Thursday, September 2, 2010

July 17, 2010 Parent Update Summer Palace

Today was our much-anticipated trip to the Summer Palace. As you know, the students have been regularly reading the stories from Chinese classics depicted in the paintings on the Long Corridor that runs along Kunming Lake. In addition to daily presentations of these stories in their Chinese language classes, students were to identify eighteen paintings that they wanted to locate and note clues in their fieldtrip workbooks to help them find these amidst the some 8,000 paintings that exist on this 728 long gallery.

We started out near the east gate of the park with a view of the lake, then began our loop, walking through one length of corridor and then stopping at the Buddhist incense tower (Foxiangge). We had about thirty minutes at this tower, and some students—including Andrew, Benoit, Tristan, Jason Q, and Rebecca,—climbed up to the pavilion through narrow painted corridors that were imitations of the long corridor for an even more spectacular view of the lake. I loved watching them stop to peer through the lattice-work windows of these corridors at the vistas which lay beyond the crowds of tourists: the lake itself, and the Empress Dowager’s marble boat; the Eighth Lake Island, and the Seventeen Arch Bridge that reaches it; the Dragon boats and paddle boats ferrying anonymous passengers.

When we resumed our walk along the corridor, I was struck my how differently our students were engaging with these paintings in contrast to many of the other tourists who pushed and wove their way past us. Most students walked in clusters, cradling their yellow notebooks in the crooks of their arms and waving pens or pencils in the opposite hand. Most walked with their heads tilted upwards, their eyes scanning, then focusing, then lighting up with recognition. Inevitably the hand holding the writing implement would shoot up as the student yelled to a friend, “Hey I know that one, that’s the story of the Weaver Girl and the Sheep-herder” or any other number of classical Chinese tales your children have come to know. I will confess that I don’t know the corridor stories as well as my students do, and I have now moved their collection of stories to the top of my reading list. I want to see the corridor in the way they now it—I too want to make these paintings and stories my own.

At the end of the corridor, we stopped for ice cream, giving ourselves a refreshing break from the heat. We then boarded a Dragon boat that took us to the island, and we walked across the bridge, assembling at the bronze ox before exiting to our waiting bus. Onward to lunch, but first, past the gates of Qinghua University and Beida (some of our students have parents who are graduates from these institutions), and Liao Laoshi pointed out the physics building where she did research as an undergraduate. We continued down Chengfu Lu, past Wudaokou and finally arriving at Chengfulu dongkou where we had lunch at a “Pizza Buffet.” After some brief encouragement by Liao Laoshi for everyone to exercise good judgment and moderation at this all-you-can-eat venue, your children dined enthusiastically on cuisines ranging from pizza to sushi.

From there we went to the Beijing Capital Museum and the students were encouraged to let inquiry guide their visit. They worked in groups prompted by questions in their notebooks, starting at the top floor of the museum, winding through exhibits on jade, and scholar’s treasures, paintings, bronzes and porcelain, and a wonderful exhibition hall on the history of Beijing which included a large clay and wooden model of street life in Beijing under the Qianlong Emperor, based on a Qing painting. It was especially wonderful to see the collections of jade and porcelain after learning about their history and production during our previous outings. We had two hours in the museum exhibits and then gathered at the movie theater on the first floor to watch a film on the history of Beijing. With the help of animation, we were better able to imagine the place where we are currently located as it may have appeared in Neolithic times, and watch how both landscape and cityscapes changed with the passage of time and of armies.

We exited the building at 4:20 and headed for Beijing’s Hongjuchuang (Red Theatre) in the Chongwen district for an hour-long Kongfu performance called “the Legend of Kongfu.” The performance included a series of scenes that took us through the arrival of a young monk in a monastery, his initiation, and learning, struggles with his own ego-based illusions, his remorse and reconciliation with his master, and his ultimate induction as the Abbot. In addition to the amazing martial arts, the show was well choreographed with some beautiful dancing and special effects.

From the show, we headed at 6:30 to the Soho district of Beijing for a special dinner: Thai food! Some of the dishes were quite spicy, but your children were adventurous in trying the ten dishes delivered to each table. Pad Thai and rice were the biggest hits, but we also had fans of the vegetables and curries. We left the restaurant and walked to the bus in a lovely warm evening breeze, arriving back to campus just before 8:30, with students clamoring to study for their final exams. We were touched to see how seriously they are taking their tests and we allowed for a slightly extended study evening for those who wanted more time to review.

All the best from Beijing,


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