First, an apology: My intent was to write daily while here, and unfortunately our schedule and slow internet connections have made that impossible. So, the next few posts will hopefully provide a good catch up on what our delegation experience has been os far.
So, back to day one:
Lunch at School
After visiting classes and having a tour of the school's museum (many schools have an archives room where they show the history of the school and the accomplishments of their graduates), we had lunch in the student cafeteria. We were curious about what it was like to eat in the school's "canteen." This is a boarding school, so all the students share all their meals here. Much like in our cafeterias, you go through a line and then are seated at tables in a common room.
Below you'll see the choice I made, one of two offerred. The fruit is a mango (which was delicious and very juicy). The salad was a shredding of various green vegetables (celery, some sort of greens, and maybe some sprouts) tossed in a light vinegar base. And, then instead of meatballs I opted for something like a beef stew with a side of rice. It was all pretty good.
The only challenge we had with lunch was the lack of any beverage. We looked around us and no one had a drink with their food. I never heard an answer on why this was, and in subsequent meals we have not had that issue. Fortunately, the young teachers hosting us for the visit brought back bottled water and cokes from the vending machines down the hall.
Shopping on Nanjing Road
Although it was raining, several of us welcomed a walk after lunch to a neighboring shopping district. Since arriving we had not had an opportunity to see the city by foot, so this was a good chance to get a feel for Shanghai.
Nanshing Road, according to our young guides, is a popular shopping area with a wide plaza (for walkers, bikes, and a mini train). I could not really make sense of the shopping other than to say it was a hodge-podge of everything. At one corner you would find an upscale shop (typically an American or European boutique--often makeup, handbags, and jewelry) and then you would have a whole block of stores that seemed to be part of one building with stores wide open to each other on the interior. The clothes looked similar to those in the states, and the department stores are set up similarly to ours with multi-floors, escalators, and arrangement by type of goods and sometimes by label/brand.
The street and the stores were packed with people, some fighting over sale items, others just window-shopping with friends. Street vendors were ever-present, walking up to sell you light-up wheels to attach to your shoes or bribing you to come down the alley to see the knock-off Gucci and Prada handbags.
First School Signings
Returning to school we were a wet, sloggy group. The rain was one thing (we did have some umbrellas), but the humidity is another thing all together. All of our delegation are from the Southeast, and we agreed that the level of humidity was unlike any we had ever experienced. It just "hangs" and you begin sweating the minute you walk out the door. Schools do not have air-conditioning, except in certain spaces, so we were challenged to find a way to cool off before the afternoon signing ceremonies. Fortunately, the room for the signing had it's own a/c system, and once we got there we went from wet, hot and humid to near freezer-like conditions before it was over.
Now that I have witnessed a signing ceremony, I have a better sense of what we've been working on for weeks. Although our document negotiations are not complete (we have verbal agreement), these ceremonies are very important to the schools and Ameson. Each school in our delegation is being partnered with one of Ameson's elite American high school programs in select schools. To acknowledge the formal commitment to work together, signing ceremonies are customary. These ceremonies are very well orchestrated by staff. Each time they've been set up in a board room with rose bouquets on the tables, and placecards for all the Americans on one side (if possible) and the Chinese on the other. The principal of the school, and headmaster and/or administrator from the American school, each give a presentation on their school (along with very kind remarks about the interest in working togther) and then move to one side of the table to sit alongside one another and sign a general agreement between the schools. It is not a legal document, as it is mostly ceremonial but signifies to the Chinese government (who must approve the partnership) that they have an agreement.
We had two signing ceremonies today, and we'll have another three in the days ahead as we move out from Shanghai to three other cities. However, today was "extra special" in that Sean Zhang, deputy chairman of Ameson, was with us and then hosted us for dinner afterwards. I'd met Sean earlier this year, and we have emailed back and forth some as well. The discussion he encouraged around the table after the signing signified to me his great passion to see our partnership raise the quality of teaching and learning in China. Clearly his focus is on improving Chinese students' ability to navigate a global world, and student/teacher exchanges and collaborations will advance that mission. I certainly see an opportunity for our students and teachers, and our community at large, to understand a part of the world and a people who will have a great impact on the future. It is mind-boggling to be here and witness the growth and energy.
The next two days are "off" in the sense that we will be sight-seeing (a "cultural tour") in and around Shanghai. After today's intensity, and a lot of jet lag, I know we are all looking forward to a different pace.