Here at BWYA we are firm believers that some of the best learning takes place when we get away from the classroom and out in the real world. To that end, our programmes include regular field trips to give our students the chance to put what they learn in the classroom into practice. Some of our field trips come with their own unique challenges however, as DP2 student, Sydney Liang, points out in her sideways review of a recent biology fieldtrip.
An Account of The BWYA Ecology Field Trip,
DP2 Biology students, September 2017.
It was a funny sight to see: a herd of students following a large-nosed old man stopping every now and then examining the most common weeds on the sidewalks. Like the fable of Pied Piper, DP2 students were led by Mr. Moore into the deep mountains of striped spiders with furry legs and hornets the size of my fist.
It was a two-day trip. We counted grasses and collected water and other things, that first day; we measured trees the second. With backpacks of emptied plastic bottles and squished sandwiches for lunch, we slowly made our way through the Beijing Botanical Garden on the first day. Stopping at almost every flower and every bush and every tree and every bathroom, a measly ten-minute walk took us the entire morning. Mr. Moore would clumsily climb over ‘do-not-trespass’ signs and pluck flowers from their stem, and lecture us about how one flower was not a single flower, but actually many flowers. It reminded me of Plato: “Is there one or are there many?” It was the first time I witnessed someone talk about plants with so much enthusiasm.
The rest of the Botanical Garden was a blur. We were devoured by mosquitos, our ankles swelling while counting the number of species in a square of wooden rulers. None of us really knew what we were looking for: here’s a green weed, and here’s another green weed but slightly smaller and note the laminar crenulations on this one. Moreover, Mr. Moore persisted in teaching us the too-long-to-remember names of various pieces of greenery. That day I wondered a lot about how teachers have such high levels of patience with (us) pampered and (a) pathetic students.
I thought the botanical garden was a little uncomfortable and kind of tiring, but I had no idea what monstrosities were waiting for me on Xiang Shan. The second day started out fine. I was having a particularly good hair day, and I made sure to pack a decent lunch. The bus ride was pleasant and air-conditioned. The walk up the mountain was short, and the bathrooms were clean—a classic environment for a risk-taker and a critical thinker!
“Off you go,” Mr. Moore ordered the class. I sighed and followed our parade of eclectically equipped children off the safety of the cement path and into the sloping mass of thorny bushes and webbed ferns. There were many valiant young men and women who climbed up without worry, and jotted down measurements as they wrapped tape rules around ant-infested bark. I was not one of them.
I don’t recall all of it. From what I can gather, I screamed and cried and was escorted down the hill. The girl I was gripping on to for dear life looked like she wanted to die of embarrassment. The bugs were hissing and bore bright splotches in shades of bright yellow and red and they were Manga-big. I do remember all the different insects blending together, arms twitching and legs grabbing at me, their teeth dripping with venom.
I kind of just sat on a bench at the edge of the forest, for the rest of the morning, away from anything remotely green. Mr. Moore entertained me with a conversation about Murakami, so this part of the trip was not too bad; literature in a classroom without walls.
If you asked me if I would do it again, I would answer with most definitely not. If you asked if any other classmates learned anything from the trip, I would say that, for even the most enthusiastic, it was a wake-up call to those deluded souls among us who heretofore had been sheltered from the truth of being real field ecologists, sweaty bug-bitten scientists, working up to their chins in wet and thorny terra incognita. So, obviously, ten out of ten would recommend.