Fifth-graders in Potomac Elementary’s Chinese immersion program spent a week in China during the school’s spring break March 25-April 8, part of an annual trip started by parents four years ago. The group of 51 included 12 Chinese Immersion fifth-graders, more than a dozen siblings, parents, and two Potomac Elementary teachers — Dr. Zhiang Zhang, who teaches Chinese and other subjects to the immersion students and Andrea Cetlin, who until last year taught English portions of the immersion curriculum.
The group visited Beijing for three days, then traveled by land to Xi’an to Chengdu and Mount Emei before flying to Shanghai and back to Beijing.
The trip is not sponsored by the school and is not an official school activity, but has become a tradition among for the immersion fifth-grade class. Parents hold fundraisers throughout the year to help with the trip costs.
During the trip, Cetlin asked the students, fifth-graders and siblings alike, to submit short essays on trip highlights, which are excerpted here.
Visiting Chinese School
On the China trip we went to many places but the place I liked the most was when we went to visit a school in Xi’an. All the kids were very excited about seeing visitors, especially American visitors.
We went into a couple classrooms and introduced ourselves. We spoke in Chinese and they answered in English. When we spoke in English they answered in Chinese. They had trouble understanding our English and we had trouble understanding their Chinese.
The teacher said that the kids could talk to us. Then we got mobbed by all the kids. The kids wanted our autographs and we were like movie stars.
Then we joined the kids in games outside. We played tug o’ war and a game like duck, duck, goose.
It was really fun. I saw a boy paint a picture and he gave it to me. Everybody else got one too. Overall, I liked visiting this Chinese school and I hope to visit them again.
— Colin Stanhope, 5th grade
Everything but Western Toilets
Jade cutting factories, silk factories, even a bunch of statues that got buried with a stuck-up emperor, dug up by a peasant army, buried again, then unburied by Chinese modern-day scientists. Yes, China has everything, except for Western-style toilets.
In the jade factories, did you know the jade is cut by a drill? The only human job is for the worker, usually a woman, to move the piece of jade around.
And the silk factories; one cocoon contains about 1.2 kilometers of silk. The silk is actually the bug’s guts.
But by far the most relevant sites we visited were the big, the bad, the terra-cotta warriors. You could see the battle formations and you could tell this is a horse, this is an archer, this is a general. That was cool but my favorite part was the pieces. You could see the work the scientists had done. They had even made a few soldiers whole.
— Will Conway, 5th grade.
These playful and pawful pandas are just so cute and adorable! As the 5th grade Chinese Immersion class along with some friends and family continued their trip in China to Chengdu, everyone was very excited. Going from Beijing to Xi’an then to Chengdu, everyone was eager to see the endangered Giant Pandas as well as the smaller raccoon-like Red Pandas at the Panda Reservation. As we flew a one-hour flight, everyone was talking about how they couldn’t wait to see the pandas!
When we arrived at Chengdu International Airport, it was in the early afternoon. The following day was a big highlight. At 8:30 a.m. we left our hotel for the Panda Reservation. We got there about an hour later. First we walked for about 20 minutes to get to where the Giant Pandas were. We saw these roly-poly creatures play around, climb and “fight” with each other. The pandas were mostly in several different “Play Places.” These “Play Places” have artificial trees and climbing places. Some people took pictures with pandas! It was so much fun watching Giant Pandas!
After watching the Giant Pandas, we went to see the smaller, raccoon-like red pandas. These creatures are a lot smaller than the Giant Pandas. They are kept in one large piece of land where they have space to run around freely and climb trees. Many people took pictures as they petted the red pandas. You have to come to China. It is amazing!
— Alice Chang, 5th grade
A Watch that Works?
Tick, tock, tick, tock the watch goes. The time is ticking on your Mao watch that you bought for $3. Then it stops! You don’t care because you got it for $3. Then you see people selling “Rolex” watches. You ask, “How much?” and they say “150 Yuan.” You say, “Too much!” Then they say, “100 Yuan.” “Too much!” “50 Yuan.” “No!” and walk away. And they say, “Okay, okay!”
So now tick, tock, tick tock, the “Rolex” goes and then stops and here we go again.
Don’t buy watches on the street in China if you want a watch that works.
— Sarah Adams, 5th grade
Have you ever been to one of the largest structures in the world? Well, I have. It’s the Great Wall of China of course. Let’s begin the long walk; I mean journey!
The Great Wall is giant! The Great Wall is over 5,000 miles long. I only climbed one part but afterwards, boy did my feet and legs hurt. The part our fifth grade group climbed was called Mu Tian Yu.
The Great Wall has a very long and interesting history. It was built many thousands of years ago. Also the Great Wall was made during the Qin Dynasty.
As you can see, the Great Wall of China is a very interesting and big place.
— Allison Rosenstock, 5th grade
Overnight Train Trip
A few students from the Chinese Immersion class went to China over spring break. On the fourth day we went on a train ride from Beijing to Xi’an. We took a bus to the train station. We waited in a very long line to go through security. I thought that it really wasn’t as “secure” as the security we have at Dulles International Airport, but maybe that was because it was a train station. The security guards only checked our luggage, not us. At Dulles they make you take off your shoes.
When we got to where the train was we had to walk all the way to the back of the platform to car 12. When we got on the train, I noticed it wasn’t very clean. Even though it sounds nice, the compartments were still very small. The beds were also very small. At least it seemed like it since I sleep in a double bed at home. There were four beds in each compartment. They were set up like bunk beds, one on top of the other. It was very cool because there was a small TV and reading light for each bed. The TVs were individually controlled with a headset for each one to plug into the wall. We had to try all the buttons to figure out which was the volume or the channel changer. There as also a big window so that you could see where you were. There were places to put your belongings. I was bunking with Mrs. Conway, Cindy and Catherine.
The restrooms or “facilities” were very clean. There was an American toilet at the front end and at the back end was a Chinese toilet. A Chinese toilet is pretty much just a hole in the ground. Sometimes it can be clean. And you have to squat. There was also a washroom with three sinks and a very long mirror.
At 8 p.m. we left Beijing in the dark and at 8 a.m. we arrived at Xi’an. I watched “Finding Nemo” in Chinese so now I know a lot of words. We all slept better than the rest of the nights. The train didn’t rock very much, kind of like a rocking chair.
When we woke up we saw beautiful scenery. There were hills and houses and trash. Then we arrived in Xi’an city!
— Chloe Hand, 5th grade
10 Years to Build
I went to the Great Wall. There are a lot of steps. To me it is mainly built out of steps. I walked about one mile. The Great Wall took more than 10 years to build. They used mud, wood and some rock to build the Great Wall.
— Kathryn Fusco, 2nd grade
How is China different from the U.S.? Well, one way is the amount of construction going on. Pretty much every city we went to had at least three buildings under construction on every street! Another thing is the houses. These little tiny houses that hold about three families are right next to the nice big five star hotels! Would you like to be a family living in those little tiny houses? I know I wouldn’t! I bet some of them don’t even have electricity or running water!
Bargaining is very important in China. Someone could offer you a pen for eight Yuan which is also one dollar but if you say no you could bargain it down to four Yuan. In America every thing has one price that you can’t change. Also in China almost all the shops have the same things so if you don’t like the price and you don’t want to bargain, just go to the next shop and they probably have the same thing except cheaper because they see you leave the other shop without buying something so they start at a lower price!
— Catherine Conway, 4th grade
Climbing Mount Emei
I was hot and the bus was smelly and crowded. People were uncomfortable and tired. After two-and-a-half hours, the bus stopped and we all jumped out. We were waiting for Michelle, our head tour guide to direct us to the cable cars. As soon as she called us we stampeded, eager to get on the cable cars and see the view from high up. But the news that Michelle told us didn’t make us eager anymore. The cable cars were broken and in order to get up to the temples we had to walk or ride in a sedan chair. I didn’t really trust two men to carry me, so I walked up with Dr Zhang and my mom.
You might say I was crazy because it is a three-to-five mile climb up and a three-to-five mile climb down. But trust me, this was the best way to get up. We climbed up the steps and then on our way we hired a lady who knew the village well to be our tour guide. We learned about schooling in her village, jobs in her village, payment in her village and even the ages of people in her village. The oldest person in the village is a man who is still alive and is 107. His grandkids have grandkids of their own! The surprising thing to me was that when we walked by a village lady trying to sell incense, she was smoking and was 96. Another lady who was 93 was walking up the mountain without any help while carrying a 30-40 pound bag of rice on her back. She wasn’t complaining and didn’t make a sound and she went faster than us.
We finally reached the foot of the first Buddhist temple. Our guide told us that this small temple was for giving thanks. She taught me how to pray with my incense. Then we walked a little further to the bigger Buddhist temple for asking for things. I climbed all 108 steps and prayed there too. While we were walking out of the temple I heard people laughing. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a monkey eating a banana. After taking a lot of pictures and witnessing the monkey steal someone’s coke, we all climbed down the steps.
Now, when you think of Mount Emei, you might picture a bunch of log cabins and shacks with wells in front of them and no electricity. But it isn’t like that. All those village people are just like you and me. That have kids, houses, jobs, TV and running water. They have friends pets, education and schools. Maybe one day, you’ll come and climb Mt. Emei. I don’t know about you, but I’m not finished yet. I still have to get down!
— Jasleen Bawa, 5th grade
Gifts of Poetry
Do you know what a cool school is? A foreign school, of course! What’s your favorite foreign language? Mine is Chinese. So today I’m talking about a school in Xi’an.
When we went inside the classroom we said our names and they would say our name back only with “hi” in front. For example, I would say my name and they would say, “Hi Alice!” After we finished doing that we walked around the room and answered their questions. Most of them said, “Hi, what’s your name?” When we were about to leave they sung an English song for us. They were good for people whose main language is Chinese.
The next classroom we went to was very Chinese! We introduced ourselves. The teacher asked if anyone wanted to introduce themselves. About six people raised their hands. First they say their name and then they ask questions. After that we walked around the room to say hi and answer their questions. I was very shy and I think they were too.
After a while people started coming up to me for my autograph! I felt like celebrity!
After that we went outside. That’s where we saw kids making a mural about saving the Earth.
Some students got T-shirts from kids who made them. I got one! On the front it says the school's name and “To my American friend” in Chinese. Also a poem in Chinese. On the back it said “dragon” in Chinese. So the whole shirt was in Chinese. The shirt I got was by a girl. She wrote on the shirt. So when it was done she decided to give it to me. Some kids gave paintings they drew instead of shirts. It was so pretty.
— Alice Lu, 5th grade
Flowers in Xi’an
Beijing was the first city we went to. It was interesting because I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I’ve seen books of China when it was older but I was pretty sure it had changed since then and we were also going to be in a city. When we got there everything was like a normal city except everyone spoke Chinese, most people rode bikes and there were squat toilets. Also more people smoke in China. In Beijing we went to the Great Wall, the Children’s Palace, the Summer Place, and the Forbidden City.
Next, we took a train to Xi’an. It was basically the same as Beijing. By that I mean the same life style. There were flowers which made it seem nicer. In Xi’an we went to the terra-cotta warriors, the jade factory, and the Xi’an city wall.
So far all of China has been nice. All of the sites have been wonderful. All the food is pretty good but different from what you might be used to. Everything is cheap and money is not a problem. The only thing is you should probably learn basic Chinese before coming.
— Michael Fusco, 5th grade