago during the Qin Dynasty, whose emperor, Qin Shi Huang, ordered that 8,000 life-size soldiers and horses be built for his tomb. Later that night we had a lot of fun exploring a local street market. The sites, sounds, smells, and flavors were all new and exciting. Once on the bus, students proudly took out their “treasures” for all to see. We also had a chance to attend a dinner and enjoy a Tang Dynasty performance about the only female emperor, Wu Ze Tian, and her story on how she rose to become empress during the Tang Dynasty.
The next day we flew to beautiful, modern Shanghai. Although it’s a huge modern city with a population of 24 million people, we had a chance to run down some smaller side streets and discovered an upstairs, second-floor restaurant where we had some of the best soup buns in the world. Hot, steamy baskets kept coming out one after another and somehow, although already full, we continued to eat and gobble them all up.
After visiting the beautiful Jade Garden park in Shanghai, students sampled the differences between various styles of soup buns. Do we like them steamed? Do we prefer they be fried lightly? We hopped from one store to the next as students tried out their Chinese: “Tang bao, yi ping shui” (soup dumplings and a bottle of water). Later that day we took an elevator up to one of the tallest buildings in Shanghai, the Economic and Trade Tower. Later that night we all enjoyed a world-renowned acrobatic show. For the last night in China, students went on a city cruise around Shanghai. Shanghai is not an ancient city; it is a modern, beautiful city with some of the world’s largest skyscrapers. The view of the city all lit up at night was simply gorgeous. “Zaijian, Zhongguo” or “Good bye, China!” was the last group shot we took as we departed for the airport to head back home. It was a wonderful trip chock full of memories that should last a lifetime. Hopefully, this is the first of many more trips to come!
Photos by Ella Simmons ’19.