Courtney Collins, a 2001 Howland High School graduate, returned to her home in Akron June 30 after visiting Beijing, the capital city of China and site of the 2008 Olympic Games. She also visited the city of Si'an and the 2,200-year-old site of the first Emperor of China's necropolis, which includes the thousands of terracotta warriors who were buried with him.
Collins accompanied the Shaw High School Show Band of East Cleveland. She took 11 hours of video footage of the band's tour. Her editing reduced the initial taping to a one-hour finished piece. A grant helped her complete the project. There are hopes that among other viewings, the video may be shown as a documentary at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Collins went with the band as a tourist and friend of the band.
Friends and parents of the Shaw High School band had earlier raised more than $80,000 on their own, which was insufficient to cover the cost of transporting 65 people - band members, chaperones and equipment. But, when the newspapers and the electronic media were notified, the excitement of the project stimulated grant opportunities to make the trip possible. One of the significant supporters was The Cleveland Clinic, which has a relationship with authorities in China as a clearing facility for adoptive services. Several banks provided gifts as well.
Collins has a bachelor's degree in electronic media productions from Kent State University and is currently a freelance videographer and editor. She is working on a master's degree at KSU. This young adventurer has already traveled in Europe and Latin America. Her trip to China was her first to Asia.
The trip included a flight on Continental Airlines across the North Pole from Newark, N.J., to Beijing. "The polar crossing was essentially uneventful. I knew the plane was over the North Pole, that was all," she said. The return trip was shorter because of the prevailing westerly wind.
Collins stayed in an apartment in Beijing with a Chinese-American video reporter from Chicago and her husband. This couple, like other professionals Collins met, spoke multiple languages. Some other interesting observations were that the Internet was unreliable in some places in Beijing; the Chinese food took several days to adjust to; and nearly everyone drinks bottled water instead of tap water. "T.G.I. Fridays was a haven for American foods," Collins said. "And auto traffic! There are cars all over the place. No one pays attention to traffic lights."
She said, "It was informative meeting the Chinese people, visiting parts of China with the band and learning about historic sites. The sky, however, was full of smog the week we were there." While Beijing is located near an arid area, it rained much of the time. She also referenced an unpleasant smell in the air.
"We saw a number of the buildings at the Olympic Games site, as well as pagodas and Tiananmen Square (site of the 1989 people's protest). Some of the scaffolding used for building construction was made entirely of bamboo instead of hard wood or metal."
It was a two hour drive from Beijing to the Great Wall of China, the nation's signature landmark. "Walking along the top of the wall was difficult and fatiguing, but I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be there," Collins said.
While in China they flew round-trip in a Chinese airliner between Beijing and Si'an. Their primary reason for going to Si'an was for the Shaw High School Band to participate in a pre-Olympic international band festival. The event included participants from Canada, California, Missouri and Cleveland.
Many of the Chinese people in Si'an hugged the members of the all African American band. "It was a pleasant experience to watch," Collins said. "While smiles are generally not free in China, there were a lot of smiles for the band members."
With more than 1.3 billion people, China's impact on America is growing rapidly. We need to know as much as we can about the Chinese people. Thanks, Ms. Collins, for sharing your experiences and talent.