Tuesday, July 13, 2010

China's Environmental Policy

From Alisha:

As a student and follower of Environmental Policy, China is always a hot topic. In the COP 15 negotiations much attention was paid to the fact that China is not “willing” to be held to binding law of carbon reductions with MRV, to many it seemed that with its bustling economy it should be able to agree to such laws. One of the many reasons I wanted to come to China was to see firsthand what hinders China, and possibly other emerging countries from being able to agree to such binding targets.

Well, behind all the gleaming windows and marble columns of Beijing lies a very gritty hard reality. From my time here I have seen that while there may be a bustling economy that straddles between the old communist regime and more western ideals of economy, there lies many issues. China is a country that has seen much poverty while the western world has seen growth and wealth, with the rise of a more capitalistic ideal there has been great improvements, famine looks to be a thing of the past, but a country cannot just magically alleviate all its problems so quickly, it takes time, and for now a fragile economic rise exists. This fragileness is where the problem lies andit is something that is masked behind the outward growth of the large cities. Yet it only takes a short train ride to see what most of China still looks like, beautiful, poor and on the cusp.

I joined this program to see the truth and in the short time allotted I have seen and heard much of what I was looking for. How do we ask the developing nations of the world to stop environmental degradation if we do not give them the tools to do so. For all the outward projection of wealth does not mean that they are capable or at least that there would not be great suffering and loss. As an American being asked to make sacrifices would typically mean losing a luxury or atworst cutting back a little on a necessity that I most likely consume in excess. For the average Chinese person it would mean forgoing an already scarce necessity. I am not saying that there is not excess or that I agree with where they are going, no in fact I see Beijing as going in the wrong direction, not learning from our mistakes, but still it is clear that much of their issues could be solved with more cooperation on our part.

I can’t describe all that I have experienced, nor do I want to, much of what I have seen are things that I want to keep privet, sharing only with my friends and classmates, but I can say that I have loved being in China. In fact I had tried change my plane ticket to stay longer and keep on working at my internship, of which I love, but I can’t, there are more people trying to come and go than there are flights, so I will have to say goodbye to China for now. It is a country that I have fallen for and hope to come back to in the near future.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Likes and Dislikes

From Jared:

I guess I don’t really have any significant observations for this blog entry. Instead, I think I’m going to list out things I’ve decided I like, and do not like about China and my experience here.

Like: Reminders of family back home.
Last week, Wednesday I think, a few of us had to stay late and work in the office. As repayment my supervisor took us out to eat afterwards. We met her brother there, Western name Allen, whom I had met one time before. I liked him instantly and was happy he had joined us. At one point in the course of the meal, Sumei and Allen got into an argument about what the five longest rivers in China were. They had been making an effort to all speak in English for my benefit but they slipped into Chinese without thinking. They argued good naturedly, neither was really mad and you could tell they really liked each other. One of my coworkers, a longtime friend of both Allen and Sumei, leaned over and said apologetically that they always do this. I could tell she was embarrassed. She shouldn’t have been, it reminded me of home, and my own brother who I have always been really close to and I was happy in that moment. This, though, leads me to my first dislike.

Dislike: China’s 1 child policy
While I understand the government’s thinking behind this, I really find the plan sad. It’s not really great for the country either. Labor prices are rising and by 2020 China will become 2nd to India in the world’s largest workforce, these two things coupled together mean unhappy economic times ahead as companies look elsewhere for a comparative advantage China had lost. On the purely mushy side, no one here has siblings, it’s extremely rare and, I suspect, lonely. It also means, since the social security net is negligible, that an incredible amount of pressure is put on the single children to succeed in everything and make lots of money. Many kids here can’t really be “kids”.

Like: People from Rural China
From the rural Chinese I have met so far they are some of the kindest and most generous people I have met. They work extremely hard but deep inside they just seem happier. I’m not talking about the migrant laborers, something about the city and their terrible working conditions tends to crush the joy out of them. Little things too, I know I mentioned the elderly lady who invited Alisha and I into her home, and the other day, I stopped to buy an apple from a fruit stand and they elected to just give it to me instead. Little things yes, but these little things you don’t see in the city.

Dislike: City people
Something about the cities here seems to turn people into self serving and absorbed individuals. I know I’ve commented on it before, but the economic machine that is Chinese city is desperate to drive consumerism and will squeeze it out wherever they can find it. Note to all of the guys out there – if a pretty girl approaches you and says she’s an art student, or asks to have a drink with you, they do not have your best interests at heart. In fact, anyone who approaches you and speaks great English you really shouldn’t trust them. This isn’t to say the cities are all bad. There is plenty of charm to Beijing if you know where to look, and many people from the country who have legally moved to the city still keep their same manner they grew up with.

Like: Taking a bus outside of town
You get to see the real China this way. You’re on a packed, loud, cramped bus trundling through the farmland and towns that lay outside Beijing proper. It’s the real China I think, crowded, kinda hot, loud, and not always clean. At the same time, though, you can see the ancient traditions peaking through and see how the vast majority of the people in this country live.

Dislike: Taking a bus outside of town
Like I said, it’s kinda hot, it’s loud, and it’s very crowded. I’m a tall guy and the busses were not built for my size. They’re slow too, it took about 3 hours to go 30 miles.

Like: Old and disused hiking trails
So I took the bus I mentioned above out to Shidu. From what I heard it’s like Guilin but not so far away. Since I really wasn’t going to take a 22 hour train ride to Guilin but wanted to see karst mountains, I compromised and headed out there. Shidu means “10 ferries” and is a river valley through some of the mountains surrounding Beijing. Because of all the switchbacks on the river, it required 10 ferries in order to traverse the region (The Chinese: not the most creative namers out there). I got off at the 7th ford I think and discovered an old and disused hiking trail. It was a beautiful walk, hiked it to the next ford, descended, made my way across some farm land and back towards civilization. Totally worth the long bus ride.

Dislike: Some Chinese tourists.
So there are these trolleys that run people between the fords, one full of people armed with water guns drove by and attacked me. Funny yes, but not so funny when it’s happening… Also, at lunch, a group of Chinese tourists were at the table next to me. One of the little boys took his shirt off, and it was revealed that his parents had tied his shoulders back with long strips of cloth so he would stand up straight and not slouch. While this would likely go into the “like” category of certain family members always trying to get my to sit up when I was younger, but I found it a bit sad.

Like: All my coworkers
Everyone has been incredibly friendly at my internship. They are all really great people doing a really great thing. They take me to lunch and talk with me in English when they don’t have to, and seem genuinely worried for me when I’m out in the city by myself (maybe I should be insulted by their lack of trust in my navigation and communication abilities but I like to think of it as caring).

Dislike: How quiet the office is
This seems to be the case with most of the other people’s internships too so I’m making a blanket statement based on that. Offices in China are deathly quiet. People do not talk and socialize during work time, and it gets to me sometimes. I like a little noise in my day. It also makes things a touch boring when there aren’t conversations to participate in. Even if it’s work things, we use IMs and email even if we’re in the same room.

Like: Dog freedom
When I had gone out to eat with my coworkers, the owners of the restaurant, I noticed, had their dog inside with them. No doubt this will disgust some people, but I loved it. I commented on the fact that it was illegal in America to which Allen replied “Ah ha! China does have more freedom than the U.S., at least for dogs.” We all laughed. Apparently the dog sang, but had a bit of stage fright that night.

Dislike but still kinda funny: Brutal treatment of fish
The Chinese love fresh fish, as in alive and swimming the day it ended up on your plate. Well the preferred method of killing the fish is by beating it with sticks. Invariably they miss and the fish flops away down the street and they have to chase after it. To see a bunch of men chasing a fish madly flopping to freedom is both amusing, and sad when he doesn’t make it.

On that strange note, I’m off to trivia night at bookworm, an expat place.

Internship Culture

From Kate:

In the two weeks that I have interned I have written many articles and comments regarding marketing and search engine optimization. It was a topic that I did not know much about before I began this internship, but between researching and writing articles about this subject I have gained a greater understanding. The people at my internship are fabulous and very nice. On my first day, they made me feel very welcome. The office atmosphere is a little different than what I am used to, but it definitely has its perks. The office is silent from the time that I walk in the door until I leave everyday. People communicate via instant messenger or e-mail. Many people in our office of 10 (this number includes myself) listen to music while they work. I enjoy the quiet as it prevents a lot of distractions, but sometimes I do miss the person-to-person communication that I am used to. I do not know if this is a cultural thing or if it is specific to my office. But, I am very thankful to have the opportunity to work/intern in China as it gives me different view of the culture--one that I would not have had if I had not been able to work here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reflections on an internship in China

From Jared:

I think I’m going to try a different approach to this blog entry. I haven’t really done anything touristy since our internships have started (I take that back I had fried scorpion near Wangfujing) so I think I might just rehash what an internship day has been like. That way, any future people on this trip can hopefully get some sort of idea of what to expect of their own experiences and anyone who knows me that’s reading this will maybe know a bit what it is like.

I get up around 6:30am, Beijing is an absolutely huge city so it just takes a while to get anywhere. There is no air conditioning in my bedroom so it’s possible I had already been up before 6 having gotten too warm when the weather starts to heat up at sunrise. It’s also possible that I had migrated out to the couch in the living room, to sleep in front of the AC. I take a shower in the 6’x6’ bathroom. There is no separation of the shower from the rest of the room so everything in there will get wet, when I had lived in Taiwan we had exactly the same setup. The bathrooms at Peking U. were also the same for me, but there we had a shower curtain at least to divide things up (no differentiation on the floor though so it will all get wet). I finish getting ready, since it’s summer work is casual, have a glass of orange juice and head out.

It’s about a 15-20 minute walk to the metro. I take a short cut and the route takes me by some retirees doing tai chi with swords, some higher class condos, and then behind a department store where a few people live in and off of the trash that comes from nearby restaurants and businesses. In the U.S. I would be expecting to get robbed along the way, but crime here is so negligible that I’m not concerned. On the other end of this alley I’m met with a 6 lane road, two lanes for cars and one for bikes (separated by a median) in each direction, no one, though, follows the recommended traffic pattern. BMWs, Audis, Japanese, and European cars compete for space with bikes, trikes, motorized bikes and trikes, scooters, rickshaws, and the occasional horse drawn wagon. We are pretty far to the outside of the city, though, so traffic always moves and horns are not sounded so much. I follow this road for a time before getting to Beiyuan Rd, a major thoroughfare for the neighborhood. Above me is the metro line I want, and I make a right and walk a short block to the station.

Once I’m through security and have paid my fare, a flat rate of 2Yuan no matter where you go (about $.30), I head up to the platform. There are a handful of people waiting at each of the door stops for the train. It takes me normally about three trains to work to the front of that line. The metros are beyond maximum capacity with enough physical space to add one or two people at my stop as long as you can push people together, elbow, and squeeze in. There’s no need for the handrails as we are all packed in tightly enough to not really move when the train speeds up and slows down. For those of you in DC it’s like the metro at rush hour with 50% more people in the trains. 5 stops of more pushing and squeezing until my transfer station. At my transfer station, and I counted today, about 30-40 people are waiting at each of the 20ish doors for entrance onto the line 10 train. The line 10 train is just as crowded already as the one I had gotten off and it takes me another 3ish trains to get to the front of the line and push my way in. 9 stops to Suzhou Avenue, the closest stop to my internship. It’s close to the end of the line so I get progressively more space as time goes by. Out at Suzhou Ave., I head due south and eventually stop for an egg pancake about half way through the 15 minute walk. I shell out another 2Yuan and get an unsweetened, fried, pancake with a scrambled egg inside. They paint the outside with chili sauce and another substance I cannot identify, put some lettuce on there, and I enjoy breakfast for the rest of the walk (it’s really good).

I am interning for Yilian, a legal aid and advocacy center for migrant laborers here in China. While there is a workers comp. law on the books here in the country, it is very difficult to enforce it and China is where the U.S. was in labor rights about 100 years ago. Yilian is preparing for a conference with their European counterparts and the majority of my duties revolve around that. I am lucky that the conference and materials are to be in English because my Chinese is not at all what it once was. Sumei, my supervisor goes around and kicks everyone out of the office at lunch time. While there is very little communication during working hours, everyone is very friendly and conversational on lunch. I am rotating through eating with the other English speakers and local restaurants. Back to work an hour later, I finish up what I had been doing and get ready to repeat my commute in reverse. The crowds aren’t as bad though because people leave work at different times and do not always go straight home.

Getting off at my stop I make for that department store I mentioned earlier. I pass people selling bootleg DVDs, who may or may not (I admit nothing) know who I am by now. In the parking lot of the dept. store in the evenings a bunch of street vendors come out and sell food out of stalls. They are all decked out in their favorite team’s colors, mostly Argentina, though a few Dutch, and a few clinging to the hope that Spain can still turn things around. All the tables are clustered around a white box truck onto which they project the world cup game(s) of the evening. My favorite meal is kabobs of BBQ lamb and Eggplant (different skewers), a bowl of cold and spicy Chinese noodles, and either a beer or soda. The meal runs me about $3. Then I enjoy the cool evening and yell at the side of a truck along with everyone around me.

Last Thursday I was talking to my supervisor, Sumei, and was commenting on the size of the city. She said the Chinese have a saying, like American slang the Chinese love to make sayings, to describe the cities of China – 河人山人. This translates out to “rivers of people and mountains of people” rivers, the streets, sidewalks, and metro lines, and mountains the apartment buildings. I thought this was apt, but I thought on it some in the next few days and grew to really like that characterization. Both rivers and mountains can overwhelm you, sweep you away, get you lost, etc. but, at the same time, I have never seen a river/mountain range combo out in nature that wasn’t beautiful. Likewise, there’s a certain beauty to everything here if you know how to look at it. Now, though, I must go join that river and head home.

Village Visit

From Kate:

Thursday, June 10, 2010
Today was a little different than most days that we’ve had so far. We skipped our lecture and instead went on two site visits. We first went to a bank where we talked about banking in China. After the bank, we drove in a little van for about an hour to an hour and a half to a little village called Xiyu. The village was nestled in a little mountain valley with lush greenery everywhere! Upon arriving we went to what seemed like the only restaurant in the town. We had so much delicious food! After lunch, we went to talk to the administrator of the village and got to ask her a few questions about the village. It turns out that there are only 186 people in this village. The village was also a farming community with terraces with corn, lettuce and walnut trees everywhere. It was very picturesque. After we talked with the administrator, who informed us that the village is holding elections soon, we got to roam around on our own. We went to the back of the village and followed a path up into the mountain. Most of the group was powering up the trail, but the trail was so rocky that moving at high speeds meant that we couldn’t stop and see everything around us. So, Jenn and I stopped and sat on a rock while the others went ahead. We waited for them to turn around and come back before we went back to the van and drove back to the university.

Friday, June 11, 2010
Today, we had our final seminar de-brief before the lecture and then went to the lecture on the rural population. That lecture was very interesting, especially after seeing the village yesterday—I could relate a little better than if we had done the lecture before going to the village. The group decided that we’d go have dinner at a noodle place by the campus. At dinner, we determined that we were going to check out a bar district called Sanlitun that we had heard good things about. Once we arrived at Sanlitun we looked around and found ourselves at a giant outdoor shopping mall full of high end American and British stores. We also determined from a giant projector TV set in the square that the World Cup was going to start in less than an hour. Instead of going into the shopping center, we headed toward the Vegas-esque shopping street on the outskirts of the mall where we watched the first game of the World Cup (South Africa vs. Mexico). We stayed out pretty late—it was definitely an experience.

Saturday, June 12, 2010
Today, we had to check out by 11:50 am and were on our way to our new apartments by 12. Once we got settled in to our apartments, we hung out upstairs for awhile before going to Jared and Alisha’s apartment (they aren’t in the same complex as us). We had tea and some snacks at their place, watched a little bit of the World Cup and then went back to our apartment to call it an early night.

Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

From Kate:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010
We had lecture and then we went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Let me tell you, Tiananmen Square is MUCH bigger than it first seems to be. We got a few group pictures in front of Mao’s picture before heading into the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is enormous as well. In fact it’s so big that I thought we had gone through the gates to the palace area, but in reality, we hadn’t even reached the ticket-selling entryway. After we left the Forbidden City, we went to Wangfujing, a shopping district in Beijing. Jenn and I really wanted to go there in order to get some books in English as we had both finished our books for fun. However, Wangfujing wasn’t exactly what I expected. I expected a street lined with smaller shops, when in reality it is a huge street blocked off from traffic with 3-4 story buildings of high-end stores. Jenn, Dominic, Matt and I DID find a side street where there was a bunch of food vendors with crazy food like scorpions, whole roasting birds, and other interesting food. After we emerged from that street, we took a cab back to the university and went to one of the food vendors in a food court near campus.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010
This morning we met with the architect of the Olympic Forest Park. His talk was really interesting and informative—for example, did you know that the park is over twice the size of Central Park in New York? Afterward, we came back to the university, had our de-brief, went to lunch at Yellow Table (by far my favorite restaurant!!) where we had some of the yummiest dishes like fried pumpkin, sweet and sour pork, chicken with peppers, egg with chile peppers, pan-fried scallion dumplings, broccoli, tofu, etc. Anyway, then we went to our class which focused on energy. The professor was a really good lecturer and although I wasn’t sure that the topic would be interesting for me, it was! Tonight we all met at 7 and went out to this place that we called the “Rainbow Stairs.” It was a restaurant on the second floor of a shopping center and had a spiral staircase that was decorated with rainbow lights (hence the name). It took a little while to order because the menus didn’t have English on them and the pictures were somewhat indistinguishable. We ended up ordering fried rice, a shrimp dish (which came with the shrimp still in its shell), and what turned out to be intestine. After this experience, we were all still hungry, so we went back to the place that we ate at last night and I had a bowl of noodles.

The Summer Palace and Great Wall

From Kate:

Friday, June 4, 2010
Today we had class where we discussed China’s political model and then went to lunch. Following lunch, we went to the Summer Palace and it was incredible! We walked through the gate and up a few stairs and there it was! We came in on the temple side though, not the park side—which made the view from the top all the more impressive. We climbed many, many stairs to reach the top of the temple. After walking through the rooms of the temple, we climbed a bunch of rocks and below us was the lake (well, one of them, we came to find out). We took a few pictures and then headed down the other side into a huge temple complex. Unfortunately, most of the side rooms were closed and we weren’t able to see the artifacts inside—but it was still cool! Once we reached the bottom floor, we went on a paddle boat tour of the lake—just the 5 of us who came to the Summer Palace from AU. We let Dave drive and I sat on the prow and dangled my feet in the water. The water itself was super warm. After our boat ride, we walked along the Long Hall (at least that’s what I think it was, it didn’t seem all that long to me) and got stopped by a few people who wanted us to take pictures with them and then went to see the marble boat of Empress Cixi.

Saturday, June 05, 2010 The Great Wall!!
We met at 8:50 am to take a private bus up to the Mutianyu Great Wall location—about 2 hours away with the traffic that we got stuck in when leaving Beijing. The drive was really pretty once we got out of the city and started to climb the mountains. We stopped at the base of a little shopping area for the Great Wall. Little did we know about the tremendous climb that we were getting ourselves into. First we climbed up the steep road through the shops of the street vendors before finally making it to the ticket booth. We walk through the gate and go through a bunch of caves which were nice and cool in the caves and it was fun—you had to step on stones in order to cross all the water. Then we began the climb which we thought was going to be a rather short trek to the wall—boy were we wrong! It was a long trek up a ton of stairs and winding paths that were, in fact, mostly stone. Upon reaching the wall, many of us were tired already. We climbed along the wall a tremendous distance—almost reaching the non-touristy area. We particularly enjoyed the guard towers which provided shade and an exceptional cross breeze—it was almost like having AC!! Once we made it back to our start point, there were three ways to get down the rest of the way—walk the way we came, toboggan down the side of the mountain, or take a cable car. Jenn and I decided on the cable car. Shortly after making it down to the base of the wall, we met to drive back to the university.