Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Monkey Experiment

Please accept by most sincere apologies for being the last blogger.
But I am totally new to the blogging community and this will be my first blog ever. Aren’t we excited?? Anyway, the weeks are passing quickly as the memories of the China trip filter, settle and sometimes fade. On more than one occasion I pulled out the pictures taken and bored someone to tears over the near 1000 images of the trip. The one image I continue to say prior to viewing ‘this one is my favorite picture” does not come from my collection of photos shot. The day we were in PinYao and after lunch, Brett and I along with a few others walked down the rows of shops headed to our next destination. There was a crowd gathering and a woman with a monkey on her shoulder. I walked on past while Brett snapped a shot of the activity. Stopping to wait for him, I began to get a wild hair. I approached the monkey handler to ask for a price. (Of course Prof. Zhang did all the translating). 5YUAN!!! That was a price I couldn’t pass up. The money paid promptly allowed me to receive a hairless bare monkey b*tt on my outstretched hand.
The adventure didn’t stop there. Next the handler placed the monkey on my shoulder. (Yes I removed the hat) While I stood there with a grin gawking at the cameras the handler approached again and the crowd reacted at the same time the handler backed away. Of course, I am thinking what the animal control person may say next, ‘monkey’s only bite with quick frightening movements’. There was no blood or gnawing of Logan’s ear. Apparently he just didn’t want to leave my shoulder. Maybe I could have smuggled him home.

The whole event left my mind and memory rather quickly as we continued on our China tour. After a week of high fever sickness, I finally went back to work with the living. (Two visits to the doctor proves the illness wasn’t SARS, Bird Flu, or Monkey Pox) The people at my job love pictures from vacation so I provide more China photos including the monkey picture. That one I only sent to a close friend who proceeded to forward to the recognition director. Every week pictures are posted for Humpday to inspire and give everyone a smile for the day. Long story short, coworkers asked about the trip and commented on the photo. “Got that monkey on your back” was the winner. But one real funny guy in IT decided to treat me with special gift. I am now making plans for a sweat revenge one day.

At least the legs are shaved in this picture. And no this is not me for those unsure about the picture.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

New Chinese Diet

You to can shed the pounds on the Chinese diet. What would you say about losing 10% of your current body weight? Well I can not only tell you how...

Actually, I have to admit the amount of weight I lost in China was more than expected. Prior to traveling to China I realized there would be foods not of my liking. I even expected to eat a little less than normal. The unexpected foods, lack of cheese and breads, smaller plates, use of chop sticks, less soda, sugar and decreased appetite all contributed to my blessed event. The continued running around from place to place also helped a little.

The food started out as a good selection of a foreign cuisine. Where the first nights exhaustion and late night beer didn't deter my eating, the discovered chicken head provided enough reason to put the chopsticks down. For me, the biggest reason for not choosing a food resulted directly from the presentation. As those who sat near me realized, I am a picky eater.

China can not accept the blame for my inability to eat. The food provided appeared to feed many other students. Brett and Rob both never seemed to have a problem eating all the different and unique types of food placed on those lazy susan. The food was nothing more than a cultural learning experience. Brett even grabbed a bite of the food pictured above. He even continued the night with a game of mahjong without any ill affects.

The first sign of my weight loss started while still in China. The last couple days I remember mentioning (complaining) to Rob about the pair of shorts falling off my hips. So I noticed the decrease in inches but didn't realize the extent of the loss. The food wasn't the only reason.

Apparently some people cared enough to watch my eating habits at each of the meals. Of course they only mentioned the concerned after being back in Florida. Anyway the point is that at most of the meals I ate very little. This created some concern but since I continued to walk upright didn't require any intervention.

If only those around me saw the world as I did during some of those interesting meals. The night of the dancers presented a most surreal occasion. Now maybe it was the beer but I swear the lack of nutrients caused such visions.

The fun and joking aside the difference in cuisine might be considered a bigger issue for travels to countries not similar to their own.

Personally I thought the loss of 20 pounds was a really good thing for me but some friends are concerned at the short amount of time. The biggest contributors for me were more likely the lack in cheese and bread. I am (was) a heavy pizza eater plus I put cheese on everything.

Now that the food in China sounds awful by my description there is a very good ending to the story. Since returning from China I changed the amount and types of food eaten. The trip helped provide me with an opportunity to discover a new method of keeping fit and trim.

Maybe there is something to that Chinese Diet.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Eating in China

Ok, so this is my third post-trip blog entry because I joined a Facebook group involving China and read about someone's experience mistakenly eating dog in China. And then I thought about other people's comments about their weird experiences with the food in China on our trip. I think about what constitutes a "normal" meal and it is understandable that eating dog may be normal to some Chinese or other people in the world. Many Hindus cringe when we eat beef and Judaism restricts pork, and so on. The reality is, cultures are different, and as long as we all live in our own spaces in the world, which will be forever, then we should respect each other's cultural differences. I know that on our trip we came across some pretty interesting food choices, like fungus that looked like a French fry and another fungus that looked like some sea creature to me! We also encountered BLOOD bars at our hot pot AKA huo guo dinner. Everyone constantly had to ask, "What's that?", "PLEASE tell me what type of meat that is!" and so on. It is really fun to reflect back on and laugh about our interesting meal experiences in China!

My perspective is that when going to a foreign country, it is inevitable to encounter different kinds of foods. So this is the perfect opportunity to have fun and be adventurous! I tried almost every dish except for things that I had previously found to be unappetizing to me in the U.S. I even ate the fungus! And it was interesting lol, but good! Especially the "sea anemone" fungus which was kind of crunchy but in a different kind of way. I did decline the blood bars though. (I must admit I did scream a little when the blood juice trickled down Kaylin's arm, but this was involuntary) :P I really did enjoy our meals in China and even though McDonald's was a celebrated event by our group (me included), I liked trying new foods! I do sympathize with the guy who accidentally ate dog in that Chinese Facebook group. But, it couldn't have been THAT bad! At least he now has an interesting story to share! Zaijian :)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cows, Kids, and an Abundance of Kindness

The one memory that sticks out the most was the trip to WuFa Village in Datong. Throughout our travel we had been to the most wonderful tourist sights filled with perfectly manicured flowers and hand painted pagodas, but that wasn’t the real China. The village was filled with roaming cows in backyards, dogs running loosely, homes that looked as though they were made of hardened clay and would crumble at the slightest rumble of thunder. The adults and children there were so warm and welcoming. As one of the first group foreigners to be allowed in that particular village, for once we were not at an attraction, but THE attraction. Children would run up behind us and giggle and whisper. They were proud of their homes and family and it showed in the smiles spread wide across their faces. Once there, we were graciously welcomed into a man’s home. He spoke of his several jobs, his home, the government, and of course, his family. It was heartbreaking yet uplifting to see how, according to American standards, such a poor man could be so happy. He was delighted to share his small home with foreigners, offering us his gratitude for visiting.
In America, happiness is the outcome of wealth. However, the competition for the best title, biggest house, and nicest car are all temporary worldly pleasures. Values such as family, community, and friends are what last a lifetime. And in most cases when you look at the people of China, you see those values holding strong. If their satisfaction was based on flat screen televisions, $40,000 vehicles, and ipods, they would be the most unhappy people in the world, always grasping for more, the best never being good enough. I find it very interesting that China is the primary source of our worldly desires and products. Their work ethic is strong, their morals are high, and their respect is above standard. It would truly be interesting to see the lazy, overpaid, and unteachable Americans take lessons from the Chinese.

I loved having the opportunity to visit the village and absolutely adored the children. If I have the chance to go back to China, the WuFa Village will be one of my anticipated stops.

I May Have Conquered the Great Wall, But the Blood Bars and Fungus Conquered Me.

China was one of the most rewarding trips I have ever, and probably will ever experience. Riding on a plane for 13 hours straight only to end up in a foreign communist country with a 12-hour time difference, climbing the Great Wall of China, learning to breath through my shirt or quit breathing just to use the ladies room, practicing my Mandarin, shoe shopping and feeling like I’m Big Foot, dashing and dodging honking buses and armies of bicyclists, and experiencing the varieties of food in each province only added to my unique trip. Not to mention chicken’s heads being cut off on the streets, cats brushing up against my legs in restaurants (now that I think of it, is that what the chicken tasted like that night?), the fungus I pretended were French fries, and of course, something that I will NEVER forget (partially because it was on my arm the rest of the night), the famous BLOOD BARS! Needless to say, forget the gym, forget those zero-carb diets—just go to China.

One motto I brought back with me to the States was “you don’t know how bad it is until you see it for yourself”. I knew the country was known for its manufacturing and mining, but I truly did not realize that because of those things, China never sees the sun. The pollution was so thick in some places that it almost seemed necessary to have an inhaler in the pocket of your jeans. In Beijing the dust from the construction didn’t help with the cloudy skies. People would walk around with masks and cloths in front of their noses and mouths to prevent themselves from coughing. There were many times that I would wipe my hand across my forehead and face only after to find dust and dirt all over my hands. I understand the mining is one of the largest producers economically for China, but at times I felt horrible for the people who have to live in and near the polluted cities. Not to mention it doesn’t help the situation when everyone smokes in that country. For such a prosperous and “smart” country, I wonder why they haven’t found a way to cut down on the pollution problem yet.

I have to admit—there were times I complained or grumbled about the food, the walking, the nauseating smells and whiffs (like when walking past a bathroom or a crate of pigs), or afraid of gaining thunder thighs if I used the bathroom more than once a day, but through it all I learned more immersing myself in the culture than I ever would have immersing myself in a textbook. And as an Asian Studies minor, that’s a good thing, because now I might actually pay attention to what I’m reading when I hear about the different dynasties and how quickly China is going to surpass all other countries economically.

I look back at my pictures and many times, have to remind myself I actually went to the Hanging Temple or the Stone Caves. Even today it feels like such a dream—a dream come true. I came back with the most amazing stories. Can YOU tell YOUR friends that you held a monkey dressed in a circus suit in the middle of a strange alley in the middle of China? Well I can, and my stories and adventures will never get old.

Shanghai University

One of my most memorable days on our trip was visiting Shanghai University. We had learned in class of the different changes in the Chinese education system over time, and I have heard countless Americans tell me how superior Chinese education is to ours in this day and age. The University itself, especially the library, is quite impressive. So is the daily course load each student is required to complete. It makes me realize that even though I feel like I have so much work to do, it isn't much compared with my eastern counterparts. Speaking with them also gave me much insight into the younger generation in China. I have spoken with Chinese Americans, but never with a Chinese student. It was intersting to me how one student viewed the Great Wall as a means of isolation and thought it should be torn down like the Berlin wall. Also, one young girl in particular made me think quite a lot when she told me that she was in school to follow her passions, but that she would still depend on a man to support her. I also noticed a little tension between some of the Chinese students regarding if the government should change and westernize or not. To me it was a good thing to see this diversity. It shows that these students are just like us. Some of them like their government the way it is. Some do not. However, it marks to me a great accomplishment that these students can now speak their own opinions without fear. This is very important. I feel I learned a lot from these students and I wish I had more time with them. They were all so kind and honest with us. I feel like I have a much greater understanding of Chinese culture after meeting with them for a short period. Though I am only beginning to understand, they put me in the right direction.

Climbing the Great Wall of China

Of course I had to do one of my reflection blogs on climbing the Great Wall of China. I have always wanted to climb the Great Wall. I have ran the bulls in Pamplona and climbed the pyramids in Egypt. Climbing the wall meant so much to me and was an experience I will never forget. This was the part of the trip I was looking forward to the most. I remember sitting on the bus waiting and waiting to get there. The ride wasn't that long, but it seemed as if it was taking forever. I am not sure what I expected out of my first view of the magnificient wall, but I can gurantee that what I saw exceeded anything that I could have expected. As we were making our way up into the mountains, twisting and climbing along the edges the wall was hidden from my sight. I knew it was just beyond one more hill, and felt that way for about ten minutes. The anticipation was like none other I had seen. All of a sudden we made a turn and it was there. No, not a small section of the wall peaking out of the mountains and reaching to the sky, but what seemed like the entire wall. It was to my right it was to my left it was in front of and behind me all at once. The great dragon completely surrounded me. I eagerly got off the bus, took the group picture, and set off on my climb. I took pictures of my first step and was so excited. While climbing I met many friendly Chinese and other foreigners and stopped to take photographs with them. I also viewed the "Love Locks". I am not sure if you remember them, but they were on the right side of the wall as we climbed up. There were hundreds of padlocks attached to a chain with red ribbons tied to them. These locks were put on the Great Wall by young lovers after their marriage. They lock it together and then throw the key over the wall to symbolize their everlasting love. I didn't know what they were when I saw them, but after looking it up the Great Wall is a perfect location for something like this. It is most certainly an everlasting structure and a love should aspire to have that staying power. While I was climbing I did not realize quite how far I had to go. After the two towers I was tired. I paused and got some souveniers. I realized time was growing short and basically had to run to the top. It hurt very much, but was well worth it. The view from the top was beautiful. And to think that this is the only man made structure you can see from space and I climbed the top of it . It is a great feeling and a great sense of accomplishment. I understand why the Chinese people are so proud of the wall and am proud as well.

Shanghai Roads

While we were driving around the city of Shanghai, one thing that really stood out to me was the way the roads were built. I mentioned it to a few people, but no one really seemed to think much of it. However, I thought it was a pretty impressive engineering feat.

I remember driving down the highway one day with my brother, and seeing how jammed up the traffic was. There was a highway expansion going on, but there was the problem of what to do when there could be no more expansion? Eventually while expanding out the builders would hit houses, and obviously they cannot expand inward, for they would hit the road. My brother and I concluded that it might get to the point where roads would have to be multi-layered.

And this is why the roads in Shanghai stood out to me. It was as if I were seeing the traffic plans I feel will soon be necessary in portions of the roads where I live in reality. All of the roads are built on top of each other, intertwining in any way possible to to save space, using the least amount of space possible.

Yes, we ate at McDonalds

A little more than half-way through the trip, we made the democratic decision to eat dinner at McDonalds. How very American of us. I personally did not vote (how very American of me) because I was ready to do whatever the majority really wanted to do. Looking back, I'm glad we went to McDonalds.

Our Zhengzhou McDonalds blocked off a section of seats for us, and came around to take our order. We pointed to a sheet with pictures to place our order and within a reasonable amount of time, our food was delivered. I wonder if any American (or other country's) McDonalds would extend the same amount of service to international visitors. I like to think they would, but I've visited the McDonalds around Disney and I've never seen any employee taking orders at tables.

Eating at McDonalds made me realize just how much time we reserved for eating at the Chinese restaurants. With each meal, several dishes were delivered. No, not several, MANY dishes were delivered. On a few occasions, I anxiously awaited the watermelon to signify the end of the meal because I was full. Usually there were still more vegetables and soups on their way. We wasted so much food. With the McDonalds dinner stop we had some time to walk around Zhengzhou and shop at the mall. That was a nice change of pace. McDonalds also meant fewer people sitting at the table. I enjoyed the large tables, but it was a nice break to go back to the smaller group size that I'm used to at home. I didn't have to wait for food to make it's way around the table, or talk. It was more than just eating fast food, it was also a great chance to have a casual, informal meal.

What I tell my friends

My friends want to know how CHINA was.
It was rough. The trip was tough, the food gave me the willies (quite honestly), and I walked around dehydrated because I didn't want to use the restrooms, but besides that CHINA was cool, a very interesting place.

I began the traveling rather fatigued, so the long flight delay and subsequent 13 hours in the flying tube was just plain long. Train travel was fun, I really enjoyed that AND the majong. The train was so much better than traveling the very long distances by bus.

The food got harder and harder to take. I'm not asking for a pity party, no, no, no. I take responsibility for my hangups. At first I was mostly fine with eating, but as things progressed the issue of water quality and hygiene bothered me more. Being that everything is washed in water not suitable for drinking is one strike. Okay, so everything has to be cooked. The next biggie was hygiene and the restroom situation. Restroom cleanliness was substandard and sometimes just gross. But do they think it is gross or normal? if it is normal how do they reguard personal hygiene? How would I reguard their personal hygiene? and, how does that translate to my food? Cooked or not cooked, ...does it really matter what the matter may be? Howard Hughes wouldn't have been able to do it.

The restroom situation was soooo bad! If it wasn't for the retreat of our very nice hotel accomodations I think I could have just died. One restroom could have seared my corneas and respritory tract with its noxious fumes, another expected us to squat while in the company of a fellow squater. Sorry! No can do!

After the Hutong, I increasingly became dehydrated. Then it became a strategy. To keep myself from potty trama, I simply had to limit the H2O, it was that bad.

Besides that China was vast and interesting. I have 1200 pictures I would gladly tell you all about, many times.

My favorite places in China

My favorite sites were the Yu-gang Stone Cave, the Hanging Temple, and Shao-lin Temple.

The Stone Caves are like nothing I’ve ever seen. I think everyone’s first reaction was, ‘How did they do that?’ Mine was, ‘Wow, its so big!’ The great effort to nothingness astonishes me. Consciousness, effort, and nothingness; Wow.

The Hanging Temple, again, like nothing I have seen; and again, what a huge effort! I had only gotten through half of the Temple when I saw all of ya’ll on the ground, ready to go. I ran through the second half and was very glad I did at least that. I wish we could have stayed longer; I wish we could have spent the night.

But, in succession, one temple out shined the one before it. Shao-lin Temple is great. Those are the luckiest monks in the world. I hope they didn’t mind too much while I (all of us tourists) snapped our cameras at them. They seemed pretty tolerant of our intrusion and ‘geeked-out interest.’

The place seemed peaceful, beautiful, and ACTIVE, orderly, purposeful, clean and clear; and that is not a compliment, more an observation of esthetic. I am glad China has/or is in the process of shedding her spiritual-phobia. I feel happy and relieved for Shao-lin that is so well preserved and cared for.

I loved the environment at Shaollin, the little signs (of which I have made a pictoral), and the pagoda forrest that seems so appropriate for its purpose.

I would return to China to see any or all of these places again.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Shanghai: Love at First Sight

John Updike said “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” He's obviously never been to Shanghai.

After an exhausting morning flight from Zhengzhou, riding through the streets of Shanghai revitalized me. The modern architecture was abundant. Each skyscraper had it's own personality adding to the exciting skyline. With each turn, there was a new surprise, a previously undiscovered building. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower is the city's most unique landmark and Asia's tallest tower . The Grand Hyatt is the highest hotel in the world. And finally, the under construction Shanghai World Financial Center will be the world's tallest building for a short amount of time.

If innovative architecture isn't your thing, Shanghai could still be your city. Buildings that seem more fitting in Europe lined the Huang Pu River. Some of the alleyways reminiscent of Datong had a more typical Chinese feel. The Yu-Yuan Gardens is a good place to enjoy the serenity of a beautifully landscaped garden, while watching the gold koi in the ponds.

Of course people in Shanghai don't live there because they want a tranquil life. Shanghai is an adrenaline filled city with extreme diversity. The maglev train (which I didn't get to ride) goes at amazing speeds. The elevator at the Oriental Pearl TV tower races to the top... and then back down again. Underground walkways on Nanjing Road guarantee shoppers don't have to stop for traffic, and traffic doesn't have to stop for them. People drive through tunnels and on bridges above the ground, always on the move.

The city explodes at night. Neon lights and skyscrapers illuminate the sky. From the Bund, views of the Pudong district include logos from all of the international corporations that call Shanghai home. Boats sailing the Huang Pu River display ads from local shops, hotels and restaurants. Commercialism at its best, a capitalist's dream.

I fell in love with Shanghai as soon as we arrived. It was the antithesis of everything I loved about my second favorite place in China (Shaolin Temple), but the epitome of everything I enjoy in life. Great design, variety, fast-paced but with a place to relax if needed. Shanghai is the most modern city in China, and provides a glimpse into its future expectations. A beautiful place that combines the most traditional Chinese ideals with the energy and guts to let the world know that they are not kidding.

Reflecting on Unique Aspects of China

China possesses many unique traits such as their national treasure, the panda bear, a vast 55 minority groups, a widely diverse landscape and the largest population in the world. Another commonality Chinese people share is their close-knit family bond. Chinese families share a very important and very different bond from what we have in America. Of course, many Americans have close relationships with our immediate family but its more common that children move out by their early twenties and it’s not uncommon for parents and children to live in different states.

In China however, it is most common for parents to raise their child along side the grandparents. I frequently noticed older men and women (most likely grandparents) caring for young children during the day and then parents spending time with their child at night after work hours. Although many see the only child policy as an infringement on human rights, I noticed a much higher rate of parent participation due specifically to having just one child.

It’s way to frequent that in Florida, a huge tourist destination, I see women with multiple kids trying to control a bunch of unruly children while her husband just sits by and watches. It’s too common in America to see bratty children misbehaving with their siblings while the parents just sit by and watch. In China, I never once saw parents neglecting to participate with their kids and the one temper tantrum I saw was quickly stopped by parents doing what their supposed to do... parenting! Having the one child policy is a responsible decision when you analyze how ridiculously over populated China is as well as the rest of the world. When considering the Chinese family unit I noticed corresponding evidence to the increase in the Chinese middle class. Throughout most of the areas I visited there were not only western tourists but also many Chinese tourists. We often ran into the same Chinese families traveling on a similar tour route. Our translator and a few Chinese people I spoke with all explained that given the large growth of the middle class in China, it is more more prevalent for Chinese families to tour across their country. This occurrence is also influenced by the complications and expense of getting a travel visa.

It’s easy to romanticize a foreign culture especially a non-western one. But, I observed that my Chinese peers looked, acted and dressed more western than I had expected. Four out of our five guides were under thirty. This concludes that the Chinese of my generation are the ones who are most effected by China’s new role as an emerging global power as they are enrolled in new expansions of education and working opportunities.

This demographic is being exposed to new languages, most commonly English, and the idea that they can be anything they put their mind to. Although this life idealism is often associated with American culture, it is just one more example of how the two countries are becoming intrinsically linked. Utilizing education brings opportunities for more secure or high paying job along with new options to study abroad and later return to China expanding the diversity in a cultural exchange between America and China. Those of my generation are also influencing economic grown due to having expendable funds directly from jobs they attained because of their higher education and foreign language skills. This model also applies to students in America who have gained international business and foreign language skills.

Through interaction with my peers, I learned so much about the modern citizen's opinion of China. They are well aware of the pollution and sanitation problems that need to be redefined. Many of the Chinese students I spoke with recognized that air quality is a huge problem. This was one of the major issues for other students on the trip because after seeing some of the very poor living conditions of our peers. Although I have sympathy for the issue, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of guilt. As a global consumer of many Chinese made products I too was contributing to the pollution by purchasing products made by the factories that created such environmental hazards. As I thought more about this problem, I considered the fact that a few decades ago, America and Europe became stringent about the amount of pollution released. During the same time, China was open and ready to allow an influx of new foreign businesses and less focused on the environmental impact.

Besides the coal production, foreign businesses are able to have more lenient rules for the pollution caused by their factories, which they quickly moved out of America and into countries like China. If we hadn't started cutting back on the pollution in America 30 years ago, then we would probably have many of the same pollution hazards in our own country today. Typically, I have not agreed with our President Bush’s foreign policies but after experiencing the pollution in China I agree more than ever that terms need to be met on a path to cleaner air. I feel strongly that sanitation and air quality are undeniable human rights but I also understand that new rules take years to implement and in order for changes to effect society. I noticed that in Beijing hundreds if not thousands of new trees were planted in order to clean the air for the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympic Games. I think it will be interesting to see what people say about the air quality a year or a decade from now.

My experience concluded that Chinese people are extremely friendly, outgoing and eager in interact with foreigners. I liked exploring the modern cities like Beijing and Shanghai but I was even more interested in learning about the smaller villages like the grape farming village we visited outside of Datong and the minority villages I visited outside of Guilin.

Rollins students visiting a school in northern China.

As tourism in China begins to boom, so grows a strong interest in visiting unique aspects of China. Site like the Great Wall of China, Qiao Family Compound and The Forbidden City can only be seen in this country. The Great Wall experience was especially important to me because it’s something that I have learned about from an early age. It is truly one of the most famous man made monuments in the world and a climbing it is a gratifying challenge to complete.

After the conclusion of the field study with Rollins College, I was able to visit the city of Chengdu where they have a special research and breeding center for giant pandas. This animal sanctuary is like no other in the world. The panda is the national treasure of China and an animal that has been around for over 2 million years. Today, global concern for the environment grows to encourage preserving natural ecosystems and helping threatened species, like the panda. Visiting this center was one of the most thrilling and uniqe experiences of my life. After making a substantial donation to the breeding center I was able to hold one of the seven baby pandas at the nursery! This exceptional experience is something that I will never forget and will always remind of the importance of supporting environmental and animal issues.

Holding a baby panda in Chengdu!

Father south in the city if Guilin I spent a few more weeks traveling through villages belonging to the Yao, Miao and Dong autonomous groups. This region is home to 11 of the 55 minority cultures inhabiting China. Visiting this area was completely different from the industrialized coal mining cities of the north and the western influenced cities of Beijing and Shanghai. Minority cultures have thrived for centuries almost completely secluded from the rest of China. Unfortunately, there are still issues and concerns for those living in the autonomous regions but they have been able to continue a traditional way of life inside China, a country booming with global expansion and outside influences. Today many indigenous villages are beginning to incorporate more modern technology like satellite dishes and electricity, while continuing important traditions passed down from their ancestors.

I really enjoyed visiting with the Red Yao people. One family welcomed us into their home and offered a customary cup of tea and rice, peanut soup which I gladly tasted. I found the Yao women especially beautiful. First, their traditional clothes are made from brightly colored, intricately patterned fabrics. Second, the Yao women had gloriously long hair, which they are known for only cutting once in their life. Inside their home, a few women took down their hair to show how the length. For some, their hair surpassed their height as two of them needed to stand on a small stool to keep their hair from hitting the ground. Experiences like this remind me that beauty is culturally relevant and adornment to one isn’t always seen in the eye of the beholder. Some ethnic minorities in China, such as the Yao, spread across different areas of Thailand and other border countries. Within each subgroup are an array of similar traditions carried out in their own way relevant to their geographical locations.

Visiting with women in the Red Yao village near Guilin.

Dong Minority Village

Many of the people living in the autonomous villages were friendly and eager to share with me aspects of their daily life and traditions. After traveling for hours (by car and by foot) into the mountains, I gained even more of an appreciation for their traditional lifestyle in such a beautiful but rugged terrain. This experienced further influenced my passion for learning about the human experience. When I learned how different groups adapted to life and elevations in the same area. For example, the Yao people thrived in the valley, along the riverside. While the Dong people had adapted to life at the mountain top where they built one of the most famous landscapes, the Longseng Rice Terrace. This rice terrace is also referred to as, “The Dragon’s Back” because of it’s rigid texture that extends as far as the eye can see.

Looking down from the top the mountain, I felt so lucky for the opportunity to see such a wonderful part of nature and to experience a variety of unique ways of living. Like many travelers, the emotions during my trip to China varied, from the excitement of visiting awe-inspiring sites to the perils of homesickness. Looking back, I remember fondly the kindness of Chinese people, the allure of the exotic and the inspiration to continue on a path of cultural understanding through travel.

Longsheng Rice Terrace near the Dong Village

The Great Wall: Great In More Ways Than One

Visiting the Great Wall was one of the most memorable parts of the trip for me. The section of the wall that we climbed was 4100 steps long and I had no idea what would be in store for me climbing those steps. I think of myself as a fit person being on the varsity crew team. But, climbing the uneven steps on a hot day was hard. Everyone felt it. It was amazing to reach the top and realize that I had accomplished something important. The Great Wall is such a famous monument in the world. Before I knew that it was the only man made structure that can be seen from space. But, from Erica’s presentation I learned of the defensive, isolating reasons for the Wall and I learned of all the hard work that the Chinese had to endure to make the Wall. So many people died and their bones are inside the Wall. As I toiled at climbing the wall, those people had toiled even more than me and had even died on it. Another poignant point that I noticed was that many people had set up tables for selling items and they were placed along the wall, even high up. It was amazing to think that these vendors climbed the wall so many times with all of the tables and wares. I struggled, while it is normal for them. I also saw cleaning ladies sweeping up at each tower. And Chinese school boys raced each other up the steps in track suits that must have felt so hot to wear. I completely saw how much the Great Wall was a part of the Chinese. It was a huge part of those people; a national treasure. Everywhere we went, people would ask us if we had visited the Great Wall. It is so important to the Chinese; I only wish the U.S. had the same.

Tradtions and Modernity in Today's China

Chinese people have a unique way of continuing to build on their past accomplishments. As China moves forward into modernity traditional aspects are combined with their new ideas and technological advancements.

In Beijing our group visited the Hu-tong back alleys. Here we saw courtyard homes from the dynastic period while riding in a pedi-cab. Besides the tour we were given a special opportunity to meet a Chinese painter Yanzhen Zhang. I was delighted that he invited us into his home because it gave us a chance to see how Chinese people live. We were especially lucky because his wife taught us how to make Chinese dumplings and later cooked a huge meal for us. I loved Yanzhen Zhang’s artwork style, which is a perfect example of mixing history and modernity. Yanzhen Zhang studied traditional Chinese painting and mastered it. He later continued studying modern art and incorporated what he learned with his skills in traditional painting. I really like the traditional style of Chinese paintings, especially the images that involve nature like cherry blossoms and bamboo. Being able to meet the artist, visit his studio and learn about his experiences makes the paintings I bought even more special. My favorite parts of the trip were interacting with Chinese people like the artist, the tour guides, the students at Shanghi University and the minority cultures in Guilin.

Another example is the tradition of kung fu at Shaolin Temple. This is a centaury old tradition that is kept popular today due in part from famous films from kung fu masters like Let Li and Jackie Chan. Visiting Shaolin Temple was a peak into the past, exploring the history of the temple and founding ideas of kung fu. Today the surrounding city is packed with people interested in keeping the traditions alive.
Later on my trip, I visited the southern cities of Guilin and Yangshuo. The Li River plays a very important role for the cities in this area, providing food and transportation. Later, we took a river cruse down the Li River to the town of Yangshuo where we discovered even more beautiful misty mountains. This area relies heavily on fishing from the river and cormorant fishermen are seen up and down the water floating on bamboo rafts. Cormorant fishing has been a reliable task throughout the past in this area. These birds are used to catch fish and return them to the fisherman. The agility of maneuvering a bamboo raft seems like enough of a task but these fishermen are able to fish even in the black of night. In their spare time, many have set of areas along the river where they will give tourists a relaxing ride downstream. This river ride exemplified to me the ingenuity of Chinese people. While we floated down the river every ten minutes or so we could come to a larger bamboo raft filled with food and treats. The people on these rafts provided snacks, drinks and souvenirs to the passers by. These basic bamboo rafts came equipped with stoves for cooking chicken, fish and shrimp. Later down the river there was a small drop, only about two feet, but enough of a drop to cause excitement on such a slow moving river. As the tourists squeal with excitement down the drop a large bamboo raft just a few dozen feet ahead snaps your picture with a digital camera and by the time you float by their raft your picture is printed and ready to be sold. I thought this was one of the most creative ideas. Here the people of Yangshuo took an ancient tradition of building bamboo rafts and incorporated modern technology to make a profit and appease tourists. It’s not everyday that you see a collection of brand new digital cameras, computers and photo printers floating down a river on a bamboo raft.

Top Two Favorite Sights In China Pt. 2

At Shanghai University w/local students and Pearl TV Tower

At the Bund

The tallest building in the world

The modern city of Shanghai

Another favorite sight was definitely Shanghai. I found that everything that we had the opportunity to see was a great experience. Overall, Shanghai is China's most advanced city and as an American it was interesting to see the power that China holds. America is the epitome of stressing capitalism and it is a leading world power in all aspects of business, commerce, and modernity. Comparing Shanghai to America's developed cities is quite interesting and as America's relations with China continue to grow closer it will be interesting to see the impact of this prosperous relationship and the opportunities it will create throughout the world. Posted below are some simple reflections of what we saw in Shanghai.

On May25th we flew to Shanghai. Shanghai is an extremely young and modern Chinese city. It is the financial and business center of China. Shanghai makes up 30% of the Chinese economy. It contains a population of 18million people and 6million foreigners. In Shanghai it is obvious that there is a lot more economic liberalization practiced in order to improve the Chinese economy overall. Our first stop in Shanghai was the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. It is the tallest tower in Asia and the third tallest tower in the world. The antenna of the Pearl Tower is over 387ft alone. The tower is in the heart of the Budong, Blue River, which divides Shanghai into East and West. I noticed that it is an extremely modern city with an endless number of innovative high-rises. The tallest sky rise in the world is being built here and will be 96 stories high. The average price of real estate in Shanghai is $3,000 per 1sqm. Even though there is a population of 18million people, only 6 million have cars because there is a lot of traffic and congestion. It was quite interesting to see that the most expensive apartment in Shanghai is six million dollars and is owned by the Chinese government and an American venture. This is a prime example of how America has become heavily involved with Chinese business and has a strong influence on the Chinese economy. After the Pearl Tower, we went to eat at a typical Shanghai restaurant where the regional food is known to be much sweeter and milder than other Chinese dishes. After lunch we visited Shanghai University. It is known to be one of the best universities in China, however Beijing University ranks first. At the university we met many Chinese students, professors, and the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. The students were extremely intelligent and spoke incredibly good English. The students from Rollins and Shanghai engaged in a long debate about the differences between American and Chinese lifestyles, politics, and student life. The students told us that they take about ten classes a semester where they are allowed to choose their own schedules. The university contains over 30,000 students. After our visit to the university we went back to our hotel, The New Century Hotel, where there were many tourists from all over the world, including India, Italy, Germany, and many Americans. After a short rest we went to a dinner show where the waiters wore roller skates to serve the food. There were many singers and dancers which provided very fun entertainment. After dinner was over we went to the Bund at nighttime. The Bund is a famous spot at night where once can walk along the river walk and see the entire Shanghai cityscape and skyline. The skyline is breathtaking with it’s vast amount of gorgeously illuminated buildings. Many boats cruise around the river, and the city brilliantly glows in a complete spectrum of colors. At the Bund there are many European inspired buildings from the British Quarter. The Bund is the most popular gathering place for local Shanghaier’s to go with their friends and families at night.
Unfortunately, our trip was winding down and May 26th would be our last day in Shanghai. On our last day we went to the Yu Garden of the Ming dynasty. The garden had beautiful greenery and was a main compound for the emperor and all of his wives. The emperor had thirty-two children in total. The Yu Garden is a large shopping street where many local Shanghaier’s go to shop, and eat. It is an extremely popular and crowded place to go on Saturday’s. After the gardens we visited the High Tech Park, which is the main research and corporate hub of many powerful companies, such as; GE, Amway, and Motorola. After the High Tech Park we went to the famous Nanjing Road. The road is the main shopping street in Shanghai. It is bustling with mobs of people and is filled with hundreds of department stores. It was truly a shoppers paradise. We concluded our amazing trip throughout China with a Shanghai acrobat show. The acrobat show was extremely exciting and impressive that had many courageous and talented acts. It included plate balancers, roller skaters, hula hopers, table jugglers, and a brave motorcycle show. Sadly, the following morning it was time to board the magnet train, the fastest transportation system in the world. The magnet train took us to the airport in less than seven minutes with the highest speed of 430 km/h. To arrive to the airport by bus from our hotel would of taken over forty minutes. The difference and speed was incredible. Our flight back home to Orlando totaled to over sixteen hours, but the long plane ride gave us plenty of opportunity to rest and reminisce about our incredible journey traveling through the middle kingdom. China is an amazing country with many modernly cosmopolitan and powerful cities with huge economic and political power, but it also contains many small charming villages where traditional Chinese culture can be found. China opened my eyes to a new world, and I hope one day I will be able to return to China and get to see what the future has in store for this great
-Christina B

Top Two Favorite Sights In China

During our extensive two week travel throughout China I saw many things that made a significant impression on me. If I had to pick the top two places that we visited, it would be the Shao-lin Temple near Zhengzhou and of course China's newest and highly modernized city of Shanghai.

Zhengzhou: Shao-lin Temple

Zhengzhou really stood out to me because it is one of the best ancient cities to get to know Chinese history. The Shao-lin temple was also fascinating because as a visitor it was amazing to see how religion and cultural traditions come together. The Chinese are becoming highly modernized but their deep rooted cultural traditions and ancient history will always lie close to their heart and be an active part of their lives.

May 23rd was our first day in the large city of Zhengzhou. Zhengzhou is located in the Henan Province, which is the largest province of China. The province contains over one hundred million people. I learned that there are 33-34 provinces in China and overall China has an enormous population of 1.3 billion people. The largest industry in Hunan is Agriculture such as wheat production. The province has history that dates back to over 5,000 years ago. At the center of the Henan province is the Yellow River. The river is the mother river of China. Our local tour guide, Jack told us that Henan is the best place to get to know ancient Chinese history because it is the oldest province in China. It was interesting that the citizens of Henan believe they are descendents of the dragon, a mythical creature that the Chinese greatly admire. Our first sight to see in Zhengzhou was the Shao-lin Temple. The Shao-lin Temple is said to be the monastery of all the world and is the origin of all martial arts. The warrior monks of the Shao-lin temple are synonymous with Chinese gongfu. Buddhism and martial arts are the elements that nourish and occupy the Shao-lin monk on an everyday basis. The martial arts performed here has become a popular subject in many films and becomes the fantasy of young school boys to become martial art masters. Unlike, other martial arts, Shao-lin Martial arts foster a great religious sense and a spiritual way of life. The monks of Shao-lin in ancient times were also sometimes called upon to fight for the court, which then evolved into the creation of a standing army of monk-soldiers. The monks used an ancient fighting technique called finger point, where they were able to put a hole in the highest and thickest of tress with a single finger. The main temple contains three Buddha’s; past, present, and future. Many of the monks live on the Shao-lin grounds and they are not allowed to marry, eat meat, and chose to live a very simple life. They also believe that the lotus is a holy flower, therefore it is often used as their symbol. We also got the opportunity to see the monks in their procession to a religious ceremony at the temple. The temple also contained many gongfu schools for young boys to learn the ancient art, we saw many talented boys practice their routines and daily exercises. After getting the chance to observe what a typical day at the temple was like, we went to see a kung-fu show. It was amazing to see the young men and boys perform such physically demanding exercises. They had mastered the use of swords and ancient gongfu fighting moves. Overall, I found the Shao-lin Temple to be extremely spiritually and physically intriguing. There is definitely no place in America where once can experience such an immense sense of spirituality and observe the complete immersion to master the skillful art of martial arts.
-Christina Benitez

A Chinese Perspective

Reflecting back on the trip, I tried to put myself into the Chinese perspective. What would it be like to live in such a large country among billions of other people? What would it be like to live under a Communist, authoritarian government? And without suitable water to drink or pure air to breathe?

An Abundance of Bicyclists

I found it difficult and overwhelming to think of being an individual in the masses. China is very focused on the collective rather than the individual and this is practical for an individual is but a speck in China. I can compare it to me studying at the University of Florida and studying at Rollins. I would have a smaller chance of being noticed by teachers or making any significant impact at UF, compared to personally knowing teachers and having thoughtful discussions in class at Rollins. Living in China I would find it very difficult to be noticed and especially to be a leader. So many people are the same. From the way they look, to what they study, to their position in life. Becoming a somebody in China is much harder than in the U.S.

Mao Is Still Revered
Living under a Communist government would be hard for me to deal with. But, I see how the Chinese live with it. Most have lived under strong Communist authority their whole life. Before that, dynasties ruled over China, in an even harsher authoritarian way. The Chinese have never known what freedom truly can be. Coming from American democracy, I would find it very difficult to not be able to make my own choices or to speak out my opinion to whomever I choose. My final essay for the class spoke of the need for freedom of speech and I still strongly believe that this is a very important freedom that all humans should have. The Chinese government takes away many human rights and I feel sorry that many ignore these violations.

A Smoggy Day in Shanghai

The problem of living in dirty polluted conditions is one that saddens me as well. Factories, cars, and coal production have contributed to a lot of pollution, yet the government does not seem to have many plans to reduce this problem. If I lived in China, I would get sick right away. I did get sick on the trip and I think that the major instigator of this was the air. The human body is not meant to be eroded by smog and harsh

Where is the Blue Sky?

germs. The streets were filthy, trash was abundant, and even Shanghai, a very developed city, was dirty to me. With the amount of people living in China, there must be someone who will be able to clean up, at least cleaning bathrooms and clearing the streets. There has to be a solution to limiting noxious fumes from factories. The government needs to put a focus on this issue of pollution and hygiene, or else devastating consequences will result.

But, besides the negative issues that I thought of, I also saw the beautiful culture of China and would love to live there despite the government. The Chinese are lucky that they are surrounded by so much natural beauty, I truly hope that its beauty may remain forever. And I really enjoyed the sweetness shown toward us in China. I will remember our experience forever and I hope to go back sooner rather than later!