After landing in Shanghai on Thursday, we spent Friday morning visiting the Jade Buddha Temple and a local silk factory and museum there. We ate a delicious lunch of local specialities, like soup dumplings and noodles, and then boarded our bus for Suzhou.
When we pulled onto the Suzhou High School campus we were greeted by a great, big LED sign that welcomed us to Suzhou High School. Our host teacher, Guanyi, led us into a meeting room where our students were asked to sit in the seats and desks on the right side of the room. The Chinese students were asked to sit on the left side of the room. There was a chasm of empty chairs between the two groups of students that seemed unusually awkward and formal. Then Guanyi told us the plan – we would be calling students up to the front of the room in pairs (host brothers/sisters with their U.S. counterparts) to meet in person for the first time and then to take a seat in middle of the room. Slowly but surely, what began as two separate cohorts united to form an intermingled group of nervous and excited new friends. Once everyone was matched up, Guanyi gave the students an assignment – to learn some good slang from one another – and then she sent everyone off to be with their host families for the evening and for all of Saturday. It was an exciting way to begin our stay in China.
The rest of our time in Suzhou has been a wonderful balance of time with our host families and time together seeing the city. Each day in Suzhou begins on the Suzhou High School campus. Our students sit in on a couple of classes in the morning, some of which have required a bit of participation from our kids. In English class, for example, some of our kids have been called on to introduce themselves or to discuss the finer points of English grammar. At least one of our students has participated in P.E. class, which is radically different from the game-oriented P.E. classes of the United States, and which focuses more on isolated skills. I believe she simply ran a sprint when the blow of the whistle prompted her to do so and then watched all of the Chinese kids do the same.
After morning classes, we gather for activities and outings. These have included a soggy day out at Pingjiang Lu (an ancient canal street), a lesson in wonton making, and a tour of the international school on the far reaches of town. Tomorrow is our last day in Suzhou, and we plan to visit the Confucius Temple that has ties to Suzhou High School, go to Tiger Hill, and walk the famous ShanTang Street.