Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Today is our last full day in China. This country is exciting and mysterious - at once progressive and sophisticated and, while steeped in ancient tradition and history, some government control is still very evident. (Case in point: Requiring passports be scanned in hotels and being denied access to Facebook via internet in China, along with other sites.) While technology is advertised everywhere, many Chinese simply cannot afford it and, as advanced as Shanghai seems to be, you still can't drink the water and have to carry your own toilet paper! Go figure! But, I, for one, will be sad to leave.

In 1882, an old temple was built to keep two white jade Buddha statues which had been brought from Burma by a monk named Huigen. The temple was destroyed during the revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Fortunately the jade Buddha statues were saved and a new temple was built on the present site in 1928. It was named the Jade Buddha Temple. This is where we went today. Once again we saw the amazing craftsmanship of people dedicated to their Buddhist beliefs. It is another Buddhist site that allowed us to learn more about this religion and to further our understanding of its followers. The red riboons seen hanging from temple doors, trees, and railings were blessings for those who have passed and there were many being remembered. Lighting incense was another gesture of tribute and celebration for those who have passed. Many of us bought jade or wooden bracelets that were blessed by one of the 70 resident monks that could be seen as we explored the many buildings there. Elegant, graceful, and thought provoking...

We headed out to the Nanjing Market today! I could have spent the entire day and night there as it teemed with vibrant life and culture and there were far too many photo ops and potential bargains to ignore! The garden there was exceptionally beautiful. It was built for the parents of one of the emperors, whose name escapes me, but they did not live long enough to see it finished. It took 13 years to build. A little more planning ahead for the inevitable should have been in order, don't you think?!

There were lots of koi in the pond in this garden and little bridges and trails that ran through some very lovely rock and flower gardens with sculptures and gates to pass through to the next garden...and it was truly a serene and peaceful place having a positive effect on all of its visitors.

The market not only had countless shops and little street vendors at every turn, but it also had food available from steamy little crowded windows. While certainly intriguing and inviting and made me more than a little curious, I figured that I had made it this far without any "abdominal distress" and I was taking no I took photos instead!

We also visited the Shaoyun Senior High School today, which happened to be right next to our hotel. They were very excited to have us visit and we enjoyed a warm reception. They had someone videotaping the whole time we were there and we sat at small tables with fruit, candy, and water avaiable for us as we chatted about school, students, and life in general with both teachers and students. Their English was excellent - our Chinese was least not at our table! There are people in our group who are quite fluent and students who are learning Chinese and they were chatting comfortably in the local language, but not us! :) However, it was all good! While many of our school procedures were similar, student work ethic was not. When asked how much homework students received each night they told us, "3 hours or more". When asked what consequences were issued if a student does not complete homework our question was met with stunned looks and silence. "Everyone finishes their assigned work." was the eventual response, as though the very idea of not following through with school responsibilities was unthinkable and absolutely unacceptable. Aaahhh...Utopia to a teachers' ears! We had a little tour of the building and then went outside where the conversation continued and the students in our group, and some of the adults, played basketball with the Chinese students.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and found that the students were friendly and respectful and easy to chat with and all of them wanted to come to visit America! We would welcome them with open arms.

On our last night many o
f us opted to go on a river cruise to thoroughly enjoy the impressive skyline of Shanghai. Up until now the weather has cooperated every day, but not tonight. It started to drizzle a bit and the rain became more persistent as we embarked on our cruise. This did not diminish our enjoyment of our little cruise, at all! The lights along the banks of the Huangpu River opposite the famous Bund area are breathtaking and inspiring, even in the rain and fog!

I went outside on the upper deck to take some photos while some of the group remained inside. When I returned, I found them sitting where I had left them yet there seemed to be a loosely formed circle of smiling Chinese with cameras surrounding them. As I sat down, the circle floated ever closer to us until they were literally sitting on the arms of the couch, lounging on the back of the couch, or simply standing very closely to the couch, all the while smiling. Meanwhile, we were now laughing among ourselves at this scene that has been repeated over and over during the week and, while we laughed, our newfound friends smiled even wider. Finally, one of them asked to take a photo, and the frenzy began! It was a paparazzi-fest! Requests for photos with individuals began as we posed with one, two or more people, all the while enjoying every moment! Within 5 minutes, one of the photographers returned to show us a 5x7 laminated glossy of a photo of himself and Marianne, which was now his prized possession! It was a culmination of the overall reception we have gotten in this delightful country since we have arrived.

Before leaving China, I would be remiss to ignore the true backbone of this country, the people whose hard work and determination keeps its economy strong. Amidst all of the progress and opulence, both historic and modern, is the bulk of the population working long hours, studying hard to better themselves, doing their best to make a living. Their respectful commitment to family and tradition is obvious. They have a devoted connection to the past and a hopeful outlook for the future. The importance of their multi-generational relationships is evident throughout the country and their work ethic is more than enviable. We have much to learn from their example. Below are some photos of these people whose contributions I applaud.


Tomorrow we will be leaving for our respective homes. Our group hails from New Jersey, West Virginia, upstate New York, Tennessee, and California and we have enjoyed meeting them all! For me, this week has been a whirlwind of exciting and unforgettable activities and will leave me with many treasured and poignant memories. While I am anxious to see my family, our time in China went much too fast!

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