For 30 lucky students and 3 fortunate staff, the last 9 days of Term 2 2018 were spent on the other side of the world in an Asian country in the heat of summer.

While most Echuca College students were immersed in the beginning of Semester 2 in very cold and wet conditions there were members of the Echuca College community experiencing a different culture and climate. Students from Year 9 to Year 12 left for China on a Wednesday morning in very cold conditions. They arrived about 18 hours later, after a few delays, in Beijing, China.  It was hot and sultry at 4.30 am and it was daylight.

The journey into another way of being had begun.

Over the 8 days spent in China we visited two cities. The first 4 days were in Beijing -the political capital of China. With a town of 43 million we didn’t think there would be much room for us. We were wrong. The streets and tourist destinations were not ridiculously crowded. There were gardens and clean streets and buildings everywhere but is wasn’t wall to wall with people. I was expecting it to be like getting out of Etihad Stadium after a footy game but I was pleasantly surprised. From the photos you can see there were some busy times like at the airport, on the subway or in the street markets but generally speaking we were not hemmed in by millions of locals. We were stared at a lot by everyone and our tour guide kindly told us they were calling us “big noses and big ears”. Sometimes strangers shyly took our photos while others brazenly asked the students to have their photo taken with them. I cannot imagine us doing that in Australia. In Beijing we rode a rickshaw, ate a meal with a local family, visited and climbed The Great Wall, visited Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City, went to a live show of Kung Fu, visited and climbed the Olympic stadium, travelled on the subway, had a Thai Chi class with the locals and ate scorpions and snakes. We did much more but you will need to read what the students have written to find their favourite bits.

We travelled from Beijing to Shanghai on the bullet train. This gave us the opportunity to travel safely at over 300km an hour and see the countryside and smaller regional centres as we dashed past.

Shanghai was more modern than Beijing and it is referred to as the business centre of China. It felt a bit more like Melbourne and especially the picturesque Bund – this seemed similar to Southbank. We floated on the Bund at night and saw the spectacular light show. The following morning in the searing heat we walked the Bund. The weather was certainly hotter in Shanghai so when we were given the opportunity to pop our feet in cool water with fish we happily paid the 20 yuan. The fish in the water were special as they ate ALL of the dead skin off our feet and some of the not so dead skin. We also visited the water town in regional Shangahi, went to the top of the tallest building, viewed the Chinese treasures in Shanghai Museum, travelled on Shanghai public transport and shopped in the local department stores.

China was different to Australia in many ways.
Here are some of them:

  • Every weekday in Beijing there are 20% of the cars off the road, to decrease congestion.
  • You finish your meal with soup.
  • In old China you don’t have a shower or toilet in your home.
  • Old women play shuttlecock in public parks.
  • Old men ride rickshaws
  • A cricket/ grasshopper is a viable pet in China. It is kept in a gilded cage and taken out for exercise on the kitchen table.
  • When someone is asking if you are a dog they are referring to your year of birth- whether it is dog, rooster, monkey etc.
  • Climbing the Great Wall, bartering at Beijing market and tackling the subway in Shanghai all take a huge amount of energy.
  • There are only some things that can be spoken about in public areas like Tiananmen Square.

Here are some phrases that we heard a lot in China. I don’t think we will hear them being said in Echuca.

  • “Where is the happy room?” when asking for the toilet.
  • “You don’t want to grow up to be a honey.” when talking about the Emperor’s extra marital companions
  • “Bu sheee”. This means no thank you in Mandarin but it sounds remarkably like a common Australian phrase.
  • “I am so out of my comfort zone”. This was said by the students often.
  • “This is what I came to China for” said by a student as they ate a scorpion
  • “You all look the same to us” said by our tour guides when they were describing our appearance

We all gained from going to China. We gained a new appreciation of our resources and customs by being part of another culture. We gained new friends. We gained heavier luggage on the return trip from all the shopping. We gained a different perspective of education as Chinese students tackle school in a very different manner to us.

Thanks for the opportunity to travel with you all.