Ohioans venture to China

 
 Photo courtesy of Penny Miller
 A typical Chinese street. Alleys are the gateway to the huts, shacks, and sometimes tents that much of the population live in, according to Penny Miller.

Thousands of miles from home, Canal Winchester school board member Chuck Miller and his wife, Penny, discovered life can be both the same and vastly different in China, a land rich with cultural heritage.

Arrival

The Millers made the 16-hour flight to Seoul, Korea on June 11 before continuing the journey to their final destination, Beijing, China, along with 23 students and staff from the Metro School.

There were no Canal Winchester school district funds used for the trip as the Millers paid all their own expenses.

The Millers also took part in activities connected with an upcoming Chinese program connected with the Canal Winchester School District.

"All of the Metro School students are sophomores, including one from Canal Winchester," said Chuck Miller. "All of the kids have taken Chinese and in the fall, we’ll be teaching Chinese to high school and middle school students. The principal of the Metro School offered the opportunity to join the trip and we took her up on the offer.

"When we landed in Beijing, we started our travels and adventures. We went to the Great Wall and it was quite an education. The Forbidden City was monumental. Its architecture was done so well; everything was so precise. Just the magnitude of the city was massive. We stayed at Huiwen High School, which was very impressive."

Thousands of students attend school at Huiwen. Like their college counterparts, some live in dormitories served by a large cafeteria. Miller said the tour group visited the Great Wall and Temple of Heaven before students started attending Chinese academic and cultural classes.

Documenting the trip

Penny Miller reported on the trip in a daily blog shared with parents and Internet users.

On June 14 she wrote: "The Temple of Heaven is a huge, beautiful park surrounded on all sides by Beijing. The park is supposed to be a retreat from the city’s dirty air and cramped quarters and was filled with lots of people, mainly elderly. There was a huge walkway with 72 ‘rooms’ full of people playing cards and checkers, playing musical instruments and enjoying the company of others. One man brought a cage filled with birds and just sat around watching people. It was unlike anything I had seen before. The park then continued for what seemed to be forever."

Penny noted the group visited a cloisonné factory and watched jade placed into Olympic medals for the upcoming games, which will be held in China.

"The first few days were devoted to sightseeing and then the kids started half-day classes in subjects such as Chinese, calligraphy, and kite making. We then had time to visit other places like Tianjin-a three-hour bus ride away-where documentation was set up for a sister school experience with the Metro School," noted Penny.

According to Penny, China has "a very structured educational system" where the government sends students to school from grades one through eight. After that, students compete to attend high school. Students have a mandatory two to three years of English.

From Penny’s June 17 Traveling Buckeyes blog: "The adults that did not have to stay with the students went on an adventure to the silk market. I have never experienced anything like it. It is a department store-type building with seven floors. Each floor has hundreds of stalls, probably about 12 x 12 feet completely full of everything from name brand clothes to purses and luggage to shoes to scarves and coats. As you walk down the aisles, the keepers of each stall are yelling at you, wanting you to buy what they have. I have never been called a beautiful lady so many times in my life! If you see something of interest, then they think they have you. They will start you at a high price – though by American standards, the price would be close to what we would pay retail – and then you are expected to negotiate. At first it is overwhelming and intimidating but once you realize the system and the fact that everyone is doing the same, you acquire a skill."

Observations

Miller said a highlight of the visit was a trip in a rickshaw to the home of a local resident who treated the American visitors to tea and an introduction to cricket fighting. The group also drove past Olympic structures under construction-the Olympic Stadium "Bird’s Nest" and the swimming venue "Water Cube."

Penny continued, "People are everywhere. The roads are constantly jammed with cars, and people are walking or riding bikes everywhere. I have yet to see a house. There are hundreds upon hundreds of high-rise apartments and then alleys upon alleys that lead to what I would call small shacks. As you drive, most apartments have glass sun windows with laundry hanging to dry. Yesterday was laundry day at Huiwen. For 5 yuan (about 70 cents) we could fill a bag of dirty clothes and while we were at dinner, the clothes were washed. When we returned the bags of wet clothes were waiting on our floor for us to take to our rooms and hang to dry."

Penny also noted the agriculture of the country, observing that crops tended to be grown on small plots rather than on large acreage like in America.

"Here (in China)" wrote Penny. "They might have a quarter acre of corn planted next to a half acre of wheat next to another half acre of corn. The fields look like patch-work quilts. I am guessing this may be because it appears that a lot of the farming is done manually…A few fields we have passed have been full of men gathering mounds of straw by hand. One stretch of land we passed had clearly divided areas of wheat sectioned off along the road side and people were sweeping very methodically and then just sitting beside it, waiting. When we drove back by several hours later, the people were sweeping the wheat into large grain bags. Apparently they took the grain and poured it along the highway to dry. In what I would call the suburb of Beijing, we pass many community garden areas that I am sure are for individual/family use."

A friendly approach

"This is a culture trying to hang on to its past," said Miller, "but becoming more Westernized. It is a very friendly environment and congenial and they’re trying to expedite their growth into a modern western society. Almost every sign we saw was written in both Chinese and English. I was amazed at the number of people over here who told us they were apprehensive about us going to China. Even when we went through the airport checkpoint, the people in China were a lot friendlier than the ones we encountered at customs back in the States."  

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