06 June 2009


A few people have bugged me for quite a while now to update my blog, and now a new person has bugged me, plus I might be in the middle of the most exciting summer ever. SO! I think I might actually write a post or two! (I don't want to get anyone's hopes too high :).

Topic 1: CHINA!!! I just got back from a pretty amazing trip to China and South Korea. It was only three weeks long, but as someone who's barely left the country, and someone who has a rather intense and generally immediate love for new things, it was pretty exciting :).
A group of 12 Akron students and professors traveled through four cities in China under the excellent leadership of Dr. Ayers from the International Studies Office. First of all, I should say that Dr. Ayers is probably one of the most brilliant people I know and I was pretty amazed by his ability to put up with a bunch of 22 year olds on a trip like this. He could have easily, and probably warrantedly, freaked out on multiple occasions. However, he not only maintained perfect composure, but somehow found the constitution to laugh at our inexperience when it showed. When we were obnoxious on the street because we assumed no one could understand what we were saying, when some of us drank a little too much and stumbled onto the bus the next morning, or when we basically stormed into room full of monks rehearsing ancient Chinese music, he saw it as our unique, and probably rather effective, way of experiencing our surroundings. I think he was actually a little proud that we, however recklessly, experienced China so completely. I'm pretty certain other group leaders wouldn't have been so open minded :). But anyway, our first stop after a 6 hour layover in Chicago, a 14 hour flight to Seoul, and another 4 hour layover before our final flight, was Shanghai. There we met two professors from Hunan University who'd accompany us all the way through China--Jackie Chen and Mr. Ma (all Chinese people who have studied the English language seem to choose western names for themselves... so that's why we called him Jackie... but I'm pretty sure he just wanted his name to sound like Jackie Chan). Shanghai wasn't really much of a shock because it looked so similar to American cities, especially as we were driving out of the airport toward East China Normal University where we'd be staying. If it weren't for the Chinese writing on the road signs I probably could have convinced myself we were in the States. However, one big difference I noticed after a while, that even appears from distance, is the massive apartment buildings all over the place... which of course makes sense because there are so many people. And in addition to their apparently anomalous size and number, each apartment has clothes hanging outside the windows because drier machines just don't seem to exist in China. It may look ridiculous to our eyes, and certainly points out the poverty that still exists regardless of the many modernizations we saw... but it seems like a pretty good way to do things to me :). Shanghai is one of the most modern cities in China, and a lot of people referred to it as a "global" city, so it's had a lot of western influence, but when we got a closer look it still seemed pretty unique. For example, there aren't a lot of people who sell baby chickens and bunnies on the street in Ohio, and you don't generally see like the entire retired population in the park doing tai chi every morning (I went to :) ). Our second stop was Kaifeng--definitely my favorite city!! We took a 14 hour night train to get there, and although most of my travel mates were complaining I'm pretty sure it was one of the coolest things we did. We were in like the first class sleeper cars with 4 bunks in a room, and I basically slept for the entire train ride. It basically just cuts out the travel time because the travel time is also your sleeping time! But anyway... Kaifeng is where Jackie and Mr. Ma are from, and it's a much smaller city than the other three we visited. Being smaller, a little deeper into the countryside, and less visited by tourists we encountered a society of people there that very rarely saw anyone from outside of China, which was one of the most interesting things I experienced on the trip. If you think about it, it's totally normal for us to see people from different countries in our every day lives, but some of the people in Kaifeng have never even seen anyone from a different country in person. It's pretty incredible actually. After thinking about that I know I definitely took our country's diversity for granted... so I was pretty surprised to be such a celebrity. Random people on the streets wanted pictures with us all the time--especially the guy who was 6'5" or something, the one with blond hair, and Desiree, the crazy black girl :). Here we also climbed the Iron Pagoda (in the picture) and crossed the Yellow River--two rather epic accomplishments. There’s some ancient legend that says that one is not a true man or woman until you’ve climbed the Iron Pagoda, crossed the Yellow River, and walked the Great Wall… so after Kaifeng I was 2/3 of the way there!!
Hunan University, in Kaifeng, is the one that Akron recently formed the Confucius Institute with—basically just a special partnership from what I understand. So there’s actually a professor there from Akron right now teaching English language and culture, Paul Weinstein. He decided to plan a little party for the students from Akron and all his students from his 6 or so classes—it worked out to be probably over 100 Chinese students and about 10 Akron students all crammed into the only bar in Kaifeng, talking non-stop for like 3 hours. I was surrounded the entire night by at least 10 students at a time asking all kinds of questions, ranging from “what’s your favorite tv show?” to “what do you think about love?”. I actually didn’t even have time to get a beer, and I was a little sad because Dr. Weinstein was getting everyone else drinks and seemed to have forgotten about me. The students were very surprised to find out that most Americans work while they’re in school. In China there’s seems to be such an urgency about getting an education, if you have the opportunity, that students are almost required to focus entirely on school. One of the students actually said he wanted to marry me because I was so independent from my parents… he also asked me if I played video games, so the answer to that question may have influence that statement as well :). Afterward we enjoyed some very cheap drinks… until the bartender fell asleep and we served ourselves some even cheaper drinks…hahaha.
Also in Kaifeng we met some students from Beloit College who’ve been teaching English at Hunan University for the past year… a definite possibility for my future. EEK. The third stop was the ancient city of Xi'an which something like 13 of the Chinese dynasties chose as their capital city. The city and the surrounding areas are overflowing with artifacts and cultural relics, all of which are pretty amazing, but because it's such an interesting site, the industrious Chinese turned it into one giant tourist trap. Before we could go to any museum we had to go to the gift shop and hear a special presentation by the shop owner. At one museum there was actually a special tourist’s entrance separate from the entrance for the general public, which also happened to be the entrance to the gift shop... haha. How sneaky. All this made it a little difficult to enjoy, regardless of all the unwarranted optimism I’m usually able to muster. However, some of the sites were pretty amazing, like the terracotta warriors--an army of hand carved soldier statues that've been buried for a couple thousand years. Thinking about how many slaves it would have taken to build all those warriors was kind of sickening though... who could ever justify having that many slaves?? The mountains here were beautiful too... I miss mountains!! Also, all ancient Chinese cities had walls that completely surrounded them, but Xi'an has the only one that's been completely renovated, so we were actually able to ride bikes all the way around it--it was pretty fun!The final stop in China was Beijiing. Here we saw a glimpse of china’s more recent history. We visited Tiananmen Square, which is just a huge, mostly empty, paved area, surrounded by city streets like any other city square might be, but to get to in you actually had to go through underground pathways and pass a security check. It was a little eerie how heavily surveyed the area was for being a rather simple slab of concrete. Tiananmen Square is also where they keep Mao’s body, and although every account of Mao’s rule that I’ve heard sounds horrible, I lined up with thousands of people to file through his tomb and present flowers to him. It was amazing how blind such an enormous group of people can be to such a grave social injustice… it’s like they forgot or something. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that they were essentially worshiping the guy that caused them and their relatives so much suffering.
Anyway! That’s all for now I think… still getting used to the time zone change so I’m falling asleep right now.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Melissa, that all sounds so awesome! Coincidentally, I met a couple of guys from Hunan University last week. They were at Berkeley for a conference that the people I'm working for were hosting.

    You should do more updates!