Prologue​ to China: Classroom to Reality

Written and posted February 25th, 2018

你好, 我的名字是 Anna Harrison. For those of you who do not speak or read Mandarin, I said, “Hi, my name is Anna Harrison.” At least that is what I hope it reads. I (as well as the majority of the people reading my blog, I assume) do not know Mandarin either. I asked one of my good friends how to write that sentence and, hopefully, she is not making a fool out of me. I have tried to learn Mandarin, believe me. I have been using Duolingo every day, asking my friends how to say words, and going to the weekly cultural sessions my teacher, the trip leader, has been hosting since I decided to go on this trip to China back in October. However, learning a new language is not as easy as it seems. I should know. I have been taking Spanish since Kindergarten and, yes, I am in Spanish 5 at the moment. Yes, I can understand, read, write, and speak Spanish, although I am nowhere close to fluent.

You might be wondering, “Anna, you have been taking Spanish for most of your life and know very little Mandarin, why in the world are you going to China instead of a Spanish-speaking country?” Well, the answer to that question is, IT IS CHINA! I have been to Mexico a couple of times, for service and for vacation and, while I would love to go back or go to another Spanish-speaking country when I heard that China was an option for a Senior Project, I was incredibly excited! 14 days, 6 cities/provinces, mouth-watering food (Dim Sum), the Great Wall of China, Terracotta Warriors, Tang Dynasty show and dinner, and so much more! I could actually visit the Forbidden City, the former Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty, in person. Images from my five-pound, highlighter-filled history textbook would be brought to life. I also chose to go on this trip because it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Of course, you are thinking that sounds cliché, “once-in-a-blah blah, everyone says it, okay, we get it,” but it truly is. Without this trip, the opportunity Westtown and my parents and family have given me, I believe that I would have never gone to China. While I wish that was not the case because I love to travel and want to go everywhere, most travel abroad programs default to western European countries instead of Asian ones, and I do not think China is a place I would travel to on my own. I am extremely grateful for all everyone has done to put this trip together and cannot wait to be watching at least six movies (it is about a sixteen-hour flight) and relaxing on the plane four days from now.

See you in China!

– Anna

P.S. I want to let you know that my other blog posts will (I hope) not be as long as this one. I really enjoy photography, so I plan to accompany each post with lots of photos. I also want to let you know that China limits access to sites, and I may not have WiFi for a majority of the trip. I may have to post my blog posts when I get back to the States. However, feel free to keep checking in case I do get WiFi and can post. Thank you for reading!

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.









An Obsession That Clearly Surpasses My Own

Although I’ve been excited for my entire trip, there was one day in particular that I was especially eager for: Saturday, the day I would finally get to visit Tintagel, Arthur’s birthplace. The castle (which is now in ruins) is currently only open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays, so I actually shaped my entire itinerary around getting to the Cornish coast for the weekend.

After meeting Jo, the landlady/bartender at the local pub in Camelford (another supposed location of Camelot that’s about ten minutes from the coast), we knew the best way to get to the ruins: by parking at the top of the Glebe Cliff and walking down. The views were absolutely phenomenal, especially once we reached the castle itself and the sun came out. Since we were right at the sea—Tintagel Castle was built on this little peninsula off the coast of the rest of Tintagel, making it extremely defendable—it was even windier than the previous day, but it was worth it. In addition to being occupied between the 5th and 7th centuries during Arthur’s time, Tintagel had been used as a settlement for thousands of years, so we had the opportunity to see ruins from a variety of time periods.

IMG_1335 (This is the view walking to the ruins)

IMG_1358(Some of the ruins)

IMG_1392(This is the view from the very top, in the distance, the very tiny building is where we parked our car)

IMG_1427(This is the cove right at the ruins, the cave is called Merlin’s Cave)

Visiting the castle took our entire morning, but in the afternoon we visited another location that I had also been anticipating: King Arthur’s Great Halls. The Halls were created by Frederick Thomas Glasscock in the early 1930s and are decked out by specially made paintings by William Hatherell depicting scenes in Arthur’s life and 73 stunning glass windows made by Veronica Whall.

Our visits to the Halls began with a narrated light show of King Arthur’s life (based on the L’Morte D’Arthur version) before we were able to go into the Great Hall itself. There were paintings, stained glass windows, and suits of armor everywhere, as well as displays explaining various Arthurian facts. The Halls had their own Round Table, with the names of 12 knights carved into it, and many of the stained glass windows were the shields of various famous (and not-so well known) knights of Camelot.

IMG_1512 (The Great Hall part of the Halls)

My favorite part was how each stained glass window had a description, explaining the background information behind the symbol—particularly the histories of various knights. It was great to see the legends all compiled in one place; the Halls were the first and only place I visited to truly go into such detail and depth about the legends. It wasn’t merely a place that had been associated with Arthur, it was dedicated to Arthur and only made possible by Glasscock spending a small fortune.

Saturday also marked the last true ‘Arthurian’ day I would spend in England. Although my dad and I remained in England until Tuesday, the rest of our stops were only distantly associated with Arthur, and were basically just a way of breaking up the return journey to London. We stopped at Bath (a possible location of the Battle of Badon, Arthur’s 12th battle), Avebury Henge (a stone circle), and Marlborough (a supposed location of Merlin’s grave), before returning to London and flying home.


A Scavenger Hunt in the Moor

Today began with rain, which was okay, because my dad and I planned to drive two hours west to Bodmin Moor. Originally, I’d intended to visit Cadbury Castle, a Bronze and Iron Age hill fort that is believed to be a possible location of Camelot. Excavations have revealed that Cadbury Castle was in use during Arthur’s time—as well as hundreds of years earlier.

We actually ended up visiting Cadbury Castle late Thursday afternoon, which was a good thing, because it was already remarkably muddy, and we wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere close if we’d waited until today. That being said, it was still difficult to visit, because so much of it was fenced off and the signs were not particularly clear. Since it is quite literally a hill, general tourists pass it over; so Arthurian enthusiasts have to actively seek it out. Nonetheless, my dad and I climbed up one of the slopes and still got a good sense of what the hill fort was like.

I could completely imagine King Arthur sitting astride his horse overlooking his kingdom from atop of the hill. I seem to be spending a lot of my time this week doing just that: imagining things. Everywhere I go, even if it’s not directly related to King Arthur, I can’t help but imagine what it must have been like, in the past.

This is probably a good thing, because it allowed me to get very excited about today. I had absolutely no museum/castle/cathedral/etc. visits planned for today. I simply planned to visit landmarks. Along the drive to Bodmin Moor, my dad and I took a few detours to see some towns. Westtownians might be particularly interested by how we stopped at the ruins of Launceston Castle, where George Fox was imprisoned with other Quakers for eight months in 1656.

After visiting Launceston, we eventually managed to find our first planned destination, Dozmary Pool. The GPS refused to guide us to a lake, and didn’t recognize any of the roads that were near the lake. We figured it out eventually, and I can honestly say it was completely worth it. Dozmary Pool is a potential home for the Lady of the Lake, and it’s believed that Sir Bedivere threw Excalibur into Dozmary Pool following Arthur’s fatal wound at Camlann. The lake was gorgeous. Bitterly cold, with exceptionally strong winds, but stunning. It was surrounded by grazing sheep and low mists, in the middle of nowhere, and truly gave off a mystical, ancient vibe. I’d read that the best time to visit was at dusk, but I was afraid we’d get lost if we visited when it was nearly dark, however with the on and off rain, the mists were just the right amount of gloomy to paint a picture of a time long past.


Following Dozmary Pool, we drove down to Fowey, Cornwall. This wasn’t Camelot; it was King Mark’s land. He generally featured in the legends of Tristan and Yseult. Yseult was Mark’s bride from Ireland, but she fell in love with his nephew (and a knight of the Round Table), Tristan. We visited a few sites associated with King Mark, Tristan, and Yseult in Fowey, but the most significant was the Tristan Stone, which marked Tristan’s grave and dated back to 550.


Finally, we drove north to Camelford, where we are staying the night. While at a pub for dinner, we ended up having the most interesting conversation with one of the bartenders who gave us instructions for the best way to visit Tintagel Castle tomorrow. She even took us out to the Moor to see some of the hills and to her family’s farm, where we saw the lambs. It was probably one of the weirdest but best interactions I’ve ever had with anyone—she was incredibly spontaneous, and, as one of the pub patrons described her “a bit mad”. But if anything, it certainly taught me that good things can come from going with the flow.



The Isle of the Apples

It’s a bit of a coincidence really. For the majority of my life, my family has spent part of our summers at the beach in Avalon, New Jersey. A place named after Avalon, the mystical island that plays a significant role in Arthurian Legend.

The island of Avalon, or as it is also frequently called, the Isle of the Apples, is commonly associated with Glastonbury, which was surrounded by water hundreds of years ago, when Arthur would have lived. According to legend, a mortally wounded Arthur was brought to Avalon to be healed following his clash with Mordred at the Battle of Camlann.

My dad and I spent Thursday exploring two main sites in Glastonbury: the Abbey and the Tor. We started the day off by walking to and climbing up Glastonbury Tor, a giant hill overlooking the town. The Tor is home to what is left St. Michael’s Church; a tower built in the 14th century. In Arthurian Legend, the Tor is mentioned as one of the sites visited by Arthur and his knights during their search for the Holy Grail.

It was amazing to climb up the Tor and imagine what climbing up it must have been like for the generations before me. Be it those from the 500s or those who built the churches on top of the massive hill, I kept imagining myself in their footsteps. Although it was brutally windy from the top of the Tor—my ears nearly popped from the pressure—the views more than made up for it.

IMG_1071 IMG_1095 IMG_1073 (The first two pictures are panoramic views of the Tor and the view from the Tor, and the third is the tower of St. Michael’s Church.)

We also visited Glastonbury Abbey later in the day. Glastonbury Abbey is definitely one of the most intriguing places I’ve visited, simply because of the implications it casts over the authenticity of Arthurian Legends.

See, in 1191, the monks at Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have discovered the tomb of Arthur and Guinevere. The remains were moved to a black marble tomb in the middle of the nave of the Cathedral, where they remained until the dissolution of the Abbey in the 16th century, at which point they, and the tomb, disappeared.


The main question is whether or not the monks were telling the truth—they’d recently come into some financial difficulties, and it’s entirely possible their claims were a 12th century version of a publicity stunt.

The romantic in me likes to believe that the monks truly found Arthur’s body. There’s just something indescribably special about standing right where Arthur and Guinevere Pendragon were allegedly buried. But after spending far more time than me going over the evidence (or lack thereof) most experts believe the monks fabricated their claims. Even so, that doesn’t change the fact that Glastonbury has played a large part in Arthurian Legend and in England’s history, making it a special place regardless.


A Fake Table and Some Really Big Rocks

My second day in England has officially ended. Following a surprisingly smooth red-eye flight from Monday night to Tuesday morning (less than half the seats were filled, so we could spread out across multiple ones), my dad and I drove to Winchester.

Winchester is full of history, but very little of it has to do with King Arthur. The main attraction, as far as my senior project is concerned, is King Arthur’s [replica] Round Table.

Just to be clear; it’s not the real Round Table.

It was actually created in the 13th century, during the reign of Edward I (a known Arthurian enthusiast), probably for one of the ‘Arthurian Tournaments’ he hosted. During Henry VIII’s reign, the table was repainted to include the Tudor Rose and Henry sitting in Arthur’s seat. (Yes, it’s on a wall).


The names of 24 Knights are painted around the edges. It was a lot of fun to try to read the calligraphy, although it was extremely difficult since many of the names were spelled differently from how I’m used to reading them so it turned into a bit of a guessing game. Some of the Knights included Mordred, Lancelot, Galahad, Gawain, Percival, and Tristan.

By the time we were finished visiting the Round Table, we were exhausted and had an early night in, marking the end of the first day of my senior project.

Today dawned bright and early. We spent an hour walking around Winchester itself, following the walls the Romans constructed centuries ago around the city. In a lot of places some of the height of the walls was worn away, but in a few spots they were still completely intact.

Then my dad and I made our way over to the Winchester Cathedral, which admittedly has no real relation to King Arthur. What the Winchester Cathedral does have, however, is a ton of history. There is so much history intertwined within those walls that our tour guide repeatedly jumped from the 12th century to the 18th to the 15th and so on. My favorite part was visiting Jane Austen’s grave (yes, she’s buried in the vicinity of bishops from the 13th century… she’s awesome, I know). In addition to my love of history, I’m a bit of an Austen fanatic, so even though a church hadn’t been established in that spot until a century after Arthur, it was wonderful to see.

After touring the Cathedral, my dad and I drove to Stonehenge. According to some legends, Merlin brought the stones over from Ireland. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the source of this legend, claimed that giants had taken the stones from Africa due to their healing properties, and that Merlin had brought them to their current resting place to act as a memorial for soldiers slain in combat against the Saxons.

Of course, this version of events is definitely not accurate—Stonehenge was assembled some 5,000 years ago, not 1,500—but it’s an interesting part of Arthurian Legend nonetheless, as well as an incredible site to visit. We weren’t allowed to get too close to the stones, but we were still close enough to get some pretty amazing pictures.




Camelot Beckons

Mythology has been a part of my life for nearly as long as I can remember. I’ve always held this deep love and appreciation for all of the legends out there, however one has always been closest to my heart.

King Arthur.

Years ago, I read King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table for the first time. It was one of many books I’d brought home from the bookstore; at first nothing seemed particularly special about it. I remember that I had the bag of books on the floor in my bedroom, and I’d knelt down to choose one. I picked up the book about King Arthur and didn’t stand up until I’d finished it. I just sat there, on the floor, utterly fascinated.

Don’t be mistaken and think this led to my sudden immersion in Arthurian Legend. Because it didn’t. What it did do was start me on a path of slowly learning more and more about King Arthur throughout the years, always viewing the stories of Camelot with fondness, but never truly exploring them as deeply as I would have liked.

When considering Senior Project ideas, I mentioned wanting to research King Arthur so offhandedly that I can’t even remember when I first thought of it. But the idea took root, and now in three days I’ll be sitting on a plane with my dad on my way to England.

My dad and I are going to travel all around southwest England, visiting sites associated with various Arthurian Legends from Glastonbury Tor to Tintagel Castle. Along the way I’ll be blogging and continuing my research on King Arthur, so when I come back I can write a paper about my own take on Arthurian Legend.

I’m very excited, and each step I take in my preparations just makes this all the more real! I attended Westtown from kindergarten to ninth grade, before returning for my senior year, so for the past two years I never thought I would get to complete a Senior Project, but I’m extremely thrilled that I get the opportunity now!

Until my project begins!


It All Comes Together


Week three was the finale of my internship, and what a week it was! I have a lot to cover, so I might as well just jump right in. Here it goes!

The biggest change that happened this week was that I switched residences from my relatives in New York City to my relatives in Plainsboro, New Jersey. Although this meant that I would have to learn a new route to and from my internship, I welcomed the change since I knew that it would be a good experience that would teach me more about commuting into New York City. Although the daily commute by train was somewhat longer (roughly an hour each morning and evening), it was still pretty simple and allowed me to see some new parts of the city when I traveled to and from the train station.

Now, if you read my post about the first week of my internship, you might have gathered that there was a bit of a learning curve in terms of transportation. My new commute by train actually went quite well. There was only one time when something went slightly awry and it was out of my hands. On Thursday, the train I was taking into the city was heavily delayed and stopped at a station on the outskirts of New York City. The conductor announced that it would likely be 30 to 40 minutes before we started moving again, so if we needed to get into the city quickly we should use the express subway that also stopped at this particular station. I didn’t want to be late for my internship, but I also had no idea where the express subway would let me off and if it would be anywhere near Jigsaw. After some thought, I decided that I would rather take a chance and see where the express subway would take me as opposed to waiting for the train to get moving again. I exited the train and got on the subway, intent on checking which stops were available. However, only about 30 seconds after I got onto the subway and started looking at its stops, I heard the telltale hiss of the train, as it closed its doors and drove off, well before the announced, “30 to 40 minutes” of delays. Fortunately, through the kindness of some New Yorkers and some careful observing, I found that there was a transfer subway that would take me very close to Jigsaw. And so it all worked out in the end.

My work at Jigsaw Productions went very well during my final week of the internship. For the most part, I was continuing my work with photo logging and scanning pictures, but I also was able to take part in a few more activities throughout the week. The newest sort of activity was shooting some B-Roll footage for one of the other Jigsaw documentaries. B-Roll is used to overlay footage when people are talking for extended periods, and it isn’t necessary to see them speaking the whole time. For instance, if somebody is talking about Babe Ruth and how he was the Home Run King for many years, the editor may choose to show footage of Babe Ruth hitting home runs and scoring while this person is talking so that the viewer can visualize what the speaker is saying, as opposed to just seeing them tell their story. Anyhow, the B-Roll that I was helping to shoot was of a paper ball being thrown at a trash bin full of crumpled paper, which would result in several pieces of paper falling out of the bin. Now, this may sound incredibly easy and simple to you. You may be thinking that this sort of footage would only take 5 minutes, at most, to shoot and have ready to present to the editors. In reality, this process can actually take much longer. There is a lot to think about when framing any shot, and this B-Roll was no exception. From a technical stand point the lighting, angle of the shot, background, and position of the object all have to be taken into account before the footage can be taken. Then, it is important to consider how the shot will look to the viewer. Should the ball travel with an arc towards the trash bin, or should it be thrown directly at the bin for greater impact? Is there a way to make the shot more dramatic by changing the lighting, angle, or focus of the camera? How would the shot look in slow motion? All of these factors were very important to think about, and as a result, taking this seemingly simple B-Roll actually ended up taking around an hour to shoot. This was one of my favorite experiences from week three. It really helped to show me just how much work goes into every shot of a film, and how much care was put into even the simplest of tasks.

The other amazing experience I had during the final day of my internship was that I had a chance to see the rough cut of the documentary that I’d been working on. Rough cuts of a film are essentially what they sound like, versions of the film in which the editors test out various constructions of the story to see what works and what doesn’t. I felt very privileged to see an edition of the film that nobody else would ever view, and to see where my work had been going. I saw some of the pictures I’d logged being put to use in the film, and how the story went together. It felt like a true culmination of everything I’d done over the past three weeks.

In addition to taking B-Roll footage and seeing the rough cut of the documentary I’d been working on, I also got to work on filming my own short documentary. I wanted to capture some of my experiences on film by interviewing the staff at Jigsaw whom I’d worked with to ask them why they joined the film and media industry, where they’d learned the most, and what advice they had for aspiring film makers. It was awesome to get some personal experience filming my own short film, and I’m excited to start editing and putting together my footage.

Now that my Senior Project is finished, I look back on the past three weeks and realize just how much I’ve gained from my experiences. I learned so much from everyone I worked with over the course of the project. Whether it was only for one day or for the entire three weeks, each person taught me something different about the film and media industry that I hadn’t known prior to my Senior Project.

Although my Senior Project may be finished, I will take these lessons wherever I go. They helped me to learn more about where my interests lie, and about an amazing industry that I am very excited about. It’s been a wonderful three weeks that I will never forget. Thank you to everyone who made it possible! I cannot tell you how much I appreciated this opportunity. You have my deepest gratitude.



The Pace Increases


My second week interning at Jigsaw Productions went very well. This week started off with an interesting adventure. On Sunday I decided to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the coolest places in the city. When I had gone as a child, I was not able to appreciate all that the museum had to offer, unless you want to count the Arms and Armor display as the entire museum. Being older, though, I was excited to see the museum on a grander scale. All in all, the visit began well enough. I started by viewing the Egypt exhibit, followed by the Sculpture, 18th Century Home, American Artwork, Arms and Armor, and Exotic Instrument displays. When I finally ended up in the European Paintings exhibit, I realized that I had no idea where I was in relation to the exit. I had forgotten to pick up a map on the way in, so I had no way of knowing where I was in the sprawling Metropolitan Museum. Normally, this wouldn’t have been much of an issue, but I knew that it was getting close to closing time, so I wanted to be cognizant of where I was so that I wouldn’t still be wandering around the exhibits while the museum was being closed down. I enjoyed the challenge of finding my way out of the museum well before this became an issue, so I didn’t end up in a situation similar to Claudia and Jamie from The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Though I’ll admit, that would have been fun as well.

Apart from this minor incident, my week went exceptionally well. Unlike the first week, transportation never proved to be an issue. This took a weight off my shoulders, which allowed me to put my full energy into my work. This week, most of my activities were focused on scanning and photo logging. The consolidation of my work allowed me to perfect my skills in both, and to get into a working rhythm. It felt exhilarating to constantly challenge myself to work at a faster pace, while still creating the same high quality product. I was also happy to know that the people I was working with were appreciative of my work. Throughout the week, I had a chance to have lunch and trade jokes with them, which allowed me to get to know them better. This made working with them even more enjoyable. I also gained a lot by just listening to them, even when they weren’t talking to me. From their conversations I learned about the various processes that surround getting the rights to archival footage and pictures. I can’t tell you any specifics due to my confidentiality agreement, but I can tell you that there is much more thought and planning that goes into this process than you would imagine. Hearing about the complexities that surround this process was fascinating, and it really helped to broaden my understanding of the how a documentary is made.

Speaking of the process that documentaries undergo before completion, I was able to attend a meeting at which the Jigsaw staff members who were leading the project I was assigned to met with their adviser and editors. During this meeting, the adviser and editors would ask for updates on certain tasks, cancel others, request footage, begin inquiries, and discuss other various topics. This provided a context and helped me better understand the importance of what I was doing when I logged and scanned photos. These photos fulfilled the various requests and needs of the editors and advisers. It helped make my work more enjoyable and meaningful to me, since I had a more exact idea of the purpose of my work.

Before I even knew it, the week was already over, and I was very happy with what I had accomplished thus far. I was completing my assignments efficiently, gaining more and more knowledge of the city, and constantly building confidence as an intern. At this rate, week three will definitely be the best of them all. I can’t wait for it to start!