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William goes to China

In March 2016 Pan Laoshi and I enjoyed the most wonderful week in China as guests of the Confucius Institute. In sub-zero temperatures, we spent the first few days in the city of Harbin in the north east of China, where we had the opportunity to visit schools and experience the Chinese education system. It was fascinating to compare and contrast the Chinese class- rooms with ours. What we experienced will certainly influence the way we approach teaching and learning at Highgate Primary.

The second part of the week was spent in Beijing where we had the opportunity to visit some of the wonders of the world including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. The scale and beauty of what we saw, along with the different sounds, smells and tastes, made this a trip to savour.

Please do read my blog of this fascinating trip below.

Day 1

After a day’s travel, Pan Laoshi and I have made it to Harbin in the industrial north east of China. The city is a sprawling metropolis of high rise buildings. It’s not beautiful but it is fascinating to watch everyone going about their daily business.

After a Chinese breakfast with noodles, pickled vegetables and steamed buns, we attended Kung Fu school at Harbin University, where we watched students take a class and demonstrate their incredible skills. I was given the chance to try out my Kung Fu skills on the students, and was even offered weapons to make it a bit more of an even contest, but I respectfully declined the challenge.

After Kung fu, the chancellor of the university entertained us to a magnificent banquet lunch, served at a spinning table, over which we exchanged pleasantries and gifts. The chancellor was particularly taken by the Highgate Primary One World Cook Book.

China banquet

In the afternoon we visited a secondary school where we attended music rehearsals and a ballet lesson. The principal was very pleased to show us the school’s collection of stuffed animals which included a grizzly bear and a rather magnificent three meter long Chinese river fish.

China River Fish

We’ve just had a late afternoon walk through the local market before our evening’s entertainment, for which our leader Tony has promised a special Chinese foot massage!

Have a good week at school and Rhoda and I will keep you all updated with our adventures.

Day 2

Spring has arrived in Harbin and we’ve been treated to another fascinating day under clear blue skies. Indeed it’s been the perfect weather for tiger watching.

This morning we headed out in search of the magnificent Siberian tiger, and we weren’t disappointed. The tigers were clearly in good spirits, enjoying the warm sunshine, beautiful surroundings and feathery food. As you can see from the photo, Rhoda managed to get very close to a rather pretty lady tiger, whilst I used my teaching skills to train a tiger to wave to the camera.


Waving Tiger

After saying goodbye to our new friends, we headed into central Harbin where we visited an exhibition of historic photographs within St Sophia Cathedral. The Russian Orthodox cathedral was built in 1907 after the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway which linked the region with Vladivostok. We can still feel this Russian influence on the city. It was remarkable to see through photographs how much Harbin has developed to become the thriving modern city it is today.

Once again lunch was superb with many lavish dishes presented beautifully on a revolving table. Indeed wherever we go in Harbin we are really being well looked after, which was certainly the case this afternoon when we visited Hua Yuan Primary School.

On arrival we were greeted by the most generous hosts who, at 10 years old, could all speak excellent English and were very excited to tell us about their wonderful school. We  enjoyed a rousing performance of the school song, took part in a tea making lesson and were given a very special school tour which took in the astronomy room, the school museum and a room devoted to maps. Much of how the school is organised is familiar, however I think that classes of 60, without support, might make our teachers’ unions a little twitchy. However, the behaviour of the children was exemplary, who quite rightly are extremely proud to attend Hua Yuan.

China choir

This evening we are scheduled to visit Wen Sheng Martial Arts Centre. Rhoda and I have been practising our moves since Monday and are feeling almost ready for whatever comes our way.

I’m sure Ruth has everything under control back at school and I look forward to sending tomorrow’s update, er… tomorrow!


Day 3

Once we’d finished off our breakfast of sweet and sour chicken, Rhoda and I ventured out to the primary school at Harnin University – the school that Reese attended before her move to 2LG. At school we went straight into an English lesson, where we learnt all about elephants (long noses, short tails, big ears, small eyes). The lesson was entirely in English and the seven year old pupils impressed us with their focus and enthusiasm for learning a modern foreign language. Next up was Year 5 where we were treated to a masterclass in maths teaching. The children were captivated as the specialist teacher took the children from a simple investigation about odd and even numbers to using complex algebra. Each day, the morning maths lesson is followed up with a second maths lesson in the afternoon in which children do exercises in their maths books and can call on the teacher for extra support – with maths homework to follow. I think Peter would approve. There was lots to take back to Highgate Primary, however the idea that I will be discussing at our next leadership team meeting is whether to introduce a school uniform – for the teachers. I don’t think Peter would approve.

China classroom

We then toured the rest of this impressive school, the highlight of which was a display by the school skipping team, fully choreographed to ‘Cotton-eyed Joe’. This was such fun and brilliant exercise for the children whose skipping skills had to be seen to be believed.

After exchanging gifts and the customary Chinese banquet around a turning table, the tables were well and truly turned as it was the teachers’ turn to be taught in the classroom. The first hour was an intensive Mandarin lesson. Rhoda was soon identified as gifted and talented and her extension activity was a shopping trip to apply her knowledge in a real life context. Meanwhile the rest of us mastered numbers to ten and formal greetings, perfecting our tones in the process. This was followed by a class in traditional Chinese paper cutting, where for once it was nice to see Rhoda struggle a bit – even going as far as blaming her scissors. As you can see from the photo, I excelled in this traditional art – just look at what can be achieved with a bit of application.

China William chinese craft

As a gesture of friendship, our Kung fu teacher has invited us to his house for drinks, then it will be dinner and time to pack our bags before our early morning flight to Beijing. Tomorrow’s schedule includes a tour of the Lama temple, a visit to a traditional Hutong and sightseeing at Shicha Lake. I look forward to updating you with further news of our travels.


Day 4

Last night’s drinks invitation was actually an exhibition of martial arts at Professor Li’s evening Kung fu School. With moves reminiscent of Kung fu Panda, children from as young as five performed impressive routines demonstrating grace, power, speed and remarkable flexibility. It was interesting to see that in China children engage in full contact sport. Professor Li explained that the pursuit of martial arts is an important part of Chinese culture. The display ended with an explosive demonstration by the Harbin kick boxing team, two of whom are world champions in their sport, recently beating the Russian team. It was serious stuff and actually rather scary. I did, however, manage to hold my own in a one to one combat situation, although I suspect my nine year old opponent was holding back a little.

William self defence

This morning we said goodbye to the city of Harbin. It was been a memorable visit full of wonderful surprises and we have all been touched by the generous hospitality of our hosts.

Our first afternoon in Beijing involved a tour of some of the city’s  cultural sights. The Lama Temple, a 17th Century Qing dynasty Buddhist temple, was a peaceful haven in this bustling city of 20 million people. Pan Laoshi was particularly taken by the Buddhist monks, splendid in their Highgate Primary purple, and had to be persuaded not to take an extended retreat.

China smiley lama

From the temple we moved on to a traditional Chinese tea house and were inducted in the ancient art of drinking tea, something which still goes on today. A stroll through a Beijing hutong, a maze of narrow alleyways dating back 890 years, was followed by a hot-pot dinner in a Mongolian restaurant, with a stop off on the way home at Tiananmen Square.

Tea ceremony

What a day it’s been with so much packed in – in fact it’s been rather similar to a day in 5DN.

Tomorrow’s entertainment – The Great Wall of China…

Day 5

This morning we headed out of Beijing in search of one of the wonders of the ancient world – the Great Wall of China. As 4JS already know, the wall dates back 2000 years and was built to protect China from its enemies in the north. We weren’t disappointed by its scale and beauty. It is hard to believe that the wall runs 4000 miles across the whole of China.

China Great Wall of China

Unfortunately our tiger companion Laohu, got a bit over excited at becoming the first Siberian tiger to walk along the Great Wall. Despite reminders from Pan Laoshi, she temporarily forgot the golden rules, and quite frankly got a bit silly.

China no climbing

Already on red, she was caught climbing the crenellations and had to spend some calming down time with a kind security guard. Having had time to reflect on her behaviour, Louhu was returned to us and promised to make better choices for the rest of the day.

China reunited

From the Great Wall of China things went from the sublime to the ridiculous, with an absolutely astonishing performance by a troupe of Chinese acrobats and circus performers.

This afternoon we saw a man standing on his head on top of a stack of nine chairs, eleven Chinese ladies cycling on one bicycle (without even holding on), eight motorbikes roaring around inside a spherical metal cage and some of the most dangerous looking acrobatic stunts you could ever imagine. I get a bit nervous when I see a teacher putting up a display whilst standing on a chair carefully positioned on top of a desk – a ladder is always a safer option, but today health and safety considerations went well and truly out of the window. It was remarkable stuff and left Laohu completely astounded. A couple of weeks ago I said in assembly that, of all the circuses I’ve ever seen, the Year 2 circus was the best. Well I have to say that the Beijing Acrobatic Show comes a very close second!

Don't try this at home

Tomorrow morning is our last full day and we are all very excited to be visiting The Forbidden City. Have a good weekend!


Day 6

Today, our last day in China, has been a day in which we have been learning how to live like an emperor. After the cafuffle caused by Laohu at The Great Wall, we left our tiger companion back at the hotel and ventured off to The Forbidden City, the Chinese Imperial City from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. The scale and beauty of the architecture was quite simply breathtaking. Completed in 1412, the palace was built in just 14 years, which shows that a huge amount can be achieved with a workforce of over one million people. I couldn’t help thinking however that fitting in so many performance management meetings might well have eaten into the Emperor’s leadership time.

We learnt that the palace has 8886 rooms and floors that were paved in ‘golden’ bricks, each brick taking months to polish, a practice being maintained to this day at Highgate Primary. The Forbidden City is an incredible place – no wonder it is the most visited museum in the world.

After a lunch at which we ate like an emperor, we headed out of the city centre to discover the Emperor’s Summer Palace. This World Heritage Site is described by UNESCO as ‘a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value’, which funnily enough is exactly how I was about to describe it. On a Saturday afternoon is was lovely to join the thousands of locals who head out to the gardens to take a dragon boat ride on the lake and enjoy a peaceful stroll.

Dragon Boat

I am feeling sad that our visit to China has come to an end, but can’t wait to share stories with you all on my return to school. This has been the most incredible experience and a wonderful opportunity to learn so much about this fascinating country, so rich in culture and tradition. Thank you to Reese’s dad, Tony, for arranging and hosting a trip that has inspired us to take the teaching of Mandarin and Chinese culture at Highgate Primary to a new level.