Last School Trip of the Year

This is what it feels like for me to be in Beijing...
This is what it feels like for me to be in Beijing…

On my fifth time to Beijing I found an area that I’d actually like to visit again. Generally, as a rule, I dislike Beijing with a fiery passion. The only other big Chinese city that’s elicited such ire from me is Zhengzhou. Each time I’ve been in Beijing the weather has been atrocious, the crowds overwhelming, and the humidity incapacitating, but on this fifth go-round things were different.
Xiao Ming and I chaperoned an internship with six high school students during the final week of June. Overall, it was uneventful (that adjective is good when children are involved) and pleasant (that adjective just isn’t often associated with the Chinese capital).

photo(81)We had reservations at the Sanlitun Youth Hostel, a clean, centrally located place that served pretty decent Chinese and Western food. The staff, young and mostly helpful, was overworked, and sometimes it was easy to see. The area known as Sanlitun has a bit of a flashy, sordid past, but over the last few years it has grown into just a popular area for expats to shop, drink, and entertain themselves between sightseeing and whatever other business they have there.

 

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The weather also seemed to be on our side, mostly. Sunny, blue skies greeted us each day, and at night I could even see a few stars. Summer in Beijing is hot. We walked the students to the company the first couple days, but even at 8:30 we were drenched by the time we got there. We let them take cabs after two days of that.

photo(57) That first day at the company, a water conservation non-profit called THIRST, we stayed with the students until after lunch, just to make sure everything ran smoothly. The six of them had been quiet since Xiao Ming and I met them at the train station a day before, and we still hadn’t heard them talk much. This wasn’t a bad thing, but it was just…odd. The last two trips I took with students felt like I was a cat herder. This group almost made me feel like I wasted my time coming along for the trip. After the first day of this oddly self-sufficient behavior, I changed my approach. I gave them curfews, the hostel’s business card, and gave them perimeters they couldn’t pass. That did the trick. After that they were more talkative, friendlier, and always on time. The reason these six kids were chosen for the internship is because they were rock stars already. Mature, responsible, and focused. I did not need to babysit these guys like I did the 22 middle schoolers when we went to Beijing in May, or the 23 High Schoolers I went to Ningxia with.

Xiao Ming and I used our afternoons to turn the trip into a pre-summer vacation vacation. Once we dropped the kids off at the company, we would wander around the city. I finally got to see the Summer Palace, the one tourist sight I’d yet to see. It wasn’t as crowded as many other places because it wasn’t a holiday, and the complex sits pretty far away from the center of the city. Wandering around in the heat zapped us, and while sitting and resting on the bridge near the palace, both of us fell asleep for forty minutes. When we woke up old Chinese couples were smiling at us.

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Or we would hang out at the very hip and modern, Korean-owned Café Groove across the street from the hostel. This place had a modern-artistic-industrial feel to it, and in the evenings they opened their glass walls so that it became an open-air café with free wifi and comfy seats. Even the students chilled there a few times in the evenings.

Maybe the "Customer" called this number. You can find these all over the streets. They're exactly what you think they are. The sidewalk equivalent of that bathroom stall, "For a good time, call..." note.
Maybe the “Customer” called this number. You can find these all over the streets. They’re exactly what you think they are. The sidewalk equivalent of that bathroom stall, “For a good time, call…” note.

Sitting in Café Groove also allowed Xiao Ming and me to play a game we dubbed, “Count the Prostitutes.”
While the area has been made relatively cleaner due to the police and local government shutting down some bars due to solicitation, people are crafty. As we sat there, people watching, I noticed two very tall, thin, dolled-up Chinese women walking along the back of the café, down an alley behind the hotel next door. These girls came by like five minutes a part, but both in the same direction. They also both checked their phone the same way, as if checking a time or number, and then tucked it away.

By the third, nearly identical girl, I told Xiao Ming, and we watched as three more girls walked by in a matter of minutes. Unable to fight my curiosity, I stood by the outside of the café and watched as another girl walked by.
This time, however, I saw where she went. Five tall Chinese guys, broader than the average Chinese man, stood guard at the back door of the hotel. All of them wore snazzy suits, and one sat at a computer set just inside the doorway. The girl (and all of the other ones probably) went to him, leaned down, looked at the screen, and then stood and entered the elevator and disappeared. I relayed this to Xiao Ming, and she also checked it out the next time we saw a girl walk by.

On her return to our table, she said that it was definitely prostitution because after the girl got in the elevator one of the guards radioed someone in the hotel and said the girl had arrived for the customer in a specific room number. Each evening, Xiao Ming and I hung out at Café Groove and played our game as the students worked on their computers. There were a few times that we lost count, too. If the cops are at your front door, use the back, I guess.

Because it was a school trip, and Xiao Ming and I were “On” the whole week, we didn’t get to partake of the nightlife in Sunlitun. Arguably, one of the best areas in Beijing to hang out and drink, the JiuBa Jie (Bar Street) was off limits to us. We found it, saw it, walked the perimeter, but did not dive in. Next time…
The week flew by, and before we knew it, Friday had arrived and a train ride back to Dalian was in order. The students had a good time and learned a lot during the week, Xiao Ming and I met some cool people at THIRST and had a nice mini-trip, and most importantly: no one lost any limbs. We boarded the train, and six and a half hours later we said goodbye to the kids as their parents picked them up at the Dalian North Station. Third Chaperoned Trip during my First Year. Done.

It's a gated alley. No exit, no entrance. Someone had another thought.
It’s a gated alley. No exit, no entrance. Someone had another thought.

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"Chairman Mao is the Red Sun in our hearts."....Hmmm
“Chairman Mao is the Red Sun in our hearts.”….Hmmm

 

 

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Last Day of School

The last day of school at an International School is sort of like your favorite TV show’s season finale. Some characters are taking off—possibly staring in their own spinoffs—many are coming back—wiser than the year before and, with interesting stories between filming breaks. Even season-long arcs have been resolved—grades, projects, committees, testing—while mid-season changes—administration in new spots, new staff, new students—will cast mystery over the opening of the next year.

Laughing on the last day!

I doubt we’re going to be syndicated anytime soon, but there were a bunch of cameras out today. Kids and teachers alike tried to snap photos with each other while also juggling their yearbooks and signing their friends’. Students helped pack up some rooms between the hugs and signing, but their attention spans were about as long as a goldfish’s. The whole day flashed by, and came to a close at 1:30 as the buses rolled out and the staff waved goodbye for the summer.

Then, for the rest of the day, the teachers packed up their rooms, filed some papers, and wandered around the silent halls until about 4:30.

Yearbooks on the Field

We’ve got an in-service day tomorrow, but the year is done. First full-time teaching post at an accredited International School in the bag, ladies and gents.

However, the work is not finished. Xiao Ming and I are chaperoning one last trip. I am taking 6 High Schoolers to Beijing for a week so they can do an internship at a water conservation organization named THIRST. They will be working throughout the week, and we get to be their supervisors. This’ll be my third trip as a chaperone this year!
And once we return on the 28, there will be about two days, and then we head to Paris. Three days in Paris and then three weeks in Nice.

Last Day, Mischief

Fun times ahead. Hopefully I’ll be writing from a French beach next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Always Yearbooks

Secret Statues

I took the wrong number four bus after work the other day. Like the 5 and 1 bus, there are two types, so you have to pay attention to which one you catch…I’ve managed to ride all the wrong ones once or twice in my time here.

This particular time I wound up three blocks away from where I wanted to be, so I needed to walk through a few back roads that passed businesses and factories of some sort or another. At about 6 pm most people were trekking back home, too. Dark-skinned Han in hard hats, many wearing fatigue army pants or solid blue or orange work jackets moved along the sidewalks, chatting away in thick local dialect. A few glanced my way, no doubt curious about the lone foreigner in a shirt and tie walking down their streets. A couple actually talked with me.
As I drew closer to my apartment I realized I’d wandered down a road I’d never been on. To the right, across the street, a large cast-iron gate bordered an over-grown yard with statues in it. I crossed the street to get a better look, and I couldn’t believe what I saw.
What I took for a few plaster statues along the fringes of the fence turned out to be a field filled to the brim with them. All looked to be at varying levels of deterioration. Some seemed to grow directly from the ground, having spent enough time for the grass and weeds to nearly swallow them while others could have been placed there the day before.

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Communist and Kuomintang soldiers, Qing government officials, and ancient Buddhist goddesses scattered across the field gave the place an eerie feeling, almost as if I were walking through some bizarre graveyard where the dead refused to stay buried.

I followed the fence until I came to a gate opening guarded by a short, thin, bald man in street clothes. He regarded me suspiciously until I asked him if I could take a look at in the yard. He said no, but then I told him that I’ve lived here for almost three years and never saw this place. Whether or not that was a particularly convincing argument or because I am a foreigner, he changed his mind and said I could look around. “Jin lai, kan kan ba.”

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As I left, I thanked him and then took a picture of the name of the building so I could figure out what the place was. Turns out, it’s an official cultural ministry building of some sort. Pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be inthere because as I walked out, a group of workers in hard hats also asked if they could come in and the guard said no. I walked quietly down the street, not wanting to hear the “You let the foreigner in,” discussion.

 

 

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