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Published: August 5th 2016
I had to decide quickly . . . a colleague of mine was organizing a study tour trip to China for about a week and the expenses were covered – I just needed to respond within a couple hours. Yes, normally a no-brainer for me but I had other work obligations at that time. Ultimately, I made that quick decision to go and I am glad I did. This was definitely a ‘learning experience’ trip. We were a group of 12 professors, doctoral students, and technology specialists. My colleague is overseeing the creation of a high school in Suzhou and we were going to see that, meet with students, visit schools, meet with Chinese university faculty, and to take in some cultural sites. We were on the go with a full schedule each day spending one day in Nanjing, four days in Suzhou and two days in Shanghai. While avoiding most of the work-related details, I thought I would share a few pictures and thoughts on the visit otherwise.
The long day. If you’ve gone to China from the U. S. you probably know what I mean. We all gathered by 4:45am at the airport in Raleigh and then waited
in a long line at the metal detectors. We flew to Newark and then had a couple hours at the Newark Airport. Then, it was a delay for minor repairs followed by a delay for President Obama to fly in that saw our takeoff go two hours later than planned. Fourteen and a half hours later we arrived in Shanghai. I was able to watch Deadpool, The Revenant, and the Big Short all during the flight. We navigated our way through the lines at customs and then the lines to exit. Exiting the luggage area we found ourselves walking through a seemingly never-ending pathway with people on both sides holding an array of signs to meet people. After being in countless airports I have never seen any like that. Next, a 4 and ½ hour bus ride to Nanjing with a short stop at our first Chinese rest stop on the way. One interesting site about halfway to Nanjing was a large Ferris wheel and fancy, casino-like shopping area centered by a Sam’s Club in lights. After getting some food we were all very thankful to fall in bed and end the long day.
This was an odd trip
for me given that I am a person who typically prefers green, lush forests and vistas of mountains to the concrete jungles of cities. We never really got out of the urban sprawl for the entire week. Suzhou, it seemed, was just a massive suburb of Shanghai and you might be surprised to find out that it is actually larger than Chicago! The scale of China and its people is difficult to understand. It seemed that we drove past never-ending rows of high-rise apartment buildings. We intermittently spotted skylines the size of most major cities in the U. S. as we drove out through the Shanghai suburbia.
Nanjing was a quick stop to meet with faculty at Nanjing Normal University and to have lunch. In what became our typical fashion for meals we gathered around a large round table and watched as dish after dish was brought out and continuously circulated past us on a Lazy Susan. In general, I found the food to be very good including many fresh dishes with greens (and I don’t typically eat many vegetables), many good meat and fish dishes, and fruit for desert (the muskmelon was so much sweeter than anything I’ve
tasted in the States). Moreover, as you can see from some of my pictures many of the dishes were presented with intricate designs. Our only sightseeing in Nanjing was the Confucius Temple. Most of our group just took in the shopping around the temple which is really a complex with a series of buildings. The temple itself was interesting to walk through but I’m not sure that I would travel to Nanjing just to see it. We stayed at the Nanjing Grand Hotel which was a nice place and one I would recommend. The most memorable part of the room was the toilet that had a control board with more features than a car wash (see picture). However, we didn’t stay long enough for me to try them out.
Most of our activities took place in Suzhou including a visit to the building site, professional development with the teachers, visiting some private schools, and activities with the high-school students who will move into the new building this Fall. Suzhou is known for being the city of gardens so we went to one of the best known called the Humble Administrator’s Garden. We also went to Tongli Town, an area
known for its interconnected series of canals along snaking past shops, restaurants, cultural sites, and even some residences. We took a boat ride around Tongli, an experience with some nice photo ops. However, I wasn’t crazy about the stop to watch the guy show off his captive trained diving birds. He would take one bird (all were tied to the boat) send it underwater for fish and then grab it by the next to choke the fish out of its mouth. Another day outing in Suzhou was the Horticultural Expo of JiangSu province. This rotating Expo was impressive as it was spread out across a large site on the magnitude of a large theme park. There were impressive outdoor landscape designs and indoor cultural exhibits.
We stayed at the Huanxiu Resort and Spa Hotel that sits in the forest and is a nice respite in the middle of the city. I was able to get in a couple runs here with a few locals stopping to stare as I passed by. With the exception of having to ward off mosquitos a couple of nights I really enjoyed staying at this resort as the rooms were very nice and the
breakfast was also good.
Our visits to the schools were also very interesting. I think we all enjoyed the Tian Cheng Kindergarten that was full of energetic and very photogenic kids. We all had a good laugh as we looked on in awe of the miniature toilets at the school. At the Suzhou Zhenhua Middle School we were welcomed by a large, million-dollar rock out front that the school had outbid the Beijing Olympic group. They also showed off their high-tech classrooms and their well-disciplined instruction that is a stark contrast to American classrooms.
Our last stop was Shanghai. On the way in to the city we stopped at the Shanghai American School, one of the most renowned international schools in the world. Their college-like campus included very talented teachers from all over the globe. Famous graduates included Yao Ming and Jackie Chan. It wasn’t a school for slackers. We were limited by time in Shanghai but we were able to take in the Jade Buddha Temple, the market, and then the Bund and city skyline. The market is an endless series of shops selling all sorts of things in shops found throughout narrow passageways. It’s easy to
get turned around but an interesting way to spend a couple hours.
I’m not sure which is most impressive – the amount of smog in the city or skyline itself. But, when the smog clears a bit the buildings are incredibly impressive particularly lit up at night. The magnitude of it all leaves you walking around with your mouth open – the ultra-modern skyline on one side of the river highlighted by the Pearl Tower and the Bund, or impressive early 20th
century colonial buildings on the other side. Another highly recommend activity would be a night river cruise to put you in the middle of both of these cityscapes. I was impressed by the colors of everything including the bridge next to our historic hotel (Broadway Mansions Hotel) and the landscaping and monuments next to the river. Our food the last night at Mao’s Family Restaurant was excellent as it was nicely spiced (but not hot) with flavor characteristic to the region. As with most of our dinners we feasted on endless dishes revolving around our Lazy Susan.
I really enjoyed the quick trip to China particularly because I was with a great group of colleagues. We
were able to fit in a lot of activities in eight days. If I were to return to China it would be interesting to take in the Beijing area.
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