Early March’s spread of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County prompts school officials to cancel Chinese students’ Chinatown field trip

The+last+time+world+language+teacher+Soon-Ya+Gordon+and+her+Chinese+classes+visited+Chinatown+was+on+March+17%2C+2018.+Here+they+are+in+front+of+El+Pueblo+de+Los+Angeles+Historical+Monument%2C+where+they+learned+that+to+make+room+for+Union+Station+in+the+1930s%2C+the+current+Chinatown+was+built%2C+and+the+Chinese+people+in+the+El+Pueblo+area+were+moved.+This+year%E2%80%99s+March+13+Chinatown+field+trip+was+canceled+because+of+the+growing+coronavirus+threat.+Image+posted+with+permission+from+Soon-Ya+Gordon.

The last time world language teacher Soon-Ya Gordon and her Chinese classes visited Chinatown was on March 17, 2018. Here they are in front of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, where they learned that to make room for Union Station in the 1930s, the current Chinatown was built, and the Chinese people in the El Pueblo area were moved. This year’s March 13 Chinatown field trip was canceled because of the growing coronavirus threat. Image posted with permission from Soon-Ya Gordon.

Michelle Sheen

Since 2006 and almost every other year thereafter, Chinese teacher Soon-Ya Gordon has been taking her students to this 140-year-old, nearly one-square-mile location near downtown Los Angeles known as Chinatown.

Their field trip would begin at the Fullerton Station on East Santa Fe Avenue, where they would meet and board the same Metrolink train to take them to Los Angeles’ Union Station, where they would then take the Metro Gold Line southbound to the Chinatown exit, which was one stop away.

At Chinatown, students would be able to visit key locations including the Central Plaza and Foo Chow restaurant, where the building’s exterior was featured in the Jackie Chan 1998 movie, “Rush Hour.” They would also be able to indulge in various Chinese delicacies like dim sum, a traditional meal consisting of dumplings, other snacks  and tea.

However, for the first time, Gordon was unable to take her one Troy and five Sunny Hills Chinese classes on the March 13 field trip as it became the first off-campus Sunny Hills-related event to be canceled because of the growing coronavirus threat in Los Angeles County.

We are very grateful that our administration stood firm in their decision to be cautious and put students’ health first,” Gordon said of the March 5 cancellation notice she received from principal Allen Whitten. 

According to a World Health Organization report, the United States had reached 108 confirmed coronavirus cases as of March 4. More than a month later by April 20, that number had increased exponentially, adding up to 723,605 confirmed cases and 34,203 fatalities. In Orange County, 1,691 COVID-19 confirmed cases have been reported with a total of 33 deaths, according to the Orange County Register.

Ironically on March 13 — the same day that Gordon and her Chinese 1, Chinese 2, Chinese 3, Advanced Placement Chinese and International Baccalaureate Chinese classes at Sunny Hills and her Troy Chinese 1 class would’ve been traveling to Chinatown — the Fullerton Joint Union High School District superintendent Scott Scambray sent an email informing students and parents of the school closure along with the cancellation/postponement of all other events on and off campus.

“I was looking forward to hanging out with my friends and walking around the place,” said sophomore Yeonji Baek, who is in Chinese 2 and has never visited Chinatown before.

Since Baek wasn’t familiar with traditional Chinese delicacies served at Chinatown, she planned on eating any kind of noodle-based dish like chow mein, which she says is one of her favorites.

The field trip was planned to begin with an introduction of the origin of Chinatowns, an explanation about the Los Angeles location and a brief lesson on Chinese-American history, Gordon said.

She also had planned to split her students into groups of 10 with a parent chaperone assigned to each group. From there, each group would be free to visit the Thien Hau Temple and any store or restaurant students wanted in addition to the mandatory visit to the Chinese American Museum located south of Olvera Street.

Though her students were not able to go on the field trip, Gordon had her Chinese 1, AP Chinese and IB Chinese students, as well as her Troy Chinese 1 students, proceed with a normal class on March 13.

However, since Chinese 2 was learning about party planning in Chinese culture and Chinese 3 was on the lesson about Chinese cuisine during that time, students from each of the two classes were allowed to bring in food to share as a cumulative activity, Gordon said.

Because of the lessons the two classes were on, the instructor scheduled a potluck consisting of Chinese food for these students and played the movie, “Kung Fu Shaolin,” for Chinese 2 and showed videos about Chinese cuisine for Chinese 3. Food items that students brought included dumplings, chow mein and fruit and snacks like cookies and chips. 

That turned out better for junior Allison Lee, a student in Gordon’s Chinese 3 class.

“The food people brought was more of my taste than the food at Chinatown,” said Lee, who visited Chinatown in her freshman year when she was enrolled in Chinese 1 class.

Gordon remains unsure as to whether she will plan a makeup Chinatown field trip next year since she usually plans the visit every other year. 

Although she agrees with the reason for the field trip’s cancellation, she wanted to give her students a more in-depth opportunity to explore Chinese culture and was disappointed in not being able to do so last month.

“If there’s no field trip, students lose the opportunity to visit a predominantly Chinese community to experience the culture and to practice the language,” Gordon said.