In July 2015, 6 of our young people and their teacher were invited to visit China. Here is their story…
Written by Regan McMillan, Jennifer Anderson, Khuram Baig, Oliver Simpson, Struan Laing and Kasia Kupczyk (all S6)
We began the journey in Tianjin with an opening ceremony in our accommodation – Tianjin Foreign Studies University, following on from our sightseeing tours in Beijing. We had only ever travelled in bus groups and our Stirling Hub were put into bus 3; this meant that we had only got to know people from our bus. We sat down at any available seat as we anticipated talks from very important people who were involved in organisations such as Hanban (the Chinese Government), CISS from Strathclyde University and the Confucius Institute – we were also introduced to our mandarin teachers for our stay in Tianjin. As the talks began, Regan was preparing for a tune on the bagpipes to celebrate the opening on the Chinese Summer Bridge Camp 2015. This went down a treat with the people of China and also with the people of Scotland and it brought both cultures closer together from the offset. As the meal of boiled and sticky rice, Chicken and Pineapple, spicy diced chicken and broccoli dripping in salty oil were being served (oh and don’t forget the deep-fried sweetcorn), we began talking to new people and getting to know them. Then it was time for traditional Chinese cake as we also celebrated three of our fellow tripees’ Birthday’s; unfortunately the cake was not very nice, which was fairly disappointing.
Spending almost three weeks of our summer in China this year has been the most incredible experience of our lives and we feel so lucky that we were able to have this opportunity. It was a packed schedule which really allowed us to get the most out of our stay as well as allowing us to visit many famous landmarks and places of interest in Beijing as well as in Tianjin. From daily Kung fu classes, cultural classes and Mandarin classes as well as visits to our partner school, spending the afternoon with a Chinese host family whilst embracing the Chinese culture, and of course meeting Nicola Sturgeon, was not something that we thought we would be talking about six months ago.
On arrival to China, we spent a couple of days in Beijing sightseeing and visited the Confucius Institute Headquarters. From then on, we travelled to Tianjin where we spent 10 days learning Mandarin and successfully completing our YCT (Youth Chinese Test). We then travelled back to Beijing where we spent a few more days visiting the Hutongs (traditional Chinese houses), Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City and the Silk Market.
On the first day of our sightseeing in Beijing, we were already at China’s most famous landmark, The Great Wall of China. Before we even began climbing part of the wall, we were surrounded by locals filming and taking pictures with us, failing to understand that this was only the beginning of our ‘fame’ in China.
Our first purchase of the day was a traditional, triangular shaped hat that proved to be very practical in what was most likely the hottest day of the year. With temperatures slightly over 40C and Beijing in the midst of a heat wave, it was safe to say that our Scottish skin was still not accustomed to the strong summer rays of the East, we had to take care of it with a pore vacuum! We don’t think anyone appreciated how steep the wall is, in reality, in comparison to the pictures of the wall. Uneven steps and a soaring sun made walking up to the first two towers extremely difficult. However, this was compensated by the most incredible view over the surrounding valley and mountains and, of course, the experience of standing on a section of The Great Wall of China. Despite the heat, Oliver continued climbing part of the wall while, by this stage, the rest of us were already exhausted. It was clear that we had reached our furthest tower and trying to find shade amongst the vast quantity of people was a challenge. However, we took this opportunity to capture photographs of the wall, and of each other, whilst holding our Stirling High Flag which of course drew a lot of attention from the Chinese people.
After having lunch at the wall, we were then back on the bus and heading to the Summer Palace. Here, it didn’t feel like you were in Beijing due to the large open lake and beautiful trees, flowers and bridges in contrast to the busy, built up city. The atmosphere was so peaceful and the traditional buildings were simply amazing – everything was so colourful and structurally outstanding. As we were walking around the lake, we walked through the world’s longest covered promenade which is built entirely from wood and is 728m long. This corridor was covered with the most beautiful historical paintings, and although busy with tourists, it provided us with the perfect shade during that extremely hot day. There was so much to look at, whether this was the Marble Boat, the different courtyards or merely the incredible view over the lake. Having had our ice cream and seeing the cutest group of young Chinese children speaking Mandarin with our coordinator, we then got on a dragon boat and headed back to the other side of the lake where there was the opportunity to take some more group photos with the breath-taking backdrop.
To add to this amazing day, in the evening, everyone went to the Bird’s Nest Stadium. However, having being separated from the rest of the group, Mrs Glover, Kasia, Regan and Jennifer ended up going on our own little adventure after becoming lost. As a result, we encountered a giant panda holding a gold medal and a completely different Olympic Stadium. Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile experience in its own right. Eventually, an hour later, we were at the Bird’s Nest Stadium and it was fair to say that we were all exhausted by the time we got to bed.
Who would have thought that you could achieve so many incredible experiences in one day – and this was only day one.
During the second week of our China trip we visited our partner school, Tianjin No 54 High School. While at the high school, we were re-united with our old friend and head-teacher of the high school, Mr Wang. After a short while we were introduced to our three partner students, Wang Xuan, Momo and PangQiJia. Kasia and Mrs Glover paired up with Momo, Jennifer and Regan with Wang Xuan and finally Khuram, Oliver and Straun with PangQiJia. After travelling a while towards his house we finally got to meet his family; though they had difficulty with English, PangQiJia’s English was fantastic and he could easily translate for us. After being fed a table full of Chinese snacks and fruit we were introduced to his friend Feng. Feng had trouble with speaking English, but through the use of a translator and PangQiJia, we managed to find out she enjoyed playing basketball and at some point wanted us to return to China and play a game with her. After this we helped the family prepare dinner, this involved making dumplings. Making dumplings was fantastic and we had a good few laughs during the process, after finishing about 100 dumplings we were informed that these were only for Khuram. We then watched the family make a meat-based batch of dumplings compared to Khuram’s vegetable based ones. After this we began to tuck into the food. The meal was fantastic, though to our shock the family had made an unbelievable amount of food and there was no way we would be able to eat it all. During the meal we had some more laughs and discussed different facts about our countries with PangQiJia. Upon finishing the meal, we cleared up and then drove back to the school to play a match of football. While Oliver, Khuram, PangQiJia and two of his other friends played football, Struan stayed with Feng while she took photos and filmed them play. Though attempting to talk to her, they both ultimately failed due to lack of experience in each other’s languages. Shortly after the football began a storm appeared and rain poured down upon the pitch, because of this PangQiJia was worried about us not enjoying it and asked if we wanted to go find shelter, though he was ultimately shocked after we all cheered at the sight of rain. The football continued through the storm until sadly the day ended and we had to return to the university we were staying at. Though now back in Scotland, we keep in contact with our new friends and are hoping to see them again in the future.
As our trip was drawing to a close, we finished our time in Tianjin by holding a closing ceremony. Oliver, Regan and Kasia got picked to be part of the Kung-Fu squad and perform in front of everyone. Mrs Glover was picked for the Tai Chi – Both roles required lots of practice throughout our stay in Tianjin and during the run up to this ceremony. Regan had to make the decision of wearing her Bright Yellow Kung Fu outfit to play her bagpipes and as she says; “it brings the two cultures closer together” which is what the trip was intended to do, plus make better links in schools with this programme. Each class group also performed a show in their field; i.e. Fan-Making, Opera Mask painting and bronze ware making. The whole group sang a rendition of ‘auld lang syne’ in Chinese and performed this at the end of our Closing ceremony.
Our trip to China has been very memorable. Especially on one occasion. When we visited our host school in Tianjin which was school no.54 which is a high school in Tianjin. During our visit to the school we went on a tour of the school and then done 3 activities afterward. High school no.54 is very famous in Tianjin as it is a footballing school which most national footballers get picked from, which shows that the school is a very popular in the whole of China. As we entered we were shown their football pitch where some of the younger pupils were training. We went over there to see their training and afterward went inside and the head teacher was showing us were the football team come before matches and it was a trophy room which was filled with football trophy’s and a poster showing all the players from school no.54 that went to the national team which was quite a lot. In another room we saw pupils paper cutting and making figures out of clay it was very amazing as the pupils were very talented in what they were doing we then joined them in some paper cutting and figure making. We then went to see pupils who were playing football with robots which was quite interesting as they had made the robots, After they told us to play so we got in a team of 3 and had a mini tournament which was quite hard but fun. After Mrs Glovers team who we went ahead to the home economics department and made moon cakes which consisted of sweet bean paste and a sweet outer layer we then put them in the fridge so they didn’t melt, they were not as nice as I expected them to be. We then went to one of the class rooms and sat down to see how the Chinese pupils were thought. As we were going home the head teacher took us to the library which was the state of the art and was just built. After we just said goodbye to the head teacher and the other teachers.
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We went to the Confucius Institute during our stay. We were meant to go around and absorb some culture from the museum but we were just walking around when we found a large set of Chinese bells arranged in order so that it was like a massive xylophone. One of the boys began to play twinkle little star, so I snuck up behind him and in the deepest voice I could managed whispered the lyrics into his ear while he was playing. It gave him the greatest of frights making him jump. We laughed and that is how I met and began talking to Nathan, who later became a good friend on the trip. We then went around together and tried on dresses and other things, because of this I got to meet all of Nathans friends which help us find the people we really enjoyed.
During one of our excursions we decided to find presents for Kuram, who was coming to the end of his fasting period. After walking for ages we found a halal shop and got into a light conversation with one of the Chinese Muslims there who explained to me the significance of Ramadan and why we should not get gelatine sweets. Surpassing cultural and language barriers, we learned about our friend’s religion and bought him his sweets for the end of Ramadan.
We showed friendship, learning, strength, responsibility and kindness, truly values that our school should represent. The teachers were lovely and very humorous they found Oliver in particular to be very funny and we had a great time having dinner together discussing life and Chinese. The language itself is wonderful and definitely worth picking up over any other language. The accommodation was also top notch with gym facilities and everything catered, even the janitorial cleaning services staff who refused to take extra money when we wanted to show our gratitude.
But most of all the teachers were the ones who made the event, everyone was relaxed understanding and genraly there for as much a good time as we were. We laughed and shared stories with some while we danced and played cards with others. Many of them unique. This trip was worth every penny and was made so by the people who went on it.
We also held a second closing ceremony at a fancy hotel in the centre of Beijing where Nicola Sturgeon was staying. On arrival, we were greeted with normal food! This being the first time in two weeks without Chicken and Pineapple, Diced Spicy Chicken and Sticky, boiled rice; Spaghetti Bolognese and a few mini desserts were amazing shall we say – amazing is possibly an understatement. Nicola Sturgeon was piped in and she said a few words before the performance in Kung Fu. She then came round each of the Hub Groups to ask about our time on the trip and then took selfies which we all appreciated greatly because she is the selfie queen of Scotland – she even grabbed the selfie stick from Regan’s hand to take one. This brought us all together for the final time which was a sad moment but saying that; we couldn’t have finished our time in China on a better note.