Perched outside the hotel this morning, I felt my first cool breeze of wind during the entire trip. For those not in Hangzhou, you have no idea how refreshing it felt for me to have a tingling gust circulate between my arm hairs and face. The heat island effect has baked me daily. The humidity has made me sticky. But today I relished in the moment. I closed my eyes and let the wind serenade my body and senses. For a moment, I thought I heard the chirping of chickadees. Maybe they’re beckoning for my return? The breeze dulls down, I open my eyes and it’s nothing but the sound of a city. Car horns. Construction. People. Needless to say, I think I might be homesick. Today we leave for Shanghai. Sunday we leave for home. I hope the songs of black-capped birds greet me upon my return stateside. Chicka-dee-dee-dee.
Why pick up the heaps of litter? A foot of concrete will most likely cover it anyways. Out of sight, out of mind. Right? That is the observation I seem to be gathering at least as I tour the city of Hangzhou. The city is currently undergoing immaculate development. Older buildings are being razed and bigger ones are being built in replacement. It is impressive to witness. Dozens of cranes swing atop the city’s skyline. Apartments for construction workers lay atop the foundations of fallen rubble. Soon the shipping container apartments will move onto the next job site and the cycle of destroy and rebuild continues. I can’t help but think what this city will look like thirty years from now. I wonder… will I ever revisit to witness its shining glory?
Today we toured Wanxiang’s manufacturing facilities and witnessed wheel bearings being built. Wanxiang provides components for at least two dozen car companies. We also witnessed car batteries being manufactured at one of their headquarter locations. And inside the headquarter location, we learned the fact that Wanxiang plans on funding the development of an entire city. Literally a new city. Will private enterprises be the future governance? The city will house their employees and future headquarters. Employees will have no reason to venture outside Wanxiang’s city as everything will be provided by Wanxiang. Receive your paycheck from Wanxiang, buy your groceries from the store leased by Wanxiang, pay your apartment rent to Wanxiang, and then drive your car manufactured by Wanxiang back to work at Wanxiang. Is anyone else feeling unsettled?
I always take the opportunity when given the moment to act like a kid again. Yesterday was the most enjoyable day I have had so far in China because I was given the opportunity to run around like a feral child. I got to expel some pent-up energy! Our group learned martial arts from a Wushu master. Our teacher had actually majored in Wushu martial arts at Zhejiang University and has won many martial arts championships allover China. Passing this woman on the street, one would not know of her strength. I was maybe a foot taller than her and she was tossing me around like a ragdoll. And for some reason, she kept choosing me as the practice dummy. Needless to say, I am quite sore the morning after.
I learned how to apprehend people, defensive strategies against attacks, and meditative Tai Chi. Punching, chopping, and kicking the target pad were my most favorite activities by far. I love to hit things; I love the sound it makes when I make contact. I talked with another student from UIC about my love for hitting things and being loud. He brought up a good point that releasing pent-up energy through hitting and punching is good for people, as long as you aren’t hitting another person! He mentioned wrecking-ball operators having the best job satisfaction ratings because they constantly get to release energy via demolishing buildings – I believe it! When I worked as a carpenter, I loved to destroy things and make a racket. The physical activity in carpentry must have released some feel-good chemicals into my brain. I miss trying to hammer a nail in two swings! I miss sledging stakes into the ground! I miss it all!
After the Wushu lesson, the master actually complimented my form
and punches. She asked if I had practiced any martial arts before and I
replied, “No, but I did spend most of my childhood fending myself from my two
Our hotel is notorious for serving multiple potato dishes
during lunch and dinner. It is both a blessing and a burden. Here is a list
that ranks them from best to worst:
Happy Face Potato Cakes
Potato Balls (like deep-fried balls of mashed potato)
Roasted Potatoes (served with a Chinese style gravy and beef)
Chinese Potato Cakes
Potato chip flavors in China are quite interesting. Lay’s brand has the most unique flavors. They include Italian Meat Sauce flavoring, Mexican Chicken Tomato flavoring, Lime flavoring, and Texas Grilled BBQ flavoring. All of Lay’s flavorings are delicious, definitely try them when visiting China. Pringle brand flavors include Cumber and Tomato. Both of these Pringle flavors are not that good, stick to original Pringles. Random Chinese brand chip flavors that I have tried include Steak and American flavoring. The Steak flavored chips were surprisingly good and tasted savory. The American flavoring was simply salt (I anticipated a BBQ flavor). One observation I have made about all Chinese chips is that they are all smaller in diameter than the chips back in the United States. I am wondering whether Chinese chips use a smaller variety of potato as compared to the United States’ Russet Burbank potato? Having studied the political ecology of Russet Burbank potatoes in the United States, I am now curious as to what kind of potato is most widely used here in China and who is growing these potatoes. Who, what, where, & how?
The river leading up to the Jiande dam was a beautiful, almost mystical looking setting. Fog compactly settled atop the river but moved as if it had a current. It looked as if the river was just pure water vapor. And there were also the stupendous green mountains that sandwiched each side of the meandering waters. Some trees along the mountain slopes had leaves as large as my entire body. I was in awe of the greenery and misty mountains.
It was inspiring to visit the Jiande dam. The 100-meter-tall
concrete structure provides clean energy for thousands of people. The reservoir
also provides millions of people with clean drinking water – bottled of course.
A plastic bottling plant is located nearby. This dam has embanked a total 22
billion cubic meters of water. The dam embanked so much water that the mountains
behind the reservoir became islands! What a feat for human engineering. Human persistence
is the most powerful force on earth. Albert Einstein once said persistence can
move mountains, I say it can transform mountains into islands.
I was so animated to witness these submerged mountain
islands. I’ve waited days for this moment. The bus stops, we unload, and I’m
giddy with excitement. We’re walking towards the dam. I think I might have been
skipping, I was definitely skipping with joy. Bad news erupts. The elevators to
the top of the dam broke! Dammit. The damn dam broke. I never got to see
those thousand islands as advertised by our tour guide, but at least I got a
cool postcard showcasing what I missed out on.
Mesmerizing candy cane swirls of red, white, and blue twirl within Hangzhou’s market alleyways. Like a moth allured to a lamp, I looked for the nearest spinning barbershop pole this morning. My hair had begun to look moppy. I grew dissatisfied by my moppiness and wanted a fresh cut. Perhaps a stylish one. Maybe K-Pop-esque… So I searched and found a barbershop owned by a nice looking young couple. They definitely looked K-Pop-esque. Very fashionable. Once inside the barbershop, I realized I had no data on my phone, nor did I have a picture of what I exactly wanted. Ni you zhaopian ma? The styles they advertised were way too colorful for me! Ni gei wo zhongguo ren jiantoufa ma? I asked, “Can I have the most popular Chinese man’s haircut?” Dui, dui, dui. And just like that, my head is being scrubbed under a sink by the barber’s wife – a first for me. I am then escorted to a stool after my quick little shower and the husband quickly points out my receding hairline. Xie Xie… The haircut begins. I would bargain that my hair was maybe 4-5 inches in length before my haircut. The first snip of hair was definitely a 4-incher. All of a sudden my bangs are gone. Wode tian a… What did I get myself into? Their toddler then begins to laugh at my banglessness. Not just a simple ha ha. The boy was rolling on the ground, pointing and laughing at my profound banglessness. Eventually the small boy began to wheeze as he couldn’t catch his breath in between each laugh. I could not help but laugh, too! I looked more Amish-esque than I did K-Pop-esque! Buzzzz, snip, snip, snip. The haircut was finished. My ears were lowered. My Neanderthal forehead in its full glory. I paid the man 30 RMB (4 American Dollars) and went on my merry way.
With my pocket full of change, I decided to buy a jianbing (scallion pancake) along my way back to the hotel. As I was munching away on my delicious pancake, I couldn’t help but notice that my new haircut did in fact look like many of the other Chinese peoples’ hair styles. However, it was not young Chinese men rocking my haircut… It was the elderly!
The Wanxiang hotel
pampers our study group with three meals a day. Buffet, all you can eat. Some
days I feel as though I am pig getting prepped for slaughter. The food is delicious
and stuffing. Some might say we are eating better than past royalty. Three different
meats, numerous fruits and vegetables, and a vast amount of desserts. I can
feel my waistband getting tighter. I have yet to find China’s version of Pepto-Bismol.
The field trips
we take are definitely my favorite part of the Wanxiang program. Today we are
visiting two museums around Hangzhou’s West Lake, yesterday we visited a natural
gas power plant. I am most excited to visit the hydroelectric dam next Monday. I
am sure I will have much to write about after visiting the Jiande Hydroelectric
plant. Stay posted for more stories to come!
Happy Fourth of
July to those back home. And remember, be safe and knowledgeable about lighting
off fireworks. Not just for your safety, but also for our animal friends that
inhabit the skies! Did I mention I also miss birds? I miss my thrushes,
tanagers, and waxwings!
It is no doubt
that coal energy has benefitted human society with innovative technology
throughout the recent centuries. There has been an obvious price to pay,
however, as civilizations continued to use more and more coal-burning factories
for their necessities. The natural environment has become an expense as a
result of coal-burned energy. Ecosystem services decline as urban development
increases. And development depends upon a vast amount of different resources,
the most important resource being fuel.
Mark Twain once
said, “And what is a man without energy? Nothing – nothing at all.” Coal
is a precious finite resource; it’s a geological gift from the earth. I
certainly would not have published this blog on the internet if it were not for
human civilization’s ability to harness energy from these rocks of carbon and
start a technological revolution. Mark Twain also said, “Too much of
anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” While I agree
with this quote in its entirety, please emit its second clause for what I am
about to conclude. Too much coal is without a doubt cruel for the environment
and human health. Water becomes poisoned, air becomes polluted, and biological
health becomes endangered. Burning coal releases CO2 into the air which
contributes to global warming. Coal also emits a medley of other chemicals and
particulate matter that can gravely affect the health of humans and many
different ecosystem services.
Today in class,
we weighed the pros and cons of renewable energies. Solar, wind, and
hydroelectrical power can create negative environmental impacts like that of
coal-burning power plants. Hydroelectrical plants release methane into the air
as river beds alter and water becomes reservoired. The rare earth materials
that make up solar panels are haphazardly mined and go through a very tedious
process to become photovoltaic cells. Wind power takes hectares of space to
become as efficient as fossil fuel burning plants. Our class’s conclusion was
that ecological change is a given when attempting to harness renewable energy,
however, the impacts are not as dastardly as fossil fuel energy.
One of the
Chinese professors told our class that China will continue to use coal as an
energy source simply because China is a very poor country. Meanwhile another
professor told us that ~20 nuclear power plants are being built in China… I do
not think money is a problem for the country of China. The largest
hydroelectrical dam in the world was also constructed in China this past decade
– the Three Gorges Dam. Despite mass environmental degradation and the
relocation of 2 million people, the Chinese government was adamant about
finishing the Three Gorges Dam project. I simply cannot believe that China is
too poor of a country; it is a bad excuse for the continuation of coal-burned
If one were to guess the most popular beer in the world, they would probably guess something brewed by Anheuser-Busch. Maybe Budweiser? Nope, think internationally. Okay, perhaps Heineken? It’s not that either. The most popular beer in the world is not even a beer that is exported to that many countries. It’s domestic to China! The Chinese beer, Snow, is the most popular beer in the world by volume drank. Taking into account the massive and thirsty population of China, it is no surprise that a domestic Chinese beer leads the world by volumes drank per year. To those curious of what Snow taste like… reminiscent of bud light. And did I mention it is extremely cheap? Snow brand beer is around 74 cents per 500 milliliters (16.9 oz). Step aside Natural Light and frat boys prepare yourselves for the new guy in town.
Definition: A popular mode of dress worn by Chinese men. A shirt’s bottom hem is risen above the individual’s stomach to reveal cooling fresh air upon their sweaty gut.
Old men wearing Beijing bikinis
huddle in packs to smoke cigarettes in some of Hangzhou’s many market alleyways.
Ladies cheerfully play card games; you often hear them before you see them in
these alleyways. Young kids scoot past you on scooters and stray dogs scavenge the
streets for morsels of food to eat. Barbershops, restaurants, produce stands,
and more barbershops clutter the alleyways. How many barbershops are there
in Hangzhou? I found myself trekking through many of these alleyways the
other day. The experience was unforgettable, but so was the smell. The stench
of raw meat was in the air… so I followed it. I witnessed foods I had never seen
before. Aquariums of exotic fish and turtle. Meat lay unrefrigerated in the
open air; only an oscillating fan was used to deter the pests away from the raw
meat. I had so many questions after visiting my first meat market in Hangzhou: does
any of the meat end up being refrigerated at the end of the day and is it safe
After a long inquisitive hike throughout Hangzhou’s market alleyways, I found myself seated in a Uyghur restaurant. Uyghur people reside in the far northwestern reaches of China and are of Turkish descent. Uyghur-Chinese food is not the type of Chinese food one thinks of back in the United States. The food is halal and has middle-eastern flairs to it. I absolutely loved it. I ordered a fried flatbread stuffed with steak and cilantro. The sandwich bread reminded me of Taco Bell’s chalupa shells. Yes… I said it… Uyghur food reminded me of Taco Bell! The hunger was real, though, so I also order a pickled beef noodle soup. DEAR LORD WAS IT GOOD. I loaded the food with lajiao, otherwise known as Chinese pepper paste, and I was in hog heaven. The spice, heat, and humidity eventually got to me that day and I must confess… I partook in wearing the Beijing bikini. What a satisfying experience and all that food for only 20 RMB.
The transitional separation of Chinese
agriculture seems quite blatant. Millet in the north, rice in the south. During
my southerly travel from Beijing to Hangzhou, I scanned the landscapes outside
my train window. Vast open lands were dedicated to agriculture – somewhat similar
to the United States. Much of the land in northern China is dedicated towards cultivating
millet and wheat. There was a certain separating feature, however, when wheat
fields transitioned solely into rice paddies – a large river. I am not sure
whether this river is blatantly used as a separation line for all agriculture
or just some strange observation. Perhaps this river provides better irrigation
for rice paddies in the south rather than the north.
Instead of John Deere combines or International pickup trucks hauling grain, I noticed that grains were hauled by scooter and wagon in China. What a stark difference compared to the United States. Some fields had dozens of laborers kneeling down, fidgetily working in the fields. I can only assume they were picking weeds by hand. Some laborers had umbrellas, beach towels, and tea kettles stationed in the center of their fields. Nothing like a warm cup of tea on an extremely hot, humid day…
During my travel from Beijing to Hangzhou, I believe I witnessed China’s afforestation program in practice. I saw hundreds if not thousands of newly planted trees everywhere – in the mountains and in the agricultural fields. Long rows of trees have been planted, yet I cannot help but notice that most are the same species and planted no more than five feet away from each other. I was expecting a bit more diversity. My first thought when witnessing this large monoculture of trees was Dutch Elm Disease!
NPR is not censored by China’s firewall! I am still able to enjoy WUIS’s broadcast of Bluegrass Breakdown. Yee-yaw!
Speaking of impenetrable walls, I also hiked up a small portion of the Great Wall. And it was such a beauty of a day. Clear skies, fresh air, and a cool mountain breeze. Sadly, I did not get an air quality reading atop the mountain fortress, however, Doctor Ruez and I did obtain one at the foot of the wall. The Great Wall is a spectacular edifice. Our guide told us it spans from North Korea to Azerbaijan – thousands of kilometers in length. It is a marvel that ancient civilizations were capable of accomplishing such tasks. I can’t help but wonder about the lives of the people that built this monumental wall.
Rotten eggs. That is the smell outside our hotel. The exact origin of this odor is unknown… could it be coming from the nearby garbage cans or maybe is it emitted from the thousands of car exhaust pipes? I am not sure. My air quality meters cannot detect the source of this smelly aroma, yet they can detect the amount of particulate matter in the air. Data from the first day in Beijing reveals bad air quality. Visually, there is a grey smog in the air. Physically, my eyes burn and I feel congested.
The city of Beijing is immensely huge. 22 million people I want to say? Large superblock apartment buildings scatter the city landscape. A mix of timeworn and newly-built structures configure an interesting architectural dichotomy. The streets are filled with people and cars, some not obeying the traffic laws. It almost seems lawless, yet police officers are situated on every block. I am sometimes reminded of the fictional settings in Judge Dredd or Bladerunner as I pass some of Beijing’s cityscapes. It is achingly mesmerizing. Has science fiction come to life?
Tian’anmen Square is maybe twice as large as my hometown if not bigger. And then there is the Forbidden Palace, an entirely separate area which is just as enormous. I was in awe of the beauty and splendor yet ached from the opaque blanket of grey smog in the air. I talked with a woman who studied in Beijing in the 90’s and she said the air quality was almost darkening in those days. It seems to her that China is making much progress in regard to enhancing air quality, however, I believe much is still needed to improve upon. I am confident of future improvement.
days ago I visited Ashikaga University’s Wind & Solar Park. This park showcases
an assortment of different technologies that capture renewable energy. There
are many different types of wind turbines built to capture wind energy – some
turbine propellers built to only spin at high wind speeds and others built to
spin at low wind speeds. The propeller’s axis, shape, size, and weight all
influence the efficiency and output of energy. I asked an Ashikaga graduate
student which turbine design is most efficient and he explained that the three-propeller
design is most energy efficient. This also happens to be the most common
turbine design in the United States. The three-propeller design outputs the
most kilowatts compared to low wind speed. While the three-propeller design’s
weight is not the lightest turbine to be built, it can safely harness energy
from low and high wind speeds. A concern from the lighter one propeller and two
propeller turbine designs is that it requires faster and more dangerous winds
to capture energy.
yet more simple technology I witnessed was the solar cooker. Using material
such as glass or metal to reflect sunlight into a concentrated area, one is
able to cook food using concentrated solar energy. Depending on cloud cover,
one could possibly cook a whole chicken in a solar oven faster than an ordinary
oven if the days were clear and sunny. These solar oven technologies are being gifted
to undeveloped areas across the globe by non-profits; areas which do not have
enough wood, coal, or gas to cook their meals. These solar ovens have
influenced me to experiment making a solar powered pizza oven when I arrive
back into the United States! I have already started some experimental drafts.
come to realize the omnipotent power of the sun while in Ashikaga. Most
renewable energies (besides geothermal) depend upon the sun. Heat from the sun
influences temperatures in the air which cause pressure differences to swirl
from latitude to latitude. These pressure differences or Hadley cells circulate
winds that provide energy to be captured by turbines. The water cycle is also
dependent upon the sun; the evaporated water, precipitation, and melted ice all
influence streaming rivers which provide energy to be harnessed by hydroelectrical
technology. And even fossil fuels were influenced by the sun’s energy. Long
ago, plants captured solar energy and animals ate those plants. Past organic
life that relied on the sun’s energy became compacted under the earth over millennia
and have formed into fossil fuels. The sun is omnipotent, so why not attempt to
use renewable energy as our number one fuel source?
I visited the town of Nikko. It was a phenomenal place. The town reminded me of
Crater Lake National Park as the town is situated beside a large lake in the
mountains. The nature and landscape of Nikko was astoundingly beautiful. I
think I could have stayed there a little bit longer… maybe a couple more days.
Please read Doctor Ruez’s blog post about Lake Chuzenji as he explained the
geology and formation of this beautiful area.
spent the past couple days doing many things: visiting Tokyo, hiking in the
mountains, visiting volcanic hot springs, and even rooming with a Japanese
family for 3 nights. If anyone has any questions, I would be glad to answer
research being performed at Ashikaga University focuses mostly on environmental
technology such as figuring out renewable energy sources, weather forecasting
technology, & radioactive-waste disposal. After talking with the many
professors yesterday, I learned that the university sometimes works in
conjunction with private businesses such as construction companies by testing concrete
quality and providing large concrete forms for bridge building components. All
the research being performed was extremely impressive and has certainly
influenced me to learn more about these environmental technologies.
will be interning for the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of site
evaluation, I found much of the construction technology at Ashikaga University
fascinating and probably asked too many questions! Ashikaga’s division of
engineering attempts to ensure safe building practices and safe disposal of
hazardous wastes. And yesterday, I was extremely grateful because I received a
business card from one of the professors who is performing influential research
somewhat related to what I will be investigating at the Environmental
Protection Agency. Thank you, Dr. Tomoyoshi Nishimura, I look forward to
reading your research. While my investigations will focus on mostly ferrous
soils, I think I could learn a lot from Dr. Nishimura’s research dedicated to radioactivity
and porous stones.
other impressive works happening at Ashikaga include renewable energy storage
using hydrogen storage alloy to reduce CO2 emissions, using water as a driving
force to power machines by using the special alloy martensite, bio-fuel made
from organic waste, and lighting rod telemetry to better forecast thunderstorms
is memory metal. Once exposed to a certain temperature, it reforms back into
its shape via contracting molecules. Hot water and cool air are perfect for martensite’s
molecular deformation. Cooling deforms the martensite memory wire and heating the
alloy stiffly contracts it. This martensite wire was connected to a pully mechanism
half submerged in toy car chassis and water fueled the energy for the toy car move.
University also performs research on biofuel. Currently they have created pucks
of wood shavings, old newspapers, and used coffee grounds to be burnt in
furnaces. Doctor Jonathan Goldbergbelle explained to me that cornhusks in the
United States would be a great resource to be burned as biofuel. I have thought
about the possibility of coconut husks as well. I am curious whether any of my
peers have any other ideas for resources to be used as biofuel?
I am not sure whether I have a case of jet lag or excitement to wake up early and relish in the atmospheric culture of Japan. I am starting to find myself waking up early and reading about the things I witnessed the previous day; I am also starting to realize that many of my questions during the guided tours revolve around Japan’s local wildlife and environmental history. Yesterday Professor Shimizu of Ashikaga University guided us to Ashikaga’s Hogen Temple & Fuji Shrine. While witnessing these beautiful sites of divinity and worship, I began talking to Professor Shimizu about nature as the many shrines we visit are found upon forested hills away from human development. He explained to me how many festivities and traditions occur during Spring time – the boy and girl temples we went to yesterday are used to celebrate the birth and health of newborn children which rightfully coincides with Spring time, a time when plants and animals flourish. The intimacy of nature and tradition in Japan is beginning to become quite apparent in most aspects of Japanese life.
peers and I have been tirelessly hiking through the city of Ashikaga, we have
noticed many signs, bulletins, and maps across the city. These signs have made our
lives so much easier as they provide warnings, instructions, or directions. One
sign in particular, however, caught my eye. It had an illustration of a wild
boar on it. I asked Professor Shimizu about this sign and it uncovered a
lengthy lesson about pest management, conservation, & Japan’s declining
learned that wild boars are becoming quite a menace around Japan. It appears as
Japanese population declines, wild boar populations increase. Many current
Japanese youth are beginning to move away from the countryside and into large
southern Japanese cities. This trend has left elderly Japanese farmers to fend
for themselves. As the youth move into the cities and elderly Japanese farmers
pass away from old age, rice paddies and other agricultural fields either
become mishandled or entirely forgotten. In response to this trend, wild boar
populations are surging as more land and food become available to wildlife. The
effect of this population upsurge has damaged the yields of remaining
state of Illinois, farmers are allowed to manage feral pig populations via
hunting or trapping without the need for a permit as long as it is hunted on
their land. It appears that Japanese bureaucracy has provided a difficult time
for farmers to manage pests on their farmlands. It is a difficult and lengthy
process to obtain a gun license in Japan and a trapping permit in Japan is also
a lengthy process as one must take a semester of college work in order to
obtain one. It appears for the time being that Japan’s wild boar problem will
remain challenging. Wild boar populations are continually increasing and also
migrating into new territories. As climate change is occurring (2018), wild
boars are moving farther and farther into northern Japanese latitudes (Oda,
2018). The reproduction rate of wild boar is also concerning as they can have as
many as 5 to 8 piglets in one litter – capable of breeding twice in one year. I
can’t help but wonder how the Japanese people could resolve this problem. One idea
is that since the Japanese are prolific fisherman and have a taste for
wild-caught meat, why not open a market for wild-caught boar meat and ease the bureaucratic
process of obtaining a live trapping permit.
Not only are these wild boar populations effecting rural agricultural areas, but they are also encroaching into urban developments. There is a long list of concerns in regard to wild boar in Japan. If anyone one has questions, please comment below my blog post!
I awoke at three in the morning today. I presume because of jet lag, however, the first day in Ashikaga was nonstop hiking and at the end of the day I crashed from exhaustion around 8 o’clock at night. The day prior was spent touring the city of Ashikaga. The tour consisted of visiting Ashikaga University, the world-renowned Ashikaga Flower Park, a 19th century shrine atop a large hill that overlooks the city, & the oldest university in Japan.
Gakko, the oldest university in Japan, is a national historic site for Japanese
heritage. The exact date this university was erected was lost in translation
when I asked one of our guides, but the tour pamphlet mentioned Ashikaga having
been a central hub for learning as far back as 1487. The only learning performed
in Ashikaga Gakko today, however, is done through guided tours – not via
tuition. The architecture and landscaping of Ashikaga Gakko was immediately
impressive. The building’s woodwork was intricately crafted. I noticed that the
gables, beams, and anything wooden were held together by impressive mortis and
tenon. Rather than using nails or screws to fasten the wood together, special angular
cuts and notches were used to create tight joints that held all building
materials together. Looking at Ashikaga Gakko through an environmental
construction lens, the university’s roof was quite a resourceful piece of construction.
The roof was made from reeds found along local water sources. These slick
plants provide a perfect, yet antiquated water-proof roof design. Bundles of
reeds were used to thatch the roof, and the thatching’s thickness had to have
been around 3 feet in thickness. The fast growth and abundance of reeds provide
an excellent, sustainable resource for thatching… however, all this dry plant-based
material suffers from one grave problem – its propensity to catch on fire! And
that is exactly what happened a couple hundred years ago. Today, the historic
university has been restored and carefully maintained as an important heritage site
for the Japanese people – it has been the most insightful part of my international
studies so far.
While touring these destinations, I felt a great sense of collective care and passion by the Japanese people. Ashikaga is a beautifully maintained city and extremely clean. It appears that many people living here in Ashikaga are respectful not just to each other, but also towards the environment. I cannot list the exact amount of city gardens I witnessed yesterday, but it is an impressive amount. The amount of greenery and landscaping is also impressive. While many homes do not have yards like we do in the United States, the green spaces residential people do have are full of beautifully potted plants and flowers.
Overall, yesterday was an amazingly terrific experience. My first day in Japan was excellently guided by the international department of Ashikaga University. The deputy of international studies at Ashikaga University, Mister Sasaki, really made me feel welcomed. He introduced me to some Chinese students also touring the city and gave me an opportunity to practice my Chinese speaking skills. I am so thankful to be given such an opportunity and I cannot wait for the experiences to come these next following weeks.