China - Sheer Scale and Spectacle.
As we waited backstage for our introductions, we felt like excited Olympic athletes waiting to be announced as the Canadian contingent in the opening procession. It was our second day in China and to our pleasant surprise, we were a part of a fantastic International Student Festival with participants from around the world. On the first day, there was a large opening ceremony, complete with dancers, music, speeches and fireworks. Wow, what a performance.
The sheer spectacle of this ceremony was incredible. I have never observed this scale of presentation at a student performance. The costumes were truly of professional quality, rivaling that of a major international games. The sound system was deafening and the financial investment staggering. When we arrived, we walked through a 10-foot high LCD tunnel hallway that was essentially a surround high definition television that was 20 meters long. Something you might experience at an international pavilion.
This "red carpet" treatment set the tone for the rest of our memorable experience.
A very successful trip!
-In session visitation by a group of Chinese students to Aberdeen Hall in May 2018
-Aberdeen Hall students (12-14) attend Greentown School's International Student Festival in November 2018
-Summer camp visits Summer 2018
-Greentown serving as a feeder school for 1-2 high quality international students for Grades 9 or 10.
Presentation went well-Phew!
My presentation went well and received very good reviews from the hosts, as well as from the newspaper. I have to admit that it was a little intimidating presenting to a room full of principals from around the globe, but I felt confident that if I did something different, it would resonate with the audience. With this in mind, I made sure that my presentation was high energy, interactive and noticeably different than the two power point presentations that preceded me. On a humorous note, I had a couple of jokes worked into the presentation and even had some prep time beforehand with the translators to assist them with the translations. When I delivered the jokes, the English half gave me a good little chuckle, all the while receiving absolutely nothing from the Chinese half, not even a stir. In fact, this happened twice! (dying up here...lost in translation I suspect.)
In addition to the opening ceremonies, we were treated to further student presentations at the Soccer Academy and Martial Arts/Kung Fu School. These highly specialized academies have the top Chinese students from the surrounding provinces who train for 2-4 hours daily in their selected sport. China has ambitious plans to climb the world ranks in men's soccer. A few years ago, the government partnered with industry and created a soccer academy affectionately called "The Football School" and attracted the best 330 teenage players from northern China. If we see them start to medal at the major games in the next 10 years, I can guarantee that some of the athletes will come out of this academy as the skill level was incredible. The scale by which China approaches its projects is astonishing.
Cranes, cranes everywhere! Homes for 1.4 billion and counting.
We counted as many as 14 major cranes on certain construction sites, and there were many. It appears that China does not build things in ones, more like by the half dozen or dozen, and these are not small buildings. We are talking about 40-story buildings, most of them high density apartments. The reason for the new construction is due primarily to two factors. Firstly, the elimination of the one child quota will accelerate the population over the next 1-3 decades. And secondly, something that we are less used to in North America due to our younger age, is the large-scale retirement/replacement of buildings. As a result, demolition and scrap removal is major business. I observed countless old barges traveling up the Huangpu River transporting debris. Not sure where it was all headed?
The food customs were also fun. The formal dinners usually occur around a 'Lazy Susan' rotating in the middle of the table. Lots of fish heads, sea urchins, and unique looking vegetables. I gave up trying to figure out what I was eating, (too much work!) and instead, ate everything. If it was good, I took more, if not, -- well - I would somehow dispose of it politely... Many of the dinners have what can only be described as a "wedding like" energy to them. When guests approach to say hi, it is customary to rise to your feet and do a toast and finish your wine. If not careful, this can add up! Thank goodness I was warned about this in advance.
Keep your head on a swivel and no sudden moves.
The traffic was ridiculous, with cars and electric scooters everywhere! Thousands of them, coming in all directions and traveling in the wrong lanes and all over the sidewalks. I can't believe that I didn't see a number of major accidents. You really have to watch out because the electric scooters (mandated in certain cities 10 years ago) are silent and tend to sneak up on you. In all this chaos, pedestrians obediently follow the traffic lights and refuse to jay walk, even when there were no cars around!
The Chinese Academic Schedule - Long days and happy students.
The wonderful focus, discipline and disposition of the young Chinese students was remarkable. Bright, articulate, engaged, friendly, respectful, and genuinely interested in practicing their English with you. It was very endearing and impressive.
A typical Grade 6 student starts classes at 7:00AM and runs through until about 4:15PM. This includes 60 minutes of English instruction every day. For the boarders at the school (some as young as Grade 2), they are back in study hall from 6-8PM. The study hall for Grade 9 lasts 3 hours in duration. The non-boarding students are expected to do the same amount of work at home. After hearing this, my North American behavioral modification radar was telling me: "too much, these students will be burnt out and unhappy, they need more down time and personal activities" but this did not appear to be the case. The biggest take away I had after working with these students was how happy they were. They enjoy the busy schedule and have fewer personal activities. I couldn't help but ask myself if perhaps the North American culture offers too many extra-curriculars? This selfless dedication and incredible work habits of the young adults was also apparent, regardless of the task at hand. Certainly, further inspection is required and we look forward to sending a teacher to China next year for an extended period to examine this further.
Although I was able to buy a few interesting gifts and souvenirs from tourist markets in Hangzhou and Shanghai, the real memento was the tremendously positive impact of this first trip to China.
Head of School