Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hong Kong for another 24 Hour Visit, and then China!

From Taipei we flew to Hong Kong in order to get to Shenzhen, China. Though we have a few alumnae in Hong Kong, none of them were available when we were going to be there. Still, we had to spend one night in the city in order for me to get my visa to enter China - finally. Andy and I had both applied before we left, but I was denied. The father in Shenzhen who "sponsored" our visit had not written his letter on official letterhead. So while whoever read Andy's application found nothing egregious, whoever read mine was in a bad mood. I had to deal with it in Hong Kong.

Our student Shiyun '11 had been staying with me for the month of June, before going to a summer program at Andover during July. She and her parents were incredibly helpful in planning the trip to Shenzhen, and her father once again helped out when it came time to deal with the visa problem. A friend of his in the Immigration Office expedited the wait for me, and it was a quick (though frustrating, still) affair. By 11am the morning after arriving, I had my visa and was ready to go to China. Shiyun and a driver had picked us up at the Hong Kong airport and dropped us at the hotel; they picked us up again the next afternoon. Shiyun had spent the night with a friend she'd met at her summer school. Andy and I took a bit of a walk and I got a few pictures of the dramatic landscape of Hong Kong:

Unfortunately, the weather from Taipei on was nothing but rain and heat and humidity. It didn't make for very inspired photos, but I still shot away. Certainly, the photos of Hong Kong are much less impressive than what it really looked like.

When we drove into China, a mere half hour or so from our hotel in Hong Kong, we could sense we were entering somewhere different from the rest of our stops. Shenzhen is a city of 6 million people that was begun only 30 years ago; as you can imagine, all the buildings are new and tall.
We stayed in a hotel not far from Shiyun's family's apartment, and we relied on them to help us get from one place to the next. I should start this excerpt by saying that where Lisa and Chi-Hung left off in Taipei, Shiyun and her parents picked up in Shenzhen. They were unbelievably hospitable, and we are so grateful for all that they did for us. Not only did they host the reception, but Shiyun had personally called every student, new and returning, to encourage her to come to the event. We were stunned when 5 new girls and their parents joined us, one even flying in to attend the reception! Everyone at school is going to love them all.

Just as in Taipei, we had a mere few hours upon our arrival before the reception. Shiyun and her mother took us first for a "hotpot" meal which we enjoyed tremendously. Because her parents speak little English, Shiyun was called upon to translate everything for the days we were there, and she did an excellent job.

Our reception was in a lovely restaurant where we had a dedicated room with 2 sections: one with a giant, round table for our meal; the other with chairs and a screen for our "talk."

We were delighted to see the mother of Rebecca '10 arrive with a translator. Rebecca couldn't make it because she was in Beijing doing community service, but her mother, whom we have never met, made the effort. She was very helpful to the new families in understanding the "unspoken realities" of SBS life. ("When your daughter tell you this, think that..." and so on!) We had an amazing meal with I-don't-know-how-many courses; to us, it seemed the food just kept coming and coming. It was such a delightful time that I forgot to take any pictures of it! I did, though, take a picture of my beautiful bouquet of roses that all the parents bestowed upon me (and a similar one upon Mrs. Patt). These were wrapped in a kind of burlap and meshed fabric that held the flowers in water during our entire stay in China. They were amazing!

The next day we joined Shiyun and almost all the new girls (Jane had to go home) as well as two mothers at a nearby Chinese Cultural Folk Village, an instructional, hands-on place where visitors can learn about Chinese history and culture. (l to r: the mother of Selma, Selma, Phoebe, Kathy, Icey, Mrs. Patt, Shiyun's mother, Shiyun)

We had a wonderful time walking around, getting to know each other and laughing quite a bit. We also visited two performances, one an impressive horseback exhibition detailing the end of one dynasty and the beginning of another; the other a beautiful dance performance representing each of the provinces of China and its traditions.

One tradition is eating a favorite of all Chinese children, a mountain of frozen crab apples covered in candy coating (not as sweet, though, as our candied apples). It was delicious on a steamy and humid day!

We also stumbled across a poet-calligrapher who made a poem for us about SBS; we've brought it home and will have it framed when we can get a translation done to accompany it.
We ended our day with a lovely Brazilian dinner in another impressive restaurant, hosted by Mr. Wang, the father of one of our new students. We were seated at the table once taken by the president of the republic and his wife. Andy and I were meant to sit in those two seats! The meal was delicious, and we ended the day feeling like we know our new Chinese students and their parents very well, as they do us. It was a perfect day.

The next day we met Shiyun and her mother for brunch and enjoyed some food we had never seen nor tasted before. One of our favorites was a kind of angel food cake with soft egg yolk inside. Sounds disgusting, but it's not.

We also got the definitive lesson on eating with Chinese utensils and put the food in the bowl and the scraps on the plate. As in other places, we laughed and shared stories, despite our language barrier with our hosts. Our final night of the trip (except for our plane ride home) was spent with Shiyun's entire extended family - aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. They were all upbeat, wonderful people who showered us unnecessarily with gifts and love. We enjoyed a meal together in a private room at a restaurant that specializes in Cantonese cooking where we had one of the best meals of our entire trip. Seated around a giant, round table with a lazy Susan in the middle, we were fed rounds and rounds of delicious food.

We were also serenaded by regional music sung and played by musicians who came in and got Andy and me up dancing and singing with them (only Shiyun's family can ever use this to blackmail me!).
We were also solicited to officially cut a piece of roasted goat and spray some wine into the sky and onto the ground to signal good luck. It was a very special occasion for us, and we thank Shiyun's entire family (here, not quite in its entirety) for making us feel so appreciated.

There are so many things to say about this trip. In sum, though, Andy and I both felt privileged to represent the school to so many wonderful people. Our alumnae in Asia are no different that those elsewhere - they appreciate the experience they had at SBS and have gone on to lead incredibly interesting and meaningful lives. Our current parents, especially those who have not been able to come to the U.S. to see their daughters at school, really need for us to bridge the gap and help them know us better. Our students need for us to know how much we enjoy and appreciate where they come from, in any part of the world! And we need to continue to educate ourselves and talk with our consitutents along the way about our learnings. We need to continue building global understanding and to take every opportunity to help our girls cross cultural boundaries. We look forward to returning to Asia in the future and say thank you - Arigato - Gansa Hamnida - and Shishi - to everyone who helped make this a successful trip for SBS!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thwarted by the Typhoon, but we finally get to Taipei

Twenty-four hours after being sent back to Seoul, we headed once again to the airport and finally got to Taipei. We were so happy to be greeted by Chi-Hung '09 and Lisa '10 who took us by car into the city. Chi-Hung and Lisa told us a lot about the city while we were traveling to the hotel. When we asked what we should try to do, given our less-than-24-hours, Chi-Hung said, "Taipei 101." I thought she was so clever to suggest that we get in a quick, survey "course" of the city...until I realized she was referring to one of the tallest buildings in the world - Taipei 101 which has 101 floors. We had a good laugh over that!

We loved the Landis Taipei Hotel and the people in it. They could not have been more accommodating, especially given our delay and thwarted reception. The hotel staff quickly put together a much smaller and intimate area where we could greet the few people who were still able to come see us. Lisa's parents had thoughtfully sent us a beautiful basket of Taiwanese fruit some of which Lisa cut up for us to taste as we got settled in our hotel room. It - Asian pear, dragon fruit, assorted melons and so on - was delicious! When we had unpacked a bit and tasted our fruit, the girls took us out again so we could see a bit of the city. It was raining (remember, there was a typhoon hitting the southern part of the island!), and we had just about an hour to zoom around Taipei. We didn't even get out of the car, but we were able to gain an impression of a city we thought we'd love to return to see more of. Here are some "rainy" views:

We got back to the hotel just in time to change for the reception and greet our guests: current students Eudora '11 and her mother, Sara '11 and her dad, Lisa and her parents, and Chi-Hung. We were also wonderfully happy to see two alumnae, Alice and Flora , and Flora 's mother, Bernadette.

It wasn't the size group we had originally anticipated, but we were so grateful to those who were able to attend. We enjoyed everyone there and learned a lot about Taiwan, business in Taiwan, and the life of teenagers there! Thanks, especially, to the two fathers there - Mr. Hsieh and Mr. Cheng; it was Fathers' Day in Taiwan that night!

Lisa, Chi-Hung and Eudora insisted that we join them after the reception for a trip to the Night Market, an invitation we couldn't resist! And I am so glad we went; it was a riot. First, a trip to the incredible food area where one can buy any kind of food you can think of. We tasted some fried chicken and an oyster omelet, both of which were delicious. Of course, the girls bought some requisite Bubble Tea.

From there, we headed to the many rows of shopping booths -again, where you can seemingly find anything you can think of. My favorite part of the evening was when we took pictures of ourselves in a little booth and then decorated our creations in another machine. We did four pictures, but I'll just share my favorite -- Andy almost guffawing while Lisa was teasing her. Take a look:
On top of all this, there were Lisa and Chi-Hung waiting for us again the next morning at 7:30am in the hotel lobby as we were about to depart. They escorted us back to the airport and bid us adieu. There is no question that our brief trip to Taiwan would never had had so much meaning if it weren't for these two. We are forever indebted. Shishi, girls! And a big shishi to everyone who came to our event; we are very appreciative!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Backtracking, again...Seoul, Korea

We're back! And after being blocked from Blogspot in Taiwan and China, I will pick up where we left off in Seoul -- what at this point feels like a month ago! A public thank you to my husband, Hank, who tried to let everyone know that we were alive and well, albeit in a more highly controlled environment.

The day after our alumnae and family event in Seoul we spent some time with a couple of consultants in the morning and early afternoon. We enjoyed conversation with them and feel that we learned a lot about the lives of Korean students. One of the consultants also runs an "academy" (after-school or summer-school programs to teach English, primarily, and SAT / TEOFL prep). By coincidence, she had the English Dept Chair from Deerfield teaching for her this summer, and so we all had lunch together at a wonderful restaurant nearby. It was interesting to hear what his experience had been like this summer and to learn more about these "academies" in Korea from an American educational perspective.

Our late afternoon and evening was spent with our student Moon Jung and her family. Moon Jung took us to a beautiful imperial palace right in the middle of Old Seoul, an area we had not yet seen and were happy to visit. Suddenly gone were the big business buildings we'd grown familiar with on the other side of the river, and everything looked more like what we expected from an old city such as this.

Chungdeokgung Palace was a wonderful place, filled with all kinds of interesting views and insights into the life of the Korean royal family. We walked around the grounds for several hours, and I just kept clicking away. Both the buildings and the grounds were beautiful. It was hot, but we persevered, and saw most of what was there:

We went from Chungdeokgung Palace to a charming area of Old Seoul with antique shops and a charming tea room where we each enjoyed a bowl of unique (to Andy and me) tea. It was all delicious with an order of some rice pastries, and we loved the ambiance of the place.

Once done with the tea, we sauntered along the street, entering shops that appealed to us. Andy and I bought a few gifts for family members, and we were on our way to meet Moon Jung's parents and interpreter for dinner.

Moon Jung and her parents thought we might like some familiar food, having now been in Asia for some time. We therefore dined in a beautiful Italian restaurant that was a part of a hotel, and it was perfect. Despite any language barriers, we enjoyed lively conversation, lots of laughs and a wonderful meal. Moon Jung's father was very kind in offering us gifts for our husbands as he figured they were lonely at home without us. That was just so sweet (and both husbands really appreciated being thought of!). Her mother was as good an audience for her husband as we were, and we all would hang with anticipation on the translator's words as he told another good story or joke. Here we all are, fully sated:

Many thanks to the Choi family for a wonderful memory of Old Seoul and fine Italian dining. Gansa Hamnida!
(I'm not sure why the writing is suddenly blue and underlined, but I can't seem to change it...)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On our way home!

(From Husband Hank):

In a very brief email before leaving Hong Kong at 6:15 pm (arriving Newark 4:30 pm Thursday, Aug 13) , Sally reports that she plans to spend all day in bed Friday in attempt to compensate for the jet lag she will undoubtedly endure (she arrives here before she left China!). We have a wedding rehearsal to attend Friday night and the ceremony on Saturday; I hope she won't snore through the service. . .

As soon as she has caught up with her sleep and is able to, Sally will enter a more complete description of her exciting times in China; I'm sure they'll be intriguing! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Excerpts from Shenzhen

Here are a few verbal snapshots, excerpted from an email from Sally at 11:07 EST, Tuesday, August 11:

Have had 2 great days in
Shenzhen. Shiyun's parents are adorable and they h
ave really bent over backwards to be generous and kind hosts to us. Last night's event was amazing - 5 new students and their parents came, and they are so excited,
and their parents were so relieved to meet Andy and me. One girl told me that we have "kind faces" and she never thought the head of her school would be nice.
One more day. The Zhengs are giving us the day to regroup, get work done and pack for the early morning we'll have on Thursday. Then we will meet them at 6pm to go to somewhere in the city, I think with the entire extended family. What a trip this is going to be; of course, Shiyun is the only one who speaks English. She also just got here herself about 4 days ago and still has some jetlag. She's been a trouper.

Had a wonderful event last night - 5 new students and their parents came, along with the Zhengs and the mother of one of our seniors (who is in Beijing right now). All our other current students happened to be traveling right now.

Today we went to brunch with Shiyun and her mother, then met most of the new girls and one of their mothers at a Chinese Cultural Folk Village - their version of Plimouth Plantation or the like. Very interesting, and we saw 2 great shows. The whole group had dinner at a beautiful Brazilian restaurant.

That's all I have energy for right now. Just wanted you to know what I'm up to a bit. I'm definitely ready to come home, but it's been great. Have to work hard on my blog when I get there!

(edited by Hank)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Made it to Mainland China

(from Sally's husband, Hank):
I had a brief phone call last night to tell me that Sally received her visa and that she and Andy were on their way to China. Will add more details as they come to me.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Not to worry- we made it to Hong Kong!

Since China has blocked blogspot posts, I am unable to add more detail about our travels since leaving Taiwan. However, I will try to update everyone soon by emailing my posts, which will then posted on the Coleman House Blog. Please be patient; I'll be in touch as soon as possible. In the meantime, be assured that we are fine, having evaded both a typhoon and an earthquake!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Backtracking to Seoul - Day Two (Tues., Aug 4th)

Just in case you're wondering why I'm starting with Day Two, look back a few entries. I did talk about our arrival in Seoul and our meeting with consultant Kyeong Kang and dinner in the hotel lobby bar.

We awoke the next day anticipating our first meeting with another consultant at 11am, but we had time to stroll over to the nearby Buddhist temple and take a look around. Though we were on our way to something quite old, we were struck by the newness of our immediate surroundings. We are staying in the "New Seoul," south of the river. "Old Seoul" is everything to the north, something we didn't get to see until our (originally) last day in Seoul. Note to the right the two lanes of crosswalk; there are arrows on either side indicating to walkers which lane to use so that people aren't crashing into each other as they lurch to the other side before the light changes. Not rocket science, but we in the U.S. don't seem to have figured this out yet...

Across the street and into the temple. What an oasis of beauty, simplicity and quiet in the midst of a big, noisy city! All we could hear were chants and bells in a variety of buildings, each of which seemed assigned to a particular kind of prayer. The outside spaces were garnered with rafts of white paper lanterns and traditional Korean statues and sculptures. Of course the highlight of the temple is the interior and exterior painting of the buildings themselves - intricate and colorful representation of Buddha's teachings and meaning. Here are a few highlights:

I was particularly struck by the contrast of temple roof lines against the backdrop of modern skyscrapers. Andy loved the chanting and is wanting to find a CD of it all to take home with her. Watch out; we might be found soon in her Bernardston backyard chanting ethereally, taking ourselves into another world of peace and contemplation. Not a bad idea at all!

Dream as we liked, we needed to get back to reality and a meeting at 11 with Christine Kim, another consultant. She brought with her a young 6th grader interested in SBS for a year from now, a delightful girl called Amy but named Moon Jung (and who was excited to hear that we had another Moon Jung already at school). Amy's mother was not feeling well and needed to head to the doctor's office so she stayed with us and Christine for a coffee in the lobby followed by a wonderful lunch. Christine treated us all to a Korean beef meal in a beautiful restaurant where we had our own room. It was our first introduction to Korean food, and we enjoyed it tremendously. We give Amy (as she insisted she liked to be called) a big thumbs up. Any 6th grader who could stay with adults and hold her own in the ways that she did gets a gold star.

The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up with ourselves a bit and doing a few errands in the underground mall attached to the hotel. We had to rest ourselves to get ready for another meal out, this time with our student Jane and her mother. We were really treated like queens, literally, as we were taken to an amazing restaurant of traditional Korean cuisine. As Jane and her mother explained, this is the food that was once served only to queens and kings of Korea. Now it is a special privilege to partake in such a meal. First of all, the ambiance...we were seated at a traditional table low to the floor where our legs were comfortably placed under the table into a "hole" in the floor. And then the I have no idea how many courses were placed before us, but it was soon apparent that we could never eat everything set on the table. It was all for tasting, and "waste" is part of the ritual. My Yankee Self was quick to feel bad for whoever was in the back room doing dishes as everything was served to the table on separate plates for us to dip into as we cared to. Soon, however, my sense of guilt was left behind and I was as gluttonous as any king or queen of yore. Here are two of the yummy things we ate. The little pink circle below is actually a radish "taco" used to wrap little vegetables in and eat in one big bite. The preparation alone challenged my chopstick skills sufficiently, but the desire to taste this little delicacy was enough to quicken my proficiency in incremental ways!

Not only did we have one of the best and most interesting meals of our lives, but we also enjoyed entertaining company - including a delightful interpreter that Jane's mother brought along. She's a student at NYU and is tutoring Jane this summer in preparation for Biology next year. We had engaging conversation, lots of laughter, and good old girl fun in a lavish environment. It was particularly interesting to hear about the work of Jane's mother, a real entrepreneur who is very committed to an internet safety project. We are hoping to collaborate with her as a school in an effort to promote a more compatible and safe world.

All in all, what a treat - and something Andy and I will never forget. Here we are fully sated. Gansa Hamnida!