A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: stacyacy

Hangzhou Trip

Tea Farm, Pagodas, lake walks and more

sunny 37 °C

I've just arrived at school for my second to last day of class! I can't believe how quickly time has gone by and I will miss my walks in the park. My recent favorite phenomenon is the systematic power washing of trees there and on campus. I'm not sure if there's more to this or if it just create jobs, but it sure stirs up a lot of dirt. We've been lucky to be here during a bit of a rainy season. Generally it is very hot and humid, but about once a week we get great thunder and rain storms. They bless us by cooling it down a little and dragging some of the moisture out of the air for a half day or so. It also agitates the cicadas into a lovely crescendo which I never get tired of listening to. Though they seem ever present, I still have yet to see a live one. One of our professors referred to this time of year as "Yellow Plum" season because all of the rain ripens the plums to a beautiful color and taste. She warned us this is only recognized in this small, coastal region, where the north and south winds meet the ocean breezes.

We were all able to get away this weekend for three days on a field trip to Hangzhou ("han - jo"), where the beautiful West Lake is located. This is where President Nixon met Mao Zedong in 1972 in a monumental trip which began the first bilateral discussions of friendship and cooperation between modern China and the U.S. At least President Clinton has also since visited Hangzhou since. Perhaps a Chinese retreat or Camp David of sorts.

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On Friday we visited a tea farm and ate some fresh green tea.

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The Chinese “eat a cup of tea” because they do not filter it and you end up eating a lot of leaves.

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While that might sound bitter, the tea we tasted was head and shoulders above any green tea I had ever tasted and chewing the leaves was pleasant. Of course then they offered to sell us teas- including different levels of quality. The highest was the Emperor's Tea, the next highest (the one that we tasted) was Daughter tea. The third quality was called Daughter-in-Law and the lowest quality was called Mother-in-Law. Joe and I agreed the lower qualities were poorly named, but nonetheless we did not buy any in-law tea.

There were also a lot of temples and pagodas to be seen Saturday. And there were mountains and clear skies! We weren't sure they really existed after spending all this time where it is so flat it seems like you could see forever if it weren't for the smog.

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The clear skies made way for a strong sun and incredible heat - the lows were about 35 degrees celcius (95 F) for all three days. Saturday night, about fourteen of us went out for tremendous Indian food (a buffet with a mango focus), followed by a river walk to where else but Haagen Dazs and Starbucks.

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Sunday, after visiting the "elevator pagoda" (which had been rebuilt in the past several years so you did not have to walk to the top), we got back in the bus to come home. It was about a 3 hour bus ride, but the savvier Shanghainese take the hour and a half train to get to and from the city. It really did feel like a rest from the bustle, so it was ironic to discover that Hangzhou itself is home to 6 1/2 million people.

Many more pictures from our Hangzhou trip are posted in web albums.

All Albums

Individual Hangzhou albums
People and Places
Tea Farm
Leifang Pagoda
Liuhe Pagoda
Lingyin Temple

Posted by stacyacy 17:59 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Cultural / Language Exchange

Connecting with Ryan

After a week here and frustrated with my inability to make much progress with the language, I put new energy into finding a local Chinese person with which to do a language exchange. Soon I stumbled across a website (www.expats.com) that allowed free classified postings. There were several language exchange requests posted from all over the world (many in Dubai). I gave it a shot and by Sunday night I had been emailed by a young Chinese mechanical engineer, who uses the English name Ryan, on summer holiday and looking to improve his English.

Ryan is 21 and in his last year of university. He lives with his mom and grandmother on the Puxi side of town, just north of the East China University of Politics and Law (ECUPL) where Stacy has classes. Though he is an only child he has a few cousins close by who he refers to as sisters. Dad hasn’t been in the picture for a while. Fortunately for me Ryan has been studying English for nearly 10-years and was more than able to negotiate a time and place to meet in English. Through a series of cell phone text messages we were able to connect on the ECUPL campus early Monday morning.

We met up three times last week for a few hours each time in the afternoon. While I got some much needed language practice, my interest in learning more about the culture and politics of China and Shanghai tended to trump my language practice. When my brain tired of trying to hear and repeat the different tones, I fell back to English and explored the details of Chinese life through his eyes.

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Often we were joined by Stacy or one of her classmates on break (or skipping class to avoid an uninteresting lecture). We hit on topics like food, health care, news coverage, standard of living, minimum wage, pollution of waterways, using roundabouts instead of signalized intersections, credit cards, saving money, houses vs. apartments, pirated software, earthquakes, the apparent rudeness of Chinese people, and frequently his dissatisfaction with life in Shanghai / China.

Like many people in their early 20’s in both China and the US, Ryan is disillusioned with government and media. Coming of age in a world filled with hypocrisies and injustice is enough to make anyone wish for the greener grass that must exist outside.

Surely more equitable places to live than Shanghai exist, but the discouragement I sense in Ryan could be found anywhere in the world. As a future mechanical engineer, he will be better off than most. Still, the idea of joining the rat race and being stuck in a position in which he has little control over the political and economic systems in which he must subsist is understandably disheartening.

I am curious to see how our relationship develops over my remaining two weeks here in Shanghai. As time allows, I will explore some of the conversations mentioned above in future posts.

Posted by stacyacy 14:48 Archived in China Comments (0)

Quick Notes Before Class

I wanted to point out some pictures Joe posted of Zhongshan Park - the one I walk through to get to class. Actually - after looking again I guess they don't show up. I'll check on this...

Also, some of our favorite sayings/ mistranslations, etc:

When asked a question by a student, one professor asked if the student was Canadian. When the student said yes, the professor responded that he could not answer questions from Canadians. We finally figured out he could not understand the Canadian accent! After the next student asked a question, the professor responded, "This is a very good question... because I understand it."

One rather large foreigner kept getting approached by Chinese people asking his wife how many bowls of rice does he eat each day? The wife's favorite comment was: "His parents must own a rice factory. There's no other explanation." (Luckily the husband did not speak Mandarin.)

And my favorite ancient Chinese philosophy about marriage (at least for women who were not allowed to apply for divorce): "If you marry a chicken, you must follow a chicken forever."

After today I will be half done with my program!

Posted by stacyacy 17:14 Archived in China Comments (1)

One Week Complete!

Hello everyone! I am excited to write today with four days of classes under my belt and excited to put off homework for a little longer :)

My commute has proven to be a great time to observe Shanghai. It is at least an hour but includes a 20 minute walk each way through the enchanting Zhongshan Park in the middle of Shanghai. It’s delicately manicured with a multitude of winding stone pathways under a canopy of cool palms. I’m not sure I’ve ever taken the same way through even though I always start from A and end up at B (nor sure I could if I tried).

Even though my first pass-through occurs at about 7 am, the park is crowded with people of all ages flying kites and exercising in many forms from badminton and tai chi to hacky-sack and dancing. Tai chi is a form of slow moving shadow boxing which seems to be done almost exclusively by those over 60. There are so many practitioners, I find myself winding my way in-between to get past. Everyone seems to know the value of movement.

The subway rides are still novel, too. Each stop sports about 8 entrances and the underground portion is at least two large city blocks long (Chicago blocks, not Portland blocks). Shops line the walkways, making a whole underground mall at each subway stop. It gives me something to look at while I walk –the pastries in particular are so beautiful Pix Patisserie in Portland could learn some things (sorry, Tom) ...but I’ve yet to try any to compare the content. Most desserts here contain red beans which I enjoy, but they’re not quite the Queen of Sheeba (a wonderful chocolate dessert from Pix). For coffee fans, there’s even a red bean frappucino.

Traffic - cars, bicycles and pedestrian - seems to have a philosophy rather than rules. Everyone seems to go where there is space to go and toot their horn to let you know they are there. The number of bikes on the road would put the critical mass movements in San Francisco or Portland to shame, though about half are motorized. The refreshing part is that no one seems to feel entitled to a right of way and therefore no one seems to get upset about anything like getting cut off, passed or bumped (pedestrian for the last one). I doubt road rage is a phrase here. The downside, for lack of a better word, is a statistic a professor noted - the reported 370,000 accidents and 89,000 traffic deaths in a recent year. Maybe the system is best suited for pedestrians.

The construction happening is amazing. Erin and Nick told us builders often work 2 – 12 hour shifts so you can literally see significant changes overnight. If you left for five years, you may not recognize the city when you return. I pass the construction of what rumors say will be the new world’s tallest building on my way to school and have already seen notable progress.

I still get frequent stares everywhere I go. They are hard to define – not threatening, nor flattering, nor even do they really seem curious. It seems perhaps a bit as if I’m an animal in a zoo and maybe an uninteresting one at that. This surprised me a lot in such a large metropolitan area but looking around Puxi there are not many Caucasians. Today I laughed because I realized I was surprised to still be getting stares – as if I expected the city to get used to me as I was getting used to it.

Classes are very interesting, though perhaps a bit more lecture than I would like (entirely, that is). I know I should count my blessings - I remember praying for lecture at times during the past year of Socratic method. The lectures are more interesting than most as we have different professors coming each day to discuss their expertises. Also the daily change in topics to differing aspects of Chinese Law helps shake things up. I already have a short exam Monday morning for part of my grade and then in the afternoon we will observe a trial. Joe will hopefully be able to tag along for the field trip.

That is about all for now... I hope everyone is well! Happy Birthday, Grandma!

Posted by stacyacy 08:04 Archived in China Comments (0)

Arrival and First Few Days in Shanghai

Luckily, we had very uneventful flights from Minneapolis to Chicago and then on to Shanghai. With plenty of homework to do and movies to watch, the 14 hour flight passed quickly. Our friend Nick met us at the airport and we jumped onto the Maglev train which took us speeding 431 km/hr past houses surrounded by water to the city (if I'm correct with a .6 conversion, that's over 250 mph). The only heart-stopping moment was when a train passed going the other direction and created quite a clamor.
We've settled in to Erin and Nick's fantastic apartment and I'm actually staying home and doing homework this morning while the others are playing in an international ultimate frisbee tournament. I will go do some yoga then head over later to cheer ... after four games yesterday the pace around the apartment was slow this morning but I imagine it's picked up on the field.
It seems we have mostly eased into the time difference, though I keep waking up at 5 am. Given the 13 hour difference, that doesn't make much sense but I'm liking the morning anyway and the Ryan genes allow me to fall back asleep. It has been uncharacteristically cool here since we arrived - with maybe 80 as the high and lots of rain and clouds. Joe and I are enjoying it while we can because we know the heat will be oppressive when it gets here. Yet another reason to enjoy the cooler mornings...
My first class is Tuesday, but Joe and I will attend an orientation and welcome session tomorrow. We found my school Friday and it will take a cab then subway ride to get there, but will only cost about $2.50 each direction and take about 45 minutes. If I go early enough I can catch a seat on the train and get some reading in. I will have 6 hours of class a day studying different aspects of Chinese law, which means quite a significant amount of homework.
The school's in a busy part of downtown Shanghai called Puxi (pu-shee), whereas my friends live in an ex-patriot community in a neighborhood called Pudong that in places is more Caucasian than Chinese. It is very nice to be able to communicate, but not quite what I expected of China! That part will come in Puxi and our field trips with the University. We definitely got a lot of stares wandering around the University neighborhood.
Joe is really practicing his Mandarin and I am very impressed. I wish I had studied more before I came but I guess necessity is the best motivator. The only things I know for sure now are hello, excuse me, please, thank you, check, I don't know, I don't understand, wife, husband and subway. Hopefully this will expand soon!
I will have Joe upload some more pictures when he gets back - I have not spent the time to figure out how to make them small enough.
I hope everyone is enjoying to beginning of their summer (or whatever season it is where you are).

Posted by stacyacy 19:07 Archived in China Tagged events Comments (0)

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