NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Around two years ago, my father, Brad Born, traveled to China as part of a group of Bethel College representatives sent to discuss exchange programs with Chinese colleges.
After having listened to his account of all the new food experiences and interesting cultural practices, I quickly took the opportunity to join the most recent Bethel interterm class traveling to China.
Along with me on the trip were five fellow students and, making his debut as an interterm trip leader, Professor of Music Chris Westover. With a focus on culture and fine arts, the seven of us, along with Bethel alumnus Fred Schroeder and sage leaders Jim and Shirley Goering, all of North Newton, spent two jet-lagged, cold-ridden, yet overwhelmingly awesome weeks in “the Far East.”
In those two weeks, we explored in and around the cities of Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai. All of these cities have at least 2 million on New York when it comes to population (Shanghai having around 10 million).
The sheer number of people was daunting, as was trying to absorb even snippets of the hefty cultural history in China. To help, we went to a lot of museums – so many that they all seemed to run together – and several concerts and plays, both in ancient tradition and modern.
Another large part of our experience was food. It should be said that a large contribution towards my enthusiasm for the trip was food-based.
During the first meal, I was proclaimed the foodie of the group after identifying a spice. I will, however, restrain myself from going into too much depth in order to keep this article brief.
What I can say is there are quite a few dishes largely different from the spectrum of Chinese food we find here in America. Two of the most notable were savory meat Jell-O with peanuts and green onions, and duck head, stewed for who knows how long.
While there are the outliers, many of the dishes were somewhat comparable to southern and Cajun dishes in the United States, like chili-stewed frog or pickled okra. Needless to say, I was quite satisfied.
We also visited two well-known middle schools (equivalent to our high schools) of music and fine art. This proved to be one of the more awkward experiences I had.
After a very warm welcoming – to the point where I felt it was unwarranted – there was confusion as to why I was not going to perform trumpet for them. After realizing the level to which they appreciated our visit, I feel sorry that I was unable to provide them with a performance, but more than anything it was a learning experience.
This article, being as concise as it is, does not only leave out a lot of our food adventures, but also our experiences with the intriguing roles of religion and government in Chinese daily life, as well as the running inside jokes we had during the trip. All the other attractions not mentioned here also hold specific rich cultural experiences none of us will soon forget.
If this ending leaves you with the desire to know more, it’s safe to say any of us will talk your ear off about anything from creepy Santa to the Shanghai bund, B-U-N-D, bund.