Friday, July 5, 2013

Day 17 – The day of nothing….

There is nothing much to report today except that our evening was canceled at the last minute.  Students went their own way this morning and into the afternoon.  This evening we were supposed to visit Beihai Park and then head to Hou Hai for a relaxing night of hanging out at some very cool places with live music.  However, when we met around 5pm we were notified by a couple of people that there was a dust storm headed our way, and also a thunderstorm.  We scrapped those plans and everyone simply did their own thing.  Some folks went shopping, others stayed back at the dorms to do laundry and some even did some work on their projects.  A few of us met for dinner at one of the cafeteria’s on campus, then we came directly back to the dorms to relax.  From what I could tell, some are still out shopping and meandering around the city, but most are back at the dorms getting some necessities accomplished.  Since there is nothing much to report, I’ll leave you with a post from Catherine Lin

“Everything Has a Cost”

Of all the wonderful experience I had in China, it comes with bad ones too. I especially hate the rain, and let alone thunderstorms. Being prepared at all times means to bring that heavy and burdensome umbrella at all times. Because of the unpleasant rain, I got into the habit of checking the weather about every two hours. But a lot of times the weather forecast doesn't seem to know what Beijing’s endless changing climate is going to do either.

I got up in the morning today and checked the weather on my phone. “Okay, sunny all day except after 10pm” I said to myself. Afternoon came around and I planned to go shopping. I need shoes, not just want them. I don’t think I can wait till July if I need it today right? I set off to Hong Qiao Market, also known as Pearl Market to find the pair of flats that I saw last time. Determined to get it at the lowest price possible before it closes, I made it just in time to the wonderful rush hours. Clinching on to my bag, I squeezed into the metro. My face probably looked pissed off, seeing people around me trying to give me some space around me. But they didn’t matter much at that time, I was thinking of a strategy of getting those cute flats.

Finally arriving at Pearl Market, I went straight to the second floor with all the bags and shoes piled in a somewhat orderly fashion. I saw the shoes and started to bargain on the price. With no time to spare, I used Chinese right off the bat to get a low starting price. After spending a min or so I got it down to ¥60. Not good enough! I moved on. Because the market is almost closing the ladies didn’t seem too interested in the business either.

I turned a corner and found the pair of flats again. Despite of speaking Chinese, the starting price was higher than the first store. “¥120” she said, thinking it would be impossible, I threw out ¥35. She didn’t seem to be unhappy about the price so the process began. After what felt like an hour trying to get the price down, I got the shoes for ¥40. I’m sure I could have got it for a lower price, but whatever, I needed them. Like now.

Looking at the time, it was 8:30pm. “I can make it back on time before the rain” I thought. But the weather forecast completely failed me. I stepped out of the market, the bright thunder and warm rain welcomed my presence. The metro was still crowded, but with the added element of wet umbrellas.

Getting out of the station and hating on every puddle that I have to dodge, I made it back to school. I guess that ¥20 that I didn’t spend at the first store is the cost of being in the rain.

Until tomorrow……

Day 16 – Art can also be called 798

We had nothing planned until 12:45pm, so most stayed in their rooms and slept in until the late hours of the morning.  We met in the downstairs lobby at 12:45pm to grab a bus and head to the 798 Art District.  This is a great area where a lot of art galleries, street art, coffee shops, bookstores and restaurants reside.  Some students had a great time walking around and looking at all this area had to offer, while others took it easy and meandered around for a few hours.  I will say though, that I think the group as a whole has lost its steam, as we are all pretty tired.  This was reflected in our last group excursion – the 798 Art Zone. 

Honestly, I’m not sure I would recommend that students do this as an organized excursion, but perhaps in future years as a ‘self-guided tour’.  I’ll have to think about it a bit more.

After returning to campus around 6pm most students went their own way.  However, a few gathered in our dorm room and we tried to figure out how to order pizza from Pizza Hut – an impossible task even for a person who speaks Mandarin fluently.  We ended up ordering from the Italian Restaurant near campus and had it delivered to our dorm.  Four of us devoured four entire pizzas and were still hungry.  Granted, they were thin crust pizza’s, but after a day walking around in the hot sun, we were famished.  The day ended with a mini-Big Bang Theory marathon in our room, and we finally ended the evening around 10pm or so.  We all slept pretty well, thankfully!

Here is a post from Jeanette Martinez

The most important thing I wanted to see while in China was The Great Wall of China. We just saw it last Thursday and it was an absolutely amazing experience. Climbing The Great Wall was very fun, scary, and exhausting at the same time. There were tall steps, short steps, wide steps, narrow steps. It was a little scary the higher we got and the narrower the steps got, because I'm a little scared of heights, but I pushed those thoughts away and focused on the beautiful landscape surrounding the wall. It was a beautiful summer day, and we could actually see the blue sky, which made for a very nice view. But it also meant that we got our share of sun as we went up. Luckily, the sun wasn't beating down too hard on us. It was hot enough to make us sweat, but not so hot that it made us want to stop and leave. I'm not gonna lie, we almost didn't make it all the way to the top because it looked so steep and far away, but we figured, when are we ever going to ever have this chance again? Like Nike says, "Just do it!" So we went ahead and pushed our way to the top.

Climbing to the top was an adventure. Going back down was more of a relaxing walk with a sense of accomplishment. This is when we were really able to appreciate the beauty of The Great Wall, the blue sky, and the green mountains. There was still a little haze from the smog, which made the experience seem even more surreal than it already was. I can't even describe it anymore because it was so beautiful.

After seeing The Great Wall, I feel like I have accomplished what I came on this trip for. If I had to leave today, I would be happy with what I have done so far. Of course I am excited to enjoy the rest of our time here visiting more places and enjoying the nightlife, but The Great Wall was the most important part of the trip and I’m so happy that I made it.

Until tomorrow…….

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Day 15 – Amazing Volunteers

We had a ton of fun today.  In class we had our last meeting with the volunteers from the Communication University.  They taught us how to paint numbers, letters, etc… with traditional paint brushes and ink.  We had so much fun learning the proper way to paint, meaning the order of how we should write Chinese characters.  It was a bit frustrating to get the characters to look how we wanted them to look, but this was an amazing learning experience. 

The volunteers have taught us so much over the last couple of weeks.  We have learned about culture, religion, politics, language, characters and phrases.  They have done such a great job.  At the end of their lesson I gave each of them a little gift, and they in return gave me a book of local culture, architecture, art, community and general life in China.  It truly is a great book, and one that I might recommend future study abroad students read prior to arriving in country.  I will treasure it always.

After our lesson we talked about our final article, and about modernism, high modernism, post-modernism and a number of other things.  In case you’re wondering what those terms mean, go ahead and google them.  We also applied theory to our experiences and talked a great deal about bringing theory down to an applicable level.

We then headed off to the cafeteria for lunch, then a group of us met to go to something called “World Park”, or what I like to call “Tiny Town”.  This is an amusement park of sorts, but it’s filled with small replicas of famous attractions around the world.  We visited a mini Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, Big Ben, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Great Wall (yes, they made a mini replica), the Pyramids, Stonehenge, St. Peters Square and many other mini replicas.  We had a great time even though it was about 100 degrees out and incredibly sunny.  We expected it to be a little cooler than it was, but even in the heat we had a good time.

After World Park we grabbed cabs and headed home.  I’d like to say that I watched out the window in wonder of this amazing city, but I will admit that I’m so tired from going a million miles an hour that I fell asleep in the cab.  We called it a night shortly after that to relax.  Some of the students continued to work on their final performances, while others went their separate ways. 

Here is a post from Edgar Coronado

One of the main reasons that I came to China was for the Chow Mein, however, I have been surprised with so many different and delicious types of foods. The genuine Chinese food we have eaten here make the Chinese food in the U.S. seem like the Taco Bell of Mexican food, super fake and completely different than the real food.  Another great part of the food there is that restaurants serve the food family-style, and even though it is not a buffet, it is basically all-you-can-eat because they serve so much food. Even though the food is really good and plentiful here, being Americans, we are used to eating a different variety of foods. With that in mind, we have tried to find a little piece of home at places like McDonald’s and KFC, but they are not quite the same. Luckily, we found a restaurant named “Grandma’s Kitchen” which was surprisingly very good. They serve everything from American breakfasts to cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches. Even though we finally found a good Western restaurant, this last week we have to make sure we enjoy and eat as much Chinese food as possible because we are most likely only going to be in China once!

Day 14 – Theory and Shopping

Today we had a great day in class.  An expat named Josh came in and gave us a lecture on culture, politics and religion in China – he did a fantastic job!  We also had a discussion about one of the articles I required the students to read, which turned out to be very interesting.  The students have really grabbed ahold of the concepts we’ve been studying and applying them to their experiences.

After class we had lunch in the cafeteria (something I’m trying to continue with the students even though they are at the point where comforts from home and familiar things are starting to creep in), and headed off to the Pearl Market for some shopping.  The Pearl Market is like the Silk Market, but a bit less ‘touristy’.  Feel free to look those up online, as it will explain a bit more than I will here.  The students shopped for purses, wallets, tea sets, headphones, clothes, watches and a number of other things to bring back to the states. 

I’m sure you are sick of hearing about haggling in China, but I’m telling you, it sure is an experience.  Some students are better at haggling than others, and certainly better than I am, but all seem to be getting rock-bottom deals.  If you’d like, look up some videos on the “Silk Market” in Beijing to see what we’ve been experience.  I’d link a video, but You Tube is restricted here.

I’ll leave you with an entry from Carmelita Ramirez

Having only traveled out of the U.S. to Mexico and Canada, I was excited to embark on a new and very much foreign journey. I came to China with only one idea in mind, which was to experience a new culture with an open mind. Up until now I have tried a variety of new mouthwatering cuisines from pecking duck to Beijing’s famous dish noodle dish, of which I can’t remember the name. I have also finally been able to climb the world-renowned Great Wall of China! Although an exhausting experience, climbing the Wall is something that I will reminisce for many years to come.

Additionally, I have been able to visit the Olympic Park, the Summer Palace, and the notorious Tiananmen Square. While at these various locations I learned about the rich history and sometimes questionable doings associated with each of them. Nevertheless, I very much appreciated the locations for their breathtaking aesthetic and intricate appeal.

I look forward to new experiences in the days to come!

Until tomorrow…….

Day 13 – Relaxing and Exploring

Not too much to report today except staying at the dorms, grabbing lunch in the cafeteria and heading out to a place called Hou Hai Park.  The morning was fairly quiet with the students.  It was a day that they were able to get some additional rest because we didn’t have anything planned.  So folks generally went their own way to experience Beijing, or hang back to relax.  Because there wasn’t too much going on today, I’ll leave you with a post from Marisela Chavez:

Climbing the great wall was a very exciting experience. Climbing the wall is one of the things I can now cross off, of my bucket list. Climbing all the way to the top is an accomplishment that I wasn't sure I was going to be able to complete.  The people climbing the wall were very nice. Everyone that was there had a very positive vibe. You were almost able to feed off of the energy of the people around you. I met a Russian man and his daughter. They were both very talkative and happy to be interacting with others.
            Taking the subway system here has been a pleasant experience, as much as people shove and push to get in and hoping to beat everyone else to a seat. It really isn't  that different from the bart system back home. The only real difference is that everything back home is a little more slow paced. Also our public transportation is not as clean and safe as it is here in China. I can honestly say that that I feel I have gone through all the tourist attractions. I hope that one day I can come back on my own and explore more of the local attractions instead of the typical tourist attractions.

Until tomorrow…….

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Day 12 – Comforts from home

Today was a fun day.  Folks were craving an American style breakfast, and I knew just the place to suggest they go.  The 2012 group found a place called “Grandmas Kitchen” and they suggested that we try it since they serve American fare.  The 2013 was more than happy to oblige.  About 12:00pm we all met in one of the dorm rooms to discuss the plan to get there.  Actually, I wasn’t planning on going, but since the experience yesterday with the Olympic Park was so frustrating for everyone, I decided I’d better go to make sure they have a good experience finding the place.  Good thing we have a map-wizard on our trip with us because he found Grandmas Kitchen with nary an issue.  Now all the students are familiar with how to get there so they can go back at will. 

After we finished our lunch we headed to both Starbucks for another slice of home, and to a Dairy Queen so that a few could partake.  With very full bellies and high spirits we headed back to campus.

At around 6:15pm the group headed to meet Jeremiah (if you’re just joining this blog, Jeremiah is a student from the 2011 trip who loved Beijing so much that he returned as a teacher) at a German restaurant where he had called ahead for a reservation.  The group was giddy with excitement as they poured over the menu containing incredibly large plates of food and fantastic beer.  I have a feeling we’ll be going back there sometime this week as folks were already making plans to return.  We finished our Olympic sized portions and our half liters of beer and headed out.  I came back to campus to attend to some unfinished business, as did a few students, but the rest continued on to explore the local night life.  I’m not exactly sure where they went or what transpired, but I know they went to a local club and a few other places with Jeremiah.  He knows all the best places to go to meet both locals and expats, which the students heartily appreciate. 

Here is a post from Michael Lolling regarding this experience so far in Beijing:

Since I arrived in China I have seen so many things about the country that have made me reevaluate life.  Some the things that I have observed are the subways, the people and culture, business, and the infrastructure of the country.  The idea of the country that I had before coming to Beijing was a busy city, in a high paced world.  As for the rest of the country, I still have no idea about how the farms and small towns are compared to the hectic city of Beijing.

The city of Beijing is a thriving metropolis that is growing at an exponential rate.  The city is getting taller by the day with new skyscrapers touching the heavens and housing developments that are over 20 stories tall.  In downtown San Jose there are some buildings that are like this but not to the same extent as in Beijing.   I can only say that San Francisco is nowhere near Beijing with the number of skyscrapers, at least from what I have seen.  San Francisco is water locked and other cities surround it and stop the city from growing; Beijing on the other hand has room to grow.  The city is about the size of the entire south bay area or maybe even more and it has a population of about 21 million. There are many times the people in Beijing than in the entire Bay Area. 

Because of the population, you would think that it has a really sophisticated infrastructure like most modern cities.  Well, here it is kind of mixed bag of tricks; in Beijing they have the most intricate railway and subway system that I have ever observed.  The subway system is fantastic with trains running every 3 minutes.  There are tons of places for a person to get on and off the train and there are tons of different lines that can be taken and this can all be ridden on for 2 Yuan or 33 cents.  The Bullet train: California needs to get one because it is really fantastic and better than using an airplane.  The drawbacks for the infrastructure here is that you cannot drink the water from the tap.  You can’t flush the toilet paper down the toilet or it will get clogged since the pipes cannot handle the bulk of the paper.  Finally when it rains the streets get flooded, so pretty much anything that involves water needs to be improved on here.   

Since being here I like a lot of things about this city and country.  It has even crossed my mind about possibly getting a job here or maybe start country jumping for a couple of years.  All of the new sights and sounds have really piqued my interest about other cultures, but I have to say I miss the creature comforts from back home.

Day 11 – We are Olympians, or so we thought

Today was supposed to be a ‘self-guided’ tour day, which many students did not participate in.  When we arrived we hit the ground running and haven’t stopped since, so I think the group is pretty exhausted.  I suspect that once we get back to the states, we’re all going to need a week or so to recover, especially us older folks who don’t have the stamina to keep up with the younger folks.

Since most skipped the self-guided tour, a most of us decided to meet at 12:30 to head to a local Thai food restaurant for lunch, then to a local department store to grab some tea.  We took the subway to lunch, and had a fabulous time.  This was the first Thai food experience for some folks, which turned out to be incredibly positive. 
After lunch we headed to the department store to purchase some tea.  The group pounced on the tea section, most picking up a variety of teas for family and friends back home.  Personally, I picked up a few large bags of Jasmine tea – one of my personal favorites, and some other types that we’ve sampled here.  I’m excited to get home so I can experiment in replicating a delicious Jasmine Honey Tea we’ve had at the closest Italian restaurant to campus called “I Do”.  The students also picked up some other things such as local candies to give to family and friends back home.  Personally, I stocked up too.

I headed back to campus while the group continued on to the Olympic Park.  They were supposed to go swimming, but from what I could gather, the price kept changing when they tried to enter the part (not an uncommon practice here with a large group of Americans).  So they walked around the park a bit, then headed back to campus around 9pm or so to settle in for the night. 

Most were not caught in the thunderstorm, thankfully, but I have a feeling some were.  The lightening was magnificent again and lasted well into the night.  Quite a few of us purchased bowls of noodles and tempted fate by using the local water which had previously been boiled.  We’re still waiting on baited breath to see if we’ve been affected or not.  I suspect we’ll be fine since the water was boiled, but one can never be too cautious when in another country.

Here is a post from Andrew Chow regarding his experience so far in China:

Wow, so much has transpired over the duration of this trip, I can't believe it hasn't even been two weeks! One of my most memorable experiences has undoubtedly been the shopping. Unlike in the United States where stores have fixed prices, the people in China live off of bartering. My first real shopping experience came when we paid a visit to the "Silk Market", a popular tourist stop to purchase inauthentic goods. The Silk Market specializes in selling knock-off designer clothes, bags, electronics, and jewelry; but you can honestly find anything you could possibly want or need for an extremely reasonable price by our American standards.

To say it was overwhelming is definitely an understatement. As soon as you walk in, you are subjected to a barrage of sales people trying to lure you into their store, sometimes even physically grabbing you and attempting to pull you in. It's especially funny because most of the stores are essentially replicas of each other, selling identical products, often with several of these stores lined up in a row. Even if you pass several shops and tell them that you are not interested, the succeeding stores will continue to try to get you to come in. There was a stretch of silk merchants that kept asking me, "Do you want silk?", despite telling each store down the line, "No."

Once you find an item you want to purchase, that is when the fun really starts. The merchants will always give you a ridiculous starting price, often because they know you are American and have money (and also likely because there are some suckers who will actually pay that price). However, I have found the best way to haggle is to counter by low balling them. They will always tell you, "That is too low! You're breaking my heart! Give me a real price!" However, if you stick to your guns and walk away if you don't get the price of desire, they will most likely oblige and agree at your original price. However, we found that they ultimately have their bottom price, so it might take a couple of failed bartering attempts to figure it out. But once you do find it out, you can purchase the item wherever because the stores carry the same merchandise and are a dime a dozen!

Until tomorrow…….