This post is likely to be the first of a couple of reflections about my recent experiences in Beijing for the Learning 2.012 conference. There is so much to absorb; the organisation and location of the conference itself, the experience of spending a week in China’s amazing capital city, but mostly the genuine privilege of being able to spend time with a remarkable group of talented educators from around the globe.
Firstly, China. This is my second trip to China, the previous being for the same conference two years ago in Shanghai. I wrote some thoughts about that trip at the time and how awestruck I was by China’s rapid growth. That certainly hasn’t changed. China is still full of surprises, and especially so in Beijing where there is such a dramatic contrast between the ancient and the modern. On my first full day there I got to go shopping for pearls with Julie Lindsay and Lucy Gray (trust me, that Julie knows how to shop!) and then later that day Lucy and I explored the Forbidden City together. The size and scale of the Forbidden City was hard to comprehend, as was the fact that the buildings were three times older than modern Australia! We entered from the south gate and wandered all the way up to the north gate. We even, allegedly, met a guy who is the nephew of the last emperor. I didn’t buy his calligraphy, and I’m not sure I buy his story, but it was still a great experience. On the way home we were driven past Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People, and although we were unable to stop and explore them on foot, just seeing the enormity of them was impressive enough.
The next day, Adrian Camm joined Lucy and I for a trip to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China with our very entertaining driver Charlie. It’s easy to see why the Great Wall is one of the Wonders of the World. At over 5000 km long and over 2000 years old, the wall is breathtaking in scale and built along the craggy ridges of a rugged mountain range. The engineering required to construct this ancient wall is almost unimaginable. At Mutianyu, you can drive right up to the base of the mountain and then get whisked to the top of the Wall by a chairlift, which surprised me. Even more surprising was the fact that your return trip is by tobogganing down the winding S-curves of a steel sled track built into the mountain! I did not expect that.
The Great Wall itself was quite an experience. Words can’t adequately describe what it felt like to be standing there on top of a structure as old as the Roman Empire and having it continue along the mountain ridge as far as we could see (which admittedly with the Beijing smog was not all that far). The Wall is quite a strenuous walk and Lucy, Adrian and I wandered along it until we really couldn’t go much further,and then with lots of great photos and memories (and even a FourSquare checkin)to take back home, we backtracked to our starting point.
After a fun toboggan ride back down the mountain (please can we do it again?!) we lunched at a place in Mutianyu called The SchoolHouse where we found an open wifi access point for more FourSquare checkins, Facebook updates and even a quick Google+ Hangout with Linda.
The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the tombs of the Ming Dynasty, including the Sacred Way. Oh, and of course Charlie treated us to his personal rendition of Chinese opera as we drove along. As you do.
Later that evening, after being driven around all day in a French Peugeot, we sat in an Irish pub, owned by an American couple, eating Italian Pizza, before we went back to the hotel to listen to music being played by a group of Filipino musicians.
Welcome to China.