School News

Dr. Beall on the Bullet Train, Pandas, and More

We have a new record.

During conversations with students here in China, I often ask how many students are in their class each day. The previous record? 68. But it was eclipsed by one boy’s school experience. He had all his classes in the same room with the same group of …79 students. That helps explain why Chinese education focuses on high-stakes tests. A teacher isn’t very likely to individualize the curriculum and instruction when he/she is dealing with those kinds of numbers.

And it’s one reason for their interest in American education. But the motivation we hear most often is 1) to improve their English so they can better 2) attend American colleges. You might think you could learn English anywhere, but we’ve discovered differently. At yesterday’s school fair I was assigned a young college student to translate. His major was English Translation, bout I was only the second actual English-speaking person he’d met in his life. We were real celebrities for him and his classmates—English-speakers in the flesh, and immediate opportunities to practice their English.

That is going to change. It is stunning to me how much we Americans do NOT know about China. We were recently in Chongqing, a quaint metropolis of…30 million people? Have you heard of it? How about Chengdu, our next destination? It’s home to 13 million citizens. I’m convinced that in the years to come—and soon—Americans will be on a crash course to learn about the second biggest economy on earth.

Bullet Train

We traveled two hours from Nanjing to Hangzhou on a bullet train, with top speed of over 200 km/hour (140mph). It was smooth as silk and gave us a speeding glimpse of the countryside. Lots of rich foliage and family-sized garden plots. Their version of “seed-to-plate” projects.

The Tragedy in Japan

We have been following the situation in Japan very closely. Our hotel rooms all have flat-screen TVs with CNN or BBC. Interestingly, here in Zhengzhou, we also have a Japanese news network. Tonight they told the story of a maternity hospital that had been hit by the tsunami, all the way to the 4th floor. One of the doctors stayed with his patients throughout the ordeal, and then joined his wife in a safe location when she delivered their son. He said after all the horrific images he’d seen, this restored his faith in life. We haven’t had any travel complications here, and we’re in our 7th city of the tour. The thoughts of our global family are certainly with the Japanese in this ordeal.


The panda bear is a ubiquitous and adorable symbol for China. We visited the Wolong Wildlife Reserve in Chengdu, home to almost 100 giant pandas. Full-grown pandas eat almost 100 pounds of bamboo a day but only absorb 20% of the nutrients, so they wisely conserve their energy by taking frequent naps. Long naps. Often in trees. To some, that may appear lazy. But to us, that’s “Do less and accomplish more.” I think their main accomplishment is being “cute.”

Organic Kung Fu Cultural Revolution

After talking with parents at a school fair for four hours non-stop, we eagerly awaited our first fully organic meal in China—at a restaurant with a “Cultural Revolution” theme. For real. And the best meal of the trip so far for Andrea and me. Don’t ask me to explain how these themes fit together. Sometimes you just sit back and enjoy the ride.

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