Study Tour Blogs

Communism and Cartier

Communism and Cartier

This morning we arrived at Old Shanghai for a visit to the Yuyuan Gardens and Bazaar. We had been warned ahead of time that it would be very crowded, but the crowds weren’t too bad considering we’re in a city of 25 million people. The Yuyuan Gardens were especially serene and featured traditional Chinese architecture from the Qing era ,including dragon-topped walls, rock sculptures, and ponds full of bright orange fish. The shopping streets of the bazaar were crowded and chaotic, as they were filled with both Chinese and foreign tourists who were looking for deals (and Starbucks….and Dairy Queen…both of which are prominently featured in Old Shanghai).

After a lunch of steamed buns and the famous Shanghai soup dumplings, we took the subway to the French Concession, which was the only foreign territory to remain separate during the period of 19th Century imperialism (the other countries combined their territories into the International Concession.) The French Concession is still essentially the playground and neighborhood of the wealthy, and foreign influence is still strong in the form of high-end European boutiques, sidewalk cafes, and art galleries.

It is ironic then, that our next stop was the site of the first National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which was founded in 1921 in a girls school in the Concession, where the party members met to avoid being arrested by Chinese police who did not have jurisdiction there. In this exhibit, the narrative of the Communist movement culminates in a portrayal of the adoption of the Party’s founding documents with wax figures of the key players. Interestingly, Mao is prominently featured here although he was not a major player in the CCP until a decade later when his fellow members elected him Chairman.

Our final official stop was the Shikumen Open House Museum, which depicted the traditional Shanghai home. The interiors were restored to the 1930s. Since most of these traditional structures were in disrepair by the 1980s, investors began to redevelop the area in the 1990s and a section was turned into the swanky Xintiandi neighborhood ten years ago. Today this neighborhood is home to an international and Chinese nouveaux riche community.

The juxtaposition of communism and Cartier in this newly developed enclave fueled a rich conversation about what exactly “communism” in the 21st Century is and how we can bring this learning back to our classrooms. We discussed our implementation plans over a delicious Thai dinner, sad to end our second-to-last day in China.

-- Jackie, Stephanie, and Katie

Free Day! Shanghai

Hello family, friends, coworkers, students, parents, and any others who might have stumbled upon our little adventure. Today was our free day in Shanghai so there will be multiple stories to tell, some firsthand, some heard secondhand. I will start with Chris, Jen, Katie, Kevin, Kim, and Samantha’s group, only because I was a part of it. Unfortunately soon after the journey began we lost Jen (no she was not Shanghaied, she was not feeling well and had to go back to the hotel for a brief rest). The rest of us journeyed on along the subway to Qibao, a Chinese version of Venice. It was not elegant, nor were there singing boatmen plying the canals, however it was uniquely Chinese. There were CROWDS, stinky tofu, cheap Chinese souvenirs, and interesting looks at domestic Chinese tourists (we were some of the few western tourist in the area). We went to a museum that gave us some insight into the “Cricket Culture” that was popular in the Ming and Qing dynasties. It was interesting to see some of the paraphernalia that surrounded the hunting of, breading of, and the fighting of crickets (yes the little chirping insects were put into arenas to do battle with one another). After Qibao we hopped the subway to a very busy and working (as opposed to touristy) Buddhist temple. We also visited a park dedicated to the Martyrs of the Communist rise to power. It was interesting to see the nationalist myth and propaganda surrounding the fight against the foreign imperialist. We finished our day by walking through what appeared to be a working class neighborhood on our way to Zhabei Park. The park itself was interesting in that we saw the people of Shanghai at leisure. Badminton, fishing, cards, Chinese chess, and just plain relaxing in the evening.
Highlights from other groups include: When I say highlights I literally mean highlights. I will get back to some of the sights and sounds of what others did in a bit, but the highlights belong to Mr. Matthew Sudnik. He was with a group of women who decided to go get their hair washed. While waiting in the salon it became apparent that one particular fad amongst Chinese men is to have their hair lightened in color. After a bit of price negotiations Matthew is now a dirty blond. Other highlights include a trip to the propaganda museum, architectural tours of the Bund, blood pudding soup (ask Donna how it tastes), trips to the airport (nobody has left yet, David’s brother arrived), another trip to Qiboa (Jen was feeling better so she and Lauren made the trek out), and finally high tea at the Peace Hotel. Two hours of fine tea, savory and sweet snacks, and good conversation, along with the mental gymnastics of balancing the historical fact that this particular high tea was once the exclusive province of an elite European class that has now been supplanted by an affluent Chinese tourist class. How is that for being in a socialist country?
When you put the experiences together you get a unique picture. Shanghai, as Peter, a previous tour guide of ours has put it “the city that shows the 100 year history of China”, Shanghai the city in which you can go to a museum and read about the Martyrs who have died to show you the correct outlook on life, and morality. Martyrs who have died in order to help you to become “new men of socialism.” Shanghai, home to “People’s Square.” Shanghai, home to Dolce and Gabana and Ferrari, as well as Tai Chi and cricket culture. Shanghai, a city of over 20 million people who simply want everybody wants, a good life.

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Matthew's Highlights

Day 11 - Friday - July 8 - First full day in Shanghai!

This was the first morning we were able to sleep in a bit, since yesterday was very taxing (especially when you bring a duffel instead of a hard suitcase.) Thinking a duffel would be lighter was not a smart idea. The train stations are so HUGE and BIG as everything in China we had "miles and miles" to walk before we slept! It was so hot last night, probably 98+ with unbelievable humidity. Stairs mostly with a few escalators. After we left the station we had two subway lines to catch meaning more and more stairs. (Thank you Jen and Matthew for your help!) By the time we arrived be were wringing wet - head to toe - so after a noodle dinner at a "fast food" noodle restaurant and a good nights sleep, we met for a late breakfast and started out on our first adventure in Shanghai.

Of course every excursion requires a means of transportation - subway and walking and walking and walking. Shanghai is the largest ciity in China with a population of about 20 million people. It is easy to get around on the metro and experience the city as a local. Although it is easy, it still take some time and lots of walking. This morning we had to take two lines to get to our destination - taking about one hour. The Sanghai Metro will get us almost everywhere we want to go.

We arrived at Nanjing Rd., which begins at People's Square and ends at the Friendship Hotel. It is China's premier shopping street - mostly pedestrian traffic except for stray motorcycles and two trolley cars that shuttle shoppers and tourists up and down the street. The street is 5.5 kilometers and has over 600 businessses and a huge amount of luxury stores with famous brands. The shopping malls also offer a wide variety of restaurants. There is a saying "you have never been to Shanghai unless you go to the Nanjing Road." The newer shops are on the east side and older shops are one the west side. As we were walking Lisa commented, ÖK, I love Shanghai! Can I go on record and say that?"

We were explored the area for a few hours and many of us walked to the Bund to get our first glimpse of one of the most best-known landmarks in Shanghai. The Bund is an embankment on the river which prevents flooding. We took a short walk along the Bund to view the waterfront. Along this road stands many important buildings which have been well maintained on the exterior. There is great diversity in colonial architecture and these stately buildings have been renovated for major financial institutions as well as restaurants and hotels. One building is the AIG building where Mr. Freeman began his career in finance. Matthew and I explored some side streets and saw women carrying two baskets on a long stick across their shoulders with full of fresh produce. They were selling it on the street corners. Men and women were carrying bags sorting garbage pails for plastic bottles. Each can bring five cents! We also came across an amazing church that was being rennovated on corner of Jiujiang Road. We tried to find the name of it - but since it had a large book store with it, it is probably a government sanctioned church. I hope to go back if I get a chance.

When we met back with the group we broke up to find someplace to eat. Five of us went into a mall area and young men with menus were enticing us to go to their restaurant. There were many different restaurants on every floor. We chose one called the Tun Run Tea House. The food was wonderful and the seating very unique. Every restaurant we have gone to has had its own special character. This restaurant charged for napkins!

After lunch we all met to make our way to People's Square. Maral gave a detailed report on it's history and use in the past and present. It of course as everything in China is very large, with many museums and attractions in walking distance. We could spend a week just in this section and never exhaust the possibilities.

In its past - 1862 - it was a race course. In the 20th century it was the center of Shanghai's social life. However, in 1949 to was considered to be a symbol of western decadence and it was turning into a park square to hold political rallies. The Grandstand became the Shanghai Art Museum. The only thing left of the race track is the old grandstand clock on the park's west side.

Today we saw people walking and flying kites. The guide books that Maral used said that people walk, exercise, gossip and fly kits. It is said that on Sundays, mothers come to look for mates for their unmarried children. The square was redesigned in 1990's. It is the equivalent of Beijing's Tianamen Square. It has become more accessible and Shanghai's largest metro interchange. The park is beautiful with many planting areas and sculptures throughout. On the Eastside is the Merciful Baptism Church built in 1929. On the North East side is the Urban Planning Exhibition, which is the world's LARGEST (of course) model of urban planning. We are hoping to go to this museum before we leave. Also, on the north east is the Museum of Contemporary Art. On the Nortwest is the Shanghai Art Museum. All of these building have stunning and varied architecture.

We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the Shanghai Museum which is a museum of ancient Chinese art. The building is shaped in a square with a round top attached. This makes reference to the ancient Chinese philosoply of the universe that the earth is square while the sky is round. We each spent time in rooms that held artifacts of personal interest. Since there was no way to see every room....I now have anothr reason to return to China. This was a very profitable visit for me since the rooms inspired some great ideas for the lesson plans that we need to complete! I hope you enjoy the photos.
Donna Shurr

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  • Lauren getting the noodle order right our first night in Shanghai!
  • Chris and Matthew on the Shanghai Metro on the way to People's Square!  Don't miss the stop!
  • The trolly transports people up and down Nanjing Road on Pedestrian Street!  Then how can it be called Pedestrian Street?
  • Sooooooooo cute - out for a stroll on the Bund!  Lots of children today everywhere!
  • Woman selling persimmons and other fruit.
  • Liz in front of the the Shanghai Museum.

Day 10 - Thursday - July 7 Leaving Hangzhou to visit Shanghai

Hangzhow was bitter sweet because it is so very beautiful. Before we left we got to walk around West Lake, which is quite amazing as is everything we have seen. Since we were were only in Hangzhow two days our transportation was mostly on a tour bus, although we did a great deal of walking at our stops. Just before we left we were able to take a walk around West Lake Scenic Area. That alone was enough to make me want to return for a more lengthy visit. Our tour guide was very proud to call Hangzhow his home. I hope my photos will show just why it was so hard to leave. That's the bitter. But the sweet is we traveled to Shanghai on the high speed rail for an amazing view of the countryside to arrive in a very wonderful metropolitan city. I hope you enjoy the photos of West Lake as we say good-bye, the bullet train, and our first glimps of Shanghai.
Donna Shurr

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  • Stone sculpture of a snail that shows amazing creativity of Chinese aritists.
  • Appreciation for beauty of natural stone of China is evident throughout the West Lake gardens and landscape.
  • The beauty of the landscape is enhanced by the daily activities of the residents.
  • The high speed train brought us to Shanghai quickly.  It was fast and very long.

Day 10 - Thursday - July 7 Leaving Hangzhou to visit Shanghai

Hangzhow was bitter sweet because it is so very beautiful. Before we left we got to walk around West Lake, which is quite amazing as is everything we have seen. Since we were were only in Hangzhow two days our transportation was mostly on a tour bus, although we did a great deal of walking at our stops. Just before we left we were able to take a walk around West Lake Scenic Area. That alone was enough to make me want to return for a more lengthy visit. Our tour guide was very proud to call Hangzhow his home. I hope my photos will show just why it was so hard to leave. That's the bitter. But the sweet is we traveled to Shanghai on the high speed rail for an amazing view of the countryside to arrive in a very wonderful metropolitan city. I hope you enjoy the photos of West Lake as we say good-bye, the bullet train, and our first glimps of Shanghai.
Donna Shurr

Click an image to zoom with description

  • Stone sculpture of a snail that shows amazing creativity of Chinese aritists.
  • Appreciation for beauty of natural stone of China is evident throughout the West Lake gardens and landscape.
  • The beauty of the landscape is enhanced by the daily activities of the residents.

Monday, July 4, 2011: The Great Wall, Ming Tombs, and Other Activities

My blog is a few days late. I wrote it late night on the day we went to the Great Wall, but have not found the time or internet access to upload it from David’s computer.

I learned today that Mau once said that one is not a “man” (or hero/heroine) if he (or she) does not climb the Great Wall. Well today, it would seem, I became a man because I climbed the wall. Here’s the way the day went…

We woke up, ate an early breakfast at Maxim on the second floor of our hotel, and met with our tour guide Peter on the bus at 8:30 AM. On our drive to the Great Wall, which is in the Western Hills – northwest of Beijing – we stopped at a jade factory. At the factory we followed a tour guide who taught us about jade and the factory. I was impressed by the many different colors of jade at the factory. Before this visit I thought jade only came in shades of green, but there are yellows, whites, shades of orange, reds, and other colors. There is even a translucent type of jade that reminded me of alabaster. I was also impressed that carvings, small and large, are made out of one piece of jade. I found the carving by the factory workers to be interesting. The work seems very detailed and difficult. I worried about the workers as they exposed themselves to fine dust particles that came from drilling. It would seem appropriate to wear a mask, but perhaps the dust is innocuous. Finally, I was impressed by what jade looks like in its natural form. Without cutting and polishing, jade naturally looks like any other rock. After looking through the showroom and allowing some time for purchases, the group went back to the bus and we were off to the Great Wall.

On the journey up to the wall, I was immediately impressed by the landscape. The mountains (really just foothills) were steep and jagged. Someone even asked “why did they need to build a wall up here?” Peter filled us in on factual details about the wall and I gave a brief talk on “what the wall is and what it represents.” I suggested that the answer to these questions depends on one’s perspective based on where he or she is in time and space. The wall has served to separate and unify people at different points in its history. For example, the first emperor Shi Huang not only built the wall to keep out the Xiongnu, but he also used the wall to help unify the various peoples of China. Today the wall is a meeting place for people from all over the world. However, on a more modern note, the “Great Red Firewall” limits the free exchange of information.

We finally reached the Great Wall at about 11:00 AM. We determined that we would meet at a coffee shop in a hotel near the famous Badaling Entrance after only two short hours. (To be fair we started the clock once we got in the gate – thanks David!) We got our group ticket, went through the turn style, and we were off to the races. A group of us immediately determined that we would take the steeper southern route to move away from the incredible crowds going north. Peter was correct when he defined this route as steep; it was very steep, so steep in fact that I imagined skiing down the wall. If the stones had been wet or slick, there would have be no way to make it up certain parts of the slope. With this in mind, one wonders how the builders of the wall managed the terrain. Building the wall was certainly a great feat. It’s not only the largest structure in cubic meters and length that humans have ever built (4000-5000 miles long depending on how you look at it), the terrain is so rugged, it must have been ridiculous to put together. No wonder so many people died building the wall, over one million according to some sources.

The views one can see on the wall are spectacular and I recommend making the trip to see them. The mountains remind me of the San Bernardino Mountains in California. The rock is reddish in color and, although there are more trees, there is scrub brush like in CA. The environment also looks like it can get very dry and dusty, which is also similar. The huge difference is the massive, dragon-like structure that winds its way back and forth and up and down over the mountains for as far as the eye can see. After “reaching Mongolia” as we were told by a t-shirt merchant, our small group broke up and I went to huff up the other northern side of the wall. I made it to the high point, but only by fighting through the massive crowds I met along the way. I did not make it to the end of the northern trail. I needed to turn around to make it back to the coffee shop on time, but I am glad I made the effort. Walking through the crowds, I heard languages from all over the world, including a man on a cell phone speaking Swedish. I stopped to listen to his sing-songy language and then moved up the hill. I also noted some very strong smells. People were hot, sweaty, and children who could not make it to a bathroom let it go on the wall, especially in the watch towers where clean-up workers were making their rounds. Navigating the mass of humanity on the northern part of the wall was a “great” experience in its own right. Moving through this mass takes a bit of perseverance and patience.

After descending from the wall, getting a drink, ice cream, or both, the group was off to a cloisonné factory and lunch. On route, the bus had small run in with a truck that was apparently one of the many coal trucks that consistently cause traffic jams on small roads throughout the area. At the cloisonné factory we again viewed crafts people at work, as well as their beautiful finished products. After walking through the factory floor showroom, we went upstairs to a restaurant where we ate lunch. The food was very good, but I will recommend standing up slowly before asking for more fish balls.

Following lunch, the group went off to the Ming Tombs. Chris provided the group with a historical perspective and Peter gave the group a tour of the tombs. The tombs were impressive with large barrel vaulted chambers, buried far below ground under large circular sandstone block mounds that were covered with cypress trees.

After the visit to the Ming Tombs, Morrell and I went to see a Chinese opera. Peter went out of his way by taking us to the opera house on his way home from work. He even took us into the building, gave us a personalized tour, and explained what we would see. Peter was awesome and went way beyond the call of duty to make sure we had a nice time.

The opera we saw was shorter than a normal opera, just over one hour long instead of the normal two to three hour performance. This opera was made up of scenes from a few well known operas and designed for a foreign audience; that is, there were English subtitles. The costumes were fascinating and the face/mask painting was incredible. I was particularly impressed by the acrobatics and the choreography in the scene about the Monkey King. I am not quite sure how the actors made their bodies do some of the moves I saw.

Finally after returning from the opera, Morrell and I went to a bakery to get a snack and food for the next day’s breakfast. I then ran off to Tiananmen Square one last time to get a few nighttime pictures. Tomorrow we are off to a school in Longfang in the Hebei province and then we will take an overnight train to Hang Zou.

Hangzhou Day 2-July 7, 2011

I’m writing this on the train from Hongzhou to Shanghai. The ride should take about 50 minutes and the train can go as fast around 220 miles an hour. The day began with some of us visiting a Chinese market near our hotel. The market was full of fresh fruits and vegetables but it also had a lot of live animals as well. There were all sorts of fish, crabs and eels in tanks that could be purchased alive and brought home. There were even bags of live frogs that were for sale. In the back room were live chickens and ducks that could be purchased, slaughtered, de-feathered and brought home.

After breakfast we set out for the Dragon Well Green Tea plantation in the village of Meijiawu. The village was located just outside the city of Hongzhou and it was absolutely beautiful. There were tea bushes growing up the mountainside and all along the road. At the plantation we were told how the tea leaves are prepared and then we were told all about how to prepare the perfect cup of green tea. The process begins by placing a three finger pinch of green tea into an empty cup and then pouring in the hot water. The water should be boiled but then allowed to cool for a few minutes before being poured into the cup. The high quality green tea can be used for up to 4 cups of tea before being thrown out. This whole process was explained to us by a man named Dr. Tea. He encouraged us never to use tea that comes in a tea bag as that is the worst of the worst tea.

After the tea plantation we headed to the Lingyin Temple. This is a Buddhist temple that was absolutely amazing. Before the actual temple there are lots of Buddha statues carved into stone rocks and cliffs. The buddhas are all different sizes and at different heights along the cliffs. Some are very detailed and others are much simpler. During the Cultural Revolution Red Guards smashed off the heads and destroyed some of the buddhas.

We then walked through various buildings of the temple that had many different Buddha statues. Some buddhas had happy, funny faces while other faces were angry and intimidating. The buddhas were all different sizes and some were absolutely huge.

After lunch and a walk around West Lake we headed for the train station and the last leg of our trip.

Hangzhou Day 1

Arrived at the station roughly 8:30 am. The heat and humidity levels at this hour were quite frightful. Our driver, Tom, told us that it was to be around 97 degrees with 65% humidity! Free sauna, anyone?

Once we made it to the West Lake, we took a short cruise across the lake to the museum. Along the way we saw the "Buddha Bless Emperor Pagoda" and the Leifang Pagoda. The West Lake area is lush with trees, grasses and flowers. Sycamores line many walkways. Three distinct areas have large clusters of lotus plants all in bloom. Occasionally, we would see rows of little bushes which turned out to be tea! Hangzhou's West Lake region is known to have the best tea, Longjing.

Lunch was wonderful at the Lilly Hotel and then we were off to our hotel, finally. At 3:00 pm, Tom, came for us again and we were off for a quick tour of a silk factory and then the Six Harmonies Pagoda. The six harmonies are Heaven, Earth, North, South, East and West. See the attached pictures of all of us at the Pagoda from ground level and up inside the pagoda. Some climbed up into the Pagoda and some of us roamed around the complex. We saw a ceremonial bell, a pagoda garden and a goldfish garden (where it was said to be the origin of goldfish!). There was also a beautiful tea house right beside the Six Harmonies.

Dinner was at the restaurant over looking the lake; Louwailou Restaurant. The food was far less spicy than Beijing. After a wonderful meal, we finished with sesame cookies for dessert.

Hope you enjoy our pictures of Hangzhou!

Lisa and Amy

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  • West Lake
  • Boat Ride on West Lake - Maral and Chris
  • Boat Ride on West Lake - Stephanie and Kim
  • Boat Ride on West Lake - Liz
  • West Lake
  • A quick demonstration at the China Silk Museum
  • Stephanie helps stretch and layer the silk weave. This will eventually be used to make a blanket.
  • Amy and Lisa at the Six Harmonies Pagoda
  • A local speciality - Beggar's Chicken - served up at the Louwailou Restaurant. Lotus-wrapped chicken wrapped in clay.

All Aboard

On Tuesday night we departed from the Beijing Railway Station on a train bound for Hongzhou, the "honeymoon capital" of China and the site of the inspiring West Lake. We spent about an hour in the station before boarding, watching Chinese travelers sleep on mats on the floor, eat at McDonalds, and generally wait for their trains. At this point in the trip, waiting for transportation is not an unusual experience. An overnight train, however, was new for almost everyone in our group. When we stepped onto the platform at 6:45, we found our car. Some of us were sharing rooms with fellow NCTA participants; others were sharing with Chinese families or foreign travellers. At 7:15, the train lurched into motion and we watched the bustle of Beijing transform into suburban apartments and farmland. Construction dotted the landscape, reinforcing our understanding of China's growth. We munched on some snacks we had brought onto the train, chatted a bit, and settled into our beds for a relatively restful night of sleep. The cabins were small but comfortable, each measuring about 8 by 8 feet, with four beds and a little table. We woke up with enought time to see outskirts of Hangzhou. Our guide, Tom, greeted us at the gate, and we began our tour of this beautiful city. Riding the train was an excellent way to see China and begin the second leg of this study tour!

Tuesday, July 5th

Today we went to the town of Langfang in Hebei Province to the #5 High School. We were greeted by Vice-Principal Bai, the Party Secretary General in charge of politics and security, and the Party Cadre in charge of moral education and psychological health. We gathered in a formal meeting room with large pictures of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao on the wall. On the table were American and Chinese flags. A large banner welcomed the American Teacher Delegation.

After our welcoming we split into two groups. One group went to a parent and student meeting and the other to observe classrooms. The classes were senior 3 classes (12th grade) in literature, physics and math. The students, both boys and girls, wore the same uniform shirts and there were about 30 students per class. The classrooms were older and run down looking and there was no air conditioning in the school. But, they had overhead projectors, a large track and field and dormitories for students to live in with 6 to a room.

In the classrooms, the students were very excited to see us and were eager to ask questions and share their lives with us. They really seemed just like American students, having fun and joking around, yet they face extreme pressure to do well on their national exam to get into a university. They are at school from 7:15 until 6:30 with a 2 hour lunch break In the evening they study from 7:30 until 11:00 or 12:00 at night. Many students have tutors and none of them work due to their studies. The students feel pressure from their parents to do well and they want to defend their school because they are proud.

Those that went to the parent meeting said it was a very somber room. All parents, students and teachers were greatly concerned about the grades of the students. The trend of grades for each student were put on the overhead for all to see. Parents of the students that did not do well were told to turn off the television and that there students need to study much more.

I asked Vice-Principal Bai what message he would like us to take back to our students in America. His response was that there are more similarities than differences between us but that Chinese students face more pressure than American students do. He gave us a new favorite quote, "No pressure, no progress!"

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  • Senior 3 Math Class
  • Samantha explaining to the students the math she teaches in America.
  • NCTA teachers are at the front of the class asking and answering questions.
  • More Q & A time with the students.
  • The front of the school.
  • Athletic field with track, basketball courts and table tennis.
  • Vice-Principal Bai taking us on a tour of the school grounds.
  • The name of High School #5. Quite a mouthful!
  • Students leaving during their 2 hour lunch break.
  • Bicycle parking. This was full before the luch break.
  • Lunch with Vice Principal Bai and two English teachers who helped with translation.
  • Look at the pictures on the wall during our meetings with the administration.