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Useful resources for learning about contemporary China:

 English language Sinica Podcast

James Fallows - not always China-related, but always interesting

What's going on in Beijing:

TimeOut Beijing

The Beijinger

China Daily's Beijing Weekend 

Beijing Weather - Weather Underground

 

Useful language learning tools

Chinesepod podcast - free beginners' podcasts

Popup Chinese podcast - another very good podcast series

Hacking Chinese - interesting ideas on learning Chinese efficiently

Skritter character-learning tool for iPad/iPhone - really fun app

Sinosplice - John Pasden's site on many interesting aspects of China and the Chinese language

 

 

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Friday
May232014

One Girl's Amazement of Chinese Acrobats

Well there's only 3 whole days left of our China adventure, and of course we're filling them to the brim.  Since returning to Beijing we've tasted Peking duck (delicious), pushed our way through the Forbidden City (there are some vicious elderly people), played Tai Chi tennis at the Temple of Heaven, and trained for the Great Wall (We walked almost the entire Summer Palace...it's not just a pretty building but miles of beautiful trees, a mountain-like hill, and a large lake.

Yesterday, though, we saw quite the show.  I have never seen an acrobat show, but as a person who can only do a somersault, (I am pretty much impressed with anyone who can do a cartwheel or a handstand) I was excited to see the Chinese Acrobat show.  The cushions were comfy, I had just bought a dove chocolate bar, and was ready to go.

The first number was rather disappointing, but that was just to set you up for the intensity that followed.  Oh the drama!  It was so stressful!  Aubrie was shrinking in her seat in fear for the acrobats safety.  And although I think everyone enjoyed the show immensely, Rachel and I were definitely the most...energetic about our entertainment.  When I went to grab her hand for support while a man jumped down tiny steps on one hand, I may have hit her head instead.  At one point, both extremely surprised by some acrobats, Rachel let out a girlish scream at the same time I let out a surprisingly low yell. It was a sight to see...except for the clown he was just creepy.

Afterwards we ate at an Islamic restaurant and a few of us went to the World Trade Center to see the view of the city from the tallest building in Beijing.  Tomorrow we have a free day so we'll be doing a variety of things: meeting with research groups, walking through the 798 District, seeing pandas at the zoo, or riding rides at the theme park.  Sunday we'll walk the Great Wall and hopefully receive a foot massage. Monday we'll present on our projects and teach a US culture lesson, and Tuesday we'll head back to the United States!

Wednesday
May212014

One Girl's Obsession with Chicken on a Stick

It's been three days since our return from Xian.  I can honestly say that some of my best experiences and not so great experiences occurred during this portion of the trip. 

Traveling to the Beijing train station via bus and subway was quite the experience.  I don't think I have ever been so close to someone as I was to Suelynn.  Bus ride buddies all the way!  We then embarked on a 12 hour train ride to Xian in the hard sleepers.  I found it relaxing, but then again I can fall asleep anywhere.

 

We arrived at Xian at 4am, hit up McDonalds, and got to our hotel for a quick nap around 6:30.  We then were provided a great welcome and presented our research projects to the university's psychology students a couple of times.

That night the university faculty took us to a delicious dinner followed by a party with the students.  This is where many of us met new friends, learned how to write our names in Chinese caligraphy, traditional dance, and dressed in Han dynasty apparel.  So many laughs and delicious bananas!

Here's a pic of me and my new friend Yang. Can you tell which characters are mine and which ones are hers?

After the great party we returned to a very, very dark hotel. Unfortunately we were without power for two days!

The next day was devoted to Terracotta soldiers and they did not disappoint: over 7,000 clay soldiers, three archaelogical sites, and the bones of horses that were buried alive!  What a spoiled Emperor!  In order to have a great afterlife he had all of his possessions replicated.  I hope he was overthrown in his afterlife! No one should have that much stuff!

For dinner we went to the Muslim quarter and tried some Chinese peanut brittle and other delicious snacks.

The final full day in Xian, we went to the historical museum and learned more about the dynasties of China.  That night Yang took my roommate MyHuyen and myself around town while everyone else went to the Muslim Quarter.  This was the night I ate chicken on a stick and it was delicious!  Think corn dog, but chicken and only a little corn with pepper so...not at all a corn dog.  But it was amazing!  We also went to Haagan Dazs which turned out to be extremely fancy like lemon in water, like we had a server, like it was $5 for a small scoop of ice cream (but it was still delicious).

Before we left for Beijing, we biked the city wall. It was my first time on a tandem bike!  Thankfully Evelyn and I were a great team and quickly became pros. I did, however, get a little crispy after the bike ride.  You'll probably notice in the rest of the pictures my super cool farmers burn/tan.

See you in a few days!


Wednesday
May212014

Random/Migrant School

The temperature has been HOT, there is no other way to put it. The great part about the heat is coming back to our rooms and having AC, it works amazing and I'm actually freezing right now as I type.

 

Aside from that, time is ticking away and ticking away fast. The days go by faster, the meals seem to come sooner and packing seems harder... 6 full days left. Today we went to a migrant school and the little dumplings (what Rachel has our group calling the children) were adorable and so innocent. The school has about 970 students, 19 classes and 42 teachers/staff. To me, migrant schools are both saddening and a blessing. It is sad because that is where they have to go, the other schools won't allow them there because they "don't belong". Also, for the particular school that we went to it goes up to 5th or 6th grade and once they are done their if their parents don't have money they have to go back to where they are from for school (not always an option) or in a sense find another migrant school. If thier parents have money they can pay to get them educated. It is a blessing because there are people who want to educate those children and donate, volunteer and give to those schools to make them happen. 

All in all it was a great experience to go there and be there with them. When we were walking past one class a couple of the students pointed and said "a African!" (someone translated for me), it made me wonder what they were learning compared to what American students are taught at their age. 

Welp, that is all for now. Maybe I'll head to a market to buy gifts for people... or maybe I won't.

Sunday
May182014

Finally, my first blog post

"All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work." -Calvin Coolidge

 

I have experienced so much growth in the last two weeks that it almost seems unrealistic. The growth came from working… working together with the group of students and faculty, working to conquer fears, working to gain a full experience, working to understand, just working. We have all been working in many ways and because of that  we have grown.

 

I can only speak for myself when I say that I have grown, but I do believe that I am not the only one. I believe that we have all grown collectivel,y individually and as a group.

 

Aside from my growth speel, we have done so much in the last two weeks. I haven’t written a blog post yet so I will try to highlight our trip starting from the beginning all the way until now, bear with me.

 

Day 1: Most of us (10 of 12) arrived in Beijing, we had dinner together at a Korean restaurant called Friendship Restaurant (which we’d like to say was the beginning of our friendship as a group). That night the others arrived. Due to exhaustion we were all sleep pretty early.

Day 2: We learned to cross the hectic streets (we all eventually got across safely), we walked around campus, ate what we call “Jim Bean” (a crepe-like breakfast), and we made it to the second floor of Friendship (I don’t know the actual name, but that’s what we call it), and we went to a hot pot restaurant with our BNU counterparts.

Day 3: On the third day we took the subway and went with Kai and Joyce to see Mao’s body, had dumplings, and went to what once was an original hutong (now it’s a tourist like shopping area). I also got a lottery scratch off… and lost. Bryan won the tourist award that day.

Day 4: Peace, meditation and… incenses. The Lama Temple was BEAUTIFUL and full of amazing Buddha’s.

Day 5: Market with Kai. We also went to the lake, which was a very touristy area, yet so beautiful. It was full of people. A man tried to sell us “copy Rolex” watches for only 18¥ aka $3. We walked past a workout playset/playground and of course couldn’t resist ourselves. We ended the day with dinner on the second floor of Friendship

Day 6: I spent this day with my research group (meaning I am unsure what the others did). I would like to speak for my group (both Michigan and BNU students) and say that we had a great day. We got cake for Kai because he was leaving us the following morning :(

Day 7: Rainy day and our first free day (Sundays are free). Myself and a half of the group went with Kevin to a lovely market of people selling things from art to Mao watches, we also had lunch with Kev (it was delicious, we had fried pumpkin balls). Afterwards, we split from Kevin and went to the Silk Market, where anything is possible. We tried going to Great Leap Brewing, we didn’t make it all the way there. That night was our first night at Lakers, it was… interesting to say the least.

Day 8: I am not sure I remember this day.

Day 9: After a bus ride, walking and about 3 different subways later we finally made it to the train station and caught the 11hr and 45min train to Xi’an!

 

I have decided to stop at day 9 because in our short time in Xi’an so much happened that it deserves its very own blog post. We spent four long days in Xi'an and met some of the kindest, most welcoming people at Shaanxi Normal University.

 

If I’ve learned a few things that are not relevant to education and research:

-China it is that you can never be over or underdressed

-Some people have a tendency stare and take pictures when you don't look like "the norm"

-I've never had real chinese food until I got to China (the "Chinese" foods in America are frauds)

-Pollution isn't your friend

-Children may urine or poop...anywhere, it's ok

-Always be considerate and try to be understanding

-Positivity can go a long way 

 

Growth is a beautiful thing, I am happy to be growing. 

Monday
May122014

First impressions of China

I've already recommended the weekly Sinica podcasts, and I strongly recommend this one, which consists of several long-time China watcher's first experiences of this place during periods ranging from the 1970s to the 1990s

I first came here in December of 1984. Because of a flight delay, I arrived 24 hours after I was supposed to. In those days you couldn't just check into a hotel as a foreigner and hardly anyone had telephones. I'd made friends with some people who were traveling here to visit the Institute of Petroleum and their hosts did the paperwork to allow me to stay in the Friendship Hotel overnight. The next day they drove me over to Beijing Normal, where I went into an elevator in a now-demolished building and started asking around for the two people whose names I knew here. As it happened, the first person I asked was one of the people I was looking for, so I was able to connect with my colleagues.

Here is a picture of me with some of those colleagues from that trip - my childhood friend Jim Stigler, now a professor at UCLA, and his advisor, Harold Stevenson, a now-deceased Michigan professor who was instrumental in bringing Chinese psychology back into communication with the international community after the Cultural Revolution. 

 

 And here is a picture of one of the classes we observed then.

One of the reasons I like the podcast is where it ends up. It's easy to wax nostalgic about the good old days, and they were striking times. But, in fact, the very best time to learn about Chinese culture and the Chinese language is now. There are far, far better tools and opportunities for doing so than there were in 1984, and most of the silly and annoying limitations that kept foreigners and Chinese citizens apart are gone.

And the reasons for doing so are at least as strong as they ever were. For any topic you might pick - how we educate children, how we care for the aged, how we try to save our environment, how we manage technology - China and the United States are the two most consequential countries for defining the future of our world. In most of these areas, we have different and complementary perspectives as well as problems. The students on this trip have a huge head start in speaking English and living and breathing American culture. Combine that with an understanding of this place, this language, and this culture and you'll really be in a position to make a difference in this world.