Category Archives: Uncategorized

I think I am a terrorist

Freedom of speech is taken as a given in the United States. The ability to speak ones mind and truth is taken for granted. While talking to our Chinese ambassadors I recognized that this truly is not a luxury afforded to them. As we take away freedom of expression and speech we take away freedom of thought. Like in 1984, to even question the state is to be against it. When asking if there are people in China who believe that Tibet and Taiwan are separate from the People’s Republic, we are met with the response that the only people who think that are terrorists. It is this black and white mentality that promotes the state and keeps those in power who wish to be. Further, it also prevents intellectual dialogue surrounding the topics of state sovereignty. Moreover, if that is the definition of a terrorist, then I proudly am one.

Leaving China

The first goodbye was a difficult one. Waving to our Chinese hosts and friends was heartbreaking. My closest friend from China, Ennis, could only blow us a kiss and look away, hiding the tears streaming down his face. At the airport, it soon became time to wish our friends from U of I off. As I hugged them I remembered the circumstances that brought us together. As fellows of the Wanxiang program we came to learn and do as much as we could and that we did. Thus it was time for us to bid each other adieu and while I believed myself ready, I was not. The tears were streaming down my face without the consent of my mind but with the need of my heart. Never again will this group of people be together, never again will one step into the same stream twice. This fact, however, does not keep me from wishing that the stream come together once more. I am horrible at goodbyes, often preferring them of the Irish variety. So for now, I will wallow in my palpable denial and pretend that when I arrive in China next, everyone I left will be waiting there for me.

Weekends are for the Fam

Upon arrival in Shanghai, the best surprise was waiting for me. After almost six weeks of being away from everything and everyone I know, I was met by some of the nicest people in the world. They also, happen to be, my family. They picked me up from the bus and had a fantastic day planned for me. Upon arrival I was immediately whisked away for a much needed Starbucks. We then perused shops and drank fresh watermelon (it was delicious). After dinner at a Chinese/Japanese fusion restaurant we spent the evening on a boat tour. The cruise took us through Shanghai and provided us with a fantastic view of the city at night, even though it was a little windy and rainy, we still had a beautiful time. It was within those few hours that I really caught a glimpse at what life could be like for me in China. I recognized how blessed I am to not only be in a culture and place so different than my own, but also blessed to share the ties of family with people who are so different and yet so similar to myself.

Political Culture

One of the lectures addressed the history of China-US relations. It got me thinking about differences between our cultures, and how that shapes the relationship dynamics between the two countries. The most obvious difference upon arriving is the racial homogeneity of China compared to the US. I had heard about the 40-some minority racial groups in China, but I think that number is very misleading. In practice, 90+% of the people you would meet in major cities belong to the Han Chinese racial group. Aside from that, I think the most significant difference may be political culture. The US is ostensibly based on a bottom-up democratic approach. China, by contrast, follows a top-down approach. In America, great pains are taken around the value of individual autonomy. Those values are nowhere near as widespread in China. I discussed this issue with a friend, and she brought up the point that our freedoms are not as complete as we like to think in America – the Patriot Act is a good example. Add in our massive wealth gap and the fact that money can do much more to influence political action than a person’s vote ever will; when viewed this way, it begins to seem like the American image of freedom and democracy is little more than an illusion conjured by a clever and rich ruling class. Perhaps we are not so different from the Chinese, and they just avoid beating around the bush and hiding their top-down political processes. Political culture is a complicated issue, and after experiencing China firsthand, I am sure I will leave with more questions than I came in with.

The Chinese love their cigarettes!

Among the most jarring cultural differences between the US and China for me has been the frequency of smoking. It feels like there is a smoker around every corner in Beijing and Hangzhou. Secondhand smoke permeates most public places, to the point that my clothes would smell like smoke many nights despite never smoking myself. I saw several no smoking signs at our hotel and around the Wanxiang campus, but that didn’t stop students and workers in the slightest. Multiple times, on my way to and from class, I would see campus cleaning staff smoking together directly under a no smoking sign. It was quite common to see people smoking near a little children’s playhouse outside our hotel as well, which was not especially reassuring. Taking pollution readings was made slightly more difficult when I had to find a place that someone had not smoked in recently. After seeing the prevalence of cigarettes in China, I am glad to know they are seeing a decline in popularity in the US.

Alex’s Birthday

Back in Hangzhou we were able to celebrate the birthday of one of the Wanxiang student ambassadors who I had grown close with, whose English name is Alex! Alex is the youngest ambassador, yet is also the tallest. He loves basketball and enjoys watching American basketball in his free time. According to Alex, American basketball is better because “they can actually dunk!” In any case, we gathered a mixed group of U of I students and Chinese ambassadors to celebrate Alex’s 20th birthday. I was surprised to see that two cakes were prepared for the occasion instead of just the one cake like I would expect to see in America. I didn’t question it, but internally I was curious. My best guess was that it might have something to do with the fact that he was turning 20, like giving him one cake for each decade or something to that effect. Imagine my surprise when just moments later, the smaller cake was launched into Alex’s face by one of the Chinese students! Quite suddenly, the mystery of the second cake was solved.

Our Last Day

Our last full day in Shanghai was amazing and I feel so lucky to have had this experience. We toured around the city and were able to take an elevator up to the second round ball of the Pearl tower. The view was unbelievable and there was an even an entire floor made out of glass so that we could see the ground beneath us. Kind of like the sky deck in the Sears Tower in Chicago except much bigger and better. We traveled up 263 meters of the 467 meter high structure. Following that were a couple tours around the area and of course shopping. I luckily did all my shopping earlier that week so I was able to just relax and sight-see. The area was beautiful but very crowded. Shanghai is a lot more populous that Hangzhou. The city has around 25 million people living there! We ended our day with an acrobat show that was exciting to see. My favorite part of the entire performances was the end where eight motorcyclists rode inside of a large metal ball. It was exhilarating and dangerous. The long day was tiring so I went to bed soon after arriving back at the hotel. This morning we woke up, packed our things into the bus and headed for the airport. As I type this now, I am sitting at our terminal waiting to board the plane. I’ll miss you China but I sure am excited to be back home again.

Closing Ceremony

On our last day at the Wanxiang University, we spent our time together in classes during the day and celebrating at night. In the afternoon we gathered around to plant a tree from all three universities of Illinois. It was definitely a moment that represented togetherness as we all took turns shoveling dirt onto the roots. Later than night our closing ceremony was filled with laughter and tears. We all sat at round tables in a banquet hall, on the second floor of our hotel. One of the Chinese student ambassadors, Mumu put together a video clip of our time here at Wanxiang University. The video was so sweet and made me tear up at the memories I have made here. We played a few games and put on performances for the students. In our Chinese language class we were taught a song that we sang in front of everyone for the closing ceremony. I will truly miss all the friend I’ve made at the University and hope to keep in touch with them after I return to the states.

GAS LEAK

Seeee-eeee-eee-ee. Was that a gas leak I heard? I sprung out of bed this morning and aligned my ears like that of a dog. Where could that incessant spew of sound be coming from? While the hotel in Shanghai is pleasant, it does have some of its flaws. Drywall damage and the such underneath the windows. Perhaps that could be the culprit, after all the sound is coming from that direction. As I groggily approached the window, the sound stopped. That’s strange. I began to hear loud semi-truck engines rev in the distance. Maybe the window is poorly insulated? Perplexed by the situation, I looked for any cracks and felt for drafts around each window corner. Tightly sealed. Perhaps it was my half-baked brain playing tricks on me this morning, however, I was certain I heard a constant spew of, “Seeee-eeee-eee-ee.” With my assessment over, I figured it would be best to catch some more sleep. I returned to bed and closed my eyes. Seeee... It’s that sound again! I jumped towards the window and immediately noticed swallows soaring through the air like miniature stealth bombers. They were dive-bombing in between the trees and with my knowledge of swallows I realized they were enjoying a smorgasbord of bugs this morning. That’s when it dawned on me – bugs! I was hearing cicadas. The sound of cicadas in Shanghai is impressively deafening. It drowns out the sounds of semi-truck engines! My concern of a gas leak quickly transitioned to joy this morning as I was able to witness the beauty of nature within the confines of one of the world’s largest cities.

I Made a Battery!

Today began bright and early at 7:50am sharp. Our group loaded onto the bus to take another trip to the Wanxiang Precision Industry to take a look at how they manufacture Lithium Ion Phosphate cell battery systems. I was very happy to be in a lab again, it’s been a couple months. When we were being introduced to the production of the coin cell, they asked if any students would like to try making one on their own. I instantly volunteered as I was excited to do some lab work and learn something new. The assembling process took place inside of a glass box with gloves attached to it (called a glove box). After slipping my arms into the gloves, I was able to assemble the coin cell battery inside. It was a little confusing as I was the first one to go, but it felt natural touching a pipette again. We were able to keep the coin cells we made, I can’t wait to test it out once I get home and see if it works. Later in the afternoon we toured more of the electrode workshop and the entire manufacturing process. It was very interesting and I felt I learned a lot today. We were running a little behind schedule so the day felt extra-long and I’m excited to relax in my room. We only have a couple more days left here at the Wanxiang campus and then we head to Shanghai!

Mosquitos

Every summer since I was 9, I spent at least a week in the Shawnee National Forest. At the age of 16, I started spending at least half of a summer there. Thus, I am no stranger to mosquitos. I spend most summers raking my legs with whatever I can find, the edge of an I-card, so I have found, works well.

After I applied to spend a summer in a Chinese city, I assumed that I would have a summer free of mosquito bites. I cannot believe that I was so naïve. The mosquitos in Hangzhou are feverish devils that can smell me from a mile away. Sitting outside at night proves difficult and walking to the wetland, a nightmare. They have even infiltrated my fortress, having unwelcome overnight stays in my hotel room. They bite whatever poor part of my body I have left exposed. This has even led to my eyelid falling victim to their parasitic scheme.

I am unsure if I will ever experience a summer with fewer than 50 bites, but Ill be damned if I don’t try.

Cough Cough

Another poem, from our series

Cough, Cough

Throughout the day

And especially the night

I heave and heave to no avail

I crave fresh air to fill my lungs,

But for that I shall fail

A dragon on my chest

Squeezes the life from my breast,

Polluted air, I beg you to rest

But perhaps it’s just the cigarettes.

Clothing Mishaps

The following will be a list of all of the horrible things that have happened to my clothes, in no particular order.

  1. Butter Broccoli poured on pants…solution-salt soak
  2. Unknown foreign object in washer (highlighter??) making clothes pink in an unorganized pattern…solution-detergent scrub with hotel toothbrush
  3. Lip stick stain on shirt…solution-new shirt
  4. Ketchup explosion on new Adidas Jersey…solution- detergent scrub with hotel toothbrush
  5. Gum on pants…solution-tbd

The Rare Sight of a Clear Sky

On my way home from the spa on Sunday, I looked out from the taxi window and noticed the large full moon above. To my surprise, there were a couple stars that were visible in the sky! This is a rare occurrence in China due to the heavy light pollution. I half expected this because when I had woken up that morning, I noticed the sky was the clearest it had been since I arrived a few weeks ago. The sun was shining bright in the blue sky with just a few clouds, visible. It reminded me of the sky at home! Sadly, today was the usual cloudiness. Every day is usually the same so it is rather noticeable when the sky is clearer out. As we drove to the Wanxiang Precision Industry, I gazed out the window and noticed the smoggy film blocking my view to what would be mountains in the distance. I wonder what this view would have looked like if I took the same route on Sunday, when the skies were clear.

China Adventures

I went exploring this weekend, some of it was on my own and some with a couple of friends. On Saturday, I visited the mall with a couple of friends and we went our separate ways to do some shopping. I noticed that as I went into some of the higher end stores, the employees seemed to follow close behind and bother with their sales pitch. I felt a pat on my back and turned around to see a store worker holding a nice blouse in her hand. She was motioning me to admire it and potentially purchase the item. I felt uncomfortable as I did not want to buy it and felt the heat of her presence while I was trying to view other items. I decided it was best to avoid the small boutiques and head right into the other larger stores, where the employees did not seem to care whether you bought something or not. Near the center of the mall I saw a large runway surrounded by curtains, music, and stuffed animals. It was a fashion show with models dressed in traditional looking Chinese dresses. Their makeup and hair looked lovely although the models backstage seemed to be taking naps when they could. The show went on all day with small breaks in-between. After our day of shopping we found a pizza hut and I was definitely pleased to be eating pizza again.

On Sunday, I walked through the Xixi wetlands once again with my pal Caleb. During our walk we noticed a young man in straw hat riding a dirty, old bike. As the young man grew closer, we noticed it was our UIS companion Lee! He had found an abandoned bike somewhere on the path and took it for a spin. It was pretty hilarious to randomly run into him. The three of us made our way to the area of shopping centers within the Xixi wetland park. We eventually separated to venture out on our own path and sight see. I met up with Caleb, inside of the mall and we made our way over to the visitor center where we stumbled upon an adorable stray cat. The cat nearly bit my dress but was rather affectionate and vocal. We eventually said our goodbyes and headed back to the hotel. Later that night, I went off by myself to a spa about 20 minutes away that my friend recommended. I have never in my life been to a spa so I figured, why not try one out in China? The smell of incense hit my nose as I entered the building. I was greeted by smiling faces and taken into a small room. There, I was presented with tea and watermelon and was instructed to shower before calling for my masseuse. The massage was 90 minutes long and I felt the most relaxed I’ve ever felt. I’m pretty sure I dozed off a couple times. I’m happy to say that my first spa experience was in China!

The Drug Dealer

Please enjoy my poem (:

What a loyal servant, that follows me everywhere
Always reliable, always faithful
He teaches precision in our questions
Anything but precision yields confusion and indecision.

Semper fi

Most often, he is a drug dealer
Sating my addiction to knowledge.
But the drug dealer has become my addiction.
The drug dealer has become the drug.

Sempre fi

Oh Google! My body craves your inquisitive touch!
How should I know the details of pollution?
How should I know the meaning of Sempre fidelis?
Oh Google, return to me.

Sempre fi

Google embodies those words
But not here, not in China.
I’m an addict without his dealer.
I’m an addict without his drug.




Martial Arts!

I was able to participate much more in this super cool martial arts class than I had thought I would be able to! It wasn’t until about 90 minutes into the lesson that my deltoid was hurting too much to continue. I took karate lessons for a solid 6 years or so, so it was a neat refresher, but it was also enlightening to look at martial arts from a different culture’s perspective as well. For example, in the sparring routine we practiced, we were taught to knock the opponent off balance to gain an advantage, whereas in karate lessons, we were taught to break their arm to gain the advantage. There are certainly merits to each, and each technique should only be applied in certain situations, but it was still fun to just observe another culture’s fighting style.

“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”

Although each individual day has seemed long and busy, I’m shocked to realize next week is our last week in China! Where has the time gone? Our busy schedules have taken a toll on my energy and I find myself falling asleep relatively early. Lately I feel time is not on my side. This program has been amazing but there are many activities that take up much of my free time. This past Wednesday we had a full 13 hour day planned which left very little room for me to focus on my research. As tiresome as it is, I am grateful for the opportunity I’ve had learning about the Chinese culture and their sustainable energy!

Today is Friday and we toured the Hangzhou Cuisine Museum. The food all looked delicious despite the fact that the models were made of plastic. Some food items were very bizarre such as something that was labeled, “ape lips.” Still not quite sure if it was the actual lips from an ape or some sort of mistranslation. On that note, we had lunch at the museum, but our food options were relatively normal. As our scheduled day came to a close, I was able to relax and study in my room. I took a small break to pop outside and wish one of our ambassadors a happy birthday. There was a small cake fight and everyone was in good spirits. I have a very long and exciting weekend planned so I should probably head to bed. I’ll update soon, goodnight!

Love Story

On Tuesday I ventured with 4 other students to a massage parlor. While looking online we sifted through many places of suspect and while the name “Love Story” seemed worrisome, we discovered that it was about as nice as they come this side of Hangzhou. As we journeyed through the city we discovered that our cab driver was uninterested in taking cash. After a thorough argument and many WeChat translates, he reluctantly took our crisp 30 RMB.

As we emerged from the elevator, of a very nice hotel, we entered a serene room. I realized that my gross, water logged Birkenstocks were inappropriate for the occasion. I followed the only other woman in the group to the locker room where an elderly woman was waiting for us. She motioned for us to strip off our clothes and to enter a shower. Post rinse we laid on tables to be exfoliated by even older women. Their gloved hands scrubbed our skin until it glowed red like the outside of a pomegranate. We were then left to make our way through a dark maze to the massage room.

Realizing that were lost, or stupid, a kind bartender found us and led us to the room in which we belonged. After a quick *knock*knock*knock* the door was pushed open to reveal 3 white asses and 3 Chinese women working diligently on our male companions. After finding our tables, us women folk sat down to enjoy snacks set for us. The watermelon grazed my lips and reminded me of my thirst. As I raised the mug to my mouth I realized that the contents inside were not tea but hot oil, luckily it only grazed my upper lip.

During the massage I recognized that the masseuse was using heavy pressure but I did not understand the extent. As I peered over at my friends I noticed that their masseuses were literally straddling them as they worked into their shoulders. That fate was mine next. I groaned as she pinched and pushed into my deep muscles. Nearing the end, hot stones were brought and raked into my skin like dull knives. Flipping over to reveal my stomach, she began to push on my abdomen. I had to use every muscle in my lower half to prevent peeing all over the table. And for only 350RMB this experience can be yours too.

P.S. My body still aches from this massage, 3 days later

Hospital Day 2 (Still Alive)

So 2 days after my neck was X-rayed, I revisited the hospital, expecting to get an MRI and consult an orthopedic surgeon. While walking into the hospital, the first thing I noticed was the sheer number of people. Compared to Sunday’s crowd, I would say there were about 50 times as many people there on Tuesday. Every check-in machine (roughly 100 total) was occupied, with a line of about 5 people long, each desk had a line of 10+ people, escalators were packed, seating areas were packed, and standing areas were packed. However, aside from check-in, the massive number of people didn’t seem to have any significant effect on the wait time I experienced. After I was checked in, it only took about an hour or so to get everything I needed and get out of the hospital.

Speaking of what I needed, turns out the specialist we consulted didn’t think I needed an MRI (great, but if American doctors want one, I’d definitely prefer a cheap MRI in China, where I’ve already reached my insurance deductible. Not to mention the raw cost of an MRI would be thousands cheaper than it is in the United States.). The Chinese doctor, after zooming in and out on the X-ray for a solid 30-45 seconds, said that my neck bones are probably straightened like that simply because I belong to a generation that looks down at phone and computer screens aa lot. He gave me a prescription for some muscle relaxants and some heat pads (which are way too hot, and I’m certain they would cause burns within 3 hours) for me to wear throughout the night. He also told me to get a neck brace, which has been helpful so far — it certainly makes traveling easier, and it prevents me from moving the wrong way and inflicting some intense pain on myself.

For anyone curious, my total hospital bill for my 2nd visit was 678.6 RMB ($97-$113), 668.6 of which was the neck brace and medicines (basically a free consultation).

Ping Pong – Coach Brady!

I used to play tennis back in highschool, and since then I’ve always loved racket sports of all kinds. In particular, I’ve had a lot of fun playing ping pong with friends back home. Since ping pong is very popular in China, I figured I would get an opportunity to play the sport while staying here. I met a really good Chinese player whose English name is Brady. I tried every trick I could think of, but I was completely unable to beat him! His English is very good and we agreed to practice together when we had some free time. I had never formally learned things like how to properly hold the paddle and how the best players use footwork and spin to help return and control the ball. Brady is very kind and was happy to teach me these things, basically becoming my own personal ping pong coach! I still have not been able to beat him, but I can tell that I am improving. Through ping pong, I have made several cool Chinese friends and picked up a new hobby as well!

Zhejiang University of Technology Visit and Solar Power!

Yesterday evening we visited the nearby Zhejiang University of Technology to meet some of the students. Much like our ambassadors here at Wanxiang Polytechnic, they were very nice and welcoming. We got to speak with them about what university life is like in China.

They do play sports, although it is not as much of a large event as it is the U.S., and the concept of drinking alcohol at school events is foreign to them. Here in China though, students have opportunities to study abroad just like American students (the Chinese students I spoke with seemed to like/want to travel to the U.K. and Australia the most), and they also do volunteer work such as going to impoverished areas and tutoring children with limited access to education. Similar to U.S. colleges, universities here also have work-study opportunities, although I believe that college is (relatively) cheaper in China, so most Chinese students prefer to focus more on their studies than work part-time jobs for spending money.

This morning we had a seminar on solar power! I learned some new things, particularly about the differences between light-thermal conversion (converting solar energy into thermal energy) and photoelectric conversion (converting solar energy into electrical energy, the one I think that we all know and love the most!). Another interesting new solar technology that I learned about was “concentrator photovoltaics”, which uses mirrors to concentrate a bunch of light into one spot for maximum efficiency. I really thought that one was cool; so simple but still new-ish technology!

Hope everyone in the U.S. is enjoying their summer! <3

Xin’anjiang Hydropower Station & Dogs!

Yesterday we visited the Xin’anjiang Hydropower station and it was absolutely amazing to see. The unit was very large and is located on the Xin’an River in Jiande city. I was disappointed when we were told that we would not be able to view the large reservoir located on the other side of the unit, due to the elevators being out of commission. However, we were able to take a walk inside the plant to view the lengthy row of large generators that powered the unit. I think it would’ve been excited to see it all in action, but unfortunately that was not on the agenda. Prior to our visit to the dam, we toured around the Shen’ao Village which was of course, beautiful. The small alleyways we walked through gave me European vibes, even though I’ve never traveled to Europe and am basing my comparison from pictures and films (haha). By this, I am referring to the narrow walkways, in between the ancient, residential buildings, that vehicles also traveled through. We dodged quite a few cars and motorcyclists on our path. We were able to view some areas of the underground water system and the town was rather quiet. It was a nice change of pace from the more populated areas of China. This ancient village had a more peaceful tone to it.

I also happened to notice many street dogs and even chickens lounging around the Shen’ao Village. Stray dogs have been a common occurrence for me throughout my trip in China.  They are all adorable and most look well cared for, whereas some have seen better days. The dogs seem friendly enough but I’m careful not to get too close, even though I crave to pet their cute little bodies. This makes me miss my furry little cats back at home.

I seriously miss my cats so much…. *sniffles*

My Birthday in China

I never thought that on my 27th year on Earth I would be celebrating my birthday in China yet, here I am. It was an interesting birthday celebration to say the least. I was invited out by a new friend of mine to go to this high end Chinese club, the night before my actual birthday. It was definitely a way cooler experience than any other American clubs I’ve been to in the past. The day of my actual birthday was spent with other students on campus, touring the Xixi wetlands and eating Japanese food at a nearby restaurant. Later that afternoon a group of us went to a Chinese BBQ joint and I was more than satisfied with the food. It was definitely a nice change of pace from the constant fried chicken nuggets and potatoes served at our hotel buffet. I will say, the food here really makes me miss the food we were given in Japan, as well as the American food from home. I often find myself thinking of Taco Bell and corndogs…

After our dinner we arrived back at our hotel where I was surprised with a birthday cake from a local bakery that a few students put together for me. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Their kindness and thoughtfulness is something I will forever cherish. Aling, one of our Chinese student ambassadors presented me with a gift for my birthday and it was extremely thoughtful and sweet. She gave me a musical, merry-go-round rocking horse trinket along with some soap and candy, all wrapped in a beautiful pink gift box. She told me that it represents that I am young at heart and it literally made me tear up with joy. She also printed a picture of the two of us and I will never forget this beautiful, one of a kind gift.

Although I received many birthday wishes and surprises from my peers, I do miss my loved ones back home. My parents, sisters, and boyfriend are in my top list of people I miss the most. I can’t wait to return home to see them even though I know I will miss my time here, dearly. I feel I’ve made many new friends and I intend on keeping in contact with everyone, as they have made my time here most enjoyable.

P.S. My birthday is July 7th and my Chinese zodiac sign is the monkey! 🙂

Home Visit!

Every person got to go to a different home for a full day last Saturday. I felt quite fortunate because I was put in the group heading to Bruce’s family’s house. I went with Nicole Pudlo and three Chinese student ambassadors Bruce, Alex, and Carrie. I wasn’t sure what to expect at all, so I asked each of the ambassadors about Bruce’s family. Bruce told me his mother was a librarian and his father was a manager of some kind. On the other hand, Alex and Carrie said Bruce was “very rich” and started spinning tales about him living in a “castle”.

Upon actually arriving, I confirmed my suspicions that Alex and Carrie were greatly exaggerating. Bruce’s family lives in an upper-floor apartment that is not especially large. However, what Alex and Carrie said might not have been completely off base. From what I have gathered, it takes quite a bit of wealth to own a home/apartment of even modest size in Chinese cities. Leaving the compact size aside though, the apartment was lovely. It was clear they had decorated the living room with care to display pictures, mostly of their happy family. Bruce’s father prepared a delicious meal for us consisting of various veggies, fish, pig belly, duck, and even turtle! The turtle in particular was a favorite of mine, and I was glad I got the chance to eat it for the very first time.

After the meal, Bruce took us to a series of fun activities: a zoo, a small kid’s amusement park, and a temple on a mountain. Quite unfortunately, the zoo had no pandas so I have still been unable to fulfill that goal. But it did have deer, peacocks, monkeys, and other entertaining creatures. The rides in the amusement park were all designed for people with much smaller legs than my own. Of course, I didn’t let that stop me from ramming full speed into Bruce, Alex, and some random small kids in bumper cars! The temple was a bit of a trek up a mountain, and the day was hot so it wasn’t easy. However, the difficult climb made reaching the top of the temple even more satisfying, especially thanks to the pleasant breeze we could feel at the top. The top of the temple featured a breathtaking view over the city of Hangzhou. All in all, it was a really fun home visit that helped me get to knew Bruce and his family much better.

Wacky Taxi

Taxi rides in the city are cheap and easy to find. Simply ask the front desk to call you a cab, or flag one in the street. For less than 5 American dollars one can travel across town or to the local Korean BBQ place for a birthday dinner of a colleague. It was in this pursuit that three of our heroes embarked on a journey they would not forget.

The last taxi to arrive was driven by a middle aged woman, the first taxi driver I have encountered that was not a man. As we entered the vehicle she was having a heated conversation with our concierge, I assumed that they were clarifying the location in which we had hoped to journey. The car was a small Honda and we noticed immediately that shock absorption was not a comfort afforded to us on this trip. As we left the parking lot of the hotel a small speed bump set off a chain reaction… a loud crack was heard an immediately ignored as our driver peeled out of the driveway and entered traffic.

The two of us in the back seat observed an odd sound as the taxi continued to drive. As the sound grew worrisome the driver pulled the emergency brake and stopped dead in the fast lane. As traffic passed on the right, she left the car to investigate a bumper that had obviously been repaired on more than one occasion. Fashioned with only rusty screws, the bumper held on by the grace of god. One of the adventurers suggested that we rip the bumper off as a sacrifice to the traffic Gods and abandon it in a bush. However, our fearless driver surmised that she could fix this bumper. While scavenging for tools she lifted the trunk to reveal a very large tank of gasoline that sits behind the rear passengers, a horrifying surprise. Armed with only a lanyard and an old phone charger she fashioned the bumper back to the vehicle. A police officer watched the ordeal with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, seemingly unconcerned. As she motioned us to get back in the car we finally sat down and proceeded to crawl at a nauseatingly slow place to the restaurant where our friends anticipated our arrival. As we sat in the vehicle a fellow (who is to remain anonymous) exclaimed, ” I just realized that I am going to sh*t my pants!”

Hospital Visit! (I’m okay so far…)

So yesterday during the exercise dance class with my homestay family, part of the warm-up involved “stretching our necks” (why do we even need to do that!?) in which we tilted our heads back and kind of rolled them around to our shoulders, then looking down, other shoulder, and back again. During that stretch, my neck audibly cracked/clicked/popped 2 times, and I’m guessing that is what started the following chain of events.

At the end of the homestay, I noticed what I thought was just a sore muscle or a kink in my neck, which was preventing me from looking left without pain. I thought nothing of it — I just finished a long workout, so things were bound to hurt. For dinner yesterday, we went to Pizza Hut (the only significant difference from American Pizza Huts was the fact that pizza was served in the bowl it was cooked in), and I noticed I could turn my head less than I could at the end of the homestay — okay, nothing to freak out about. Sometimes things get worse before they get better. I was wrong.

Fast forward to bedtime. I can’t remember what time I started really feeling it, and I do not remember the time I went to bed. However, I do know that I spent at least 2 hours trying to find a sleeping position that didn’t hurt. Every time I changed my sleeping position, searing pain on my back, just below where my right shoulder meets my neck. The only time I felt something that painful was when I had the Shingles Virus, although last night’s pain wasn’t quite as bad as Shingles. After 1 or 2 hours of failed attempts at sleeping, it was roughly 1:30AM and I decided it was time to talk to some of the chaperones. I spent the next half hour or so attempting to get out of bed with minimal pain. EVERY MOVEMENT induced pain that was like 8 or 9/10 on the pain-o-meter. So after I got out of bed, I didn’t dare to attempt putting on a shirt, so I donned a robe and shorts and went to knock on Dr. Ruez’s door to no avail — no surprise, who wouldn’t be asleep at 2:00AM? Well that question was answered when I went downstairs and saw another student. After asking for the emergency phone numbers for chaperones (and establishing the fact that he didn’t have those numbers), he decided some “ancient Chinese breathing techniques” (basically sitting yoga) would solve the problem. So after humoring him for about 15 minutes, I went to the front desk and called Dr. Ruez’s room phone (thanks for the idea, Maggie!). After talking with him, we decided a trip to the hospital in the morning (today) was the best option, and we returned to our rooms. The next 5 hours were uneventful — I learned how to get in and out of bed with minimal pain :D.

Today we [me, Dr. Ruez, Nancy (the one in charge of us), and Yuchia (another chaperone)] went to one of the best hospitals in the area, which was really cool. Their triage is front and center, in front of everyone, but it was extremely time-efficient — they were taking the vitals and admitting so many people, it was kinda cool to watch. Also, we were billed after each step, so we knew exactly how much each thing cost. Blood pressure, temperature, and pulse taken? Bill. Diagnosis? Bill. X-ray (more details later.)? Bill. Medicine? Bill. We knew what we were paying for each step, and after each step they updated my medical information that was stored online, and accessible through a card they gave me. So I was diagnosed, Nancy and Yuchia were doing a fantastic job translating, and I got an X-ray of my neck, which showed my neck bones forming a straight line, rather than a curve. So tomorrow or Tuesday, I’m going to the orthopedic surgeon for an MRI, and what I assume will be a consultation about the possibility of a surgery. Overall, an exciting day filled with new experiences, and everything went relatively smoothly thanks to Dr. Ruez and Nancy and Yuchia. Honestly I’m just glad to know what’s wrong, rather than just being told that I’m worried about nothing and, “It’s just a sore muscle and will go away in a few days.”

However, I would definitely recommend avoiding being admitted to a hospital in a foreign country if you’re able to avoid it. I’ll update you on the MRI after I get it done!

Homestay

Today, we spent the entire day with Chinese families! A few students and (sometimes) a student ambassador/translator were designated one family to spend the day with. I got to spend the day with Chris (student ambassador) and Maggie (UIC student), and the family consisted of grandma, mom and dad, son and daughter, and cousin. Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed at first because everyone was paired up with at least one other student or student ambassador. With this design, the students would naturally gravitate towards each other or towards the student ambassador, rather than towards the family. Furthermore, we only got one day with the family, which resulted in a lot of cool activities, but I feel like a full-weekend homestay could have made a more significant impact on our understandings of the culture.

Regardless, I had a great time. My host family took us to do calligraphy (specifically drawing the characters for “dragon” and “hundred”). After that, we went home for lunch, and after some arts and crafts, we went to a fitness dance class. The building housing this class is pretty cool. It’s an entire building dedicated to piano lessons (imagine 2 floors consisting of about 60 pianos, with 2 rooms of 10 pianos each, and all other pianos getting a dedicated sound-proofed room), with a single room designated for dance. The dance class was a really fun workout, but it was cool just to see the building and several really young piano players.

Home: A Memory

Today marks the half-way point for my time in China, and by the end of today, I will have spent a total of 4 consecutive weeks outside of the United States (I also participated in the Japan trip). Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit homesick, so for your entertainment, and my solace, I have compiled a list of the things I miss (thanks for the idea, Lee).

First, I miss people and pets — friends, family, animals, etc. I can’t wait to spend some time with people once I return.

Second, I miss the small freedoms I had — no curfew, no website restrictions, the ability to hop in my car and drive where ever I want, and the simple fact that I wouldn’t have to adhere to a strict schedule 5-6 days a week. Having free time is a luxury I din’t expect to miss.

Third, I miss my clothes — I only brought 8 sets of clothes, and I am tired of these shirts and shorts. I never thought I would miss having a bit of variety in my clothing selection.

Fourth, I miss my bed and pillow– back home, I have this amazing pillow, and the comfort of a familiar bed would be great.

Fifth, honestly I miss Illinois — mostly just the relatively clean air xD

4th of July in China

The 4th reminded me of how much I am truly missing home. Being away from Illinois, and even America, is not new for me. Yet I still miss my culture in profound ways. While the world is much smaller than it once was, I am becoming more aware of how truly far I am away from everything I know. The cultural exchange is enlightening, I would not trade this time for the world, however something about passing the fourth abroad is difficult. Last night we played a fun game of pong and sang the national anthem at the top of our lungs, still I miss celebrating with millions of Americans what we have to be proud of. I miss the fireworks and ice cold Stags. I miss children dancing around with fire sticks we call sparklers. Most of all, I miss being surrounded by the people that I love and hold dear. I am thankful, however, that our Chinese friends came to celebrate with us. We even hung up a flag.

Food Comas

The classes immediately following breakfast and immediately following lunch are always the most difficult. Not because of the content, but because of the food coma that begs me to close my eyes and go to sleep. I always find myself struggling to stay awake for the last hour of those classes, even when the lecture topic is interesting. Today we had a lecture on hydroelectric power in China, closely followed by a discussion session led by Dr. Ruez. I’ve noticed that all the lectures have been exactly that — lectures. The lectures involve little to no participation from the audience, and it wasn’t until today that I realized how much I miss being involved in classroom discussions. Needless to say, I am always excited for the discussion sessions between the U of I schools. Aside from the fun subjects we discuss, simply moving away from the lecture format is appreciated.

In about 30 minutes, we’ll be going on a study visit involving natural gas — I don’t know what it’ll be like, but I’m thankful to get out of the classroom!

Ping Pong

Recently, me and 2 other students have been set on improving our pig pong games. We’ve been playing several times a week, and last night we took an additional step. We took a cab to a mall to buy really nice and new ping pong paddles, as well as nice ping pong balls. After we walked back to campus, we started playing with 3 other students (Chinese and American), and we just played nonstop singles until 2300. By the end, we were all dripping in sweat, but also we were all grinning because we were seeing how much we are improving, and we all enjoy the new equipment.

Today, we’re finally delving into sustainable technologies here! I’ll keep you posted ;D

Hangzhou Polytechnic

Immediately upon arriving at Hangzhou, I felt at home. Nancy and the Chinese student ambassadors were warm and welcoming. They prepared a fun and exciting opening ceremony for us, including touching introductions from the ambassadors. Several introductory seminars were prepared for us to provide information on China’s history, so we could have a bit of cultural context to help us understand this country and its people better. These included famous Chinese thinkers such as Confucius, Laozi, and Sunzi. Our Chinese teacher told us that because China is a very old and culturally rich country, the philosophies of these thinkers who lived so long ago still runs through the blood of the Chinese people.

Language seminars are my personal favorite, since they are both fun and immediately useful. I must say though, that Chinese is by far the hardest foreign language I have ever tried to learn! Between 4 different tones to distinguish and the lack of cognates, it is very difficult to find my footing in this language. For excursions, the ones that stick out the most are the Xixi Wetlands museum and West Lake. Both are signature attractions of Hangzhou, and West Lake in particular was a must-see for its lovely landscape that could have come straight out of a painting. I am excited for upcoming lectures on the environmental plans and developments of China, and expect to learn a lot from them. I am loving my stay in Hangzhou, and only expect to have more glowing praise for this program as it continues!

Chinese Workshop Recap

I really enjoyed our workshop classes but I can definitely say, it was a bit challenging. For our Paper Cutting Art class, we had two pieces of red paper to cut our shapes. The first one was fairly easy for me, it was the Chinese symbol for happiness. For the second paper, we were to cut two fish attached to each other. Of course, mine did not end up conjoined. I still had fun though! The dough sculpture was very fun, we all made roosters!

Carbon Monoxide Is Scary

When I woke up this morning I felt more tired than usual. After taking my morning air quality readings, I was surprised to see that the Carbon Monoxide in our room was at 16ppm. It should never be above zero and it made me very concerned. Of course after I saw the number I instantly started assuming something was wrong with me. After lunch I took another reading and it had lowered to 5ppm. That still isn’t great but at least it was getting better. I’m now even more interested to see what the future recordings will be…

Paper Cutting Art is Not for Me

We had our second Chinese language class today. I am finding the grammar structure of Chinese to make much more sense than the grammar structure of Japanese. We also learned how to sing two songs, one of which is very catchy, and I still have it stuck in my head even though I can’t really understand all of it! The more I learn about pinyin and its pronunciation, the easier the tonal parts of speaking Chinese become! (The number system is also a lot more logical than Japanese, and I am grateful for that!)

Later in the day we learned how to do traditional Chinese paper cutting, which is a type of traditional folk art that is still quite popular. I am very bad at it. In fact, I am bad at anything involving scissors… We did learn about the different paper cuttings and their meanings though. My favorite was definitely the “twin fish”, which is a cutting of two fish together, each with one eye, so that they must stay together to see. I believe this particular design is popular at wedding ceremonies. My attempt, however, turned out looking like “twin pineapples”!

We also got to try our hands at “dough sculpture”, another Chinese mode of folk art. It is exactly what it says on the tin! Sculpture using dough! (The dough we used was very reminiscent of playdough.) We all made beautiful, neon roosters, and I really love mine! If anyone has any ideas for a name for a three inch tall technicolor playdough roosters, please let me know! He is currently nameless!

And just now some friends brought in some “candy” for my roommate and I to try. I am not sure if it was even candy, but upon translating the packaging with a phone application we all learned the “candies” are meant to be boiled for three minutes before eating…

My First Week!

Hello!

I have successfully survived my first week in Hangzhou and everyday has been jam packed with activities and educational courses. Sometimes I find it hard to self-study or post a blog because I feel exhausted from the long days here. As a recap, last week we toured the beautiful campus of Hangzhou Wanxiang Polytechnic and later that night, we were presented with a wonderful dinner and ceremony. The student ambassadors of Wanxiang Polytechnic put on quite the show for us and I was overjoyed to see how excited they were to have us here. The rest of our week consisted of attending classes to learn about culture and history of China, as well as the language.

The other day we traveled to the Xixi wetlands which is right across from the hotel we are staying in. We only had the opportunity to tour the museum but on Saturday, a couple UIS students and I ventured out to explore the wetlands for ourselves. There were many beautiful flowers and diverse patches of grass and trees. We noticed a terrifying looking spider, which we later discovered to be a crab (it was squished so we did not have a clear view). I will try and upload some pictures from this adventure if possible!

As I write this, I am preparing for our next workshop courses which consist of Paper Cutting Art and Dough Sculpture. I have to get to class but I will be back later with an update!

Cheers!

Befriending the Locals

The best part of any travel experience is the people you meet along the way. While places, infrastructure, and natural features are amazing, the people are even more so. It is from all of my traveling experience, but especially this one, that I have realized how truly similar we all are. Tonight a game of Bad Mitton demonstrated that games cross cultural boundaries and no one had to speak in order for us to all understand the activity.

A simple smile is a way to show people in the States that we recognize their existence. Here, however, a smile is often met with a greeting and demonstration of one’s English level. For our new friend Mumu, however, a smile is an indication of a joke or prank. Often stopping to bark at any dog he sees, or attempting to hold a stranger’s baby, a smile for Mumu means an adventure will soon begin. Never afraid to give a new foreign friend a lift, Mumu is quick to offer a go around on his scooter, he is even quick to offer up his keys. He told me that if I can ride a bicycle I can drive a scooter, and hell, for only 2000 RMB a pop, I might have to get one.

Goodbye Japan, Hello China!

I am now finally settled in at Hangzhou, but I want to retroactively comment on the blur of activities we have had in the past couple weeks.

The end of our Japan trip consisted of a day trip to Nikko, spending time at night with some local friends, and one night in Tokyo. Although I had been to Nikko on my last visit to Japan last year, there were some new experiences added in, as well as a different group of people, which made it feel brand new. For new experiences, we drove and hiked up to the top of a nearby mountain and later went out on a boat. I got a bit carsick on the bus ride up and down, but once we were there it was beautiful. The boat ride was similarly blissful. We became friends with several locals while we were on the program. One of them named Abdul (originally Saudia Arabian, has lived in Japan for 6 years) invited us over to his house one night. Some of us went there along with Seishirou and Mitsuaki, two of our Japanese friends. We got to experience a young Japanese person’s household, although Seishirou and Mitsu assured us this was far bigger than usual. By the end of the night, we had grown a lot closer to each other. Before we knew it, the Sayonara Party had passed and we were waving goodbye to our hosts at Ashikaga and heading to Tokyo. Unfortunately, we only had the one night to explore this exciting city. We ended up going out to a lovely little alley filled with bright lights and izakaya restaurants. The place was packed, but we managed to find one with open space. We had some drinks and I ate chicken gizzard (!) which tastes as unusual as it sounds. Honestly, it was all pretty good though. I do wish I could have spent more time in Tokyo, but we had a wonderful time all the same.

The flight from Tokyo to Beijing trip was (thankfully) much shorter than our flight to Japan had been. The time change was only one hour this time. Upon arrival, we met the students from UIUC and UIC and took a bus to our Beijing hotel. The hotel was in a very good location to serve as home base for our forays out to Beijing’s many landmarks. The big highlights for me were Tienanmen Square, The Great Wall, and the Summer Palace. Tienanmen Square was massive and thus seemed empty even though a pretty large amount of people were present. The section of the Great Wall that we visited had so, so many stairs to climb to reach the top. Add in that we were climbing it on possibly the hottest day of the year (over 100 degrees F) and the trek was extremely arduous. Still, I doubted I would get another chance to climb the Great Wall anytime soon, so I resolved to ignore my screaming legs and go all the way up. The Summer Palace was simply beautiful. The architecture of the “marble boat” was exquisite, and lily pad ponds and long galleys added to the lovely atmosphere.

Wetland: Weekend Edition

On Saturday, me and 2 other UIS students walked to the Xixi Wetlands and explored it by ourselves. It was a decision I don’t regret! Once we walked there, we just started down and followed random paths, and as it got closer to lunch time, we were getting concerned about missing lunch due to the length of the walk. But we needed to venture deeper into the wetlands — so I pressed onward. To our amazement, we eventually emerged from the wetlands a mere 5 minutes from the hotel. We had unintentionally walked from one of the main entrances to a small, unmarked entrance/exit that is significantly closer to the hotel. It was hilarious, and knowing the new exit, we actually had a spare hour or two, so we went back in to enjoy it some more before lunch.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful until dinner, where I was invited to a student ambassador’s dorm room to play League of Legends (a 5v5 MOBA video game in which you have to push 3 lanes to get to the enemy’s base and destroy it). I was a bit surprised by the dorm rooms — when you walk into the dorm room, there’s a bathroom and shower on the left, and a closet on the right. Immediately past the bathroom and closet are 4 bunkbeds (2 per side) with desks/cubbies/shelves beneath and mosquito-netted beds on top. Past all the beds at the end of the room is a balcony for them to air-dry their clothes. As for the video game, the student ambassador, Bruce, is ranked as a Challenger, which is the best you can be before you are a professional League of Legends player. So of course, I had to watch him play a game, and he let me play a few also xD

As for today (Sunday), I spent the morning walking through rain (45 minutes one way) to get the mall to buy a new pair of shoes (R.I.P. my shoes from like 3 years ago). But the new shoes are just as colorful and vibrant as my others, albeit the size is a bit wonky. They don’t really sell adult athletic shoes that vary by width – they just seem to vary by length. So my old shoes are wrecked (laces torn, thoroughly soaked, holes on sides and the bottoms, etc.), but the new ones are neat!

I played some basketball in my new kicks shortly after lunch, and I’m playing some more after dinner. The student ambassadors are pretty good!

Saturday in Hangzhou

Today is my first free day in Hangzhou, and although it started pretty boring — just eating and doing laundry — I’m planning to rent a bicycle and explore the city after we have our homework discussion.

In other news, after talking with some people, I came to the realization that although all 3 U of I campuses are part of the same system, there are certainly some stereotypes and preconceived notions about the students from each of the campuses. For instance, since there was a rigorous application process for UIC and UIUC, some people seem to think the students from UIS are not as smart and/or prestigious as the students from the other campuses. But if we’re being honest, those ideas existed long before this trip, considering how UIS is more affordable and it is not a really competitive school to get in to. I’m just surprised that even though we are all attending this trip together, and we are constantly interacting with each other, these thoughts and ideas remain prevalent in a small number of people.

Laundry’s done! Have a good day, and I’ll hit you up with another blog tomorrow!

Hangzhou: Initial Impressions

So we got to Hangzhou just a few days ago, and I must say that I’m pretty impressed by the living situation, the campus, the food, and the people here. Within just the past few days, I’ve made several friends with the “student ambassadors” here, and they all seem incredibly interested in us and America as a whole, which is honestly more than I had expected.

Aside from the students, I’ve already began indulging in various kinda of food — most of which are delicious. Just last night, we ate at a restaurant that uses hot pots embedded in the tables to cook the food. So they would serve us raw food, and then we would cook and season the food right there. Since we were served raw food, and we are college kids, of course someone would joke about daring me to eat a meatball raw; and being the wise college kid that I am, of course I had to oblige. I turned a profit of 10 RMB from the whole ordeal — not sick yet! 😀

The Juyong Pass

The United States is young, as we all know. So while standing on the Great Wall of China I contemplated the life of the person who stood in the same spot hundreds of years ago. Staring out from The Wall I can see the ivory gate where Genghis Kan entered China with his soldiers. Knowing that a man so powerful once stood where I now stand is humbling.

The Wall was built as protection against forgein invaders, posing an even more formidable opponent than the neighboring mountains. Many have tried to conquer the wall, but few ever did. Even the Huns who invaded and dominated China could not overcome the obstacle. Instead they were let into the nation. This demonstrated to me the role that loyalty has in protecting a nation. Without soldiers or citizens that are invested in their country, the nation is weak.

Wanxiang Fellows’ Guide to Night Life

In the city there does not seem to be many bars nor clubs. However, the town is littered with small children playing late into the night. Some of them will even permit you a small test ride of their skateboard, our friend Lee can attest. The ability to have a beer on the street at 10pm was almost as fun as watching the 5 year olds play on their toy scooters, not quite old enough for metal ones yet.

The people on the street were selling things ranging from clothes to fruit, sometimes in the same small store front. Elton John and Queen rings through the passage as I press play on the only downloaded music I have. Some how Fat Bottom Girls makes a Wild Goose Chase for a Bar all the merrier. Tired and worn out from our futile quest, us adventurers traveled home; now we are ready to strike out again tomorrow with the same cause. Perhaps we should wear the lucky color red.

First Night in Hangzhou!

Hello Friends!

Last night was my first night in Hangzhou after traveling by train from Beijing. My WiFi reception was not my friend when I was staying in Beijing so this is officially my first blog post! Our train ride lasted about 5 hours, traveling at 302km/m which converts to 187 miles per hour! The ride was a lot smoother than I expected it to be. Once we arrived at the station we were welcomed by the students from the Wanxiang Fellows Program. Everyone was very friendly and escorted us to the KFC in the station. The hotel is beautiful with a good mixture of inside and outdoor environments. I noticed right away that I could breathe a bit better here than in Beijing. The rain last night was so peaceful and put me right to sleep. I am excited for what the rest of the day has in store for us!

Quick Update Upon Arrival To Hangzhou

Beijing was incredible! We visited palaces, temples, and the Great Wall. The city was crazy busy, traffic laws seemed optional (actually, most rules seemed optional), but it was still a great experience to have. One night we ate Peking duck, which was delicious! (And one of my new favorite dishes!)

Yesterday, we took the bullet train from Beijing to Hangzhou, my first bullet train ride, which was roughly five hours at approximately 305 km/hr!

Now, in Hangzhou, we’re in the process of settling in. Luckily the wifi seems significantly more reliable, so more frequent posts to come! Air quality readings should be easier to take more frequently as well with our new accomodations, which is perfect!

As I am writing this we are about to begin our first official day with the Wanxiang Fellows Program, the ambassadors of which gave us an incredibly warm welcome last night, with welcome signs for the U of I system at our hotel included! Thank you all for being patient with my sporadic updates as I have been getting used to figuring out internet! Much love from Hangzhou, China!

Great Wall, and a Greater Dragon Lady

Hi everybody!

Stairs. Lots and lots of stairs today. We went to the Great Wall of China, and we learned a bunch about the history, but my favorite part was climbing to the top. On the way, I made a friend and we climbed the last 100 or so steps together. Today we also drove past the Olympics buildings from years ago, and admittedly, I was a little disappointed that our tour guide was super excited about them. From what I’ve read, hosting the Olympics is a great honor and such, but it can really hurt a city. For instance, Beijing pumped tons of money into a few buildings that aren’t used for much anymore, it also drastically changes the local economy, and anyone living in the area is forced to live through a nightmare of tourists, traffic, price gouging, and general frustrations leading up to, during, and even a few days after the Olympics. 

We also learned about Dragon Lady, who was honestly a pretty cool woman. Essentially, she was an Emperor’s prostitute, and she bore his only son, which made her very important. Once the Emperor died, the kid was too young to understand how to rule China, so she ruled China by telling the kid what to do. The kid emperor died young, with no children, so Dragon Lady was able to choose a new Emperor who was young enough for her to continue ruling China the way she wants. She was really selfish and didn’t care about the well-being of China, but honestly, considering the way women were/are treated, it pretty cool she was able to pull it off.

Beijing…

Hi everyone!

Last night, our flight arrived in Beijing. So far, China is pretty cool – we begin tours and whatnot around 0730 today, so I don’t have much to talk about yet. The airport was massive – they use shuttle trains to transport people in a way similar to Disney World. However, I must note that the outside air here is close to what I expected. During an 8-minute walk to get food, my eyes had begun to burn (I had to remove my contact lenses), the air tasted like a vehicle emissions pipe (at least, what I imagine a vehicle emissions pipe would taste like), and my throat had issues as well. 

Today, we toured Beijing, and to be honest, I’m pretty surprised by how highly the residents seem to view China, particularly Beijing. Our tour guide last night was talking about how “safe” it is, even for women to be walking around at night. Today, our other tour guide said, “In June, Beijing is safest in whole world,” which also threw me for quite a loop. I guess when people like the Chinese don’t have access to uncensored information, weird opinions can be formed. That’s it from me tonight. See you later!

Oh Yeah, …

Tokyo has lights! And narrow alleys with flaming winds of soy and teriyaki just recirculating the stale air between restaurants less than a meter apart and rarely seating more than ~10 people. Fortunately, you can sometimes get to an upstairs room where there is also no AC and a cover charge. OK, this photo is before that dark time in that … “restaurant”?

Soy Sauce – Gunma Style

Salt + wheat + soybeans + mold + 3 years = soy sauce at the only place in Gunma Prefecture that produces it.

As I lay my hand on a 100+ year old vessel that can hold 6,000 liters of soy sauce, please allow my earlier tribute at the Shinto shrine turn this into sake.

Takatsudo Valley

I almost chuckled to hear Mr. Sasaki talk about the public backlash regarding the construction of the Takatsudo Dam. The valley had to be restructured, and aquatic life both in the reservoir and downstream changed. Well, although hydroelectric plants produce large amounts of energy, create reservoirs for municipal water use and recreation, and are (generally) low maintenance, there is inevitable environmental damage from multiple perspectives. Some of that research has just come out in the past few weeks – so I’ll leave that to the Blue Lions to discover.

Takatsudo valley downstream from dam. This is the Watarase River, which flows through Ashikaga, directly in front of our hotel. Until a couple hundred years ago it emptied eventually into Tokyo Bay.

UIS students exploring the spillway.
Silent thought: “I can SO make this jump to that wet rock.”

Flight, Arrival, and First Days

Dennis and I arrived at the O’Hare airport bright and early at 2am.  Having been to Japan last summer and loved it, I was incredibly excited to return, but much less excited for the two long flights ahead of us. However, I had no reason to be worried – check-in and security went fine, and before we knew it we were above cloud level on our way to Vancouver. The Vancouver airport is lovely. There were totems that appeared to be of Native tribe design and an aquarium in the central area. Seeing the wide array of nationalities, including Canadian, Chinese, and Japanese, made it really click for me that I was about to embark on an adventure in foreign lands. The second flight was much longer, about 9 hours, but there were no disturbances. Upon arrival, I was quickly reminded that the 2020 Olympics would be hosted in Japan. Of course, in that trademarked Japanese cutesy style, they proudly displayed two adorable mascots in the Narita airport. Dennis, Nicole, and I were absolutely drained when we landed, but seeing Sasaki-san, a funny and wonderful Japanese teacher I had met last year, brightened the moment. He drove us to Ashikaga. Jet-lagged as we were, the rest of the night was mostly a blur, but I remember eating pizza and learning some beginner Chinese from Sasaki-san.

Despite some restless sleep, I felt surprisingly alert Monday morning. We went to Ashikaga University where we met the other students, who had just returned from their homestays. I was happy to meet my homestay mother from last year, Ayako-san. We caught up with each other, and I learned that her son had a baby recently, making her a new grandmother! I was again struck by how lovely Ashikaga is, full of greenery and pleasant residents. In a weird way, I felt like I’d arrived at my second home! That night we had karaoke which was crazy fun, and I met a nice Japanese student our age named Seishirou. Melissa, Francesca, and I had some drinks with him down by the river near our hotel later that night. We learned that Seishirou is coming to our college in Springfield later this year, and agreed to hang out when he does.

Tuesday, we had a language class. We learned a lot of new things, but unfortunately my memory of hiragana and katakana (Japanese phonetic alphabets) was abysmal. We went to Kyudo, traditional Japanese archery, and had an absolute blast. The Kyudo masters there were very old, but had an experienced and wise aura about them. One obstacle for me was that I am left-handed, but Kyudo tradition requires everyone to shoot right-handed and with very particular form. It took a bit to get the hang of it, but in my last shot I was actually able to hit the target! I definitely just got lucky, but I’ll certainly take it. Later that night we had Mexican food, which was better than expected given how far we are from Mexico. All in all, these first three days in Japan were a wonderful start to our East Asian exploration.

P.S. This is missing pictures, I still need to figure that out. Once I do I will edit them in.

Whirlwind Trip in Ashikaga!

The past two weeks have certainly been a wild whirlwind of a crash course in Japanese culture, language, and visits to a multitude of famous sites in and around Ashikaga.

This past weekend was spent with my host family, the Tajimas. They were so very kind and giving, and graciously welcomed me into their home right away as if I was family. The very first night I spent with them they took me out for my first true Japanese sushi experience. I tried everything I could, and was NOT disappointed. (One evening with my host family I even tried horse sashimi… yes, you read that right! Horse! It was not awful, but I do not see myself trying it again. “When in Rome”, though!) They seemed to be very taken aback by how much wasabi I liked to eat! On Sunday we went to Hitachi Seaside Park, an amusement park near… you guessed it, the Pacific! I had never seen the Pacific Ocean before, so what better way to see it for the first time than in a clear, plexiglass cart on a massive Ferriss wheel? It truly put Six Flags to shame!

My last night with my host family they dressed me up in a traditional summer festival dress called “yukata”. They made me feel so beautiful, but most importantly, they allowed me to partake in a very important part of their culture, especially for females. After they dressed me, to my surprise, they wanted to take me out to dinner wearing yukata. I was so scared I would get funny looks for being an American dressed in traditional garb, but my experience was in fact the exact opposite! Strangers would come to our table, ask for pictures with me, and buy me food and drinks. I learned from my host sister that many people here very much appreciate when foreigners respectfully take part in traditions, so my fears of being gawked at or feeling uncomfortable were completely unwarranted! This, among many other of my experiences here in Japan, have shown me how truly hospitable and open the locals are to foreigners, and especially the gratitude they have for those who take an interest in learning and participating in their cultural practices.

Yesterday we visited Nikko, a city in Tochigi prefecture which is home to the mausoleum of a great shogun. In the areas surrounding the mausoleum there are two famous wood carvings which were some of my favorites. One was of the three monkeys that “hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil”, and the other is of small sleeping cat, which I believe is meant to act as a kind of “guardian” to the Shinto shrine. We also took a boat tour of Lake Chuzenji, a massive and gorgeous lake surrounded by mountains, and finally, we got to see the connected waterfall, Kegon Falls. The waterfall was probably my favorite site on this particular daytrip. Not only were the falls themselves breathtaking, but so were the rock formations around them.

I have done so much these past two weeks, and will be sad to leave Japan soon, but am also anxious to arrive in China to begin air quality testing. Last night we received our equipment, which seems as if it should be easy to use! Thank you to all the new friends I have made here in Japan who may be reading this, and a HUGE thank you to my host family! Japan, you are truly incredible!

PS: Sorry for the lack of images, I am still learning how to work out the kinks with uploading! I promise pictures soon!

Lake Chūzenji

This high altitude lake was formed about 20,000 from the damming by a volcanic eruption. Humans started building shrines in the area about 1200 years ago. The main volcano (Mt. Nantai) is still considered active – and it was odd to look around and see so many volcanic craters surrounding us during the boat ride around the lake. I could also see the paths of recent lahars, and geomorphic contours clearly indicated locations of the next constructions to succumb to gravity.

Home Stay

Hi everyone! Sorry it’s been a while since my last blog post — I’m really enjoying everything we’re doing here. In this post, I’m going to talk about my home stay though, which was from Friday night to Monday morning.

First of all, my family consisted of a mom and dad and a daughter (19 years old) who is studying Spanish in Tokyo, and thus, was unable to come home while I was there. However, me and my parents still hit it off pretty well! We dealt with a language barrier most of the time, but with the help of google translate, we were able to make it work.

The first night (Friday), my parents were working, so a different family picked me up and took care of me until my parents could pick me up later that night.

Saturday, my mom had to take someone to the hospital in the morning, so my dad and I took a walk around town, eventually hiking up Mt. Fuji-san 2 (as he called it). He told me it’s just a fun name for a hill that isn’t even close to the size of Mt. Fuji. Regardless, the view over the city was great. After the hike, dad had to go work, so mom and I went to hang out with some of the other homestay families and play games. There was great food, everyone was super fun to hang out with, and we all got to know each other a bit. After hanging out with everyone, mom and I took a short walk through a nearby flower garden, which was nice.

Sunday, my mom and dad took me cherry picking in a town I can’t remember. There were a ton of trees with an assortment of 10 different types of cherries, all of which were delicious (we were able to pick them off the trees and eat them right there). Then we went to Mt. Haruna, and took some pictures at the lake before we went up to the top of the mountain to visit the shrine and enjoy a phenomenal view. After Mt. Haruna, we visited 2 more shrines on the way back. Both of them required climbing a lot of stairs, but they came with amazing views, a lot of nature, and really cool history lessons.

Monday was pretty uneventful — my family had work, so I was dropped off at another homestay family’s house, and we were taken to Ashikaga University before 9am.

Overall, it was pretty neat 😀

A little bit of archery never…

OK, I got a blood blister doing this. I somehow neglected to put on the glove. At some point later it was pointed out that I was wearing it on my shoulder. Oberservational…skills…dying. But then six others in our group tried to walk off wearing their gear. I could seriously get into this art.

Ashikaga Day 1: Bus Tour!

My first day in Ashikaga, Japan was incredible! I saw so many new things that I had never expected to see in my life. The day was spent mainly as a bus tour of the city, where we made multiple stops at some of the city’s hallmark locations. First, we went to Ashikaga University, which seemed at first glance quite similar to American universities! From there we went to Ashikaga Gakko, the oldest school in Japan, which had at one point suffered some fire damage but was still absolutely gorgeous, and the architecture was truly something to behold; a testament to Japan’s long legacy of the emphasis on the importance of education, knowledge, and wisdom. One of the most interesting buildings I noticed there was what was once a dormitory where students would sit and copy books by hand. Such a stark contrast to today when we can download our textbooks online in a matter of minutes!

After visiting Ashikaga Gakko, we then went to a shrine, which consisted of walking 200 some steps to get to the top, but the view was absolutely breathtaking! My favorite part of the day, however, was visiting the Ashikaga Flower Park. The park is most famous for its wisteria trees, some of which are over 100 years old, with their branches supported by massive wire frames that create incredible canopies overhead. I saw many flowers I was not familiar with, as well as some lizards and fish in the park’s many ponds.

The language barrier here can be tough to get through at times, but the people are so understanding and incredibly helpful, even when there are translation issues. I have traveled abroad in the past, but I have never before felt so welcomed in a country that is not my own. I am so much looking forward to what the rest of my stay here will bring me!

Floating garden at Ashikaga Flower Park: So incredibly peaceful and serene! Almost dreamlike!
One of the many flowers at the flower park I mentioned I was not familiar with! These might have been my favorites, although it is so hard to pick just one!

Ashikaga Day 1 (Caleb)

Hi everyone! So today, we visited a few places, but I started out the day with a fellow student named Lee. We went to a shrine and honestly I was amazed and humbled by the opportunity to experience something that was so important to them.

During the tour for the day, we visited Ashikaga Gardens, which was phenomenal. We saw a few Wisteria trees, which were simply amazing. In full bloom, they become a sea or purples and pinks. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see them in full bloom, so they were just a sea of green, but it was still pretty awesome.

This is just one Wisteria tree!

That’s all I’ve got for now. If I had to recommend anything, I would say if you are ever in Ashikaga, I would highly suggest seeing the garden.

Packing

What is the one thing you will pack for a long trip that you really don’t need?

Departing soon!

In a few days four of our UIS Wanxiang Fellows (Illinois Blue Lions) depart for Japan, where I and two other UIS students will meet them a week later. Then we travel to Beijing to meet the Illinois Red Lions (UIC) and Illinois Orange Lions (UIUC). I’m already tired…