Traveling Around

Traveling Around: Historical and Cultural Xi’an, China

April 18, 2020


If you are seeking places to visit in China, I highly recommend visiting Xi’an, particularly if you enjoy history. Currently the Upper Primary Art Teacher for Xi’an Liangjiatan International School, I have had the opportunity to visit many of this ancient city’s sights. While it is not one of the top cities in terms of population, it ranks near the top in terms of historical importance. For over 1,000 years it served as the capital of China under thirteen dynasties and 73 emperors. Some of its notable dynasties included the Qin, Tang, Han, and Zhang. Even today, construction efforts of this rapidly expanding city continue to be interrupted by archaeological discoveries.

Terracotta Warriors and Emperor Qin ShiHuang Mausoleum 

 Most people come to Xi’an to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Terracotta Warriors, located about 20 km east of modern Xi’an. Despite the large crowds (over 1 million visitors annually), this site is a must. Don’t forget to visit the Exhibition Hall and the Qin ShiHuang Mausoleum, both of which are included in the entrance fee. Just as with any popular destination in China, avoid going during any Chinese national holiday. In winter, crowds are less, as is the entrance fee. Getting your own transportation there (such as a taxi or Didi – China’s version of Uber) will be more expensive, but it will enable you to arrive early and before the tour groups. After being one of the first people in line for tickets, I immediately headed to Pit 1 and had it to myself for over five minutes. Pit 1 and the Exhibition Hall were the most impressive ones for me. Cheap, local buses will take you back into Xi’an. Tour guides are available, but I opted to conduct my own research prior to visiting. You will find many people selling souvenirs; you can find similar ones in Xi’an at a much better price.

Xi’an City Wall

One of Xi’an’s most recognizable landmarks is its city wall. This massive well-preserved structure (much of which dates back to the 14th century) is surrounded by a moat. Rent a bike or walk on top of the wall, for all or part of the 14 km (8.7 miles) length. Around the time of Chinese New Year, a lantern festival is held here. To experience fewer crowds during this time, I recommend going while it is daylight and observe the changes to the lanterns and watchtowers as nightfall descends. For photography of the wall and surrounding city, you have a greater chance of clear skies outside of late fall/winter. Air quality in winter can be quite bad.

Drum and Bell Tower

Centrally located within the confines of the ancient City Wall are the Drum and Bell Towers. Built in 1384, Xi’an’s Bell Tower is the largest and the best-preserved in all of China. Nearby is the Drum Tower (1380), also one of the largest in China. Both structures are beautifully illuminated at night. For a small fee, you can ascend the structures and also see some artifacts. From the Drum Tower, you can also see the immensely popular Muslim Quarters.

Muslim Quarter

If you follow the crowds near the Drum Tower, you will find yourself in what is known as the Muslim Quarter. Foodies (particularly meat-eaters) will rejoice, with the plethora of tasty offerings in this crowded area. Snack your way along or rest your feet in one of its many restaurants that serve up signature dishes such as hand-pulled noodles (one of my favorites), steamed dumplings, or Yangrou Pao Mo (pita bread pieces soaked in lamb soup). The Xi’an hamburger also makes a tasty snack. The Muslim Quarter is also a fun place for photography–if you don’t mind the crowds. While in the Muslim Quarter, you can take in a short shadow puppet show in Gao’s Grand Courtyard. 

While in the Muslim Quarter, don’t miss the Grand Mosque. The largest and one of the most important mosques in China, the Grand Mosque dates back over a thousand years. Enjoy its beautiful traditional architecture while you get a respite from the bustle of the crowded food streets. Its minaret and the Phoenix Pavilion are particularly noteworthy.

Shuyuanmen Ancient Cultural Street

Located just to the east of the South Gate of the City Wall is the Shuyuanmen Ancient Cultural Street. Many of its well-restored buildings date back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. It is pleasant to wander the street and peek into the small shops selling calligraphy supplies, papercuts, shadow puppets, jade, paintings, and other souvenirs. During the Chinese New Year, the street is even more lively. At the end of the street is the famous Stele Forest.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Also known as Dayanta, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is one of the most famous pagodas in China. Originally built in 652AD, the present 7-story brick structure was built without any cement. It was constructed to house Buddhist relics brought from India via the Silk Road. Visitors can pay a small fee to climb up the UNESCO World Heritage site to see some statues, paintings, poems, and great city views. While there, visit some of the structures within the Da Ci’en Buddhist Temple (648 AD). At the spacious North Square is the largest fountain square in Asia. At night, the fountain shows (set to music) are illuminated, as is the pagoda. The fountain show is particularly enjoyable on a warm late spring/late summer evening.

Small Wild Goose Pagoda

Located five kilometers away from its bigger brother, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda was erected in 709AD. Like Dayanta, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda is architecturally significant and well-preserved. On the same park-like grounds is the Xi’an Museum (free admission with passport). It houses over 130,000 relics and historical artifacts. Elsewhere in the park is a visitor center. I enjoyed learning more about how shadow puppets are made.

Shaanxi History Museum

This world-class museum houses over 370,000 exhibits, of which many of the items were excavated within the province. Exhibits within the three main halls are dual-sign-posted in Mandarin and English. Some of the museum’s signature pieces include several TerraCotta Warriors, Tang Dynasty tri-colored pottery (my favorite), and Tang Dynasty mural paintings. Admission (with passport) is free, but the Tang Murals Hall requires a separate, paid ticket. Any lover of history/art should visit this museum.

Han Yang Ling Mausoleum of the Han Dynasty

Otherwise known as the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, the joint tomb of Liu Qi and his empress Wang covers an area of 20 square kilometers. Built in 153AD, the emperor’s tomb is at the center. The Outside Pits Exhibition Hall is the first underground museum in China. Transparent walkways enable visitors to see excavations of his tomb in progress–a very cool effect.  It contains over 50,000 terracotta doll-size figures and life-like animals arranged as if it were an army formation. 

Tang Paradise

Located just north of the original Tang Dynasty Lotus Garden site, this theme park is built in the style of the Tang royal garden. While it is pleasant to wander the beautiful grounds and admire the beautiful Tang-style architecture, it is especially beautiful during the Chinese New Year. During this period, huge lanterns and illuminated sculptures are a sight to behold in the lake and throughout the park. Indoor and outdoor cultural performances entertain visitors, along with the world’s largest movie on water-screen. I enjoyed the dragon dance outside the Zihyun building and some mini-concerts inside. Tang Paradise is also a beautiful place for photography in the spring.

Qinglong Temple

If you happen to be in Xi’an during the cherry blossom season, be sure to visit Qinglong Temple (originally dating back to 582 AD). Opening hours are extended, so try to be there very early in order to avoid the hordes of people. Bring your passport and camera. The area around the main Buddhist temple buildings is full of cherry blossoms. The area around the bridge is also very picturesque.

Getting Around

Many of Xi’an’s other popular sites are located fairly close to each other. The subway, signposted in English, is continually expanding, making it easier to get around to some of these sights. Taxis are available, but be sure to have the address written in Mandarin, because few drivers understand English. For expats living in China, DiDi is convenient. iPhone users will be able to use Apple Maps VPN-free to navigate, including subway and public buses.

This article was submitted by guest author and ISC member, Melissa Enderle.

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Highlighted Articles

Coronovirus Outbreak: How an International School in Beijing Was Prepared for this Crisis

February 27, 2020


As an educator in China this is a crazy time! I am an Elementary School teacher at a well established international school in Beijing. I couldn’t be more pleased with how well this crisis has been handled by our school board and administrators!

We were all leaving for CNY when the Novel Coronavirus outbreak was occurring. At that time I was relieved to be staying in Beijing with my kids, and not traveling.

Four days into holiday we were informed that we would not be returning to school until Feb 17, and that learning would commence On-line at the end of CNY on Feb 3.

Quickly many teachers that were traveling cancelled their return flights and chose to stay where they were or travel home. Those of us in Beijing made quick decisions about wether to stay put or go somewhere else. In Beijing many public venues had closed, all tourist locations closed, ski areas, movie theaters and hotels began to close. As a mother with children, I did not want to stay in my apartment for weeks with nothing to do, so made a quick decision and flew back home the next day.

Our school uses a lot if on-line platforms for learning and sharing student learning, such as blogs, and moodle for older students. We already had an on-line teaching policy and tips document in case of school closures due to weather or pollution. This gave us a platform to begin on-line learning right away.

Most teachers quickly shifted from vacation mode to teaching mood well before Monday’s start date. Our IT support was in contact with reminders for guidelines and assistance to access. Our Media specialists quickly redistributed our subscription to online resources and shared out what could or could not be utilized for online learning. The lists of don’ts was daunting at first, as we are limited to things all families can access in China.

The school conducted a community survey, in part due to government requirements and in part to know more about the access for our students. From this, we were informed that approximately 50% of those who responded were still in Beijing and 50% were spread around the world in all time zones imaginable. The original policy was that teachers needed to be available during school hours in Beijing regardless of where they were, but thus just was not realistic or doable. Some teachers in the States and Canada were battling a 13-16 hour lag. This policy soon changed to holding some hours during school hours and offering our available hours to students, so they can access us when needed and according to times suitable in different time zones.

As a teacher in the elementary, we have been successful in connecting with some of our students with FlipGrid for morning greetings and provocations to our units. FlipGrid has been helpful for mini lessons and individual support to students with specific learning needs. Almost all teachers have been meeting with groups of students via Zoom, where teachers offer 2-4 time options so students can participate with one in their time zone. Epic Books has been a great resource, as we can send links to specific sets of book related to our UOI or learning topic. RAZ kids has given students access to reading practice at their level and teachers can track which students are accessing this as a resource. Older ES students are using IXL and our younger students are accessing Mathletics. We are trying out some additional on-line learning tools, to see what works best. We have also taken advantage of our school’s subscription to Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr.

We have also used Zoom as a platform for all of our collaborative and planning meetings. All groups of teachers: grade level, single subject, leadership, and support services have been required to touch base and meet on a weekly basis. This week the school is setting up online Teachers Teaching Teachers meetings on Zoom, so we can learn additional tips about different tech and online teaching tools and resources.

Our school is known for being a highly collaborative school, and this experience has highlighted this aspect in a new way. Teachers are really working in teams, not in isolation to support our learners.

The school has recently informed us that we will be given a 3 week notice of the commencement of school, to be determined by the Chinese Ministry of Education. As the Chinese government is requiring all individuals to undergo a self quarantine for 14 days following travel, week 1 of these 3 weeks will be for returning to Beijing. They are replacing our spring break with this week 1 of return and there will be no online learning during that week. The following two weeks, while in quarantine, we will continue on-line learning.

Most of us are missing our students and the routine of our daily lives, so eager to have this date announced by the Ministry if Education, though appreciate their need to stop the spread of the virus and their desire to not put students in any harm!

This article was submitted by an ISC member currently working at an international school in Beijing, China.

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Highlighted Articles

Shut Down Due to Health Emergency: Four Stories from International Schools in China and Vietnam

February 9, 2020


We all seem to know somebody in the international school community that is being affected by the health scare in Asia connected to the Coronavirus.

But how are those international schools coping with this situation? What are the teachers’ responsibilities? Where are the teachers doing the online teaching? Which technologies are they using? What is the overall feeling of the situation from all stakeholders? How was the organization of it all?

Here are four stories from four different teachers at international schools in China and Vietnam:

International School of Tianjin

In the days leading up to the Chinese New Year break, there was awareness and increasing concern about the new virus in China. A lot of masks were being worn at school and some students were talking about it with a degree of concern. The virus quickly became a national issue and by the third day of the break, on January 28, we were told that school would be closed until at least February 17. During the holiday week our school let us know that we would be implementing an online learning structure. Leadership teams met and outlined what this would look like in order to continue to provide a rigorous curriculum but not overwhelm the students and parents. In elementary school our primary platform is Seesaw, which the students had already been using all year. We are maintaining the daily schedule as much as possible (i.e. if your class has PE on Monday, the PE teacher would send an assignment on Seesaw that day). Homeroom teachers are expected to send out a morning message with daily assignments by 9:00 each day and be available for the entire work day providing feedback to students. The secondary school is following a similar model using Microsoft Teams and Managebac to share content and assignments.

It has been more work than everyone anticipated, but it has also been nice to be able to connect with students. As parents we are also working with our own children and it has been good to create some structure in their day as the time away from school stretches on. The situation is ongoing. We are far from Wuhan, but there have been a number of cases reported in our city. There is not a formal quarantine but movement is very limited and we are under a lot of pressure to stay indoors at all times. The police are outside taking temperatures and collecting information. As of right now it is likely that the school will stay closed for several more weeks and there is a lot of uncertainty. We are hoping for a resolution of some kind to this crisis and we look forward to getting back to the familiar routines of a normal school day.

American International School in Shanghai, China

I work at an American International School in Shanghai, China. We received an email about starting E-learning lesson on Feb. 3rd and to contact our administrators if we had questions. The email stated to follow our daily class schedule and post a mini lesson video of no less than 15 minutes for each subject taught. As an EAL teacher in primary for different grades, I’ve had to make reading, writing, phonics, and handwriting videos. The email also had a long list of expectations for teachers such as assignments with deadlines to be uploaded on our grading website, students must work for 30 minutes and give feedback. However, little to no support has been given on the IT side of e-lessons, other than contact your supervisor for questions. Edmodo was the only platform suggested to use where someone could support you with it, but we were told to use any platform we preferred which led to parents getting bombarded with messages to sign up to Edmodo, Seesaw and others. I only chose Seesaw because my collaborating teachers were using it, and I wanted to make it easier for my students’ parents.

The two biggest problems we are facing with our E-lessons is not being allowed to use Google technology due to its restrictions in China and most parents not having a VPN. Second one was how to upload videos of 15 minutes in Wechat when it has a five-minute limit. Our school’s official Wechat group went blasting with messages about condensing videos using different websites, different APPs, and etc. Nothing concrete on these APPs with specific tutorials on how to get set it up in a few days to start running e-learning. These links were all helpful however we needed time for E-training, which we haven’t receive in 3 years that I’ve been working there. Luckily for me, I had received classes on using technology in grad school.

I think my school’s expectations are unrealistic due to parents and teachers being stranded all over the world due to CNY holidays and not having access to reliable internet. I was vacationing in Boracay, so I did my lessons with an IPad and my IPhone. Yes, I am without a laptop making this a headache for me. I also have limited or unreliable internet access. Also, you can’t expect the same teaching as the classroom when not everyone has internet, web knowledge or skills, nor the time to sit through a regular day schedule of videos, which include videos for math, science, reading, writing, Specials subject (art, P.E., etc), and foreign language for K-5. Parents spent a long time setting up accounts, learning how to navigate one, two or three APPs. In all honesty, it was hell for teachers, parents and students. I’ve been working around the clock answering questions from parents.

One parent said it best when he voiced his frustrations “Parents can’t teach children. We are not native speakers nor teachers.” Think about the difficulties one of my student’s parent is facing having to login to different APPS and instructions from all teachers for her three children. Can you imagine the series of videos they have to watch daily for each kid? She is beyond frustrated because she’s in the pharmaceutical industry, so she’s still working during the day and has to come home to help her children.

You see I’m happy to learn as I’m doing e-lessons, but I wish my school was more realistic and practical with their expectations. Although I think handwriting is important, I don’t think under these circumstances we need to have e-lesson. I’ve only been focusing on reading and writing and that’s all I can do for now. That’s all more than enough for parents to handle. They are not trained teachers to assist their kids specially in grades K to 3 where children have a shorter attention span and are not yet independent learners. I can teach in a video, but can students be expect to sit through six videos of 10-15 minutes from all their teachers? 

An International School in Ho Chi Minh City

On the Saturday before the school was supposed to open after the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday, the school sent an email to staff and parents saying they intended to keep the school open during the Coronavirus outbreak, outlining the enhanced health and safety measures the school would implement. Less than an hour later, the Vietnamese government announced that the virus was an epidemic and all the local and international schools decided to close soon after. Such is life when you live in a country where the government is less than transparent – executive decisions seem to come at short notice, and all schools and administrators can do is adapt as best they can.

As teachers, we all know that death, taxes, and faculty meetings are the unchanging staples of life. As such, even though the students are away, we have faculty meetings three days a week. We enter the campus one at a time, as a guard checks our temperature and directs us to a giant bottle of hand sanitizer we must use before entering. We are updated on the situation on the ground and how it affects school. We meet about students of concern – who’s not doing their remote work, who didn’t bother to check their email until Tuesday, etc. We also discuss strategies for remote work. Everyone uses various online platforms and is happy to share success stories and advice. This is the silver lining of the whole situation: while remote learning is a bit dull if you actually enjoy engaging with students as individual human beings, it’s a great opportunity to experiment with different types of learning platforms. I’m using Edpuzzle and Flipgrid for the first time – I’m not sure if I would have the time or inclination to test them in normal circumstances, but I’m happy to test them out in hopes that I can use them again when everything returns to normal.

United World College Changshu China

When I accepted an offer to work in China I was never to expect that something like the outbreak of Corona virus would happen. However, I consider myself to be the virus free, being in self quarantine for the last 12 days without showing any symptom of infection.

As for the next week, I am required to start teaching online. What does it mean in terms of my effectiveness to share knowledge with students in few classes (different subjects, years and levels)? To be honest, the difference in comparison to my usual days when in school is not so significant (in theoretical terms). As since the beginning of this school year, we have been required to explore and use opportunities of digital learning. My usual working day (for the last few days) starts around 9am and I work, both with teachers and students for the next few hours (read, until I start getting that feeling that my brain will explode). I am relying on Microsoft Teams as the school follows the official Chinese politics and does not welcome Google classrooms. The initial stage of working with Microsoft Teams (this is not an advertisement!) may seems confusing as you can create as many Teams (groups and classes) as you want but soon you may realize that you may be overwhelmed with the amount of messages which keep on getting higher. Students are being required to learn about services of Microsoft Teams on their own while teachers have received some support in that. This basically means that in theory I can use any teaching platform which fits to my current needs, but in reality I have to communicate lessons and instructions on Teams and Manage back only. I am also using Wechat for a quick communication with students.

What I am also currently surviving is the feeling of panic as I have students from six different continents in my classroom and I must reach all of them. I am currently planning our virtual timetable and that seems to be the biggest challenge that we are currently facing (as I must offer face to face instructions). For the last 24 hours I was trying to reach students across the globe, to determine their time zones and assure them that they will have enough knowledge and skills to take the final exams.

In terms of strategy, what to do, how to deliver lessons, I can no longer rely on lesson plans being planned for our classroom space as they emphasize the value of activities much. Now I am trying to find text and create written assignments which would force them to read, think, analyze and construct their responses. In terms of what to do for summative assessment, well, as for now, that is science fiction. I am counting on their honesty when doing formative assessment (though I still aim to use Turnitin).

All in all, the sense of panic is still being strong as I don’t fixed timetable and I am rushing to plan lessons for five different teaching programs,. There is a feeling of fear in me too as some of my students are in cities which were locked down more than two weeks ago and their chance for survival depends only on their willingness not to leave their apartments.

To finish this story, I am still learning how to deliver completely effective virtual classes but I have delivered my first teaching instructions already (in the virtual space which reminds to those of countless forums). I am spending much of my time in calling students wherever they are, to assure them that we can go through this situation and that no one of them will be damaged in terms of their knowledge acquisition.

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Overview of an Int’l School

New Opportunities to Teach at a National School in China

April 14, 2018


You may not have heard of Cixi – it’s a city close to Ningbo and not far from Shanghai (about 1 ½ hours by fast train, 2 hours by car) – but it’s a really interesting place. It is at the centre of the ‘Golden Triangle’, the area between Shanghai, Hangzhou and Ningbo, and it ranks in the top ten of the richest county-level cities in China and is considered to be one of the happiest. Maybe there is a link there! Or it could be to do with there being no pollution and lots of blue skies!

Chinese Schools

We have a new school opening in Cixi at the beginning of September 2018, and we think it is going to be quite different from both traditional Chinese schools and international schools. Let me explain……

The name of the school is Cixi Wengu Foreign Language School, and it is aiming to provide all that’s best about the Chinese National Curriculum, but to combine that with some of the best features of international education. Chinese parents have become very discerning – they have a clear idea of what they are want for their children and what they want includes access to foreign languages, especially English, and exposure to a dynamic, international-style education. At the same time, they want the best features of the traditional education (like they experienced as children) to be maintained.

Chinese Schools

In Cixi, we intend to provide both. We are recruiting (would you be interested?) qualified foreign primary teachers who will work alongside their Chinese colleagues. For some of the time the foreign teachers will lead lessons, with the Chinese teachers supporting, for the rest of the time their positions will be reversed. We fully recognize the challenge this will present, particularly in relation to the communication and professional understanding that will be necessary for it to work well. We also recognize that it will have to be a gradual process of introduction, as both children and teachers get used to a new way of working.

We anticipate the school will open with four classes of grade 1 students, and a grade will be added each year. This, we feel, is a manageable way of introducing this new way of working, and it should allow plenty of time to consolidate everyone’s understanding and practice.

Chinese Schools

For a foreign teacher, it will certainly present new challenges. For that reason, we are offering our teachers salaries and benefits more like Beijing and Shanghai than like other second tier cities. What is it they say about offering peanuts and getting……….? For our plan to work, we will need really high quality teachers who are up for the challenge of being part of something new and who are flexible enough to embrace this new way of working.

Initially the school will be operating in a separate wing of the enormous kindergarten next door – this will be until our amazing new buildings are completed. The pictures attached will, I hope, give an indication of the quality of the facilities we will enjoy.

This article was submitted to us by Roger Fisher, one of the recruiters for a new school in Cixi, China.

If you have any comments / questions about any of this, if you have worked in a school offering a similar way of working, or if you fancy being part of what we are planning, do please get in touch using roger.fisher@xueda.com.

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Video Highlight

Video Highlight: Yew Chung International School of Beijing

January 13, 2013


There are so many international schools to work at in Beijing!  How do these schools stand out from each other?

Yew Chung International School of Beijing

The school campus seems to be next to some beautiful parks.

An interesting concept of the use of c0-prinicpals, one being an expat and one being a Chinese National.

They also provide the same for the classrooms apparently, by having co-teachers there are well (well at least in the primary school section).  How great to teach in two languages side by side!  It would be interesting to see more videos of what that might actually look like in a classroom lesson.

The school also has what seems to be an extensive music programme, giving the students opportunities to try out a variety of instruments at a young age.

It is important that an international school value and affirm the local language of the country they are in.  It would seem as if Yew Chung International School of Beijing is doing just that by including an extensive Mandarin Chinese programme.

Overall the campus facilities look quite nice!

Currently on www.internationalschoolcommunity.com we have 131 international schools listed in China with 30 of them being in the city of Beijing.  The number of comments and information that have been submitted for each school is listed to the right the link to each school.  Here are a just a few of them:

Beijing City International School (31 Comments)
International School of Beijing (15 Comments)
Western Academy Beijing (30 Comments)
Harrow International School (Beijing) (8 Comments)
Tsinghua International School (Beijing) (36 Comments)
Beijing International Bilingual Academy (11 Comments)
Beijing National Day School (12 Comments)

If you know about what it is like working at one of these international schools in Beijing, log-on today and submit your own comments and information.  If you submit more than 30 comments and information, then you can get 1 year of premium access to International School Community for free!

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