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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Catching Up

After a very long break, I will begin making occasional updates again on this blog. I've been going to school in Beijing, traveling around different parts of China, and spent a couple of months during the summer back in the States. It feels great to be back in such an exciting and interesting place like Beijing. To start, I'll give you a quick tour of some of the places I've visited over the last several months!

Food streets, the Pearl Tower, and unique high rises. The super city Shanghai continues to impress.

The water town Wuzhen on the outskirts of Shanghai gives visitors a sense of time traveling.

A brief visit with a Chinese friend's family in Hangzhou was a refreshing break from Beijing.
The famous West Lake and tea gardens are among Hangzhou's many popular attractions.
Lake Lugu
Lake Lugu is home to one of China's surviving minority groups whose lifestyle has been largely preserved, the Musuo people.
The quality of the water here was unlike any other place I had been to in China.

I'll be coming back shortly with something a little different for this blog.


Friday, January 18, 2013

The Final Stretch

At the end of the semester, some friends and I decided to go a little travel crazy. In the course of about 10 days I went from Beijing south to Shanghai, west to Lijiang, and then all the way to the northern most part of the country to Harbin, the land of snow and ice. Seeing all of these radically different places so quickly gave me a steady sense of contrasting perspectives between the many faces of China. China houses people and places on every end of the development and geological spectrum, making it a whole world of its own. There's so much history to explore, I look forward to my next opportunity to learn more about it. First stop, the hyper-city Shanghai.

I have less pictures than I would like of Shanghai. At some point, I rode the elevator to the top of the Pearl Oriental Tower (the far left tower with the orbs), however the day I went up it the weather was very overcast, and didn't really provide a photographical situation. I'll be back though. Until next time, this is all I have of the great city. It's huge, with a lot of modern architectural influences as well as old european. I feel that this reflects the city's development in many cases, drawing from both older international influences as well as the ever converging modernity of rich societies.

From here it was the tourist and local favorite place to unwind, Lijiang. We spent an equal amount of time hanging out in the old town and on a multiple day hike through the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Both places were beautiful in their own way. Going from a hub of commerce and technology like Shanghai to the rural rice terraces of Tiger Leaping Gorge was quite amazing, and it served as an ample reminder that even though China has a public face of a quickly rising economic world power, it still has much left from its ancient past. 

Rice terraced farm land and dramatic mountain peaks, Tiger Leaping Gorge

View of Lijian Old Town

The narrow alleyways of Old Town

From Lijiang we went to the City of Ice, Harbin. Needless to say, it was cold. Really cold. In Lijiang we enjoyed temperatures at a comfortable 60 degrees Fahrenheit, while in Harbin we walked the ice festival in -13 Fahrenheit. The city is smoggy and cold, heavily influenced by local Russian culture, and all the while festive. The ice festival was all I had hoped to be. The full scale castles and constructs were completely made of snow and ice. The place as a whole was impressive and beautiful. 

A blatant example of the Russian influence in the area,  The Saint Sophia Cathedral

Digital thermometer inlaid in an ice sculpture in the ice festival. This was
at the beginning of the night, and the temperature dropped even lower towards the end.

Giant Buddha sculpture made of snow.

This festival gave the most incredible fire works display I've ever seen.
It was essentially a twenty minute finale.  

The Harbin Annual Ice Festival 

Closing Thoughts

The first leg of my trip through China which has taken its course over the last four months. I will be returning for another semester, and even as I write this last entry from America I look forward to returning in a few short weeks. Hopefully, for the people who view these posts, they inspire some desire to travel to this country or really any other country. Some say travel is the best form of education. While I haven't lived it out long enough to say whether its true or not, I can say that travel is, for me, the best form of exposure. The cultures that so radical contradict our own are out there, full of people that at the core are human beings just like the rest of the world. There's still much to see, and there are some people in the U.S. that wouldn't appreciate if I discontinued the publishing of these entries, so expect to see more in the future. Until then, 以后见。

Sunday, December 9, 2012


The weekend before last my friends and I took a trip to Xi'An for a couple days. Xi'An is a urban city located to the west of Beijing, and was once the home of royalty. The name Xi'An means "west security" and since the turn of the new era has become an economic work horse and at the same time a home for many of China's Muslims. The "Muslim Quarter" is a large community of businesses and homes owned and occupied by a concentration of people of several nationalities, but for the most part all share the Muslim faith. They come together in the area for the same reason China towns spring up in the United States, to find a sense of community and familiarity in what is usually a foreign living place.

The Muslim Quarter is a good place to spend a weekend. Their food is phenomenal and the owners of the shops and restaurants are usually not only very friendly but also carry a festive vibe. They have specialty food at every turn like lamb skewers. They usually don't allow the drinking of any alcohol in their restaurants, staying true to the beliefs their community was founded on.  Below are some pictures of the trip.

The streets of the Muslim Quarter

Cooking food

Water fountain show near the Big Goose Pagoda, or  DaYanTa

View of Xi'An from the top of DaYanTa. Those visibility conditions
are not natural weather phenomenon, its smog. A good example of
why China, amongst double digit GDP growth, is still considered a developing country.

The major tourist pull of the region is the Terra-Cotta Warriors. Built in the Qin Dynasty to serve as the guardians for the first emperor of China in afterlife, it was buried with him around 210 BC. At a later date, revolutionaries stormed the tomb and largely destroyed the tomb and the warriors within it. They were discovered in 1974 by a group of farmers digging a well, and since then an extensive rebuilding archeology project has been undertaken at the site.

At the site I saw one of the men who originally discovered the warriors. Mr. Yang, after discovering the head of a warrior in the ground, reported it to his brigade leader and was rewarded the equivalent of about a dollar. While visiting the newly renovated site,  Bill Clinton asked to get the autograph of the man who discovered the 8th Wonder of the World. However Mr. Yang was discovered to be illiterate, and could only sign his name as three circles. Embarrassed by the exchange, the PRC sent Mr. Yang to an intensive calligraphy study which lasted several months and then made him work at the visitor center doing just what he'd been schooled to do, sign his name on the inside cover of books for tourists around the world. It's a strange story, but it reminds me that even though myself and many of my well off classmates enjoy freedoms that on the surface looks comparable to ones we have in the U.S., this society is still ruled by an authoritarian government. It is still within their power to change an individual life into a political or economic tool in a very direct way.

Riding bikes atop the city wall, which wraps around
the perimeter of the metropolis.

Section of the Terra-cotta Warriors. Here they are informally
facing each other, indicating they are off duty.

The Terra-Cotta Warriors, "8th Wonder of the World"

Pig feet with your chicken wings.

Squid skewers

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Educated Youth

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time discussing the different types of information control exhibited by the Communist Party both in class and informally with my peers. These discussions have enlightened me to a side to the Chinese that gives me a hopeful outlook to the future of this country. Though the CCP is still strong in its authoritarian ways, the expanding modernization of the country is putting them in an increasingly difficult position. The Internet by its nature is a difficult thing to control, and even in China it is a place where people can begin to speak their minds behind the safety of the anonymous Internet. The “Great Fire Wall” as it is popularly known, is the CCP’s attempt at information control on the fast growing information sharing medium that the world has ever seen.
To their credit, it is the most sophisticated online censorship tool in the world, and works by finding key words on websites such as “democracy” and “Tiananmen massacre” etc. What people are beginning to do however, is express discontent in more subtle ways than blatant criticism. Artist add critical elements into their work, an example is the Chinese artist Ai WeiWei who has also become a anti government pop culture figure with world wide recognition. Users of the Internet use irony and similar devices to construct critical campaigns against the Party’s actions. An example here is the Grass Mud Horse Internet phenomenon, characterized by a particularly vulgar play on words in the Chinese language. If pronounced correctly, it refers to an animal identical to a Llama, but with a slight variation in the tones used to pronounce the words the meaning changes entirely to f*** your mother. It isn’t just an attempt to be gross, the campaign that follows the slogan is a cleverly crafted push against internet censorship, using a song with several similar play on words to slip past the filter system while still addressing the desire for freedom of speech.
Many of my students are aware of these kinds of things, and think that it’s cool. Contrary to some western stereotypes, the country is not just full of a bunch of complacent Chinese who are okay with their right to express themselves being smothered. One of my friends has a VPN, a software used to mask the region you are accessing the internet from and this allows her to see the internet as we do in America. Another student, when I asked him why Chinese students are becoming more critical, responded by saying “Critical thinking is important, most students are just taught to memorize. But if we can think critically we have more power.”
The educated youth are making their way up, and the old structures are crumbling. It is a natural effect of modernizing, and I find the entire thing a bit ironic. The Communist Party takes long strides to improve the country’s domestic and international economic health, and I think they do a pretty good job of that. However with increased economic well being you get more educated youth, wider access to information, and people who have more time to think and need less time just to work and survive. The CCP seems to be digging their own grave here. I believe that eventually the reigns will be loosened on the people of this country, and the change may be sudden and brutal, however I think it is more likely that the change will come silently and gradually with the changing times.

So here are some unrelated pictures I’ve taken over the last few weeks, it isn’t much because I’ve been quite busy with school and things.

Temple in The Summer Palace 
Overlooking the Summer Palace lake

Huge, sprawling, Beijing. Make no mistake, the city extends well outside of frame
and the smog only lets you see no more than 1/4 into the depth of the city. 

The Summer Palace