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!

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