A Trip of a Lifetime
November 21, 2014
Written by Teresa Schauer '16
The thunderous roaring of the motorcycles and loud banging coming from the kitchen woke me suddenly from a deep sleep. I couldn’t remember where I was. But as my sleep-deprived senses came back to me after jet-lag and a 13-hour time difference, it dawned on me: “I’m in China!”
I couldn’t believe I had actually built up the courage to travel halfway across the world with my fellow classmates. It still sounded crazy to me even after months of planning...but I didn’t realize how crazy it all was until I was laying on a bed completely made out of wood with a sandbag as my pillow… literally. I was grateful to have my Minnie Mouse pillow pet along with me to avoid what could have been a cranky week.
We arrived in Beijing on Thursday evening. The sky was completely gray and you could feel your lungs getting heavier with every step. The air was very polluted, and it made me appreciate our cleaner air back home. Luckily, we soon acclimated to the atmosphere! We took a bus to the city of Shijiazhuang (That was fun to say!), which was supposed to be a three hour trip, but it ended up being six hours because of the absolutely outrageous traffic. We were all completely exhausted after traveling about a whopping 25 hours.
That exhaustion was forgotten the moment we stepped off the bus. Immediately, we were surrounded by a swarm of happy Asians excited to meet the new Americans in town. Each student soon went home with his or her host family and our adventures began. I went with my family members to their small apartment close to the school. I was shocked to see that the area around the building was very dirty with dust and piles of trash everywhere. To me, it was very unappealing, but they didn’t think anything of it. It was their norm. I then realized how grateful I was to live in a clean city where municipal services are provided to help make the area as clean as possible. I even became thankful for trash cans! I entered into the apartment and was surprised that I could see all of the rooms from where I was standing. It was small, but wonderfully cozy. The bathroom, however, was a different story! The shower, the toilet, and the sink were all within three feet of each other, and to make it even stranger, there was no curtain or anything for the shower; it was just a shower head attached to the wall. I felt uncomfortable the first night, but I guess I should have expected that in a foreign place with a foreign family.
The following week was to be a huge learning experience for me.
We spent the next few days in Hebei International School learning more about the Chinese culture. We learned some basic Chinese sayings: colors, vegetables, and numbers. I never knew how extremely complicated the Chinese language was until I actually began learning it. They use thousands of different characters that each mean a different word. Just learning about the education system there blew my mind. Students begin their day at school around 7:00 am and finish at around 9:00 pm with breaks in between... not to mention they still have homework to do after school. Some students even have school on Saturdays!
We learned how to paint some interesting Chinese paintings and calligraphy. At first, the art teacher demonstrated painting the pictures, which seemed difficult, but the paintings are rather simple with a focus on nature, so anyone could learn to do it. We also explored the ancient art of Tai Chi. It’s actually kind of similar to hip hop but at a much, much slower rate. Our group also had an opportunity to go to a Temple in Shijiazhuang. It was huge and had many different kinds of Buddhas displayed. Then we were off to a local museum, where we viewed hundreds of antique objects from many of the different dynasties.
Surprisingly, THAT was when we all were bombarded by locals who wanted to take pictures with us. It’s like we were aliens from another planet that they had never seen before in their life! They were especially fixated on the taller members of our group because so many there were shorter than those in our group. My friend Emily, one of the students on the trip, is quite tall so there was a big line to get pictures with her. She was so excited that they liked her so much and joked, saying, “Wow, I’m so popular here!” Not only did the locals take pictures with us, but they also stared at us EVERYWHERE we went. It felt super creepy at first, but eventually we got used to it. In a way, it made me cherish the individuality and originality that Americans display. In America, it’s always intriguing to see the diversity while in China, seeing a new face is a rare gem.
It was exciting, but at the same time a little nerve-wracking that each of us had our own individual time with our families. My family usually took me out to dinner every night whether it was karaoke or just a traditional restaurant. The food was pretty good, but sometimes I had no idea what meat I was eating, so I called it “mystery meat”. It was pretty funny when the dad and the mom tried to speak English. The one saying they could muster was “very good” so every time I ate something they would point to my plate and say “mmmm very good!” Also, at very random times during dinner, they would say “Beautiful!” and “Thank you very much!” (having a hard time with the “th” sound), and they thought it was the funniest thing to attempt English!
My family also took me shopping in the side street markets and in the mall. The mall was actually quite similar to the malls in America with many high retail stores in it; however, the side vendors were indeed new to me. There was a street that seemed miles long lined up with vendors trying to sell their items. You name it--it could be bought on the street! At other side markets, we had the opportunity to bargain for souvenirs and such. Luckily for us, we had a “professional” bargainer on the trip: Ned, another student, who was eager to get the lowest prices ever! He would go lower and lower and even lower on the price he wanted! In fact, he was SO enthusiastic that he would get things that would have cost $5-$10 for 5 yen or 80 American cents! Now that was true talent!
My family was so kind and generous that whatever I had my eye on, they were willing to pay for it! One thing that my family bought me (at first I had no clue what this thing was) was a stuffed animal heater. Sounds interesting right? It actually is the coolest thing! It is a stuffed poodle with an opening where you can put your arms in it and there is special liquid on one side where, when you plug it in to the wall, it heats up and gets super warm. You put your arms in and voila, you are instantly warm! I slept with it almost every night because it was chilly in the apartment.
After spending close to a week with our families, our visit ended and the time had come to say goodbye to our families and board a high-speed train to Beijing. After arriving two hours later in this modern city, we went to our hotel to drop off our luggage. We had a chance to see our room which actually had a normal mattress!! I was so ecstatic to have a real bed that I ran and jumped on it the first moment I laid eyes on it!!!
Later that day, we toured the Temple of Heaven, which was made completely out of wood, with no steel or any type of metal to hold it up. I was impressed with how the building has lasted so long with little support. But that was just the beginning. The next day, we saw Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, and the Forbidden City. All of these landmarks were so fascinating to see, and laced with lots of enriching history and eye-catching colors. My favorite, though, was climbing the Great Wall of China. I was in awe to be standing on a structure more than 2,000 years old. Climbing every step was breathtaking... literally and figuratively. It was stunningly beautiful and a major workout! It was the perfect way to end such an extraordinary trip!
Stepping foot on the plane to go back home was bitter-sweet. I had such an amazing time learning firsthand about the unique culture of China. I was able to experience the normal life of a Chinese person, but I was also able to experience the country as a tourist seeing the unforgettable sights. Not only that, but I also bonded with my fellow classmates and chaperones because we all shared similar feelings while on the trip. By the end, we all said we were going to miss China and that certainly is true. Overall, I had such an amazing experience in the Dragon Land -- my nickname for China because almost everywhere you looked you saw some type of a dragon- and I will no doubt carry these memories with me for the rest of my life.
(Editor's note: Teresa Schauer is a 16-year-old junior at Orange High School. She has toured internationally extensively, but this marked her first trip to Asia. She joined the group of 10 students and five chaperones for the 10-day trip in November. The trip is part of Orange High School's on-going International Education program. Students from the school in China will visit the Orange Schools in mid-February. Teresa was gracious enough to share her story with us.)