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Study Visit in Beijing (the impression of one of the participants Laurence Michel)

Participants : Anca, Bart, Benoît, Carmen, Cédric, Laurence, Loula, Svetlana
From 5th to 16th April 2013

Within the context of the third phase of a collaboration project between Belgium (VIEWS International) and China (a specialised school for visually impaired people (VIP)), our group of 8 young people (totally/partially sighted or blind) went to China, in Beijing, during ten days. It is question of a study visit that we realised in order to prepare the youth exchange which will take place in July 2013.

Saturday, 6th of April:
Arrival at Beijing. The group found its bearings arround the hotel and discovered the city. That walks allowed us to turn towards the hotel. The day was quiet, but at least, allowed us to get over the time difference.

Sunday, 7th of April:
At first, the Belgian delegation met Zhang Cheng, director and founder of the massage school « Zhangcheng School of Blind Massage ». He told us that his school was a free private institute, financed by the massage parlours he created. Our Chinese partner exists from 1998. Since its creation, the school already has trained 2000 young people, all of them blind or visually impaired. This pupils are selected on the basis of three criteria: low incomes, motivation and passion for Chinese traditional medicine (massage and acupuncture). As after each presentation or visit of association, the Belgian delegation could ask questions, which influenced constructive and interesting debates.
During lunch time, our hosts were very keen to make us discover Chinese traditional food: total exotic new surroundings! Thanks to our 3 interpreters, we easily could discuss with Chinese people who were, besides, eager to learn a bit of French!
To finish the day, our group visited one of the school massage parlours. Each one could benefit from a very nice massage session; some of them asked again for more!
In China, massage belongs to traditional medicine, in the same way as acupuncture. Body massage is a massage that you receive being dressed.

Monday, 8th of April:
We began the day with a visit of « Enable Disability Studies Institute ». This institution exists for 4 years. It is a non profit organization which is a platform of support for associations looking after disabled people in the field. It also supplies juridical help and psychological consultancy. The director of the association explained to us that he made a field report about the disabled person’s situation in China, for the United Nations. The conclusions of that report drew the Chinese autorities attention. The laters apparently seemed to be opened to the improvement of disabled person’s lot (for example, by subsidies for a working disabled person, or quotas for disabled people appointments).
After that, the group went back to the massage parlour for a cultural exchange: we discovered and tested Chinese board games, and at the same time, Carmen and Bart initiated our hosts into western ones, which was a good opportunity for knowing better each other.
Thanks to Benoît, we experimented petanque (sport with bowls played in the South of France) adapted for VIP.

Tuesday, 9th of April:
Firstly, the group visited the Chinese Braille Library (Beijing). We saw the different rooms, among others the reading rooms where the users could consult the books on site. The library is particularly specialized in books about massage and traditional medicine. In its four walls, there is an amazing tactile museum we visited, which deals with Chinese and world-wide civilization.
After the lunch break, the group met the association “China Dolls”. That non profit organization exists for 5 years. It attends children and adults suffering from weak bone illness.
Afterwards, we went sightseeing by going to have a look at Hutongs, streets very narrow in the historic areas of Beijing.

Wednesday, 10th of April:
At first, the Belgian delegation visited the association “One + One” which is a sociocultural organization. It publishes a magazine and suggests radio broadcasts for all the country. During that visit, we exchanged points of view with with the association young VIP, on different topics about VIP (studies, jobs, sport, art, mobility). Svetlana talked about the mobility lessons she gives to VIEWS workers and volunteers. The exchange, very rewarding on the Chinese side as well as on the Belgian one, got recorded to get on radio.
Then, the group went back to the Braille Library to see a play of theatre realised by visually impaired Chinese people. Then, Cédric talked about his theatre experience with a company of partially-sighted and blind actors. Finally, we tested the visual therapy room (massage for eyes and machines for exercising sight). Very impressive!

Thursday, 11th of April:
In the morning, the group visited the national association for blind people of China. It tries to set up a better social security for blind and partially-sighted people (financial help). It also suggests mobility lessons.
Afterwards, the group visited the “Beijing Union University). It proposes three domains of studies: specialized education, traditional medicine and musicology. That university essentially receives visually- and hearing impaired people, but there are also people without disability (those who study for working in special education). For disabled people, the establishment has got a helping service (transcription, lending of adapted material). Loula presented specialized education in Belgium, and then, Carmen and I talked about our personal experience of integration in ordinary higher school or university.

Friday, 12th of April:
We went sightseeing by visiting the Great Wall of China, shared in small groups. So, we could discuss with our Chinese friends in a much more relaxed way. Afterwards, we discovered the Bird’s Nest (the Olympic stadium which was built for 2008 Olympics).

Saturday, 13th of April:
Let’s go to the campus of « Loving Heart Society of Beijing University », in company with some of its volunteers. It exists since 1919 and is the most prestigious university of Beijing. Then, on the campus, we organised a cultural party with the two groups (Belgium and China) to make discover Belgium to Chinese people and China to the Belgium ones. On the programme: tasting Belgian products (Anca), and then, Bart, Beniît and Cédric presented Belgium (policy situation, folklore, comic strips). After that, Cédric (the magician) did us some magic tricks! Everybody dansed on the song that we chose (“Alors on danse” from Stromae), and our Chinese friends made us some demonstrations of singing. And to crown it all, some games of strategy with peanuts to transfer to one cup to the other… with the help of steaks, and blindfolded! Let’s say: “mission almost impossible”…

Sunday, 14th of April:
We discovered some more tourist places of Beijing city (the Beijing zoo for pandas, a temple, the Pearl Market, a acrobatic spectacle).

Monday, 15th of April:
At first, the group visited the massage hospital of Beining. Massage, considered like medicine, is reimbursed by the Social Security. There is a difference between the massage parlour which is preventive and aims at well-being (like at the massage school), and the massage at the hospital aiming to nurse.
In the afternoon, we said our farewells to Beijing by visiting the historic centre (pedestrian streets, the Tian'anmen Place).

Tuesday, 16th of April:
Departure from Beijing.

At assessment time, we can say that this study visit was an unqualified success: great exchanges and new friendship. A better knowledge, on both sides, of each one’s culture. A very warm welcome from our Chinese hosts. The ground properly get prepared for the youth exchange in July. That future group of young people will do, just like us, an unforgettable trip and rewarding discoveries.

Laurence Michel