I have taken martial arts classes for 13 years, and have been a black belt for 4 years. In the summer of 2007, a partner kung fu school invited our school to go to China for a month. We were thrilled at this opportunity; thirteen students, two parents, and one teacher left Chicago on an exciting trip to China.
We stayed in Tiafa, our teacher’s little hometown. We trained in her old martial arts school with her teacher for 3 weeks. The classes in the martial arts school were very brutal compared to our American class. We had two classes a day, one from 10-12am and the other from 5-7pm. We would run for the majority of the class; either up and down stairs or around the gym. We Americans had to learn how to discipline our bodies. It was difficult for us to keep up at first. We were each assigned a weapon and taught a new style, such as Kwan Dao and Monkey. At end of the day, we unfortunately had to become accustomed to going to the public bath house, and taking our showers. We did get to enjoy the sauna room.
During the week, when not in our martial arts classes, we took Mandarin classes in the school next door to the gym. We only had one classroom, and learned a different topic every day. Soon we were speaking Mandarin fluently enough to carry on a conversation. We even had the opportunity to learn calligraphy, each receiving our own rice paper, ink stick, and ink stone. In return for these Mandarin classes, we would teach the Chinese kids, English. It is very frightening to be in front of kids and try to teach one’s own language. It was tricky at first trying to think of good teaching methods, but soon it became fun.
Although our workouts were tough, we rested on weekends. We usually went sightseeing or shopping during this time. When we went shopping, we learned Chinese currency, which is slightly different from American currency for the Chinese still coined their Yen (dollars). We became addicted to Chinese sweets, such as White Rabbit, a type of vanilla taffy, Tootsie roll-shaped candy. We tried to introduce the Chinese to American pizza. We explained how to create a pizza, but received a sweet doughy mess filled with random vegetables, that we ate to be polite, but realized we should’ve been better explainers.
After 3 long weeks, we said heartfelt goodbyes, and hopped on a train to Beijing, China. We stayed on the train for a good day and a half. When we arrived in Beijing, we immediately went shopping at a huge market. We bought silk scarves, dragon figurines, and imprinted scrolls. In our sightseeing, we walked through Tiananmen Square, visited the monk’ temple, and learned about Buddhism. We each received a good luck charm, a blessed Buddha necklace, which only the wearer could touch. We went to a fancy restaurant, where we tried fondue for the first time. We enjoyed chicken, beef, pork, octopus, squid, and even dog.
At the end of our fourth week, we stuffed our new belongings in our suitcases and caught a plane back to sweet home Chicago. Through our pictures, gifts, and stories we told of a fascinating, unforgettable trip to China. A trip that confirms the truth of Mark Twain’s quote: “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” I now have an appreciation of cultures different from my own.
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