My stomach felt jittery with excitement as we strode through the shiny-floored airport in Shanghai. The building felt deserted. It may have only been 8 p.m., but it felt as if it had been 3 a.m. for the past day. The city was amazing, the highways and roads were elevated so high, and the buildings and bridges were lit with LED lighting that were choreographed to display an amazing show of color. The night landscape was shining and bright. It was hard to believe 23 million people lived in this one city. The daytime was also pretty awesome.
There was row after row of skyscrapers and identical apartment buildings. It is said that Shanghai is the city of 10,000 flags, when really those flags are the residents' clothing air drying on apartment balconies. Our first stop for the day was the French concession where there was a stunning mix of old and new architecture.
We were then taken to a Children's Palace, a kind of school for talented children. The school overall was a bit sad — there was chipping paint, breaking stairways and the children were learning with their coats on. But after watching a ballet class for 4-year-olds, we were cheered up.
The little kids had performed a dance about ducks that made everyone happy. Then we visited a silk factory. The silk worms from which the silk was produced from were a large, unattractive caterpillar that, for 40 days, does nothing but eat and sleep. The silk worms then would spin a cocoon that would be unwound and spun into silk thread.
The process sounded pretty disgusting, but the results were very beautiful. Our next stop was the Yu Gardens. The Yu Gardens were a 400-year-old private garden owned by a high-ranking government official to please his father. The gardens were spectacular. The Yu Gardens were surrounded by a bustling shopping center, where we were hounded with shop employees asking us what we wanted to buy.
Our group took photos of all the buildings, but we realized all the other people were taking pictures of us. It was hilarious. Overall, Shanghai was the most Western city we visited in China.

Li Jiang
Li Jiang greeted us with smells, information, scenery and ways of life that don't even come close to the safe streets of Birmingham. After the intense traveling we had been doing, not to mention the 12-hour time difference, our baggy eyes were begging for a rest.
But we powered through it and now we can say it was well worth it. Driving on a mountain with no rails, fearful that one jerk would occur and we would all go tumbling down a cliff, put us in bad spirits. However, when we saw the kids at the school, all past worries were forgotten and we were mesmerized in the moment. We linked arms with Chinese students of all ages as we tried desperately to catch on to the simple dance they were doing.
Echoes of my teacher, Mrs. Butchko, telling us that these experiences were important to bridge our cultures together rang in my ear as we tried to use our best Chinese on them. When we took out our gifts the students mobbed us, and even if they got just one colored pencil, their faces of ecstasy were heartwarming.
When we saw the pathetic dorm rooms they lived in, we all started to question the lives we lived. The cell phone in my pocket weighed my stomach down with guilt, and even though the students looked so proud, I thought it was probably because they hadn't been exposed to anything else.
The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain brought new experiences, like snow, which we thought we had left in Michigan.
We rode up a cable car up to the top and the stunning views canceled out all ill feelings we had about the weather. This was something you can't see in Birmingham, and although we were eager to go shopping, everyone's jaw dropped at the sight of the mountain when we reached the top, 15,000 feet high. The wind was overwhelming, but I got enough mental pictures to carry with me for a while.
The pungent smells, the food and a totally different culture was what made us all adore Lijiang. Being surrounded by different people and not knowing where the next bathroom would be made us view our lives in Birmingham with a new open mind.
The extraordinary people were so welcoming that even though we were so unlike them and from across the globe, we felt like we were part of their city. We will never take our filled kitchens or clean showers for granted again. Now all we want to do is go back.

In Xian, we saw many things including the music fountain, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, the terra-cotta soldiers and the orphanage. The part I thought was the most interesting was the terra-cotta soldiers.
It was interesting because we learned about this mass collection of stone warriors made for an emperor in his afterlife, and how each part of the excavated soldiers had something unique. For example, each soldier was designed after a real person in emperor Qin's army, not one soldier had the same face as the other. The part of this city that really stood out to me was the architecture.
The city's architecture was designed to be the style of one of China's ancient dynasties. Most of the buildings had the same roofs, walls and similar designs.

Beijing was a fantastic portion of our eighth-grade China trip. It was the last four days, and everyone had been looking forward to them. We got to see amazing things in this wonderful city, such as the Bird's Nest and Water Cube 2008 Olympic Stadiums, the Beijing Zoo Panda Exhibit, the Great Wall of China, Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and many other beautiful things.
All of these sites were breathtaking, and a great portion of our 14-day journey. Another highlight of Beijing was shopping! We went to several markets where we could bargain, buy and truly test our Chinese speaking skills. This city was one of our favorites, and we all hope to visit it again sometime in the future.

Temple of heaven — Beijing
From our hotel we took a short trip to the Temple of Heaven, a magnificent building that was formerly used for rituals. Now many senior citizens go there for exercise. The park surrounding the temple was lively with music and filled with elderly people playing cards or a type of racquet ball game called “Tai Chi ball.”
Some of our group joined the fun by playing hacky sack with some seniors. The walk up to the temple was crowded with even more old people playing checkers-like game. The temple itself was beautiful and colorful. No nails were used to construct the building. It's hard for us nowadays to even pull off such a feat! The yard around the temple was also interesting — the yard is square, representing Earth, and the temple is circular, representing the sky.
The Temple of Heaven was very elegant.

Derby students share their experiences with students at Li Jiang.
Derby students share their experiences with students at Li Jiang.

A delicate balancing act is demonstrated at the Xi'an opening gate ceremony.
A delicate balancing act is demonstrated at the Xi'an opening gate ceremony.

The serene Yu Garden in Shanghai.
The serene Yu Garden in Shanghai.

A ceremony at the city wall in Xi'an.
A ceremony at the city wall in Xi'an.