Good morning everyone!

More photos and reports. The group did their final performance in Qufu and from the sounds of things (reports below) it was a thrilling experience for both our kids and the Chinese audience!

We’ll start with photos from the performance.

[These] are shots taken at Shandong Teacher's School last night. Great performance in a new venue. The place was supposed to have 500. There were at least a thousand there. What a scene! Tom

It looks like a packed house. Wow! If you put your ear to these photos and concentrate, you can actually hear the kids singing!

Pay attention to the photos as we travel through various performances. You’ll notice a variety of backdrops, stage sizes and shapes, and audience configurations. Some of the facilities are grand while others are like working out of a closet. The students will be challenged to adapt each and every time they perform, modifying their movements and setups accordingly.

Hearing the applause of our small room of seventy-five people at the dress rehearsal pales in comparison to the thousands in China that will be cheering every scene and song. As we mentioned early on, by the time these kids return to the US., they will have performed for more than 10,000 people!

Let’s hear what Myles and Leah have to say . . .

April 6, 2004

This week we have been fortunate enough to be guests at one of the leading schools in China, Qufu Teachers’ University. Today we visited the Qufu Middle School--middle school is grades 7 through 12 here--and talked to Principal Zhong. He told us about his school. In the junior high section of the middle school alone there are 3,000 students, yet this is considered small compared to other schools with 6,000+ students. Just think, Leland and Gray Middle/High School has about 440 students, so to hear Principal Zhong say his school is “small” made us realize just how many people are in China. On average, twenty percent of high school students in China are placed in a university; at the school we visited here, fifty percent go on to higher education. This is clearly a great school.

A school year is two semesters long with a one-month winter vacation and a two-month summer vacation. School is five days a week with six or seven forty-minute classes per day. In America we can choose some of our classes, but here there is no choice--at least as it has been. Principal Zhong said China is undergoing education reform, though, and putting more stress on the individual and less on the collective. Schools here are trying to offer kids more choice. [For that reason and more, which you’ll hear more about at a later date] our host principal predicts that, within the next four years, Chinese and American high schools will show more similarities.

After our visit with Mr. Zhong, we sat in on an English class. The teacher wanted us to say the words they were learning so they would hear them from an English speaker’s mouth. They were very good at English. I think we all felt a little embarrassed when they asked us to speak Chinese. Chinese students spend a great deal of time trying to learn English, yet we can barely say ten words of their language [one of the most spoken languages in the world.]

After the English class, we all spent sometime outside on the school grounds. Some of us played soccer, others basketball and ping pong. I think we each made a Chinese acquaintance yesterday. It was an amazing sight to see us –from different cultures which can’t communicate well through language---laughing and having a great time together.

We had lunch and then a rehearsal—which went well except for a few trouble spots. These didn’t even matter in our first performance in front of a Chinese audience, though. In fact, we did great! There were some unexpected laughs and applause, and a few other things threw us, but the Chinese audience was delighted to see our performance. For the first real show, I think we did an excellent job. There were a couple hundred more people in that audience than the room could fit—for a total of about 1,000. Our next performance is tomorrow for students at the Qufu Teacher’s School. I think everyone is excited and prepared. Except for a few small colds, we are all feeling great and well fed. No need to worry about us: We’re troupers!

-- Myles Ellison

“Troupers” indeed, Myles!

April 7, 2004

We walk into a classroom where rows of desks are covered with colored newspaper and at each place is carefully set a bowl for water, a calligraphy brush, and a saucer for ink. We are ready to learn calligraphy. The master calligrapher [a descendant of Confucius—of whom there are MANY in these parts] explains the history of calligraphy through interpreters. Each character is a pictograph of the thing it is supposed to represent. One can actually guess what each character means by what the pictograph looks like.

As we start to mimic the simplest stokes demonstrated for us, we are corrected, then told to watch again. This happened time and again and in an hour we learned only one character. Calligraphy makes our writing seem simple and dull.

The calligraphy teacher takes a seat and makes way for a master painter who gives us a lecture on Chinese painting. He explained that Chinese art, unlike Western art, doesn’t focus on one object, but on the whole image. The painting master taught us that paintings are supposed to be done from the imagination. Even beautiful Chinese landscapes are done from one’s mind, because the memory of the image one is painting will best represent the feeling the artist wants to express.

Tonight we performed [for nearly 1,000 students ages 14-18 at the Qufu Teachers’ School]. The play went well, but the environment was hard to deal with. You see in China, it’s common for an audience to talk all the way through performance, and that was the case this evening. We often had to yell over them. Our shouts were rewarded with laughs and claps though, so it was well worth it. As an encore we sang “Babylon,” then recited the Li Po poem Qing Yun taught us. I’ve never performed to such cheers and applause.

-- Leah Finigan

Not only are we getting some terrific photos, the kids’ reports are so descriptive, it is easy to “see” what they are saying! Good stuff!

Be sure to watch the “Where are they now?” maps.

Once again, if any of you wish to share phone calls or e-mails you might have with our world travelers, just drop us a line and we’ll post your comments. And if you feel compelled to share your own thoughts about the trip and what it is like as a parent of one of the students, feel free to do so.

You could say this is our version of one of those reality shows on TV, with the exception that no one gets voted off and everyone comes home a winner!

If you haven’t checked lately, see how fabulous the weather is in Jinan/Qufu.

Hey . . . just a short 18 days to go!

See you tomorrow!