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China Adventure

Girls Like Love Songs, Guys Like Rock!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

OK- you might be wondering what’s up with the title of this post…

My son freaked out this morning when I was blasting Spandaeu Ballet in the car (yes, I LOVE the 80’s :) ). He begged me to change the channel, and when I asked him why, he said it was because “Boys don’t listen to love songs. Girls like love songs and guys like rock!”

I laughed inside so hard that I just couldn’t resist sharing this ‘Connorism’ with you- and this post is about a music video so it’s not really that much of a stretch…

It’s been three days since I got back from our amazing journey in China. I’ve consistently been waking up at 4 am each morning, but hopefully that will pass, and even if it doesn’t, I guess it’s just good practice for school starting, right?

A lot of people who followed our adventure have been asking me about the penguin that kept showing up in many of my pictures. Well, that’s ‘Pengi’, my son’s favorite stuffed animal. Before I left for China, I asked my son to pick out a travel companion for me- someone who would keep me company and could report back to Connor (my son) about all of our amazing adventures. He chose ‘Pengi’. It really helped both of us. Pengi kept me from getting homesick and, because I posted all of my ‘Pengi’ pictures in real time on Twitpic, Connor said he felt like he was part of my trip and didn’t mind as much my being away for so long.

As soon as I got home, Connor and I used Animoto to make a music video of Pengi’s adventures . I can’t say enough, or get enough of this amazing and EASY web 2.0 tool! Not only is it easy enough for us “old folks” to use, it’s also perfect for little kids. My son made his first Animoto music video in Kindergarten, and the two of us working together on the China project gave us the chance to connect about my trip and made my son feel a part of it.

They also have an education account which is wonderful because it allows you to manage classes and easily help students with their work by logging in to their content.

If you haven’t tried Animoto yet, DO IT TODAY!

Hope you enjoy this little recap of our adventure in China. I hope it gets you exited to pack your own curiosity and go!

Making Connections

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What has stood out more than anything on our China trip is the students' strong desire to connect with other people. They wanted to know the people we encountered whether it was our tour guides, the Shaolin monks or classroom children at kung fu school. At our next to last dinner the kids were thrilled when the young monks and school instructors ate with us. More than anything they enjoyed finding common ground. They also learned how life is different. Truly a rewarding experience for me as a teacher.

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Discovery Student Adventures China '09

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Celebration of Achievements

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kudos to Team China! We worked incredibly hard over the past three days preparing for our kung fu performance at the Shaolin Temple. The group was told on Tuesday that we would perform in front of students from the Shao Lin Martial Arts School and Warrior Monks. That was all the motivation Discovery Students and Teachers needed. We had to perform with precision and perfect execution. Would we succeed?
Two days into preparation it became apparent that kung fu is a lot harder than it looks. Many of us could of used a hot tub and a good masseuse. Trying to memorize the routine was like cramming for an economics test at the last minute. Not easy! Mr. Harvey and some boys were found in the lobby with a digital camera going through each step with the master trainer as they watched on video. You could observe many students and teachers off to the side practicing their form as they waited for their rotation. To complicate matters, some of our trainers were Shao Lin Temple Martial Arts students and some were Shaolin Temple Warrior Monks. The routine was similar, however some rights became lefts and some kicks became punches. (BTW, say “Warrior Monks” out loud... then add the words “Kung Fu.” Sounds so cool!)
Half way through the process, Mama Ping recognized that Team China needed a break. She arranged a performance from some of the students at the school. Their discipline and execution were flawless. The students at the Shao Lin Temple of Martial Arts put on a show that both impressed and energized Discovery Students and Teachers! Thank you Mama Ping. Would ten total hours of training, hard work, sweat and patience pay off?
On the final day of kung fu training we received our Certificate of Shaolin Kung Fu Experience. We had to perform in front of two Warrior Monks to earn our certificate. This would be the first of two times I would feel nerves in my stomach. Three hours later, it was time for us to execute with precision and grace in front of our audience. We lined up in four rows. It was a surreal experience standing in front of the experts. The nerves kicked in for a split second. Then, I realized our performance wasn't about perfection. It was about celebrating achievements. Each group of students from Discovery, Shaolin Temple, and Shao Lin Martial Arts School took turns singing, dancing, and performing kung fu. The night was a party and applause sounded throughout the building!
All three groups rose to the occasion. There was a sense of community and you could see the bond between children, teachers and staff. Discovery Students performed the entire routine like true kung fu masters. What really made the show special was the sense of accomplishment and collaboration. Students embraced in hugs and high fives were everywhere!
Kung Fu isn’t just karate, it to is an art and a lesson in life and Chinese culture.

A Spectacular View from the Pagoda Forest

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could wake up every morning and have this breath taking view? After our hour-long Kung Fu workout this morning (beginning at 6:00 a.m.) with a Shaolin monk, we were able to take a beautiful walk through the Pagoda Forest. The Pagoda Forest, near the Shaolin Temple consists of approximately 250 Pagodas, making it the largest Pagoda Forest in China. Pagodas are religious monuments that were built as a shrine or memorial building to honor the Buddist master. There are various levels of the Pagodas (ranging from 1 to 7using odd numbers only) based on the accomplishments of the master. The unique designs of the Pagodas, sprinkled within the forrest, made this one of the most memorable mornings of the trip.

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Journey to the Center of the Earth

OK. As a science teacher I feel duty bound to post at least one science lesson for you guys, so here it goes :)

Yesterday we visited another amazing historically significant place on our journey- Gaocheng Astronomical Observatory in the Heneng Province- the oldest surviving observatory in China.

China has a history of astronomical observation and record keeping dating back more than 4000 years. Many cosmic objects and events have been observed, noted and interpreted by Chinese astronomers centuries before they first appeared in European records. In fact, China has a longer unbroken history of astronomical study than any civilization that has ever existed!

Ancient Chinese astronomy has proven very accurate over the years. NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab even recently used ancient Chinese eclipse timings (accurate to about 25 minutes) to learn more about the Earth' rotation.

Chinese astronomers are also credited with the earliest known map of the stars. Created sometime around 700 AD, it includes precisely drawn representations of over 1000 constellations.

One especially important astronomical tool in early Chinese astronomy was the gnomon- an object whose shadow is used to record the changing position of the sun. Many people feel that the gnomon we visited at Geochang is the most remarkable one ever constructed. It was created by the famous Chinese scientist, Guo Shou in 1279 AD to help determine the calendar dates associated with the four seasons and to help verify that Luoyang City (next to Geochang) was the center of China. He was assigned that duty by the Emperor who wanted Luoyang to become China's capitol city- a request that many around him did not agree with, so he had to establish a VERY good reason to support his desire. Since the Chinese at that time regarded China as the only country in the world, if Luoyang could be determined the center of China it would also, by default, become the center of the Earth- a very holy bestowal.

At noon on a clear day the gnomon's horizontal bar casts a shadow on a low stone wall that extends out from the center of the base of the gnomon tower. The wall was designed so carefully that it even has troughs carved throughout so well water could be added to check for levelness!

As the sun's path through the sky changed over the year, the location of the bar's shadow shifted along the wall. At the winter solstice, when the sun's path across the sky is as low as it's going to get all year, the shadow reaches out to its farthest point on the wall- vice versa for the summer solstice. When the shadow falls mid-way between these two points, the Autumnal and Vernal (Spring) Equinox can be determined. Guo Shou used the gnomon, along with other tools at the observatory, to mark the beginning and end of all four seasons AND to give the Emperor proof that Louyang was indeed the true epicenter of China.

That's it- lesson over! Now for you test...

1. Can you find the gnomon bar in the picture above? Where is it?

2. What is your favorite season? Why?

3. Was Guo Shou' assertation about the center of China correct? How do you know? Please explain.

Everyone who answers the above three questions in a reply to this post will be entered in a raffle for a special gift from China. I will announce the winner in one week. Good Luck!!!

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An early start to a long day

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hello everyone today was a very extreme day that was incredibly different from any day so far. Wake up was at 4:30 in the morning and we started our day with the Shaolin Monks. We arrived at the Temple at 5:00 and were given instructions on how the morning was going to work. Our group was going to experience a day in the life of a monk. We prayed, ate, and cleaned with the Shaolin Monks. We were the only non-monks in the temple which made it an even more interesting experience because of the exclusivity. The first thing we did was lined up in two line, one for guys and one for girls, outside of the Grand Hall. This hall is where the monks of Shaolin pray daily.

We entered and stepped over the thresh hold with our left foot and formed a single line of guys to the left of Buddha’s statue and girls to the right. The room was home to 7 statues, three of them were very large gold sculptures of Buddha in different positions and the others were smaller gold figures. What was interesting about the sculptures was that the Buddha was not the fat male version that we are familiar with, rather, it was a very physically fit and almost female version of Buddha. It was interesting to see that there are these very different views of Buddha. After glancing around the room and observing the decoration it was time to pray. The monks entered dressed in gold robes and a few of them had a brown cloth draped over them. Two of the monks were actually wearing black robes. The monks filled in the three rows in front of us and it was silent.

I was very surprised about the size of the temple and the number of monks. I expected the "Great Hall" to be a lot larger but it was only four rows of benched and there were only about 25 monks at prayer with us. Throughout the entire prayer service (about 50 minutes) we had to remain standing and still except for the occasional bowing and one occasion when we walked around the hall in circles. One of the monks in a black robe struck a drum and the service began. The prayer was done in sanscript, an ancient Indian language. We did not understand it and could not have our interpreter translate but we hummed along with the prayer. During the entire service there were monks banging on hollow drum-like instruments to embrace the prayer. We just stood in the back trying to take in this religious paradigm shift. I, coming from a Jewish background and participating in three weeks of Jewish learning immediately prior to this trip, was very interested in the service. I saw a lot of parallels between my normal services and this one along with a lot of differences.

The Buddhist service had a strong focus on communal prayer like at home and had a very defined order of prayer and actions such as bowing. Another interesting thing to note was that the Buddha faced south toward India and everyone faced that way to pray and at in Judaism we face west toward Israel. There were so many interesting things to notice during the prayer service that I cannot point them all out but I hope that gave you a little insight. After the prayer service the monks exited and we followed directly behind them into the dining hall. When we entered there was a gold statue of Puti Dama, the builder of the Shaolin Temple and said "Ar Me Toa Fua" which is a statement of greeting and respect. We entered and sat down in the back of the room awaiting our food. Breakfast was eaten in silence which created a very weird feeling in the room. The monks-in-training, wearing gray robes, served the meal to us. The monks all have a vegetarian diet so it was veggies for our meal. Breakfast consisted of fried bread which was delicious and some sort of Chinese cole slaw and an onion dish in a weird sauce.

We were told that you must eat whatever you get in your bowl because of those who have none so everyone was sure to signal the servers not to give us a lot. The vegetable dishes did not taste very good but I had to fight through the taste to digest it. Thankfully they also were serving sugar so I chased down the bad vegetable taste with the sugar and bread but it was still very difficult to swallow.A short while later, breakfast was over and it was time to help clean the temple. Everyone was given a broom and we swept the courtyard. The brooms were not like home, the handle was bamboo and the brush part was numerous twigs tied together on the end of the stick. As foreign as it was, they got the job done and we were able to give the monks a day off from their usual chores. When the courtyard was clean it was about 7 o'clock and we made our way back to the inn for a little bit.

We had some time to change and freshen up before another Kung Fu lesson. We arrived at the Small Dragon Kung Fu school again to have our first of two lessons for today. Today we would begin learning with sticks and swords. Before that, however, it was time to run some more laps. We ran in circles around the room for a few minutes and then had a little bit of review from yesterday. The masters went through all of the positions we had learned yesterday and somehow we improved greatly. After some review it was time for the long awaited weapons. We split into two groups and my group got the bamboo sticks. These sticks were about 5 foot tall and made of about one inch thick wood. It was somewhat like baton twirling, martial arts style. The master taught us two methods of how to spin the stick and then a routine with it. The spinning was incredibly confusing but I tried really hard and almost got it. Maybe with a little more practice I will become a master. When the spinning practice was done the real master taught us a Kung Fu routine with the stick.

The routine was more like the positions we originally learned and was much easier. My favorite part of the routine was at the end we whipped the stick onto the ground. It was a great anger releaser and it was quite empowering. After our new lesson our group came back together and did one last review of the original routine we learned yesterday. Tomorrow we will be doing this routine for the Warrior Monks at the Shaolin Temple to get our Kung Fu certificate so we need to perfect it. We left the school and had lunch at a local restaurant. One of the dishes was a chicken dish with the chicken cut into bite sized pieces. At first look it looked like delicious boneless chicken, however, upon closer examination, it was definitely not boneless. The chicken was still on the bone and it was a very interesting task to eat around the bones and still enjoy the tasty, but spicy, meat.

When our group finished lunch we had some time to rest at our inn and then it was back to the Small Dragon Kung Fu School. We were brought into a presentation room and all took a seat. The students of the school, some of them who had been teaching us, preformed in one of the most amazing martial arts presentations I have ever seen. The show included moves, flips, and stunts that were phenomenal. One of the kids in the show looked about 7 years old, for his part he suctioned a metal bowl on his stomach. All of the other tried to pull it off and were not successful. Then the boy laid down and they attached a wire to the bowl and stuck a pole through the wire. Two other performers then lifted the boy up with the pole by only the bowl. It was amazing to see it stay. Other stunts included lifting people by spears placed at their arms, legs, and throat. It looked excruciatingly painful, but, somehow the men that got lifted did not seem phased by it.

I really felt as if I was at the Chinese circus while watching these amazing acts. Other parts included people jumping and flipping and combating with swords. In one section, each of the men took on the role of a different animal and it was incredible how they moved their body in ways very similar to those animals. The show came to an end eventually and we had faces of amazement from the talent of the performers. Who knows, maybe if we continue with Kung Fu we will see someone from our group be the next Jet Lee in 10 years. After the show our teachers gathered us together and brought us upstairs to a practice room for part two of today's lesson. In this part we mainly practiced our routine which we will be presenting to the Shaolin monks tomorrow. The change that our group made in just one day was remarkable. We still were not good but we were no longer bad so I say that is progress. We went through the routine enough times until we started to memorize it and we kept speeding it up. At first he would do one more and we would repeat it, now we were doing five at a time. We would go forward, push right, right leg out, punch left, squat down, cross fists, etc. The routine had a definite science and we are beginning to conquer it.

At the end of our lesson our travel managers explained how tomorrow we would be going to the Shaolin Temple to have Kung Fu lessons with the warrior monks and then present our routine to them. We were all excited and gained some extra motivation to continue practicing and before we knew it our lesson was over. When the lesson ended we had a chance to go to stores down the street which sold the kung fu school uniforms and shoes and the Kung Fu master's uniform. I bought two pairs of the shoes for the equivalent of $8 US and I bought a Kung Fu master uniform which I plan on wearing to our duck dinner on the last night in China. When our little "shoppertunity" was over we all boarded the bus and were on our way to dinner. It is interesting how after 10 days of experiencing the local cuisine three meals a day I can know what dishes I do or don't like and what it tastes like. The emergence of culture here has occurred in every aspect from the language to religion to recreation and fun to food and of course accommodations.

Talking about that, it is about time to get tucked in to my bed under the China stars and get to bed because wake up is early again tomorrow for the warrior monks. Good night!

P.S.In response to a recent comment, on behalf of the entire New Jersey delegation we would like to reinforce that the purpose of this adventure is to learn about and experience the culture and share it with you and the rest of the world. Because of that, we would love to help you gather information from us in any way possible to bring our experiences into your living rooms or class rooms. If you are interested in setting up any interviews, webinars, or anything else that you feel could benefit other please feel free to contact me directly at Thank you for helping us share our experiences!

Posted on behalf of Cory.

Essential Programs Details

Duration 15 days
When August 1st - 14th, 2009
Focus History/Culture
Martial Arts
Modern/Ancient Architecture