NSLI-Y Is Back to Shanghai

It was the last day in Beijing for the NSLI-Y group on July 30. Although it was a little bit tired but everyone felt they had learned a lot in the short five-day trip. The experience in Beijing have broadened their knowledge and understanding of China and its history, culture and current situation.

Three students caught cold and had fever during the trip. Dr. Chen was very concerned about them. He asked Ms. Wang and Miss Fu to take care of the sick students in the hotel, and to keep in touch with their parents. Fortunately their illness was not serious; now they are all recovered after the rest.

The high speed train back to Shanghai wouldn’t depart until 4:00pm. So in the morning all students slept late to catch up some much needed rest. From 9:30 to 12:30 the group went shopping at Silk Street Market again. Students not only bought something they liked, they also practiced what they had learned in the class. It just felt satisfying to bargain in Chinese!

At 2:30pm, the group arrived at the train station one and half hour earlier. The train set off on time. This returning train only stopped three times, so the whole trip only took 4 hours and 45 minutes to arrive at Shanghai. We had dinner on the train. Ms. Zhang, Miss Wang and Miss Bao from East China Normal University picked up the group at Shanghai Hongqiao Train Station. By 10:00 PM, the group has arrived at the dorms on ECNU campus, where they are going to spend the last two weeks continuing learning Chinese.

This is the head of the high speed train that the group was taking for the Shanghai-Beijing trip.

Students carried bags of souvenirs they bought in Beijing, waiting to be cleared at the train station.

Students arrived at Shanghai safe and sound.


NSLI-Y Group Visited the National Museum, the Bird’s Nest and the Summer Palace

July 29th. It’s a sunny day after a few days of rain and it made the NSLI-Y group all feel good. At 9:00 am, the group headed out to the National Museum of China on the eastern side of Tiananmen Square. The museum was established in 2003 after the merge of the Museum of the Chinese Revolution in the northern wing and the National Museum of Chinese History in the southern wing. The museum underwent renovation from March 2007 to the end of 2010 and reopened in March 2011. It now has a total floor space of nearly 200,000 square meters for exhibitions and displays and is the home of more than one million artifacts and antiques in forty-eight galleries, of which the the bronzes, porcelains, paintings and calligraphy, and sculptures are the most magnificent. The interior of the museum is spacious and modern. After two hours, students were still having fun.

In front of the National Museum of China

After lunch, the group visited Beijing National Stadium, nicknamed as the Bird’s Nest, the stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Students have seen the Bird’s Nest on Television for many times. Now they stood in front of the stadium and could still feel the atmosphere of the games four years ago.

Students visited Beijing National Stadium, the Bird’s Nest.

On the Bird’s Nest campus

At 4:00 pm in the afternoon, the group arrived at the Summer Palace for the last stop of the day. The Summer Palace is the largest and most well-reserved royal gardens in China. It covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometers, three quarters of which is water. It is included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List for its master Chinese landscape garden design. The Summer Palace was first built in 1750 and was demolished and rebuilt several times in the past. The most beautiful scene in the garden is Kunming Lake and the long corridors surrounding the lake. It just felt relaxing sitting on the benches of the corridors and watching people boating in the lake.

Summer time at the Summer Palace

Lotus blossom in Kunming Lake

NSLI-Y Group Visited the Temple of Heaven and Beijing Hutongs

In the morning of July 28th, weather forecast said heavy rain was coming. So the NSLIY group cancelled the morning trips. It was the day of the London Olympics’ opening ceremony. Some students got up in early morning to watch the live broadcast of the ceremony. Students were all thrilled to know that they could continue watching the show and games all morning in hotel rooms.

It was until 11:00 am that no rain was observed. They decided to go out and have more fun. The first stop was the Panjiayuan Flea Market. It is the largest flea market in China with more than three thousand shops and slots selling antiques, artifacts, furnitures, fine chinas, painting and drawings from hundreds of years ago. In Panjiayuan, usually no price tag was provided but customers can feel free to negotiate price with the sellers. It requires a keen eye to recognize good stuff from fakes and good bargaining techniques as well. Sometimes one can find the best stuff with the lowest price. Therefore Panjiayuan has always been a “must-visit” spot for local people and visitors. Students had fun wandering in the market looking for their favorites.

Students visit Panjiayuan Flea Market

After lunch, the group visited the Temple of Heaven. It is a complex visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. The Temple grounds cover 2.73 km² (3,265 sq yd) of parkland. The Temple has more than 600 years of history. Let alone pines and cypresses, there are more than 2,500 of them aged 200 years and older. Architectures in the Temple are remarkable as they were all built according to strict philosophical requirements, including the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The Imperial Vault of Heaven is surrounded by a smooth circular wall, the Echo Wall, that can transmit sounds over large distances. Another remarkable structure is the Circular Mound Altar, an empty circular platform. The center of the altar is a round slate called the Heart of Heaven. Standing on top of the slate, the sound of the prayer will be reflected by the guardrail, creating significant resonance, which was supposed to help the prayer communicate with the Heaven. It is amazing to find that 600 years ago Chinese people had been able to use knowledge of mechanics, acoustics and geometry principle in architectural design and structure.

The Temple of Heaven

The group headed up to Hutongs in Houhai areas later afternoon. It is one of a few places in Beijing where traditional Beijing style residential buildings “Sihe Yuan” and alleyways “Hutong” are concentrated and still kept well in the middle the modern Beijing cityscape. The tour guide led the group into a “Sihe Yuan”. It is a small residence. In the center patio grapes are grown. Students listened to the hostess, an old Beijinger telling stories of her life in old and new Beijing. It just felt like an incredible culture journey to the past.

Students listened to the tour guide introduce Beijing Hutongs to them.

Students have fun riding the traditional Chinese rickshaws in Houhai.

Visit to Sihe Yuan, a traditional Beijing residence.

In the evening the group met with internationally renowned Chinese writer Bin Wang, the screenwriter of Chinese movies “Hero”, Fearless, Shanghai Triad, To Live, Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lanterns and etc. The students asked him questions in both Chinese and English in screenplay writing, discussed the differences between Chinese and American movies. The meeting lasted for about two hours and was very productive as students all felt that they learned more about Chinese culture.

Dr. Chen introduced Ms. Bin Wang (in green shirt to his right) to the students.

Picture with Mr. Bin Wang

NSLI-Y Group Got On the Great Wall

As Dr. Chen was worried about the weather, it turned out to be a cloudy but no rain day on July 27th. This was just a good day to visit the Great Wall, as the group has planned.

It took about an hour for the bus to arrive at the Badaling section of the Great Wall, in suburban Beijing.

The Great Wall of China is also called “Thousand-Mile-Long Great Wall”, one of the seven wonders on the world. The Great Wall is a series of fortifications built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China in part to protect the Chinese Empire or its prototypical states against intrusions by various nomadic groups or military incursions by various warlike peoples or forces. Several walls were being built as early as 2,000 years ago during the Warring States period, later joined together and made bigger, stronger, and unified are now collectively referred to as the Great Wall. Especially famous is the wall built between 220–206 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Little of that wall remains. Since then, the Great Wall has on and off been rebuilt, maintained, enhanced; the majority of the existing wall was reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty. The Great Wall stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, mainly built during Ming Dynasty. The existing Ming Walls measure 8,850 km (5,500 mi). Another archaeological survey found that the entire wall with all of its branches measure out to be 21,196 km (13,171 mi). (Excerpt from Wikipedia)

Badaling is the site of the most visited section of the Great Wall. The portion of the wall running through the site was built in 1505 during the Ming Dynasty, along with a military outpost reflecting the location’s strategic importance.  (Excerpt from Wikipedia)

The group got off the Great Wall after 1:00 in the afternoon. After lunch, they visited Home of Dr. Tea, watched a traditional tea ceremony and tasted a variety of Chinese teas. In the evening, the group stopped by the famous Silk Street Market in central Beijing for shopping. The large selections of goods and inexpensive prices just concluded another wonderful day of the NSLI-Y group’s China experience.

NSLI-Y Group at the foot of the Badaling Great Wall

Students taking picture in front of the “Badaling” engravings with Chinese teacher Ms. Jia Fu (right)

Bearing severe back pain, Dr. Chen led the group onto the Great Wall.

Students taking pictures in front of the graving of Chairman Mao’s calligraphy “he who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man”.

Group picture after climbing the Great Wall

NSLI-Y Group Travelled to Beijing

On July 26th, the NSLI-Y group arrived at Beijing for a five-day trip. Five days ago, a severe storm left Beijing in losses and damages to properties as well as injuries and even death to people. Therefore, Dr. Jianguo Chen, Director of the NSLI-Y program, takes security and safety as the most important issue of the group’s Beijing trip. After checking local weather forecasts for several times prior to the trip and making sure that there will be no storm in the following days, the group got on the high-speed train from Shanghai and started their journey to Beijing, the capital of China.

All students, faculty and staff got up at 4:30 in the morning, departed the ECNU dorm at 5:30 and got on the train at 7:00 am. China is one of the leading countries in the world that its high-speed train travels at an average of 300 kilometers (186 miles) per hour speed. A special kind of decelerating glass is installed on the train to make passengers feel more comfortable and pay little attention to its actual speed. It was great weather going north from Shanghai, until the train entered the territory of Shangdong Province. Skies were becoming grayer and it looked like storms were coming. Would it be another storm in Beijing? The group was very anxious.

It only took about five hours for the high speed train to arrive at Beijing. At 12:15pm, the vice president and two tour guides from the travel agency welcomed the group in Beijing South Train Station. There was no rain in Beijing! Maybe it’s because of the storm a few days ago, except a little bit humid, it felt cooler and nicer in Beijing than in Shanghai!

After lunch, the group visited Tiananmen Square. It started to drizzle as they got off the bus. However the group was well prepared with umbrellas and raincoats. The Tiananmen Square was huge, and there were “people mountain people sea” (Chinglish, meaning huge crowd of tourists :)). Tiananmen Square is the third largest city square in the world measuring 880m by 500m (960 yd by 550 yd) for an area of 440,000 m² (109 acres).

It started to drizzle once the group arrived at Tiananmen Square.

In the center of the square stood the Monument to the People’s Heroes. On the west side of square is the Great Hall of the People. On the east is the National Museum of China. And on the south is the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall. As one of the main landmarks of Beijing, Tiananmen (literally meaning “Gate of Heavenly Peace”), built more than 600 years ago, located to the north of the square, is a national symbol of China and the entrance to the Imperial City in the back.

Students take pictures in front of the Monument to the People’s Heroes and he Great Hall of the People.

Group picture in front of Tiananmen

Fun on the Square

Students went through the gates on Tiananmen and arrived at the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace for the Ming and Qing Dynasties. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government. Architectures in the Forbidden City are just as splendid as one can imagine. To the group’s big surprise, members of the Manchester United Football Club from England were also visiting the Forbidden City. What a nice encounter of the West and the East as people from the UK and US met in the century old Chinese royal residences in Beijing! Students took pictures with those soccer players. It was such a fun experience!

In the Forbidden City

Fans with the soccer players from Manchester United Football Club.

Since everybody got up too early this morning and had travelled half of China to Beijing, they decided to cancel the plan to visit Wangfujing Street Shopping District for the night. They had dinner at 6:30pm and moved into a very nice hotel, the Broadtec Royal International Hotel.

The group will visit the Great Wall tomorrow. But it is all up to the weather. As Dr. Chen says, safety and security are always most important.

NSLI-Y Homestay: Time to Say Goodbye

Time flies as we hardly notice. It was like yesterday that on July 10th, NSLI-Y’s students moved to their host families. Now two weeks have passed. On July 24th, all the students said goodbye to their host families and moved back to the dorms on ECNU campus.

For two weeks, students have lived the way that typical Chinese people live in their host families in Shanghai. Most of the host families have only one child, nicknamed as “Little Emperor” in China families. Now NSLI-Y’s students got to personally experience those “little emperor’s” way of living in their host families. Host parents treated the students as their own kids and have taken care of them very attentively and carefully during the two weeks. Host moms usually cooked and did laundry for them. Some moms even cleaned up the bedrooms and bathrooms for them. Host dads usually were in charge of culture exploration. They took them out to see the city, or taught them Chinese culture. Host brothers or sisters hung out with them and helped them practice Chinese.

Claire’s room in her host family.

Claire and her host family had dinner in a restaurant.

Mary Kate and her host sister visited the Bund at night.

Clementine and her host mom and brother.

Johanna with her host family.

For example, Nicola’s host dad is a college professor and a master of Chinese calligraphy. He taught Chinese calligraphy to Nicola. On the day when Dr. Chen visited Nicola’s family, she even performed calligraphy in front of everyone! It was truly amazing.

Dr. Chen visited Nicola and her host family.

Nicola demonstrated her newly learned calligraphy skills with her little sister.

Sometimes students had “trouble” in their host families and it usually happened when they didn’t know how to communicate to their host moms without hurting their feelings. Moms usually prepared too much food and kept asking students to “eat more” while they were already full. Luckily they had their Chinese teachers to ask for advice. Teachers instructed them how to say “I’m full and thank you” in Chinese and that really helped.

Professor Huang visited Ryan and his host family.

Dr. Chen visited Phoebe and her host family.

Prof. Wang visited the host families of Brydon and Lawan.

Prof. Wang visited Zach’s host family.

Prof. Wang visited Jake and his host family.

Julia’s big host family

As the students are getting used to living in Shanghai families, it’s time to say goodbye. It was very hard.

Ms. Lu Zhang welcomed Lauren and her host family in the lobby of the dorm building.

In the morning on the moving-out day, Ryan was escorted by his host parents and little brother. Host dad drove him to the dormitory. They hugged, took pictures and said goodbye. Ryan’s host mom kept babbling about their stories with Ryan to Professor Wang. Right before they were about to leave, it was too hard for her and she said “Ryan, a big hug from mom” with tears in her eyes. Everybody got very emotional at the moment.

Ryan hugs his host mom goodbye.

Sam came back with a huge escort family: grandpa, dad, mom and little sister. They helped Sam carry the luggage and backpacks to his dorm. They didn’t even find time or space to store Sam’s clean clothes so his dad carried them on his hand for him. Sam was the tallest in the family and they just made such a lovely family!

Big boy Sam and his three-generation host family

Students are very grateful for the connections they built with their host families during the two weeks. They brought gifts from the US and some of them even wrote “thank you” letters to their host families. For example, in his letter to his host parents and brother, Delmar wrote:

Delmar’s “Thank You” letter to his host family.

“I truly appreciate your help to me. I had spent two weeks of wonderful time with you. I learned a lot from you too. Thank for teaching me Chinese. I have made great progress in Chinese…..I like mom’s food. They tasted really good. Thank you for doing the laundry for me. Caesar (name of his host brother), you are such a great brother. I love playing ping pong with you.”



It was to their surprise when Delmar’s host parents got the letter and they were so happy reading it.

Delmar’s host parents share the joy after reading his “Thank You” letter with Professor Wang.

In China, we say “it’s not like we are dead or dumb as plants.” This is true love, caring and giving that surpass the differences between values, morals and ethics,  countries, languages and culture, and even time and space. It’s just like what Michael Jackson sang in his song:

“There’s a place in your heart,
And I know that it is love,
And this place could be much
Brighter than tomorrow.
And if you really try,
You’ll find there’s no need to cry.
In this place you’ll feel
There’s no hurt or sorrow.”

NSLI-Y Buddy Activity: Coming of Age Ceremony

Students in Chinese class 3 had the chance to see the traditional Confucian “Coming of Age” ceremony during buddy activity on July 19th. The ceremony has been the “Guan Li” for men and the “Ji Li” for women. The age is usually around 20 and during the ceremony, the person obtains a style name. Students and their Chinese “buddies” put on traditional Chinese costumes to practice for the ceremony.

Students get ready for the ceremony

Student "buddy" demonstrates costume from Han dynasty.

Students practice for the ceremony.


NSLI-Y Student Writings: Culture Journals

It’s already been half way through for the NSLI-Y program in China. As part of the curriculum, students wrote journals to reflect their thinkings on China, its culture, their host families and anything else that they found intriguing. This time, they got to write in English. We selected some essays.

Nicola D.: “When we first moved into the host families, I didn’t have any clue how much my family would end up teaching me about Chinese culture….Chinese calligraphy….Beijing Opera…Chinese Chess….” [Read more]

Delmar T.: “I think that this may be the experience where I look back upon life, old, and in a rocking chair, and I say: “I remember, back when I turned 16, I was in China, where I spent 6 weeks, and that experience…that experience, shaped my life.”  ” [Read more]

Eric H.:” ShanHai is still a developing city, and is almost there. It has all its old parts and still has all of its roots and maintains all of its history, but it is rapidly changing…” [Read more]

Johanna N.:“…Not only have I had to adjust to the Chinese culture, but I’ve also had to adjust to being an only child….I got to see not only how average Chinese people live, but also how the village people live…” [Read more]

Clare C.: “I appreciate how China preserves their pagodas and temples from long ago, while also trying to update their way of living…Having a change in living style has just made me appreciate the comforts of my own home that much more…” [Read more]

Claire L.: “Once I’m done eating its usually time to head down to my bus stop, which is only about a block away from my host family’s apartment. This may sound strange, but one thing I enjoy about staying with my host family is riding the bus to school, and I don’t really know why- perhaps this simple routine I share with all the locals on the bus makes me realize that I am actually in China right now, or maybe its just my lack of experience with public transportation back home that makes this 15 minute ride to school so exciting.” [Read more]

Julia T.: “Although I know a lot of Chinese already, I have come to realize that living in China comprises so much more than just learning the language and being able to communicate. The inherent complexities and idiosyncrasies of daily life never cease to fill me with a sense of curiosity and eagerness to learn and to better understand.” [Read more]

Mary Kate D.:  “…did you know that on your birthday it is required to eat noodles because they symbolize long life? It is also a good thing to be short because that means that you are going to live longer because your brain is closer to your heart (or so my host sister says). Chinese culture is so interesting and intriguing, living here for only six weeks is not going to be enough!” [Read more]

Lauren L.: “…this trip has truly taught me to find joy and value in the little things…has definitely put me outside of my comfort zone on almost a daily basis…Being in Shanghai has helped me to learn so much more about Chinese culture and appreciate their lifestyle, but it has also shown me what I used to take for granted in America. I feel that now I will be so, so much more grateful when I return home in August.” [Read more]

Zach R.: “Shanghai, in my opinion, is stuck between the past and the future… Also, I have noticed that China is, in general, not as Communist as people believe it to be in the United States. In fact, I could argue (but probably not win) that the Chinese people are more Capitalist than Americans. ” [Read more]

TommyLee E.:“I have seen myself grow not only in Chinese comprehension and speaking ability but also as an independent individual. ” [Read more]

Julie N.: “The group outings, homestay, and experiencing the city life has given me the opportunity to understand an entirely different culture. Even though I live in New York City, I am still amazed by Shanghai’s tremendous modernization.” [Read more] 

Lawan L.: “It’s been almost two weeks since I arrived at my host family’s house and it seems like I’m already a part of the family…They are all very open minded and respectful which makes me feel at ease.” [Read more]

NSLI-Y: Birthday Party

As Ms. Lu Zhang walked in the multi-purpose room with a big birthday cake at 3:30pm on July 20th, the Chinese tutoring session turned into a birthday party for Delmar, whose birthday was on the day the 20th, and Tommy, whose birthday would be on the next day July 21st. All students and staff joined the party and had fun. Delmar and Tommy cut the cake after the “Happy Birthday” song.

A birthday party in China may be something that they can brag about for a while. :)

Joining birthday boys Delmar and Tommy are (from left to right) Prof. Huang, Dr. Chen, Prof. Wang, Dr. Tu and Ms. Zhang.

Birthday boys Delmar and Tommy with their fellow NSLI-Y friends and Chinese teacher Ms. Jia Fu (2nd from right).

Birthday boy Delmar cut the big fruit birthday cake brought in by Ms. Zhang.

Everybody got a slice of cake to share the joy of Delmar and Tommy.

Not our birthdays, but we had fun.