October 22, 2008

The Last Watermelon

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Today we visited our last university and delivered our last lectures. At our welcome lunch today, Hotel California murmured on the speaker in our private dining room, a tune familiar to me because of my roots and one that struck a chord with my longing to return home after two wonderful but long weeks in China. Our last supper this evening included another extensive spread of food. I think we are all looking forward to returning to a modest way of eating and resuming our daily workout schedules. It will take a while to regain the fitness we first arrived with. Alas the watermelon arrived signifying the end of dinner and the culmination of a groundbreaking trip to build relationships with our kinesiology colleagues in China.

October 21, 2008

Shanghai—A Tale of Two Cities

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

We arrived in Shanghai last evening and headed straight to East China Normal University outside of the city. After lectures today we headed downtown and it was like arriving in a whole new world from Xian. While Xian is the seat of ancient historical China, Shanghai is the face of cosmopolitan China. When our bus emerged into the center of the city, you might think you were in New York City had you not known you were in China. Shanghai is a port city so it has a waterfront display of skyscrapers including hotels, office buildings, and restaurants—many with spectacular light displays and distinct architectural designs. The main streets downtown resonate with high-end brands and a buzzing nightlife.

There is another side of Shanghai—the older, realistic, non-glitzy side. This is Li Li’s hometown and he shared historical insights. As we drove down main streets, the left side of the street symbolized the “new? cosmopolitan, civilized, exotic Shanghai, while the right side depicted the “old? more impoverished Shanghai reminiscent of Cultural Revolution effects. We headed for Yuyuan Gardens in Old Town to do some shopping. As we walked along alleyways to get there, we got a glimpse of “old? Shanghai with overcrowded apartments and stores, and peasants hawking wares including “Rolex watches? and everything else under the sun. In Old Town, buying is an art unto itself where the price of an item is merely a random number from which to negotiate until both parties are satisfied with the final price.

October 19, 2008

Ginger and Sugar—Chinese Penicillin

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Yesterday we flew to Xian, one of the ancient and most historical cities in China and home to many dynasties stretching back thousands of years. Today we visited the site of the First Emperor’s Terracotta Army—a staggering archeological display of thousands of soldiers constructed to protect Emperor Qin in his afterlife. Discovery of this army of warriors was a fate of serendipity when, in 1974, peasants who were drilling a well uncovered this unbelievable find—thousands of terracotta soldiers and horses in battle formation. After thousands of years all the soldiers and horses were in pieces and had to be restored. One pit features 6000 warriors and horses in rectangular battle array. Seeing this miraculous exhibit was a one-of-a-kind experience. It’s truly mind-boggling that this terracotta army was built in the first place, lasted for this long, and was finally discovered. Each soldier has unique facial expressions, hairstyles, and uniform designs. It’s really hard to express in words how amazing this exhibit was!

Unfortunately Li Li and Mo Mo have come down with sore throats and colds. At dinner, Li Li ordered for us ginger soup with sugar—a Chinese medicine that aligns with the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang. Li Li explained that “cold? and “hot? exemplifies yin and yang; ginger is the “cold? and sugar is the “hot.? Thus ginger and sugar is Chinese penicillin just as chicken noodle soup is Jewish penicillin. Good enough for me and it really helped!

October 17, 2008

Eats Shoots and Leaves

Friday, October 17, 2008

This morning we were allowed to go to the Chengdu Research Center for Giant Panda Breeding—that’s the name of the Center and not that we were allowed to go to the Center “for? giant panda breeding! We’re in the same province (Sichuan) where the big earthquake happened earlier this year and the natural habitat for the pandas there was seriously disrupted. So a majority of pandas were relocated to this center to ensure healthy growth and development, especially with nurturing the newborn and ensuring their longevity.

Our driver to the Center was maniacal. He changed lanes so frequently we all became dizzy and stopped looking. At one point he pulled into oncoming traffic to pass a vehicle. We were told there are three rules to driving in China: (a) avoid the bicycles, (c) frighten the pedestrians, and (c) beat the vehicle alongside you to the next spot in the road. Our driver met these rules to the tee. Our drive to the panda center proceeded along streets and neighborhoods that were not in good shape—impoverished homes and storefronts predominated.

The panda center was like arriving in paradise. The center was serene and dense with greenery and trails. Yuanda, a 2-year-old panda (140 kg), was our first stop where we stood right next to him and had a picture taken. He ate his bamboo shoots and leaves non-stop, which was the strategy to keep him preoccupied with all the visitors. We also got to see newborn pandas in their incubator that were so cute! It’s sad pandas are seriously in danger of extinction. This trip was a real treat for us because few people make it to this region in China and they limit visitors to the center. This is an experience that I will remember forever.

October 16, 2008

Haagen-daz to the Rescue

Thursday, October 16, 2008

This is our seventh day in China. Today we departed Beijing for Chengdu where we will spend two-and-a-half days. The food has been wonderful in quality and diversity but some of us are starting to tire of it (which would happen if one ate the same type of any food for a week). At the airport, we spotted a freezer with Haagen-daz ice cream and a chocolate-covered bar hit the spot perfectly. Need I say more?

It’s Mo not Mao

Wednesday afternoon, October 15, 2008

Just a brief note but two students and a recent doctoral graduate were our constant and extremely helpful guides during our time in Beijing. One of the guides, Chen (who wanted to be called Peter), was animated at the opportunity to speak and practice his English. He was really pretty good with the language but sometimes pronunciations were a bit skewed such as when he called me what sounded like Mao rather than Mo!

October 15, 2008

Feeling It

Wednesday afternoon, October 15, 2008

After our lectures we headed out to take in a few more Beijing sights. We had a brief visit at the Olympic Games’ Bird’s Nest and Water Cube. This gave me a sense of their size and intricate design but in all honesty the nighttime views of these facilities while watching the Olympics were a lot more spectacular.

We then immersed ourselves with the throngs of other visitors at the Forbidden City, so-called because it was off limits to anyone other than royalty for more than 500 years. This site contains the largest preserved cluster of ancient buildings in China and served as home to two dynasties of emperors. Dragons adorned every building because this was the symbol of royalty. This site spanned about 2 miles in length so we had lots of exercise to get through it all.

We emerged from the Forbidden City onto Tiananmen Square. I should note that, despite the fact we were in a Communist country, we went about our business without any unusual experiences (thanks mostly to Li Li and other volunteers who were our constant escorts). Tiananmen Square was, however, as Larry Leverenz from Purdue put it best, “where you feel it.? Armed guards dotted numerous areas of the square, looking mean and barking in Chinese what we perceived to be, “keep moving.? A giant banner of Mao hung on one of the buildings facing the square, symbolic of his dominance during the Cultural Revolution. Those of my generation recall all too vividly the demonstrations in 1989 by pro-democracy protestors who were squelched by army tanks and soldiers. Indeed we felt this presence.

Summer Disparities

Wednesday morning, October 15, 2008

Because of our tight academic schedule, squeezing in the must-see sights has been a challenge. So today was a marathon, starting with the Summer Palace at 7:00 am so that Deb Feltz and I could be back in time to give our lectures at 10:00 am.

The Summer Palace was built by an emperor in the 18th century as a gift for his mother and served as a refuge during the hot summer months from the usual digs in The Forbidden City (see blog #8). According to Li Li, resources poured into creating this haven seriously weakened the naval army leading to defeat at the hands of the Japanese. The sheer magnitude of the palace grounds is staggering—it exceeds the size of the University of Wisconsin. The ornate sculptures, detailed inlays, and gilded roofs contrasted with the emperor’s underlings and millions of impoverished citizens in towns spreading out from this capital. The emperor rode in his chariot down the middle of the paved sidewalks while his servants were forced to walk alongside in a special corridor. The splendor of the many pagodas served to further distance the rich from the poor—a theme that seems to play out on many stages in the world.

October 14, 2008

Holy Wall Batman!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

This morning two colleagues gave presentations on the field of kinesiology. In between the two talks, we were invited to meet the university president so he could officially welcome us and communicate his desire to collaborate on student exchange programs. My knack for drawing a reaction from saying “nee how? was again exhibited, this time with the president grabbing me and giving me a big hug before and after the meeting (the norm in China is a handshake). As usual my colleagues gave me grief about this.

In the afternoon we drove to The Great Wall located in the mountains outside Beijing. Holy Cow! The Wall is 6000 miles long and stretches as far as the eye can see. The wall was built over 2000 years ago and restored during the Ming Dynasty, which took workers over 100 years to finish resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths. The irony is that the Wall never deterred assaults by the Mongols and other outsiders because guards took bribes that allowed them to pass through. Up until recently there was a myth that The Great Wall could be seen from the moon and is a classic story in Chinese textbooks. But in 2003 China’s first astronaut put this myth to bed by reporting the Wall was not perceptible from space.

October 13, 2008

West Meets East

Monday, October 13, 2008

Our day was filled with activities commemorating the “1st Sino-US Kinesiology in Higher Education Forum? organized by Beijing Sport University. We had a chance to walk through the grounds. A status of Mao at least 30 feet in height stands at the entrance of the university. Trees, fresh flowers, sculptures, and artistic designs adorn the campus—we heard later that the university was given 1.5 million dollars by the Olympics to update the campus.

In the morning there were ceremonial remarks followed by each of the reps from the Big 10 schools giving a PowerPoint presentation of their universities and departments. Li Li Ji from University of Wisconsin translated for us. My slides had lots of picture with the least writing so I think that was effective. I played up the Twin Cities as well as the University; they enjoyed hearing that we have the largest shopping mall in the country and that we’re known as the land of 10,000 lakes.

In the afternoon we were led to a gigantic conference room containing a humongous conference table. The 9 of us sat on one side of the table facing our 9 Chinese counterparts on the other side. It reminded me of the “west meets east? meetings of political leaders in the 1980s between the U.S. and China. Representatives from universities all over the country came for this meeting and enjoyed getting a chance to talk about their university. We began the process of talking about having Chinese students coming to train at our universities. Turns out that the government will fund the students who are identified to go abroad so “finances are not a worry.? They even said their government would fund “our students? going over there! A different world for sure!

October 12, 2008

Is it Listerine?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

After breakfast we spent a couple of hours in the Ancient Culture Street of Tianjin that has been recently expanded and renovated for commercialism. It reminded me of a flea market with many different stalls (mostly indoors) with vendors selling items ranging from leather trinkets to hand-sewn paintings to fancy chopsticks. At the far end of the street was a Buddhist temple awash with burning incense, a comfort sensation of years past.

For lunch, we were taken to a restaurant that is noted for their dumplings. Just about every version imaginable paraded around our lazy Susan—veggie, pork, shrimp, chicken, and fried. At every meal we notice something unique from other table settings and at this meal the “wild card? was a small dish next to our teacups with a bright green liquid floating inside. Naturally we all competed to see who would be right. I offered, “Is it Listerine?? because it mirrored that exact color. We were informed that this is the liquid to put out cigarettes with!

Afterwards we boarded a bullet train with what seemed like a million other people (perhaps it was!) and arrived in Beijing in 25 minutes. Note that the drive from Beijing to Tianjin in no traffic when we arrived from the U.S. was 2.5 hours. Pretty impressive means of transportation and our tickets were less than $10. The train station in Beijing was newly built to accommodate the Olympics. Upon arriving in Beijing, we were taken to the hotel associated with the Beijing Sport University (formerly Beijing Institute of Physical Education) where we are to spend the next 3 days of our trip.

October 11, 2008

Is It Watermelon Time Yet?

Saturday night, October 11, 2008

The Chinese like to eat…lots and lots of food. Every meal has been over the top in quantity as well as quality of food. Basically we all sit at a big round table with a huge lazy Susan in the middle. Waitpersons pile the lazy Susan with plates upon plates upon bowls upon bowls of varied and decorated food preparations. The lazy Susan traverses the diameter and people ready themselves to jab or scoop their targeted food onto their chopsticks. If you’re not quick enough the food might just pass you by. Unfortunately for me, my chopstick skills have resulted in many false starts and missed opportunities.

Some things were a little too mysterious for me to take a gander at but other things, like most fish and vegetable dishes, were cooked perfectly and flavorful with many and varied sauces and seasonings. We were told early on that when the plate with watermelon arrives, this signifies the end of the meal. What we weren’t prepared for is how long we would wait for the watermelon to arrive. Heaping bowls of food—noodles, seafood, vegetables, soup, beef, lamb, chicken, and even jellyfish—just kept on coming. The dumplings were particularly spectacular (and easier to navigate with chopsticks). Most plates and bowls were at least half full when the meal finally did end 1.5 to 2 hours later, leading me to wonder about the fate of all this wonderful food and those less fortunate of the 1.3 billion in the country.

A Celebration of Women

Saturday afternoon, October 11, 2008

Today was the 50th anniversary of Tianjin University of Sport. Pomp and circumstance were displayed including mock sword fighting, a singing of the Olympic theme song, and an explosion of fireworks. I might mention that I missed this part of the celebration due to a bug I picked up earlier that morning. The culprit was no doubt an apple that I ate in the room without first peeling it. My colleagues jokingly told me I should have used a strategy I later lectured on that day—STAR: stop, think, anticipate the consequences, and then respond.

I rallied for an afternoon of lectures with two of my colleagues, Donna Pastore (Ohio State) and Deb Feltz (Michigan State). Although I wasn’t feeling great I was energized by the turnout (about 150 students and professors) and enthusiasm expressed by the audience. When I got to the podium, I first said “nee how? (hello, how are you) and this brought the house down. The resounding applause startled me so much (in my state) that I fell backwards a little (thank goodness not too much or I would have fallen off the stage). I was told afterwards that they were both pleased and surprised with my gesture to greet them in their own language. Having been swayed by this show of behaviorism, at the end of my talk I said “shay shay? (thank you), which received another sustained round of applause.

The dean of the university presented us with gifts and made many kind remarks about the day’s activities. He then thanked us for an excellent set of lectures and paused…looked at the three of us sitting in a line at the table and continued, “…and I guess I would say this is a celebration of women!? This was probably a unique situation for them because the large majority of professors were men (about 9:1 ratio) at this university (perhaps a common ratio in China) compared to our delegation’s ratio of 5 women to 4 men.

There’s Nothing Too Big for a Bicycle

Saturday wee hours, October 11, 2008

We left MSP at 3:00 pm on Thurs Oct 9 and had a 12.5-hour flight to Tokyo, arriving at 5:30 pm on Fri Oct 10. I sat with two of my longest best friends, Deb Feltz at MSU and Bev Ulrich at U Michigan. We talked and laughed most of the first leg that helped pass the time. In Tokyo we boarded another plane and had 4 more hours before landing in Beijing at 9:35 pm; we were picked up by a van and took a 2.5-hour ride to Tianjin, reaching our destination at about 12:30 am on Saturday October 11.

During the long van ride, we passed loads of people on bicycles even at this time of night. Most did not have helmets or headlights. But they did all have an assortment of freight that they hauled on the back of their bikes, primarily in a large wooden box-like structure but sometimes simply balanced on the back end of their vehicle. These items ranged from groceries to large items that I could not make out, but we were told that “there’s nothing too big for a bicycle? including things like mattresses and sofas and everything in between. I was totally intrigued by the resourcefulness of these cyclists. When I finally got to my room at 1:30 am, I looked out the window and bicyclists were still pedaling away on the streets with an assortment of freight on the back. I guess with a population of 42 million people in this “town,? cycling as a means of transport for doing errands during lower traffic times is a wise choice.