Monday 14th March 2016
Just over a week away and the hoodies are being tried on!
The “expedition” to China is so close now it’s unreal, with all of us just about ready to set off. My friends remind me of a “big event” happening soon, and I stare at them blankly; not realising how close we actually are to the set off date. Trying on the hoodies was somewhat relieving, as I (like others) was under the impression they were to be a lime green-turning out instead to be more on the darker side and really nice. The taking of the group photos has made this official: we are going to China. I keep going through a check of what I’ve got and what I need, especially now since we will be dressing more formally for our visit to the twin school over there. Chino trousers might come in handy! Things are moving so quickly, but the atmosphere is ecstatic. – Gabriel Brown Y11
10 days until China! As yet, I haven’t started packing, although I have everything I need for the trip. My excitement is building, but also a hint of nervousness . . . . . . – Gordon Rae Y10
The excitement for next week’s China trip is real for the students at The Duchess’s Community High School. After receiving the green hoodies and realising they weren’t as luminous as we’d thought, the preparations are in full swing- for the girls this is crucial as many of you may relate. How else can we look great in yoga pants while enduring The Great Wall! But it is amazing how time flies! From talking about it in the December meeting to jumping on the plane in just over a week! It’s surreal to surrender ourselves to be completely engrossed in a culture that we all thought we were familiar with. This trip is going to be truly fantastic! – Natalie Batey Y13
I’m excited to be collecting my hoodie after being ill and after unfortunately missing the photos last week. I have already exchanged some money and I am super excited to be going in just over a week!! Cant’ wait! – Isabel Fountain Y10
We have arrived!
Well that was a tough journey- the good news is we have all arrived in Beijing all in one piece. The flight from Newcastle to Dubai was quite rough with the seat belt sign only being off for a very short while. All our students coped admirably even out nervous and first time flyers. After a bit of a trek through Dubai security there was only about an hour left for exploring the amazing airport. Unfortunately for this member of staff that hour was spent with a sudoku like challenge of sorting seating on the next leg of the flight and trying to make sure the students were sitting near friends. We finally managed this with minutes to spare and most were happy for the next long leg.
The very busy flight and the continuing motion for so many hours caught up with a few of us as motion nausea hit.
Fresh air on arrival in Beijing saw everyone perk up and the decision to go for our first “Chinese meal” before our first sightseeing stop was a very popular one.
Well fed we set off for the Olympic park and as evening was setting in we were impressed by the spectacular lights.
Once we hit the hotel there was almost no sound from anyone as we hit the hay. – Mrs Gair
Friday 25th March
It’s been hectic. Fun, but those plane flights? Wow. We are finally in the swing of things, taking full days out.
Seeing the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, lighting up at night was awesome, and there was also this weird tower (not sure what it was) that lit up in all different colours. Night was definitely the best time to see all that.
I was told a weird story regarding the Great Wall. A woman who was to be “married” to the Emperor at the time the wall was being built got him to do some things first. She made him wear white robes to mourn her husband, who had died helping construct the wall, as well as build a tablet to remember him and all others who had died working on it. When they were finally ready to get together, the woman killed herself!
Girl power right…?
The Great Wall itself was amazing! I’ve always wanted to go on it, and finally doing it was brilliant! Trekking up it was like trying to move after having a roast dinner, but it was definitely worth it not only for the experience, but the views at the top too. Stunning. We had a great group photo at the bottom of the section we clambered up, and I bought the Great Wall booklet which has a certificate saying I climbed it, as well as the photo included itself. And might I say, I climbed to the top! Well, the top of this specific section anyway- but it was high.
We also walked the road to heaven and saw many different statues, both human and animal. Some great photos were had here, with many different group poses! Travelling over to the Ming Tombs was cool too, climbing up to the temple and seeing the wonderful views.
– Gabriel Brown Y11
We are certainly packing in the sight seeing. Friday saw glorious weather and clear blue skies, the perfect condition for taking on the challenge of the Great Wall of China. Legend says that Chairman Mao claimed you could not call yourself a hero of China until you had climbed the Great Wall. In that case we have a trip full of heroes with a good proportion of our students and staff pushing though the pain and reaching the top of the wall. We hadn’t planned as well as a small group of Americans who passed us on their way down; they had taken a bottle of Bollinger to the top and celebrated their hero status in style!
Next stop was our very well deserved lunch before we headed to the Ming Tombs and the Sacred Way. A beautiful site and after the crowds on the wall very serene. We learnt about the Feng Shui of the site and why it was that the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty chose this area for the site of his tomb, and the twelve emperors who followed were also buried near by. We also found out about the fate of those concubines that the Emperor decided should follow him into the after life who had to commit suicide; no impressive mountain tomb for them though, they were buried upright in a well apparently.
After a drive back into the city (many sleepy students and staff) we visited WangFuJing street which is a modern pedestrian shopping street in Beijing, with a night market coming off. I think the site of scorpions on sticks and the less than ripe smells were the overwhelming features of the place for many of our first time visitors to China.
Saturday sees us head off to the Summer Palace, TianAnMen Square, The Forbidden City, the first major shopping experience and of course the Kung Fu show this evening.
– Mrs Gair
Saturday 26th March
I know I was looking forward to the Forbidden City, but wow! The Summer Palace was amazing!
There was an incredibly long outside corridor, covered by a stylish roof and beautiful paintings. Apparently the emperor who lived there had it built for his Mum so she would not get wet from rain when returning to her quarters. What consistently amazed me, and has been this entire trip so far, is the attention to detail. Every single painting on the corridor, big or small, was unique. Every individual one was completely different, and painted to perfection.
The huge marble boat was interesting, how it was just sort of there. I just don’t understand why you would build a boat you can’t use? It was all incredibly busy, with so many photos being taken of us by the Chinese people. We also crossed onto a tiny little island which gave us beautiful views, and a small mini group photo including trip organiser Mr Burrow.
The Forbidden City at first surprised me, being much smaller than know believed to be. Then I walked through the next few sets of gates, and I can see why it earns the title of a city. It was great to finally walk around it, if so seeming a little sparse- but incredibly busy. The green hoodies really do come in handy!
The restaurant we went to for lunch was weird. It was a sort of DIY dining, where you picked your food up with chopsticks (a skill I have been attempting to master over these last few days) and dipping it into the sort of hot water “pot”. Very worrying, as I kept checking to see if the meat I picked was cooked all the way!
After dinner we saw a kung fu show, which was spectacular. The performances in that were incredible, with some amazing moves and techniques being shown off. It really had to be seen to be believed. And apparently the acrobatics show is supposed to be even better, so I’m definitely looking forward to that!
– Gabriel Brown Y11
I’ve been to Beijing on several other occasions and know that the sight of blue skies for consecutive days is a rare one, but that was the treat that greeted us on our second morning here. Today was another jammed packed day and we are certainly starting to suffer some tour fatigue. We battled through the Beijing traffic (is it really necessary to use your horn as a form of greeting here?) and were off to the Summer Palace. Always one of my favourite places and this year was no exception. The students also loved it and enjoyed engaging with the locals again; from the calligraphy artists who practise their beautiful style of writing in water on the paving slabs to the countless selfies they took and appeared in. Some of our students will feature in more photos on Chinese social media than on their own Facebook. Although they were lapping it up to begin with I think they have started having a little more sympathy for the celebrities and their hounding by the paparazzi by the end.
One of the key features of the Summer Palace is the beautiful lake and we certainly enjoyed seeing the magnolia in bloom on the banks of the lake.
You might notice the odd panda appearing in some of these photos our tour guide presented all the students and the staff with a panda on arrival in Beijing and since I have plenty of the typical tourist shot of many of these places, and a 3 1/2 year old at home, I have made sure this is the year of the panda when it some to my China pictures 2016. I think “panda” might be a category of its own when we have our post trip photo competition. A trip to the Summer Palace is never complete without a mention of the “Dragon Lady”. The imposing mother of one of the last Emperors who sat behind the curtain in the throne room wielding power first through her son and then though a cousin (or something) until the Last Emperor of China. It is reported that her photograph was taken at the age of 65 and everyone said she only looked 40 so she was from hence forth referred to as an Ancient Beauty- it is true that certain staff on the trip feel we should use this term when speaking of them- I’ll leave you to decide who that might have been.
After the Summer Palace it was off to lunch and we tried a new (to us) style of meal. This was a traditional hot pot which consists of a table with a hole in the centre, burner in that hole and a pan of boiling broth over the burner. There were plates and plates of thinly cut meat, vegetables and tofu for us to place in the broth and fish out (with chopsticks) when cooked- everything was sliced so finely it only took a couple of minutes to ensure it was throughly cooked.
After lunch it we headed across the street to TianAnMen Square. Always an impressive site; through the gate under Mao’s imposing portrait and into the Forbidden City. The immense size of this place is often. It appreciated as we take the main thoroughfare to the other end. The students are well aware of how long it is but fail to appreciate its breath. Some of my favourite views are from inside the Forbidden City looking out to modern Beijing rising above the ancient walls.
The students also got their first experience of real bartering as we made a short trip to the Pearl Market- I struggle to understand quite how much some of them were able to buy in such a short amount of time.
The final activity of the day (after supper) was the legendary Kung Fu show, despite it being my second viewing it was just as impressive as the first.
Exhausted we stumbled back to the hotel for a very well earned rest.
– Mrs Gair
Sunday 27th March
Sunday has been a more relaxed day than yesterday so I think the students have been able to catch up with themselves a bit.
It is certainly worth mentioning the number of people who have approached staff to tell us what extremely well behaved, well mannered, and generally outstanding students we have; of course we knew this already but it’s nice to see it noticed by strangers.
We began the day with a visit to the Flea Market which is a highlight for me on this tour. A fantastic array of handicrafts, paintings, jewellery, statues. A complete contrast to the Pearl market of yesterday and Silk market we visited this afternoon.
The students have picked up some really beautiful gifts (or at least some of them will be gifts I am sure) here and their only complaint was they would have loved longer.
Off to the Hutongs we went to be driven at some mind bending speeds through these “narrow alleys” by rickshaw drivers who seem to like to race with each other. We then had what has been described as the best meal of the trip so far in a really amazing restaurant.
A much longer shopping trip to Silk Street before heading the Chinese Acrobat show. A second viewing certainly does not detract from this show; mind blown all over again. If you ever wondered how many people you could fit on an ordinary bicycle whilst it is being ridden in circles I can safely say it is at least twelve.
Dumplings for supper (although not of the mince and ….variety, causing some confusion for a couple of students) and back to the hotel to start packing (and working out how to fit all the purchases into the suitcases).
Tomorrow sees us visit the Temple of Heaven before catching the Bullet train to Shijiazhuang. – Mrs Gair
Spending day today!
We visited the flea market and silk market and they were brilliant! Lots of bartering and spending done all around I think.
We also visited the Hutongs, the old area of Beijing, and got a ride on a rickshaw- which was amazing! On the return rickshaw trip, me and Ruairí tried to see how many people would wave at us. I count around 10 waves, a couple smiles and hellos, and one very awkward look off of one man!
The atmosphere of the flea market was great, with it being the proper market I was expecting it to be. And it was massive! I got some gifts for my Mum, Dad and brother, which I will give them with when I get home (and hope they like them!)
The silk market was very diffierent-similar to the pearl market. It was a sort of cheap, bartering shopping centre, with about six floors and many different stores. I had some fun bartering for a small Buddha statue getting it for 60 juan (considering that’s all the money I had left on me at the time.) The guy I spoke with was very funny, trying to befriend me! It was even better when I went back with some friends to the same shop and I didn’t even have any money. I was just telling them how great he was and loving every second as they struggled to come to an agreement on pricing. He told me he would remember his “English friend” and that I remember him, Mr Fo (if that’s how you spell it!)
We saw the acrobatics show, which I enjoyed but also didn’t. I would say that overall, the kung film show was better, but the acrobatics had some amazing moments that bettered it in some cases. One of the final acts started with a man on a motorbike driving around a big caged wheel before being joined by another, and another, and another- until there were eight of them in the one ball!
– Gabriel Brown Y11
Monday 28th March
This morning we visited the Temple of Heaven. This is one of my favourite spaces in Beijing. After the travelling today the calmness and tranquility of the place already seems a long time ago. The temple is set in a very large park where many people come to take part in their morning exercises. Our students joined in with some singing, dancing, hacky sac and even used the gym type equipment that is freely available here. The temple itself is a beautiful structure, apparently made entirely out of wood without the use of glue or a single nail.
From here we went for an early lunch, what a treat; world famous Beijing Roast Duck. Simply delicious. Different from the shredded variety we might be used to we were able to watch the chefs slice the duck and were then given a demonstration of how it is possible to fill and fold up an entire pancake using chopsticks alone.
So, onto the station. We were warned it cells be busy and they weren’t lying. A bit stressful trying to get everyone on with all the luggage but we made it. Getting off we were told the train stopped for six minutes, not a second more or less. In the end this proved more than enough time, but not before the staff had come up with a system that ran to military precision.
We are settled into the hotel in ShiJiaZhuang and are looking forward to meeting the students at No 1 School tomorrow.
– Mrs Gair
Tuesday 29th March
Went to the number 1 school today, before taking a sleeper train to Shanghai.
It occurs to me that we are now not staying anywhere for more than a night (other than our homes that is!). We were at Ximei business hotel on the night of the 28th, then the sleeper train last night, and we are now staying in Shanghai for one night before taking our plane tomorrow!
The sleeper train was a very interesting experience, to say the least. The cabin sizes were exactly as expected, the width of a person standing up. With three bunk beds packed on either side, it was very cramped getting in , but once everything was sorted it seemed on. Sleeping was quite relaxing and comfortable to be honest, and I only woke up once for a reason unknown to me.
The school itself was huge! All the students were very welcoming and fun, and it was nice to hang out with a couple of them at the start of the day. After, we attended two separate art classes- which has always been my worst subject next to music- which we had after! We learnt how to do some calligraphy, and also paint bamboo, so I now have some awful looking souvenirs of my own to take home!
The music was interesting though. We listened to performances given by the students, on various instruments. It was great to hear as both the music and the instruments originated in China. Our school attempted a ceilidh dance outside, which worked… for the most part!
– Gabriel Brown Y11
Our students were shocked and slightly appalled to be told we would be arriving at the school at 10 past 8 in the morning more so when we told them the students arrive at 7:30. We were welcomed at the school with a speech from the deputy principal and Mr Burrow reciprocated with our own thanks. The students headed off into lessons with some Chinese guides; these ranged from Chemistry, Maths, English, Geography and Philosophy. They were welcomed and many lessons stopped so the Chinese students could ask our students lots of questions about school although in some classes impending exams meant learning had to continue…
After lessons it was time for art- we learnt how to paint bamboo in the traditional Chinese way as well as trying our hand at Chinese Calligraphy.
Lunch followed- having 3000 students in a dining hall at once gave us food for thought about how best to organise lunchtime at the new school.
Next up was music and we were treated to demonstrations of traditional Chinese instruments and Maya sang a beautiful song before we all headed outside for a ceildh. I’m sure many of the students have video footage of this and you know what they say…a picture says 1000 words.
The afternoon saw us visit some museums before heading off for a supper then onto the station for the sleeper train. This was certainly an adventure as we had to play an extreme version of Tetris to fit all the luggage and the students into the small cabins- most got some sleep and all arrived safely in Shanghai!! – Mrs Gair
Tuesday 29th March
We arrived in Shanghai and headed straight for a Buddhist temple. This included the largest jade Buddha statue (in the world??) which is carved from a single piece of jade. As tomb sweeping festival was coming up there were many people burning paper money in memory of their ancestors and loads in incense being burnt too. A stark contrast to the hectic rail journey.
After the temple we headed for lunch before retiring to the hotel for a much needed freshen up.
That evening we went for a stroll along the bund and revelled in the contrast between these two major Chinese cities. The general feeling is that Shanghai could be any major modern city whereas there is no question that Beijing is very definitely China!
We had a wonderful boat trip along the river that evening with all the buildings lit up in spectacular colours. – Mrs Gair
Final day..or so we thought!
After a very comfortable night in our Shanghai hotel and the first and only lie in of the trip we set off for the Oriental Pearl or TV tower. We had seen this iconic building from the Bund and the boat the night before and we were all pretty excited about heading up to tower to experience the glass floor and the sightseeing areas. There were some seriously good poses pulled on the glass floor, before we headed back to ground level (in lifts travelling so fast our ears popped) and explored the museum depicting the history of Shanghai- I have to admit that the cheeky panda got up to all sorts of mischief there!
The final stop on our extraordinary trip was the Yu Gardens and the surrounding market. Final presents were purchased and Yuan spent and we headed off for our last Chinese meal before the airport. Our guides had managed to source a cake so we were able to celebrate Mrs Murphy’s April Fools’ day birthday.
Well if we learnt anything that evening it was to never book a flight for April Fools’ Day. Shortly after boarding our flight at 11:30 the fog came down and 4 hours later the decision was made to cancel the flight. We then had to unload and wait for a bus to take us to a hotel. We arrived about 7am had some breakfast before heading to bed for a few hours before we headed back to the airport for our rescheduled flight. The same flight crew welcomed us back on board and the cheeky panda even got an upgrade, much to the envy of the rest of us! We finally made it to Dubai and then onwards as far as Birmingham, and so our trip came to a close with a 6 hour coach road back to Alnwick- some very exhausted staff and students were returned to families outside the shook a mere 27 hours later than anticipated!
Bloggers Gabriel, Natalie and Gordon; Teachers, Nell Gair and Emma Robertson with Lindsey and Zoe from MSP.
Bloggers and Teachers having a giggle!