June 2010 Archives

World Expo

Before the China trip I had no idea what the World Expo even was. Everyone kept talking about how exciting it was going to be that we were going to it, so I did some research online. Once I found out what it actually was, I was quite excited myself. We left the hotel at 7:00 AM to make sure we missed all the traffic so we could get there at a decent time. We got there and a ton of people were already waiting to get in. We stood in line for a good hour because the gates didn't actually open until 9:30 AM. Once we all got in we went straight to the USA building. It was really the only building I cared to go in. The line was very, very long, but it was moving quickly. Once we got up front there was an American woman who greeted us. We got inside and she started speaking in Mandarin while a Chinese lady was speaking English. It was quite funny and all the Chinese people would laugh when the American woman would speak. They told us we would be going through four different parts in the building; three of them would be watching movies. The movies were just people talking about America and our plans for the future. Barack Obama gave a little speech as well. The last part of the building was a display of all the large American companies. Wal-Mart was displayed, Dell, and Microsoft among many others. We got out of the building and it was already extremely hot and muggy out. It was going to be a long day at the Expo where 500,000 people visit each day! Sarah and I walked around all day and I took pictures of each building we passed. I couldn't believe how amazing some of the buildings were. So much time and planning must have gone into each one of them. They were absolutely stunning and now I understood why more money was spent on the Expo than on the Olympics. Overall it was a very exciting day, although I anticipated leaving early and to head back to the hotel. When it was time to go I didn't want to leave because there was so much to do and so much to see. I'm very happy I got to see the World Expo as it doesn't happen that often and I'll probably never get the opportunity to go to one ever again.

First day in Shanghai!!!

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One of the things I was most excited about during the China trip was going to Shanghai. It is such a well-known city and is featured in a ton of movies so I couldn't wait to see it for myself. When we arrived I first noticed all the smog. In a city with 21 million people there is obviously a lot of pollution and it's too bad they never get to see the sun! I also noticed all the sky scrapers and how tall all of the buildings were compared to the other cities. Since the space was so limited they just kept building up and up. There were sky scrapers for miles and miles. I just can't imagine how much work goes into building one of those humongous buildings, they're absolutely huge! We also went to the World Financial Center building which is the tallest building in Shanghai and has the world's highest observatory. Waiting in line to go up was brutal and once we got to the observatory I started freaking out a bit. The floor had glass pieces in it and I was afraid to walk on them, thinking I would break through the glass and die. The building also had a slight sway to it because we were up in the clouds and this freaked me out as well. Waiting in line to take the elevator to get back down was awful too. I just wanted to get out of there and I felt trapped because we had to wait in line for so long then take several elevators to get back down. I'm glad we did go to the World Financial Center because I've never been in a tall building like that before so it was a first for me. It was also awesome to see the building whenever we were in downtown Shanghai and I could say, "Hey I was all the way up there!"

Adjusting to Life Back at Home

For the last month, I have had nearly every moment of my day planned out for me. Breakfast, lunch and dinner was prepared for us, whether we were eating at the hotels, out with the group for lunch or dinner, or grabbing market food. I love to cook and hadn't done it in a month - I forgot what I liked to eat before I left the US and I hadn't had to do laundry in weeks. I hadn't had to clean a bathroom, sweep floors, buy cat food and kitty litter, or drive a car. All we had to do in China was show up - and it was awesome - but it has definitely been an adjustment.

I think the biggest differences in my day include normally portioned meals (no two hours of marathon eating around a lazy susan) and sleep. My first week back surprised me with a lot of excitement with seeing everyone that I still only got about 6 hours of sleep every night, but I had a chance to nap the afternoons or evenings away before going out again at night - whereas in China, there was just no time to be wasted on naps - except for those necessary few that we all had to take in Tianjin.

I've been surprised by my noticing more Asian inspired things when I'm out and about every day.  One of my girls and I went to the pet store to get fish for her tanks in the house and I noticed so many Buddha statues to go in the fish tanks - and then we got home and I picked up a Beijing Restaurant menu off of the counter and noticed for the first time that the picture on the front of the menu is the Temple of Heaven.

I feel like life is just a constant state of adjustment, but it keeps things interesting. I'm glad to be home and I'm even more glad to be keeping in touch with some of the coolest people in the world that I got to do my trip to China with.

Ready to Come Home

My month in China is one that I will never forget and it was filled with sights that are indescribable. I knew going into this trip that it would be one of epic proportions, though I had no idea of the effect that it would actually have on me. I've been trying to describe what it was like to climb the Great Wall, or stay on that little island, or notice the differences in the small towns like Suzhou and the huge cities like Shanghai - but it's impossible. Everything that we got to experience in the last month is just something that can't be understood unless you see it too. I keep telling everyone that they absolutely have to go to China if they ever get the chance. It was epic.

As much fun as I had, I was ready to come home and get back into a routine, play some music, and hang out with my friends and my kitty. And all I wanted was to get my bags back safely - which was a concern especially because I bought one at a Carrefour equivalent for about 180 yuan - which isn't much. As soon as I tried wheeling it around at the airport it was apparent that the bag was only gonna make it for this one trip and I just wanted to get it on the plane. Alex helped me put it back together and then after a quick run through with security it was good to go.

I was so tired that morning that I fell asleep on the runway before the plane even took off. By the time we were in the air and I no longer had any idea where we were, I was kind of disappointed that I didn't get to say my final goodbye to China. I guess I'm the kind of person that doesn't really do goodbyes anyway - I like "see ya later"(s). I really hope that I will have the opportunity to travel back and say hi to China again someday.

Lines, Lines, and More Lines

Our time in Shanghai brought us to the tallest observatory in the world as well as the World Expo, both of which were filled with people - which means lines. The tower that Joe took us up to was a series of different waiting areas that we experienced, and most people were patient and calmly waiting for most of the experience. I think that we waited in lines for about two or three hours throughout our tour of the observatory - and I'm not a person that likes to stand around - or feel trapped. I think most of us felt trapped up in that tower, just waiting for our turn to get in the elevator and get down and out of there. The view was incredible but the chaos of everyone trying to push their way through the lines to get out was enough to make me never want to stand in another line ever again. Lucky for me, we were going to the Expo the next day - and I was NOT looking forward to it.

As soon as we got off the bus the next day to get ourselves in yet another line - a line just to get through security - I noticed how many people were trying to sell us stools - not the standard little bags and chopsticks that I was used to. I didn't want to buy a stool - why would I want to buy a stool? As soon as we were in line again I reconsidered my decision not to buy one - especially since it was about 8:00 am and I was able to watch other people resting on their stools in line. At 9:00 the line got moving to get everyone through security and then we had to bolt to the USA pavilion to get in another line. The line at the USA building wasn't bad at all - we walked through most of it and made it inside in about ten or fifteen minutes.

By the time we got out of that building there were already so many people on the Expo grounds that I couldn't bear the thought of trying to get into any longer lines so Charlee and I went on a mission to see every building on that side of the park and to try and make our way over the river to the other part. I just couldn't believe how many people were willing to wait for hours and hours just to get into some of the buildings. Nick and Alex stopped to see how long the wait would be for Germany and the guy at the gate told them it would be about six hours. Six hours?! Yeah right - but the people were waiting very patiently - stools and all. I don't think that waits like that would go over very smoothly in America - I could definitely see fights or riots starting after about the second hour of the wait.

To experience the Expo was absolutely incredible and I'm glad that we did it - even after the tower fiasco the day before.

Day 27- Shanghai

Our last day in Shanghai was a lot of fun, although it was hard to not think about the fact that we were leaving the next day.  I was very surprised at how easy it was to get around the city using the metro.  We took it to Nanjing road, a street full of shopping, where we smartly divided up into little groups and set a place and time to meet to head home.  (We all had learned over the course of the trip that trying to stay in a big group while shopping is not very manageable).  Nanjing road consisted of high-end retail shops with prices closer to those in the U.S.  There were, however, shops that were behind the big stores and in back alleyways that had cheaper prices as well as knock-off items.  I think it is very cool that little shops around the corners of huge stores can make it and be successful.  Once we were done shopping, I was excited to take the metro back to our hotel, but for some reason the stop we had arrived at was closed for maintenance, so we had to cab it back. 

 

I would have to say that making the decision to go on this trip was the best thing I have ever done.  When the trip ended I had a completely different perspective on things, and a huge appreciation for a different culture.  I had no idea how much the trip would affect me, but I now have the urge to travel more places and experience as many different cultures and countries as possible.  China has opened my eyes to so many new things, I am so grateful for having the experience that I did.

Travel Day

The flight back home was sad for many people and bittersweet for others.  I personally loved the trip and soaked in as much of the culture as was possible.  I tried to attend every activity and tried not to miss out on any adventure that was going on.  The travel day was hard on everyone in the group.  I know that a lot of people didn't go to bed the night before and then the travel day was just exhausting to the max.  The first flight was a bit scary with an older plane and a lot of turbulence.  But in the end we made it home safe and sound.  In the future, I am definitely looking forward to going back and possibly pursuing a career in international business.  Thank you all for such an amazing experience!  

Everyday Living

Living standards in China are very different than in the U.S.  For one, most Chinese houses consist of one room.  In that one room they fit everything they own, which includes a bed, blankets, a table with small chairs, and all other necessities.  They do not have their own bathrooms they have a community water closet.  Also, no stove, they cook their food out doors.  In the U.S. all of these items would be located in one household whereas, the Chinese make everything more compact.  The U.S. is more wasteful and each household usually has more than they need.  It is incredible to see the differences in cultures and how each culture goes about their daily routines.

Green Tea

 

We went to a tea house in Beijing and got to try 6 different kinds of tea that were already pre-packaged. Although it was very cool to try this tea and to also buy some, it didn't at all compare to the fresh green tea I got to try in the mountains of Hangzhou. After going to West Lake we headed up the mountains to attend a tea ceremony. While driving we started noticing all the terraces in the hills where all the tea leaves were planted and growing. The tea house was situated right in the mountains with the terraces right out the backdoor. We got to see a man hand drying the freshly picked tea leaves by moving them around in a large bowl. We were told that this process can sometimes take several hours. We sat in a large room around a huge table while the lady taught us all about the tea. She had a basket of the freshly dried tea leaves and put a pinch in each of our glasses. Another lady came around and poured hot water into our glasses with three hand movements each time. In English this gesture meant thank you very much. So after she poured our water, we would tap on the table three times. We learned how good the green tea is for you, which is much better than coffee. You can also eat the tea leaves which I never knew you could do. It made sense now why everyone carried around a water bottle type thing with all these tea leaves in it. She also showed us four different qualities of the green tea. The earlier you pick it the better it is and thus the more expensive. The first batch picked is rated number one and would be used for the Emperor to drink. The second batch picked is rated number two and would be used for the workers of the tea house to drink; it was a family owned business. The third batch would be for the Chinese people to drink and the fourth batch would be exported to other countries. Although I don't think the tea has much flavor I still enjoyed it very much and think I will start drinking a lot more tea when I get back home. Green tea is good for so many reasons and would be a much better substitute than all the coffee I drink.

West Lake

When I heard we were going to West Lake in Hangzhou I didn't really know what to expect because you don't really hear of many lakes in China. Joe, our tour guide, had told us it was a man-made lake so I thought it was going to be very small. It's also very strange to think of a lake being man-made because Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes. When we go to the lake I was amazed by how many people there were on a Thursday afternoon. Joe had told us Hangzhou was nicknamed "the leisure city" but it looked like all the people here were tourists just like ourselves. It took us awhile to walk to where we would board a boat to go on a 45 minute cruise around the lake. While out on the lake I could not believe how big it actually was. There were also two islands in the middle of it and you could barely see the city through the smog. I took plenty of pictures on the boat because it reminded me of being back home and enjoying a hot summer day on the water. Although you don't see any swimmers, water-skiers, wave-runners, or anything like that on the water. After the boat ride Sarah and I walked around to see the many different aspects of the park. We saw a pond with several thousand red crappies, peak hawks, a bamboo forest, and several other beautiful things. The park was just so serene and so full of nature; I could have walked around for several hours if we had the time. I can now see why Hangzhou is nicknamed "the leisure city" because if I lived there I would definitely go to West Lake as much as I could to hang out.

Last Day in China

Wow, what an experience. A short novel could probably be written based on the memories I have of this place, but for now, a simple blog entry will have to suffice. I have learned so much; about a culture, about a way of life, and about myself. This trip has made me realize that there is more than one way to go about living my life, and that conventional thinking is not always the best way to look at things. I have been back in the U.S. for about a week, and almost every thought in my mind has been about China, the people that I met there, and the lessons they taught me. I went for a bike ride a couple of nights ago, trying to replicate a feeling I had while riding a bike with my student.  Needless to say, it was not the same. As I pedaled down the placid, eerily quiet streets of my neighborhood, I found myself daydreaming that I was back, in the crowed, hectic streets of Tianjin, surrounded by people, having a casual conversation with the incredible person riding on the rear wheel. I don't care if it takes two weeks, two months, six months, or a year, I'm going back. Thank you to everyone who made this trip so memorable.

Expo

I am really glad that our group had the opportunity to experience the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.  Seeing all of the creative facades put together by countries from around the world was a truly amazing sight. The only complaint was that the lines were very long, upwards of six hours just to enter a single pavilion. Even though the waiting times were absurd, it is understandable given the population of Shanghai and the intense marketing campaign surrounding the expo. Having an unlimited access pass to that place would be one hell of a gift, but without one, it would probably take a month just to take in everything it has to offer. The theme of the expo, "better city, better life" was a hopeful and promising one, and many countries put together bright and optimistic exhibitions showcasing their dreams for the future. Hopefully these aspirations will be fulfilled.

Shanghai Expo

Easily one of the most memorable times in my life thus far was the World Expo in Shanghai.  I'm still amazed at how lucky we all were for choosing to study abroad in China and then discovering that the Expo was being hosted in Shanghai.  The architecture of all the buildings were miraculous.  It was extraordinary seeing all of the unique designs and ideas that were put into each and every building.  In my opinion, I thought the most unique was Spain's pavilion which consisted of almost 600 woven baskets.  Google it to see what I mean (for all those readers from back home).  Very cool.  Even though we studied only in China, I feel like experiencing the Expo gave me insight into many other cultures.

Last Day in Shanghai Looking Back

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Through this experience we have learned a lot about the Chinese culture and how they are so similar to the people in the United States. The place that seemed the most similar to the people in the US was Shanghai. This is because many of the people that were here spoke a lot of English.  Everywhere we went we could find someone to help us that spoke at least a little English.  Many of the shopping areas had brands that you could find in a place like New York not to mention the New York feel.  Though the city was much larger than any of the cities in the US it seemed to be much more modernized than any of the other places we experienced and it made me feel more like we were in America.  The city was very touristy with many people trying to sell you things that only tourists would buy much like New York.  For me I did not notice as many beggars in this city as in others maybe it was the places we went but the cost of living in this city is higher than in other cities from what I was told.  The city had a business feel about it because you would see so many people walking around the city in nice work attire and it was very different from the casual feeling in the other cities we visited.  I think Shanghai was my favorite city because it had a big city feeling and the architecture was amazing.  They really knew how to make these buildings look amazing and I enjoyed the boat ride where we got to see the city lights at night, this was by far the most impressive city we saw on the trip and I was very happy to get the chance to see it.

Zhangzhou Song Dynasty Town

Another great experience in Hangzhou is Song Dynasty Town visit. We arrived in the afternoon and it turned out to be a lot of fun.  People there are all dressed up in Song time-period clothes.  We got the chance to watch acrobatic, the martial art, shadow show, and many other folk local dramatic performances.  What impressed me most is the show, Romance of Song Dynasty, one of the most dynamic spectacles I have ever seen.

The grand stage show took us back to thousands of years ago to explore the culture and history of this historical city.  It started with rousing music and the chorus line dancing and doing acrobatics, in a rendition of how the Song Dynasty came to power. Then it followed by the emporor's birthday banquet- guests dressed up in gold belly dancing, jugglers and etc. Then later on, there were the combination of folklore shows and these artists played on the mist in the air with a swirling green light that created a cavernous, emerald city fantasy land.

The most famous one is the fairy tale about the White Snake Woman who fell in love with a human on West Lake.  Then it followed by the tale of two butterflies, the eastern Romeo and Juliet, for which it was to have two acrobats flying around the stage hanging from white ribbons in ballet poses.

The last part is to present the town nowadays, a period of development and prosperity in China.  I really love this great show perfomed by these fabulous artists and will definitely recommend it for all visiters to watch!

Advertising

I have found that advertising in China is unlike any other country I have seen. Obviously advertising is a very important part of business marketing and you can see this through all the TV commercials, magazine ads and billboards as seen in the U.S.  In China this same practice occurs just to a different extent. For one when China wants to advertise something they do it big, especially in Shanghai. It is not unusual to see an entire side of a building lit up with different advertisements. Often a side of a building will act as a giant TV screen projecting different ads through LED lights. I was amazed when I first saw this mainly because we don't have anything like this in the U.S. The closest similarity would perhaps be Time Square in New York but still nothing lives up to extent to which china advertises. Besides the lights and glamour part of Chinas advertisement I also noticed that for certain events, like the World Expo, they advertise repetitively. While in Shanghai, everywhere you looked you saw something having to do with the Expo. Likewise with the 2008 Olympics china will advertise over and over again. ...

Hangzhou West Lake

West Lake is a picturesque landscape in western area of Hangzhou City's center.  We were lucky to have the chance to visit there in our China study trip.  During the cruise excursion, we met lots of tourist groups from all over China and world.  I heard some tourist guides telling those stories behind the scene. 

Not only being famous for the scenic resort, West Lake is associated with many scholars and national heroes, thus embracing many aspects of Chinese culture.  Many stone caves, bridges and ancient buildings in surrounding areas are among the most cherished national treasures of China.  What interested me most is the Leifeng Pagoda, which can be seen during the cruise, due to those beautiful legends I have been told along me grew up with...West Lake is the pride of Hangzhou, and a favorite destination spot for the citizenry to escape the bustle and hustle of the modern city.  If by any chance, I can go back to Hangzhou, I will definitely spend one entire day visit West Lake again for sure!

 

 

6/14 Hotel Service

When you look at all the experiences you have had at hotels in the US often times you will remember a lot of places that were unsatisfactory.  Well through my observations I have noticed that Chinese hotels have much better service than American ones.  In the US you will come across hotels that have sleeping front desk receptionists or at times they won't even be there, causing you to come back again later.  In China from the different hotels we have used, we have never had problems with the receptionists sleeping or being gone, even at 2 or 3 in the morning there will be multiple people working the front desk and greeting you with smiles.  I think this style of service has entirely to do with the Chinese culture and work ethic.  Another example of why I believe Chinese hotels offer better service is the fact that they respond to complaints much faster than in the United States.  We asked a room cleaner to come to our room because we were having problems with the internet and immediately they called people that could help us with the problem.  Within 5 to 10 minutes we had 5 people in our room trying to help us with our internet problem including people from the front desk.  They showed great concern with our problem and tried as best they could even with the communication barrier to help with the problem.  In the US if you had a problem like this I think it's safe to say that it would take a while for service to come. Also I do not think they would be quite as concerned as these Chinese people were for us.  Overall I think the Chinese are far better with their hotel service than Americans are with theirs.

6/13 Traffic Issues

In China I have noticed over the past month that there are very few traffic issues even in the larger cities.  This has amazed me because when China is compared to the US there is a huge difference between them.  Even in the Twin Cities with far less than a million people there are bad traffic problems at times.  Also I have noticed that there is almost always road construction being done around the cities and this is causing large congestion problems to occur.  In China I have seen very little congestion even with a city of around 20 million people.  Through our drives on the highways I have also seen very little road work being done which surprises me because in the city you can see a lot of different roads being worked on.  In the US you will see accidents quite often or people with car problems on the side of the road.  Also almost anywhere you are there is always a pull off lane on the side of the road in case you have car issues.  In China you very rarely see people with cars stalled on the side of the road or with flat tires.  The entire month I was in China I saw maybe 1 or 2 cars on the side of the road from accidents.  Even with these massive cities accidents are very low compared to the US. This low accident rate and road construction not being as bad as the US helps to make traffic not nearly as much of a problem as in the US.  Also the style of driving that people do in China helps with less traffic, what we may think is unsafe driving is actually normal driving in China and it helps to move more people on the roads faster.

Last Day of an Amazing Trip

Today marks the end of what I can safely say one of the most incredible trips I have ever experienced. It's hard to even recollect half of the things I did on this trip, there was just so much. It's also hard to think about going home and readjusting to my own culture, after spending just a month here and doing everything to adjust to this one. I think what is so unique about this trip is the fact that it is so three dimensional and it lets the student experience the culture first hand, and not just lectured in a classroom. I don't think I have learned so much in such a short period of time about so many different things. I believe a class like this is necessary for any business student because it widens your perspective and shows you first hand how important cultural differences are.

Our last day in Shanghai we ended up going back to Nanjing road to do some last minute shopping. I wasn't looking for anything in particular but needed to find a few more gifts. Me and a couple others had an interesting experience with a young market lady. At first this lady just showed us her room full of fake stuff which is exactly what we were looking for, after some hard bargaining with her and what seemed to be her boss we started to walk out the door until she stopped us and started motioning to follow her. We really didn't have anything else to do so we figured why not. She led us down deeper into the alleyways into a real Shanghai house which was pretty cool. It looked like a normal Chinese household with a women cutting vegetables in the kitchen and cloths drying everywhere until she opened a door that was filled with fake shoes. It was funny to see how professional looking this room looked, it had one shoe for every model they had displayed nicely on racks with lights behind it. Basically something you would see on the wall of a footlocker or Nike store. This lady ended up dragging us around to 4 different shops until finally she gave up. It was quite entertaining.   

Last day in China

Today is my last day in China. I had come here about a month ago. I must say when I planned to participate in this program I thought the program was very expensive which led me to have  some high expectations. However, what China had to offer me was way beyond what I had asked for. The people I met here showered me with so much love that it is being really hard for me to leave this country now. I look at the friends I came to China with. A month ago, I did not know them.. they did not know me. But, now here we are trying to stay up all night just to talk. We promise that we will keep in touch and we will hang out in United States, but we all know how busy life gets us and who knows which of these friends I will see or will never see again. I feel like I am leaving a part of myself here in China. I do not feel good leaving this country.
We were at McDonald's today. We went to eat out before going for shopping. While we were eating, we met a very young girl who had just arrived from America to Shanghai. She was going to be in Shanghai for a month. She asked us about few things in China. We told her more than what she needed. We started to tell her how awesome Beijing was, how she needs to bargain in the market, the places we visited, the stories of Tianjin, places in Suzhou, Wuzhen and Hanzhou, and how Shanghai was. We were giving advices to her about how to act in China and it really amazes me to think that we felt so experienced with the culture here even though we had just been here for a month. At every word she kept saying "WOW" and I could tell she was pretty surprised to see how much we knew. After talking to her, I realized that her school was not taking her everywhere. She had to figure out herself to find a way to Great Wall of China or any other places that she wanted to visit. I feel we were so lucky to be able to be provided with the best tour guides, a tour bus which took us everywhere we needed to vist. I look back and reflect- this trip was so worth it. However, I dont think it would not have been so great without the presence of our very deal professor Dr Li. Thank you Dr Li for teaching us, helping us out, and taking taking every initiative to show us how great China really is.

Shanghai day 2 - The World Expo 2010

Today, we went to the Expo. I had always wanted to see what the Expo would be like but never thought I would have the opportunity to visit one. I consider myself lucky to be able to go to such an event.. it felt like I was destinied to be here in China to attend the Expo. It could be last year, or it could be the next year. But, it was was this year. And I am in China this year, not today or next year. So, I totally feel blessed.
The Expo was beautiful. It was more than what i had thought it would be. However, I am not writing this blog to explain how wonderful the Expo was. I bet you all can imagine how amazing it was. But what ticked me off in the Expo was the lack of drug store. I got really sick in the Expo today. We were there for about 8 hours. There were times where i could barely walk. I did not want to get back to the hotel cause it was really far away. But I knew it if I had a medicine I would be fine.. I would be walking and enjoying this wonderful event. Sabrina and I searched for a drug store everywhere but we could not find any. Tired of searching, we asked a guard over there if there were any available. They said they had none. I was surprised by their answer. The Expo is an event where people of all ages come. There were the new borns and there were some really old people. If they felt sick all of a sudden, they did not have any choice than to get out of the event to get some medicine. This event was not a small place either. It occupied a large space. They would have to walk all that or had to just bear the pain like I did.
I asked the employee what they did if anyone got sick. They said in extreme emergency situation, they call a number which is similar to 911. The van arrives in 3 minutes and then they are taken to the hospital. However, this was done only in very rare cases.  I do not think that this is a smart thing to do. Given the population of people attending the event, they should have had a small clinic in there or just a plain drug store.
I also asked if they had any employee supplies of medicines when they get sick like they have in United States (first aid kit for employees). They said that they di dnot know of any such thing. While I was struggling with pain, I secretly thanked God to be able to be in a country where such medical supplies were given to me.

Shanghai- day 1

Shanghai is a beautiful city. It is pretty developed. I noticed a lot of people in Shanghai speak English. I noticed that Shanghai was totally different from Beijing. I think Beijing is more traditional and Shanghai is more modern. I was surprised to see this because Beijing is the capital of China and as a capital of a country, I always expect them to be the most modern city. But, guess I was wrong.

Today we went to the World Financial Center in Shanghai. This building is apparently the world's tallest observatory. I have been to Empire State Building in New York and I thought the view from hat height was spectacular. I did not know how much better this height would be. It was a lot of waiting till we finally was able to go up. There were a large number of people there. Some of my friends were scared of heights. It was fun teasing them. Although it was a foggy day and we could not see the view properly, it still gave me an idea of how beautiful Shanghai looked from up above. I totally enjoyed the experience.

As we lined up to go, there were a lot of people waiting in line. We decided to cut through the line and pull the "American card". However in the process, I noticed something. Dr Li had told us in one of his lectures that Chinese people are very inviting to the people from different cultures but among their own culture, there are conflicts. I could see this because when we cut through the line, no one said anything. We were about a group of five. There was no word raised at us to tell us how it wasn't fair. However, when two Chinese people tried to cut the line, the people behind started arguing out loud. Although I could not understand the Chinese words, I basically got the point that the Chinese man was not really happy with the other two Chinese men cutting in. I was surprised to look how angry they got. I had stereotyped people in China not to show their anger and frustration, but instead they smile and keep the anger and frustration piled in. The angry voice of the man I saw today definitely made me rethink the stereotype and I learned to realize that people in China do show their emotions and do not hide them all the time.

 

Hanzhou Day 2- Talented people in China

Today, we went to see a theme park in China. When we were told that we had to spend about 3 to 4 hours there, I was disappointed. I did not know what the park would hold that would occupy me for so long. However, the real visit to this park was surprising. This park was definitely one of the coolest parks I had ever been to in my entire life. It had all sorts of things in there. There was a water game park where people got together to play games, lot of shops, a weird street which had the weirdest objects I could ever think of. It had a giant statue of Lord Buddha; there was a cave in it to. Once you go inside the cave you reach a point where you realize that the cave is actually moving. It is a scary and an unforgettable experience. At every point when you think that the adventures of the park are over, the park will itself lead you into a new one. We watched a dance show in this park too. The play was named Romance in the Song Dynasty. It was a love story between a guy and a girl. Although the words that they spoke were purely Chinese, I could get a gist of the story through the dance. I have to say Chinese people are the most talented people I have ever come across. The way they projected their show was amazing. They had a screen behind that showed a background and then they had people coming in and dancing. Sometimes, it would be so hard to tell if the background was real or not. There were times when the stage would open up and there will be a pond right there. The waterfall would also flow in the stage. Everything would look so natural. Every scene they showed, I had just one word in my mouth "WOW"! The ladies were really beautiful and the dance they performed was so perfect. At times I would feel the girls would fall off the ropes while dancing. They were just too perfect to be true. Even when they changed scenes they were so quick in changing the entire setting that it almost feel as if you are watching a movie. Chinese people have amazed me ever since the start of this trip. From starting from the Beijing show, to the peaking Opera and even the magician in the restaurant, they have performed beautifully. I keep wondering how they do those tricks on stage so beautifully.

Hanzhou Day 1 - Pictures by strangers

As I opened my window today, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this city. We had our room on one of the top floors of our hotel. The beauty of this town amazes me. We went on the boat ride. After the boat ride, we had been given time to explore the park by ourselves. While we were walking around, I came across some people who would rent some Chinese traditional costumes to the people who wanted to wear them and take a picture. I have always been interested in cultural dresses of different cultures. I was so excited to try one. I picked a beautiful red dress and put it on. The funniest thing about this experience was when I wore the cultural dress; there were a lot of people coming and taking pictures of me. This was kind of new to me. There were so many people who would pull me aside and want individual pictures with me. This went on for quite some time. I thought this experience was different because in United States, taking pictures of someone you don't know is a major thing. People in the US get angry about having strangers taking their pictures in public. They feel as if it is the invasion of privacy. They do not trust the other individual as to what are they really going to do with these pictures. Opposite to that, here we were in China letting strangers take our pictures without a fear in our head. I kept asking myself as to why this difference existed. Maybe it cause of the fact that China is from the eastern side of the world, the more conservative side. There was no way we were going to think that they were going to do something bad with these pictures. These pictures were just taken because they had not really encountered people from the other side of the world. They just want to have these pictures as a "nice" memory. This factor is totally different than from the incidences that we face in United States.

Last Day

On our last day in Shanghai we all decided to go roam the street at the People's Square.  We took the metro for the first time.  It wasn't what I expected at all.  I thought it would be dirty and grimy with a lot of people and much crime.  There was none of that.  It was easy to understand and to get around.   We were able to find our way around all by ourselves, and that in itself is a major accomplishment in a foreign city where none of us spoke the native language.   

World Expo 2010

World Expo 2010 in Shanghai was a memorable experience for most people.  It consisted of waking up early and long lines.  On a more positive note the architecture was incredible and all of the countries really showed off their country in a very positive light.  They showcased their values and beliefs through their elaborate presentations and videos.  They also did a great job showing off the different cultural aspects of their countries just by the designs on their buildings.  All the buildings were unique in there own way and it was incredible to see the unity that was created through the world expo of all the countries coming together as one.   

Shanghai City of 20 Million

People are everywhere in Shanghai.  It is basically impossible to get anywhere with out people running into you.  Literally they will run into you if you don't move, it is that highly populated. All I can really say about Shanghai is that it is a massive city that contains 20 millions people.  The city is huge and really the only place to go it up.  So there are immense skyscrapers all across the skyline.  The architecture is insanely beautiful and just adds to the uniqueness of the city.  Also, Shanghai is one of the most westernized cities so far in my visit to China it, is also very clean compared to all the other cities we visited as well.      

Ahhhh China

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Today for the first time this trip I was annoyed at China.  I just could find what I wanted or was looking for, so this blog is going to be somewhat pessimistic.  Nothing in China works well, unless it is a large-scale production.  For example on the overnight train ride the air conditioning would not work.   In our hotel in Tianjin they service people put wallpaper in hotel rooms while we were still occupying the rooms.  That would never happen in the U.S. while people were actually paying to be in their rooms.  The faucet in our room in Tianjin was broken and leaked all over our bathroom.  In Shanghai the air conditioning would not work either.  It was just the little things that just started to get to me, I think I'm just starting to miss America.  Who knows?            

The Romantic Story of the Song Dynasty

The Romantic Story of the Song Dynasty was a play in Hangzhou that absolutely blew my mind, I have seen numerous Broadway shows and this show was better times 5.  This show had fireworks, flying people, rain, waterfalls, and snow, everything you could imagine.  The costumes were ornate pieces of art and the actors and actresses wore them beautifully.  One of my favorite scenes in this love story would have to be when the two lovers die and turn into butterflies so they could finally be together.  They then go on to spin around in the air by a piece of fabric, and the girl hangs in the air by a mouthpiece connected to the guy.  Their performance was incredible.  I wish I could see it again.  It had to be one of the best operas ever produced.  

Bonding Time

Bonding with the people here is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  I can't even imagine trying to go this by myself, not knowing the language or anyway of communication.  It is great having Sabrina with us all the time because she can talk fluent Chinese and it makes it a lot easier to order food, and communicate with the locals.  She is amazing; I think I may be in love.  At first I had major culture shock when we all first got to Tianjin, I mean honesty, the cars will run you over if you don't watch out.  You will even get run over on the sidewalk by the electric carts and millions of bikes.  Although the work ethic here is pretty amazing!  One day you see roadwork and a closed off street and the next day, the street is paved and looks brand new.  Ethics here are so highly regarded and held to the highest degree, whereas, in the U.S. there is more of an emphasis on leisure activities.  

Facials!

Went to the Chinese salon today!  It was fantastic and one of the best experiences at a salon.  I booked a facial yesterday and then went in for it today at 3 pm.  It took 1 hour and 45 minutes, absolutely fantastic.  They not only gave me a facial but also a back, neck, hand, foot, and head massage.  It was a good experience for me because Sabrina was right there with me communicating what they were saying.  It was so great; one woman worked on my face, while a different man came in and gave me a foot massage.  Then the boss of the shop came into the room and talked to us for a long while about many various topics.  I learned all about the school system and picked up on some more Chinese!  Overall today was a total success!

Home

As I look up at the pristine sky, witch is a shimmering blue that has beautiful little fluffy clouds racing by.  I am struck by the amazing quality of the air, and the land.  It is all so clean and well just nice, it is good to be home.  However I find myself wishing for the tower cranes of Tianjin, and the bustle of Beijing.  At the airport in MSP I would have turned right around and boarded the exact same 15 hour flight to go straight back to China.  I fit in there, here not so much.  I miss the bustle, and the cars, the honking and the people.  Mostly I miss my friends, I miss them terribly, and wish that I could go back.  I know that someday I will go back.  Sam and I want to be English teachers, and with how this trip struck us both very deeply I believe that we will make it, and have a great time.  I need more than a month to absorb the culture of China and I cannot wait to have the chance to do say again.

Day 26- Shanghai

Saturday was a really fun day in Shanghai.  We started off at the Expo, which for me was very overwhelming.  We had to be there an hour and a half before doors even opened so that we wouldn't have to wait in line so long.  Once we got in, we headed straight for the U.S. Pavilion, because going there right away meant avoiding a long line later in the day.  I don't know if anyone else knew what to expect, but I was shocked to see how long the line already was at the U.S. Pavilion.  Once inside, I had the feeling of, "This is it? This is what people are waiting in line for at each Pavilion?"  I was not very impressed.  There were four different sections that had a short video clip of what the U.S. was doing towards the Expo's slogan of "Better City, Better Life".  For the rest of the day, I only went into one more Pavilion, because the lines were just way too long, and some at a standstill.  I was fine just wandering around the Expo, and looking at the cool buildings from the outside.  Overall, I thought the Expo was pretty cool, but there were just SO many people there, that it was almost hard to enjoy. 

 

That night, we went on a boat ride along the canal of downtown Shanghai.  I thought that that was a very cool way to end the trip.  The sky line in Shanghai is amazing at night, and seeing it from the water was one of the highlights of being in Shanghai.  I thought it was really interesting to see all the different ways people have found to advertise using the buildings and boats that are downtown.  All I could think about while on the boat ride was how I don't think any city I visit in the future could be as amazing and beautiful as Shanghai was.  

I forgot to post this one.. 5/21

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Today was our last time in Beijing.  We first went to the Temple of Heaven.  This was cool to see but we were all tired from all the sightseeing previous days, and the crazy party the night before.  After a little shopping and lunch, we took the high speed train to Tianjin.  This was the best part of the day for me.  It was really interesting to see the differences in train travel from Europe.  All the stations I have been to have been in old, historical buildings.  The station here looked brand new looking more like an airport terminal.  We also had to go through security which was also very weird to me, since I have never seen that in a train station before.  The biggest difference was that there were gates and a waiting area for the trains.  They check your ticket before you get on the train and you can't walk around freely to other platforms.  I thought that they would be more like every other train I have been on and they check your ticket when you are on the train, and you can roam around freely.  It felt more like an airport than a train station, and I think that I wouldn't like it if I had to travel by it frequently.  

Last Day

This was our last day here in China and I would like to write about a few main observations that I have noticed over the last four weeks.

 The people here have been great to us.  From the people that we just met on the street to our friends at the university, everyone has been so kind.  I can not think of one bad moment in the whole trip where I felt that we haven't been treated fairly.  If anything, the people have treated us better probably better than we really deserve.  People sometimes would go out of their way to try and impress us.  An example of this is when we wanted to play table tennis and badminton at the university and we somehow met a high school student whose father works at the university.  He went way out of his way to try and reserve the room for us to play when we wanted to.  We ended up talking for at least 20 minutes and the whole time he was determined to get the room reserved for us. 

 The view of Americans seems a lot better here in China than other places around the world.  It seems like people like to see us in China, they want to learn more about us, and they don't have any negative things to say to our face.  When in Europe it seemed to be the opposite as people didn't really care about us and sometime I would hear some shallow comments about us because of our president at the time.

 Even though looking at the traffic and crossing the street feels so unsafe, I almost feel safer than I do at home.  I feel that even though they don't follow the rules as much and the roads are more chaotic, people watch out for each other more and are always willing to stop for others.  I might have just gotten used to this over the past four weeks, but I seriously felt very safe crossing the street and driving in cars.  We were in a taxi last night and it felt like I was on a racetrack.  None of us had seatbelts on but I didn't even worry about it.  At home I would have been so scared and would have buckled my seat belt immediately.  I feel like at home drivers feel that if you are in the way, it is your fault and you are reliable for yourself. 

 These are just some of the differences I have noticed. I could spend all day writing about the differences between the two countries.  I had a great time and I am already missing some of the small things about China.  

6/12 The World's Expo

 This is the day that most of us have been looking forward to the most.  I did not know what to expect at all and had no idea what there would even be at the expo.  The World's Expo is an event that is held in different cities around the world once every few years.  We just happened to choose the right year, and now we have a whole day dedicated to exploring what each country has to offer.

 First thing that I noticed is the USA pavilion was unimpressive.  Maybe because I had such high expectations, but watching three different short films and then reading about corporations was not what I was expecting.  It seemed that the USA had no desire to impress anybody, but they just made a decently entertaining pavilion that could push people through the door at a faster rate than other pavilions.

 The next thing that I learned is that people here are not afraid to wait in long lines.  We wanted to go into the Germany pavilion but we asked how long it would take, and the guard said probably around six hours! We could not believe that people would actually spend their whole day in line only to spend probably one hour inside the exhibit. 

 Another thing that was quite obvious to me was the differences between rich countries and poor countries.  For example, Spain, Germany, England, China, Korea, USA, Sweden, and others all had very nice pavilions.  They designed them and made the architecture a key element of the pavilion.  Countries that are not so wealthy such as Iceland, Greece, and many other Eastern European countries obviously had less impressive design.  Most of these countries had a square building with the design printed on some material that stretched around the whole building. I thought that this was very interesting to see how different countries viewed the World's Expo and also how much they wanted to show off. 

 One last thing that I noticed was the overall interest in all people for all countries.  Everybody did have favorites and chose some of the bigger countries, but overall people showed an interest in every country.  People wanted to learn more about what each country is doing and how they are contributing to a "better city, better life."

6/11 - Shanghai

Today was our first day in Shanghai.  We arrived in the early afternoon just in time for lunch.  After lunch we went to the Shanghai museum, the World Financial Center, and also a walk along the most famous shopping street in Shanghai.  This city is clearly the largest city that I have ever seen.  Many millions of people whom live here and skyscrapers that are spread out along the horizon.  I would consider myself a city person and this was really interesting for me to see.  Driving around the city I noticed that the highway seemed elevated along most of the city.  This is really interesting since the city is so large and this is how they dealt with large roads around the city.  Even though this road was elevated and had no stoplights, it still seemed to be full of traffic and slow moving.  It seemed like they need to add more lanes of traffic but there is just not enough room.

 

We went to the top of the World Financial Center, which is the third highest building in the world.  After many lines and a continued growth of impatience,, we were allowed to see the whole city from they highest point.  It is just truly amazing to see so many buildings and people all around.  Looking at the skyline and noticing all the cranes only shows that this city is becoming larger and will play an important role in business around the world.

6/10

Today we went to the Lake in the middle of the town and a park that was themed around the Chinese culture.  The lake was very large and there were many tourists.  One of the cool parts of this tour was on the boat when our tour guide randomly pulled out a one Yuan bill and showed us the picture on the back.  The next thing we know is that we are in front of this on the lake.  This was unexpected and interesting because this obviously has some historical value. 

 

The best part of the day was something that was also unexpected.  The only thing that we were told was that we were going to a show and there would be one hundred beautiful girls.  I really didn't know what to expect from this, and the last opera we went to was kind of boring. I had higher expectations than the opera but I did not have any idea of how great the performance would actually become.  The whole one-hour was filled with excitement and energy.  We saw some crazy effects, normal music (none of the clicking noises that was played in the opera for two hours straight), lots of choreographed performances by many people and some good stage design.  The show was entertaining for the whole one hour, and there were not any bad or boring parts.  I was very impressed overall and am glad that we went to this show even though I was very skeptical about going to it before.  This was one of the best shows I have ever seen and it was crazy to see this before my eyes.  The only disappointment I had with this show was the seating.  We were sitting far back, and the problem was that it was difficult to see the front of the stage because of other peoples heads were in the way.  An upgraded seating arrangement would make it more enjoyable for shorter people who cannot see over the heads of taller people.  Overall this was very entertaining and I was overly impressed by the size and energy of the whole show. I would definitely recommend this for anyone who has not seen it!

Day 25- Shanghai

Friday was our first day in Shanghai, and I think we were all blown away by the sheer size of the city.  I was already amazed at how big Beijing was, but Shanghai has a much different feel.  That day, we visited the Shanghai World Financial Center, which has the world's highest observatory.  Basically, it is not the world's tallest building, or even the tallest building in Shanghai, but because the observatory is located 474 meters above ground, this is their claim to fame.  Due to the fact that this building is so famous and so well known, you would think that they would be very organized when it came to tourists.  This would be a false statement.  There was only one elevator that worked to take you up to the Sky Arena, and then only one elevator that could take people up to the Sky Walk.  After timidly walking around the Sky Walk (there were area's of glass floor, which is not very exciting for people who are scared of heights), we had to wait in a long line for the one elevator that worked to take us back down to the Sky Arena, where there was another line for the next elevator.  After going through all of this, and finally getting back down to the first floor, we learned from someone that there are actually 11 elevators that were working, but they are reserved only for emergencies and for the companies that are on the higher floors.  My first reaction was, "are you serious?".  This just seemed ridiculous to me, seeing as how the experience could have been a lot more fun if we hadn't had to wait in lines for so long.  I guess with so many people in Shanghai it should be expected, but it was surprising to hear that with all of the available elevators, they still just stuck to one.  I'm just glad I wasn't in line in the same place where someone got punched for budging, and another person puked.  I am glad that although I am not that fond of heights, I have still managed to ride the second tallest Ferris wheel in China, and have been 474 meters up in the air, on a glass floor none the less.  

Back to MN

Monday morning, we boarded the plane bound for Japan and eventually back to Minnesota.  During our layover in Japan, Alex and I realized that we now can tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese letters.  It amazed us to see how obvious the differences between the two languages are to us now.  

Going home I am a little bit worried.  I am wondering how I will adjust to so much space.  Going from cities with millions of people to a city of thousands has obviously some pretty dramatic differences.  I am also wondering how leaving behind the 14 other students will affect me.  Traveling with the same small group of people for an entire month has taught me many things and has taught me how to depend on them.  I am very excited to see my friends and family again but just can't help but wonder...

Shanghai Police Station

Because I was smart enough to run into the side of a moving vehicle, I am the "lucky" one of the group to experience a Shanghai police station.  When we arrived, I was told to sit down on a wood bench.  I sat down and got comfy.  During a long conversation in Chinese (no idea what was said), I started to look around at the room.  It was simple and uncluttered with only one desk.  The walls were very dingy and dirty.  I was fine with the dirtiness because after all, this is China.  After awhile, I realized that the walls had blood on them...okay, maybe I'll just keep my hands to myself I thought.  

Joe was good to tell me a couple of sentences in English before going back to negotiations with the police and driver.  At one point he asked if I wanted to wash my face as I had dirt smeared on it.  It sounded like a good idea so I followed him to an outside sink.  Two gentleman were cleaning chickens in the sink, so I was careful not to touch any of the blood and guts while I dabbed myself.  Joe had to help a little as there was no mirror.  Thanks Joe.

After a while longer, Joe suggested that I walk away from the situation as all other options were going to leave me sitting at the police station for hours during my last day in China.  I agreed, signed a document in Chinese and left.  We had to take a cab ride home and Joe convinced me to take the taxi by myself to a subway station to explore on my own.  I agreed and when I got out of the cab, the taxi driver turned around and patted my leg and talked in Chinese.  Huh.  That seemed weird to me even in China, so I got out quickly with him still talking to me...not sure if he wanted me to leave.

Strange day.

Ending the trip with a thud...

Today, during our last full day in China, I ran into a moving vehicle.  It is funny now looking back...Ha.  How was I so stupid?  I have no idea.  I jumped onto the curb to quick give Alex a treat, then turned to dash back to the hotel to get some water before we departed.  Instead, there was a thud and I ended up on the ground looking up at Alex.  Unbelievable.  At that point I asked, "Did I just get hit by a car?" well, not really as I was the one that ran into the side of the moving car.  Either way, I am fine and was able to walk away with very minor scrapes and bruises.

Now onto the good stuff.  A policeman came and Sabrina did her best to translate.  Once it was determined that I did not have an interest in going to a hospital, the next question posed to me was, "Do you want to negotiate with the driver?"  In China, when accidents happen, it is very common to strike a deal moments after the accident so the matter is resolved promptly.  In this case, the driver was offering 500 RMB.  Our bus driver said I should make a counter offer of 2,000 RMB.  The driver was very interested in striking a deal as the alternative, with me wanting to create a police report, would leave his drivers license automatically suspended for several days.  I didn't know what to do and was relieved when Joe, our tour guide, joined the scene and recommended that I get in the police car to take a trip to the police station to talk more of the details.

6/12 World Expo

We went to the world expo to see all the different set ups of different buildings and things countries were doing to make a difference.  It was amazing to see the massive buildings that were made by different countries, they took a lot of time to make most of them it seemed.  China's building was much bigger than the other buildings we saw.  It was odd because almost every other country allowed you to visit their pavilion but China required you to have a group and be pre-registered to visit it.  It was amazing seeing all the differences that each country had in the design of their buildings.  Every country personalized their buildings with things you would find in those countries, I think this made the different buildings that much more interesting to see.  China used architecture with engravings in it and the color red which means good luck, this is one of the main colors you will see in China since it is such a positive color in the Chinese culture.  I think the Chinese made the building in the design that they did to make it eye catching and really interest the people visiting the expo.  Overall I thought the expo was a great experience to see what countries come up with for ideas and building designs.  I learned a great deal about why the expo has been going on for so many years and in my opinion I think it should continue for many years to come!

Leaving Hangzhou, Bus to Shanghai

I got a full body oil massage last night. Awesome. It was a nice way to relax after a long day of sightseeing.  We are traveling to Shanghai now, the three hour bus ride will be bittersweet.  I can't believe all of the things I have done here. Sitting on the bus, listening to music, and looking at the countryside out the window is giving me a feeling that I can't really describe. I can see and feel the landscape changing, I don't know how, but I can tell we are on our way Shanghai. Blogging is very difficult, I can only type a few words before I look out the window and start spacing out.   Never before has music had a literal meaning in my life, now it does. Surreal.

City Area

So you would think that in a city of 20 some million people where you cannot speak the language you would maybe have a problem getting around.  Wow, was I wrong the world expo here in the Sheng has made their subway system ridiculously efficient and very easy.  It is idiot proof.  You simply follow the signs and then push the button you want and a train comes to you and whisks you away to the next station.  We saw many nice things today, including two buddah temples and well wow talk about some amazing things.  We learned why the Chinese budah's have a big lip under the front door.  It is because demons cannot jump, so they are denied entry because of this little lip.  It is really cool.  Getting around this city is not a problem, it is simple and very fun.

Shanghai - Day 27

The last day in Shanghai was definitely a fun one.  Me and Ben noticed quite a bit of something we've been seeing all along, but I figured it was worth mentioning.  The amount of Urban Planning here in China far surpasses the amount we have in the states.  Since so much here is government controlled, the large open areas like parks and the expo area are easier to build since the government can simply re-purpose the land.  However it goes much beyond parks here.  The subway stations have stores and even grocery stores in them to make life a little more convenient for the Chinese.  There are sometimes things comparable in the states, but overall the way things are placed seems so much more strategic and logical since the government has a lot of control over where things are placed rather than letting the private industry fight for it.

Older Tourists

Today was an incredible day as we got to visit the Shanghai expo, a once in a lifetime opportunity. While the expo was great and I could go on and on about it, I want bring up something that I have been noticing all through this trip, especially at the expo. Basically every tourist destination we have visited there has been many tour groups filled with Chinese from around the country. All wearing the same hat and following a guide with a flag and more often than not a very annoying loud speaker. But there is one thing that all these tour groups share in common and that is they are old, not middle age old but at least 60 years and older old. I found this a little odd and started noticing it everywhere we went. It's hard to come up with an answer for this strange phenomena but the best guess I can come up with is that all of the younger would be tourists are busy working or taking care of a family, while people at this age are retired and have the time to finally visit the destinations they've always wanted to visit. I know that this seems kind of like a simple explanation but in the states you would see tour groups of all ages, most of them probably in the younger category.

Something Fishy

We arrived in Shanghai today and I've got to say that this city is just obnoxiously big. Something that I've been noticing about Shanghai and the cities we visited around it is the type of dishes served in restaurants. Since Suzhou almost every meal has entailed some sort of fish dish. Not that I have a big problem with this since I do like fish, but seafood is something I can eat only once in a while without getting sick of. It's interesting because almost every meal had the same style of seafood too, we would be served an entire fish, along with some other seafood dishes such as muscles, fish ball soup, dried fish and different kinds of shrimp dishes. I suppose it is like this since these cities are fairly close to the ocean but I thought it was an interesting bit. 

This City Reminds Me of...

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A small little city by the name of Dubai.  Located in the United Arab Emirates and right on the Persian Gulf, this city is gigantic.  Very much like Shanghai.  When I was there back in March,  I was pretty much overwhelmed at the sheer size of everything, especially seeing the tallest building in the world.  Now I am reminded of that feeling once again because Shanghai is almost as equally as enormous (and most likely bigger).  It's is safe to say that I have been the most physically exhausted in my entire life twice on this trip.  Waking up at 5am and then heading out to the Shanghai Expo at 7am and then waiting in line after line and then walking around to see all the buildings.  My calves burn and I cannot wait to fall asleep.  Going up the Shanghai World Financial Center was an experience that will be impossible to forget.  I feel that I am a city boy at heart and I love the city life.  Everything from the landscaping, to the tall skyscrapers, to the people, I am in love with.  Hopefully someday soon I can come back to Shanghai and possibly even live here for some period of my life.

Shanghai Differences

Friday morning, we left Hangzhou and traveled about 3 hours by bus to Shanghai.  The view coming into the city was gorgeous.  As we were driving in, we were on a fairly high up expressway and therefore could see the Huangpu River and beyond to the vast Shanghai skyline.  We could also see a bunch of buildings from the Expo that we will be visiting on Saturday.  We saw the pavilions of Japan and China right away and the UFO shaped stadium.  It got me excited to visit but not so excited for the long waiting lines.  You could also tell right away how huge this city truly is.  With a population of 20 million people, it is China's largest city. After being here for 9 hours and a little interaction with some locals, I've noticed that a lot more people speak English than any other city we've visited on this trip.  I think this is due to the fact that the more English speaking foreigners travel to this city more often and also the fact (and probably the biggest reason) that the Expo is hosted here.  With five hundred thousand people daily there, it is the best time to hone in on one's English speaking abilities.

Shanghai - Day 26

After the world expo today I wanted to revisit a topic that I've been thinking about the entire time we've been here, but never actually discussed.  This would be the amazing amount of diversity we experience on a daily basis living in the U.S.  Obviously, a majority of the population here is of some type of asian descent, where population in the states is a much more mixed bag.  What I find astounding is that all our lives we are told that America is a sort of "Melting Pot" of culture, however we really tend to take it for granted until we actually come to another major nation where the population is predominantly of one or very few different cultures.  There has been many a day here in China where I haven't seen a single person who looks to not be of asian descent.  This definitely has shocked me quite a bit more than expected over time, just because for some reason I assumed that most other places had at least a little more variety in their culture.  

Day 24- Hangzhou

In Hangzhou, we are back in "tourist mode".  While it is fun seeing beautiful historical sites, going to the Longjing Tea Garden, and the Song City Show, I think most of us can't help but think about how much we would still be having in Tianjin.  In Tianjin, we were more than just mere tourists that people like taking pictures of (case in point for today, West Lake).  I love seeing the new sites, and I think it's fun when people ask to take pictures with me, but at the same time It felt like we were almost starting to fit in in Tianjin, and now we are back on the outside, the tour group from America.  There are particularly some things about the tourist aspect that are pretty annoying.  For one, I think we could all agree on how annoying the microphone/speaker system that most tour groups have.  When we are trying to talk or listen to something Joe is saying, all we can hear is the loud crackling voice of the guide that is next to us.  I think we all try to avoid standing by them now.  Another thing that I still have found hard to get used to is just how pushy people are here when we are waiting in line for something.  Yesterday, a lady behind me kept poking me in the back with her fingers, as if I could have been moving any faster in the single file line.  Something that I find pretty amusing is the aggressiveness of the bus drivers when they are on the road.  Our driver now, for Hangzhou, does exactly what he wants to do on the road, even if that means causing a huge traffic jam.  While some of these things seem annoying now, it is of course just all a part of the experience!

Day 23- Hangzhou

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All I keep hearing from people in the group is "I don't want to go home".  I feel the same way.  It sounds bad in the sense that our friends and family are on the other side of things and excited for us to come back.  Eventually, we all would get extremely homesick and of course want to go back, but as of right now, I think we want to just continue this experience.  I, for one, had no idea what to expect in coming to China.  I don't think anything can really prepare you or give any accurate perception of what something will be like until you are there experiencing it for yourself.  One thing that I had not been expecting was to fall completely in love with China.  Of course, I wanted to go on the trip to see China, experience another culture, but then to fall head over heels in love with it is a completely different thing.  People visit places and say "yeah, it is really pretty there", or "I really enjoyed my trip", but I think it means a lot to say "I absolutely love this country".  One thing that has contributed to this newfound love is the students of Nankai University.  They took us in and showed us their culture, welcoming us eagerly and wanting to learn just as much about us in return.  If we had been here just to sightsee, just as tourists, this experience would have completely different.  I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to all of the students, you have no idea how much you have affected us!

Shanghai Cab Ride

Tonight we visited a large shopping street for foot traffic only in Shanghai.  Initially we started off as a group of 8 but then Sam and Sabrina split off to return to the hotel.  Then, there was the 6 of us.  We knew that we wanted to haggle a little bit, but the stores on the main road of the center were upscale.  So, we followed a couple of men that said they had some products we could haggle in a side alley.  Normally, I would not follow two strange men into a back alley but this is China and that is where the cheap knockoff merchandise is located.  The haggling went well and we all returned to the main street with a few more presents for our family and friends.  We then split up into two groups of three and went off on our separate ways.  Nick, Eric, and I stopped to eat pizza.  We then hailed a cab and gave him the address to the hotel that we had not yet been to.  About 15 minutes into the trip, a cab passed us and an American, "Knee How" was bellowed.  To our amazement, it was the other group of three.  We had not planned to leave at any certain time and were quite astonished that in a city of 20 million, it was very easy to connect with friends.

Guided Group Tours

After a few weeks touring in China and visiting an amazing amount of tourist attractions, we have had much experience with seeing how our group operates compared to the other hundreds that we have seen.  A main similarity is that we all follow something that stands up a few feet above our heads so we can find our party in the sea of tourists.  For the first week touring in Beijing, we followed a flower, but for our last days in Shanghi, we follow a yellow flag that says something about our guide Joe's hometown.  Thankfully, whatever guide is leading a group also speaks both the native Mandarin language and whatever the rest of the group speaks so there is no need for an extra person to translate.  The major difference between our groups is that we do not have anything to tie our group together, like the same hat or t-shirt.  In addition, our guide does not use a megaphone to tell us about the attraction we are seeing.  We are all thankful that our guides do not use megaphones as we all know how annoying this form of noise abuse can be. 

Shanghai - Day 25

A small yet interesting event happened to me here in Shanghai for our first day here.  While most people were at the science museum, Ben and I decided to take a trip to some stores locally to see what we could find.  When we walked into a Movie shop, we were immediately motioned to follow a gentleman that appeared to work at said shop.  This person led us around to the back of the store, and let us into a building where the glass was covered by paper so it looked to be under construction.  This store contained all the very cheap ripped American movies, so it leads me to believe that Shanghai is really "cleaning up" the city for the world expo.  And by this I mean the city is telling citizens to hide blatantly illegal activities in order to make Shanghai a better looking city.  I could be wrong about this, however in cities like Tianjin they openly sold most of these products on street corners.  

Punctuality

Punctuality is the characteristic of being able to complete a required task or fulfill an obligation before or at a previously-designated time. "Punctual" is often used synonymously with "on time."

According to each culture, there is often an understanding about what is considered an acceptable degree of punctuality. Usually, a small amount of lateness is acceptable; this is commonly about ten or fifteen minutes in Western cultures. In some cultures, such as Japanese society, or in the military there basically is no allowance.

Some cultures have an unspoken understanding that actual deadlines are different from stated deadlines; for example, it may be understood in a particular culture that people will turn up an hour later than advertised. In this case, since everyone understands that a 9am meeting will actually start around 10am, no-one is inconvenienced when everyone turns up at 10am.

In cultures which value punctuality, being late is tantamount to showing disrespect for another's time and may be considered insulting. In such cases, punctuality may be enforced by social penalties, for example by excluding low-status latecomers from meetings entirely. Such considerations can lead on to considering the value of punctuality in econometrics and to considering the effects of non-punctuality on others in queueing theory.

6/10 Fishing in China

One of my true passions is fishing and I have been searching for fisherman on canals, rivers, and lakes the entire time I have been here.  I was excited to see that the Chinese do some fishing though it is not as popular as in the United States and almost every person I have seen fishing has been doing it from shore.  From what I know the Chinese do not have professional fishing like in the United States and they do not have huge tournaments and competitions for professional fisherman.  What I did think was really cool was a story that one of the tour guides told me about a man that fished with a straight needle on the end of his line and he said he would catch a fish with this needle.  Well this fisherman became part of the government after the emperor found out his philosophies.  I do not remember the entire story but it caught my attention.  The fish that most of these fishermen are fishing for are either a small form of a carp or another fish that looks like a large shiner.  Unlike in the United States where a lot more people are going towards catch and release the Chinese are mainly fishing for meals.  When you compare the equipment used by Chinese fisherman and American fisherman you will see that Americans use spinning or bait casting rods and reels that are specially set for different species of fish on the other hand since most of the fish caught by the Chinese are smaller in size and shore fishing is mainly done you will see many cane poles with bobbers used.  One thing I have noticed that I would like to point out is that the typical Chinese person at least closer to the East coast eats a lot more fish than Americans do.  They will eat at least a fish meal a week is what I was told by one student compared to Americans which is much less.

6/9 Cleaning Clothes

There are many differences from America and China on cleaning clothes; these differences have been seen over the past few weeks in Tianjin and the cities after it such as Wuzhen.  The Chinese have a tendency to clean some clothes every day unlike people from the United States that wash clothes once a week or put it off even longer.  The reason for these differences is that most Americans have washing machines and dryers so they can do many clothes with little effort and much less time.  Whereas the Chinese most times don't have a washing machine or a dryer and the few people who have washing machines do not have a dryer.  This means cleaning clothes takes much more time because they need to wash them by hand and hang dry which takes a couple days to do.  Room is an issue I found out personally while cleaning clothes because you can only wash so many clothes at one time and hanging space is very limited.  Putting off cleaning clothes for a week or more causes much more work.  I have found out that some Chinese do not wash clothes after wearing them one time because it takes too much time and is not necessary.   The reasons why Chinese people do not have washing machines or dryers is that they are very expensive and few people besides the upper class can afford them and also some refuse to use them.  One reason I think some people just choose not to use the machines for cleaning clothes is because they are not energy efficient and do not trust the machines enough.  In Wuzhen some people wash their clothes in the canal which really surprised me because the water was the same water that toilets flushed into.  I was told these were mainly the poorer people that did things like this and Professor Li was even somewhat surprised by this sight.  Another option is dry cleaners which is offered to people but this can be expensive for the common people and usually it's only the upper class that choose this option.  Few people in the US clean clothes by hand and often times this is reserved for the poorer socioeconomic class.  But same as China people in the US do not take their regular clothes to the dry cleaners and this would be for the upper class if at all.

hangzhou day 2

I think that a bunch of us are realizing how difficult it is to really understand the cities that we have been traveling to. Many of them are bigger than we could ever imagine, and trying to form an opinion based on only being there for one or two days is nearly impossible. Its sort of like the saying "don't judge a book by its cover," I don't know how many times I am going to need to hear that before it sticks. Time and time again, that age old saying ends up slapping me in the face while I continue to make the same mistakes. We are leaving for Shanghai soon, and all I want to do is make the most out of these last few days here.

Fishin'

We visited West Lake in Hangzhou yesterday and we had a boat ride and then about two hours of free time.  I noticed there were alot of old men and a few old women fishing, and since I love to fish I decided to see if i could find one who would let me have a go at it.  Alex and found a man who had a little english and we talked to him for a while.  I noticed his bobber going down a few times and told him about it.  I got to grab the pole and set the hook on one of the fish, but then he took it from me.  I also helped net one from the next door guy and took it off the hook.  There was a fish that was similar to what I would call a white fish in MN, pretty undesireable and not that good to eat, there were also alot of plain old carp.  Fun times to be able to see and join in some fishing again.  What a great place this is.  It is called the "leisure City" and I can now see why that is so.  Everyone mostly spends a part of their day just kicking it and hanging out.  My kinna town man.  

Tuesday - Peaceful "Wuzhen"

When we were told that we were to go to an island I really did not know what to expect. When Joe said that we could go out late to the bars, I thought of the area to be a developed island. This place was completely opposite than what I imagined it to be. Wuzhen was a peaceful town. It had a beautiful sight. The houses in this area looked traditional. I think they were government controlled to remain that way to attract the tourist. This town could give you a feeling of being in the olden times in the traditional Chinese culture. The part that I loved the most about this town was how people had to take boats to get around. There was not a single car there. Never had I imagined myself to be at a place with no cars. However, when you enter this island you would think that the people here are uneducated and liked living in a traditional way. However, I was surprised to see how all the waitresses over there knew really good English. The food and drinks over there was very expensive. This area's main business seemed to be tourism. Wuzhen gave me a wonderful feeling. It taught me how being simple in life is important. We all could be well educated, have good jobs and a wealthy lifestyle, but what is important and gives an individual peace is to live a simple lifestyle. This will keep us all happy in a long run.

Monday - Well Maintained China

Our train journey was very tiring. It was the first day in Suzhou and as soon as we were picked up from the railway station we were taken for some sightseeing. Suzhou is a wonderful city. It is very beautiful. As we drove through the roads in Suzhou, a thought passed my mind. I have studied in India for seven years of my life. I had always pictured China to be something of what I see in India. I think I thought this basically cause of the fact that they are the two biggest countries in Asia. So with this thinking, I had pictured China to be a place where garbage was lying everywhere. Where people threw the wrappers wherever they wanted to. Surprisingly, I did not see any wrapper lying on the roads. The people in China seem to be very cautious about cleanliness. As I look at the roads in Suzhou, I think of how develop and organized the traffic is. In India, we sometimes see cows walking on the street. This difference really surprised me.

We went to the boat ride in Suzhou. This boat ride was by far one of the most beautiful ride I have ever seen. The view in this place was spectacular. Our professor even mentioned that this ride gives us the same experience as a similar ride in Venice does.  As you gaze into the lights that surround you, this journey really makes you feel like you are in heaven.

Sunday - Last day in Tianjin

I woke up this morning and the first thing I did was walk downstairs in the pathway that we always walk. On my way I met our cleaning lady. I looked at her and said "knee how".. like I always do. I passed by the Korean Restaurant where we use to eat almost all of our delicious meals, the dumpling place, the ATM machine, etc. I looked at the car that was driving in the side path. All these sights made me think, "This is my last day in Tianjin.. God only knows if I will ever come back here again! God only knows if I will ever be able to see these wonderful people again in some other part of my life. I have gained a lot of knowledge in this trip. Many of the things that I learned about China was not from the classes I took here. Yes, the classes helped a lot and provided me with a lot of insights onChina. However, the main things that I learned from this visit to Tianjin were through the friends I made here, through all the mistakes we made while communicating. I came to Nankai with some very brilliant students from my university. With these people, I have been able to learn and grow. I know I would not have been able to enjoy this experience alone. The goodbye that we had with some of our Chinese students was sad. They helped us through our luggage and hugged us as if we had been friends for such a long time. I felt as if I have known these people for such a long time. I do want to keep these connections. I hope we meet again and our relationship does not end here.

Saturday - Expensive Hong Kong

The last day in Hong Kong with my friends was amazing. We went to the Stanley Beach in the morning. As we hung out there, we saw variety of different people with different backgrounds there. There were people from everywhere. I could see people from India, Middle East, China, America, Spain, London, etc. The weather was beautiful. The beach was very well maintained. As I stepped in the water, I realized how clear the water was. There was no spec of dirt in it. Also, there was no dirt anywhere in the beach. After playing around and exploring the beach, we got hungry. My friends really wanted to eat sea food so we went to the sea food restaurant. It is really surprising to see how expensive the town is. Hong Kong is the most expensive town I have ever visited in my entire life. As we all were students, we tried to find the cheapest type of food to eat. We looked everywhere. There was nothing under $100 HK dollars. In Tianjin, we use to spend about 18 RMB for every meal and we got a great feast and we would be stuffed. But, in HongKong, even a 110 RMB would bring us very less food and we would still have to order for more. I realized it is very hard for a student to have a vacation in Hong Kong unless we know some of the cheap places there. My day in that beautiful city ended after we finished up our meal. I got back to the hotel and packed, all ready to hit the airport. The drive to airport was the hardest I have ever had in my life. This beautiful city got to me. Although I stayed here only for two nights, I did not get enough of it. I developed a special attachment to the town. I am so glad I made this visit. I definitely plan on coming back to Hong Kong for a longer period of time.

After I arrived Beijing, I had to take the bus back to Tianjin. In the Tianjin bus stop, a young guy came to me and asked if I needed a taxi. He looked like an innocent fellow. I told him the address that I wanted to go to. He looked at me and confidently said " long way- 50 RMB". The ride would genuinely cost only 8 RMB I was surprised how easily he could have fooled me if I did not know this town. I walked away from him and got another taxi and still paid 15 RMB. The local people here in an Asian country can easily fool the foreign people. That is the reason it is very advisable to act confident infront of the people while making a deal, even if we do not know anything that is going on. It is when the foreigners show one look of doubt or confusion on their face is when they can be easily fooled. I reached home safe. It also felt really good to come back to Tianjin... the town I will be leaving tomorrow L

Saturday - Expensive Hong Kong

The last day in Hong Kong with my friends was amazing. We went to the Stanley Beach in the morning. As we hung out there, we saw variety of different people with different backgrounds there. There were people from everywhere. I could see people from India, Middle East, China, America, Spain, London, etc. The weather was beautiful. The beach was very well maintained. As I stepped in the water, I realized how clear the water was. There was no spec of dirt in it. Also, there was no dirt anywhere in the beach. After playing around and exploring the beach, we got hungry. My friends really wanted to eat sea food so we went to the sea food restaurant. It is really surprising to see how expensive the town is. Hong Kong is the most expensive town I have ever visited in my entire life. As we all were students, we tried to find the cheapest type of food to eat. We looked everywhere. There was nothing under $100 HK dollars. In Tianjin, we use to spend about 18 RMB for every meal and we got a great feast and we would be stuffed. But, in HongKong, even a 110 RMB would bring us very less food and we would still have to order for more. I realized it is very hard for a student to have a vacation in Hong Kong unless we know some of the cheap places there. My day in that beautiful city ended after we finished up our meal. I got back to the hotel and packed, all ready to hit the airport. The drive to airport was the hardest I have ever had in my life. This beautiful city got to me. Although I stayed here only for two nights, I did not get enough of it. I developed a special attachment to the town. I am so glad I made this visit. I definitely plan on coming back to Hong Kong for a longer period of time.

After I arrived Beijing, I had to take the bus back to Tianjin. In the Tianjin bus stop, a young guy came to me and asked if I needed a taxi. He looked like an innocent fellow. I told him the address that I wanted to go to. He looked at me and confidently said " long way- 50 RMB". The ride would genuinely cost only 8 RMB I was surprised how easily he could have fooled me if I did not know this town. I walked away from him and got another taxi and still paid 15 RMB. The local people here in an Asian country can easily fool the foreign people. That is the reason it is very advisable to act confident infront of the people while making a deal, even if we do not know anything that is going on. It is when the foreigners show one look of doubt or confusion on their face is when they can be easily fooled. I reached home safe. It also felt really good to come back to Tianjin... the town I will be leaving tomorrow L

Friday - Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a beautiful place. When I landed in Hong Kong, I did not know what to expect. I had pictured a city like Beijing to be awaiting me. However, it was very different. The airport of Hong Kong is built in an island. The island is apparently man made. The plane landed on the runway with a spectacular view. As I walked through the customs, I noticed the brilliant architecture that the airport had. The building was beautiful designed making it one of the beautiful airports I have seen. In the airport, I lost my luggage. I was frustrated and angry. However, this frustration and anger lasted only for a few minutes. The staff that helped me were extremely helpful. The easiest part of the entire process was the fact that they all spoke English. If I had lost my baggage in Tianjin, I would have a hard time communicating it with them. Even if I communicated it, I would keep thinking if they got my right message and my right directions. People in Hong Kong knowing English helps the tourists a lot. As I passed the city in the cab, I noticed how diverse the people were in Hong Kong.  There were people from everywhere in Hong Kong. The city reminded me of New York a lot. The city has spent a lot of money on establishing organized and structured ways to maintain the business of tourism. I went to the peak, the Victoria harbor and the bar street. The Victoria harbor had an event that shows the symphony of lights. Apparently, Hong Kong has a world record in having the most amazing symphony of lights.  The bar street was the coolest. I was surprised to see how most of the bars I went to, the staff had to check our ids to see if we were 21 plus or not. I thought this practice happened more in Unites States. I had never pictured another country to have the same system. The Lan Kai Fong was crowded with a lot of people. We could tell that the nightlife at this place was wild and fun. I enjoyed my day in Hong Kong. I  do think of it as one of the most beautiful city that I have ever visited in my life.

Thursday - Tianjin

I am on my way to leave for Hong Kong today. I have to take the bus to Beijing and then a flight from there to Hong Kong. I am scared and nervous to be traveling alone. One of my friends from China told me that the bus stop in China does not have any signs in English. I was very nervous. It was then I told Sabrina to help me to take me from the hotel to the airport. It was then that I learned more about hospitality from the Chinese culture. Sabrina's parents were leaving town at 10 am. But still she gladly helped me to get to the bus stop. Not only did she drop me there, she made sure I had the right tickets. She asked all kinds of questions for me to the customer service representative. Even though I did not tell her to stay till the bus was boarding, she still recognized the nervousness of my face and stayed there with me till the bus actually left town. I did not know how to thank her. What she did for me today meant a lot for me. Even in the bus, the passengers that sat by me realized that I was from a different country and did not know the language. They still tried to communicate with me and ask me if everything was fine. This is not a behavior that I see every day in United States. "Hospitality" towards people is a great aspect of the Chinese culture. I am use to that kind of culture from being from Nepal. However, staying in America for over three years has changed my mentality a bit. When incidences like this happen, I get reminded of the values that were taught to me by my parents. China reminds me of those values everyday ever since I have been here.

Wow, what a day

So, today I got married and met the most beautiful lady ever who just happened to be one of the most beautiful women on the planet and also happened to be one of the dancer ladies in an amazing better than broadway quality show we saw today.  So it all started when Sam and I were creating our normal shenanigans by walking around and taking pics with all the beautiful Chinese ladies we could find.  I noticed that this one lady had gotten her parasol stolen by a little boy.  She was all dressed up and in heels so she could not run to catch him.  I at first found this to be quite hilarious, but later realized that I might could help her.  So I caught the boy and took the umbrella back to the woman.  She turned out to not speak very much English but that is okay, her eyes told the story.  She walked up to me later and we took a few pictures and talked.  I have to get my thoughts together about what all happened today before I write down my actual feelings on the event.  Basically my being nice led me to meeting one of the most gorgeous women I have ever laid my eyes upon.  Also I captured the ball, meaning I got to get married on stage in front of about 600 people.  It was possibly the most intense thing that ever has happened to me.  Such an amazing day.  Tomorrow I will write more on the subject.

Meal Time

One thing that I have really come to love about china is how each meal is presented.  The break down of the meal is like this; first you sit around a circle table where everybody is facing each other. Then the servers will bring out the starters which usually consist of small vegetables or other munchies, early on we made the mistake of thinking these were part of the main course and got too full too early. Tea is similar to water in the states, although you do not get a free glass of water in china you do get free tea. After the starters the main course begins, the style in which it is served took a while to get used to. The servers will bring out each dish one by one, so the whole table will begin eating one dish then another will come out and so forth. There will usually be 8 to 10 different dishes during a regular dinner that consist of beef, pork, chicken, fish and vegetables. The interesting part is that depending upon where you are in china the food will be different. Say you are in southern china the food may be spicy, but if you were in northern china the food may be milder and specialize in duck or something along that line. Each part of china has its own special dish or tastes to its foods. The best part was tasting the variety of foods in one city and traveling to the next and tasting something completely different. Last off you know the meal is ending when the server brings out a plate of watermelon. This is the final dish and is comparable to dissert. Every restaurant we have been to there has been a dish of watermelon.  Another part I loved about the meals in china is that they are family based. People will eat together in one place like one big family, whereas in America it is more expectable for families to either not eat together or take there food somewhere else. Gotta love china......

Transportation Around China

Transportation in China is unlike anything I have ever seen. In the states we are used to seeing cars, trucks, semis and motorcycles of all different types and styles but in china it's a bit different. Rarely do you ever see a bad car in china; most of the cars here are only a couple years old and are mostly middle to upper class name brands. Some of the most common cars you will see are Audis, Volkswagen and BMW's. For college students it is very rare to own a car and if you do it is because your family is wealthy. The most popular way to get around is by electric scooter and they are everywhere. In china they sell for around 2000 yuan which is about 300 U.S. dollars which means they are very cheap. The reason they are electric is because the government banned gas powered scooters to cut back on pollution. Although its against the law occasionally, you will still see people riding around on these scooters. Its amazing to see these scooters everywhere you are, driving anywhere they want, breaking any laws they want. I had the chance to drive one of these scooters with a fellow Chinese student and it was the most exciting terrifying thing I have ever done. Its one thing to drive in the U.S. but it's a whole other thing to drive in china...

Tourism in China

Much like in America, tourism is very large industry in China. I was very surprised by the amount of people that were either part of a tour group or touring individually at all the locations we have visited. Obviously china has a very rich history and they pride themselves on keeping that history open to the public. China has done an amazing job of keeping all of their ancient structures in tact and at the same time showing them to tourists. While in china we have visited the majority of the most recognized structures in the world such as The Great Wall, Forbidden City, Summer Palace and the Olympic Stadium. Although while we were at these places I was surprised that there were not as many foreigners as I thought there would be. The majority of the tourists were either from parts of china or surrounding Asian countries. While at these sites it very typical to see 10-20 large tour buses lined up in the parking lot. During this trip we have been lucky to travel by bus and have a guide with us at all times. The guide is responsible for organizing the activities and explaining the history that is associated to the given site. Its funny because while at many of these places we are not the only tour group, many times there will be multiple groups and the guides will all have a different flag or stick to keep as a marker for the group members. Sometimes the guide will use a microphone to project their voice above the others which tends to get very annoying. Compared to America this sense of tourism is much different. In the U.S. tourism will be mostly individual in a family setting instead of in tour groups. Rarely do you see tour multiple tour groups with matching hats and a guide with a flag to follow the way....

A Day in the Life of a Chinese Fisherman

While walking around today at the West Lake, I couldn't help but notice all of the fishermen scattered on both sides of the walkway we were on.  I was with Ben and we both decided to hang out and watch how a Chinese man fishes.  As it seems, a guy will come out to the lake early in the day, set up about 3 lines for himself, and just leisure around for hours while he catches a few fish here and there.  One of the old guys we met spoke a little bit of English, and it appeared that he enjoyed our company.  Ben and I would make small talk, such as "big" and "small" and "good!" and he would smile and say something back.  There was another man nearby that didn't pay much attention to his lines and Ben would always go up to him and point to the line that had just been caught by a fish.  When the guy was absent from his lines for a few minutes, Ben mustered up the courage to grab the pole and start reeling it in.  He gave it back to the Chinese man when he reappeared and then netted the fish (which was a carp).  A few other people gathered around to see what this white boy was doing, and both Ben and the Chinese man had a smile on their face.  After we left, we wondered whether or not this is mostly something they do for fun or if it is actually their job to catch fish.  We guessed it was probably the latter of the two.

Walking Fast

 

This is not the first time that I have noticed this.  I first noticed this when living in Sweden, and now it is quite obvious again here in China.  Americans are fast paced.  We want things now and we are in a hurry to get places.  Walking anywhere down the sidewalks we are always passing other people.  I don't have a good explanation to why this is, but it seems that everywhere I go we are always in the biggest rush even if we have the most time available. It may be a bad habit since most of the time we are walking fast but we don't even realize it.  We are not trying to be in a rush but it is just how we walk.  We just seemed to be more rushed than other cultures where they value their time differently.  I feel really stupid when we are walking and we pass large groups of people.  We will pass them in any way possible, even if that means going off of the sidewalk.  I wish that I could control the speed I walk more but it is so difficult.  I try but it is something that I am just so used to doing.

 

I am sorry for all of our Chinese friends if it seemed we walked so fast when we were with you.  I know you told us that we were walking to fast but it is just hard to change our habits.  

Feeling Hangzhou

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Spending almost two full days in Hangzhou, I have got to say that I am really liking this city. Out of all the cities we have visited so far this city would be the one I would choose to live in if I were to move to China (pending Shanghai). This city unlike many of the others seems to be a lot better kept and not so condensed. It is called the city of leisure which also suits my lifestyle pretty well. Walking around the downtown area last night I just got this really relaxed/comfortable feeling, almost as if I've lived here my whole life. Taking a walk near West Lake, a beautiful lake in the middle city with Sam, Eric, and Alex was one of the most relaxing things I've done on this trip. We also stopped by an outdoor restaurant/bar and enjoyed a couple beers and some good conversation. This city just seems to have so much to offer and has such a rich history as I learned today at the theme park. Though there really isn't anything totally spectacular to see around here, the laid back atmosphere and developed infrastructure puts Hangzhou near the top of my most livable cities list.  

Hangzhou - Day 24

As the trip slowly comes to a close I find myself with less and less to write about.  However today offered a particularly interesting day with our theme park visit.  Despite the fact that we are in China, this theme park closely reminded me of a majority of theme parks we have back in the states.  The people dressed up in costumes, the attractions (in this case it was more historical stuff), the expensive food and gift, and the shows.  The one thing that stood out about this theme park was the show, which was possibly the best show i've seen here (even topping the acrobatics show in Beijing, which was also great).  Overall though, it really surprised me how strikingly similar this place was to any one that i've been to in the states.  Definitely a worthwhile visit still.

Hangzhou - Day 23

After a nice relaxing evening at the bar, I think it would be a fitting time to discuss customer service in China, compared to our customer service in the U.S.  Customer Service in the states, at least in my opinion, tends to be unsatisfactory.  Most of the time, customer service feels like an afterthought and often times seems like it is only done well enough so that the customer will not complain about it.  Where here in China, the servers seem to want to serve you everything you could possibly desire.  While we were at the bar we pretty much had our own personal server who stood next to our table if we were to need anything.  Obviously this would have been a bit different if the bar was busy at all, but if the same situation were to arise in the states I feel like the extra servers would be hanging out in a break room or kitchen.  This person stood next to our table the entire time we were there, and if there was anything we wanted we would just simply ask him for it.  Personally, I feel that this is some great customer service and I would love to see a more customer oriented atmosphere at many places in the U.S.

Tour Groups

 It seems that if you want to travel around China, tour groups are the way to go.  It seems that even the Chinese people travel in large tour groups.  I have traveled a lot around the US and Europe, and I found that traveling in large tour groups are not that popular, especially when traveling in your home country.  When we go traveling, we go with our family and friends. There are still a lot of tour groups, but it seems like there are more of them here.  

This trip is my first tour where we have a guide for most of the trip.  Previous trips we would do what we want, and when we go to a historical sight there would be guides that work there that would give us the tour.  I am so glad that our tour guide does not use the microphone and the speaker.  It is the most annoying thing and I think it also shows a lack of respect for other people who are visiting the sight.  It is loud and it sounds terrible.  If the tour group is too large and the guide can't speak loud enough, they should provide earpieces to the people so when they speak it goes directly to their ear and not to everyone in the place.  This would make the sights more quite and peaceful, and it would be a better environment for other tourists who want to enjoy the beauty without a terrible sounding voice in the background.  I do understand why they need to use a microphone though, but it would be nice if they would try to find other alternatives. The tour groups are nice though because you do learn more about the sights you see and they are organized for you.  I am very glad that we have one here and even more glad that he does not use a microphone! 

The Beautiful City of Hangzhou

I loved the island we visited in Wuzhen and I didn't think a place like that would be topped. After a few hours in this city of Hangzhou though,  I think Wuzhen has a run for it's money. This city is renowned for it's natural beauty with West Lake being the most well known in this area.  It has about half of the population as Tianjin does, which shows while walking through the streets. 

After dinner at a restaurant tonight (which had an awesome live show act),  I explored around the downtown area with Sam, Nick, and Eric and ultimately walked down to the famous West Lake. It was a 25 minute walk from the restaurant and the sun had just set when we arrived there.  We took some pictures of the night life and the fountains/boats that were in the water.  Also, I've never seen so many bats in my life prior to tonight.  The "bat" pronunciation is the same as the "luck" character. Therefore in the Chinese culture, the bat is symbolized happiness, good fortune and harmony.  We took this as a good sign and continued on our journey around "The Most Beautiful City in China."

Wuzhen Impression

When I went up at 7am this morning, there was a ray of light penetrating through my hotel window.  It immediately gave me the great feeling of warmness after the whole night's raining.  Looking out of the window, the whole town was so tranquil and the leaves on the tree were waving in the breeze.  I stretched a little bit and felt really fresh because here came a new starting moment of the morning.

After breakfast, Amanda and I explored the whole island.  Wuzhen is a really beautiful place as all of my friends who have been there used to describe.  Unlike me, Amanda has very good sense of direction.  I basically just enjoyed the view, followed her lead and had no worry of being lost. J

I love those stone bridges floating on the wild water and delicate wood carvings on both sides of the pathways.  The canal of Wuzhen has its nickname "Venice of the East" and it is definitely very appropriate.  Many famous people used to live in Wuzhen, such as Mao Dun, the famous Chinese writer in Modern History.  We happened to find the mesume about him and got the chance to further know about this well-known writer.  

When taking the boat strolled down the picturesque canal, you will feel very relaxing and forget all of your vexation.  Besides the above, of course, I love those beautiful pavilions, which brought you back to decades ago, or centuries ago... I love the place!

Hotel at Suzhou

Jasmine Suzhou is the hotel we lived in Suzhou. It looks like a five-star standard located next to the Suzhou traditional cultural street- Shantang Street.  It offers wide range varieties of cuisine in the morning.  In our only breakfast morning, I saw people with all kinds of nationality and speak different languages.  I always like the diverse environment and enjoy exploring a new place. 

Out of curiosity, I walked around the hotel and checked out everything that captured my attention. I found out the Café place, Tea bar and business meeting rooms.  Tulip Café and Tea bar offer a wide selection of food and drinks whether you are looking for a casual snacks or a full dinner.  And all these meeting rooms are equipped with audio and visual facilities catering to various meeting groups, with a wide range from 10 people in boardroom style to 350 in theater style.

We only stayed for one night and then left for Wuzhen. However, the hotel really impressed me.  No matter next time I am here for work or just pleasure, the hotel is on the top of my list to stay.

Ice Cream

Ice Cream Marketing

Vendors love to tempt us with their yummy ice cream treats even though we are provided with three hearty meals a day.  Everywhere we go, someone is willing to sell us a cheap cold treat.  Most of the products are written in Chinese so we have to rely on other things to make our selections like pictures and colors.  At this point, we are very accustomed to ordering food based on pictures and colors.  It's not like they are any different from America, but back home I am very accustomed to reading the labels and having the colors be more of an afterthought.  Back to the icecream...sometimes it is very good and other times you are pretty sure that there is no way that what you are eating is considered ice cream.  The brown packages are almost always sure to contain chocolate something.  Pastels usually mean fruity but every now and then you will accidentally buy a green bean flavored snack.  Thankfully, if you end up with something really horrible, there are always a couple of others around to try how disgusting it is.    

Amusement Park

Yesterday, we attempted to visit an amusement park.  We saw the roller coaster across the lake that we were visiting and as it was big and shiny, it drew us in like a bug to a light.  Joe, our tour guide, said we could fit it in to our busy schedule, so off we went.  The amusement park had other rides similar to Valley fair but maybe at a tenth of the size.  The only ride that we wanted to go on was the roller coaster.  When we arrived, we were dismayed to find out the the price was 60 Yuan.  At the beginning of the trip, this amount would be very easy for us to dish out, but after 2 weeks in Tianjin where we spent a lot of our money on food and entertainment, 60 Yuan is kind of pricy.  Joe tried to negotiate a deal that would allow us into the park to ride the roller coaster  only once but the park wouldn't budge.  From what we could see through the gates into the park, I was surpised at how familiar all of the rides looked.  Everything looked of similar quality and style to amusement parks in the United States.  I guess I wasn't expecting things that looked as solid and safe.  I believe that this idea stemmed from a trip my family and I took to Europe and visited an amusement park.  Things were a bit different in this park.  For example, we took a roller coaster ride and were surprised to find that the operator rode in one of the center cars.  This was because he was responsible for applying the breaks when the coaster took a sharp corner.  My thoughts as we were whipping around the tracks were more of 'What if this guy passes out?' rather than 'This is really fun!' so I guess I was expecting more of this attitude towards safety in Chinese amusement parks.  In Shanghai we might visit another amusement park so I might be able to experience the rides first hand.

Train Ride

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Before going on this trip I had never been on a train before and taking a 9 hour train ride across China was going to be surreal to me. Taking the bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin was quite the experience for me as well. I could not believe how fast we went and in such a short amount of time we had gone 75 miles. Well when we had to take the 9 hour train ride from Tianjin to Suzhou, I didn't know what to expect. The students from last year had told us the cabins were so small you could barely fit all of your stuff in them. While we were waiting for our train another one had pulled up and we could see in the windows. It looked very old, very small, and not nice at all. We were all hoping that wasn't what our train was going to look like. When our train pulled up we were all very pleased because it looked very nice. Through the windows we could see a flower vase and tea pot sitting on a white table cloth. When we got inside it was a struggle for all of us. We had so much stuff and the hallways were very narrow. It took us a very long time to all get situated and in our cabins. I'm sure everyone was laughing at us because we had too much stuff to fit in these small cabins. Although there was storage underneath our beds, our suitcases were so big that they wouldn't fit. We had to put backpacks and small things under there. Allie and Amanda had to sleep on the top bunks with their suitcases on their beds! Once we all got situated we blogged in our beds and went to bed, well at least I tried to. The cabins were so hot that I kept tossing and turning all night. We couldn't figure out how to turn on the air conditioning but I remember waking up during the night and it finally being cool. It worked out well that our ride was during the night so we could sleep. We woke up at about 5:30 AM still exhausted but eager to see what was next on the itinerary. The train ride was exactly what I had expected and was a new experience for me to jot down. I don't think I'll be taking that long of a trip anytime soon though J

Silk Tour

Silk Factory in Suzhou is home to the largest silk factory in China.  A woman gave us the story of the processes that caterpillars go through and then what happens after, to make the silk.  The process to get the cocoons takes about 60 days until they are ready to harvest the silk.  We then went to see the actual process, which was amazing because in the U.S. that would never happen with all the safety hazards and regulations.  We actually walked threw the manufacturing plant and were able to witness first hand everything they did with the silk and all the stages it goes threw.  Along with viewing their showcase we were able to attend a fashion show, with the different patterns and designs being sold.  It was defiantly one of the more interesting tours on this trip.  

BBQ with the Chinese students

Today we had a BBQ with the Chinese students that have been showing us around Tianjin and that have been attending class.  It was bitter sweet for everyone involved in the fact that we learned a lot about culture because they took us out all the time and told us what we should do.  It was sad though driving away from about 15 sad faces waving to people they will probably never see again. They are all so wonderful and amazing, not to mention so generous.  I will miss Tianjin and all the interesting people I met along the way.  It is sweet in the fact that we get to move on to seeing Shanghai, which I'm sure will be an amazing experience.  But also bitter in the fact that we need to leave the students behind, after they had given us so much.  Back to the BBQ, the Chinese students loved it!  We had a few minor glitches at first with charcoal not starting up.  But then the Korean restaurant saved us with charcoal that was already hot.  Everyone loved the cheeseburgers and chicken.  It was a great farewell.  

Suzhou

The Gardens in Suzhou had wonderful works of art.  The gardens were created to have one main focal point so that you do not get see everything in one gander.  The Chinese believe that the garden is boring if you can see everything in one glance, so they have a large rock or tree to draw attention.  There where many waterways with weeping trees and exotic flowers all over the place.  The grounds were covered in ornate stone patterns that held specific meanings and a lot of symbolism.  There was just so much thought and hard work put into creating such a beautiful scenic environment.  Serenity is the one word that would describe our visit there, I never wanted to leave.  It seemed like the perfect place to meditate.  I could have sit there all day in peace and harmony and would have been content. 

Overnight

We took the overnight train to Suzhou from Tianjin last night, and for most of our group, it was to say the least, extremely interesting.  We arrived at the train station about 2 hours before our train lest and made our way to the courtyard of the huge building where the group waited outside for maybe 20 minutes and in those 20 minutes; we were by far the main attraction.  The Chinese people crowded around for many minutes of staring.  It started with a few watching from a distance, and then many circling around our group.  I took a video and then they even came closer.  One man asked where our group was from and I responded America.  He said that America was a great country and I responded with China is a great country.  He then translated this for the other men circling around us and then they all laughed.  After that the group become a bit uncomfortable so we headed inside.  It was a interesting experiance because the cabins we were in slept four and they were basically 8 x 5 feet in total.  In the end we made it, exhausted and tired at 6 A.M. 

Adventure in Beijing

On our last free day Saturday in Tianjin, Charlie, Amanda, Sarah and I took the bullet train back to Beijing for a fun day of shopping.  It was quite interesting getting around town with out native speakers.  Thank God, Sabrina was there to get our tickets for us or we would have never made it out of Tianjin.  We had a new experience at the market, and experienced new things, even more than the first time we visited.  This time, we actually made it to the fourth floor where there were high-end shops that were fun to pursue.  I also had a new experience in the bag area, where the women grab onto you and will not let you go.  Honestly, one lady pulled my black shopping bag almost to the point of it breaking.  I was in shock of these women and what they do for business.  Also they yell at you non-stop and chase you through the shopping area to come back and buy items from them.  Well, it was a very successful trip and everyone bought memorable items to bring back for their friends and family in the states.

Outlets

At our orientations before we left for China, the students who went on the trip last year had told us that we didn't need any converters for the outlets. When we got to our first hotel in Beijing it was a struggle to get anything plugged in. I was about to freak out because my computer was going to die. Luckily I brought a converter that converts a two-prong plug-in into a three-prong plug-in. The three-prong was able to fit upside down in the outlet. Well then I was getting ready that night and plugged my blow dryer in. A few seconds later it started smoking because the outlet didn't have enough volts to power it. I needed a transformer, which I had never heard of before, but Erin had brought one. I had to throw my blow dryer away because it was now completely broken. Looks like I would be using the blow dryers that the hotels provided. My curling iron and straightener were two-prongs with one end being bigger than the other so they wouldn't fit. I had to buy a converter somewhere and was upset I didn't bring the one my mom had told me to take but I thought I didn't need one. When we got to the hotel in Tianjin we were having the same problem. Sarah and I went to Carrefour to find a converter and sat there for about 20 minutes trying to find the right one. We got a little power strip thinking it would work but it would only work for my three-prong converter I had on my computer cord. A few days later when we went back to Carrefour I bought another converter and this one was finally able to fit two-prong plug-ins with the one end being bigger. Finally I could straighten my hair and curl it, or at least I thought I could. My straightener quit working one morning half way through doing my hair because I needed a transformer for it. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn't, which was very frustrating.  As for the group next year, I will definitely tell them they need to bring converters and transformers, especially the girls.

Noise

I'm from a small town - the noises that I have heard out of my bedroom window growing up were crickets and frogs - and the occasional squeaking of bats. When I moved onto 4th street in Duluth, most of the noise was from the church kids next door and the sirens of police and ambulances randomly throughout the day.

On our first or second day of class in Tianjin, I asked Martin if the city was ever quiet. I told him how there is so much construction - even more than Minnesota, of whom we like to say has two seasons - winter and road construction. I understand that everything is constantly growing but even the cars, buses, and mopeds are constantly honking in the streets. We would get home from the clubs at all hours of the night and still hear honking and see people out on the streets - traveling to wherever they were going at that hour.

Never have I ever listened to so much construction in my life. Even this morning, waking up on that quiet little island - Charlee and I both commented on all of the noise outside! If it's not going to be pounding around in the streets, someone has got to be yelling. After we got up to our rooms this afternoon in Hangzhou and set our bags down I walked down the hallway to Charlee's room to see what she thought of the retro decor and as soon as our chatter quieted, Charlee said, "Well of course there's a jackhammer going at the concrete right outside of the building".

Only twice now throughout the trip did I experience quiet - once during our stay in Tianjin when we did not get home from the club until 4:30 and we were up on the roof did we notice the city was finally quiet. We could hear the tires squeak of the men on their bikes early that morning and  it was a beautiful sound. The second quiet was last night walking home from the bar - all of the shops were closed and most people had turned in for the night. Sitting up in my bed checking out the facebook world and uploading all of the posts that I have failed to find time or internet connection for, all I could hear was the sound of rain. I just don't think I'm meant for city life - but I can definitely appreciate it knowing that I have the peace and quiet of Lake Superior to go home to.

Mosquito Nets

As soon as we stepped foot on that island in Wuzhen I couldn't wait to see where we were staying. Our bags were being taken care of for us and all we had to do was cross the little waterway on that ferry to get on the other side where there were long and narrow streets leading through various shops and eating spots, and even family dwellings.  Allie and I landed a spot in the building with another single room where Charlee would be staying and we walked into a big, clean, and somewhat empty entrance hall where winding, steep stairs without railings led up to our rooms.

 

The place was very quaint with the huge shutters open so that the windows were open wide and you could hear chatting in various languages on the streets below and in other villas across from us. As we opened our doors all three of us gasped to see our beds draped in mosquito netting. Of course I had seen this on the travel channel before and heard stories from a friend who studied abroad for six months in a sustainable community in India, though I hadn't actually slept beneath one before. I didn't really know what to expect with the bugs upon seeing these - but it made sense with the windows being wide open all day and night.

 

The afternoon and evening had been rainy so the bugs weren't actually that bad - maybe 2 or 3 mosquitoes flying around total that night. I did however, get freaked out by the giant spider outside our door that Allie and Charlee had a late night battle with - and lost. I made Allie tuck a towel under the door so that the spider couldn't come crawling in later looking for revenge. I also zipped up all of my luggage so that I wouldn't get any surprises later and I even tucked my netting all along by bed between the mattresses to be extra safe.

 

That island was so cozy with the rain and vacation atmosphere - I wish we could've stayed for longer. It was definitely a setting that I'll never forget - and will always have that perfect spot to compare the rest of my travels to.

Random Lessons from Various People

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Charlee: "We were told that in China you need documentation to show that you're married to be able to room together".

Allan (Friend of the coffee shop owner): "Yeah, maybe a hundred years ago".

 

Jue: "June 6 on the calendar is 6 - 6 which is lucky to the Chinese. Many people get married on that day".

 

Dr. Li: "This year is an unlucky year in the Chinese calendar. There won't be as many marriages as other years".

 

Apollo: "RMB is like saying 'U.S. dollar' where Yuan is slang - kind of like how you guys say 'buck'".

 

Martin: "Girls in China don't really drink or go to the parties - they mostly sit at home and watch TV or read books and magazines".

Me: "Why don't they just come along with the rest of you guys when you go out?"

Martin: "Well if they did stay out late and drink beer then they would be looked down upon by others".

Charlee: "Yeah - we did too".

 

Monica: "Fireworks are very commonly heard throughout the day on any day in China. They are for the celebration of things like starting a new business, moving to a new house, or having a baby".

 

Joe: "Silverfish are little tiny fish much like minnows - and they have no bones. We eat them quite a lot."

                Thanks for that Joe - I might've been a little freaked out by the tiny fish in the eggs at lunch today but they were really good.

 

Me (to Amanda while shopping for scarves): "Ooh I like this one - the red with that pattern is very China".

Salesgirl: "Everybody says that! Red is very China - you know red is a lucky color in China".

Me: "Everything shown to us is said to be lucky".

 

There's plenty where these came from - but this is all I can come with off the top of my head for now. I've really enjoyed everyone's various anecdotes throughout the trip.

Skittles, The Wuzhen Cat

This morning was a beautiful rainy one in the city of Wuzhen. Event though I woke up to the sounds of locals yelling right outside my window. The night prior, we filled out a breakfast card checking off certain dishes we wished to have for breakfast the next morning that would then be prepared by our house's owners. Eric, Sam, Alex and I sat down for breakfast next to a window looking straight out into the river. We were served our respective food items and started to eat when we noticed a black and white cat jump into the room from a door facing the river. Immediately it began to meow while stalking around our table. Sam tried giving it one of his peanuts but it seemed to have no such interest until later we found it that it enjoyed eating the sweet rolls and liked playing with noodles as if it were string. Sam seemed to be developing a special connection with this cat. I started calling it Skittles just because it seemed like an appropriate name for a cat at the time and it quickly caught on. Skittles walked around the table occasionally stopping by one of us and meowing, but we would just ignore it while we tried to enjoy our breakfast. That is until he came to Eric and he started making threats of throwing it in the river just because he doesn't like cats. Skittles wasn't going to take that kind of treatment from Eric and decided to bite/claw (we're not quite sure which one) him in the arm. I don't believe it was a bad scratch/bite but more of a scare to Eric. Moral of the story, developing Guanxi is very important in Chinese culture, even for its animal inhabitants.    

Day Trip to Beijing

We had a free day last Saturday to do whatever we wanted. Sabrina was headed back to Beijing for the night to stay with her husband who was on a business trip. Sarah, Allie, Amanda, and I decided to go back with her so we could shop at the market all day. We left the hotel at 9:00 AM and took two cabs to the train station. Sabrina bought our tickets, thank god she was there or we wouldn't have been able to do anything. We bought some delicious coffee at the train station, I got a banana mocha, then boarded the bullet train. It was a very short ride, 28 minutes, as we were very excited to get back there to shop! Sabrina got us a cab and told the cab driver which market to go to and she headed to go see her husband. We went to the Pearl Market again because it was close to the train station. This is where we had gone our last day in Beijing before we left for Tianjin. We did a lot of shopping and bought some really cool stuff for very cheap. Allie bought so much stuff she needed to buy another large suitcase to bring it all home in. On the basement floor of the market there were a few fast food Chinese places so that's where we ate lunch. Then it was time for some more shopping. By the end of the day I was getting so annoyed by the salesgirls because they would grab my arm and try to pull me into their stores. I yelled at a few of them saying, "Don't touch me." I just think that it's rude to grab onto a strangers arm but they must do it all the time. I was also getting frustrated because the salesgirls weren't being as lenient as they usually would be on the prices. They thought we were dumb Americans but truth is we know quality and we know what we should be paying for certain things. After all we had been here for over two weeks and had been doing plenty of shopping and haggling with other vendors.

We were all ready to leave by the end of the day but had some trouble finding a cab. All the cabs we found were private so they could charge us whatever they wanted. We needed a public cab that had a meter so our fare would be cheap. Finally we found one, stuffed Allie's suitcase in the trunk, and were headed back to the train station. Our departure was at 5:20 PM and we got there with time to spare. Finding a cab once we got back in Tianjin was also a struggle because we didn't know where to go. We walked all around trying to find a street with cabs on it and had no luck. Of course people were staring at us and taking pictures like usual. We were all getting quite annoyed because we just wanted to get back to our hotel. Finally we found a bridge and a huge crowd of people waiting for cabs. We walked a little further and got a cab right away so we didn't have to wait in line for one. We gave the cab our Hanting Hotel card and soon we got back to our hotel. The day trip back to Tianjin was very fun and I'm very glad we did it. I got many presents for friends and family back home and it was exciting to be able to venture out by ourselves in China. We were getting really good at this even though there were language barriers.

6/8 Silk

China is one of the few places that makes silk, they are the largest maker and exporter in the world of the product.  Silk production has been done for thousands of years in China and is a staple of their culture and compared to the United States has a much longer history than anything made there.  The Chinese take great pride in their silk products and Suzhou is one of their most famous places for making silk products.  The factory we visited has been using the same machines for over 30 years which if in the United States would have been replaced by now.  This is because the machines being used they feel are making a high enough production to stabilize the company, and if there is no need for a new process then why do it.  The Chinese are keeping up with fashion in the world with these silk products and they present the new and old styles of clothing for the users.  The prices of silk in China are fairly low and compared with the United States whose prices are high.  This is because much of the silk in the United States comes from China and there are taxes for importing and exporting.  I think it was amazing to see the silk production in process.

6/7 Chinese Construction

It was amazing today to see how Chinese construction progresses on buildings because the Chinese cities are growing at such a rapid pace it is astounding.  While traveling today I was amazed to see all the new construction going on in a place near Suzhou.  Compared to the United states where large scale buildings are being worked on one at a time in many places you could see on average 10 or more of these larger buildings/sky scrapers being built at one time.  Generally these large scale projects are being completed in newer parts of cities.  When you look around a lot of times the places you are at was not there 5 to 10 years ago because huge areas are being developed at a crazy speed.  How is this work being completed? I think this rapid progression has to do with the Chinese hard work ethic and has passed from generation to generation.  The breaks given to Chinese workers are generally less than American construction workers and along with having longer hours on the site they are able to get more done in construction than Americans.  One of their biggest advantages I have noticed is the massive number of workers they have.  When they are working on 10 buildings at one time they are all being worked on at once. I think this is amazing to think it is hard enough for a couple of buildings near each other to be built at the same time by the same business much less 10 or more.  Many of the workers they get come from the countryside in hopes of work. These workers are paid very little compared to the jobs that construction workers in the United States have with their fairly high wages.  Overall there are large differences in every aspect of building skyscrapers/large buildings between the US and China.  These differences could be looked into further because I think it is very interesting.

Wuzhen

 Ben and I met two sisters last night who were also visiting Wuzhen. I can't explain how nice it is to be able to have a conversation with someone over here. Just discussing simple things about each other can be so enjoyable and fulfilling. It really did make my night a whole lot better. I have never seen a place like this before, the dreary, rainy weather adds to the beauty and calmness that is Wuzhen. A few of us shared a pot of tea early this morning in a tea house located directly on the river. It was like an old, antiquated four seasons porch. I don't remember a time I have ever been so relaxed or so happy. I don't think the atmosphere here could be replicated anywhere else in the world.

6/5 Tea Vs. Coffee

In the United States coffee is a mainstay and nearly every household has some form of it whether instant or home brew.   In China on the other hand coffee is not common in houses and not that many people drink it consistently.  But tea is just the opposite where not many people have it in the United States but nearly everyone in China has it.  Just as there are many, many different flavors of coffee in the United States there are many flavors of tea in China.  But when you go to the opposite countries for the same products you will have a hard time finding many flavors.  When comparing the two products to each other you can discover that tea is actually good for you while coffee is bad for your health.  SO why do Americans consume so much coffee instead of a healthier drink like tea, well I think it has to do with the amount of caffeine in coffee.  Americans use the coffee to wake up in the mornings or stay awake whereas Chinese use their drink for more leisure and enjoy the taste more.  What can be said or interpreted about this is that Chinese people get more sleep than Americans and are more awake during the day so that they do not need caffeine to wake them up like Americans.  I think it is interesting how they are so similar in a sense because we have special coffee houses just like the Chinese have tea houses.  Overall though, tea is much better for you than coffee and this could be the reason why the Chinese believe tea is good for helping people when they are sick since there are a lot of vitamins in the tea.  Maybe Americans should switch from the unhealthy coffee to a more healthy tea, yes there is more caffeine in coffee but do you really need it?

Day 22- Wuzhen

Visiting Wuzhen was one of the highlights of the trip so far.  I had no idea truly how beautiful and serene the Island would be.  When we first got there, I had expected that we were going to cross a huge river, or even a lake, to get to the island.  Instead, the ferry ride we took to get to the island was no more than the length of a football field.  I thought, "Why don't they just build a bridge?" but of course, that would take away from the experience.  Dr. Li added that they want to keep everything as natural as possible.  The island felt like something straight out of an episode on the Travel Channel.  All the buildings were original, and the paths were all laid in stone, no pavement.  While everything on the outside was very traditional, the inside of the hotel we stayed at was completely updated.  We had a new bathroom and even air conditioning.  One of the things I liked the most about where we stayed was how they served breakfast.  The landlords had a personal touch, and the food was very good.  This was a completely different feeling from the continental breakfast's we have had over the trip.  It would be hard to believe that there would be someone that wouldn't appreciate the beauty and serenity of the island.  It is a place that I want to tell all my friends and family to go, and I am so glad that I was able to experience it.  

Day 21- Suzhou

On Monday, we arrived in Suzhou around 6:00 AM.  After having breakfast, we went straight to sightseeing.  We had heard that this city was thought of as one of the most beautiful in China, and I think that the places we visited that day definitely proved that.  The Zhouzheng Garden that we went to was huge and very extravagant.  It is hard to believe that just one family owned a garden of that size.  That is one thing that I think China has done a very good job of.  China has managed to preserve so many historical relics to share with the public; it is really great that they care so much about their cultural history.

 

One thing that was interesting about Suzhou was that while there were historical sites to visit like the Zhouzheng Garden, Tiger Hill, and the 7-Mile River, there was  also a lot of new construction.  The places we visited, like the Golden Chicken Lake, had a very modern feel.  Personally, I like the areas better that are more "gritty" you might say, like in Tianjin. Granted, if we had stayed in Suzhou longer, a more modern and cleaner city, I probably would have grown to appreciate it., but I definitely thought Tianjin had more character.  

Day 20- Suzhou

On Sunday, we left Tianjin for Suzhou, and took the second fastest train in China.  Saying goodbye to the students from Nankai was of course very sad, so the overall mood was pretty somber.  While we waited to go inside the station for our train, we somehow attracted a crowd of people who surrounded us and were just blatantly staring.  While we were used to this when we first got to Beijing and were sightseeing, it was definitely strange to have such a close circle of people closing in on us.  Once we got down to where you board, we had to wait for a little bit for our train to arrive.  While we were waiting, the trains that were stopped at the station looked pretty old.  The sleeper cars did not have any doors, and everything looked very outdated.  I was thinking, "oh no, this for 9 hours?", but when our train pulled up, we were all pleasantly surprised to see a brand new train that looked very similar to the bullet train we took to Tianjin.  The inside of the train was even nicer, and felt extremely modern.  Each sleeper had four beds, and each bed space even had its own TV screen.  I had never been on a train that was that nice and so new feeling.  After leaving the station, a few of us decided to get some food in the dining car.  We unsuccessfully tried getting what looked like soup with rice and vegetables, but ended up being porridge, with nuts and berries.  Relying on pictures sounds like a good idea but really what you order could be anything.  I took this opportunity to try some tomato flavored Pringles, and they were surprisingly better than I thought they would be.  To top off our eating spree, we got a "Beijing Duck in a bag".  This was not something that we expected to be good, but I thought it was very satisfying.  Overall, the train ride was a lot of fun!

Tourism

I have a feeling that this particular industry in China is very similar to the way it is in America.  It is mostly Chinese people that are utilizing the services of the tour companies.  This is how it is in the US also.  I think that once this tourism thing in China takes off that there will be many more foreign tourists, but for now it is just like mainly Chinese.  Remember China is a huge country with many different ethnic groups, and each one might want to go see what the others have created over the last 6000 or so years.  America is what 250 years old, well China has about a billion times more history than we do, and it is so fun to learn about .  

Gardens

We in America would take what the Chinese use for "gardens" as a large community park.  These are simply some of the most beautiful places I have ever laid my eyes upon.  I love it.  They are all so meticulously designed and laid out in such a way as to draw your eyes to the most beautiful features.  The city we are in now, Wuzhen has such amazing water features and parks.  It is reminecent of Venice.  All canals and little boats.  I love it.

Wuzhen - Day 22

I wanted to take a blog to comment on the tourism industry in this country.  I am absolutely loving the sights we are seeing daily here in China, but one thing that puzzles me a bit is the absolute lack of foreigners touring these same spots we are.  It seems much more like it is a tourism industry based on the Chinese people themselves.  For some reason, before the trip, I had the preconcieved notion that there would be a lot of other international tourists similar to us, but this isn't true at all.  Also, as a quick side note, those tour guides with the microphones and speakers absolutely suck.  I strongly dislike how obnoxious those speakers are. 

Canal

 

We arrived in Suzhou early this morning after a long train ride all night.  We first went to eat breakfast, went to Tiger Hill and then to Zhuozheng Garden.  After lunch we finally had the chance to check into the hotel and then we went to the canal where we took a boat down the small river. 

 

The thing that was interesting to me is when we were taking the boat down the small canal, I learned that most of the people who live on this beautiful canal are poor people.  The reason I think this is interesting is because it seems like this is a big tourist destination and a lot of people go here to see the scenery and have a nice ride down the river.  It was beautiful and if this was in the USA, I would assume that the people who lived in these homes would be wealthy and would love to live on a nice canal with tourists visiting frequently.  It seems that in beautiful areas around the country, people build nice homes and they want to live in the nice scenery.  In the US the place would be overrun with businesses and restaurants that cater to the needs of tourists.  It seems like this property would be very expensive and people would want to show off their property and all their money. I was honestly surprised when I didn't see a McDonalds or a Starbucks coffee in the area.  It seems like these two companies are in the tourist destinations all over the world.  This just seems like a shock to me because I expected the people who live on the canal to be wealthy and wanting to show off what they have to the tourists.  This is what it would be like in the USA and it is just a little weird to think that these places are where the locals do not want to live.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Yesterday we were in Suzhou, a small town - only about 6 million residents - visiting some of the most amazing gardens I might ever see. Joe was telling us about why there are always big artificial rock sculptures near the entrance of every garden we would visit - because it is Chinese tradition to not let the eye see all that there is to offer upon first glance - it's a way to keep an element of surprise throughout the visit. After the long and restless night on the train, touring the city by day had taken a lot out of us and we were glad to get to the Holiday Inn to shower and lay down for a bit. We were even more glad to get there and find out that the rooms were absolutely baller. It was a nice birthday treat to stay in the nicest hotel that we had so far.

Today was just a little different - not a bad different - a memorable different, actually. We continued our tour of Suzhou with just half a day left to see a silk factory and have lunch. After both Dr. Li and Joe had told us about how cool this island would be last night, we were all very excited to here - and it was worth the wait. We left that small town of  6 million and sunny weather for an even smaller vacation spot of an island, very quaint - and cozily rainy. It was an experience to hop a boat and take a short venture in the rain to a little island resort with windy roads and local shops, restaurants, and bars to keep us entertained. The umbrellas that the bank gave us in Tianjin were perfect to keep us comfortably out of the rain - and to actually let us enjoy it. I like this little island with traditional housing just as much as I enjoyed beautiful Suzhou with our luxury hotel (well, more luxurious than the Hanting, that is). My first days of being 22 years old are ones that I will never forget.

Hand Made!

Everywhere we go shopping the shop keepers try and tell us that everything they have is hand made - such as the "silk" purses that they sell for 20 yuan. Yeah right. If I didn't believe them before, I definitely don't believe them now after seeing everything at the silk factory today. I couldn't believe the process that it took to gather the threads from these worms - it was amazing watching the employees at work in the factory.

After seeing what a production it is just to gather the threads - without even dying them or putting them through the sewing process to create fabrics - it's no wonder genuine silk is so expensive. I'll just have to keep chuckling at the shop keepers who try and tell me their 20 yuan "silk" purses are hand made.

WC

After three weeks in China already, Charlee and I just found out from one of our new friends, Jue, how to ask where the toilet is. Every other time that we had been out together we have been able to figure out where the bathrooms are from signs or people traffic - until one of our afternoons of hanging out at that coffee shop across the street from the Hanting.

 

Apparently, you don't have to say the Chinese word for bathroom or toilet (which would by extremely difficult for us to remember and pronounce correctly). Jue told us that WC means bathroom - which should have occurred to me after seeing signs for WC. Germans, the Swiss, and Austrians also use the term WC for bathroom - something that I became accustomed to during my trip there about five years ago. I don't know why I hadn't thought of that sooner. Now we know.

Toilet Paper - Or Lack Thereof

For those of you who carry a purse with you at nearly every second of the day, you know that there are basics that you always have in there - your keys, your wallet, cell phone, lip gloss, a pen, etc. After being in China for nearly three weeks, one of my new staples to always have in my purse is Kleenex or some sort of tissue. About seventy five percent of the time that you try and use a public bathroom here, the toilet paper is usually gone - if they had any to supply at all.

 

I haven't quite figured out why that is - I guess in a country as populous as China it would be very expensive for businesses and public restrooms to supply toilet paper - they would have to fund it somehow. If everyone expects to use their own costs would be minimal - you would only have to have help to keep them clean - which apparently, is another area where money is saved here. I'm not sure of any of this but if I miss anything from home, it's toilet paper.

Music Makes the World Go 'Round

Charlee and I have been frequenting a coffee shop across the street and around the corner from the hotel - they have the iced coffee that we've been looking for all over Tianjin and they even have guitars to play. Along with the best coffee we've found for a reasonable price is just a nice quiet place to hang out in the middle of this crazy city. We'll go to grab coffees and end up sitting there for a few hours while we write in our journals that attempt to record our crazy travels here, and I'll take small breaks to sit and play guitar and sing for a little, while Charlee hums along.

 

One of the times that we stopped in the café this week, the owner, this friendly,  quirky, and stout Chinese woman, gave me about 10 minutes to relax before she put the guitar in my hands herself and told me to play. Her English is very limited but it's much better than any Mandarin that I could ever come up with. She'll give us free tea or coffee drinks and the occasional beer while she taps along on her little tambourine, clapping and saying how she likes every song that I finish.

 

Before we were leaving on that particular day, she told us that she had a friend who would be playing there that night at ten and that we should stop back so we told her that we would try. We ended up following other plans and missed him, though she said he would be back that night when we went there to hang out the next day - so we promised we would come back.  I was expecting to go back to the café and see this guy play a small show, more or less, and as soon as we walked in I understood exactly what this lady meant for us to come back for.

 

The café must've been closed as there were only the owner, a friend of hers who only spoke Chinese and Italian, another guy who called himself Antonio who could speak some English, and Allan - the one she told us about. The four of them must have been sitting there for quite awhile, just hanging out before we got there - the table they were at was already filled with beer bottles and the ashtrays already overflowing with their spent cigarettes.

 

It turns out that Allan is an English teacher here and has also spent five years living in Germany and a year in New York City. They instantly invited us to sit and the owner went back to grab some American beers for us. Conversation flowed so easily between all of us - except for the language barrier, of course - though Allan and Antonio would translate for everyone so we were all a part of the conversation and song.  We all had so much to talk about whether it was music, Germany, our travels here so far, - anything and everything. We knew many of the same songs so as we passed the guitar around the table we would take turns singing along to each other's playing. I play a lot of American folk music and bluegrass, which they had never heard before and they loved it. I loved being able to sit around a table with warmhearted people and enjoy some beers and guitar playing - and singing.

 

At that point in the trip the only things that I was really homesick for were my guitar and the chance to sit down and sing for about an hour or two a day and release through music. Sitting around the table with those people that night was exactly something that I would have been doing halfway across the world in Duluth. Had my friends been running a coffee shop and met some interesting people who also play music, they would have done the same and invited them back to hang out and enjoy. It's amazing to me how generosity and open minds are a common accompaniment to music. Charlee and I sat with that little crew of ours until almost 1:30 in the morning and loved every second of it.

 

I've been spending most of this trip noticing blatant differences in the ways of life here, though it was incredibly striking to experience the exact same warmth from people and music that I was missing so much from home.

KTV

I'm not sure what exactly KTV stands for, but for those of you who are reading these blogs from home - KTV means karaoke here - and by karaoke, I mean a karaoke production. I've never seen anything like it. The karaoke that I've done at home is in small town bars or across the bridge in Superior, WI where all things are cheap and dirty.

 

There are entire buildings devoted to KTV and many of them are spectacularly lit much like our casinos are at home. I think that I thought they might be something like casinos when we were driving around the city on one of our first nights here until I realized that casinos are probably nonexistent here.  Walking into these buildings is like walking into a whole new world. There is usually a lot of stairs - and always hallways full of rooms for various groups of friends to sing their hearts out and live their hour or two of fame.

 

I've been to three different KTV establishments this week and there aren't many differences - maybe only in the décor and various services available. As a group today we had a room rented out for four hours - yes - four hours of singing. I was actually quite excessive but I had a lot of fun. I was talking to Kevin and Charlee about whether or not we think that establishments such as these would survive in America and we concluded that they probably wouldn't because we don't have the demand for somewhere to go sing with our friends like they do here.

 

I may be way off on this but I love to get in my car and jam when I'm driving around town running errands, on the way to work, on the way to friends houses to do some actual instrumental jamming, or wherever. Many of us live in big houses with our friends who listen to the same music and enjoy getting loud and singing along while we're making dinner or entertaining. College students and other residents in this city must not have the chance to get loud like that all the time while they live in such close quarters - and most of them don't drive cars - they are always walking, biking, or using public transportation. Maybe I would get more of an urge to go somewhere and sing if I couldn't just do it as I please every day. Or maybe they just really dig karaoke. It's possible.

Five Yuan for the Freak Show

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I can't believe how people just can't get enough of all of us here. It was kind of fun to have people pull us out of the group to take pictures in Beijing but it got kind of nerve wracking when we got to the train station with all of our belongings on our way to Shanghai. People kept crowding around us, getting closer and closer, and even taking pictures as if we were caged animals at the zoo. At home, it would be considered incredibly rude to stare - though we don't get as riled up over seeing minorities because we have so many as America as we know it is made of people from all over the world.

 

I was explaining to some of the Chinese students at the barbeque this afternoon that if they were walking around town in Duluth for example, people might not look twice at the fact that they aren't "white" and it would just be assumed that they are also Americans. It is often difficult for Americans to determine whether minorities have been here for generations or have just arrived.

 

Some of us just didn't appreciate it this afternoon as it was the hottest day we had during our time in Tianjin and we had everything we came with - and more - to look after, as well as lug around all evening. It's just very strange to experience a crowd gathering so close and just staring - not even saying a word.

Beggars

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During the barbeque this afternoon there was a beggar who came through our group that was gathered outside of the hotel asking everyone for money. Most of us didn't have our wallets on us since we were right at the hotel and we didn't need money for anything. A few of the Chinese students instantly whipped out their wallets and handed the guy either a one yuan bill or a fifty cent bill. We have beggars at home too, though they usually stand on street corners or sit on sidewalks with signs asking for money for food, though many times we know that they will probably go spend it at the Kozy.  Jue told us that it's fairly common and that most people give them money, though some of the beggars aren't really that poor sometimes. She said that some people will even send their children out in the streets to beg for money even though they aren't that poor and people know this but will give them money anyway so that the kids don't get punished when they get home without enough money collected. I've seen this before in Mexico too.  Being a big believer in Karma, I wish I had anything to give at that time.

Wuzhen

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When we got to this new city today I was sleeping and woke up because we had arrived at a park. Joe, our new tour guide, had told us it was going to rain so we should grab our umbrellas. He walked us around the park and gave us a lot of information about all of its history. Although it was a public park and the government owned it, there were still people living along the river and running their own little shops. The government wanted to keep the park as original as possible. We walked around for awhile and got to see how the residents live their everyday life. There were also shops everywhere for local people to sell goods and thus make a living. The river was also beautiful as there were little boats traveling up and down it.

We left the park and headed to our new destination, our hotel on the island of Wuzhou West. We boarded a boat and were headed to the island. While walking to our rooms it was raining but still everything was unlike anything I've ever seen. It was a huge resort on an island with river ways and small boats everywhere. It was nicknamed "the Venice of China." When I got to my room I could not believe my eyes. My bed was covered in a mosquito net! I've only seen things like this in the movies and was astounded I would be staying here tonight. For dinner we went to a little place a walk away and across a bridge. It was delicious like usual and much sweeter than the food in Tianjin. After dinner we went to a few bars that were down the strip. They were very lively with loud music and lights. The drinks were expensive however because after all we are on an island. Tomorrow morning we get to explore for a bit before we have to leave. I wish we could stay here longer but I'm so glad I got to experience this as it is absolutely breathtaking!!!

Day in Wuzhen

Before today, I didn't know what to expect from the "Venice of the East."  Wuzhen has surpassed all of my expectations.  Apparently this is island area is where a good number of Chinese couples come to on their honey moon.  The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and the streets are lined with family businesses.  We are housed in a bed-and-breakfast type place that is right on the canal.  I can walk out my door and watch the boats as they sail by and enjoy the sounds that are happening all around.

Apart from the grandiosity of this city, I noticed something earlier on in the day.  We drove an hour and a half from Suzhou to Wuzen and as I stared out the window, I took in everything.  I had previously thought that the image of the Chinese farmer wearing those cone shaped hats and working laboriously in the fields was nonexistent.  But I was wrong.  As we drove endlessly on the highway, I kept noticing how many there were.  Every acre of land was covered in some sort of farming layout. There wasn't a single meter of land that wasn't utilized. I only noticed that about 1 in 7 farmers had a tractor or other type of farming machinery.  With how fast urban China has been progressing, I thought the rural parts would be keeping up.   Also, I noticed that the Chinese farmers burned a lot of their land.  I would venture a guess that this was done to help fertilize the land faster than just decomposing.  Everyday I notice something new.

Chinese Silk

Today we got to visit an authentic Chinese silk factory. It was really interesting seeing how silk is made in the current industry and how it was made many years ago. We were first demonstrated the process that the silk worm goes through and the length and description of each stage. We then got to visit an area where silk worms were kept and fed until they spun their silk cocoons for harvest. It amazed me just how much silk is required to make a basic piece of cloth. We also were demonstrated the ways on how to tell real silk from fake stuff like polyester. For example, one way to tell real from fake is burning the fabric, silk will burn white smoke and not burn by itself. On the other hand polyester will burn darker smoke and fringe on the edges when burnt. A less destructive way of telling is to just cover the fabric on top of your hand and blow. If you feel a cool breeze its silk, otherwise it's just a pretender. This tour was one of the more informative tours that I have been on, we even got to see a silk fashion show.  

Suzhou

Suzhou is such a beautiful city, I believe Dr. Li said it is called the Venice of the East. There are a lot of sights to see, and unfortunately we are only staying one day.  I have noticed that while these cities are somewhat similar, they all have a very different feel.  I have also noticed that I am not a big fan of visiting tourist locations. It just seems like a place loses its authenticity when you are surrounded by tour guides with microphones, camera flashes, and large groups of people with matching hats. You can learn about the culture or history of this place without even trying. All it takes is a simple conversation or a walk down the street. Even though the differences might be subtle, they are everywhere, and eventually, you can't help but notice.  

Stephen Hawking

Yesterday we had to leave Tianjin.  At first, Tianjin was hard for me because we had a lot of free time and it is easier for me to be more of a recluse and hide away with my books and computer than going out and exploring the unfamiliar surroundings.  But, as the days went on, I found it easier to feel comfortable in the city and with the people as we talked more with the Chinese students in class, online, and while exploring the city.  Their generosity and kindness absolutely amazes me.  For example, at a restaurant near the University, I was approached by a Chinese student who introduced himself with his English names as Stephen Hawking...then he laughed.  We had a short conversation about our remaining time in Tianjin.  We ended the conversation with him inviting me to attend the symphony that he plays in which was performing the night we were to depart Tianjin, so I had to decline.  He asked for my email and I didn't think too much about him after as our conversation was all of 3 minutes.  I was completely amazed when on the day that we left Tianjin, a friend of his delivered to me a whole package of material regarding the symphony performance, including a DVD of the symphony.  Seriously amazed.  I felt special and yet undeserving.  This is just one example of kindness that the Chinese students have left us with.

 I never thought I would feel sad for leaving those that I'd met for only a few days.  Every time I opened my email, a new friend would have written with kind words or asking if they could help me with anything.  I will do my best to try to return the kindness to the Chinese students by keeping in contact by email and with pictures but I know it will never be the same.  At the end of the two weeks in Tianjin, I can honestly say it was a once in a lifetime experience that I hope I can keep with me forever.  

Suzhou - Day 21

Having left Tianjin and taken an overnight train to Suzhou, it is quite nice to see all of the differences between the northern areas we've previously been in and where we are now.  The main difference being dialect, which beyond confuses me.  I guess what i'm wondering is how a nation that uses all of the same characters, manages to speak it completely differently in different regions, so much so that it's difficult to understand people with different dialects.  I mean this is what basically happened with latin and the latin based languages, but there is not a common alphabet between them, just similarities.  I guess the large geographical distance may have had something to do with this. 

Also, since we left Tianjin we have been receiving a lot more attention from random bystanders.  I guess with Tianjin and Beijing being large tourist/business destinations they have become much more accustomed to international peoples traveling through their city.

Gift Giving

While in Tianjin I have obviously experienced many new and different things. Some are similar to American culture and others not so much, but being able to witness different customs has changed me. While in Tianjin I learned many new things about myself and also picked up a lot of the Chinese culture along the way.  One part of the Chinese culture that caught my attention was the practice of gift giving. Going into this trip we were told that we should prepare some gifts for the Chinese students we will meet. Personally I was unsure of what I should get for the students, we didn't know whether it was a boy or a girl or of what significance it should be. So being unsure I purchased small gifts that resembled Minnesota. When it came time to exchange gifts at the end of our trip I already could tell that my gift was unsatisfactory. Over the course of the two weeks in Tianjin I made so many close friends and learned so much about them, that I wish I had known this before hand. I was so surprised with the Chinese student's ability to buy gifts with such significance and meaning to them. They were all so very nice and showed that we have all grown close. In the end though regardless of what the gift is, the meaning of gift giving is what truly matters.

Suzhou Impression

After taking 9 hours bullet train trip, we arrived at Suzhou.  Accordingly, we got a new guide to lead us the rest of China trip.  His name is Joe, and speaks good English.  More than important, I am under the impression that he is responsible.  He is trying to answer all kinds of questions we have proposed and gives us very specific explanation.  Compared with 12 years ago, the first time I visited Suzhou, everything has changed dramatically.   The city has become prettier, nicer and very inviting now.  I fell in love with this city soon after we landed.  The tiger hill and gardens are both very beautiful.  These stories behind these agricultures are more moving and interesting.  I enjoyed listening to them.  Meanwhile, I have heard about Mandarin Duck before, but today is the first time I saw them.  All in all,  what impressed me most the night market here.  When we were in Beijing and Tianjin, we did not get any chances to visit night market.  There were a variety of cute stuffs and the vendors asked for low price.  The beauty of the market is that you can still bargain based on the price they offer.  We all got a lot of cute stuffs with very ideal bargained price.  What a day!  

The end to a new beginning

Today was the end of our journey in Tianjin. Going into this trip I had certain expectations, goals and preconceived notions but by the end of our two weeks these views were completely changed. As I told Dr. Li these two weeks in Tianjin have been some of the best in my life. I never thought that in such a short time you could form such tight bonds with people you just met. I am confident that these relationships will last for a long time, this goes for the Chinese students as well as the American students. Over the course of this trip I have felt the generosity and courtesy of all the Chinese students. It's a shame that I am shocked that some people can be so nice when in reality, this should be a practice shown by everyone. This guanxi attitude was the reason it was so hard to leave today. We hosting a BBQ for the Chinese students as a way of saying thank you for all they have done. We cooked tradition American food, which unfortunately seems to be juicy burgers, chicken wings and vegetables soaked in butter. We all pitched in chopping vegetables and preparing the meat with Ben generously being the Chef. In the end it turned out great and all the Chinese students loved the food and it was a great way to end our adventure. When it came time to say our goodbyes it finally hit that I may not see some of these people again. It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be but we sucked it up and waved goodbye. One of my Chinese friends Jue was so very nice and bought me a going away gift that consisted of flower tea, a medallion and a CD of traditional Chinese music. The thing about the CD is while at the tea house I made a small comment about how I wish I had the CD that they were playing and Jue remembered and got me a CD. Its little things like that that forms such good relationships and makes it so hard to leave.  One thing I am looking forward to is continuing to talk with my Chinese friends through MSN or email. I am going to miss Tianjin very much.....

Taxi Driver

Observation number one, taxi drivers are crazy. Before china I thought that America taxi drivers were nuts but compared to china's drivers their fluffy little bunnies. Being that we don't have any way of transportation besides taxi we are forced to risk our life. In all actuality the drivers are very safe and they know exactly what they are doing, but to an outsider who doesn't see cars drive on the wrong side of the road to get somewhere faster it is a bit frightening. Some of the strange actions that a Chinese taxi driver will do are, drive on the wrong side of the street, honk as if it is a common practice, run red lights, come within three inches of a car or person, and break every traffic law in the book. Another thing that surprised me was how they do not use the lanes or dividers they simply drive where ever they can get through the fastest. With a city that is so compacted and over populated you can imagine how crazy this must be. I thought for sure that by the time I left Tianjin I would see someone get in a crash or hit something, but I didn't. As you can assume all the taxi drivers didn't speak English so that was a whole other battle in itself. During the cab rides there are a lot of pointing and hand signals trying to get around the language barrier, but then again that is also part of the fun. I felt I had some good conversations with some of the taxi drivers even though we didn't speak each others language.....

Sad Ride

So, generally I love to ride on the train.  Especially a nice train that goes overnight with amazing sleeping cars.  Sam and I were the ones who chose to be placed with some strangers.  That was fun, they were both Chinese and they did not speak english so we did not converse at all.  I had a very hard time leaving Nankai University and I hated it.  The train ride I had a very informitive conversation with Sam, I think that him and I had some very similar experiences what with meeting some people that we really care about.  I have just been having a very hard time with all the emotions coursing through my body.  I feel like I have changed, more than I ever have before. This trip has done a number to how I feel about things and how I look at the world and other people.  I received some letters from a couple of my student friends and man, for being 19 and 20 years old they really hit me on the head.  I cannot even begin to imagine why these ladies feel the way that they do about me, I guess I can actually make real friends by simply being myself.  I do not feel this way in America.  I do not know what I am going to do with myself anymore.  I need to finish college and then figure out what I am going to do after.  I made connections here, and I feel as thought I actually fit in and am able to be myself.  I do not want this chapter of my life to be closing, but alas, it has.  I miss everyone. 

Day in Suzhou

Today we ventured through Suzhou.  After getting off the train and waiting for the bus, everyone was in a daze from lack of sleep.  But we stopped at a quaint little restaurant and were the first ones in (it was a little after 7am).  We ordered omelets, fried bread sticks, a noodle dish, dumplings, and wantons.  It was a great way to start off the day in a new city and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.  And the techno music playing in the restaurant got some of us riled up as well (well.. mainly Curtis).  After eating, we headed off to Tiger Hill.  This is home to a burial grounds of Wu King Helu as well as a vast treasure that has yet to be uncovered.  One day it will be opened but the technology to keep the area intact is not yet developed.

After Tiger Hill, we went to The Humble Administrator's Garden.  It is here I learned that Chinese architecture thinks its boring to be able to see everything from one location as you enter the premises.  They wind the paths around and hide everything so that something new can be discovered at every turn.  The grounds and intricacies of everything were astounding.  There were so many little things to it all.  For example, after walking off a seemingly random set of stairs, there were two different patterns in the ground.  One was a circle pattern and the other a flower pattern.  They were created so that whichever you stepped on you would be granted either money or good luck in your life, respectively.  I chose to step into some good luck in my life.

Later in the day, after a much needed nap, we ate a delicious dinner in which I was able to try a fish eye.  I won't get in to any details.  After that we all went on a boat out on the canal.  Suzhou is known for their water canals in the city and has a nickname of the Venice of China.  While walking around this area, I instantly thought at how this is how I imagined the streets of China.  There were the stereotypical Chinese lights hanging up, music playing, and people out and about.   It's been around 15 hours so far in Suzhou and I already love the city life.  Tomorrow we are going to the older part of town and that will be interesting to compare and contrast between the more modern (yet still old) part.

Last Day in Tianjin & Overnight Train

These past two weeks have flown by.  I have made some amazing new friends in a very short period of time.  As a last big bash for everyone, we threw an awesome American style BBQ.  It was a hit and everybody I asked really liked the burgers.  Many of them said they were much better then McDonald's.  After we finished up, everyone got ready and then we exchanged gifts with the Chinese students.  I cannot believe at how stunned I was at all the cool gifts I was given.  Mine seemed minimal and petty compared to what I got.  While reading my notes and looking through at all the thought that went into everything, I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed at the flow of emotions I felt.  I really am going to miss Tianjin and everyone I've met.  The people here are truly one of a kind.

After getting to the train station, we waited outside because of the nice breeze.  It got very weird when people started gathering around us and kept getting closer.  Beggers would come by every so often and ask for money.  We decided it would be a good idea to just wait inside, despite how hot it might be.  We didn't have to wait that long and all I could think of was "wow" when I first laid my eyes on the grand scale of the railways.  The train we boarded was so nice and I honestly expected less.  The rooms were not as crowded and were luxurious in a way.  We even had our own TV.  This was my first overnight train (as it probably is with most of the students on this trip) and definitely an unforgettable one.  Even though I didn't get much sleep, it so worth it.

The Train Experience

So leaving Tianjin was hard enough mentally, but now we got the chance to take a fast overnight train from Tianjin to Suzhou that took approximately 8 hours. I was looking forward to this experience at first, since I have really never traveled by train over a long period of time, but immediately after we boarded I realized that this was not going to be by any means the most comfortable travel experience ever. Though the train looked really awesome, the compartments inside did not. Two bunk beds on each side of the wall with a small table in between. Four students with a months worth of luggage and gifts for traveling around China stuffed into a compartment as small as this makes for a painful experience. Curtis, Alex, Eric and myself were a room and we were one of the first groups aboard the train. So after stuffing our luggage in our room we sat with it in our beds while we waited from everyone else to board the train, as it would be impossible to get everything situated without using the hallway. Eventually we got everything situated and settled in to our very, very cozy rooms. The rooms really were not bad for train compartments, each bed even had a small TV at the foot of it. I got excited when the movie "UP" started playing  but was immediately disappointed when I found it it was both dubbed and subtitled in Chinese. I went to bed within an hour of the train departing and by went to bed I mean laying on a very uncomfortable piece of cushion with a comforter on top of me. Believe it or not it gets pretty hot in those rooms with four guys and faulty air conditioning. Eventually I dozed off but woke up many times in a puddle of my own sweat. Eventually we made it to Suzhou but I was extremely tired for the rest of the day until I got a nap in at the hotel around 1:30pm.   

Leaving Tianjin

Yesterday we left Tianjin, I don't even know what to say. Some of the best memories of my life have come from the two weeks that I spent in that city. Knowing that I may never see any of those people ever again is very hard to think about. It didn't really hit me until this morning, when I was looking out the window of the train. As I watched the scenery fly by, I realized that every passing second brought me further and further away from what I've come to love. Suzhou is a beautiful place, but everywhere I look I'm reminded of Tianjin and the amazing people that I met there. 

Tough Day...

Today was a pretty tough day to handle as it was our last day in Tianjin and we had to say goodbye to some of the most wonderful people I have ever met. The past two weeks have added up to be one of the most amazing and unique experiences I have ever had, getting to meet all of the Chinese students and learning more than I could have ever imaged from them. Time flies when you're having fun and these past two weeks seem to be a complete blur. It's really hard to say what one event stood out the most these past two weeks as it seemed there was always something new and exciting going on every day. The thing that amazed me most about our Chinese counterparts was the endless amount of giving and selflessness they had. They showed us an never ending amount of kindness from day one, and it didn't let up from the moment we hopped on the bus to leave Tianjin. I knew before coming that in Chinese culture it is very common to give gifts to friends and loved ones, but I had no idea to the extent of which these people would give. I received some very special gifts from many of my Chinese friends that I will hold dear for the rest of my life. I just wish I could have given gifts of equivalent meaning back. This trip has provided me with some of the most incredible experiences and given me the chance to meet the most incredible people, both Chinese and American that I think it would be hard to match such an adventure ever again in my life. 

saturday

We have been really busy the last few days, which is why my blog has been falling behind. I bought a bunch of random Chinese CD's yesterday so I could listen to them on the train. There is something special about listening to a language you don't understand. I think part of the appeal of this place has to do with the mysticism of it. I can't read, so I'm not distracted by every advertisement, I don't know the language, so I don't hear the news or understand what people are saying. I'm free to walk around and focus on other things without the being bothered by the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

Tianjin - Day 20

Our final day in Tianjin was one of great memories, and great sadness.  To leave these people we've grown so attached to was not easy.  I was very surprised, at the barbecue that Ben so nicely set up, to see how much the Chinese students liked the food we had prepared.  I was afraid, when Ben first brought up the idea, that the Chinese students would not enjoy the food we were going to prepare for them.  But, as it turns out, they quite enjoyed everything.  I wish we could've stayed longer, however, we must eventually move on.  It was a great experience, and I have to thank the Chinese students for being so helpful in helping us.

Our Friends

Today was the day that none of us was looking forward to. It was time to say goodbye to our great friends and the city that became home to us for the past two weeks. 

 Before leaving to China we were told that we would get to meet some Chinese students and we would have the chance to interact with them.  This seemed like a great experience and a chance to learn more about the culture.  This is what I knew before we went to China, but now I know that this friendship has become deeper than any of us could have imagined.  Even though we have only known each other for two weeks, I feel like we have known each other for at least two months. 

 What I really liked about this friendship is there was a mutual interest in each of our cultures.  We were so curious about the differences and similarities in our daily lives.  I don't want to speak for the Chinese students, but I feel like they learned so much about my culture without even going to the United States.  They were asking many thoughtful questions and were interested in anything that we could tell them.  We asked any questions we could think of and they would always try their best to answer the question to the best of their knowledge. This mutual interest in each other is a reason why some of us became so close over the past couple of weeks. 

 I really enjoyed everything that we did together with our new friends.  We had some good times in the classroom learning about business and culture, playing sports, going to dinner in markets, making dumplings, coffee shops, and any other thing that we did together that I can't think of right now.

 We left our hotel just about four hours ago, and now we are sitting on the train heading to our next destination. It is hard for me to think that our time in Tianjin has past already.  It is clear that we most of us wanted to stay longer in Tianjin, and that we did not want to say goodbye to our new friends.  If someone told me before the trip about how great of people we would meet and how much we would enjoy their presence, I would be a little skeptical about it.  After spending just one day with them, I was already impressed and realized that we would become good friends. Over the two weeks, they have become some of the best people I have ever met.  We all appreciate what they have done for us during our stay in Tianjin.  They are great people and we will truly miss them a lot.  I hope that we will continue to stay in contact with each other in the future and hopefully we will meet again someday in the future!

 


Day 19- Tianjin

Saturday was our last full day in Tianjin, and some of us decided to spend the day walking around Tianjin University and Nankai University, whose campuses are right next to each other.  Although we learned that the two schools are very competitive with each other, it was funny to learn that they share some buildings.  Each campus tries to one-up the other by continuing to build new buildings.  I really like the atmosphere of each University; with nearly every student, no matter what year they are, living on campus, it really feels like its own community.  What adds to this, is that there are a lot of little restaurants and vendors right on campus, so you really have everything you need right there.  I think that this is part of the reason the students form such a close bond, leading them to say "my brothers" when they talk about their roommates.  Although some people may not like the idea of having to live on campus every year, I think it would be so much fun to have a campus like Nankai University.  One thing I would want changed is the dormitory's, because they are very cramped, with 4 people in each room.  Having apartments with your own kitchen would be something that many people would want back home.  The other thing that surprised me about the University's was that all the students have a curfew and have to be home by 11:45 otherwise they are locked out.  Overall, I loved the University, and would love to go to school at Nankai!

Day 18- Tianjin

Friday was our last day at Nankai University.  There were four presentations given by the UMD students about cultural differences between the U.S. and China.  I was so surprised that the Chinese students were so eager to come see our presentations.  Back home, unless the presentation is really good, I think that most students kind of "zone out" at school during presentations, so I thought it was really cool that they wanted to see what we had to say.  For lunch some of us went and had our last meal at our favorite dumpling place.  I can't imagine not being able to have such amazing food (and for so cheap!) once we get home.  One of the best things about going out to eat in Tianjin is being able to spend time with the Chinese students.  Lunch's and Dinner's would be completely different if we hadn't made such amazing friends here.  Every time we go out, it seems like we could sit there for hours because there is always so much to talk about.  Somehow, even though Facebook is banned in China, some of the students found a way to get an account, which is so nice because then it will be so much easier to keep in touch with them.  Although we will be limited to communicating electronically, I am confident that we will still be able to continue our friendships! 

BBQ