When In Beijing, do as the Beijingers do. And that’s exactly what some Lincoln High School students decided to do when they donned face masks Saturday morning.
Heavy smog enveloped the city and environs, with the air index rated as very unhealthy. At first only a few students put on masks, but as the day wore on, more masks appeared, including on teacher chaperones.
“As the day went on, my vision got a little blurry,” said Kabastin Campbell, a junior.
Hannah Chin Pratt, a Lincoln teacher and chaperone on the trip, supplied a number of students with the masks, which cost about 60 cents.
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“A student told me that when the pollution index is above 200, you should wear the mask,” Pratt said. On Saturday, it was 360.
“I wore it because I didn’t like the smell of the air,” said student Shauntel Berry.
“The air was just so bad,” Katelyn Wear later recalled about the day’s first stop at the Great Wall at Juyongguan, about 35 miles north of Beijing. “I don’t even have asthma, but I felt I needed an inhaler.” She did not wear a mask, however.
Smog shrouded the wall but did not completely obscure it.
For many of the students who had been looking forward to walking along the Great Wall, the steepness of the steps surprised them.
Elizabeth Davis, who describes herself as a history nerd, said: “Everything said it was going to be hard to climb, but I didn’t think it would be that hard. It was definitely tiring,” Davis said.
The steps were also irregular, with varying heights to stop any invaders.
The pass at Juyonggan was a strategic point for various militaries over 2,000 years.
Beijing is the final stop on an 11-day tour of Hong Kong and China for the 97 students and 16 staff. This portion of the trip is being paid for by the government, and they had other sponsors in Hong Kong.
In addition to the Great Wall, they visited two top tourist draws in Beijing, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
At the Forbidden City, the swastikas carved into wood on the exterior of some buildings intrigued Chessie Briggs. “I think the coolest thing is the swastikas and that long ago it meant good luck,” she said.
Although it wsan’t discussed by guides, the day of the students’ visit to Tiananmen Square, known outside China for student demonstrations in 1989, marked the apparent release of the last known prisoner of the uprising.
Teacher and chaperone Aubrey Shelton’s ears perked up when he heard a report on CNN about the release. The TV screen then turned blue for about two minutes before the newscast resumed.
The CNN report said Miao Deshun was one of more than 1,600 people charged during the bloody crackdown on the student movement.
Dui Hua, a San Franciso-based human rights organization, said it had obtained court documents that he would be released Saturday from Beijing’s Yanking prison.
He was given a suspended death sentence in August 1989 for throwing a basket into a burning tank, Dui Hua said.
Jonathan Nesvig, a former News Tribune reporter, is traveling with the Lincoln High School students in China.