The trip to Qingdao was perhaps the most successful I had been to and one the students all expressed satisfaction with, despite the numerous problems given the rushed nature of the trip and the disastrous first day spent at the airport. I felt that this was more due to the fact that we only had to spend three days. and anything more in such a small coastal resort would have stretched students’ patience to breaking point. Over 80% of the students were of the opinion that this trip “- was more organised” which, given the fact it had been completely unplanned and students had been unprepared (wearing clothes suited for the beach in Hainan and not for three days of heavy rain), is remarkable.
One student did later email me to offer his opinion that “the last minute change to Qing Dao made the trip much less pleasant” although of those asked, nearly all agreed that there had been “good last minute planning.
” Many expressed amazement that there had been no contingency plan given the fact most knew of the threat of a hurricane the week before. It was also a matter of concern that whereas we were told not to make such a trip due to the danger, the Chinese section by 17.00 were still waiting for an aeroplane to that very location.
Students also felt that the “hotels were better than last year”, although at the same time expressed dissatisfaction with them and the first hotel in particular. Personally I felt the hotels were satisfactory, although the first one provided food that was universally disliked, with students using adjectives “bad” and “horrible” to describe it.
The breakfast we had on that first morning certainly did not help to motivate the students.
As a result of the singular nature of this trip, many recommendations and comments simply would not valid for the next such trip. For example, the lack of preparedness both in the itinerary and provisions for students (food and clothing) was simply due to the timing. I do wish to offer a recommendation that was made last year and judiciously ignored; that of tour guides. I was shocked to see that the tour group responsible for our disastrous trip to Chengdu last year (reminder: forcing students to endure 28 hours on a train, and an entire day on a bus to have less than an hour to visit a museum) was AGAIN put in charge of this one.
I can only conclude that this was due to economic considerations, this group no doubt being the cheapest. However, again I wish to ask the school to reconsider using such groups which to my mind are only motivated by money, have no concern about engaging students, and offer more obstacles than solutions in the obscene belief that they, and not the people paying them, are in charge. To be told they we are not welcome to change our itinerary without their agreement is deeply offensive to me. As one student informed me, ISB has done away with such groups, suggesting
Never, EVER use a Chinese tour guide. They cut deals with restaurants and tourist traps and take you places that seem like huge Chinese amusement parks. You can’t get a decent tour there because the Chinese don’t really value what we value or think things are cool that we think are cool. For example, no one in China thought that the pictures I took were of any value. Their take is, “why would he want to take a picture of that alley or that market or that man; why doesn’t he take a picture of the Pearl Tower?”
Tours these groups ‘organise’ are done so without any apparent thought given to the participants, in our case 15-16 year old teenagers most of whom are laowei. An incompetent guide with poor language abilities and an inability to engage the attention of teenagers all too often sacrifices what could be a golden opportunity for real bonding between students and staff. Indeed, these tours are run to make money, not to educate and encourage the development of students.
Hence time is spent travelling to factories and markets to gain money for the guide, breeding resentment between students who are forced to waste their time travelling to and staying in such areas. Another student told me that tour group leaders are somehow required to take their tour groups to at least one market a day, even for Chinese tour groups that she had been on. She said the tour group leaders get a percentage from the merchants on what was spent by the group. Our students are a cynical, world-weary bunch for the most part and see this for the exploitation that it is.
Specific problems were encountered at the airport, where two students had managed to organise a 14.00 flight to Qingdao only to have the tour organisers (neither of whom seem to be in charge) tell us to wait until after lunch, only after which an attempt was made to arrange a flight four hours later.
Upon arrival and for the duration of the trip, both tour organiser and the local guide argued between themselves in front of us which did nothing for morale or to reassure us.
The most striking example during this trip that illustrates the problems of relying on tour guides was when we had visited the Taiqing Temple in southeast of Laoshan Mountain. Like so many other ‘historical’ sights in China, such places we are taken to are new, tour-group friendly replicas and frankly uninteresting. It is the largest and the oldest Taoist temple in China but, instead of discussing the historical significance of the site, the guide spoke only of simplistic ideas in Daoism and repeated the usual mantra “this stone looks like this and therefore is called the….” As a result students paid no attention and began wondering off. Students were left without any appreciation or insight into what they had seen, and Paul was left with little time for his planned lesson with his students on Laoshan Mountain that had been completely overrun by tours so as to have been useless.
What had been most important to me to visit was the German legation area as I actually teach this part of history to my class. Instead of seeing such architecture, we went only to the German governor’s house where no attempt was made by the guide to explain anything apart from dwelling on the fact that Mao had spent a month there as a guest in the 1950s. As one student remarked upon arriving back in Beijing, “the tour guides were annoying and knew little.”
Of course we visited the Tsingtao Beer Museum, China’s first such facility. So quickly and dispassionately did the guide lead us through that I myself missed most of what was said and understood nothing about the history and process involved. I ended up feeling sorry for the chemistry teacher for whom this tour was especially important. The guides encouraged students to drink at the end of this tour, actually arguing with me in front of them to let them drink pitchers of beer after I had limited each student to a glass. This I found unacceptable behaviour and unforgivable as it was I, not them, who would be left responsible and put under account once we returned.
The last place we visited was the Chinese Naval Museum, which is apparently China’s largest. The main exhibits are souvenirs of Chinese navy history and de-commissioned Chinese navy weapons, warships and submarines including the destroyers used in the Second World War. I was especially bitter as an history teacher not having a guide to walk us through these remarkable exhibits but left students on their own to wander ignorantly.
Some of us did venture onto a destroyer (by now it was raining heavily and we were wearing clothes for Hainan) but again, it was not until after the trip I discovered the importance of such a Soviet-built ship, which had actually shot down an American plane. As I am currently teaching this stage in history to this very class of IB1 students, I consider it to have been a tremendously wasted opportunity.
Qingdao is famous for its rich historical and cultural resources and yet we saw little. I would recommend the next trip to Qingdao having students visit
The Catholic church which is the largest of its kind in Qingdao. It is a Gothic style church designed by German architect Alfred Frederic Pohl and completed in 1934. This would help students gain greater cultural awareness as is the IB’s mission. Another church would have been the Lutheran, a Byzantium-style church completed in 1910, which was the first facility constructed by German settlers in Qingdao. I doubt the majority of our students have ever seen a Lutheran church before.
Students next time could also visit the television tower on Mt. Xinhaoshan Park with its revolving top floor where they could view the coastal scenery and visit the exhibition of human communication history. This would have been far more useful to our students than simply depositing them on a forlorn beach for two hours. Also on this site is a park where two pavilions has been constructed overlooking the beaches.
Besides the German legacy, Qingdao is useful for other cultural sites from Russian to Japanese buildings. Next time I would recommend students go past the Huashi Building, which was designed by a Russian architect and completed in 1932.The building incorporates Greek and Roman as well as Gothic architectural styles and is believed to be a typical castle construction combing Western architectural arts. Such a building cannot be seen in Beijing.
I had wanted to take students to Xiaoqingdao lsle because in 1890German colonists erected a beacon to assist navigation before he Sino-Japanese war, but was not allowed by the tour guide due to fears about making the short journey by boat. Instead we spent another day on the shore.
We had never been taken to Zhanqiao Pier, which is the symbol of Qingdao (as I know from the Tsingtao beer logo) and which had originally been completed in 1891 to be used as a dock and expanded by German colonists in 1897.At the end of there is a traditional two-story Chinese style pavilion, Huilan’ge with overhanging eaves and an octagon roof.
Finally I think that students should also be taken to Qingdao Underwater World with its three sections of an intertidal zone, an underwater tunnel and a 4-story underground aquarium displaying marine species and marine science, if only for something to break the monotony.
Perhaps the best way to end this necessarily brief report would be to allow the students themselves express their views.
When asked at the end of the trip what the students felt, they all agreed that the likes:
-“freedom to do what we wanted.” Admittedly this had been limited given the weather; such freedom too did not mean that they had not been under supervision throughout.
-“coolness of the teachers.” I feel we all worked together very well as a group.
-“the fact that the opinions of students mattered.” Again, in my experience this has always been the case in the trips I had been to, although perhaps students were encouraged to help organise everything from alternative flights to beach activities and therefore felt particularly valued.
-” was more organised.”
“enjoyed being able to “hang out” with friends”
-“enjoyed the sea/beach.”
” the beach, teachers, seafood was good.”
“got to know classmates much better.”
-“the curfew.” This is a strange point to me as it was only truly enforced the first night; on other nights teachers stayed up with them and played cards or Playstation.
-“the food.” As always, we had to endure the same monotonous hotel food. Again, when breakfast is poor as was the case on the first day, it makes a difference to the morale of the students for the rest of the day). One Muslim student suffered the first dinner despite the guides knowing her restrictions.
-“the tour guides.” I suggest we do as ISB does and plan such trips 5-6 months in advance, and have students come up with their own itinerary. Guides should be there to book hotels and buses and provide knowledgeable advice (not propaganda); they serve to assist teachers, not override and replace them.
-” Lao Shan and the first hotel were horrible.”
“12 hours at the airport was not fun at all.” Nevertheless, they were informed and asked for their opinions and advice throughout, so it was manageable.
-” Wanted more beach activities and more fun activities”. This was a problem simply given the weather.
“Hotels could have been better.” For this main point I perhaps should add that many felt embittered that they had replaced 4 star hotels in Hainan with swimming pools and the like for cheaper 3 star hotels in Qingdao with absolutely no facilities at all; not even a ping pong table. Nevertheless, the cost throughout was the same as it would have been for a week in Hainan.