It is said that travel broadens the mind. For myself and several other students, parents and teachers who went on the Beijing, China, trip over spring break from school, this statement certainly proved to be true.
One of the first things I noticed about Beijing was the lower than anticipated level of security. You might think that in a communist country the security would be "in your face" or even intimidating. The Beijing airport, however, was not much different than an airport here in the states. The security level looked only slightly more advanced because of thermal imaging cameras, but did seem to run more smoothly than our own system. I was particularly surprised when our group was able to take pictures in Tiananmen Square, the largest public open space in the world, a place where 10 years ago, it would be illegal to do so. At one point in time, it was illegal for a United States citizen to even own Chinese money, let alone even to go to that country. Now many of our imported goods come from China and it really is remarkable to see how much that country has opened up.
Another thing that seemed to be a constant theme in Beijing was the clash of modern society with ancient structures, such as the Great Wall and the Temple of Heaven. Next to one section of the Great Wall we visited (over 2000 years old) was a huge sign sponsoring the last summer Olympics. This is one thing I thought the town of Ticonderoga and the city of Beijing could relate to, granted their history is a couple thousand years older than ours. The people of Beijing, China struggle to preserve their history even while their city becomes more and more modern.
On the trip, our group was able to visit a school called the Beijing Qianmen Foreign Language School (foreign language for them being English, of course), where we were able to talk to Chinese students. Anyone who has ever looked at education rankings among different countries, knows that American student test scores on average fall far below that of Chinese students. The other thing that is a positive in China is that teachers are seen as heroes. Teachers are never disrespected where as in some of our nation's schools, teachers are often being sworn at, harassed and even threatened. As you all know, teachers here are also much more likely to be laid off because of our economic system. So it is interesting how our schools differ. One particular aspect of the Chinese school system, however, I found especially unnerving is that they have no, or very little, special education programs.
As stated before, I did not feel endangered or threatened while I was in Beijing, China; in fact I felt safer there than in any other city I have ever been. China still holds a one child policy, but the sort of sexism that evolved because of favoring males over females, is starting to fade away. "I have a little girl and my husband and I both love her very much.," I remember our tour guide, nicknamed "Sunny," saying to us.
For many, China may not feel like a place where they would want to spend their vacation. Yet right now, it is cheaper to go to China than to a place like Italy or Greece, for example, and you would not be disappointed. The American perspective of China is generally negative. Americans like to come up with horror stories to fear or not to visit China. China does have many gray aspects to its countries history, but really are they that much different than some of our own countries dark history? In China education is a privilege, not a right; child offenders are killed and lifestyles are built around tradition and folklore.
Whether or not you find these facts to be positive or negative, depends on your opinion, but there is one thing for certain, and I know this may sound clich but, I think we can really learn from each other.
Patrick Lonergan is a Ticonderoga High School senior who recently visited China.