gap year in israel

China 2016

Day 1

Dear Parents,

Nee Hao! 致以诚挚的问候土豚!(Greetings from Aardvark!)

Thanks to the Great FireWall of China, the students and Adi do not have full internet access this week. So in order to share their adventures with you Adi will be sending me photos and updates via WhatsApp and I’ll share them with you by email. Keep in mind, this week you may not hear much from your kids… They’ll be really busy for starters and they will only have internet access in the hotel at the end of each day. In the past we haven’t found a way to access facebook from Beijing, but I did see one student posted to today (and I “borrowed” one of her photos to share with you…)

The trip is off to an amazing start. The group landed safely in Beijing and met their guide, Juliet (ok, her name is actually Chongyan, but she makes it easy for the tourists…) The fight was long and thankfully everyone got some sleep so they were ready to hit the ground running when they landed early this morning. But not before they had a nice breakfast of dim sum!

Visiting Beijing can be overwhelming to some… The city is HUGE! Aside from its impressive size and historic richness, Beijing is home to 20 million people. That is more than three times the population of Israel. Driving into the city, the first stop was a tour of the Hutongs. These very old neighborhoods are built with one level houses, positioned very close together. Most are built in a square shape with a central courtyard shared by all the families. To tour the neighborhood, the group boarded rickshaws and rode through the narrow streets. Although the drivers were great, Adi decided to try out his driving skills and hopped on the bicycle to lead one of the rickshaws through the area. He didn’t say, but I hope he let the driver have a complementary ride!

During the tour in the Hutong area, the students saw local people playing with “Flying Sak” (this is what Adi wrote to me – I think he meant hacky sack… Check out the photos and see what you think.) Ethan showed off his impressive skills and astonished the Chinese!

After getting a feel for the area, the group headed inside one of the homes for a Chinese calligraphy lesson. They learned about the Chinese alphabet and a bit about how to form the letters and write their names. If any of the student complain about having a hard time learning Hebrew this year, just remind them how “easy” Chinese is!

Another highlight of the day was visiting the Drum Tower. This building is very tall and the group had to climb a steep, narrow set of stairs to get to the top where they found 24 drums and had a great time seeing the Drum Ceremony. Every hour on the hour the drummers drum and everyone loved it! The building was built 700 years ago and the purpose of the drums is to let everyone know what the time is. The building also has an exhibition of many ancient and very creative gadgets that are meant to tell the time. For example a boat-shaped incense stand, which is meant to count two hours of sleep during the siestas. You light the incense before you go to sleep, and it burns a string every half an hour. Every string has two bells at its end that fall down and make a noise when the incense gets to it. So every half an hour a bell goes off… You have to be very creative when you don’t have an alarm clock!

After a delicious lunch of Chinese food (although, in China they just call it “food”), they found that they were running ahead of schedule so they headed out to see the Lama Temple. In addition to the seeing many different sized buddhas, they saw a Buddha that made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. This largest wooden Buddha is 26 meters high, and is carved from a single tree! It goes 13 meters deep into the ground and 16 meters above it. It’s an amazing structure that took 3 years to import and 3 years to carve. Apparently they weren’t supposed to take photos of it and so Adi didn’t. But… one student who shall remain nameless apparently did (busted on facebook!) so I took the liberty of borrowing it to share with you.

As the afternoon wore on, they headed back to the hotel to rest a bit and get ready for Shabbat. Tonight, they were going to Chabad which is just a ten minutes walk from the hotel. They’ll have the opportunity to meet with members of the local Jewish community, join them for services and dinner, see the beautiful Jewish Museum, and to speak with the Rabbi who will share stories with them about his experiences in China. In the past he shared with the group a bit about serving as the official Rabbi for the Beijing Olympics, the challenges of establishing Chabad in Beijing the Chinese Communist Party, which is an atheist organization, presently only formally recognizes five religions in China (and surprise! Judaism isn’t one of them!)

Everyone is having a wonderful time despite the cold and the day went very smoothly. Hanna has been in charge of counting the group to make sure no one gets lost, which in a city like Beijing, would really be a challenge, so luckily she is taking her job very seriously! Tomorrow they will have a chance to sleep in a bit and being Shabbat they’ll have a slower day than all the other days of the trip. The time difference between Israel and Beijing is six hours so everyone will surely be exhausted and appreciate the chance to get adjusted and prepared for the amazing adventures that await them!

Shabbat Shalom! I’ll write again tomorrow after Shabbat!

-Debbie

Day 2

Dear Parents,

We hope you are excited to hear about another great day in China! Today your lovely children and I really enjoyed the concept of Shabbat being a day of rest! We were all exhausted from jetlag and really appreciated the good night’s sleep we got after the long day we had yesterday. We started the day in a Chinese way: a Tai Chi session taught by a Chinese master. Just as many Chinese do, we headed outside to do our exercise in the fresh air. The session was great! We also learned a bit about the Chinese wisdom of this martial art: relax and make sure Qi is moving smoothly inside your body. We hope you enjoy our Tai Chi “Mannequin Challenge “video attached!

After the workshop, we went to the Chabad house again. We really enjoyed the delicious Shabbat lunch with the Chabad community and felt very welcomed by there. In addition to the local community, the Chabad house serves a wide community of businessmen and travelers who are in Beijing for visits. Sharing a meal with such a diverse international community was very interesting for all of us.

After lunch we all walked to the 798 Art Zone, a magnificent area full of modern art. The students had an hour and a half to walk around and explore. By the end of their free time, we went into a really cool record shop. We were amazed by it! Many records from all over the world (even the sound track of “The Games of Thrones.”) The manager gave us a tour in his store. He was most proud to show us his picture with none other than Jonny Depp!

Later in the afternoon we all headed back to the hotel for a surprise treat of foot massages! We did a lot of walking today so everyone appreciated having this Chinese health treatment. Speaking of all the walking we did, a special thank you goes out to Molly who was our star navigator today! Thanks to her we never got lost! After Shabbat we headed out to a local Chinese restaurant for dinner and then back to the hotel to prepare for tomorrow.

Wishing you a great week,

Adi

Day 3

Dear Parents,

We hope you are excited to hear about another great day in China! Today your lovely children and I really enjoyed the concept of Shabbat being a day of rest! We were all exhausted from jetlag and really appreciated the good night’s sleep we got after the long day we had yesterday. We started the day in a Chinese way: a Tai Chi session taught by a Chinese master. Just as many Chinese do, we headed outside to do our exercise in the fresh air. The session was great! We also learned a bit about the Chinese wisdom of this martial art: relax and make sure Qi is moving smoothly inside your body. We hope you enjoy our Tai Chi “Mannequin Challenge “video attached!

After the workshop, we went to the Chabad house again. We really enjoyed the delicious Shabbat lunch with the Chabad community and felt very welcomed by there. In addition to the local community, the Chabad house serves a wide community of businessmen and travelers who are in Beijing for visits. Sharing a meal with such a diverse international community was very interesting for all of us.

After lunch we all walked to the 798 Art Zone, a magnificent area full of modern art. The students had an hour and a half to walk around and explore. By the end of their free time, we went into a really cool record shop. We were amazed by it! Many records from all over the world (even the sound track of “The Games of Thrones.”) The manager gave us a tour in his store. He was most proud to show us his picture with none other than Jonny Depp!

Later in the afternoon we all headed back to the hotel for a surprise treat of foot massages! We did a lot of walking today so everyone appreciated having this Chinese health treatment. Speaking of all the walking we did, a special thank you goes out to Molly who was our star navigator today! Thanks to her we never got lost! After Shabbat we headed out to a local Chinese restaurant for dinner and then back to the hotel to prepare for tomorrow.

Wishing you a great week,

Adi

Day 4

Dear Parents,

The group had such a great evening tonight that I decided to work backwards as I share the day with you. In the evening, the group went to an acrobatics show which was truly spectacular entertainment! The Chinese are known for their limberness and everyone was amazed at their talent. People flying in the air, through hoops and to unimaginable heights! We held our breath a couple of times during the show when we were sure a serious injury was about to occur on stage, but somehow it didn’t. The show really was awesome!

Another highlight of the day was the meeting we had at the Israeli Embassy. We had the privilege of meeting with Israeli Ambassador Matan Vilnai who has served as Israel’s Ambassador to China for nearly five years. He is concluding his post and returning to Israel in the coming weeks so it was very special that he took the time to meet with the students today. The ambassador discussed the relationship between Israel and China, the lack of anti-Semitism in the country and the projects in which Israel is involved in locally. He explained that the main driving force behind the relationship between Israel and China today is economic and more specifically, technology. The Chinese government looks to cooperation with Israel so Israel may teach the Chinese about technological advancements which they can adopt to ensure the livelihood of the Chinese people. He also suggested that Chinese football will be the best in the world in five years, but we weren’t too sure about that. (As a side note, in addition to having served as an Ambassador, Vilnai served as a prominent and high ranking figure in the Israeli army until 1998 when he headed to the political arena and served as a member of Knesset and a Minister in the government for many years. He also was one of the lead commanders in the raid on Entebbe in 1976, the historic mission to rescue the hostages in Uganda. He reported directly to Yoni Netanyahu who fell in that mission.) It was an honor to the students to meet the Ambassador and we all learned a lot about Israel’s cooperation with China.

Another site we visited today was the Temple of Heaven, where the emperors used to offer their sacrifices to ensure good harvest. We were surprised to find out that the Temple of Heaven is three times the size of the Forbidden City (which if you recall from yesterday is huge.) The temple was stunning! It became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998.

The day wouldn’t have been complete without another chance to do some shopping so we spent some time at the Silk Market (another flea market shopping mall type of place.) Leeor was an AMAZING bargainer! She got some really great deals! I should mention as well that Ethan showed off his own impressive skills today too as he danced with local Chinese who taught him some Chinese folk dancing.

Overall it was an incredible day. At times a little cold, but Jacob did a great job making sure that everyone bundled up and stayed warm! The hot tea and delicious food helped as well. In fact, we were treated to a feast of Peking Duck for dinner and assorted other vegetarian dishes. We are practicing using chopsticks each day and some of us are even getting the food into our mouths!

More tomorrow!

Day 5

Dear Parents,

The group had such a great evening tonight that I decided to work backwards as I share the day with you. In the evening, the group went to an acrobatics show which was truly spectacular entertainment! The Chinese are known for their limberness and everyone was amazed at their talent. People flying in the air, through hoops and to unimaginable heights! We held our breath a couple of times during the show when we were sure a serious injury was about to occur on stage, but somehow it didn’t. The show really was awesome!

Another highlight of the day was the meeting we had at the Israeli Embassy. We had the privilege of meeting with Israeli Ambassador Matan Vilnai who has served as Israel’s Ambassador to China for nearly five years. He is concluding his post and returning to Israel in the coming weeks so it was very special that he took the time to meet with the students today. The ambassador discussed the relationship between Israel and China, the lack of anti-Semitism in the country and the projects in which Israel is involved in locally. He explained that the main driving force behind the relationship between Israel and China today is economic and more specifically, technology. The Chinese government looks to cooperation with Israel so Israel may teach the Chinese about technological advancements which they can adopt to ensure the livelihood of the Chinese people. He also suggested that Chinese football will be the best in the world in five years, but we weren’t too sure about that. (As a side note, in addition to having served as an Ambassador, Vilnai served as a prominent and high ranking figure in the Israeli army until 1998 when he headed to the political arena and served as a member of Knesset and a Minister in the government for many years. He also was one of the lead commanders in the raid on Entebbe in 1976, the historic mission to rescue the hostages in Uganda. He reported directly to Yoni Netanyahu who fell in that mission.) It was an honor to the students to meet the Ambassador and we all learned a lot about Israel’s cooperation with China.

Another site we visited today was the Temple of Heaven, where the emperors used to offer their sacrifices to ensure good harvest. We were surprised to find out that the Temple of Heaven is three times the size of the Forbidden City (which if you recall from yesterday is huge.) The temple was stunning! It became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998.

The day wouldn’t have been complete without another chance to do some shopping so we spent some time at the Silk Market (another flea market shopping mall type of place.) Leeor was an AMAZING bargainer! She got some really great deals! I should mention as well that Ethan showed off his own impressive skills today too as he danced with local Chinese who taught him some Chinese folk dancing.

Overall it was an incredible day. At times a little cold, but Jacob did a great job making sure that everyone bundled up and stayed warm! The hot tea and delicious food helped as well. In fact, we were treated to a feast of Peking Duck for dinner and assorted other vegetarian dishes. We are practicing using chopsticks each day and some of us are even getting the food into our mouths!

More tomorrow!

Day 6

Dear Parents,

The students are currently somewhere in the air over Asia on their way home to Israel. We will of course let you know once they land safely but in the meantime, let’s recap today’s activities. Overall it was a wonderful trip and they had a full day today!

The first stop was the Summer Palace, which is the beautiful royal gardens built for the Emperors’ families to spend their summer months during the Quing Dynasty. Empress Dowager Tzu-hsi, who is referred to as “the dragon lady” used to stay in this palace. The legend says that even though she’d eat 120 courses in a meal, she was a very beautiful woman and worked hard on her appearance. We aren’t so sure we’d want to eat so much even if given the chance, but to each his own… Another fact we learned about the Dragon Lady was that she locked her emperor son inside the Summer Palace for 10 whole years until he died. This made Julia really sad but she was comforted by the amazing views at the palace so if you have to be locked up somewhere, this wouldn’t be such a bad option. We also walked through the longest corridor in the world which stretches 820 yards. The lake on the grounds of the Summer Palace was also beautiful!

The next place the group visited was a Pearl Factory. They had a great time seeing a demonstration of how the pearls are grown and harvested, as well as a terrific time window shopping throughout the gallery. There were even some students who bought jewelry (we hope as a thank you present to their moms for sending them on the trip!)

Next up was a really cool Tea House. As you know, tea is an important part of Chinese culture. At the tea house, we had a lesson on how to properly brew tea and about the benefits of different kinds of teas. We also sampled different flavors. Everyone really enjoyed the relaxing and aromatic experience, especially Nelly who we think will continue to conduct tea ceremonies back in Israel.

Our final site to visit was the Olympic Park where we had a chance to see the beautiful Aquatics Center, which is fondly described as the Water Cube, and the National Stadium, known as the Birds Nest. The architecture is really cool and the buildings lit up after dark are really a treat to see.

Throughout the day, there was an interesting phenomenon taking place with languages… Sarah surprised us by showing off her Chinese skills, while Jessica spent the day (and the two previous days) speaking Hebrew to every Chinese person she encountered. Jessica really misses her Hebrew Ulpan and especially her teacher Dina.

What an amazing trip it’s been!