Chinese New Year

The calendar was very much in our favor, as we arrived in Xi’an right before the Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) celebrations began. The New Year is followed by the Spring Festival, which lasts for 15 days. Most people have off of work for a week, and students have a long vacation. The holiday is all about seeing family, especially for those who have moved away from their hometowns. The holiday is also about eating. Lots of eating.

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We all had very different experiences. Some of us stayed at home. Others spent time at the homes of grandparents and other relatives. And a few of us went on vacation for sightseeing and swimming at the beach.

Here’s a glimpse at what some of us did during the holiday:

To celebrate the holiday, my family and I went to the house of my grandmother’s sister. Since all of our grandparents are dead, we went to visit their graves and preformed some rituals to honor them.  – Ling-li

Chinese New Year was so much fun! We spent most of the day setting up posters around our house with the word lucky in Chinese on them. If you put the symbol upside down it meant that you had a lucky year and if you had it right side up it meant that you are going to have a lucky year. Later on I helped my host mother and sister make some delicious dumplings. We made so many! Before dinner we all got dressed up and gathered together in the living room. My host father and his father burned some type of paper and prayed to their ancestors by bowing. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to join in or not, but I did anyway. They all started laughing at me… so after that we had a delicious dinner and they passed out red envelopes with money inside. Everyone was very excited and happy. As the dinner ended we all moved to the living room to watch the famous Chinese New Years show to conclude the night. It was such a cool experience!  – Gabi

For the Chinese New Year my whole family drove 8 hours out of the city to the countryside. We first went to the grandmothers house on my mothers side and ate lunch. After lunch we immediately drove another hour or so to my fathers mothers house and we ate more food. At this house there were over 30 people. They had the Chinese TV special on. The next few days have been the same thing however each day we add at least 5-10 more people. It is a very large family with lots of little kids and many old people telling me to eat more.  – Ashira

My family had a huge breakfast and huge dinner. We lit really big firecrackers three times. Then we watched tv and at night we lit a lot of sparklers and fireworks. – Naomi

We traveled to stay with grandparents just outside of Xi’an for two nights. Of course there was a ton of eating involved, including noodles for breakfast on New Year’s Day. We watched the gala on TV, an extravaganza that is watched by over 800 million (!) people. I was most impressed by the acrobatics acts; one of my handbalancing teachers trained in Xi’an and often talks about Chinese acrobats. I learned how to play mahjong (so fun), ping pong, and two other games. We also set off fireworks in the alley; the sound of fireworks went on all night long. – Stacy

To celebrate the Chinese New Year I traveled with my family to various family members’ homes around Xi’an. We had meals as a family, but time that wasn’t occupied consuming exorbitant amounts of food was spent alone. My host brother and I went out when we weren’t busy with the family and bought a variety of firecrackers and fireworks to play with. This isn’t really common practice in America, at least not for me, so I was thrilled to blow some things up. We did this for three days. I wouldn’t mind continuing to play with fire instead of going to school on March 5th, but there’s a time and place for everything I guess.  – Nick

I spent the new year at the houses of different family members. I ate so much food and watched as people near by set off fireworks. As soon as the new year was over my family and I travelled to Yunnan. We’ve been riding horses, strawberry picking, and kayaking. It’s been a blast!  – Margo





Starting life in Xi’an

Our six days of being tourists ended when our plane touched down in Xi’an. As we were about to exit the security area of the airport, everyone was feeling nervous. What did we sign up for? Are we crazy? What is waiting for us on the other side of that wall? How will we know how to act? Will our families speak any English?

As we emerged, a huge energetic group was waiting, holding signs decorated with our names. The scene was chaotic as we all made introductions and then assembled to pose for the sea of phone cameras aimed at us. Then off we went in different directions, ready to begin life with our Chinese families!

The next day we assembled at the middle school for a wonderful lunch with the principal and some of the school staff who will be helping us. We got sweatshirts to celebrate the year of the dog, and we learned about the achievements of the school’s students. Then Kevin, our contact who is the equivalent of Steve at BHS, took us to the high school to meet the principal there. We saw our classroom and students received their uniforms and lunch cards.

It is now vacation for the Spring Festival (Lunar New Year), so we are all spending time getting to know our families. Some of us are away visiting relatives in various parts of the country, while others are staying in Xi’an. We are all learning about Chinese hospitality and are eating WAY too much delicious food. In keeping with the Chinese tradition, students DO have homework over the holiday, but much less than their Chinese classmates.


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We’ve been surprised by many aspects of Chinese life:

“Everything is so clean! I rode the subway the other day and it was absolutely spotless. However I think one of the most surprising things about China is that, to some extent, living here feels normal. I was expecting more of a culture shock, but honestly the only shock was fact that all the buildings light up at night. That being said, there is actually one thing that really stuck with me. When we go out as a group, everyone stares. It is rare to see a non East Asian person in China, believe it or not, and the amount of looks and pictures we get is defiantly surprising.”  – Isabelle

“I’ve been surprised by the seeming ease of political projects in China.  It’s been interesting to see the practical differences between a socialist and capitalist system, and there are certainly positives and negatives for both of them.  In socialism, the heightened levels of control really jump out at you, but so does the benefits of the different system.  In the US we practically take for granted that our government is at war with itself, and we don’t think of it as a single entity.  Having one party in China really changes the entire idea of government, and the scope of what it can accomplish.  I was really blown away by the level of infrastructure, particularly in transportation, that exists in China.”  – Tree

“The technology involved in daily life is way beyond that in the US. Paying with a mobile phone is much more common than using cash. Even the smallest street vendor can be paid by scanning a QR code at his or her stall. The parking garage at the mall scans your license plate when you enter and exit. You scan a QR code with your phone, tell it your plate number, and it charges you. The doors to many of our apartments open by scanning a fingerprint. It makes me feel like the US is so behind.”  – Stacy

“Something that surprises me about China is the greenery. When I came to China, I was expecting large buildings and many people-I wasn’t expecting to see trees scattered throughout the city….It’s a nice surprise and makes it feel more like home :)”  – Ling-li

Getting to know our host families:

“My host family is very nice. At the  beginning, however, they talked really fast and that made it very hard to communicate. Over the last couple of days I’ve been able to pick up bits and pieces of conversations, especially ones that are about me. I pretty sure they think I can’t understand any of what they say, to my surprise I actually can. And for some reason my host family thinks I don’t like the food they give me. Which is unfortunate as it is really good, maybe it’s because I don’t eat very much. Xin Ru, the daughter, has been a great help translating and she is a very sweet girl.”  – Isabelle

“Everyone is kind and patient with me, which I appreciate very much. They always make sure I have what I need and am comfortable.”  – Ling-li

“Getting to know my host family is a roller coaster. When everyone is together we all struggle to understand each other which is the fun part. One thing that’s hard is knowing how to say you don’t like something. I mean obviously I know how to say it in Chinese but getting the courage to say it and trying not to hurt feelings is hard. Also trying to talk to little kids is another struggle, sometimes they don’t understand that you can’t speak well and they just look at you like you’re an idiot.”  – Naomi

“So far things with my family have gone really long well! I have had a lot of fun with my siblings. Of course there has been a language barrier and I can’t say a lot  of what I want to. However I find it easier and easier to speak Chinese and I’m having a really good time.”  – Margo

Communicating in Chinese:

“While I’m living with this family, I have found that my Chinese listening skills are a lot better than I originally thought. While there are some times that I can be listening and understanding perfectly there are also times where people place a lot of pressure on me and I just don’t listen. Recently, in a store my host mother was asking me for an opinion on an outfit and all of the salesmen were crowding around me and waiting to hear what I had to say. It was terrifying. At moments like that communication is hard for me since there are a lot of eyes on me.”  – Ashira

“I’ve surprised myself with how much I can actually pick up in a conversation. Even if I can reciprocate, it feels good to be able to at least understand what they are saying. The other day, my host aunt was over and started up a conversation with me. I was really nervous at first, but after a couple sentences in I felt more comfortable. It’s only been a few days with my host family and I have already learned so much!”  – Isabelle

“Getting to know my host family has been a pretty hard, yet enjoyable experience. I can communicate with my family and ask questions for the most part, but talking to my mom is always a tough task. She doesn’t really speak any English at all, and I don’t speak much Chinese, so we often get stuck repeating phrases with slight variations until the other understands or we are pushed to the point where we have to call our life line, google translate. She really likes to practice her english on me which can be frustrating at times, because I’m really just trying to improve, and she would be the one person most suited to help me do that in my opinion.”  – Nick

“I know my numbers up to 10, as well as how to say teacher, noodles, cat, beer, apple, mango, water, tea, sweet, and sour. I’m pretty much as fluent as a native speaker.” – Stacy

Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou

The past few days have been spent visiting sites in Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou. We saw silk being made, took two boat rides, visited a tea plantation, toured temples and museums, navigated crowded train stations with luggage in tow, learned about China’s history and present-day life from our guides, and ate too much food during the family-style meals. We’ve also laughed an awful lot! Tomorrow we’ll have the morning to visit Hangzhou’s West lake. We will then fly to Xi’an to finally meet our host families!!!

We’ve arrived!

Last night we landed in Shanghai, checked into our hotel, and tried (not so successfully) to get some sleep. Today was spent visiting museums, going up in the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and walking around the Bund and Nanjing Road.

Hey, we’re in Shanghai!
At the TV tower
Green screen fun