These were real gems of the visit and the atmosphere in itself was very stimulating, full of people, energy and life. Even the metro itself was an experience; the best air conditioning for the stifling heat, but also jam-packed full of people who would suddenly make way for a beggar or mother and child pushing through the middle of the crowds to sing or plead for money. This was a sad reminder of the contrast in life in China.
Another very interesting visit was that of the Donganmen Avenue and Datianshuijing Hutong. We spent a few hours one evening looking at the surreal food choices in the market, which sprawled a whole street in Beijing. Here you could buy fried ice-cream on bread, pineapples filled with rice, scorpions and spiders on sticks, candied fruit kebabs with cherry tomatoes and coconuts with straws drilled into them for an instant coconut milk drink. There were also artistic displays of eggs and buns made into colourful animals, and some of the streets nearby trailed off into further markets selling souvenirs.
On the way there, we passed whole squares full of people in front of churches or other buildings doing exercises and dancing to music which was broadcast over large speakers. For me, this was the most rewarding part of the trip fact. Soaking up the atmosphere, mixing with local people and trying the language in different contexts were all excellent ways to enrich learning.
The Hutong area of Beijing is particularly interesting to visit, as they preserve much of the culture of China’s past. The narrow lanes and small courtyards are still inhabited today, and it is possible to take a rickshaw ride around the lake and into the ancient, quirky areas. We stopped in the residence of an old gentleman and his wife who had raised their family in the Hutong, and were keen to show us around their garden and give us refreshments in their home. It was fascinating to hear their stories and memories of their life in the Hutong, and they squeezed our entire group into their sitting room, making us very welcome guests.
Entertainment – “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” - Nietzsche
A very memorable evening was that of our Tea House outing. We were able, once again, "We spent one evening looking at the surreal food choices in the market, which sprawled a whole street in Beijing."to spend time with local Chinese people, but this time in the setting of a brightly coloured Tea House adorned by Chinese lanterns both inside and out. Upon arrival, a group of musicians played music on tea cups, and our table was set with various Chinese delicacies to accompany the many types of Chinese tea we would get to try. There followed some very bizarre acts throughout the evening, including a man who could balance lots of Chinese vases on his head and a lady who screeched a song about food that the Chinese people seemed to love!
The best act, however, was the mask-changing performance, which really was spectacular. The performer continually changed masks as he or she danced to the Beijing Opera songs, but it was impossible to see how and when the masks would actually change. It was very skilful, very cleverly done - almost as if by magic!
Homeward Bound – From the Great Wall to Hadrian’s Wall
Having eased into student life in Beijing and seized every opportunity to learn new things or to go to new places, by the end of the two weeks I felt enthused and energised. The journey home afforded me no less anticipation and excitement than the journey to Beijing. However, this time it was with the good friends I had met and spent time with over the weeks, and the knowledge that the immersion course had gone well, that had made the greatest impression. I had learnt something new, and I had revisited, in a way, my basic but very fortunate student existence at university. This made me appreciate what I have now - and achieved something away from my usual day to day existence.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone
When I came home, my eyes and mind were a little more open and my memory and diary were full of amazing experiences for which I will always be grateful. The course had granted me the opportunity for learning, but also for an appreciation of how it feels to be at the "It demonstrated how it feels to be at the beginning of a new learning experience."beginning of a new learning experience, surrounded by people you do not really know, with a teacher whom expects the best from his or her students, and expectations to live up to from everyone around you even when you are doing an activity you do not find particularly enjoyable.
It had also caused me to reflect upon my own classroom methodology, the importance of relevant contexts for learning and relevance itself if we are to truly see a purpose in what we are learning. Importantly, I had gained new ideas for future use. The immersion trip had taken me from the most opulent of temples and palaces to the beggars scraping a living from the metros and the streets, from inside my comfort zone of learning and teaching to outside it, from knives and forks to chopsticks, from cool temperatures to soaring heat, to contrast after contrast.
Immersion 2016 – “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so…get on your way!” – Dr Seuss
I wish the many teachers and students participating in the immersion courses this year the best of learning, enjoyment, discovery and success. Sometimes, on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity such as this can be, it is only upon return to our usual routines that we can really honestly and truthfully appreciate what we have achieved and the experiences we have had. Tiredness, travel, heat and time change can very much influence how we may feel from moment to moment, especially so far from home. However, meeting new people, trying and learning new things and discovering new places more than compensate for that and these are the memories which stay with us forever, long after the trips and course have ended.
Have you undertaken such a journey? Share your experiences below!