Junior School Beijing Tour 2019
DAY 1: DEPARTURE!
Blurry eyed parents and children drifted into the departure lounge at Auckland Airport around 6am this morning. Happy squeals rang out as friends saw friends arrive and hugs were shared all round. After a quick bite to eat, children thanked their mums and dads with a beautiful waiata, before heading to customs.
The first leg of our journey was a fairly calm three hours as butterflies settled and self management skills engaged. The wait in Sydney saw the artists emerge as students sketched in small groups. The second leg of almost 12 hours found some children hot spotting from friend to friend, socialising with glee. Others kicked back and chilled to the Secret Life of Pets 2, napped beneath their self-made tent or played games on their devices. The polite manners they displayed at all times was remarked on by the cabin crew of both flights, who told us that they have not had this much fun on their flights in quite some time.
The group finally taxied into Beijing airport at around 10 pm local time and after a brief bus ride to our hotel, congregated in the foyer eagerly waiting for room keys and the promise of a comfortable bed.
Before long, not a creature was heard stirring, not even a mouse as children drifted off to sleep with thoughts of the upcoming week in Beijing.
DAY 2 - PEARL MARKET PREVIEW AND TEMPLE OF HEAVEN
Our first and only day to enjoy a little lie-in before a buffet breakfast where children tucked into the many exotic options on offer. Everything from noodles to dragon fruit, soups to cereal was enjoyed. Well fed, we boarded our bus for a quick introduction trip to the Pearl Market, a three-storey shopping experience like no other. Multiple stalls with eager sales staff who enjoy the banter of a good barter with tourists. Just the challenge that some of our more confident students relished! Some even produced their own calculators to figure out what a fair price was for the items considered.
Next, we crossed over to the Temple of Heaven complex, a sacred site where in days gone by, the Emperors would pray for a good harvest. Students enjoyed Mrs Yang’s explanations of the symbolism found in the architectural forms, and sharpened up on photography skills to best capture their experiences. The fuchsia coloured bougainvillea are out in full bloom make a spectacular avenue from the temple to the ‘prayer stone’.
After cooling down with an ice block, we headed over to the playground and outdoor fitness park for a little free time before entertaining the locals with a performance of one of our Chinese songs. Crowds quickly gathered to listen and applauded the children for their courage. Lunch at a local foodcourt was another new experience for many as they tried to find edibles that they recognised, while others relished introducing their favourites dishes to us.
An afternoon swim in the hotel pool was enough to refresh everyone before heading out to a local restaurant where we enjoyed delicious local cooking. They are getting quite good at handling that ‘Lazy Susan’ turntable and sampling the dishes on offer. Some students located the koi pond in the restaurant and enjoyed watching the little colourful fish. That is until they turned around and saw the wall tanks filled with fish waiting to be cooked into the restaurant meals!
Another full day awaits tomorrow so it was off to bed at a more reasonable hour, to gather our energy for conquering that Great Wall!
DAY 3 - THE GREAT (AND VERY STEEP) WALL
We were up for breakfast by 6:15am and soon we were off to see the Great Wall. After a long drive to the North of Beijing, we reached the Chang Ping region where the Wall slumbers, waiting to be conquered by this year’s gaggle of Kristin students.
Backpacks lightened and water bottles loaded, we found the entrance, where the first flight of stairs was easily achieved. Up on this first platform, photos were posed for before we all headed for the main section. That is when The Wall truly revealed itself. With ever changing and irregular shaped stairs, and an increasingly steep incline, we were truly challenged every ‘step’ of the way.
But the team dug deep and eventually reached the top gate where a stirring rendition of the Haka was performed. With relief we turned to head back down, only to find that The Wall was just as punishing downhill, as it was up, turning our legs to jelly as we negotiated the steep decline.
Nevertheless, the Kristin Team conquered! They truly earned their medals and will always remember this day as a time when they truly dug deep to found their inner strength, or encouraged someone else to do the same. We are so proud of each and every one of them.
Yet another opportunity was presented to sing to a large group of appreciative tourists at the base of the wall, and finally, we exited the complex, never happier to board our air-conditioned bus.
Lunch was a banquet served at a huge craft market, followed by a leisurely afternoon stroll along the peaceful Sacred Way. This is the main road leading to the royal tomb complex in the area. Lined with weeping willows and large carved stone statues marks the processional route for the funeral ceremony of imperial rulers, to signify their on-going power all things on earth.
We finished off our long and rewarding day with another refreshing swim at our hotel, dinner and a good night’s sleep to recharge our batteries for our visit to Western Academy of Beijing tomorrow.
DAY 4 - MAKING NEW FRIENDS & PERFECTING THE ART OF NEGOTIATION
We have all been looking forward to this day when we get to visit the Western Academy of Beijing. Maybe it’s the opportunity to see how kids go to school on the other side of the world, or maybe it’s the rumour that we are having Italian for lunch. Either way, it was a restful change after the physical activities of yesterday.
WAB is an International School, similar to Kristin, with teachers who come to work here from all around the world. Students too are a blend of cultures and ethnicities, making it a vibrant place to visit and learn at. The school buildings offer many remarkable facilities, including the beautiful theatre where we gathered.
For morning lessons, our group was shared by three Grade 5 classes and joined in with Chinese and PE. After a morning tea of melon and sponge cake in the school canteen, we had time for a quick game of football on the turf before heading back inside for a final technical rehearsal.
Soon our audience began to file in and this signalled the start of our presentations. Our speakers shared about their exhibition experiences and offered the WAB Grade 5’s (Year 6) some golden tips, as they are about to embark on their own exhibition journey. Our performances in Mandarin and Te Reo Maori were appreciated with great applause and several Kiwi teachers among the WAB staff became quite homesick for New Zealand. Gifts were exchanged just as lunch time arrived.
We walked from the school to Annie’s, a renown local restaurant where the rumour became reality. Pasta and pizza was wolfed down with gusto. On the bus ride back to the Pearl Market, children made their shopping plans and shared their bartering strategies for the upcoming shopping spree.
For some, these plans quickly went out the window as they were enticed by the many wonders that this Aladdin’s cave had to offer. Others though, stuck firmly to their plans and relished the art of negotiation. The Gucci Gang and the Rolex Rollers in particular exuded confidence and truly ‘owned’ the market.
Loaded with gifts, toys, technological gadgets and souvenirs, we gathered on the market steps for a triumphant photo before heading back for a little R & R to enjoy our many purchases. A Peking Duck dinner was served at our local restaurant before exhausted children and teachers retired to bed, the rich sights and sound of the market still playing on their minds.
And tomorrow may bring even more exotic food options to try! Who will be game? That is the question!
DAY 5 - THE GENUINE ARTICLE & BOOM!
A slightly later start saw us all board the bus is high spirits today, to visit Wangfujing Street where all the genuine Gucci and Rolex stores are located, much to the dismay of our Gucci Gang and the Rolex Rollers. This is also where the alley called Food Street can be found if you are keen on trying delicacies like fried scorpion or seahorse. Unfortunately when we arrived at the entrance, it was closed for renovation - much to the disappointment of (some of) our group. Instead, we visited the local toy and Lego store where children would have happily spent more time exploring. Lunch was a MacDonald’s marathon, ordering food for 26 people!
Tummies filled, we hopped back onto the bus to be taken to an area made up of old alleyways called Hutong. Here we all paired off into pedal-powered rickshaws. Like a long segmented worm, we inched our way through this historic district, following the banks of the Back Lake, bordered by willows that cast a welcome shade over us, in the heat of the day.
We met our tour guide at the end of the ride, who explained the history of this area and took us into a local house that was over 500 years old. It has been occupied by the same family for the last 100. The owners are artists who specialise in calligraphy art and traditional silk paintings.
Our guide left us at the start of Pipe Street, a narrow winding alleyway with many shops along its length. If the Pearl Market is Aladdin’s Cave, then this street is the Silk Road. The children relished this opportunity to further hone their bargaining skills and many more gifts were purchased as they excitedly scurried in and out of laden shops to see what their friends had found to buy.
Once shopping was complete and wallets safely packed away, we walked a couple of blocks to reach the Drum Tower. Built almost 800 years ago, the first level of the tower can only be accessed by a great number of very steep stairs. Not sure who felt the pain more, the students or the teachers, but we reached the top just in time for a stirring rendition of a traditional drumming performance.
On our way back to our hotel, we again were entertained by the daily Beijing Bus Quiz run by the students. Today’s quiz masters had been clearly influenced by our visit to the Drum Tower, originally the time keeping centre for the city. They kept time by steadily tick-tocking away each and every second of the 5 minute study slot, a sound effect amplified by the on-board microphone. A bit like being on Mastermind, really. Competition is fierce among the groups for the daily quiz points, especially the bonus round questions thrown in by teachers which can worth more.
Another refreshing swim and another yummy dinner at our local. Only this time, those among us disappointed by the closure of Food Street and its promise of exotic fares, proved to be adventurous enough to try spicy frog legs for dinner - Yum!
We crashed, exhausted after another day filled with wonderful wonders!
Tomorrow will be a welcome treat for our animal lovers.
DAY 6 - A PALACE FOR A PRINCESS & PEACEFUL PANDAS
We climbed aboard our new bus today and headed off to discover one of the homes where the Imperial Family lived in - The Summer Palace. After collecting team points in our Beijing Bus Quiz “Who wants to be a Yuan Millionaire”, we arrived at the entrance to the Palace. Here, we finally saw a fried food stall displaying exotic snacks like star-fish and scorpion.
The Summer Palace is the largest imperial garden in China with many hidden and shaded courtyards to explore. We followed the very long Painting Walkway up to Longevity Hill. Here we were faced with many flights of steep stairs before entering the main tower. With team work and encouragement, we reached the top where we were treated to a panoramic view of Kunming Lake. We saw many boaters out enjoying the tranquility of these beautiful surroundings.
After filling up on morning tea, we heading back down the hill along a winding footpath to reach the Marble Boat built for the Empress Dowager. Here, we boarded a boat where we watched the operators polish and clean it until it sparkled. We broke into song and entertained both operators and boarding passengers with our collection of Mandarin and Te Reo Maori songs, accompanied by Mr Matao.
Soon we where on our way, sailing across the lake to an Island. Here we crossed over a multi-arched marble bridge to reach the mainland where our bus was waiting for us.
Lunch was a Japanese take-out near Beijing Zoo and options included chicken or beef with noodles or rice - Yum!
At the zoo, we went straight over to see the Giant Pandas and were so lucky to arrive at feeding time. Cuddly Pandas relaxed peacefully among their enormous piles of fresh bamboo, munching away to the delight of the children.
Early in the week we had missed out on Tiananmen Square as it had been closed for celebration preparations. However it had briefly re-opened again, to the public. We couldn’t miss this opportunity and squeezed in a quick trip to the biggest city square in the world. The square can hold around 1 million people and is the centre of all major public gatherings here. It truly is of a scale hard to imaging until you are standing in it. Unfortunately, The Forbidden City remained forbidden at this time so we admired it from the outside before heading off to Pizza Hut for our dinner, where we managed to consume an enormous amount of pizza after such a big day of sight-seeing.
The children are really looking forward to tomorrow as it promises to be less walking and more swimming.
DAY 7 - SENSATIONAL SCIENCE, SLIPPERY SLIDES AND SHOPPING SPREES
A gentle start to the day and we started by driving into the heart of the Olympic zone, catching sight of buildings like the Torch Tower, Bird’s Nest and The Water Cube. We pulled up outside the Museum of Technology and Science and the first thing we saw was a gigantic transformer in the courtyard, followed by a replica space station. We knew this was going to be good!
Students had great fun exploring the floor where Exploration & Discovery is located. Every innovation form Chinese history was replicated here in an interactive display - from mining, to weaving, medicine to sea navigation. The Sci-Tech & Life floor enchanted us with future technologies including a robotic dance crew. The most popular display was an interactive art station where children coloured in animals in a digital app that then integrated their unique creations into an animated story displayed on a gigantic electronic wall screen.
After lunch at the museum, we caught our bus to The Water Cube for our much anticipated swim at the Water Park. Once changed and in, we didn’t know where to start, there were so many rides to try out. Groups spread out in every direction, then would meet up to retell their experiences and swap over to give the recommended rides a go. Squeals of joy rang out from every corner as groups bobbed around on rubber rafts chasing each other on the Lazy River or shot at speed through water tunnels from varying heights. At 4 o’clock, everyone met up in the main pool to bob up and down in the waves created by the wave machine.
Tired but happy, we prepared to leave for our final trip to the Pearl Market. Children counted up their remaining Yuan during the bus ride and made final plans before heading in to make those last minute bargains with the shop keepers. Then it was back to the Market Food Hall for dinner before bedtime routines were carried out and both children and teachers collapsed exhausted into bed.
Tomorrow brings the promise of new adventures as we may experience even more challenges with height.
DAY 8 - JOURNEY TO MIDDLE EARTH & MAJESTIC VIEWS
Being Saturday, breakfast was a busier that usual affair with many more hotel guests competing for the buffet bonanza. Never-the-less, we are experts at this now and efficiently completed morning tasks to leave for the bus on time. Just as well because the journey to Shidu took over two hours. We journeyed along wide, multi-lane motorways and through long subterranean tunnels, until reaching an area of crystal clear rivers and majestic mountains rising sharply toward the blue skies. Grateful children disembarked and stretched their limbs after the long journey, broken up by daily quizzes, photo sharing and digital gaming.
Shidu (the 10th Crossing) is a town in the Fangshan countryside, a district SouthWest of Beijing where the route of our walk culminates on the border between Beijing and Hebei. We bought tickets and clambered up the first few flights of stairs looking for the travelator that was going to take us up to the top of the steep karst mountains. Except it didn’t, so we climbed again. Many, many flights of stairs on a steep incline that finally arrived at the most spectacular views of the Taihang mountain ranges and deep Juma River valley.
The first viewing platform was constructed with a toughened glass floor and most students pulled on cloth protective slippers, venturing a glide across the surface, several hundred meters above the valley. At this point, the brave (or mad) among the group set a goal to climb even further, up to the ridge and walk the glass bridge, while the rest preferred the more sedate route of return.
These Glass Mountain Pioneers climbed high up onto the ridge and bravely massed onto the top glass bridge when they suddenly heard an almighty CRACK! Added to this, the glass underfoot appeared to shatter into a thousand pieces. Everyone froze in their tracks, looked at each other and held their breath.
After a moment somebody realised that this was only sound and special effects to scare tourists and we all burst out laughing with relief.
We continued our walk along the ridge until we came to the marble slide, the longest slide we have ever been on, even longer than the ones at The Water Cube yesterday. The children had to jump into special pants and pull gloves on to protect their hands when holding onto the edges to break or speed up. Thankfully it is fully caged and perfectly safe.
The path continued through a colourfully lit cave and we were out of the ridge loop and could head back down the mountain. We knew that a Subway lunch was waiting for us at the bottom so the decent was easier than the climb. In fact, once arriving near the bottom, we found the travelator and most of the children elected to take a ride back up part of the mountain and come down again, just for the experience.
We all met up again on the bus where we hoovered down our Subways and lemonade, and started our long bus ride home. The hotel pool will be a welcome activity this afternoon before we tidy our rooms and start the pack-up for tomorrow. Tonight is our last night in the hotel and tomorrow our last day in Beijing. It has been such an amazing, action packed adventure, we cannot believe how quickly the time has gone.
Tomorrow we travel to Chaoyang Park, the biggest in Beijing, to enjoy an acrobatic extravaganza, before heading to the airport and our long flight home to our families.
OUR FINAL DAY IN BEIJING
After an initial tidy up last night, the pack-up this morning was pretty easy. Most students had managed to eat through their week of snacks leaving plenty of room for Mrs Yang’s purchases for her Chinese programme. Gifts were handed out during our last breakfast and we loaded the bus with all our possessions for our final day.
We arrived at the Chaoyang Park entrance, the biggest amusement part in Beijing, where we were spotted by a filming crew for Beijing morning TV. We may even have been on their news report today. Once we entered the park, children were scouting for the famed roller coasters and other exciting rides. A brave group climbed aboard the first roller coaster ride offered and their exhilaration on completion encouraged others to brave other rides along the way. By the end, everybody had enjoyed at least one ride and many chased that adrenaline rush at every opportunity.
One of the student’s had family in Beijing who invited us out for lunch at a sushi restaurant in the Gem Mall. This was such a kind and welcome gift. We were treated to the most delicious and beautifully presented food creations. We thanked them with a performance of Toia mai te waka before heading back for the bus ride to the Acrobat Theatre.
The acrobatic stage show left us all stunned. From the man who balanced several metres up in the air on a stack of nine chairs, the group of girls in gold who all climbed onto one moving pedal bike, to the skipping acrobats in the spinning wheels. But most impressive was the dome cage that had not 1,3 or 5 motorbikes zooming around inside it, but 8!!!
After a jam-packed day of exhilaration, we waved good-bye to two friends and Mrs Yang, who were staying on in China and headed for our terminal at the airport. After a thorough security check, we all regrouped outside KFC where some had a little snack, but most were still full-up from our delicious lunch and really just wanted somewhere to rest their heads.
Finally, we boarded our plane and settled in for the long ride home, in disbelief at how quickly the week had gone by and how much we had packed in. Before long most of the group were fast asleep, dreaming of reuniting with their families and sharing with them all about their individual experiences, achievements and favourite moments of their Beijing 2019 trip.