Monday, June 20, 2011

Final Blog Post from China:

We are traveling today. Carrie has already left for her flight to the west coast, and the rest of us have a leisurely day of packing and napping before a 4:10 pm flight [that’s 4:10 am Buffalo-time]. We are expected back in Buffalo on Tuesday night at 9:52 pm from Chicago.

We set up a final quick questionnaire for our transition back to the States:
1.      What will you miss about China?
2.      What will you not miss about China?
3.      What are you looking forward to in the US?
4.      What are you not looking forward to in the US?

1. Walking everywhere, tea, foreign language, food, learning new things in a different culture
2. Pollution & Tour Guides
3. Friends and Family & Communication
4. Driving everywhere

1. The friendly and welcoming Students at XiaDa
2. Beijing air & the language barrier
3. Seeing my family & having Clean smelling clothes again
4. American prices – where paying 10 rmb for a “bing shue-bi®” is a good deal.

1. Quantity, quality & availability of Tea & new, culturally disorienting Experiences
2. Being singled out solely on account of my Race
3. Being able to easily and effectively Communicate with others
4. Slipping back into the Monotony of the daily grind

1. The Exchange Rate [$1=6.42rmb] & trying many dishes at one meal
2. Excessive Pollution, the toilets & not knowing what people are saying
3. Forks!
4. Working

1. A Nation full of kindhearted, intriguing individuals who are caring and helpful.
2. A lack of Social Justice
3. Making my own Coffee
4. A lack of Social Justice

1. Inexpensive Food and all the Wonderful People in Xiamen & Beijing
2. Terrible Beds, the Tibet Hotel, smog & massive crowds everywhere
3. Family & Friends & good American Pizza
4. Writing the Second Paper for the Course

1. Haggling & being a Celebrity
2. Breakfast, air quality & outside temperature
3. Might Taco©, seeing family & friends
4. Higher Prices & going back to Work

1. New Friends, being welcomed, gathering for meals & shue-bi®!
2. Sweating in the heat, washing clothes by hand & worrying about water purity.
3. Seeing my Mom & telling friends and family about my experiences
4. Calories & less buying power.

We look forward to seeing you all soon!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Emily blogs about Tiananmen Square

In a strictly material sense, Tiananmen Square is not much different than a large parking lot – a vast, open paved plaza. What differentiates this place, then, from where you park your car when going to the grocery store every week are the layers of supra-sensible historical implications, the sense that the space could serve as a synecdoche for the governing strategies of China in the last five hundred-odd years. During the Ming and Qing dynasties (the last two dynasties in Chinese history and the time during which the Forbidden City functioned as the center of government) the area, which is now Tiananmen Square, was packed with the offices of various governmental employees – essentially forming an insurmountable wall of bureaucracy between the governed and the government. This metaphoric wall and the physical office structures were both razed when the People’s Republic of China was declared in October of 1949. With the construction of Tiananmen Square as an open plaza, the spatial meaning of the area was transformed to suggest the revolutionary notion of the government being totally permeable and self-identical with the governed. However, the ultimate fallacy of this notion was made clear when the governed were forcibly driven out of the space during the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. Currently, Tiananmen Square houses everything from a monument to the People’s Hero (commemorating those who died during the revolution) and Mao Zedong’s mausoleum, to massive video screens advertising the beauty of China and entrepreneurs hawking photographs and other souvenirs. And so, the space becomes a material manifestation of the idea of China-as-paradox that has frequently been expressed to us in the last three weeks of conversations with residents. In Tiananmen Square we see a reflection of a government simultaneously attempting to pursue capitalist strategies of growth and wealth amassment, and a program of Revolution and Maoist fetishism designed to maintain domestic stability. How long can a government built on such seeming contradictions persist? It’s hard to say, but one just might be able to read some clues in Tiananmen Square.

The Great Wall..and some great bargains-- by Eric

So I’m going to skip talk about breakfast (with Milano’s help, I acquired some cold milk and had Cheerios – China has Cheerios!) and all that and skip to the important parts.  The Great Wall:  We left the hotel at 8am and drove for an hour and a half.  We parked the van at the base of the hill and took a vote on whether we’d walk up or take the tram.  Adam pointed out that since we’re only at the Great Wall of China one time in our lives, we couldn’t possibly look anyone in the eye and tell them that we opted to take a tram to the top instead of climbing.  We climbed that darn mountain.  Kelly – our tour guide – wasn’t thrilled with the decision to climb the mountain (apparently most tour groups opt to take the tram), but she survived (albeit barely from what I hear).
                We started our walk up the mountain.  The sides of the road were absolutely lined with people selling random souvenirs, but we didn’t want to carry things up with us, so we passed them by for the time being.  Climbing the mountain itself was actually quite an endeavor.  There were stairs, but there were a LOT of stairs.  For some reason, I opted to ditch the group and go at my own pace, but by the time I hit the top, I was sweaty and out of breath.  Surely, I’ll be feeling it today in my legs when the morning hits me.  When I got to the wall itself, I took a seat on a stone ridge and waited for everybody else to arrive (which wasn’t long at all).  This was the first time I used my inhaler this trip, but it was more for the sake of the pollution than the exercise (so much smog!).
                Next to arrive were Adam and Conner, followed closely by Caitlyn.  A short while later, Milano came trudging up the path (while making another video of his hike).  The rest of the group came a bit  after Milano.  When everybody caught up, we started our walk along the top of the Wall.  “Walk” doesn’t really do justice to the trek – it was more a climb.  The Great Wall snakes over the mountaintops, so it’s constantly changing slopes and changing to stairs.  We walked for around an hour before heading down a guard tower and to the exit.  Truly, the Great Wall is worth the climb up the stairs and then some.
                When we got back down the stairs, we separated to do a bit of shopping.  I seem to have developed a talent (and addiction) for haggling on this trip.  My first attempt was for a set of ceramic chopsticks.  The woman started out asking for 185RMB, but I got her down to 20.  Next, I tried my luck on a dragon statue at another stand.  The woman started out asking 285RMB and after some lengthy haggling, I got her down to 100.  I’m sure I could’ve gotten her lower, but I was tired and bored with arguing over the same item for so long.  My final attempt of the day was a purchase on Milano’s behalf.  Milano had his eye on a chess set that one stand was asking 240-something RMB for (if memory serves).  We found the set at another stand just before we left and he asked me to help him out.  This woman was only asking 85 for the set (considerably cheaper than the 240 starting price of the other stand), but I figured we could talk her down a bit.  We only asked for 50 because we didn’t have the time to work her down to 30.  She was reluctant, but in the end we won out.  By the time the group was leaving, she was chasing me down saying “ok, 50, ok ok!”
                After we finished with the rest of the day’s events and got back to the hotel, I unloaded my recently-acquired souvenirs (including one ceramic of chopsticks, one dragon statue, and several small chunks of the Great Wall.  Oh haggling, I shall miss you.

Adam blogs about the Forbidden City in Beijing

            Today on our first day in Beijing, we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. As the home to emperors throughout the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, the city is one of the most culturally and historically rich sites in all of China. As a history major, it was an amazing experience to see firsthand much of what I had studied about imperial China.
            While the city no longer fulfills its original function of housing the emperor and his court, it still has much political significance in modern China with communist regime. It was at the gate overlooking Tiananmen Square that chairman Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and this gate continues to serve as the symbolic pulpit for China’s leadership. Also, the famous picture of Mao Zedong continually hangs on the south gate, forever staring out into Tiananmen Square.
            Inside, the city is absolutely enormous and consists of a system of gates with massive courtyards that served a number of various ceremonial functions. For example, we were able to jockey for a position to see the Hall of Supreme Harmony where numerous emperors would celebrate royal festivals such as Chinese New Year or to celebrate victory in a major military campaign. Also, we had the opportunity to enter into a number of various smaller halls such as the Hall of Mental Cultivation where the emperor would read accounts of how to rule from previous emperors, and the chamber where the emperor would sleep and receive his various concubines. Lastly, we walked through the emperor’s private garden which was filled with a variety of flora and fauna and also contained special rock formations that were taken from a specific lake in Southern China and were prized for their aesthetic beauty.
            Overall the tour of the city complex was truly something that made history come alive for me. It is difficult to fathom how much history the place contains because our country is so young relative to China. Despite battling middle-aged Chinese men for a good vantage point of the sights, I think I can safely speak on behalf of the group that it was something that we will not forget.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Arrived in Beijing.. a quick note from Dr. Forest

We arrived in Beijing this afternoon and are settled into our hotel. We are in the Tibet Hotel in the Chaoyang District on the 4th Ring Road. The pollution is pretty bad here. The air is smoggy and is mildly irritating to our throats and eyes. Because we have to pay for internet access, we only have two rooms with service which we will share. But expect a little less contact for the next few days. On Friday we are going to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and on a Hutong Tour.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dr. forest's update on the trip so far

I wanted to give a brief synopsis of the trip so far. We are about 18 days into our trip. We have completed most of the academic course. We meet in the afternoons at 3 pm and hold class for about 2 ½ hours before we have dinner. We have one more class session to go [on the Confucian philosopher Xunzi] so that students have enough material to write the second paper when we return to the States. In between these we have meals – roughly breakfast at 8, lunch at noon, and dinner at 6. Breakfast is always in the campus hotel buffet and it is the same buffet offerings every morning. Lunch is nearly always on the 3rd floor of one of the big student cafeterias. For dinner we try to have a Chinese student take us to a local restaurant and order for us. This has been quite successful and the favorite is definitely the spicy Sichuan Restaurant off campus that a former student, Wang Jing [or ‘Crystal’] has taken us to twice. We have about 4 more days in Xiamen before we head to Beijing for the final portion of the trip.

We have just returned from a Saturday bus trip to Quanzhou, a city that is about 60 miles from Xiamen. It is one of the three cities with Xiamen in Minnan, the area of the “South Min” and they all speak the same local language. Quanzhou is bigger than Xiamen and is much older. We visited a Buddhist temple that was founded about the year 690, and even pre-dates the city, which was founded early in the 700s. We also visited a Daoist sacred mountain that has a 1000 year old statue of Laozi carved into the rocky hillside. We were able to visit an Islamic mosque that was built in 1009. Prayers are held in the newer structures, but the old foundations, pillars and much of the walls were still intact.

We visited the local Confucian Temple as well. These are more like museums since there are no religious practices associated with Confucianism any more. But students were able to recognize the disciples of Kongzi [Confucius to us] who had statues around the man himself. Having read Kongzi’s Analects, we are able to get a sense of the personalities of his followers. The most talked about are Yan Hui, who has a statue at all the temples and is the “perfect” disciple, but students like to joke about Zai Wo, who is the classic screw-up disciple and sarcastically asked why he didn’t have a statue at the temple. We also visited the temple of a local goddess, Mazu, who is revered only in this part of Fujian Province and in Taiwan [which has the same culture as Fujian Province]. Unfortunately, the main temple was under construction.
For the remainder of our Xiamen stay, we have one more class, a Sunday meeting at a friend’s house to sample and buy some tea, a few trips to Daoist temples, and hopefully a lecture by one of the professors at Xiamen University on 20th Century Chinese history

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Laundry with a View...a reflection by Connor


Walking forward I approach the large white door, smoothly it slides open. Entering the room a set of stairs looms out to me from the opposing side. Step by step they get closer. I know what waits for me;  it's not the first time I've made this journey and reaching the top of the stairs, bracing myself,  intimidation is a good description. Hmm... novelty, form, a  creature pounces by.

                The date is june 6th, well at least at the time I write this, and it has been around a week now on the other side of the world. In terms of it actually techinically being the other side of the world (from Buffalo) is debatable in my mind, thats neither hear nor there I guess as it is culturally a different side for sure.
                 A number of things don't surprise me though and my continuing need of coffee is among them. I guess in the land of tea that may sound a bit out of place and well honestly it is. Picture this--  Sweltering hot Chinese morning; people out in droves for holiday weekend; a bus packed so tight it's standing room only; me bouncing back and forth in sweat soaked clothes with one hand grasping a saftey rail: a cup of coffee in the other. Good stuff really.

I progress forward knowing the way in is not the way out. The slanted floor is just as it was left yet the intimidation, the precesence, is gone. Out I go and land with ease. As feet touch the ground the sky illuminates, a deadly cloud takes form, pins needles.

                The date is now June 7th, I'm sort of a lazy distracted writer and there is so much to be said; I find it hard to really express it all. At least two things are apparent though: 1. China has a beautiful culture with such a rich and complicated history that even getting little glimpses of it can be overwhelming 2. A massive metropolitan area is a massive metropolitan area whether it be in the United States or in China. I think there are a number of unwarrented assumptions and myths about the culture I find myself in now, it would be good to slowly unravel and dispel them.
I recover unscathed and stand up. Behind me is the large white door but instead I walk  in the opposite direction. Moving forward the creature, a cat, approches. I jump and remain suspended. It runs back and forth underneath, one side it is white the other side it is black.

                Aparently I'm not only a lazy and distracted writer but also a lazy and distracted submiter as it is now June 13th. Sorry for the spaceyness, there is a lot of tea to drink and what not.