Sunday, June 29, 2008

ERA- Intersection of Time

Era is a modern arena for acrobatic and circus performances. It is a seat circus theater with a revolving stage, computer- controlled lighting and state- of- the- art acoustics. ERA- Intersection of Time is a complete source of entertainment for it presents amazing acrobats. One is enchanted by the world that is created through the use of multimedia, technology, lighting and sound effects, elaborate costumes, original live music and a lot more.

The show from ERA was one of the most exciting and breathtaking shows that I have ever seen. I have seen acrobatic shows before, but nothing compared to what we saw in Shanghai. What I thought was different about this show, was the fact that it combined the performances, a light show, and live music. Some of the most interesting performances on the show were the jumping acrobats, the motorcycle show and the couple flying around the stage. Some of the performances were so dangerous that they had us with our mouth open. I remember walking out and the only thing I could say was “WOW that was amazing!”

Sunday, June 15, 2008


I thought that the way the Chinese drive in their crowded cities was one of the most entertaining things to observe while traveling on the bus.  They drive so aggressively and quick with almost no errors.  They merge much better there than they do here in America.  Most traffic jams are caused because of merging from people getting on the highway.  Modern capitalistic China has allowed for millions to own cars, and therefore they will have congested streets, but because of their system of letting people in, aggressive merging, and talented urban driving skills the traffic is not nearly has bad as it should be.  Cities like D.C. and New York are wretched driving cities and it is often faster to walk, but if all American drivers were taught to drive the way they do in Shanghai and Beijing then we would be a lot better off.    In Chengdu, a Chinese driving licence is issued if you can achieve a pass rate of 90% in the computerized theory test of one hundred (mostly) multiple choice questions. Tests are available in Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Spanish and so on. If you do not pass at 90%, you can do a second test without paying any further fee.  This is a relatively high score for a drivers exam, but it shows they know what they are doing when they pass.  It was always exciting to weave in and out of traffic, I really wanted to get on a scooter there, but I think i would have been killed.  Their were times when i could reach out my window and touch the drivers face across from us because we had gotten so close in our lanes. It mad every trip go by a lot faster, and I would rather watch the Chinese drive than a movie any day. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

2008 Olympics and national pride

I am pretty sure that at this point, we are all familiar with the fact that Beijing is hosting the Olympics.  But what really surprised me about the trip was how excited the country, not only the residents of Beijing, are about the upcoming games.  
I was struck with the differences between this and the most recent American Olympiad, which I think was Atlanta 1996.  Granted I was young, but I do not recall the entire country preparing for the event anywhere near like the Chinese are doing.  I was most surprised at how the Olympiad was being advertised within Shanghai, several hundred miles away.  The road from the airport was dotted with many billboards advertising and supporting the Olympiad. 
Likewise, when it came time for my host family, the Olympics were part of our discussion.  My host's family was curious what I thought about the preparations and buildings.  Conversation drifted to what they thought of the games, which of course consisted of the stock answer of it being a way for China to show off to the world.
While this is no doubt true, I do not think that this hits at the heart of the matter.  Many Americans still have misconceptions of Chinese products as being shotty or cheap.  While this may have been true in the past, China is today able to produce some extremely high quality products such as Lenovo computers and Haier appliances.  I think that the Chinese are dealing with this stereotype as best they can, and seek to showcase their strengths to the world.  This showcase though, is not just a showcase, it is also a pursuit to shatter common misconceptions about the quality of life and the advancement of this Asian nation.

The Bund

Some of my favorite pictures of Shanghai were either taken of, or from, the Bund.  The Bund was  the downtown of the old International Settlement, and the first point of entry to Western visitors of old Shanghai.  It is located on the Waterfront, across from the new Pudong Downtown district.  Other notable landmarks near it include Nanjing Road, which dead ends directly into the district.  
Perhaps the most noticeable landmark of this area is the The Customs House, the only building besides the hotels, whose function has not changed since its inception.  This is the building with the familiar clock-tower at its perch.  The notes ring to the song "The East is Red," one of Chairman Mao's favorite songs and also a hallmark of the Cultural Revolution.  The Customs House, while at one time under British Authority, has been under the command of the Central Government since the 1950's.  
The Bund is still the center of Shanghai.  In fact, the old HSBC Building, was used until the 1990's as the City Hall, which only recently moved to its location on the People's Square.  Even with its central location, due to the age of many of its buildings, many fell into disrepair.  Today, however, the government is pursuing revitalization of this historic area, including moving all automobile traffic to a tunnel in order to facilitate a pedestrian friendly river-front.  Other activities include renovation of many of the old buildings, including facade repair, and a total renovation of the Peace Hotel. 

Monday, June 9, 2008

Mandarin Please

你好!The last two years I have been studying Mandarin with professor Wei. I’m not sure why I chose Mandarin but I’m glad I did. When you tell most people that you have been studying Mandarin for two years they seem so impressed and think you should be fluent, not so much. For Mandarin not only do you have to learn the language but you have to be able to read the characters. There are endless combinations of characters that mean several different things and can become quite confusing. Even after two years of Mandarin I can’t carry on a conversation for very long. Since I’m not immersed in the language at school and we learn from a textbook, I can read Mandarin better than I can speak it. The tones always get me. I hope the trip will allow me to better my Chinese speaking skills and hopefully pick up new vocab as well. I’m sometimes afraid to speak to someone that is Chinese because I’m afraid I will miss pronounce and they won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. I would probably be better off writing the characters and communicating that way but I need to practice my speaking. We’ll see how it goes. 再见!I promise I know more than hello and goodbye!


Before we left for China I was always the one among friends and family that would try any type of food. My family would always say, “Eww, Megan I can’t believe you’re eating that.” However, after going to China I realized that there are a lot of foods I will not even consider trying. For once in China I was the one saying, “Eww, I can’t believe you’re eating that.” I seemed to survive fine on poptarts, gummies, granola bars, white rice, and room temperature soda. Yes, during the trip I would crave a nice juicy burger with everything on it, within reason. However, I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. The food is a part of the experience and trying new things. One day I thought I would be adventurous and eat a cooked mushroom but come to find out it was eel. My saving grace was McDonalds! Their chicken nuggets and fries were the best I have ever had, but that’s partly because I was starving. In all the times I only ate white rice and broth there was a bright side, you lose weight. That didn’t last long because I devoured everything in sight once I was back in the States. I won’t be eating Americanized or Authentic Chinese food any time soon but I miss the big group meals with a big lazy susan and everyone trying to guess what they were about to eat. It was an amazing trip and I can’t wait to go back.

Thoughts on Peking Opera

Before our trip to China I was excited about seeing a Peking Opera performance for the first time. I have never been interested in seeing opera performances before but was anticipating the Peking Opera. However, I was very disappointed within the first 5 minutes of the performance. The same scene lasts a lifetime! It would be impossible to understand what they were singing about and it was nice having the translations on the large screens, but that’s all I liked about the Peking Opera. The acrobatic was nice but I was ready for them to spice it up a bit and give us a little more entertainment. I think watching a Peking Opera performance would be hard for Westerners. We are so use to being entertained constantly at a show that there can’t be any dull periods or the show’s a dud. The two grown men in front of me didn’t help either because they kept excessively laughing for no reason, but it was the only highlight of the whole show. In all, maybe not everyone disliked it but I can easily say it wasn’t the best part of the trip and I won’t be seeing any more Peking Opera performances.

Peking Opera

Peking Opera has over a 200 year history. It originally came to Beijing in 1790 but did not fully form until 1845. It’s a form of traditional art that uses music, vocal performance, mime, dance, and acrobatics. When it was originally created it was not for the public’s enjoyment. However, during the development under Emperor Qianlong and Empress Dowager Cixi the performance became more accessible to the common people. Even though today the Peking Opera is performed indoors it hasn’t always been that way. In the earlier stages of the Peking Opera the performances were performed in open-air stages. The bright colors of their costumes were used so the audience could see the performers on the dimly lit stages. The Peking Opera was also initially an exclusive male pursuit. Women didn’t come start appearing on the stage until late 1800’s. Women were soon used regularly in performances and regarded as having talents as good as males. The first female Peking Opera was opened in Shanghai.

In a Peking Opera performance there are four main roles performed: Sheng, Dan, Jing, Chou. Sheng are the leading male roles, Dan are the female roles, Jing are usually mostly male roles that play the warrior or hero role, and Chou are the clowns in the performance with a white nose. You can tell a characters role in the play by their facial paintings, which has become an art form.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

American Food in China

Everyone remembers eating at McDonald's, Papa John's, and KFC in China. But I'm here to say that while sometimes it tasted really good, other times it tasted really bad. For instance...
McDonald's was awesome. I don't think I had ever been so glad to see a double cheeseburger without onions in my life. I devoured that burger and then my fries. But while my burger had tasted like fatty goodness, the fries weren't what they normally would have been in the U.S. That was alright though, because we had McDonald's again in Chicago. Those fries were the American classic.
KFC was a let down. They didn't really have anything that we had in the States except the popcorn chicken which was unexpectedly spicey. The chicken sandwich I ordered had a strange aftertaste but I was so hungry I didn't care. In the end, I was glad I had asked for french fries instead of mashed potatoes. I was skeptical that Chinese KFC mashed potatoes would live up to American KFC mashed potatoes and I had been right. Jillian had gotten the mashed potatoes and let me try some and I was grossed out. It tasted, to me, more like it was mashed potato skins. She didn't seem to care and ate them anyway, but I was happy that I'd gotten fries.
Subway was pretty interesting. The basics were there and I even dared to have a BLT despite the bacon looking pretty raw. In the end it was good, but didn't live up to the stuff I'm used to eating, but I reminded myself that we were in China and not that states. I think the BLT would have been better had they cooked it longer, but I made Amy and Jillian swear they'd call 911 or 119 or whatever was the emergency number was if I started choking or had some kind of bad reaction to the bacon. But I was fine so it was alright.
Everyone loved the Papa John's. The only thing I was curious about was how Papa John's got to China but skipped the rest of the United States? It's not in California and that's the closest state to China, so I was a bit blown away. But the pizza, as we all know, was perfectly greasy and wonderful.

Craw Fishing in China

I know Mark already wrote about something similar to this, but the day that we spent at the farmer's house was special to me too.
When we got the chance to go Craw fishing I originally didn't jump on the chance because I was playing with the "rabbit" (also known as a guinea pig). Eventually I got tired of worrying about whether it was going to pee on me or not, so I grabbed a fishing pole and gave up Mr. Rabbit to Megan. I ended up sitting next to Amy and Jillian and Cecil and fishing along with them with my trusty frog leg. At first I didn't catch anything, but eventually I started feeling some nibbles. I caught a couple of smaller craw fish, but I was determined to catch a nice big one.
Jillian, who I am sure remembers, was fighting with a determination to catch the Moby Dick of craw fish, though Amy, Cecil, and I had actually seen it. "Did anybody see that lobster?" Rings a bell in the whole ordeal. But while she was fighting with the large craw fish, I sat patiently waiting for another nibble among the reeds and leaves floating on the top of the water when I felt a hard tug on that trust frog leg.
When I managed to pull up the line I had this huge craw fish clinging to the leg and chewing on it. We quickly grabbed the bucket we'd been throwing them in and knocked him off to line to sit around with the thirty or so other craw fish we'd collectively caught. I showed Dr. Zhang and he congratulated me on my spectacular catch, saying I caught the King of Craw Fish, but it wasn't to be stolen from a determined Jillian who was hell bent on catching her White Whale. I'm sorry she never did. But I know he's in that water, laughing that he managed to elude a human with a frog leg tied to her fishing pole.

A "Hole" New World

I'll admit, I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to adjust to the differences in Chinese life. I didn't know how I would like the food, the hard beds, or the lack of clean tap water. But I quickly learned that I could easily adjust to all of these things. The one thing that I just could not get used to, was the toilet situation. I mean you can't even call that thing a toilet. It is a hole, with a foot lever. Each night before I went to sleep, I sat up in bed and had a one hour brainstorming session. I tried coming up with any reason for chosing to create holes instead of toilets. After hours upon hours of exploring every possible cause for this, I came to two conclusions. First, and most obvious, is that it probably saves money. Nowadays, you're looking at $100 for a toilet. A well dug hole on the other hand might cost $2.50 when labor and equipment are added up. But there is more to it than money. The reason the Chinese love their holes is simple. The ancient tradition of squatting everywhere, as opposed to sitting or standing, lends itself nicely to holes. Think about it. Everywhere we went we saw people squatting instead of, sitting (which is needed for a toilet) or standing (which is pretty much a requirement for using a urinal). I am now searching for the answer to what is clearly the next question in this giant mystery: Where did squatting originate? And why is it still being used today? I am currently investigating many possible answers to this question, and I'll be sure to let everyone know once I get to the bottom of this. But one thing is certain. I will leave no rock unturned, no hole unexplored in my search for enlightenment on this issue.

Country Living

Although visiting famous places like the Great Wall, The Forbidden City, and Heaven on Earth (aka Hangzhou) were unforgettable, I really enjoyed our visit to the countryside. After all the walking around we had been doing, it was extremely relaxing to fish by the river (and let me make it clear that I won the fishing contest until Mario picked up 3 polls), and to lay in the hammocks under the trees. I'll admit that I was a bit disappointed when I learned the only thing we could catch was crawfish; however, after catching about seven in twenty minutes, I felt like the crawfish catching king and loved every minute of it. I also think Chairman Yao will agree with me when I say that I could have layed in those hammocks and taken in the scenery all day long. Although the countryside lacks many modern amenities, there is something to be said about the peacefulness of their lives. To end this visit, we enjoyed yet another delicious Chinese meal. I loved almost every dish they brought out, and was amazed when I saw that they created all of that food in such a modest kitchen. Overall, I think our visit to the countryside was a perfect, relaxing end to our stay in Shanghai.

Buddhism and the Lama Temple II

Alright, so I have to admit that the teenage punk rockers and models bowing down before a Buddha in worship was a sight that I could not take my eyes from. Not only is Buddhism quite alive there and the younger generations actively worship, but it seemed to be something that was incorporated into the daily system. To do list: meet up with rock band, perform in bar, go to temple to worship, work on new song. I refused to take any pictures of the worshipers because I felt that it was rude to take pictures of someone while practicing their religion, but the girl with the furred hoodie, yellow knee-high stilettos, and a bundle of burning incense in her hand seemed so out of place to me. Apparently, Buddhism is more relaxed than the Christian worship in the respect that you don’t have to be in “Sunday’s Best” to worship. And was the Lama Temple beautiful or what? I thought it was gorgeous with its ancient architecture and fresh paint. All three of the artworks in the Guinness Book of World Records were breathtaking, especially the huge Buddha. I almost fell backwards trying to see the top of the thing—true story.

Feng Shui-- It's Not Dead Yet!

No sir! Feng shui is still around and kickin’! However, the power of the feng shui has now been limited to architecture and at-home beliefs. So no, it does not have its once glorious foothold in Chinese politics, but it is far from gone. There is actually a tower in downtown Shanghai that is named the “Feng Shui Tower” because it was designed and placed according to the qi. I was unable to get a picture of it because we had already past the building when the guide pointed it out. I asked the girls from my home stay about it, and they laughed at me. They felt that it was more closely followed by the parents’ generation. That may be so, but you can still buy the “compasses” that will show you locations that have a good qi. I believe that Cecil bought one on one of his many escapades. I, for one, thought that many of the buildings around the Oriental Pearl Tower were awesomely modern and edgy, but it turns out that most of those state-of-the-art buildings were designed with feng shui, a set of beliefs that is centuries old, in mind.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Silly experiences in China

On the first real day that we were in Shanghai, I remember going to the museum in the downtown area. It was especially memorable because of a boy who really made his mark in my memories. It was during the later part of the day when every had been taking that written poll in the hallway on the second or third floor of the museum. Everyone else had left except Amy, Jillian, and I. Right after we finished the written poll and received our thank you Chinese knots Jillian mentioned that the guy sitting on the other side on the bench of her looked kind of sketch and she was curious to know if he was a pickpocket since we’d been warned to watch out for them. Being the foreigners we are, we ended up chattering away while staring the poor boy down, who eventually got so flustered he ran off and ducked into a nearby exhibit hall, but peeked around the corner after he’d been gone for all of three seconds. We sat there and chattered away, noticing that he came out of the room and pretty much ran off to the other side of the floor and was talking on his phone. Somehow we came up with the genius idea to slide over on the bench and wait until he looked in our direction and wave at him just to see what he did. Eventually he did look at us and we, of course, waved at him which served to fluster him and he ran off into yet another exhibit. At this point, we wondered if it was strange to wave at boys when you were a girl, but were determined to do it again. When he came out of the exhibit and stood on the landing of a nearby stairway, we waved again and, at last, he waved back. When he disappeared again, we gave up on the idea of him coming back and I wandered off to ask Dr. Yao if it was audacious of young women to wave at young men. When I returned to where Jillian and Amy were sitting, waiting for me, I discovered that the boy had returned and somehow had asked where I had gone. We got into a very difficult conversation as neither could speak the other’s language with any kind of proficiency. At one point he left and sought out someone who spoke Chinese and English and we saw that he was talking to Dr. Yao, which made us laugh. The whole situation ended with him giving me his phone number and we traded e-mail addresses before Jillian, Amy, and I fled the museum.

The whole ordeal with the boy was enough to fluster me for a few days as I’d really just had it put into perspective how horrible my Mandarin was. I mean, I knew it was really bad since I only knew a few words and maybe three phrases, one of which included “Wo shi mei guo ren.” But to be face to face with a person around my own age who could speak as much English as I could speak Mandarin was both frustrating and funny. It was even funnier for us because Amy realized that even after a whole year of Mandarin classes, she couldn’t speak much more Mandarin than the boy could speak English. This experience made me realize, later on, that even a year’s worth of Mandarin training wouldn’t be enough to adequately prepare myself for being thrown straight into China. I would need much more training than Amy had and then some before I would be comfortable with the idea of returning to China again.

Family For a Day

We learned so many amazing things in China but my overall favorite experience was the day  I spent with the Chinese college students. Everyone in our Rollins group split up and went off by themselves to spend the afternoon with a student who was an English major.  I think most of us were a bit hesitant at first but it ended up being the most enjoyable time of my trip. My new friends took me to Nanjing Road and then to one of their homes for a fabulous feast! Their father had cooked all the food and it was by far the best meal I had in China. I learned to make spring rolls and play Mahjong among many other things. Elaine's father did not speak a word of English but we were communicating perfectly. He was such a fabulous chef and host and I was delighted to be in his home. I have the contact information of my new friends in China. They even gave me my very own Mahjong set! Walking through the small streets of Shanghai on that rainy night with my new friends is something I will never forget. I was able to experience family life in Shanghai, China...Wow!

Discover Yourself in China

Our lovely little journey to China has come and gone. People continue to ask me, "how was China?" My answer has been, "I love China!" The thing is, it is not that simple. You cannot begin to explain a country and its people to someone verbally, and pictures or videos just don't do the experience justice. My feelings about traveling continue to grow stronger after each trip I take. Travel 
should be mandatory, a prerequisite to living over the age of 25. How can anyone be expected to be empathetic or understanding of our world if they never explore it? I guess not everyone loves to travel but I feel this trip to the People's Republic  of China has once again broadened my outlook on life and the people I share this planet with. I want everyone to have the opportunity to feel this way! I realized the vitality and immensity of where I was while standing in a dim classroom in Shanghai. It was 2:28 p.m., one week after an earthquake had caused catastrophic damage to parts of the country. Most of us stood by the windows of the classroom, watching the cars on the highway in preparation for the upcoming moment of silence. We all faced the West and for 3 minutes straight everyone stopped. For exactly 3 minutes, people all over China just stopped. It was during this time that the realization of where I was hit me. I had never experienced so much strength and hope. This is what the people of China exuded day after day. I felt what they felt in those 3 minutes. They wanted to pull through, to be great. They were great. I loved the Great Wall and the countless temples we visited on our journey, but I loved the people I encountered more. Next time someone asks me, "how was China?" My response will simply be, "you have to go."

Longjing Tea

 Longjing tea, translated as Dragon Well tea,  is considered the national tea of China.  It is grown almost exclusively in the Longjing area of Hangzhou, near the Western Lake.  
Cultivation of this tea dates back thousands of years.  Mention of Longjing Tea dates back to the first ever tea book, written by Lu Yu in the Tang Dynasty.  Tea on the mountains is grown year round, however, harvest, is only taken from mature plants at least 5 years old.  Also, the tea is only able to be harvested when the new buds arrive in the Spring, creating a very short window to provide the leaves.
The leaves are then dried my master craftsmen, using a low even heat to prevent the leaves from decaying after they are picked.  The tea drier must by skilled, as too much drying will burn the tea, leaving it bitter, while too little will not preserve the harvest.
Longjing has become a symbol of China and its teas.  It is usually served to state guests, and is said to have been Chairman Mao's favorite.  Other notable recipients of Longjing Tea include Richard Nixon, Henry Kissenger, and Queen Elizabeth.
Longjing is one of many types of green tea that is noted for its health benefits.  Green teas contain much higher amounts of antioxidants and have been found to lower LDL cholesterol.  Also, many observational studies have noted that people who consume green teas have a noticeably longer life span compared to those who don't.  More studies are being done on the health benefits of the tea.


Shanghai Museum

The Shanghai Museum is located in the People's Square, not far from City Hall.  Its present location dates back to 1996, however, the museum itself has operated since 1952.  The collections contain of 120,000 pieces of Chinese art and artifacts.  The museum is free to enter for all citizens, noting the government mantra that the collection is history and belongs to everyone.  It is a popular tourist destination, and after visiting it, I must say, it should not be missed. 
Some of the more interesting collections include fine Chinese porcelain, bronze sculptures, and coins.  One unique exhibit is dedicated exclusively to minority group art from within China, and this contains some unique ceremonial pieces.  
Another unique floor houses nothing but furniture from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, offering a glimpse of how wealthy Chinese citizens lived in those time periods.
This museum, while large to the casual observer, apparently does not have the same caliber of collections housed in Beijing and in Taiwan.  This once again illustrates the painful divide of the Chinese people, as, the Taiwan museum contains many of the priceless relics taken by Chiang Kai Shek when he fled in 1949.  All in all, however, it is a great museum for exposure to Chinese Art and Culture.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Shanghai Urban Planning and Exhibition Hall

The Shanghai Urban Planning Hall, despite its incredibly unexciting name, is a major achievement in urban planning and formidable tourist attraction in Shanghai.  It is located in the heart of the city; right off of the People's Square, next to the Shanghai Municipal Government Building.  It is also a hallmark of "the New China" taking shape; illustrating the progressive steps that the Chinese government is implementing to modernize their country.
I can say from experience that by far the most impressive attribute of this building is the fourth floor model room.  Continually being updated, it displays what the Shanghai skyline will look like in 2020.  The sheer scale of the model is enough to overwhelm someone.  Visitors can peer from the Oriental Pearl to all the way to the new 2010 Expo site and beyond.  All in all, this model takes up almost 600 square meters, allowing visitors to walk all around the city, and even see it form a bird's eye view on the floor above.  The building also highlights some of the new developments being green-lighted by the city, including environmental cleanup, and updated port and airport terminals (though to be honest, the ones now seemed pretty good to me).  
This is definitely a good way for any visitor to get a sense of the scale of the city as well as its major initiatives.