Traveling to China with 50 other music teachers during the Christmas holiday was a dream come true for Karen Jesseph.
The invitation to visit China came from Dr. Lynn Brinckmeyer, past president of Music Educators National Conference, and People to People Ambassadors Group.
It was the first trip abroad for Jesseph, a music teacher at Jefferson and McKinley elementary schools.
Arriving in China, she said members of the group used hand gestures, such as rubbing their stomachs when hungry, to communicate. Also, a Beijing resident acted as translator to assist them as they wandered.
The educators were entertained by students of all ages, who, in turn, were equally interested in hearing the music teachers perform.
“You should have seen the school kids laugh when we sang ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spider’ for them,” Jesseph said.
The temperature in Beijing in December is about the same as in Kansas, she noted. It was 19 degrees when the group strolled along The Great Wall of China.
When asked upon return by one of her students if she had walked the entire length of The Great Wall, Jesseph said, “Not hardly, the wall is more than 5,000 miles long.”
Jesseph said the military has a constant presence in Tiananmen Square, the site of a pro-democracy protest in 1989 that saw hundreds of Chinese fired upon by government troops. As the group walked around the square, Jesseph asked the translator if she would take her photo by one of the tanks that is still present from the 1989 protest. To her surprise, the translator shushed her and said, “We don’t talk about anything related to the protest while in Tiananmen.”
Other cultural differences stood out.
When traveling to supper one evening, the group passed a man near a curb killing an eel.
“We didn’t know if he was killing it for his family who lived above the restaurant or if it was fresh meat for an order,” she said.
Many buildings have businesses on the ground floor and upper-floor apartments, she noted.
The people of China are very proud they were chosen to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, Jesseph said.
Among old temples and apartment buildings the Chinese built gleaming new skyscrapers to modernize the city for the Olympics, which now contrast sharply with people of little means riding their bicycles, carting stacks of firewood.
JESSEPH’S NEXT stop was the Chinese city of Xian.
“I was so excited to get to Xian to see the terra cotta army that was unearthed in 1974,” she said.
While digging a water well in his field, a farmer found several pieces of pottery. This drew the attention of scientists who continued to dig and found the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, built around 206 BC.
In the tomb were more than 6,000 terra cotta horses and soldiers. Each soldier stands six feet tall and no two have the same facial features.
It is estimated it took 70,000 workers more than 20 years to make the soldiers and horses for the tomb.
According to folklore, Emperor Qin wanted to continue to rule in the afterlife, Jesseph said, and so had the army made for that time.
Jesseph had brought small gifts for the Chinese that represented Kansas, including small boxes of Russell Stover Candies and little tin boxes embellished with sunflowers.
“I offered one of the tin boxes to a man at the site of the mausoleum. I was so embarrassed, when he turned the box over and it said ‘made in China.’”
THE GROUP also visited LeLe, a fairly new village built 300 years ago.
Homes were poorly made of brick, many with gaping holes in the walls. There was no running water and residents slept on pallets.
However, as crude as their living conditions were, each home had a satellite dish on top and a flat screen television on the wall.
In Western countries, men often put their arms around a woman to have a photo taken. In LeLe, if a man were to put his arm around a woman it would mean the couple was engaged, they were told. To break the marriage contract a man would have to work for the woman’s father for two years.
The teachers were also told not to pet stray dogs in LeLe. Tempted as she was, Jesseph kept in mind the admonition that the dogs are not pets, but guard dogs that become quite violent when touched, she said.
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