Well China is far. Not as far as from the USA/Canada but far nevertheless. But on the way they went to Moscow to switch planes. Hard to believe but Moscow has the old airports like we used to have in Israel when you had to get off the plane on the runway and then take a bus/walk to the terminal. As opposed to Israel where there was this thrill to kiss the ground (though when I was 16 I did it in the June heat on asphalt and it was not fun) they had to walk through snow. Which of course made for an impromptu snowball fight. And as fun as that was I have a strict travel rule. You cannot say you were in a country unless you left the airport. So Russia does not count.
In the Moscow airport while waiting Debbie and Simon led a discussion about Tienanmen Square. Most students had no idea what they are talking about. They had Internet so they were able to show them the famous video/picture of the lone civilian standing in front of the tank.
They had to do this teaching there because it is forbidden to talk about what happened that day in Tienanmen Square while you are standing there. Freedom of speech is not a basic right in a communist country. Apparently lots of people outside of Aardvark were listening to the lecture including several Chinese. They discussed what that man in front of the tank represented that even an average person can be a catalyst for change and get world media attention. That man is an iconic image of the individual standing against the communist system. They compared him to Rosa Parks (and had to explain to many of them who she was). Personally I think the staff overreached since Rosa Parks led to positive change where I don’t see that China has changed much and the guy in front of the tank?…probably put in prison or killed. Which is enough of a lesson to teach our students about the inherent evil of the totalitarian communist system in China.
Nevertheless they are also there to see a cool country with amazing history. And cool it is. Or rather cold. They are very cold there. And I mean very.
After actually visiting the square with the huge picture of Mao Tse Tung they visited the amazing forbidden city.
Which apparently is not all the forbidden now since it brings in a lot of money from tourists who want to visit there. They got to climb the very steep and narrow stairs of the Drum Tower. Apparently when building the forbidden city they had to remove a lot of dirt which in turn created two man-made hills. One is the Drum Tower (that had a drum in it) and one is the Bell tour (which has a you-know-what). In olden days they used the drum and bell to signal what time it was.
They only had to write the word “big” but apparently even that was difficult to do. So basically everyone just thought “it’s all Chinese to me”. The father explained that his uncle was an important army general and worked with Mao Tse Tung. The uncle is very old and alive. But the moment he dies, the family believes they will be removed from their homes. There is respect given to the revolutionaries but for this generation, under communist rule, they don’t have a basic right to the home they have lived in all their lives.
The group then visited the Chabad Cultural Museum. Well that is what it is officially called. You and I would call it a synagogue. The reason it is not called a synagogue there is officially Judaism is illegal in China. Jews can pray but they get around the rules by having the main space called something else. The Chabad rabbi and rebbitzin talked about the current Jewish community in China. The group also had a very nice kosher dinner. It was a Chinese dinner…but with challah rolls!
The hotel they are staying in is very nice and beautiful. The only problem is that they are on a smoking floor. So many people smoke in China. It is gross. But not much they can do about it. The group was exhausted and just went to sleep right away. There are more adventures to be had tomorrow. I know it is hard to not be in touch with your children but this will just let you appreciate living in a democracy where you have facebook, skype, and easy ways to communicate with your child
So apparently the top conversation at the breakfast table today was my email yesterday where I wrote that the students were not knowledgeable about Rosa Parks and Tiannamen Square. Apparently many of them did know of these historical events and took offense that I said otherwise. So I apologize China Aardvark students and am happy that you are more aware of history than I wrote.
It was a glorious day for the students in China. First there was the trip to the Juyongguan part of the Great Wall. As we all know the wall is long. Very very long.
Afterwards they saw an Acrobatic Show and they got to sit in the front. While waiting for the show to start they were playing music. This caused Aardvark to host a spontaneous dance party. Well I am not sure they were “hosting” since everyone else just gawked at them but the students had fun. Some prominent dancers with moves were Rachel, Max, Aaron, and Jordy. Also the last dance was dedicated to Ari since his school did not host a prom. And it was his birthday. Happy Chinese birthday Ari.
The show started with crazy acrobatics people flying around, twisting on ropes and cloth, contortionists, people balancing on each other, jumping through hoops, etc. One couple did a sort of ballet dance in the air using just ribbons to keep them off the ground. The best part was the finale. Imagine a giant metal spherical cage. A motorcyclist rode inside around and around and upside down. That was hard enough. But then they added another motorcyclist at the same time. Then another and another until there were 5 going at the same time. Clearly with the way they drive Israelis would never be able to do this trick. It was shocking that they didn’t crash into each other and Katie in particular had a horrified look on her face.
When returning to the hotel some of the students ordered massages which would be a good idea particularly for their legs after their earlier climb.
More highlights tomorrow!
Well it was another fantastic day in China. The day started at the Israeli Embassy which is only 10 minutes from the hotel but takes an hour in Beijing traffic (they knew this in advance and planned for it).
Apparently the students had a great time there and the mood was great. I was with Aardvark there last year and I have to tell you that I had to walk away and came close to vomiting…it is not a place for me. But this group was more adventurous. I will write a list here of all the foods at least one person on Aardvark tried. I am not naming names to protect the innocent because we are talking no kosher hechsher here: sweet hawthorn fruit (which is list a candied apple), fried green tea ice cream, fried pumpkin, dumplings, duck, deer, shark, snake, scorpion, ostrich, mantis shrimp, crab, sea horse, dog, and sheep penis on a stick (I kid you not…5 students tried this one). And in case anyone was wondering the snake was not so good (chewy) but the scorpion was surprisingly tasty. I am nauseous just writing this. These were the appetizers before dinner.
Dinner was in Pizza Hut and was vegetarian. They were in a western-style mall so the contrast between the culture of the street food and the mall was drastic. They were met in the mall by Hannah Morgan. Hannah is an American living temporarily in Beijing because her father works for a multi-national company. Hannah is interested in attending Aardvark next year and she was shocked when I told her that we were sending a group there and she can meet students, ask questions, and decide if she wants the program (she does!). Hannah talked to the group about what it is like to be a westerner in Beijing. She goes to a private school which is officially supposed to be for children of foreigners or that have at least one non-Chinese parent. The reality is that there are only 3 white kids in the school and the rest are rich Chinese that bribed their way into the school. Subsequently her lifestyle and in her school shield her from communism. She doesn’t feel it since when you are rich apparently the rules don’t apply. For example it is well known that Facebook is blocked in China. However Hannah, and the kids in her school, have it since you can buy a non Chinese IP address and get around the whole issue.
The group then went back to the hotel where 8 masseuses where waiting for them. Apparently not many kids did the massage last night since the hotel was not equipped. But the tour guide ordered privately for tonight and a lot of the students took advantage of the 90 minute massages!
Stay tuned for more fun tomorrow,
Another fabulous and fun day in China where it is the year of the Dragon. I was born in the year of the Horse so I am clearly a stud….
The day started in the Lama Temple (not the animal but as in Dalai Lama Buddhism).
Like you have seen on tv to free Tibet, think monks in long robes. The place is beautiful and the students were impressed huge gold Buddha statue (and we are talking huge). I had asked Debbie before to get kids to buy incense to burn at one of the temples. But you can all stop gasping and be calm that no Avoda Zara took place since no one burned the incense. In the area there were small Buddhist shops where they could see Buddhist culture and listen to the music.
For lunch they went to a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant. What makes it Buddhist? Maybe all the idol worship going on? But they loved the place since it was all you can eat. Personally I prefer an all you can eat steak joint but when in China do as the Buddhists do… And in this authentic restaurant there were actually monks eating with their full garb on including children which Debbie referred to as monks-in-training.
The next stop was the Silk Market, which has nothing to do with silk. It is a flea market. I guess the silkworm is a better shopping icon than a flea. In the Silk Market there are tons of items to purchase (I say mostly illegal knock-offs of American products). Part of the fun is bargaining like crazy with the workers who say stuff like “you are killing me” when you don’t offer them enough money. Students bought things like headphones, tea, paintings, clothing, wallets, ping pong paddles, etc.
From there they were off to the Temple of Heaven which is also beautiful and they enjoyed immensely. It is a sprawling complex of temples and outdoor areas. One fun place is the Echo Wall. It is a large area where the boys stood on one side and the girls on another side far away. It is architecturally designed so that when you stand on one end and whisper you can hear the people clearly on the other side. They also joined onto an exercise class. No we are not talking Zumba here but a bunch of older Chinese women outside. Debbie made everyone participate in the workout which also involved repeating various things they chanted in Chinese. God only knows what our students were really saying as they mangled the language. They also watched old Chinese men playing card games that are unknown to us. And they bought hackey sacs and even played with some local people.
And since shopping is a part of the China experience they continued onto the Pearl Market which also is not about pearls but about fleas. Again the students bargained but since they had experience, they did better in their negotiations.
At some point there was a spontaneous sing-a-long on the bus of American music with the lyrics changing occasionally to through in the word Neehow which seems the only Chinese word they mastered. It means “hello”.
At dinner they enjoyed the famous Peking Duck (well the ones who were not being vegetarian). This was followed by an evening at the theatre to see The Legend of Kung Fu. It was a phenomenal performance involving beautiful music and dance, acrobatics, and of course, kung fu (think break wood and concrete blocks with hands and head and lying on a bed of nails).
They are now in the airport, feeling exhausted, and ready to come “home” (which means Israel). It has been an amazing, fun, and educational experience. The group lands tomorrow in Israel at12:15. They will need to rest on Shabbat so they can jump back into the program on Sunday.