For one week, students and some local community members had a chance to experience the wonders of Beijing, China.
The HIgh School Community Travel Club group at Fort St. James Secondary School (FSJSS) took 10 high school students and 10 community members on a tour with EF Tours. The EF stands for Education First, and locals have been taking these trips for years. Current organizer Travis James, a teacher at FSJSS, has led eight of the trips over the years.
The group this spring break visited Tianneman Square, the Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, the Great Wall of China, a night market, a local Beijing classroom of students of similar ages and the Bird’s Nest olympic stadium (Beijing National Stadium).
While each trip is different, the size of the group determines whether or not they get the trip to themselves, and this trip ended up being an interesting combination with a group from New York City, allowing the students and teachers to exchange stories of life in New York versus Fort St. James.
On the day the group visited the Great Wall of China, there was snow on the ground around the wall, and while other groups were dampened by the snow, the Fort St. James group saw the white stuff as an opportunity to toss some snowballs.
“We took full advantage of it, being Canadian and all,” said Kaylee Walstrom.
The group also enjoyed sliding down the many railings along the Great Wall.
They enjoyed almost celebrity status in some touristy spots, being asked to pose with Chinese nationals in their photos.
Stefan Baillout said he was even asked to pose with somone’s girlfriend while the boyfriend took a picture.
One fun moment took place when the group visited a local class at a public school, and some of the students performed different skills for them, including piano, violin and karate.
After the students performed, some music was put on and Fort St. James students Kaylee Walstrom and Gabriela Willick got up and danced to Gangnam Style, the South Korean pop song by PSY.
Another highlight for the pair was when they were visiting the Summer Palace, some older women were doing a sing-along and the pair were brought into it.
At the night market, the group had the chance to try some unusual food items as well, from grasshoppers to scorpions, which Willick described as tasting like a potato chip.
Dorian Pierre, however, was sick shortly after she tried the same delicacy.
The rest of the food experiences the group reported were mostly positive, though, with impressive buffet breakfasts made up mostly of steamed vegetables and the group said the Chinese food in China was nothing like the local Chinese-Western restaurants.
The group even ate dinner with a local family and had the chance to see how they lived, with communal bathrooms.
In a formal tea ceremony, the group learned how to properly sip tea in the traditional way, slurping it through their lips.
Over the course of the trip, the group ate starfish, donkey, snake, and centipede as well, and they think they probably ate other things they were not even aware of.
The students also described the bargaining as “insane” and they learned a lot while making their way around the markets about bargaining strategies.
Members of the group came back with a few souvenirs, and one student had the chance to experience first-hand the “buyer-beware” principal when he purchased a pair of speakers he thought were name-brand but were instead inexpensive knock-offs.
The Asian traffic was experienced to its fullest, with the tour bus being hit by a car at one point.
Another adventurous part took place when Walstrom and Willick hopped the fence in the Bird’s Nest stadium and ran on the olympic track briefly until they were chased off by security, but managed to make a check of the “bucket list” in the process.
The favourite highlights listed by the students ranged from the Great Wall to the tour bus time with the New York students, to the rickshaws.
The students all seemed to get along really well and James said they were all on time and well-mannered.
“Just in that one week, they came together,” he said. “It was a really great group.”
James said he always gets great feedback from tour guides on how respectful the groups he brings from Fort St. James are, which he takes as a good indication of how the trip went.
“I always have nerves before we go,” he said. “Especially in a country of over a billion people.”
James also said EF Tours did a great job of organizing the trip, and provided a good mix of education and time for the students to explore.
Next year’s trip to Italy, France, Switzerland and Monaco is already full, so James has already opened up the 2015 trip to Costa Rica for booking, a sure sign these tours are enjoyed by participants.