March 20, 2018

Each museum has a very distinct feel. I only realized this after I visited five museums in five days. The museums I visited include the Museu Picasso, the Dalí Theatre and Museum, the Museo Reina Sofia, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Museo del Prado. Since this is a number of museums, I will only write about Dalí’s Theatre-Museum and the Museo del Prado in this post.

I took a day trip from Barcelona to Figueres to visit Salvador Dalí’s Theatre-Museum. It was overflowing with evidence of Dalí’s eccentricity, which was evident even from the exterior of the building. Its bright red walls adorned with little gold dots contrasted sharply with the yellow buildings surrounding the museum. To make the comparison even more drastic, a line of life-like eggs were perched at the top of the building. A statue of a woman with large breasts standing atop a black Cadillac greeted me as I walked into the open courtyard of the museum. Behind the statue is a stage with huge glass windows. Going into the inside, there is an abnormally large painting with deep red curtains around it, solidifying the impression of a theater. Even though I would not consider myself a Dalí fan, or even a fan of surrealism in general, I found myself increasingly drawn in by the peculiarities of the art shown. However, every so often, there would be some element that reminded me that, while I was in a museum, I was also in something resembling a theater. For example, there are windows behind the golden statues above the courtyard from which you can look out and view the stage. I moved through the galleries in a state of wonder. After visiting the Theatre-Museum, I can safely say that I am more appreciative of surrealism, contemporary art, and of Salvador Dalí’s genius than I had been before my visit.

After leaving Figueres, I went to Madrid. Due to poor planning, I only managed to spend about an hour and a half in the Museo del Prado before I had to leave for Valencia. However, I was extremely pleased. Unlike Dalí’s Theatre-Museum, the Prado Museum had a more classical structure and collection. There were, as expected, many depictions of Greek and Roman mythology, which, as many friends know, I absolutely love. While walking through the first floor of the Prado, I came across a painting by Paulo Veronese entitled Venus and Adonis. It was the same painting that adorned the cover of my text book for Latin IV last year. I can’t even begin to convey my excitement at seeing the painting. I think I stood there for a good ten minutes or so, the first two just gaping at the work and the rest analyzing minute details. It was remarkable to see a piece of art in person that was first introduced to me in school.

As I continued through the gallery, I found more paintings and statues that depicted scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the text I studied a year ago. I spent the rest of my time at the Museo del Prado looking at them. Below are some of my favorites.

~ Auria

Philly to Europe

March 9, 2018

Hello. My name is Auria. I will be leaving Philly in two days to go to Spain and Portugal for my Senior Project.

I’ll admit something right now. I have never taken a course in Spanish or Portuguese. I know the basic “hello” and “thank you” for Spanish, but that is the extent of my knowledge in the language. As for Portuguese, I don’t have a clue. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I want to go visit though. I love the warm, fuzzy feeling I get when I try to decipher what a word means. I’ll definitely have a dictionary on hand though.

I spent this past week researching various locations in Spain and Portugal and building a more thorough itinerary. It’s been pretty exacting. Selecting where and what I will visit was fairly easy. However, determining the kind of travel and taking into account the travel time was something else. Making sure everything fits within the budget I set for myself made everything even more difficult. Needless to say, the reviews on TripAdvisor and Google Maps have been my best friends for the past week. I honestly can’t imagine what I would do without them. Thanks, guys.

I’ll first be visiting Barcelona, then Madrid and Seville. After that, I’ll be heading over to Portugal. I plan visit a variety of museums and try new foods. I also wiggled in a few palaces and churches here and there. All in all, I am excited to observe the difference in atmosphere between more modern areas to those with a few hundred more years to them.

Throughout the (coming) series of posts, I’ll sprinkle in a few photos. I hope you will enjoy reading about my travels in Spain and Portugal!





歡迎來到中國 – Welcome to China


Hello! My name is Nick Sokoll, and I have been at Westtown since seventh grade! For my Senior Project, I am departing on a trip to the opposite side of the world to explore the nation of China. I speak no Mandarin and have never been to Asia, which makes this trip all the more exciting to me. I initially became interested in exploring the East in my World Religions course with Teacher Brian. We were learning about the religions of the world, and I did a project on Chinese Pure Land Buddhism. Ever since learning about this fascinating form of Buddhism, I knew that I needed to explore China.

On this trip, we will be visiting seven different cities around the country, ranging from the ultra-modern cities of Hong Kong and Shanghai to Xi’an, home of the Terra-Cotta Warriors. My flight leaves in just a couple of hours, and I still have an essay to write for my English class, so this is all for now! I will keep you all updated, through this blog, as I explore the opposite side of the world. 謝謝, thank you!

– Nick

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” -Stephen Hawking

I did not want to come to Israel initially.  

Israel is often discussed in the context of the occupation, Gaza wars, and violence of the IDF.  Westtown is pro-Palestine, as most Quakers choose the side of the underdog.  During the two weeks I spent studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict earlier this winter, I read many articles scrutinizing Israel and uplifting the Palestinian voice.  When the Jewish Student Union brought a speaker from the Anti-Defamation League to speak on anti-Semitism, the Jewish students asked her to speak about the anti-Israel movement prevalent on college campuses, because we felt to ignore it would not address the elephant in the room.  I did not want to come to Israel because I felt extremely conflicted.  I would read one article saying the IDF is a moral military and is always on the defensive side, and then watch a video of an Israeli soldier denying an elderly woman access into Israel to get the medicine she cannot get in the West Bank.

To me, being Jewish means being a good person even in the most difficult situations.  Every Shabbat we read from our prayer book, “When you come across a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it.  It shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow–in order that God may bless you in all your undertakings [Deut. 24.19] Happy are those who consider the poor [Psalm 41.2] May we together with all our people respond to the needs of others, from the fruits of our harvest this week, we share with others.  And so we gain blessings, our lives have meaning, our lives have love.”  Being Jewish means tzedaka, always giving back and helping those who cannot help themselves.  The most charitable people I know are Jewish:  my grandparents; aunts; cousins – every one of them does what they can for the betterment of others.  Wherever I find myself in the world, be that Paris, Cuba, or India, I have found a community amongst Jews.

Among all Jews is an understanding of suffering, persecution, and oppression.  Our holidays celebrate victories – with Chanukah, the victory over the Greeks, with Purim, the fall of the evil Haman, and, most importantly, Passover and the exodus from slavery in Egypt.   But our suffering is not ancient, as every Jew feels the tragedies of the Holocaust when the world turned a blind eye while Hitler ordered the systematic deaths of six million Jews in Europe.  I do not know of any other group of people that has faced as much hatred for as long as it has existed.

If this is Judaism, then this should be the Jewish state.

I didn’t want to come to Israel, yet here I am.  I wanted to live as a Jew but I wanted to be separate from the State of Israel.  The separation was more comfortable than accepting the reality.  After 18 days of touring the country and meeting many people working for the advancement of Israeli life, I see that the reality is far from the dream of Eretz Yisrael.  I have a choice – I can go back to America and forget the stories of the people here.  I can be a good American Jew, read JPost, support Israel without question, do a Birthright trip, and turn a blind eye to the injustice.  But if you know me, you know I cannot do that.

I believe the future of Jews is intertwined with the future of the Jewish State.  My future will reflect Israel.  Jews believe that life is full of tests from God.  I believe that our relationship with Palestinians is our current test.

After living here for 3 weeks, I am less confused but more conflicted.  I feel like I can argue both sides of the conflict.  On the one hand, Israel needs to be safe.  There cannot be stabbings and bombs going off on a regular basis.  It not only kills innocent people, it also perpetuates a culture of fear.  When Israelis hear that Palestinian children read books in school calling Jews rats, it evokes memories of the Holocaust, when German children were taught Jews were like rats and Hitler used pesticides to exterminate millions in gas chambers.  When I asked an Israeli what he thought of the IDF, he looked confused. “What do you mean ‘what do I think’? There is nothing to think about, it is a must. There is nothing to question, it must exist if we are to exist. The IDF does what it needs to do to protect the citizens of Israel against people who detest us.”  

But if a Palestinian mother loses her son when he is shot by an IDF soldier, she will hate the soldier who shot him and the country the soldier shot him for.  In effect, she will hate Israel- the Jewish state.  So on the other hand, the majority of Palestinians do not hate Jews; they just want to exist in peace and have freedom, but can not because of extremist groups that perpetuate fear.  Animosity grows every day under the occupation.  

I have come to see corruption in both governments and believe they lack the leadership and courage to bring peace.  Some say there has been no effort to make peace.  Some say treaties and negotiations between Israel and the PLO have been created but are not being honored. Unlike many who feel truth lies between extremes, I believe it lies in the eye of the beholder.  Everyone seems to have their eyes on Israel and the more eyes that are on Israel, the more truths there are.  

As outsiders, we choose to see the side that enforces what we already believe, which is why it is so hard to see the truth in the other side.  It has become clear to me, however,  that there is always another explanation as to why things are the way they are.  Yet, suffering has no boundaries, politics, or religion.  

I can spend hours fighting both sides in my mind, reading articles, watching videos, and praying for peace.  I do not choose to retreat in the face of suffering but I do not know what I am supposed to do to; I have a feeling it will become clear when the time is right.  As a Jew, it is my responsibility to manifest the Jewish state, a state in which Judaism exists in its true form:  love of all humanity.  Religion, like everything, can be a force of evil.  Yet I have seen spiritual leaders use religion as the greatest force of good.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Israel is not the only place with injustice.  My Dad once said “history does not repeat itself, it rhymes,” and I am slowly understanding what he means.

I do not walk away from this trip with bold assertions about what needs to happen for there to be peace, nor with a firm grasp of everything that already is happening, for that would be naive.  I will not speak on behalf of all Jews everywhere nor will I speak on behalf of Israel to people who want to start arguments or people who believe they understand everything.  I will, however, continue to learn and to listen because I choose to be invested in the wellbeing of the state of my people.

I know when I go home distance will make it easy for me to forget the sense of community I feel here.  All I  will have are pictures and memories of the breathtaking nature and the kindhearted people.  I did not want to come to Israel, but things have a funny way of working out.  Now, I do not want to leave.





P.S. I wrote this post during my last few days in Israel but did not have time to edit it. I am home now.


So you came to Israel alone?

“Yep,” I smile and look down at my fidgeting hands. “I came here because my parents have friends here, but when I arrived, I didn’t know anyone in the whole country.”

I am leaving tomorrow, and looking back on it, I did not think I was going to make it this long.  When I first arrived, I called my parents and begged to come home.  I was honestly terrified.  When I walked down the streets, I thought “am I going to get stabbed?” and as I feel asleep and heard airplanes passing by, I thought “Are they going to drop a bomb?” Hebrew letters looked cold, hard, and unforgiving and the language left me isolated.  Not having anyone I could talk to was really hard, because as my friends know, I need to talk.

This is easily forgotten, though, because after some time these feelings fade and are replaced by the excitement of the adventure.  So when I think about my trip to Israel, I will think about all the amazing moments and forget how scared I initially felt.

This post is for the wanderlusting Westonian planning their own Senior Project.  Get as far away from your safety net as you can, fall head first into the world, and allow it to catch you.  Trust me–it’s so worth it.  But here are some things I used to stay balanced in the free fall.

Music and a book: when I was alone, music was with me. When I needed to escape, I had the land of my book.

Whatsapp: although it is important to disconnect, sometimes it really helped reaching out to a friend or family member who cheered me up and gave me the confidence boost to go out and make new friends.

Breathing: falling asleep, driving to a new place, meeting someone new, taking a deep breath calmed me down.

Openness: this may seem obvious, but there are different social norms and way of doing things here. I had to get really relaxed about plans and trust everything was just going to work out-which it has.

JournalI just write down everything I do and every thought I have.  It helps me clear my head so each day I have a fresh set of eyes and an empty mind.

Stretch: not only does it release muscle tightness, it releases mind tightness.  I felt much better after five minutes of stretching as if anxiety was held in my back or quads.

Confidence: this is the hardest, but I just keep telling myself that no one cares and if I embarrass myself I will never see them again.  I have yet to feel embarrassed.  Saying what I think, trying something new, meeting a stranger, this is what has made the trip interesting even though it was the hardest to do.

Westtown: finally, I have kept Westtown with me.  When I explain Quakerism and my school to everyone I meet, I am reminded about why I am here in the first place.  Westtown trained me for four years for the world–giving me the ability to find peace in silence, community amongst strangers, and strength in myself.


סבבה: sababa = awesome, cool

As the days go by, things get easier- being busy is good! I’m even learning a little Hebrew.

I went to Haifa (Baha’i Center) and Akko (Sufi monastery and a Mosque). It seems there is peace and tolerance and that Arabs have a good life there.

I spent the Sabbath on Kibbutz Magal. A Kibbutz is a neighborhood of communal living. It feels a bit like a university campus- with a dining hall, convenient store, a cafe, and lots of homes. Each Kibbutz has their own thing, and Kibbutz Magal has a Netafim factory that makes drip irrigation systems. This kibbutz also has an amazing stables (with jackals, bunnies, snakes, dogs, goats, birds, horses, and more) where mentally and physically disabled youth come for rehabilitation. I stayed with a wonderful family and enjoyed the sunshine and peace of the countryside. The Kibbutz lies between Arab cities and very close to Palestinian territories. I’ve been hearing a lot of different point of views because everyone I meet has one.

Today I met up with close family friends Arnie and Ellen in a residential area of Tel Aviv. We walked down on the beach and had many conversations about life in Israel, where they come for a few weeks throughout the year.

Here are some pictures from my travels!



All is well. Much love,


A Stranger in a Strange New Place: A Jewish Right of Passage

It’s 12 am, the end of my second day in Tel Aviv, Israel.  I just finished writing 15 pages in my journal and have yet to cover today… so yes, a lot has happened, and yes, I am exhausted.  The thing they don’t tell you about traveling is how challenging it is, especially alone.  At Westtown I can go into a friends room, but here I am my only support.  Thankfully I have wifi and can keep in touch with my friends, but in the end when I turn off my phone it is just me here.  I still try to dive into every situation with an open mind and have learned so much already.


The El Al flight was easy and, luckily, I slept through most of the chaos.  I have never been on a plane where people walk around so much.  At day brake, the Orthodox Jews stood in the aisle to do the Amidah (morning prayers) while crew maneuvered around passing out glatt kosher breakfasts and children ran around.


My first day in Tel Aviv was warm like the sun and cool as the sea breeze.  I had a wonderful roof-garden lunch with Nurid (with whom I am staying) and went out that night with some young Israelis.  The people here are so friendly and open, but they are very intense.  Everyone has served in the military and there is a sense of urgency about the impermanence of life.


Today I went to the Pelmach Museum and met young visionaries who work to improve the lives of Ethiopians and Palestinians. Tonight I had a very interesting talk with Avishay about Israeli politics and it is just as, if not more complicated than American politics.  I feel like this trip is a “right of passage” for a Jew because I am facing the contradictions of a Jewish state.  It is a state founded in the name of freedom, to be a refuge for the suffering, but has not fulfilled its promise to all its people.


I am safe and am in good hands.  My mind is expanding!  Part of me wants to run away and return to the safety of my own bed and the other part is filled with the adrenaline of the adventure.  Tomorrow, I am of with Amos to tour Haifa and Akko and then I will spend the Sabbath at a Kibbutz.


Until then, much love,









Israel: Goodbye “peace,” hello “shalom”

I can’t believe I’m actually starting my Senior Project. I’ve been planning trips in my mind since freshman year- and now I’m finally off.


For the past few weeks, people have been asking me what I’m doing. “I’m going to Israel,” I say. “But not on the school trip, I’m going by myself.” This is often surprising, so I elaborate, “I’m studying water in the Negev Desert, working with Jewish feminists, meeting Bedouin teens…” and that’s not even the half of it. I am going to be traveling the country meeting, living, and working with many Israelis from all different realms of life.


Tomorrow, my trip starts and I will arrive in Tel Aviv and meet Avishay. Now, however, there is much packing and preparing to do!


I will be posting all about my trip, so check back in often.









The final days in Beijing and a completely different prespective

After the past days of sightseeing, our final day was the day to give back to the community. We woke up and drove about an hour and a half outside of the city to an orphanage for visually impaired kids. We all came in carrying bags of various health items and food which the staff of the orphanage were very thankful for. We were greeted at the door by a former orphan who had stayed there who now worked assisting the kids and staff. She was very nice and gave us a tour of the facilities while explaining how the orphanage works. She explained to us that the majority of adoptions are done by American families, although they’d had kids adopted by families from many different countries across the world. We then split up into groups and went to classrooms to meet some kids and play with them. My group went to a class taught by an eighteen year old girl named Kayla from Alabama. She was at the orphanage because it was her dream to become a missionary with her sister, traveling the world. They were both teachers at the school and seemed very good at their jobs as teachers. They knew the kids quite well and it was good to see that the kids were well cared for. The kids in my classroom seemed to range in visual ability, some of them could see quite well and could even separate different colored cereal while others seemed reluctant to. None of the kids seemed absolutely blind though. We took them out to the playground to play around and see how well they are able to enjoy themselves with their limited sight. They needed a little assistance but were mostly able to do everything they wanted on the jungle jim they had. The one thing any of us really had to help them with was to “bao bao” them. None of us knew what “bao bao” meant going into the orphanage but we all learned it very quickly. It pretty much means “pick me up, I want attention” because the kids would raise their arms and yell it at you when they wanted to be picked up and played with. It was a very great experience and I’m glad we were able to see the kids and their living conditions.

This is a picture of the kids in their dining room having lunch. This was probably the biggest room at the orphanage which makes sense but shows the limited space indoors the kids had. It seemed like they had enough room in their classrooms and in the rest of the building and certainly outside but the condition of the building they were in could have certainly been better. It was also very interesting and slightly saddening to see where the orphanage was. It was in a very poor area outside the city limits of Beijing which doesn’t seem like the type of place an orphanage like this should be.


After the orphanage, we drove back into Beijing and went to the infamous pearl mall. The pearl mall is the place to go if you want to buy any knockoff or fake item which would otherwise cost hundreds of more dollars in the U.S. The first floor had mostly electronics which meant everything from phones to headphones to tablets. I was immediately greeted by various sellers asking me what I wanted and assuring me they had anything I wanted. The second floor was full of handbags, belts, shoes, shirts, and various other articles of clothing and accessories, all of which had brand names on them like Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton, and any other high end brand you can imagine. None of the things being sold were actually products of the companies though and most of what was being sold was quite illegal. Their were some cops there who I’m sure were aware of what was sold there but didn’t seem to care at all. I gave in to the appeal of all of these fake products and bought myself and my family some very convincing knockoff items. My bargaining skills and Chinese were good enough for me to get the lowest possible prices for most of the items I bought, leaving me satisfied and a few shopkeepers either angry at me (one tried to keep my change) or wanting me to buy more of their stuff by putting other random products in my bag and demanding more money or by following me up elevators yelling at me to come back. Honestly, I enjoyed the game that came with buying things at the pearl mall and other places where bargaining was necessary because I was able to work on my Chinese and I felt much better about buying something for ¥100 after the price started at ¥600 (the conversion rate for Yuan, the Chinese currency, is about 6:1). After shopping around for a while we went back to the hostel, had our final dinner in Beijing, and went back to the hostel for an early bed time since we had to leave there at about 5am the next morning.


We got up early the next morning and were driven to the airport for our two hour flight to Shanghai. We all said our goodbye’s to Jack and Mr. Lee who had both been great tour guides for us throughout our explorations of Beijing. Brian stayed with us and would be with us for a few days in Shanghai before having to leave us. We arrived in Shanghai at about noon and met our new tour guide who’s name was David. He took us on a bullet train which reached a top speed of about 430km/h on our seven minute ride to where our bus was picking us up from. One of the first things we noticed was the warmer weather which was a pleasant surprise to all of us. It had been consistently in the 40’s in Beijing but we were greeted by 60 degree weather in Shanghai. We learned that this was because Shanghai is located on about the same longitude as Los Angeles which meant great whether. We went straight to our hotel which was a very nice Four Season by Sheraton located in a central location in Shanghai. It was a very upscale change from the hostel which also served as a metaphor for the comparison between Beijing and Shanghai. We could already tell from our short time there that Shanghai was a lot more upscale and had more of an upper class than Beijing. It was obvious to us that Beijing was the cultural capital of China for a reason, and Shanghai was the financial capital for others. After a little bit at the hotel, we went to the biggest mall I had ever been in which was surrounded by some of the most prominent buildings in Shanghai. We were able to shop there for a little while before going to the world financial center.

The world financial center tower is one of the iconic buildings of the Shanghai skyline because of it’s amazing architecture and size. It’s the building with the gap at the top of it. This picture doesn’t do it’s size justice but the world financial center has 100 floors and the only taller building in Shanghai s the one still being built right next to it. The new building, The Shanghai Tower,  is going to be about 130 floors and will be the second tallest building in the world when finished.



At the world financial center, we took an elevator to the 100th floor which is an observatory which is the part of the building above the gap seen in the picture above. Image

The view from this observatory was amazing and gave us an understanding of the size and position of Shanghai as a major city of the world. You can see the Oriental Pearl TV Tower which is the peculiar looking building near the middle of this picture. The mall we were at is in the building just the the left of the TV Tower. You can also see the vastness of the city which has skyscrapers spreading out for as far as the eyes can see. The city of Shanghai is separated by the Huangpu river which is a branch of the yangtzee river which empties into the east China sea. The Huangpu separates Shanghai into the east side, which we were currently in, and the west side which is where we would go for almost everything we had to see while in Shanghai. Perhaps the most iconic thing in Shanghai is the walkway across the west side of the huangpu called The Bund which is the walkway along the left side of the far bank of the Huangpu. The bund is the place where the best views of the Shanghai skyline can be seen and it was the next stop for us. Image

You can see almost every major building of Shanghai from The Bund which is especially amazing at night. After walking along The Bund we had dinner at a restaurant right next to it and went back to the hotel. My first opinion of Shanghai was that it was like a bigger, cleaner, New York City. It was very clear that it was the financial center of China and was a completely different place from Beijing.


The next day, we went to a very nice high school in China. We were toured around by a British teacher at the school and a few students who were seniors of the IB program and were all going to University in America next year. The school seemed bigger and better than the one we had seen in Beijing and we saw a fair number of international student there. We even ran into a former art student at West Chester University who was very eager to talk to people from a familiar place. After the school we got lunch and went to a silk factory and shop to see how silk is made. The process was explained to us very well. It was amazing to see how the workers there were able to take silk worm cocoons and end up with silk cloth. Image

Their were few workers there and I’m sure what we saw was just a little manufacturing place, more for show than to make silk products for the shop we were ushered into. After our tour of the factory and shop, we went to an orphanage for mentally challenged orphans in the city. This orphanage was in the city but the facilities were not as good as what we had seen at the orphanage in Beijing. We again brought gifts which they were very thankful for but we weren’t able to play with the kids much because of the nature of their disabilities and the extra care that had to be taken because of them. After this sobering experience, we went out to dinner and then to the Shanghai acrobat show which was an amazing performance. It was a lot like a cirque de soleil performance and was very enjoyable. Afterwards we went back to the hotel and said our goodbyes to Brian, who had to leave early the next morning. Our first full day in Shanghai was very busy and left us with more of an understanding of the city. We got to see that although it was a much more modern and upscale city than Beijing, their was certainly still a lower class struggling to keep up with the growth of the city. As opposed to Beijing where most people seemed to be in a lower-middle class, Shanghai had a prominent upper class with a steep decline into a lower class. Their seemed to be a growing middle class which was apparent by the quantity of consumer goods in the shopping districts of the city but this was also because of the city attracting a lot of wealthy travelers and business people from around the world and not necessarily only because of a growing middle class. The city definitely had more foreigners than Beijing who were there to enjoy the world class shopping, views, and change in culture of one of the least known and fastest growing places in the world; although the culture was hard to experience if you were only in the upscale parts of the city. Our experiences in Shanghai were just beginning but we all had almost unanimously already made up our minds that Shanghai was the place we would rather visit if we ever came back to China. It was a mix of the better weather, more upscale living, and modern changes to the city which I think reminded us more of cities back home and made it more appealing to us.

We still had three and a half more days in Shanghai which I can’t wait to tell you about next time,


Max Pinsky

Who knew the other side of the world would be so different?

Leaving DC’s Dulles International airport at 12:20pm on March 7th, the fourteen hours and 6900 miles we had to go seemed incredibly daunting. Our eleven-person group got through the plane ride mostly by listening to music, watching the movies provided, and most importantly, sleeping. Looking out the window as the pilot announced we were approaching Beijing’s airport, it still looked like we were ten thousand feet in the air in the middle of the clouds. It wasn’t until our wheels hit the ground that I realized we were in the infamous smog of Beijing. I couldn’t see any hint of a city as we landed because of the extent of the smog. We finally arrived in Beijing at about 3:30pm on March 8th. After getting through customs and getting our bags, we met the representative from CLI (the group we were using to guide us through China and our tour guide for Beijing). The CLI representative’s name was Brian, he was a twenty-four year old graduate of James Madison University who had been living in China for the past two years. Our tour guide’s name was Jack, he was born and raised in Beijing but spoke English fairly well. He always had a big smile on his face and seemed to know everything there was about the city. We all boarded the van we would be taking around the city for the next five days and drove about an hour to the hostel we would be staying at for the next five days. Our driver’s name was Mr. Lee, he was a fairly quiet man but a very reliable driver in a city which seemed to have few rules for driving.

This is the first view of Beijing we had after stepping out of the airport. Our van was very similar to the one in the picture



Continue reading “Who knew the other side of the world would be so different?”