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.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Quirks...a post by Carrie

Top 4 Quirky Things about China:

1. Couples often wear matching outfits
2. Using umbrellas in the sunshine
3. Squat toilets
4. Corn-flavored ice cream popsicles

These are just a few of the interesting observations that I've made since I've arrived.  While some of them, or perhaps all of them, may be shocking to non-Chinese people, I really enjoy testing the idea of what is considered normal.  “Normal” is often misconstrued as being the way we do things, and so anything that doesn't fit within that paradigm is judged as strange or abnormal.  We take for granted the way we were raised and use it to judge other cultures.  It's important to realize though that each culture has it's own view of normality and sometimes we need to step back and remember our own quirkiness.  American culture is just as strange from an outsider's perspective. 

4 Quirky Things about America that We Think are Normal but Wouldn't be Normal to a Chinese Person

1. Drinking beverages from enormous cups
2. Our obsession with tanning and being tan, which is unhealthy and related to being a peasant.
3. Using western toilets, which are harder to clean and less sanitary since you have to sit on them (though they are growing in popularity)
4. Driving everywhere!

These cultural differences are what make traveling so interesting.  Being here allows us to reevaluate our own culture from a different perspective and stretch our comfort levels.  As for the matching couples, I find it cute.  They always seem to be smiling and enjoying themselves, which makes me smile too.  Having tried out my umbrella one sunny afternoon, I've come to the conclusion that it really is helpful and makes the 90 degree weather much more bearable.  Now I don't leave the hotel without it, unless of course I'm wearing my new floppy hat that I purchased from a street vendor. After conquering my initial fear of the squat toilet and actually using one, it's really not so hard.  Given the choice, I'd still prefer a western toilet because it's what I'm most used to, but using a squat toilet isn't the end of the world.  As for the buttery, corn-on-the- cob flavored popsicle, the jury is still out on that one.  It's not a taste for everyone, but I kind of liked it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

English corner...posted by Caitlyn

At Xiamen, I started going to this event called "English Corner" every Tuesday and Friday at 8pm, next to the Lu Xun statue. Students (and anyone really) come to practice their English. Milano and Eric went too, and we had three giant crowds surrounding each of us. Well, it was like a dozen people each and others wandering around and in other groups. I had two high school students talk to me about the movie "Inception" and ask how relaxing American college life is—as in going to lots of parties and having little homework. Compared to the stringent Chinese high schools, American colleges are on eternal spring breaks. The same two students (one boy and one girl) tried to tell me some Chinese history and myths after I said I did not know much about China. One I remember was a story about how a man and a really long beard and it fell off and made the world or land. I probably lost something in translation. The girl had also seen a lot of American movies, and we talked about that movie "The Proposal" with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, but neither of us could remember the title at the time. We both thought the movie was funny, though. All the students that talked to me had "English names" (names that they chose or were chosen for them when they began to study English) but I can hardly remember any of them because I talked to so many people.
They all seemed to be very knowledgeable about the politics and history of the United States, often more so than Americans I know. This one guy was asked me, "New York is blue state, yes?" and this other guy watched the show "Boston Legal" and knew terms like civil court, criminal court, attorney, prosecution, defendant, and plaintiff. He asked very intelligent questions about juries, judges, and trial procedure. I also was asked if I thought Republicans and Democrats were hypocritical, because most Republicans are pro-life but pro-death penalty and most Democrats are pro-choice but anti-death penalty. One really wanted to know where Minnesota was (geographically speaking) because he had a teacher that lived there. And they also wanted to know why my city was named Buffalo but we have no buffalo (it’s a good point). Then we were talking about the US economy, the housing bubble, what newspapers I read ("New York Times or Washington Post"?), the yuan-dollar exchange rate, illegal immigration (in the US), Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Bush, Obama, books, Christianity, conservatives, liberals...I’m usually there for a good 3 hours, 8pm-11pm. Some people would have to leave every hour but then others would show up. The Boston Legal guy (William, I think his name was) had great English and he also spoke French, I found out, when his friend from France that worked in the Xiamen physics department showed up.
Actually, most of them had pretty good English, even the high school students. I told them it was impressive that they spoke so well because English and Chinese have very little in common, and my Chinese is terrible. Apparently they start learning English in kindergarten. I said maybe we (Americans) should all have to learn Chinese too so it is fair. They thought that was funny. This one older man who came said he doesn't think it's worth it to make ALL Chinese students learn English, because many of them don't end up needing it for their work and don't bother practicing anymore and forget it. I said more Americans should learn other languages but they get lazy because of the "Everyone speaks/should speak English" attitude. They agreed with that, especially the French guy.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Post about the Hakka Tulou by Emily (photos by others)

For me, one of the more fascinating aspects of architecture is its capacity not only to shape space but also those inhabiting the space. In the case of family dwellings, this aptitude implies a possibility for the architecture of the home to both describe values concerning the family, and to (de)construct the family's interpersonal relations. To cite a close-to-home (for the reader) example, the initial appeal of Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie homes (of which Buffalo's Darwin Martin House is a particularly exquisite example) was derived not from their formal sensibilities, but their perceived ability to save the traditional family in an age of increasing social change by means of sheltering cantilevers and spaces for family time unbroken by excessive walls.
I have been thinking more on this relation between built and familial structure in light of visiting the tulou. The tulou, found primarily in Fujian province, are massive, multi-storied circular or rectangular dwellings constructed out of loam. Traditionally, each tulou would house many interrelated families in apartment-like spaces that encircle a shared courtyard. While the form of the tulou may be seen as a practical response to the problem of self-and-family-preservation, I think the architecture of the tulou is also certainly conceptually suggestive in terms of its relation to traditional Chinese family architecture. In that the tulou is primarily shared space, this lends itself to the creation of filial bonds between familial inhabitants. The classical Chinese philosopher Kongzi (Confucius), whose thought is deeply embedded in even contemporary Chinese society, said "... that filial piety and respect for elders constitute the root of Goodness" (Analects, 1.2) and serve as the necessary root of the best possible society. The multi-family, communally-centered design of the tulou may be seen as both an expression of this traditional moral imperative toward dutiful family relations, and a means by which they are developed.

In the contemporary United States we frequently hear (or voice) outcry about "the destruction of the family" and "the erosion of traditional family values". One of the few things this societal malaise is not linked to is the architecture of the typical American, middle-class home. But consider - the driving force behind American home architecture is isolation. Thus the development of the suburb ("let's get away from all these other families, including those related to ours") and the design of the home as a series of boxes that allow and perhaps even encourage the separation of family members from one another. Perhaps if we wish to construct stronger family and even societal relations we should consider the tulou and the influence of home architecture.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Thoughts about the Buddhist Temple by Milano

The Buddhist Temple was great. Waking up at 350 AM to attend the morning prayer was worth the interrupted sleep.  It was my second favorite experience thus far since we have been in China. The first was climbing the mountain. The prayer ceremony lasted for what felt to be about an hour. I was unsure because I did not have a watch, but time was no worry as the event was enjoyable.
 The ceremony proved to be mesmerizing, surely because the Buddhist prayer ceremony was a foreign concept to me. I never witnessed anything Buddhist like before. My pre conceived notions of Buddhist life where, that the majority of their time was spent meditating and doing menial chores, which served to sustain their lives. To me the event was a rare phenomenon that one must get on camera but since the temple did not allow cameras in the temple, I’m assuming for sacred reasons, I was only able to capture the event in writing.  It seemed to me as if there were about 50 or 60 monks, give or take, participating in the ceremony.  They chanted this beautiful humming sound, which we would later find out was an Indian language. The monks all had yellow/ orange robs on. A minority of them had brown sashes which served to signify their rank as acknowledged Buddhists. There was one monk who wore a red sash. This monk was described to us as being the commander of ceremonies, a position which he holds for 3 years.
We ate breakfast with the monks after the prayer. When we arrived at the place for breakfast they had the tables set for breakfast. About halfway during the ceremony about half to a third of the monks had taken leave, I assumed they left for the breakfast preparations. A few monks walked around with buckets of food, ladles, and rolls on hotel pans, which they served to us.  I had my morning staple—soy-bean milk—in one bowl, a variety of vegetables in another, and the dreaded rice porridge which I had been avoiding since day one after having discovered its flavorless taste.
After having eaten breakfast, we meet with the chancellor of the Buddhist Temple. Apparently the temple also doubled as a school for training potential Buddhist monks and for educating them in various fields. At the meeting we talked about the Buddhist school and its students whom were also monks, some aspects of the Morning Prayer Ceremony, and of the Buddhist principals. It was interesting to hear the Buddhist principals straight from the Chancellor. Usually I learned about them through texts, and by the reading on Chinese Buddhism that Dr. Forest had given us days prior. I rather enjoyed the perception of the Buddhist Way as being the conquering of emotion rather than an ambiguous conception of the separation of desire for worldly things.  For me the Buddhist goal became re-defined as being: to achieve a full self consciousness in order to control emotions.
This was definitely a life experience that I feel as though I gained enlightenment from. For the very least self control and self awareness was stressed in my mind as being important virtues

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A post about food from Carrie

For me, food is a way to really experience other cultures.  When I think back on various trips I’ve taken, it’s always a memory of tasting a new dish or sharing a meal with friends that pops into my head.  Famous buildings and landmarks blur together in my mind, while the salty, sweet, or spicy flavors of the foods I tried remain clear and distinct.  Having visited a fair share of Chinese restaurants prior to coming here, I expected to eat a lot of rice with chunks of meat drowning in various sauces.  The reality is quite different. 
We have breakfast every morning near the hotel, usually at 7:45 or 8:00am.  Luckily it’s buffet-style, so everyone is free to choose what they want.  Numerous chafing dishes full of salty, cooked vegetables are intermixed with others full of dried salty fish and “Steams the maize,” a chewy rendition of corn-on-the-cob.  There are also hard-boiled eggs, which seem to be popular with our group.  On the next table are pots of rice porridge and other oatmeal-like gruel.  I really enjoy the rice porridge, especially with a little sugar to sweeten it up.  Drinks range from coffee and tea to orange juice and soy milk and are served in miniscule glasses by American standards. 
Lunch usually takes place at the student cafeteria.  On a scale of 1 to 10 for scariness, our first lunch rated about an 11.  Various numbered stands lined two of the walls, some with pictures of their offerings and others with only Chinese characters listing the food they served.  That day was particularly crowded and we struggled to understand how to even pay for what we wanted since everyone else was using their student cards.  Somehow we figured it out though and no one went hungry.  We’ve gone back almost every day and now I question what we were ever worried about.  I always go back to the same stand and now the woman there already knows what I want:  a plate of thick noodles with beef and cabbage, just a little spicy.  What’s most amazing are the prices.  A plate of dumplings in only 4RMB, not even a dollar.  Noodle dishes range from 7 to 9RMB, or about $1.10-$1.50, and they’re big enough to split between two people!  I’m really going to miss the prices.
Dinner is the most adventurous of the meals.  Many times Dr. Forest’s Chinese students accompany us, which is helpful since they know what’s good.  It’s hard to rely on pictures alone, and the translations are sometimes unintelligible.  Today’s menu included delightful options such as Saliva Beef, Mermaid, Moo Meat, and Drunken Fish.  Most of the names were so crazy I can’t even remember them.  My favorite dinner so far was in the Sichuan style, which is generally spicy.  At dinner we order a sampling of dishes to share.  The tables usually come equipped with a Lazy Susan so everyone at the table can try everything without too much hassle.  This is important because the plates are usually the size of a saucer, so it’s difficult to load on too much food.  We usually get some type of tofu dish, eggplant, several meat dishes, and vegetables, as well as a big bowl of rice.
Overall, I’ve been pretty satisfied with the food.  Some people miss Western food more than others, but there are a handful of Western restaurants (KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut) right near campus, plus a convenience store selling ice cream and candy, that offer options when a craving strikes. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Thoughts on China and Catholicism

      One of the most interesting facets of our trip thus far has been to examine the role Christianity currently plays in China. On Sunday, we were able to attend a Catholic Mass held in English at a local Church on the nearby island of Gulang-Yu. The Church was humble but nice and a large projector screen was placed adjacent to the alter to provide the English translations of the prayers and lyrics for the songs. Overall, the actual mass was very similar to a normal American mass and the english spoken by both Father Chen and the lectors was quite good and easy to understand. The church at Gulang-Yu also had a very lively folk group that performed the music for the mass and it was apparent how much passion they had by the fact that at least three to four full verses of every song were performed. In addition, the folk group performed a musical recitation of the ‘Our Father’ and other prayers throughout the ceremony as well. After the mass, we met with Fr. Chen and some of the parishioners who were celebrating the baptism of their first child.
            On Wednesday morning we were able to meet with Father Chen to discuss Chinese Catholicism and his experience as being part of a Christian minority that amounts to only about 1% of the total population. After also being briefly introduced to the Bishop of Fujian Province, Father Chen provided some insight into the state of Christianity in China by discussing the history of Chinese Catholicism and the effect that the communist revolution had on the church. The development of the state-approved Patriotic Church and its relations with both the Holy See and the underground Chinese Catholic Church was very fascinating to me. Because of the revolution, the Church’s development in China is very unique and has been filled with a number of ups and downs. Fr. Chen stressed that while the two groups now have very cordial relations, there are still some difficulties that arise when the Patriotic Church puts its own agenda ahead of the official Church. Another interesting aspect that we discussed with Fr. Chen was the intermingling of Confucian principles with Christianity. Confucianism really has become so intertwined in and integral to Chinese culture and society so it was interesting to hear the ways in which they overlap and in how Confucian teachings can manifest themselves in Christianity. When I originally had thought of China, I did not see the country as having any sort of relationship to Christianity. However, I now know some of the religious history here and how the church is growing and evolving along with the rest of China.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Emily blogs about the Temple

Here is a post from Emily M.
On a particularly glorious and smog-free Monday morning, we visited
Nanputuo Temple. But the word "temple" is perhaps misleading.Nanputuo
is not a single building - a "temple" in the sense of the prototypical
Western Judeo-Christian singular and self-contained house of worship -
but rather is an expansive, multi-structured, religious complex. And
beyond, of course, its materially sensuous and delightful polychrome
ornament, it is the spatial complexity of this place which I find the
most intriguing.
Again, my naming of this place as a "religious complex" is perhaps
misleading. The reality of this space in terms of their
sacred/secular-ness seems to be too multilayered to simply term it
religious. For instance, when you first enter Nanputuo, it is into a
broad multi-tiered courtyard, and when I visited Tuesday morning
(early - the jet lag has not fully worn off) the courtyard served as a
stage for everything from the faithful ritualistic burning incense to
a man using a railing as a support for pushups. And yet, these
sacred-secular activities did not at all seem diametrically
oppositional - like the shady and lit sides of a hill. For what else
is exercise but a devotional ritual?
Beyond the courtyard lies an elaborate arrangement of functionally
separated structures - imposing gilded statues of heavenly worthies, a
niche dedicated to a Bodhisattva who acts as an emissary for the
damned, an elevated rotunda where divination is practiced, and much
more. And even beyond these are a series of enmeshed paths up the
mountain, bejeweled with more monuments and collections of personal
Moving through the complex-ity of spaces, it occurred to me that at
Nanputuo Temple the religious experience may not be focused in a
singular space (as Christianity is - you arrive at church, have your
spiritual experience, then leave) but rather might be tied into this
movement through successive, layered spaces. It's a theory. I
currently do not know enough about the tenets of Buddhism to ground my
claims. However, we are attending a ceremony at the Temple tomorrow
morning, and doing some reading on Buddhism currently. Hopefully, I
will soon have a deeper understanding of the role of Nanputuo Temple's
architecture in its spiritual function.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A post about language by Caitlyn

Caitlyn F
Blog Post 1

Staying for an extended period of time in a country knowing next to none of the language is quite an experience. It’s frustrating mostly, and often sort of embarrassing (i.e. having to play the charades game) For an English speaker, and probably any speaker of an Indo-European language, Chinese is intimidating all around—writing, reading, sentence structure, and especially pronunciation. Unlike the relationship between Spanish and English, for example, Chinese has absolutely nothing in common with English. According to my limited knowledge, they’re hardly distant cousins.

I’ve noticed that compared to Chinese, English seems to be a “big mouth” language, while making Mandarin sounds accurately requires smaller mouth or vocal movements; more finesse to get words out. It’s probably no picnic for a native speaker of Chinese to speak English and adjust their tongue either. But lots of them do. I always feel somewhat guilty when someone helps us here in broken English and I can’t even speak an intelligible sentence in Chinese.

Most writing on signs, menus, and so forth is written in Chinese with English underneath (thankfully). Several I’ve seen have also had entertaining translations or errors, due to the aforementioned fact that the transition between in the two languages is incredibly difficult. Still, they’re amusing—in the hotel, a sign says “In case of firf, please do not use elevator,” a cup of coffee personified on it’s warning label “Caution I’m Hot,” corn is “steams the maize,” pork is occasionally “steams the sausage,” or my personal favorite thus far, “No smoking I will crazy.”

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A post from Danielle

7:00 AM Wednesday June 1st, Xiamen
7:00 PM Tuesday May 31st, Buffalo

It is going on our 5th day in Xiamen today, and I think we’ve all begun to get into routines being here.  Most of us naturally are waking up at the crack of dawn without the aid of alarm clocks, and that’s making us all be completely exhausted by the time the evening rolls around 9:00.  Typically when I wake up it’s the best time to check email and maybe Skype the fam for a bit because most of the campus is still asleep and off the internet.  The group will meet for breakfast around 8:00 AM where we’re never surprised to see yet another salty addition to the buffet menu.  Later morning gives me the opportunity for some personal time.  I’ll possibly walk around the campus today, or find a shady spot to read some more of the course material.  By noon we’ll meet as a group again and make our way towards the cafeteria for lunch, which is always an experience.  I think we’ve all gotten into a bit of a routine for lunch as well, but we’ll see whether Dr. Forest’s absence at lunch this afternoon will throw a wrench into that routine.  Class will begin around 3:00, and discussion will typically last until dinnertime.  Dinner can be an adventure, as well, if we don’t have a native guest to accompany the group and order for us.  Halfway through dinner I’m beginning to yawn uncontrollably, so I’m grateful to pass out under the comforters of my bed the moment we return to our rooms.
Other things are becoming routine, as well.  It’s expected now that at several instances throughout the day we will be bombarded by the Xiamen “paparazzi” while walking somewhere on campus or in the city.  The worst was at the mass on the island Sunday.  Tour groups were going by us on the opposite side of a fence, and we all literally felt like zoo animals on display.  The first few days I couldn’t stop laughing, but time will tell if that attitude lasts.  The food is becoming routine now, too.  It’s certainly different from home, and there are always some surprises at meals, but I think we’ve all done a fairly good job of adjusting our diets.  I even have a few favorites at dinner.

But that’s all for now, it’s time to conquer the breakfast buffet once again.

TTFN, Danielle

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

First Day post by Eric

First full day in China through the eyes of Eric T.
I thought the jet lag would be brutal after that flight (from our first boarding to our last time stepping off a plane, 22 hours and 19 minutes passed), but it seems the opposite held true for me.  I crashed at around 3am our first night, but I woke up at 7:15am feeling great.  I’m still running strong and not groggy in the least and it’s nearly dinner time.  Milano and I have been getting to know each other a fair bit and we get along pretty well.  He’s a really chill guy, but super outgoing.  We’ve been hanging out while we walk around campus and his friendly demeanor has landed us more than a couple conversations with the locals. 
There have been at least two instances (at least that I’ve been present for) when Chinese people have asked to take pictures with us.  Milano tells me that three other people snapped pictures with him while he hung out in the shade near the beach.  Apparently we’re celebrities here because of our foreign status.  A friend of mine from Taiwan told me that big eyes are considered attractive, so I imagine that may have something to do with our sudden popularity.  I certainly don’t object to all the pictures, but this is only day one so I suppose we’ll have to see how long that mindset lasts.
Our day began at 8:15 with a complimentary breakfast at the campus hotel.  The occasional odd label kept everything lighthearted despite my complete ignorance of the foods offered.  I ate my fill of wheat gluten, tofu, rice porridge, and bread (along with a few things that I cannot identify), but I avoided the “steamed the maize.”  Breakfast was actually quite good, albeit different from my traditional morning meal of Pop-Tarts and pantry exploration.  Along with breakfast, we got our first lesson in Mandarin (courtesy of Milano’s curiosity) when we learned how to say “hello” (nihao), “excuse me” (“doibuchi” or “cheng when” depending on the usage), and “thank you” (shay shay).  “Shay shay” has since been named the phrase of the day.
After breakfast, we went for a walk around campus.  We stopped at the bank to exchange our money.  I traded in a hundred US dollars and got back around 640 RMB.  Suddenly I feel rich.  While the rest of the group was exchanging money, Milano and I went for a walk outside.  We met two girls who told us their names were Demi and Yuriko.  Milano had asked if they spoke English and if they could help us. 
We stopped off at a convenience store and I put my new buying power to work.  I bought a 1.5 liter water bottle for 2 RMB (the equivalent of around 30 cents).  With these prices, I expect I won’t need the other money that I brought with me.  Milano had a cockroach try to get into his shoe at that convenience store.  He’s still a bit traumatized. 
After the convenience store, we wandered for a bit longer, then headed to lunch in one of the campus cafeterias.  That was quite the confusing experience.  The cafeteria walls were lined with counters and menus, but the only things we could read from the menus were the prices.  To buy our food, we had to point to what we wanted, then walk to the cashier (on the other side of the cafeteria) to pay for our food, then come back and get what we ordered.  With the process being as intense as it was, I suppose we lucked out when Dr. Forest took care of most of it for us while we waited for our food to be ready.  Conner attempted to do his own ordering, but from what I understand, his venture was unsuccessful.  Milano and I ended up with a plate of noodles and a bowl of soup that Dr. Forest promised was the Chinese equivalent of a drink with our meals.  Considering the blazing temperatures in the cafeteria, hot noodles and hot soup might not have been the brightest decision of the day, but hey. 
Milano and I spent our lunch with two students (one gave his English name “Ricky” while the other told us his name a good eight times and I can still only give a mildly certain claim that his name was “Sinche”).  So far, we’ve determined based on our experiences that girls seem far more open to talking to us than guys do.
After lunch, we hit the beach to hang out for a while.  Nobody was swimming (that includes everyone outside of our group), but a lot of people were wading in the few inches of water near the shoreline.  We didn’t stay there long because everybody started to wear out, so we headed back in the direction of the room.  We stopped on the bridge between the beach and the campus for a bit to watch the traffic go by.  Drivers in China seem very prone to switching lanes (or not staying in lanes at all).  Horns were a common sound.
After a bit of time napping, we wandered the streets looking for a restaurant where we could get dinner for nine people.  We found one and Dr. Forest did the ordering for the table.  The Chinese take on a hamburger is reminiscent of a burrito as it turns out.  We spent most of our time at dinner just waiting to leave – nobody wanted to be awake by that point.  It wasn’t yet time for us to go back to the hotel though, so we wandered through the street shops to see what kinds of items we could buy.  I made my first attempt at haggling, but it did not go as well as hoped and I walked away empty-handed. 
Now we’re all preparing for bed/already sleeping and it’s 9:11pm.  We’re meeting for breakfast tomorrow at 7:45am and potentially going to a 9:30am mass.  Good night, world.  I’m dead tired.

Friday, May 27, 2011

We've arrived...

We arrived safely and without much incident about midnight in Xiamen.
The flight from Newark to Hong Kong was a doozy - 16+ hours. We are
now in our rooms at the university hotel. The next few days will be
devoted to getting adjusted to the time change and learning about the
campus and the immediate area.