Michael thought about it for a minute and said, “Really, there is no East or West when it comes to education. There is just right.”
TOP: Lee Hark and Michael Ulku-Steiner met up with jazz trombonist Terry Hsieh ’07, who gave them copies of his new CD. BOTTOM: Like most visitors to Beijing, Lee and Michael toured the Forbidden City.
says, “Ooh!” and then slowly backs away from the door. As he recedes, I hear him mutter something about “dengue fever.” I suspect he’s plotting to leave me here in this hotel room to die. I eye the immunebooster pill suspiciously. I connect with my wife Marianne and note that I look the same on FaceTime with dengue fever as I do when I am well. At 11 a.m., Michael calls to check in and lets me know that the school visit was stellar. While there, he shared notes
and video clips from our students, who genuinely connected with their Chinese counterparts during the exchange. They were especially impressed by Olivia Hall’s Chinese writing. “Can I rally for a trip to the Forbidden City?,” Michael wonders. I’m in a pool of sweat, but my fever is broken and I’m (mostly) ready to roll. The notorious Chinese smog lives up to its billing. Beijing swims in a yellow fog. On the way there, we stop for a quick lunch at … KFC. (The Colonel is everywhere in China.) I am in no mood for food. Michael foolishly orders a barbecue sandwich. I opt for a Pepsi. In the taxi outside the Forbidden City, Michael regrets the barbecue sandwich. I now recall the Forbidden City as one long fever dream. Our guide (Lulu, from Mongolia) is as earnest as she is obsessed with providing salacious details about the Emperor’s many concubines. Perhaps this is what western tourists are most interested DURHAM ACADEMY
in? The Forbidden City is beautiful and massive — it seems to go on forever. I hear Lulu say the complex covers 700,000 hectares. I use that statistic for several days until Michael says, “I think it’s 700 hectares. 700,000 hectares is, like, the size of Delaware.” We then visit a public 7-12 school affiliated with Peking University, one of the top universities in China. The curriculum is diverse and thoughtful, the students confident and comfortable thinking critically with their teachers and talking to interested strangers. Where are all the students seated in rows, dutifully responding to their teachers’ questions? Where are the gaokao-obsessed stress cases? The experience is inspiring and confounding and feels positively Western. Our hosts provide a wonderful banquet at the school, but I’m still feeling dicey and stick to rice. Later that night, we meet up with DA alumnus Terry Hsieh ’07, Jianli and our new friends from The Experimental School. It’s great to see Terry and hear a few stories from his years as (China’s only?) professional jazz trombonist. Michael and I score copies of the Terry Hsieh Collective’s new CD Multiplicity. • WEDNESDAY At dawn, we travel to Harrow International School — a school struggling to expand its enrollment due to Beijing’s shrinking number of international expats (whose population peaked 15 years ago, before the Chinese began leading multinational corporations themselves). continued on the next page
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