Reflections by Chow Zijie

Day 1: 19/11
Arriving in Beijing a long flight, we went on to explore the (luxurious) hotel room before dining with our principal Mr Chua and the other teachers. It was a first for me, and we were treated to Peking Roast Duck.

Day 2: 20/11
We met our RDFZ counterpart, Zhang Yueyang to discuss and prepare for the presentation at the conference the next day. We eventually decided on a bilingual approach to the presentation after being familiarized with other’s project. Communicating with him was slightly difficult, due to the language barrier (technical Chinese terms), which I had to translate for Rachit. Bilingual expertise, as demonstrated, is a very important and valued competency. 

In the afternoon, we took a tour of 中关村 (Zhong Guan E-city). The shops there were absolutely dubious, much like Sim Lim Square (or worse), and the people there marketed their products by harassing customers. Their degrading behavior is a clear indication of their desperation to get customers, a sign of a dying industry. 修金鹏老师 stated that he himself goes online to get his electronic components, and not to places such as 中关村. The success of online sales is due to the direct selling of products, which diminishes the role of the middlemen in such industries.

We later experienced traveling in the Beijing subway for the first time, which we found very much similar to that of Singapore’s MRT. For dinner, we settled on a Korean BBQ restaurant, were we spent an excellent evening gobbling up two large platters of beef and pork. 

Day 3: 21/11
The first day of the SAGE iSummit, we met the principal of Dunman High School, Dr Foo Suan Fong while having breakfast and conversed with him about JC education.

Later, we were given a warm welcome by the RDFZ Xishan School’s students and staff. After listening to a few introductory talks, we proceeded to meet our counterpart to prepare and rehearse the presentation. The presentation at 3.40 went smoothly. When discussing pollution, it is perhaps beneficial to see it as an addiction. Smokers are addicted to cigarettes for the short-term feeling of being high, despite knowledge of the health consequences. Similarly the world’s corporations and countries today are addicted to oil and gas, and not because they are without knowledge of the environmental consequences, but because of their addiction to the profits generated by the oil and gas industry. China herself, is now the world’s factory. But what she sacrifices for industrialisation is her environment, which is now in a largely disastrous state with the constant haze and smog caused by industrial emissions. 

The “Chinese Heart” event, showcased performances by the RDFZ Xishan Art Troupe, including gymnastics, dance, and a 古琴 (Guqin) performance. As we reached the end of the day, we had a VIP dinner at the hotel restaurant hosted by the RDFZ staff. 

Day 4: 22/11
The second day began with Ms Loh Kwai Yin’s sharing about SST and its teaching pedagogies. Mr Chua later helmed the Q&A session and gave insightful answers to the audiences.

In the afternoon, we had a very interesting tour of the 活力西山 exhibition, which showcased the cultural aspects of China, including but not limited to 古琴 (Guqin), Tea Appreciation, Calligraphy, Paper Cutting, Chinese Opera and Martial Arts. I took a interest in the nunchucks that were showcased, and was learnt some basic moves along the way. In the present society, we find that the only time for we have for learning and practicing traditional culture, is in school. Once we enter the workforce, people would simply have no time to bother with practicing traditions. Cultural education in school, then, is crucial and important.

We later went to a restaurant for the VIP dinner and a similarly large feast. I found that it is the culture here to serve guests with huge amounts of food, resulting in the creation of much food waste, much to my displeasure. Here, if the guests complete the meal with nothing to spare, it reflects badly on the host for not providing enough to his guests. Such a culture, while understandable, is one of the key causes of food wastage. 

Day 5: 23/11
The third day begun with a forum chaired by two educators and a researcher, Dr Lui. A key point raised was the “yeah...but” dilemma that educators face when trying to innovate in the system. People often can articulate good plans for improvement, but they in the actual execution they find themselves opposed by the very system they are working in. The higher authority remains the problem for the innovative educators till this day.

Shortly after there were two very engaging and excellent presentations by guest speakers, Mr Graham Brown-Martin and Professor Zhao Yong, who talked about the inherent problems in our education systems - the fact that we are still producing “factory workers” from these traditional education systems - that there had been no significant change after so many centuries. The traditional education system churns out obedient, dull persons who cannot innovate - they who do not serve any purpose in the 21st century now that menial labour is replaced by robotics. Mr Zhao also spoke on the monopolising of knowledge and certification - that of knowledge now being eroded by the Internet. Certification however, is still monopolized, held often as a necessity to succeed in life, and as the only goal of education to some, especially in Asian societies. Despite our higher PISA/ TIMSS scores as compared to many western countries, we find that the confidence level and creativity of our students are generally much lower than that of Western countries, largely because of our certification-oriented education systems.

We were afterwards brought to a tea appreciation ceremony and served three different types of tea - 铁观音,银针茶 and 红茶. The appreciation of traditional culture such as tea drinking is something very admirably emphasized in RDFZ, compared to many schools in Singapore including SST.

As for the late afternoon, we took a guided tour of the Summer Palace, before heading back to the same restaurant for dinner, where we had the opportunity to converse with Mr Graham Brown and the Upper School Director of Menlo School, Mr John Schafer.

Day 6: 24/11
The entirety of day six was taken up by the tour of the Great Wall of China, the 王府井 area as well as the Olympic City at nightfall. The Great Wall of China represented China’s defence against foreign Manchu and Mongolian invaders. In recent decades, China introduced the nationwide internet firewall, coined the Great Firewall of China. Just like the Great Wall, the Great Firewall has one goal in containing and restricting foreign media, which brings about the topic of censorship. Censorship is simply meant to control people’s thinking and their access to opposing views which may start an opposition, posing a threat to the authority. 

Travel time itself took up an estimated 6 hours, illustrating the sheer size of the Beijing city (10 times of SG). We are constantly reminded of how small Singapore is in comparison - Singapore’s population density is roughly seven times that of Beijing.

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