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2019 China Trip

Participants in the China 2019 Trip
On the Great Wall
Our travels to Beijing, Xian and Shanghai
By Isabelle
The last Wednesday of the term was cold. Even though it was 6:30 in the morning, the Centenary crowd assembled near the check-in counters was bursting with nervous excitement. It was the feeling that people get when they know they ought to be doing something boring, and are worried that somebody will realise, and command them back to endure binomial expansions in lesson 2. All the goodbyes had been said at the airport, the bags were in a disorganised cluster, and all the paperwork had been correctly filled out. Ms Woo, Mr Dinh and Mr Skerritt, our supervisors, were looking as excited as the students for the trip.
Delayed an hour. Delayed two hours. Cancelled.
Sorry, there aren’t any other international flights that can take 23 kids. Come back tomorrow.
Thursday morning was cold too. Even though it was 8:00am, the Centenary crowd was bursting with nervous excitement. It was the kind of feeling people get when they know that they ought to have a done something yesterday, and were now finally doing it, for real! Nobody would dared have stopped us when we clambered onto the international flight to Hong Kong, and by the time we transferred to the domestic flight to Beijing, it was too late for anyone to intervene. We checked into our three-star hotel in the early hours of the morning, and I can safely say that most of us were barely conscious enough to get through the doors of our rooms.
After a week, just as the people of Beijing decided that we had caused enough damage, our group took an overnight, soft sleeper train to Xian, and after a few more days, we moved on to Shanghai. The three cities were so different, it was hard to imagine that they belonged to the same place. Where Beijing was unpredictable in its exciting bustle, Xian was clean and orderly (though the five-star hotel that we stayed in may have been a contributing factor in this conclusion). Despite its dense population, Shanghai surpassed the others in its ability to adapt, with skyscrapers over two laps of the oval in height- we caught an elevator to the 110th floor of the tallest tower, and my nerves have not felt the same since.
It would be impossible to share every part of this trip, as there were new things to do at every moment. Of course, there were obvious choices. The great wall of China was just as great, and just as wall-y, as I had imagined. It had a distinctly manmade feel about it; the steps were at different angles, and the bricks different sizes. Rather than drawing away from its impressiveness, however, this only succeeded in humbling any weary students passing over it. At the end of the walk, we were lucky enough to take the easy way down- a toboggan ride, off the side of the wall! Some of the many other experiences of the trip included the day trip to the forbidden city, featuring buildings over 600 years old, held together with clever designs, rather than nails or glue. We also attended a duck banquet, and a hot pot dinner, which were standouts in their deliciousness. We were also given a lesson in making ramen noodles, and dumplings (ours looked mostly like pancakes, but it was more about the experience). The terracotta warriors were also a standout in their vast pits (of which there were three). The fact that the unearthed warriors were but a small portion of those originally created was simply awe inspiring. We also had the opportunity to go sightseeing around Xian…. On bikes!
It wasn’t all fun however. There were some elements of China that cost us…
Bargaining was a part of Chinese culture that was very difficult to adjust too. It was expected that each person would negotiate down to a fifth of the original price offered, though for many of us, this proved to be far more difficult than we thought it would be. The squat toilets- yes, they are exactly what they sound like- were also an interesting experience for all. Our group also “spread terror” (Skerritt, 2019) through our walking on the left side of the paths, as the road, and walking, rules in China are the opposite to Australia.
On the second last day of the trip, the students were given a choice- to go shopping down the famous Technology Street, or visit a Jewish museum, and later, another market place. Myself, and two others, opted for the latter, and, with the help of Mr Skerritt’s daring manoeuvres, we were able to catch a taxi to the museum. There we learnt about the incredible role that Shanghai played in accepting Jewish refugees throughout World War 2, when no one else who would accept them. Many objects, such as letters, suitcases, and school reports had been preserved, and recordings of individuals played, telling their incredible stories. This feeling of inclusiveness was one that became clear at another point during the trip, when a teacher living in the ‘Old Hutong’ area invited our group inside her home to share her personal stories of living in near the Summer Palace, the nerve centre of Beijing politics.
By the time I arrived home, I was exhausted from the time I had spent in China- not to mention day I had spent on the plane (having drunk two mochas, I was not able to sleep). Though I was happy to be home, there were still many things that I wish I could have continued to see, in all three of the cities that we visited. I will be eagerly awaiting any news for future trips, and on behalf of all the Centenary travellers, I am grateful for our teachers for having organised it.