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.

From Kate's Journal

Monday, May 31, 2010 First day of class
We met at 9 to de-brief the day before and from 9:30-11:30 we discussed Chinese nationalism and saving face. After class we went to lunch and then we went to the Olympic Park and the Bird’s Nest. So far, many people have found us to be an oddity and will stare at us in public, but at the Olympic Park, people were coming up to us and asking us if we would be in pictures with them. We went into the Bird’s Nest and noticed a tightrope walker walking the width of the stadium on the wires way above us without a tether. We were planning on going on the field, but it turned out that in order to get onto the field, you had to pass a series of physical fitness tests that included sit-ups, tightrope walking, a 50m race, etc. Given that all the girls were in dresses/skirts and most of us were wearing flip flops (not allowed in the tests), we decided to pass on going to the field. We then went to the Forest Park which was enormous and where Microsoft was having a company picnic. Jared, Alisha, Jenn and I then went to Hou Hai (a bar district) to eat dinner. We ate at a WONDERFUL restaurant called “No Name” and the food was delicious! We walked around the lake at Hou Hai, took pictures and sat and watched the sun go down and all of the shops light up. We then decided it was time for bed and went back to Beida. The days are so busy and they go by so quickly!! At the same time, I can’t believe I’ve only been here for two days—I feel like I’ve already seen far too much for it to have only been two days. On the docket for tomorrow is a lecture on Currency and Trade in the morning, followed by a visit to Qianmen and the Beijing Urban Planning Exhibition Hall.

Thursday, June 3, 2010 Fourth Day of Class
This morning we switched up our schedule a little bit. We went to Lenovo in the morning, then lunch, then class. Lenovo was definitely interesting. They had a huge campus and everyone was really nice. The lecture was a little like Aigo in terms of them pretty much just giving us their annual report and telling us how they have progressed as a company in the past year and their philosophy for the future. We went to lunch, had a ton of delicious food again, as always. After lunch we discussed the Taiwan issue from both sides—US and China and how each perceives the debate. After lecture, we decided to wander around campus and went to the lake on campus and took a bunch of pictures. It was a gorgeous day today—not too hot. Actually, the weather during all of our days here has been really nice! The lake was gorgeous and picturesque. After wandering around the lake for a little over an hour, we ate dinner at one of the places we went to for lunch earlier in the week. The food, as always, was delicious. It was a lot of fun though. I’m going to call it an early night and go to bed around 9:30. On the docket for tomorrow is class in the morning, lunch, touring the Summer Palace!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cultural Differences in Academia

From Jared:

I am trying to remember what I wrote in my last blog entry. The site where these are being posted is blocked in China so my apologies if I repeat myself. We have wrapped up the class portion of our trip to China. Overall I found the classes to be educational, in that they gave a picture of how the academia in this country thinks. Most of the information they have relayed I was already familiar with it, but how it was presented and spun was very interesting. I believe I made the argument in a previous entry that various cultures really aren’t that different. While I still believe this is the case, academia has highlighted where, at least our two cultures, differ. In Western academia, professors teach through discussion, Socratic Method, or direct lecturing where their opinions are made obvious. Here, classes are in direct lecture format and what the professors say is not always necessarily what they mean. I read an analysis of “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, the book itself I’m still working through, that made the point that Chinese historians had made an art out of indirect criticism. If one knew history and literature, they could understand the writer’s allusions and what they truly meant. While our classes weren’t nearly this muddied, I think the primary educational value came from discerning what was “party line”, what was true, what they believed, and what was “face”.
My favorite sight visit came last Thursday when we visited a rural village about 2 hours outside of Beijing. It was nestled in the mountains, the air was fresh, the sky blue, and the temperature somewhere in the 70s. So very different from Beijing. We had a fantastic lunch consisting primarily of veggies, talked some with the democratically elected village leader, and then wandered the village. Set well back from the other lodgings and surrounded by terraced hillside, Alisha and I came across a small house. The elderly wife led us inside while her husband went off into the fields. It turned out that she was concerned with our health, we looked hot and tired to her, so she gave us some dried apples and cherries and had us sit and rest for a while. Her home consisted of three rooms, two of which were storage (for food, and other misc. things). She and her husband lived in the remaining room, with plastered interior walls, a bed/couch, table and chairs, and rudimentary kitchen all in one room. On the wall were some old pictures from a trip to Beijing and of the couple when they were younger and her husband was in the PLA.
They lived in what the west would consider abject poverty. There were no doors on the house meaning the winters would be bitterly cold, no indoor plumbing, or refrigeration. Yet, they were the happiest people I have met on this trip so far. Their joy brought me a lot of joy, their surrounding environment was so much better than that of the city as well. With this in mind, though, it makes me wonder why migrant labor is so prevalent in this country. My internship deals specifically with migrant laborers that have been injured in factories, far away from available medical care. Considering the situations rural workers are subject to in the cities, and seeing the just overall happiness of the village couple, it’s a contradiction. Maybe I will figure it out and maybe I won’t.
China seems full of contradictions. I don’t meant to be exclusivist, I suppose any developing society is one of contradictions, but this is the one I am in now so it is the one I “know the most about”. I am in a Communist country that has the most rampant capitalism one could imagine. Ads bombard you no matter where you look, and people are always trying to sell something. There is no word in Chinese for “individuality” their culture and religion teaches them to maintain a collective existence, and yet looking out for “self” seems to be the primary concern for most individuals. From what I am told, 1 in 8 people in Beijing is a millionaire, yet rural China has some of the lowest living standards in the world. 1,500 cars are being added to the Roads in Beijing alone each day, but I pass horse drawn carts in my neighborhood daily. Just to name a few contradictions. I’m not really sure where I want to go with that. Just something I’ve been pondering.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Updates and Photos from David

During the course of our seminar and daily site visits, I feel like we really received a crash course in virtually all things Chinese. We learned Chinese history from our class discussions, as well as in our site visits to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall. We got an insight into the lives of the rural population through our visit to a rural community, which included a discussion with the village head, and discussions with Chinese scholars who have focused their research on the plight of the rural poor and on the enormous and growing "floating" migrant worker population, who migrate to the cities in search of factory jobs in order to increase the opportunities available for their next of kin. We glimpsed into China's booming corporate world through tours of offices and discussions with businesspeople who work for some of China's most successful companies. We also learned about all of the problems that China faces in the future through conversations with scholars who focus on China's myriad challenges, including problems ranging from shortages in energy resources and environmental degradation to truly striking disparities in the distribution of wealth. We even broached controversial topics such as the rise of Chinese nationalism and the relative merits and drawbacks of China's Communist system as compared to what China might look like under a more open and Democratic society. Through conversations with Chinese university students, we came to understand the enormous pressures faced by determined students trying to compete with 1.4 billion people for the few truly high paying jobs available in China's export driven economy that runs primarily on cheap labor. Then when the "school day" was finished, we would work on our Mandarin as we tried to navigate the city by taxi and order food. These efforts met with varying success, sometimes managing to order absolutely fantastic meals, while at other times ending up with a huge bowl full of intestines on our table. Overall, the experience enabled us to relate with and better understand a country and a people who are often portrayed in the U.S. media as a serious threat to our economic well-being and to global security.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Updates and photos from Jenn

Day 3 – This morning’s lecture by Yong Wang was focused on trade between the U.S. and China and import/export statistics and the possibility of a currency war. It was an informative talk but not exactly my area of interest. Lunch today was at a campus restaurant which I don’t know the name of but it had the best food I’ve tasted thus far. I highly recommend the dumplings this city has to offer. In the afternoon, we were taken to the Qianmen (“Front Gate”) area and the Beijing Urban Planning Exhibition. The exhibition was our first stop. The thing here which seemed to catch everyone’s interest was a scaled model of the entire city. The model made me aware for the first time of the immensity of Beijing….and also aware of the fact that it is somewhat excusable to get lost a lot. After the exhibition, we went to a street in the Qianmen area which had recently been given a make over. The buildings here had been restored to their original grandeur and now house a bunch of restaurants and shops. We wandered back among the hutongs and found a hostel which apparently is one of the more popular ones in Beijing. Although I’d like to try to experience mostly Chinese culture while I’m here, this place seemed pretty cool. People from all over the world wandered in and out with giant backpacks on while we sat down for dinner and drinks. After we all had discussed/argued/etc…about everything under the sun for some time, the 3 of us girls headed back. Now seems like a good time to explain the taxi and overall driving situation in Beijing. Here, the lines on the road, lights and road signs are more of suggestions than actual rules. Basically, the roads are a free-for-all and pedestrians don’t have the right of way. It’s not uncommon at all to look around while you’re in a taxi and not see a single car that’s actually in a lane. I feel like I’m going to die every time I get in a taxi, but to me it’s the easiest way around the city so I do it anyway.

Day 4 – Happy Birthday Kate!! Yep three of us have birthdays in the 6 weeks that we’re here. Mine happens to be the last day that we’re in Beijing…so I’m expecting it to be epic. Anyways, Kate decided that she wanted to do karaoke this night so I’ll get back to that in a sec. This morning we had a lecture by Jian Yuan on economic development in China. The part of her lecture that I found particularly interesting was her explanation of the life of “floating” workers in China. These are the people who move back and forth between rural and urban jobs and her description of their lives paints a tough picture. She also talked about how in order to increase GDP, China needs to increase consumption. I don’t know if there would be a potential problem with having two of the top economies in the world (China and the US) both based on consumption…doesn’t seem like it would work out well to me. For lunch, four of us went with Joyce to try a hot pot, which was on my list of must-dos while in Beijing. Definitely an experience, but not sure that its one I’ll try again. After that, we went to Aigo (technology company) where we were shown the showroom, taken on a tour and given a presentation by an executive in the international marketing sector. Overall, it was informative and a glimpse into the Chinese market for technological goods. I thought it was interesting that he admitted that the company doesn’t even try to market their MP3s in the US because there is no possible way they can compete with the iPod. After that, we went to dinner, and after that…karaoke!! Okay, so the way they karaoke in Asia in not at all the way we do it in the States. Here, you rent a room with your friends, pay by the hour and order food and drinks all night long. It’s a better situation for those who embarrass easily but not so fun for those who like to enjoy making a fool of themselves in public. And for those who can actually sing (like Kate) well then it doesn’t really matter who’s listening.

Day 5 – This morning, instead of a lecture we went to Lenovo (another electronics company) where we had a meeting with one of its executives. He gave us a presentation on how they were able to have such a successful year last year by sticking to a “game plan”(which was extremely basic in my opinion so I don’t know how it’s implemented but then again I’m not very business-minded). Their company is apparently rivaling Dell, HP, Toshiba, etc…now that they bought out IBM’s laptop industry, but I’d never heard of them before I came here. Our lecture got moved to the afternoon and it was a very interesting topic: Taiwan. I thought the lecturer (Qingmin Zhang) was extremely knowledgeable about the history of the Taiwan issue, but his opinions on the subject were more biased than he claimed to be. I think he thought he was open-minded about the issue, but it did not come across that way to us. Particularly interesting was his focus on Chinese and U.S. interests, motivations and public opinion on Taiwan, but absolutely nothing from the Taiwanese perspective. After the lecture, we all went out to dinner at a campus restaurant called The Yellow Table (which was delicious) and after that…I went to bed (still suffering from jet lag a little).

Day 6 – I went for a run this morning around the lake in the middle of Bei Da. Looking at that place it’s hard to imagine that it’s a university campus…it’s so beautiful. Kate and I went there yesterday for a walk and took some pictures. The one’s with us in them all look like they could pass as senior portraits. The campus here is overwhelmingly large…just picture this lake (which has a path around it a little over a mile) and it takes up just a tiny fraction of the school’s actual size. Fangjun Kong gave a talk about the Chinese political model and how it was essentially taken and altered (just a little) to fit China’s needs. Interesting subject, but the language barrier was difficult to overcome because his English was not that good. In the afternoon, an executive from the Minsheng Bank was supposed to talk to us but he had to cancel so we joined the U. of San Diego students on their trip to the Summer Palace. The palace itself was beautiful but the most impressive aspect of the area was the lake, which was man-made. We got rental boats and floated around for about an hour and then the guys found a remote area of the lake where some Chinese people swim, relax, and sing (apparently). While one of the guys went swimming, the rest of us got to listen to this older gentleman go back and forth between singing ballads about Chairman Mao and playing Yankee Doodle Dandy on the harmonica. Fun cultural fact: when you compliment a Chinese person, they have to deny whatever it is you complimented them on. It’s almost considered rude to accept it by just saying “thank you.” Whereas in the U.S., if you deny it you’re considered rude for fishing for compliments. After that, we went back to Hou Hai which ended up being a late night for me (enough said). But I did get a fabulous massage! If you go there and a little old man comes up and offers you a massage for 20yuan...take it. He comes highly recommended by myself and two others in my group.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Blog entry for week 1 from Jared:

So I’ve caught a bit of a cold or something, which is often bound to happen on long trips, and passing up the normal evening activities, so it seems I have the time to sit down and type out a blog entry for week 1. Classes have certainly been interesting. The lecture format is very different here than compared with the U.S. While questions are welcomed, discussion and differing opinions, while not silenced, are not solicited either. This is simply a cultural difference, I do not believe that we are being short changed because of this or anything of the sort. On the contrary, it is educational to see academia carried out in another culture. So far we have discussed China/U.S. trade, the Taiwan issue, the prospect for democratic transformation in China, the need for China to grow a domestic consumer base to maintain strong economic growth, and Nationalism as it manifests itself in China. Before each lecture we have a discussion time with Dr. Sun about the previous day’s talk, and get to hash out more understanding with his help.

I was thinking the on Friday about Chinese academia and how culture and politics play a role. In our society we value frankness in educational matters, and are socially conditioned to offer up dissent when relevant. Things are quite different in China. Chinese “face” revolves around show’s of humility and the respect of personal honor and composure. Additionally, Beijing U. is monitored by the Communist party. Every significant protest and uprising, including what happened in Tienanmen began here. A lot of the faculty, also, while having studied in the U.S., do not have the same academic style in their background and have only recently been able to be more honest in their political opinions. I will give an example, several scholars now have made the statement that China really isn’t all that great (paraphrasing obviously) and is still backward in many ways. While in the U.S. we could accept a scholar’s statement to this effect as his general opinion, in China you can’t be so sure. It could be that they are indeed quite proud of China’s accomplishments and future prospects (most Chinese are), but are simply being modest. It therefore pays to actively listen and closely parse what the lecturers are saying to sift the truth of what they mean out of it. It means you retain more, and it means that we end up discussing lectures in our off time conversationally in order to get everyone’s perspectives.

In the city, we have done our fare share of exploring. I semi-intentionally got lost in a HuTong just to be able to really see and experience it. It was worth every minute spent trying to get back out and on my way again! I am not having any trouble with the culture. I do love China, the culture, and the people, so maybe this eases the transition from living in the West, or maybe it’s simply that I have been over here before. Beijing, is one of the cleanest cities I have ever been too, including Europe. I also have always felt safe here,
while I don’t think people should not be vigilant, I have never feared for my personal safety or for my property. Beijing worked hard before the Olympics to put on a great face for the world, and I really think they succeeded.

We have seen a few of the typical sites here in the city. Those are all well and good, but certainly do not constitute the best parts of non-class time. Those happen when you are out to look beyond the typical sites. As an example, we went to the Summer Palace on Friday. The opulence of the place, for a second huge palace for the Qing emperors, was really amazing. It was wonderful to see and I loved it, but after we toured the place, we went out walking in some of the gardens. They had a causeway there modeled after the famous one in Hangzhou it was pretty, and breezy (I personally think the people in Hangzhou did it better than the Qings but that’s tangential). We came across a pond that was cut off from the manmade lake by the causeway. There were a handful of Chinese natives there swimming in the lake. We joined the few on the shore, Dave went for a swim with the ones in the
water. While we enjoyed the breeze and the scenery, we attempted to communicate with the gentleman next to us. With our collective broken Chinese and his broken English (with hand gestures thrown in too for good measure) we talked some with him. Rather, we tried to communicate some with him. In between these attempts he would play American folk songs on a harmonica, or sing patriotic songs about Mao. The Summer
Palace was there, behind us, but all the other Westerners that were around touring, I think, were missing out on a bit of the real China a bit down the path. A quote from Machiavelli comes to mind, he says something to the effect of “Everyone sees what you appear to be but few see who you really are”. While this certainly has insidious connotations in the context of his writings, I see that it can be applied to a Westerner’s experience of China. You can see the shiny buildings, or imperial relics, but without stepping away from those experiences, you cannot really see what China is. (As an aside, I in no way mean to imply that I’m a China expert and the most perceptiveperson when it comes to its true nature, more of just something I’ve been musing about)

Pictures attached:
1. Dogs on the roof of a house in a Hutong near Ho Hai
3. Our harmonica playing friend
4. The Great Wall

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

First impressions

From Jennifer's journal:
Night of Arrival – That may have been the longest trip of my life. After getting about 6 hours sleep throughout the preceding 48 hours, the trip from D.C. to Seattle to Vancouver to Beijing was finally over. Needless to say, after one terrifying cab ride from the airport to Peking University, I passed out.
Day One (Orientation) – Our first day was basically getting acquainted with the University and the subway system. We met Youli (our professor) and some of the history department in the morning and talked about ourselves, our interest with China and previous travel experience to this part of the world. After lunch, we were taken by Joyce Li to the subway to get familiar with travel in the city (we all had our first experience with cabs the night before – which are definitely the most entertaining way to get around but more on that later). The subway in China is very nice! Especially the line that takes you to where the 2008 Olympics were. Obviously wanting to make a good impression, this line of the subway was decorated to the nines. Joyce didn’t have a specific place she wanted to take us to, so somehow we ended up at the Silk Market. Apparently she didn’t want this to be our first impression of Beijing, which is obvious to me now, but someone in our group had lost his luggage and needed to buy some cheap clothing. There is only one word to describe the Silk Market – overwhelming. Now I’ve been to markets before where you are expected to haggle and such, but nowhere like this place. Salesgirls were grabbing us, yelling at us if we didn’t go into their shops and yelling at us when we did. Myself and the two other girls in our group spent about 15 minutes in there (making it through 5 of the levels) and then decided we’d had enough. Two of the guys didn’t even bother and went to find beers, and the one who needed shirts had one hell of a time. Apparently he got two shirts talked down from a couple hundred yuan to 50. Fun fact – if you ask in Chinese you get a better starting price to work with (“Duo shao qian?”). After this lovely experience, Joyce left us to go out and explore on our own. We ended up walking a few miles in who knows what direction before we stopped to get dinner and drinks. After that, my friend Kate and I went back to the University because we still had some reading to do for the class the next day. Overall, a fun start to our time in Beijing.
Day Two – This morning we met when Youli and talked about the book China’s New Nationalism. The focus of the discussion was China’s “century of humiliation” which has played a huge role in the development of the nationalism which emanates throughout the country today. After an amazing lunch at one of the school’s restaurants (I think there’s about a hundred of them), we went with Joyce to the Olympic Park and walked around the Bird’s Nest. You can’t possibly imagine how big this park is unless you go there…and even then they tell you its exact size in hectares, which most likely will still leave you guessing. The Bird’s Nest itself is just as awe inspiring, especially when you go inside and look up to see a tightrope walker creeping across the width of the building. We all wanted to go down on the track, but apparently you have to pass a fitness test in order to be allowed down there, and some of those tests would not have worked out well for the 3 of us in skirts. Maybe some other day… After the Bird’s Nest we walked down to Forest Park where Joyce left us to do our own thing. Three of the boys wanted to attempt to get to the top of a big hill in the middle of the park (they didn’t make it) while the rest of us went to Hou Hai, where we spent the rest of the evening. The Hou Hai area is something else. It’s an area of hutongs (alleyways of old houses) surrounding a lake which lights up like Las Vegas at night. The street around the lake is lined with shops, restaurants and bars and seems to be popular with both the Chinese and international visitors. Also, it is home to a lot of rickshaw tours, something I’m bound and determined to do before I leave here. We had dinner at an amazing restaurant that was a little hidden back among the hutongs called No Name Restaurant (the bar which shares the same name but not the same location is the oldest bar in Hou Hai) and I highly recommend it. After strolling around after dinner, we saw lightning off in the distance and decided to head back.

Arrival in Beijing

Excerpt from Jared:

I made it to Beijing in one piece. Did not sleep much on the flight but Continental had tons of movies and laptop plugs which made up for the more than cramped quarters. I was met at the airport and given a packet of information that I leafed through a bit while a cab was hailed and instructed. On the way to Peking University, I was really amazed at how clean the city was. It’s my theory that they cleaned up the place for the Olympics and have just kinda maintained it since then. I offered my cab driver a peppermint that he happily accepted. In return he pointed out various cites of interest as we past. His Chinese explanations were lost on me, I had about two years of Chinese in undergrad but it’s rusty now and I was never conversational. Never the less, I appreciated the sentiment.
At Peking U. Hong Li met me, paid my cab fair and helped me get checked in. I dropped my bags off and felt desperately thirsty so I met up with Matt and Dave, swung by a convenience store, and then strolled the campus. I had my “beyond tired” wind at that point so was good to go. I was really surprised at how beautiful and verdant the campus is. Having spent time in China before and seeing other schools, I expected bland but functional Russian style buildings. Instead, nearly all of the academic buildings are in a more traditional Chinese architectural style with the dorms, in Russian/Communist style, squeezed around the outside fringes of campus. We strolled around the small lake on campus (pictures attached) then waited back in our rooms for Alisha to get in. When she got here we found a place on campus for dinner, then headed out to one of the few parks on campus where we enjoyed the nearly cool evening and talked.
Sunday we got to meet Dr. Sun and his staff, discuss the class, and go out to lunch with them. Hong Li then took us to the metro, helped us get the Beijing version of a SmartTrip card, and took us to the Silk Market so my roommate could get some clothing (the airline lost his bag). The Silk Market was a capitalist experience with very insistent shop keepers. I made a promised myself that I wouldn’t buy anything, and held to that. I did get a good feel for the “real” cost of things. For example, I was quoted 1200 RMB for a t-shirt that seemed interesting. As I moved on, the shop keeper continued to call after me rapidly declining the price, eventually getting down to 30 RMB. I also found, through experimentation, that you get quoted better first offers if you ask and bargain in Chinese than if you do it in English. So, future travelers, learn how to ask for a price in Chinese, how to say something is too expensive, and your numbers in Chinese.
We explored the city after that. The whole thing is laid out on a grid so it’s very easy to get around. We stopped at an ex-pat bar for a bit, and to get some cold, spicy, noodles from a sidewalk stand. The noodles were delicious, and cost 4RMB a bowl (about $.50). We trekked back after that, and I crashed by about 10 or 11. Looking forward class on Monday.