Beijing    北京    North Capital

I often wonder about Tiananmen Square, 1989. Fake news. Perception and reality. Truth. I know I saw it then on world television. I did, right? Years on, I have tried to search the internet for proof from within China, to no avail. Today, the NY Times and Google are not available in China. Controlling and changing the shifting narrative to a population of 1,300,000,000 people is critical to the government.

I’ve had 6 or more different tour guides in the 4 visits to China over the last 31 years. Each has been notable in their varied freedom in disclosing the “truth” about China and the information flow here.

The first guide, in 1986, was a Communist Party member through and through, young and on script. Interfacing with Western dignitaries in 1986 was a huge deal, privileged since his parents were Communist party members. I often wonder where he is now.

In 2008, Stacia and I had a guide whose most controversial statement came when I asked if people really ate dog. His reply, “I enjoy Schnauzer best, German Shepherd too tough for me.” When asked by Stacia why there was barely a single bird outside the Forbidden City, the answer is still humorous and telling. He stated, with great emphasis on the end of the sentences, “In China, if it have leg, and it not table or chair, we EAT IT! If it have wing, and it not airplane…we EAT IT!”

Now dear reader, before you accuse me of racist or xenophobic chatter, I will educate you as to why Chinese people speak English the way they do. In Chinese, there are no plurals and no tenses! For years, we had a Tibetan friend who might remark that she “go to store for egg.” No matter how many times I deftly corrected it, she giggled and continued. Now I understand why. Further, one might have noticed that Chinese people often sound like they are arguing or angry when they speak.

And the dialog is often shouted. This is due to the fact that there are no subtle shifting nuances in the way a sound is made. Any shift represents an entirely NEW WORD and character. No one has ever explained either until this visit. I get now.

We next learned of an interesting phenomenon in China that explains why some visits and some cities have unbearable pollution, while others are crystal clear and blue skies. It’s simply called, “conference blue”, or “Trump blue”, by local Chinese. This refers to the government mandated shutting down of factories far and wide for a month prior to the arrival of foreigners who might cast China in a bad light should they experience what the Chinese people encounter. In 2008, during the Olympics in Beijing, it was referred to as Olympic blue, as the factories were closed for 3 months prior.

On this day, our tour guide took us to see the Hutongs. Hutong, meaning “Waterwell”, are more akin to a small neighborhood, each including schools, a hospital, a food market and more. Hutongs shelters themselves house entire multi-generations under one roof and are rapidly disappearing. They are charming and a must see before they are removed in the normal course of advancement of society.

Out recent guide came from a Communist party family as well. His father is a chauffeur for party leaders, of the highest level. There are 234 security levels in China. Our guide’s father was a “1”. Once he told us of “Isenberg”, an Israeli arms dealer who was in central Beijing the day of the Tiananmen Square massacre. As the student protests erupted, he was hastily ushered in the limo to the airport to return him to home safely. Mr. Isenberg was told to remain quiet of what he saw so as not to jeopardize his standing with government procurement opportunities.

Our bus did not have a “bus monitor” as is often the case to make sure that the tour guide is “on message” of the Communist party. He told us that there is a 2 km radius of cameras and listening devices surrounding Tiananmen Square.

He noted that Chinese learn by learning English to understand the outside world and that the Chinese can learn much from other countries, yet cautioned that the United States could learn well from other countries. He felt that the Chinese government sends subtle long-term messages, whereas the US is direct and in your face, and too short-term oriented.

Fun chatter:

In the parks we watched many people play a board game called “Farmers against the Landlord”!

Apparently, all children need to have the same haircut, and the same color hair, even if you are born with a different color you must dye it black!

Walking around Beijing, you might think you’re in “any city US”. Great stat. The United States has 24 sq retail per person vs. 3 square feet per person in China and 2 square feet per person in Germany. The US is dramatically overbuilt in retail.

A good read on Chinese people:

Finally, observations from someone in our group:

“People are really nice in China. In fact, so far people nicer everywhere than Paris.”

“What I see is a country where people are trying REALLY hard and I sure wouldn’t want to bet against them”

Beijing to Xian. A video and study template for the next week

Xi’an Video Story Board, Research Subjects


Why is the One belt, One Road Initiative of current President Xi So important to modern China? How Does it relate to the view of China by the rest of the world. And versus the United States and it’s current worldview and policies?

The Trip: Train to Xi’an

Food: Defachang resto for handmade dumplings. Can we film in the back?
Place: Wild goose pagoda 652 ad
Bike walls
Silk road source research
Bell town circle. Time square
Activity: Sang ye tang foot washing17 dollars

Ancient Islam at the Source of the Silk Road: Old city center. Muslim district pay
[60k Muslims in Xian
Ok inside of Mosque
When and how did Islam come to China
First in China by silk road
Dress ok? Only Muslim
Muslim shops]

Red lanterns

Terra Cotta Warriors
700k workers, 38 years
3rd century BC
Each worker buried inside to protect identity
1200 exposed. 6800 to go
How they are made, see the place. One month to make, price 7USD to 2000 USD (in 2008)

Watershow North square, light city walls, run across 66million bucks

Fighting stage show Ting Dynasty Theater

Basic Research Topics and background

Xi’anyang, just north of the present day Xi’an, was the capital of the Qin empire, home of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, and site of the fabled terracotta warriors. Chang’an (another name for Xi’an) was the home base for the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), a starting point for caravans heading west on the Silk Road, and a center of Chinese art and culture during the Tang dynasty. Visiting Xi’an with kids, plan on spending more than one day to explore this ancient capital of China.


Bell Tower and Old City Wall – During the Ming dynasty, Xi’an was defended by a substantial city wall and watchtowers. You can walk on top of ancient city wall, it’s quite flat and wide, and beautifully restored. The grassy area just outside the wall would have been a moat. In the center of the old city wall is the Bell Tower – the bell was rung to mark times of the day. Climb up the Bell Tower, a wonderful three story wooden tower with glazed tile roof, there’s an observation deck on second level.
Shaanxi History Museum – The Shaanxi History Museum is a beautiful modern museum, with tons of exquisite Chinese treasures, including paintings from Tang dynasty tombs in the area. The collection is fabulous – golden bowls and dragons, jade weapons, seals and bracelets, ceramic figures (the camels are fantastic), and don’t miss the exhibit of Tang costumes and personal ornaments.
Big Wild Goose Pagoda – In the 7th century, the Tang dynasty monk Xuan Zang took off for India, collected Buddhist texts, and returned to China, bringing the Buddhist religion with him. The Big Goose Pagoda was built to store the Buddhist scriptures, and although the Pagoda has been rebuilt over the centuries, it hasn’t significantly changed in appearance. Climb up the pagoda, winding stairs up seven levels 331 ft. high, with windows to look out at each level.
Tang Paradise (Tang Dynasty Lotus Park) – Tang Paradise is a newly opened cultural theme park that re-creates life in the Tang dynasty (618 – 907 AD). Explore Tang style buildings, listen to Tang music, watch colorful dance shows, acrobatics, and martial arts demonstrations. There are water play areas for kids, get your picture taken on the back of a two humped camel, and in the evening, watch a spectacular water show, a movie projected on water fountains in the lake.
Museum of Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses – In the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum Site Museum, Kids will be impressed by the boggling terra cotta army, thousands of ceramic warriors and horses guarding the nearby tomb of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (Qin Shi Huangdi). A truly amazing archaeological discovery, the terra cotta warriors stand in rows in earthen tunnels, prepared for battle (pit 1 is bigger than two football fields). The expressions on the faces of the figures are so real, it’s like staring into the face of ancient China over 2000 years ago.
Spend time checking out the details of these life-size warriors, plated armor, footgear and headgear, and Mongolian horses. Pick up the audio tour for on-the-spot information. And don’t miss the smaller museum with a shiny bronze sword and two large reconstructed bronze horse chariots.


Silk Road and Islam Primer

An ancient imperial capital and eastern departure point of the Silk Road, Xi’an (formerly Chang’an) has long been an important crossroads for people from throughout China, Central Asia, and the Middle East, and thus a hub of diverse ethnic identities and religious beliefs.  The central location of Xi’an in what is now the Shaanxi Province, near the confluence of the Wei and Feng Rivers, helps explain why the area was the site of several important imperial capitals for almost a millennium of Chinese history. The first unified Chinese empire, the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), had its capital just north of the current city, where the impressive tomb complex of the Qin emperors was discovered, famously containing more than 8000 terracotta statues spread over some 56 square kilometres.

The Qin was succeeded by the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), who began the construction of Chang’an. It was under the Han Emperor Wu Di (141-87 BC) that the first Chinese missions were sent to south-eastern Asia, central Asia and eventually even Rome, marking the beginnings of the Silk Road. Han Emperors substantially expanded the capital city, erecting many new palaces, but the glory of Chang’an came to an end in 24 AD with the collapse of the dynasty, and after looting and destruction, it subsequently fell to the status of simply a provincial city.

Chang’an was revived as the capital city in the 4th century AD, and witnessed a cultural florescence in part thanks to the fact that it became a centre of Buddhist learning. Several important Buddhist pilgrims and translators resided there in the early 5th century, among them Faxian, who travelled to India, and the scholar Kumarajiva. Following the accession of the Sui dynasty in 581 AD, the first Sui emperor decided to move the capital, and built an entirely new city just south of the original, on the exact location of modern Xi’an.

The city continued to be the principal capital of the Empire and entered the greatest period of its development under the Tang Dynasty (618-904), occupying some 84 square kilometres, with around one million inhabitants. The Tang period was noteworthy for the impact of Western products and fashions on Chinese elite culture, and the teeming markets of the capital played a significant role in the dissemination of such goods. Among the dominant figures in this era were Sogdian merchants from the region of Central Asia which encompasses today’s Samarkand, who were vital agents in the transporting and trading of goods to China.

Under the Tang, the city was also a major religious centre, not only for Buddhism and Taoism but also for several religions which were relatively recent arrivals in China: Zoroastrianism, Nestorianism and Manichaeism. The most famous of all the Buddhist pilgrims, Xuanzang, brought copies of the Indian scriptures to the city, which he then translated. One of the few major Tang-era buildings left in Xi’an today is the Big Wild Goose (Dayan) Pagoda, first built in 652 AD, housing the library that Xuanzang collected. The current structure was re-built in 701-704; by climbing to its seventh story, which “rubs the blue sky’s vault,” a Tang poet Cen Shen felt he was able to “bypass the world’s bounds”.

The Japanese pilgrim Enin was in Chang’an in 840 and noted that there were monks from the “Western Lands” (apparently India) in one of the several hundred monasteries there, who still did not know Chinese very well but presumably were helping with the interpretation of Sanskrit versions of the Buddhist texts. He later described South Indian, North Indian, Ceylonese, Kuchean (Kucha in the Tarim Basin), Korean and Japanese monks among the foreigners in the city. He goes on to note that there were four teeth of the Buddha in the city, three of them having come respectively from India, Khotan and Tibet and the fourth from heaven.

The spread of religions other than Buddhism under the Tang Dynasty can be documented fairly specifically. A stele (an inscribed stone pillar) erected in 781 relates the introduction of Nestorian Christianity as early as 635 AD by Syrian priests. The text and carvings exhibit a syncretism of Christian and Chinese traditions. Zoroastrianism received some impetus when the last of the Sassanian (Iranian) princes Firuz took refuge in China in the 670s, having fled the Arab invasions. Manichaeism also was connected with the arrival of Persians at the Tang court as early as 694 AD.

However this atmosphere of tolerance and religious pluralism broke down in the 9thcentury, and disorder and looting accompanied the last years of the Tang Dynasty, as its power weakened in the capital. With the collapse of the Tang at the beginning of the 10thcentury, Chang’an decayed rapidly. However, it continued to play a role in Western trade and experienced a revival under the Ming, beginning in the late 14th century.

Undoubtedly it was in the Ming period that the large Muslim community in Chang’an really took root and its members became largely Sinicized. Muslim merchants arrived in China much earlier both by sea through the ports of the South China coast and from Central Asia, but their full integration into Chinese society came later. Although first built in 742, the architecture visible today in Chang’an’s Great Mosque (the Qingzhen Dasi) dates from the late Ming period, for example, its entrance gate was erected in 1600-1629. In its arrangement of courtyards and purely Chinese-style architecture, the mosque is visual evidence of the degree to which there was a syncretism of Islam and Chinese culture. The inscription on the “One God Pavilion” is the Muslim declaration of faith “God is One” rendered in Chinese characters. The mosque as we see it today is located in a Muslim quarter of Xi’an, not far from the location of the western market whose merchants played an important role in the continuing trade with the West throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties, along with the Silk Roads to Inner Asia.



Tiananmen football and the international language

  1. One of our favorite days on our journey. After class we walked to the infamous Tiananmen Square. As usual, Alexander had the world soccer ball attached to his hip like a barnacle.

Would the military presence stop us? What would the everyday Chinese people do and think? Would they scowl?

It sure didn’t take long to find out. We cautiously began kicking our soccer ball between us off to the side of the massive square. A soldier stood rigidly nearby. As we passed, I glanced at him and could swear I saw a slightly up turned smile. As Allie kicked me the ball, I ran by him and looked eye to eye. He WINKED!!!


Allie and I started looking for ‘playuhs’. From 4 years to 94, people wanted to be included. Not overtly mind you. The Chinese people are reserved and cautious of foreigners. But make eye contact and pass? You find a 20 year old with a little bit of skills. They stay and play then get on their way. An old lady that finds the ball at her feet, kicks the ball back. A baby who laughs and points. A pass, a smile, and always pure joy.

Kick someone a ball, get a pass back, and a huge smile from the unlikliest places. EVERYONE wants to be invited and included, the world over. Why can’t that be a rule. World leaders must bring a soccer ball to all world meetings, and be required to play for a day before they head off to ruin it for the rest of us?

(Below: Chinese girls watching, giggling, taking photos…and eventually playing, then autographing our “world ball”. Priceless.)

Seems wherever we go, that ball brings smiles for miles. Our big test yet were the police and military in Tiananmen Square.

But every so often…the sign says “no”

Beijing Day 2, sample of the perfect day

Nicholas: 8:30-11:30.

Alex 9:15-12:15. Video for all, 10 minutes, on Chinese acrobat dedicated training at 9:15. Open for mom and dad too.

Annika 9:15-11:30.

All three 14:00-16:00.  Video on Great Wall at 14:00-14:45 Open to all.

14:45 Guest dad lecture: Consolidating and organizing notes. Using live first hand research from yesterday’s Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and 798 Art Street walk to frame a talk, a paper or a video story. (Best job gets first dibs on Great Wall or Summer Palace talk Thursday.)

Chinese acrobat show 17:30 -19:00

Cohesion, arrival in China and DUCK!

One realization so far is that when the students are given brief or long form videos to preview the upcoming events, study or activities, their level of attention and engagement is expontially greater.

Before we begin to celebrate our arrival in mainland China, and a very intense stretch ahead, we had the students watch a video primer on ritual of Peking duck, and have video primers selected for each activity such as Forbidden City, Great Wall, Han Dynasty, Silk Road, and many more.

Duck! Stacia and I were amazed at the level of  joy, and familial interaction this celebration took on. Why this dinner? Why now? Is it the sudden group cohesion that stems from the shared sense…that his is real…and the anticipation that this is about to get really real?

What does that mean? Indonesia was familiarization and school, warm-up if you will. Japan was fascinating, clean and charmingly unusual. Breakneck standard setting for our expectations. Hong Kong was, as professor Gugick called it, “Tokyo in shorts and jeans.” But China…China! Has a unique color and power, a BEAST  all it’s own.



A single word that brings such powerful emotion and conjures unimaginable devastation and suffering.

First, we watch the videos of the story from numerous perspectives. Then the questions come. First about the science.

  • How can we go there now, isn’t radiation still there?
  • How much stronger are nuclear bombs today? (hint: over 500x stronger)
  • Why can we go to Hiroshima now, but not Chernobyl?
  • What’s a thyroid?
  • What is black rain?
  • What exactly does radiation do to you?
  • What’s a half-life and how is it calculated?

As data was mentioned in the documentary, they then calculate: If the bomb took 43 seconds to reach the detonation point at 300 meters above the city of Hiroshima, exactly how far above the Earth was the plane flying?

And then the children’s big questions come over the course of days.

  • How do countries become friends again?
  • How long does that take?
  • Why do we bother going to war in the first place?
  • Who was right?
  • Is this true? Is this what really happened, or was this just one sides view?
  • Did the people know about the warnings the US sent to the Japanese government? 
  • Were the people ever able to love or trust again?

It’s very spooky arriving in Hiroshima on many levels. In a world of confusion, of this I am certain:

It’s not the people. Country governments and their leaders that use religions, ideologies, economics, and synthetic constructs as excuses to fight wars are pathetic. Every country should be ashamed for the long list of excuses for war, the lies, the fabrications, the atrocities committed, the wasted resources, and most of all, the eternal grief rained upon mothers of the fallen throughout history. That alone should be enough to put a stop to it.

For a different view of events, mandatory reading should include, (courtesy of Bill the Baker)

Untold Stories of the United States, Edition 3 by Oliver Stone

Nicholas: “So I guess the victors really do get to write the story?”

More to come. Be safe.

Here are the titles of the Newsela that the boys read in class:
Famous Speeches: Truman Announce Dropping of Atomic bomb on Hiroshima
The Hiroshima Bombing: What you need to know about the nuclear attack
Explainer: The difference between radiation and radioactivity
Great cities: How Hiroshima rose from the ashes of nuclear destruction
Opinion: Obama at Hiroshima


Japanese culture: Geisha

 Growing up with only brothers, I’m not quite sure what exactly is the definition of “a little girls best day ever”, but I suspect heading out in Kyoto with Maman to get kitted up in full makeup as Geisha is pretty darn close.

I believe the story will begin, “Once upon a time…



They strolled…

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And rode in a Rickshaw…

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And had a jolly photo shoot that I imagine they will both remember for a very long time. My two beautiful Geisha princesses…

“The highly accomplished courtesans of these districts entertained their clients by dancing, singing, and playing music. Some were renowned poets and calligraphers. Gradually, they all became specialized and the new profession, purely of entertainment, arose.” – Wikipedia

Annika’s Musings on the Subject

“Geisha and Meiko by Annika Balog

I went to the Geisha salon. Then I went to the back room.  We sat in chairs while the workers put on the make-up. And then we put on the dresses and took our pictures. Then we went outside and took more pictures and went in a rickshaw. I enjoyed it very much. Everyone was waving at me and taking pictures of my mom and me. I hope to do this again someday. And I hope I will enjoy it that day too.”


Unpacking our baggage, the 5 week mark

5 weeks, Los Angeles, Soori Bali, Ubud Bali, Flora Sea, Komodo, Singapore, Tokyo.

Off to Kyoto, Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Hakone, back to Tokyo, and then off to Hong Kong.

Exhausting. Exhilarating. And everything we could have hoped for.

Biggest upside surprises: Adaptation to everything. Foods, long hours, unpredictable schedules, cultural stimulation, and the genuine seamless interaction between Professor Gugick and the children.

Biggest downside surprises: Proximity. Being in close confines 24 x 7, difficulty in finding soccer fields and the ceaseless challenges that need be navigated by our rock star leader, Stacia. We salute you daily.

We're nothing without her #maman #welovestacia #worldeducation #bullettrain #Kyoto

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Culturally, Japan is simply other worldly. More on that later from the kids, in their own voices. Be it Sumo, food, cleanliness, respect, rituals, language, simplicity, and a seeming never ending parade of oddities, Japan is crazy cool.


Thus far, it seems that the teacher and student interface is completely natural. We can walk in the door and say, “school in 4 minutes”, and they jump and go (really). They genuinely like it. A lot. Frankly the only disruption is when dad sticks his nose under the tent to see what’s happening. But the truth is, Professor Arthur commands their respect, is engaged on a level beyond that for which we  hoped, and the kids adore him. Thank  GOODNESS!

Another surprise as relatively easy part has been the near daily transitions from “classroom” to “activities.” Regular “school” runs daily, from 8:30-9:00,  until 13:00, 14:00 or 16:00, depending upon availability of actionable “outside” experiences. And boy has each stop delivered experiences, from the mundane to the fascinating. Even just riding subways can be a a new experience.

Next stop , KYOTO, the former capital and cultural center of old Japan for centuries. Bullet train. We are all looking forward to this one.

Speaking of which, prior to any activity, we research the upcoming locale, read about and watch videos about the subject matter. Contextualizing as best we can in advance has provided perspective, made the visits relevant, has (nearly) eliminated whining. It also allows everyone to point to specifics we saw in the preview research, experience live, and share their knowledge. For example, the kids watched 12, two minute episodes of Sumo-Pedia (who knew that was thing)  before attending a day of matches. They got to teach me ans Stacia about the subject.

And they surely enjoy reminding me of proper etiquette while eating, for example reminding me to slurp my soup; or bring my rice bowl to my face, and not lean over. “Dad”, they’ll whisper, “you’re IN JAPAN…being rude…SO American.”

Finally, one of the best discoveries we’ve found to keep the kids informed of current events is an App called Newsela. It allows kids a daily news read on events across the spectrum of subjects, like an adult paper, based upon their interests. Sports, science, business, etc. Each section has a quick quiz, a series of questions to show reading comprehension that Arthur can monitor. And the best part, each article scales in vocabulary and sophistication depending upon the student.

So Annika, Alexander and Nicholas can all read the same article, but calibrated to their level. And Professor Arthur can move them up the difficulty scale as needed. Pretty cool, huh? It’s a winner. Check it out.