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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

video

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 cbolotskydsa@gmail.com. Thank you for helping us share our experiences!

Posted on behalf of Cory.

Kung Fu Children

Today as we revisited the Little Dragon Kung Fu School in Shaolin, the strange reality of these schools hit me and I was left with a stirring question: how do these families do it?

Most of the students at Little Dragon enroll when they were 4-5 yrs. old but some look barely old enough to be out of diapers. The average student receives their entire compulsory education at Little Dragon. That means they will be 17yrs old when they leave. The school environment is not exactly kid-friendly; stale dorms, harsh instructors, and the sanitary level of the cafeteria can only be described as sketchy. They sleep in rooms with 4-20 other students on beds that make concrete feel comfortable. The only color on the white plaster walls is that of old stains. Their days consists of rigorous training and classroom instruction. Yet they somehow still find ways to enjoy being children (see photo below).

From Harvey's photos #dsac09

Kindergarterners enjoy a break with DSA students.

Holidays come about once every 5 months when the students are allowed to return home for a week or so. Parents can come and visit anytime but most live so far away they make the trek a few times a year. Those who can afford to give up their home roots move to Shaolin so they can visit once a week or more.

From Harvey's photos #dsac09

No longer kindergartners, but on the same concrete and wearing the same suits, older students practice morning drills.

As an upcoming parent (my first baby will be due 3 weeks after I return from China) I couldn't help but wonder about the estrangement from parents that must occur here. Don't these kids miss their parents? How can parents accept such a limited relationship with their own children? How can they drop them off at 4 and get them back at 17? At first, I want to dismiss it as irresponsible or unloving parenting, but doing so would fail to understand the cultural, social and economic demands that drive families to this decision.

I can understand the objective. For most students, attending a school like Little Dragon provides a secure future. Jobs in military, police, and security. What parent doesn't worry about their child's future. Will they get a good education? Will they be successful in pursuing a career, a family, security for their parents? For many Chinese families, kung fu school answers those concerns. But is the promise of a valued career weigh equally against the sacrifice of an innocent childhood filled with discovery and play for play's sake? Does that follow the yin and yang balance they believe in?

As we walked through armies of red shirts and black pants, getting equal doses of strange looks and smiles, I started to look into the faces and body language to answer a driving question; are these children happy?

Certainly the visit of foreigners into the academic classroom was met with smiles and cheers (as much as the teacher allowed). The 5-6yr old group seemed just like any other; whispering, pointing and generally having fun with their Western visitors. As soon as we left however, the true disciplined nature of the school revealed itself. The teacher gave a command and the students began writing in notebooks as if an electric shock made all their hands start writing at once.

Back in our own 'class' the cultural divide was obvious as our American students danced and laughed during our physical workout. The Chinese instructors seemed less patient; their faces and short verbal commands said it clearly: "Don't wast time." Even here however, signs of happiness peeked through as the students constant attention towards our serious-toned, chief instructor eventually got him to crack a smile. The U.S. students responded, and pretty soon he was faking small disciplinary actions just to scare a few girls, at which he would turn around and break out a small laugh. The students have become so fond of his now frequent grins that they dubbed him "Smiley". Today they even shouted "Wo eye nee" in their best Chinese - translation: I love you. Their question "Do you love me, too?" only garnered an embarrased laugh.

From Harvey's photos #dsac09

"Smiley" - or the guy who works up our sweat (and a little fear) everyday.

In a very short time, I feel I've seen so much of the immensity, the history and the beauty of this land and people. Yet the culture that creates it all may still remain a mystery for me for a long time.

The Price is Right!


We have had such a wonderful experience and have seen so many breath taking and historical sights over the past ten days, however I will have to admit that interacting with the local merchants has been a really fun and interesting experience for me and the students. We are currently staying at this cute little local inn located in Luoyang-Dengfeng which consists of refurbished farm houses near the Shaolin Temple. Each day we walk by a few local merchants on our way to our day's activities, and we have an opportunity to purchase some local goods. Although we do not speak the same language, we have no problem communicating about the price of the goods. Hand gestures, facial expressions and body movements all play a major roll as we both agree on the "right price". It is these simple acts that make me realize and appreciate the fact that we might come from two different continents and speak different languages, but apart from that, we really share many similarities at heart!

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Kung Fu Fighting

video

Kung Fu Times 2


Today our strength was put to the test. We started with a 4:30 wake up call. We all walked to the temple to practice a morning prayer and worship with the monks. We followed their rituals to worshiping Buddha and then had the privilege to eat breakfast with them in their sanctuary. Afterwards the students cleaned up the breakfast area; showing thanks and respect to the temple and the monks that dwelt there. But no stopping! We headed to the Little Dragon Kung Fu School once again. We had 2.5 hours of training in store for us. There we were privately taught martial arts moves and also added swords and sticks of combat. We are training to compete at a show for the school….spirits were high as we pushed ourselves to perfection. Afterwards we had lunch and a little afternoon break. But we were off again! Our last lesson was in the evening with our private Martial Art Instructors. We had another session of 2 hours to complete. Finally, we were done and exhausted, and ate dinner. We were introduced to some market shopping after dinner. That is always an experience! Only 4 more days left in Beautiful China; an experience we all shall never forget.

Zen Shaolin Temple Show


Today was our first full day to experience DengFeng. We toured the city and then visited the Kung Fu School, and the Active Shaolin Temple. Seeing real monks walking, meditating, and living their normal life was exhilarating. They were finding their practicing their religion actively there right in front of our eyes. It was cool. We also returned to the Kung Fu school for a 2 hour private lesson. But the part that stood out to me was the Zen Shaolin Temple Art Musical that we watched that evening. Imagine a golden and red temple etched between two concaved mountain sides. Literally there in the cleft of the rock, was the setting for this magnificent show. An hour and a half we watched in awe as students sang , did dancing martial arts, played instruments, and literally walked us through the active and musical part of their history. During this entire extravaganza, there were flying people in the sky, a huge light show going on, and a waterfall that danced to the beat of the drums. It was one of my favorite things on this trip. After that day we definitely slept well.

Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

This morning we had the unique opportunity of learning Kung Fu from the martial arts students at the Small Dragon school. This is one of sixty five schools that teach Kung Fu. The Small Dragon is the third largest school with 4,000 students. The students range in age from four years old to twenty five. It is a boarding school with students living in the dorms all year. Once a year during the Spring Festival the students are allowed to go home. The parents can come and visit anytime. This was such a special morning for us and also and incredible workout. You can see some of the students here practicing for our upcoming performance.

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Meeting the "Top Monk" and Shao Lin Temple Martial Arts Students


So we traveled from Beijing to Luoyang in an overnight train and the experience far surpassed my expectations. Why? Because I actually got a better night’s sleep in a passenger car that slept 4 then I did in my hotel room. There is something to be said for the rhythmic sound of a train traveling along its track. The next morning we visited the Longman Grottos and saw a collection of Buddhist cave sculptures, including one that was over 17 meters tall. It is the world’s largest Buddha. Next we traveled to the Shaolin Temple and listened to a lecture given by the “Top Monk” on Kung Fu. He taught us a great life lesson about how we should keep our hearts pure and resist greedy, anger, and envy. After the Shaolin Temple we took a bus over to the Shao Lin Temple Marshall Arts School where we had an opportunity to watch an impressive demonstration by students. The students performed some intense form routines and spared with each other. I was in awe at the number of students training at the school. We literally had to serpentine through the children on our way back to the bus. There were hundreds, if not a couple thousand, scattered throughout the campus. It was nice to see all the children. They were comfortable in their environment and very curious about visitors. It was great to watch the students walk in formation and chant out, “one two three four.” Occasionally we would get a wave or the peace sign and that put a smile on everybody’s face.
Today we went back to the Shao Lin Temple Martial Arts School and learned Kung Fu from trainers. Our bodies were twisted and contorted in ways many of us are not accustomed to. We learned a series of moves and forms while practicing our technique. The session was intense and quite the workout! These children take Kung Fu very seriously. After our lesson we visited a classroom. It was great to see children learning. They sang a song for us and we sang a few for them. The looks on their faces were priceless. Interacting with the students made me think about my own classroom. I am so excited for the school year and cannot wait to meet my new students. Today was an amazing cultural learning experience and one that I will certainly share with my 5th graders.
Tomorrow we will go back to the Shaolin Temple and have another opportunity to practice Kung Fu with students in the temple. This truly is an adventure of a lifetime!

Kung Fu School

Monday, August 10, 2009

We traveled, after having a refreshing time in a beautiful hotel and breakfast, to DengFeng. There we were in for a treat! Our first stop was to see the Grottos. Imagine a whole mountainside covered with sculptures of Buddha and Chinese Religious art. It was breath-taking; but there was more. As we reached the center of the rock there stood before us was a huge cliff carved Buddha. This was called “Big Buddha’s Temple.” There stood the most massive sculptures of Buddha, his guards etched in the rock! It was amazing. From there we checked into our refurbished farm houses, which were like little houses per room, and headed to the active temple. We listened the monks pray and sing and then headed out to see the Kung Fu School. That was astounding. Students from ages 7-20 practiced the martial arts. We watched in awe as they flipped, kicked, and sparred with one another. Tomorrow we get our private kung fu lesson with these well developed and skilled fighters! Dinner was awesome and within the city. Sweet and Sour pork was the favorite of the evening! Can’t wait for tomorrow!

Night on the train

Today we went to visit a temple there in Chengde. It would be our last time in this city. It was amazing, as all the Chinese Architecture is and then we traveled back to Beijing. We were so excited for our night on the train. We had individual cabins per 4 people. Bunk style beds were awaiting us and some fun girl time! When we woke up we were in Luoyang.

Shop-er-tunity?

It took a good night of rest for us to recover from the exhausting Great Wall and Camping experience. We visited the Summer Mountain Resort in the town of Chengde. There we walked the outer wall to the temple. It was high above the town and was very scenic. The route was up and down in steep sections; but was really great to get out and enjoy the 90 degree weather. We cooled off in the shade and had a picnic there in the central park area. We explored China’s Imperial Garden’s of China’s royal families and it was magnificent! Lastly the day ended with a visit to the paper-cutting store. The artist created and showcased a few examples and then it was our turn to give it a try. What a trained art paper cutting is. Afterwards we had a little shop-er-tunity! We then went home for a little rest and dinner!

The Great Wall

The Great Wall; need I say more! This morning had an early rise and tent pack up. We then ate breakfast with toast and eggs. Two guides and a doctor met us at the base of the Wall and we started our Adventure. I believe myself to be in pretty good shape; but WOW! Our trek was through an exclusive part of the Wall. Not a part that was remade to be nice and even and pleasing to walk along. We trekked and hiked straight up peaks to reach the crest of a fort. There we had reached our starting point. We scaled walls, climbed mountains, explored 40 forts in our path, weaved through corn fields and thick underbrush, and hiked for 5-6 hours. The weather was cool and perfect; but the air was a bit thin. Throughout the trek, we had guides leading the way and water stations to make sure we were ready to press on. It was the greatest hiking Adventure that I have ever witnessed. Not only were we actually hiking and sweating and exhausted; we were looking at some of the greatest views known to the Ancient World. We scanned over the beautiful terrain as we trekked! It was one of the greatest moments of my life! Yes; I scaled and climbed the Great Wall of China!

Dragon boats

This morning we awoke with much excitement. We were moving our adventures to another part of the country of China. There we would explore the culture more and reach the Great Wall. We boarded our motor coaches for the Dragon Boats! We split the group up into two perfectly even groups and raced to the finish. These boats resembled combination of designs of crew boats and canoes. They were completely man-powered and were difficult to maneuver. Yes, we did get a little wet too! Lunch was at a beautiful country club. Before we ate we played bad-mitten, basketball, Frisbee, and of course, ping pong. Lunch was on the deck with another plethora of Chinese cuisine choices. We boarded our motor coach once again and headed for a adorable little Mongolian village. We trekked through the village; even stopping at an active temple. And dinner was the best. We were seated within a Mongolian Yurt and we were sung to and had quite a party! But the night did not end there! We then grabbed all our overnight backpacks and set out for camping under the Great Wall. We hiked about 15 minutes or so to the camp site. There we each set up our tents and got situated for the evening. We looked up to see the Wall above the sky line. Tomorrow we conquer it!

"Tour" is NOT a Four Letter Word in China

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Just a quick post about something that's been on my mind this entire trip...

I live at the Jersey Shore where we have a special name for our Summer tourists: Bennys. And let me tell you, it's by no means a term of endearment. The origin of this slang term is debatable, but regardless of its roots, no one debates its derogatory meaning. Ask anyone who lives at "The Shore": "What do think about Bennys?" And you'll most likely hear the following: "Bennys Go Home!" We even have t-shirts, bumber stickers, etc. stating it proudly.

New York City is less than forty-five minutes north of The Shore and you can spot a tourist there in a New York minute. Once spotted, you can see them being scowled at by taxi drivers (actually, by all drivers) and nudged out of the way on sidewalks by busy business people scurrying to work.

Now for China. General consensus of everyone on our trip is that our Asian hosts actually seem GLAD to see us! There literally has not been one single place we've visited that someone didn't ask to take a picture of us or with us. The students think this is the coolest thing- they feel like rock stars (us grown ups don't mind so much either!)

What do you think is the reason for the different attitudes towards tourists in America and China? Is my characterization of the NY/NJ attitude just limited to the North East or to big cities?

PLEASE share your thoughts!

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Rock, Scissors, Paper

Saturday, August 8, 2009



After hiking on the mini Great Wall today at the Emeror's Summer Palace and seeing panoramic views of the town of Chengde, there was still more to come. Can you believe a city of 200,000 people is still considered a town? We had the unique opportunity of visiting and learning from a master paper-cutter. This form of art has a long history in China and it is one of the most interesting and beautiful talents I have ever seen. The intricate detail is amazing, and some of these spectacular creations can take weeks to cut out!After our demonstration of this craft, we were able to participate and do our own scissor cuttings. Most of us made small animals like butterflies or turtles.

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Discovery Student Adventurers by Day, Bloggers by Night

Throughout this amazing journey in China, we have been excited to share our experiences with the world. It is really exciting to see how interested and enthusiastic the students are about blogging, sending out tweets and uploading photos to Picasa for the world to see. We are learning as we go, and it really has been a lot of fun giving you an inside glimpse as to the incredible things we are seeing and doing. I feel like we are Discovery Student Adventurers by day and bloggers by night! I hope you keep coming back to our blog for additional information because we still have a whole week left on our phenomenal journey!


Photos

After a lot of work trying to get a solid internet connection from our hotels we have finally been able to upload photos. It's been a mad dash with the students to get their photos and ours up. Check them out by clicking on the Photos tab in the menu above or go to: http://picasaweb.google.com/photos.DSA

The students have been working hard to document every activity using Twitter and their blogs (see list to the right). They're super-excited to share everything we're learning and experiencing. Check them out and leave a comment - the kids love to hear from you!

Dinner

As I'm taking these pictures... I can hear the students screaming...
"I love CHINA" and "This is the best experience of my life!"
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Dinner

I think this picture just about sums up how much fun the students had at dinner tonight! They bridged two cultures together with Chinese pop music and dancing. There was a conga line too! We are watching some great performers and enjoyed a delicious meal.

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video

Friday, August 7, 2009

video

Forbidden City & Olympic Park

video

The Great Wall

Last night I slept in a tent at the base of the Great Wall of China. Today I did a 10k hike on the Great Wall. It was a surreal experience and put into perspective how I look at other parts of the world. We hiked a part of the wall that most people do not get a chance to see. The hike challenged my fear of heights. I could hear my fifth grade students in my head, "Don't be afraid to take a risk. Challenge yourself!" Afterwards I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride. The students on this trip work so well together. It was great to watch their collaborative efforts and excitement, especially when we scaled part of the wall.
We are sitting on the bus and many students and teachers are taking a much needed and well deserved nap. This truly is an experience I will hold onto forever.
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Common language

I've heard the term "international language" applied to many things. I'm not sure if there is exactly one but I witnessed a coming together event that fits the term better than anything I've seen before; cultural boundaries disappeared as people enjoyed playing sports.


After our dragonboat race the students had activity in their veins. We had time before lunch and the resort we were at had a gym, basketball court and grass field. We jumped right into pickup games of badminton, table tennis, frisbee, and basketball.


It was an unscheduled break. No points, no rules and no agenda. Chinese played alongside American. CA partnered with NJ. Photo crew put down played their cameras to play with kids. Smiles decorated every face. There was a tangible peace in the air. This purity of fun comes when people leave everything else behind to play like a kid. This is why I love sport. It is an international language everyone can understand.


Our group of students have bonded in a way we couldn't have planned. Jimbo, the videographer who arrived only one day after the teachers and students, clarified it when he said "I can't even tell which kid is from which state."


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Putting Brush to Paper

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Yesterday was so amazing, where to begin? I guess with one of my favorite activities!

One of our trip highlights that will forever stay near and dear to my heart was our visit to one of Beijing's oldest Hutongs- narrow street communities lined with very small businesses and siheyuan (small courtyard homes typically shared by numerous families). Hutongs are almost entirely unique to Beijing, so when their numbers began to drastically decline in recent years in order to make way for urban planning, a few of the citie's oldest Hutongs became protected areas in an attempt to preserve this important aspect of Chinese cultural history.

As we strolled past an endless line of red canvas covered rickshaws lining the riverside, I was amazed by what seemed to be a beautifully controlled chaos. Cars, bikes, mopeds, rickshaws and pedestrians all danced around each other from all directions in a single lane road. And not a single person yelling at each other!

Suddenly, we turned off onto one of the "residential" alleys and before I knew it, we were at our destination- the home of a master calligrapher. The home itself was interesting and unique- a maze within a maze- walkways twisting and turning, from a tiny entrance way, to an open air courtyard, to the main room where we gathered and were greeted by the teacher and his wife (who served us amazing homemade treats). I couldn't believe it- 6000 miles away from my own home in the home of a complete stranger who spoke a completely foreign language, and I felt entirely at ease. Ironically, we have all felt that way the entire trip- embraced, welcomed and appreciated everywhere we've been.

The master graciously sat us down, then our calligraphy lesson began. He started by telling us (through one of our ever-present and life-saving interpreters!) A brief history of the art and its significance in Chinese history. Then he explained the four basic tools of the trade: paper, brush, ink and ink stone. Today, pre-made ink is very affordable, but true artisans still make their own with an ink stone.

After a demonstration of brush holding, ink dabbing and stroking technique, the master said we were ready to try it for ourselves. We all gathered around the table and did our best to create the Chinese symbol for longevity.
It looked much easier than it was! I am so very grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to TRULY become immersed in a cultural art form admired throughout the entire world. There's no doubt that I now have a much greater appreciation for Chinese calligraphy.

P.S.
If you ever get the chance to take a lesson, go for it!

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Cultural Differences

We spent the morning part of the day exploring the great 2008 Olympic sites; the Water Cube and the Birds Nest. What a site to see. Many of us circled the track; where great Olympians were once competing. Then we made our way to a very upper-class restaurant called Duwang Duck. Many Chinese Celebrities visit here to share in the fun atmosphere and the exquisite food. We were given the chance to make dumpling with the staff and two other “secret” recipes. We also were treated to a 4-star lunch; some made with our own two hands! We then ventured to a metro-art area to view the local contemporary art at 798 District. What a blast that was. Dinner too, was a treat. We dined in a cute little Café’ that served “Western Style” meals. We had Panini’s, French fries, and salad. That was a treat!!

I found a huge difference in the eating habits and cultural styles of my culture and this culture in China. Meals in China are done in layers and taken hours to complete. This is very similar to their history; they have kept detailed records and intricate layers of information to “preserve” their culture as they preserve their dinner time with one another. This resonated with me. China has something neat to take note of here; preservation of family time and also of heritage!

Landing in The Bird's Nest

Today we had an opportunity to view two of the Olympic venues - the "Bird's Nest" and the "Water Cube." When I watched the opening and closing ceremonies during the 2008 Olympics, as well as the many swim events, I was in awe of the beauty of these structures. There is no comparison when you see them up close. It was fascinating to learn how these architectural wonders were designed with Buddhist and Chinese culture in mind. The "Cube" was designed by Australian architects and the "Bird's Nest" was designed by the Swiss.

798….

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was told we would tour the contemporary art museum, 798. Who names an art museum 798? I quickly learned that 798 is not just a number. It is a symbol. In Beijing it means art, vanguards, unchained personalities, and alternative life goals. I found myself making personal connections to my childhood and Greenwich Village, NY when I would visit my uncle during summer break. Today I witnessed an explosion of culture, an outpour of expression and a sense of freedom that I wasn’t expecting to see in China.
It was nice to be in place that felt like home. We took a casual walk through the shops and galleries of 798. Time stood still as money was exchanged for souvenirs and the sweet sounds of cicadas and Guns and Roses echoed in the background. We closed out the afternoon with some good old western style paninis and french fries. It was the perfect way to end the day!

Discovery's Top Chefs

This has been an incredible start to the day! We are here at the local market picking out fresh fruits, vegetables and meats for our private cooking lesson with our own personal chef. The market is incredible. I have never seen some of these gorgeous fruits and vegetables before. I am really looking forward to our lesson. Pictured here is Becca and Riley!


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Mongolian Hot Pots

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What a day in Beijing! We learned the beautiful art of calligraphy from a local Chinese family, explored the Silk Museum, shopped the promenade, and found a new appreciation for the size of Beijing in the Beijing Urban Planning Center. However, my favorite part of the day was the gourmet Mongolian hot pots we eat in the Hutongs. The hot pots reminded me of meat fondue pots. Colorfully decorated copper pots were placed in front of each guest and a broth was brought to a boil. We were served platefuls of raw lamb, meat, vegetables, and mushrooms. The idea was to immerse your pieces of food into the simmering stock, cook it to your liking, and then dip the food into a delicious sauce. It was a real challenge with chop sticks, but so worth the frustrations! Mr. Harvey was the last man standing and somehow managed to continue eating, even after the entire China crew left the dining room. Great job Mr. Harvey!

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Ping Pong Champion

This is the Chinese student who beat in a game of ping pong 21-2. :)
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Arrival

We arrived in Beijing at 2:45 pm. We were all so excited to finally be there. We made our way through customs and all the entrance stations, and were swished away to baggage claim! After getting our luggage, Hallelujah all of us received it, we looked up to see our In-country travel manager welcoming and waiting for us. We jumped on the private motor coach for an air-conditioned ride and refreshments. Riley, our travel manager, kept us entertained the whole ride! We arrived at our beautiful hotel and had some time to freshen up. We then met our group for a briefing of what great adventures will await us tomorrow!

The hotel treated us to an excellent authentic Chinese dinner. Michael, our second in-country travel manager, taught the group how to use chopsticks the right way. Before we got dinner we had to prove our chopstick skills. Our task was to snatch an oiled peanut from a huge bowl at the center of the table. We all accomplished it, after a couple practice tries, but Rita shined BRIGHT. She was able to snatch 4 peanuts with her chopsticks at once. What an excellent performance!

Dinner was fabulous. We had at least 12 selections of beef, lamb, pork, seasoned fresh vegetables, sautéed mushrooms, noodles, and much more. It was amazingly divine! That is when the urge to sleep began to overwhelm us. We all headed to bed with our tummies full, minds excited for tomorrow, and bodies utterly exhausted. Beijing awaits us in the morning!

- Stephanie Wolfe

The plane ride

Monday, August 3, 2009

I met our group at the airport with great excitement in the air! Just before boarding the plane we found out the results from the “Follow Me” contest. Emilie pulled out a win, coming from behind! She is now the lucky winner of a new Itouch phone! Congrats girl, you deserved it. She had almost 200 followers. Great job! Our group departed O’Hare Airport for our 13 hour flight to Beijing.

We were excited to find that we had been seated together in the back. We took up the whole back two rows. Yes, the flight was long and well; long. We watched movies, read books, listened to IPods, played games, and got to know one another. Our plane was a Boeing 777; having 42 rows deep and 9 seats across.

Half way between Chicago and Beijing, our group decided to take a stretch break. Before we knew it, we were swarming the back portion of the plane, having snacks and talking. The airlines stewards were so accommodating and allowed us to “Stretch” in the dinette in the back of the plane. After an hour of discussion and hype about our future destinations, we decided to rest a little. Beijing was waiting for us and just around the corner!

-Stephanie Wolfe

IMG00003-20090803-1049.jpg

Well here we are in Beijing, China. Today we started with a ride through Monday morning traffic. To soothe the stress we then had Tai-chi lesson. We learned that the body be like water; able to flow yet have the strength to cut down rock. The students then started their own reality show challenge: Can You Pushover the Master? consisting of kids attempting to take down a 70 year-old man. We all lost.
The temples and palaces of the Forbidden City revealed stories of power and rich symbolism of ancient empires. Tiannemen square quietly held all the Chinese power without the fear of any restrictions.
After sweating in the humidityfor hours we felt useless in the heat. But energy quickly re-entered our bodies as we entered Dong Zhi Men; China's school of master ping pong players. Mr. Tong, the instructor has taught several world champions. We wasted no time in picking up paddles and getting schooled by 5-12 year-old boys and girls who will be future table tennis stars. This was a clear highlight for the kids. The CA team especially shined at the table (what did you expect?) even besting their Chinese opponents.
During the Tai-chi, I had a moment of joy watching my students. We spent so much time preparing for this and it was finally a reality: we are in China learning an ancient, beautiful art. Their faces lit up as they learned every move and watched each other in the master's challenge. I feel so lucky to be exploring a new culture with such curious and fun students.

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Ping Pong and More

What a great way to begin our adventure in China.... We started the day with a great tour of The Temple of Heaven and then learned some Tai Chi. I had the privilege of competing against a 67 year old Tai Chi master in a game of "push the master off his feet." I lost! Next, we spent some time in Tiananmen Square and stopped for some lunch. The food was great and it was nice to enjoy an ice cold Coke. After lunch we learned about the importance and history of the Forbidden City. We closed out the day by heading over to a local Chinese school to play some ping pong! The Chinese students were brilliant! We had an opportunity to learn from a professional Chinese coach. I played against two students, both under the age of 10. I managed to score maybe 10 points out of about 300 total points. Ping pong was the highlight of my day. I want to go back. The day went by fast and I am definitely ready for some much needed rest. What a great start! Thank you DSA.

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BlackBerry and Blogging!

Friday, July 31, 2009

I am so excited to meet the China Crew! I am having a field day with the brand new and very cool BlackBerry that arrived at my doorstep today. I should also mention that my visa arrived today..... thus ending my panic dream because now I can officially say, I'M GOING TO CHINA!

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I'm Going To China!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My name is Adam Controy and I am a fifth grade teacher at Bridge Valley Elementary School in the Central Bucks School District in Pennsylvania. I have attended that last two National Institutes and have been a DEN STAR for two years. I just found out a week ago that I am going to China.

Here is my story…

A day before the DEN National Institute in San Francisco was coming to a close, Discovery Student Adventures announced they were going to randomly take another STAR on their trip to China. All I had to do was fill out an information card and cross my fingers. I did both! Anson Lee, Senior Director at Discovery Student Adventures, pulled my name out of hat the next morning. It was announced that I would attended the China Adventure with three other STARs and their students. You could tell from the look on my face that I was in a state of shock. However, with a little bit of encouragement, I was still able to do a “happy dance.” The turnaround was quick. Within a week’s time, I needed to apply for my visa, complete an immense amount of paperwork, cancel and reschedule a few workshops, and move up my daughter’s birthday party. Thank goodness my passport was current.

My role on this trip is the same as the other three teachers. We will be working with their students to create a unique experience to take learning from the classroom into the real world. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to learn and explore Chinas culture and traditions. I am fortunate enough to have been in the right place at the right time while attending the Discovery Educator's National Institute in San Francisco. I am very grateful for this opportunity and know that it will have a major impact on my life.


I Dream of China...

Friday, July 10, 2009

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C h33 City Carpet Letter I n28 letter a


Well, it's official- our adventure in China is right around the corner. How do I know? Last night I had my first official China "panic" dream. What's a "panic" dream? I'm sure you've had them before- you probably just call them something else. You know, the dreams you start having a few weeks before school starts, where you:
  • forget about your class schedule and students are sitting in your room waiting for you all day...
  • not realize you were signed up for a course, then have to take the final exam without ever having been in the class...
  • are not able to remember ANY of your students' names...
I think you get the picture now :)

Everyone has their passports & visas, so now we are just waiting to have our next teacher conference call on July 23rd. I'm really excited to compare checklists with Brett & Rita and talk about essential questions & "lesson plans" for our students to focus on during our trip.

Anyone have any funny "panic" dreams to share? If you can identify and have any stressful dreams of your own, please share!

An Adventure of a Lifetime

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

After reading the blog posts and watching the videos of the Australia and Africa adventures...I am even more excited than ever to begin our adventure to China. We recently had a cook out at one of the student's home, and the excitement is growing for our upcoming trip!

When our Discovery Student Adventures box arrived with our shirts and landyards, we just couldn't wait to try everything on and take our first group photo.

Selecting Students

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Selecting students to go on this trip was hard. So to reward myself and the ones that got selected, I decided to have a little fun when I brought the four finalists in. Check out the video:



Several people have since asked how I made the cookies. They're actually really easy. Just print up your fortunes ahead and use quality, presentation paper. They always put those mysterious numbers on the fortunes so I put the dates of our trip: 08 04 19 09 (Aug.4-18th, 2009). Riley got it quickly (math nerd).

I used this recipe and found these tips helpful. Oven mitts make handling difficult so I used this as an excuse to buy the Ove Glove. My wife wouldn't let me buy it before but now that we have it she uses it all the time!

I had extra batter so I wrote a couple extra messages and inserted them into cookies for our principal and her secretary. The principal walked away confused when I handed her a fortune cookie in a ziploc baggie. The next day she came up to me excited and said, "I figured it out once I opened it - of course, you're going to China!"

Ready for adventure

Thursday, June 11, 2009

After watching the Australia group complete their trip while the South Africa group is currently exploring, the excitement level has increased. I know this experience will be unlike any other. Every day someone asks me about China this summer and I get chills just thinking about it. Someone asked if I've even been that far. I've traveled internationally, but China is farther than any place on Earth I've walked.

Right now I am blogging with my students. With school so close to being done, their thinking about almost nothing else. I'm really looking forward to getting to know these four incredible young people. It will be an adventure in more ways than one.

B. Harvey

Essential Programs Details

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