Field Trips

It is hard to believe we have only a few days left here in China.  We have seen and experienced so many things – and logged lots of hours in the buses.  Here are a few photos from some of our field trips from our base in Beijing.

At the pearl market, this lady strings pearls to make a necklace. You select a strand of pearls on a display string, then they string them into a necklace, tying a knot between every pearl.  They are very fast with nimble fingers.

On our visit to Tian’anmen Square, most tourists are Chinese.  They marvel at the foreigners and want to get their photos with us.  This picture shows a temporary decoration in celebration of the communist party’s rule.  They change decorations for big holidays.

In a park area, a local drew in Lisa and Marge to catch weighted fabric rings.  Lisa has mad skills at catching rings on her neck!  This man lures in tourists and asks you to send him a photo to add to his enormous collection.  All transactions are in international impromptu sign language :)

Forbidden Popcorn:  As you enter the garden of the Forbidden City, you might want to grab a snack.  Who doesn’t love popcorn?!

This is an example of Hu Tong, a traditional architecture style.  Many of the older buildings were demolished prior to the 2008 Olympics.  In a city of high-rise development, these single-story properties are prime.  They have modern conveniences added.

In the Hanban headquarters China Exploratorium they have interactive exhibits like this one where you can try on traditional dress.

In the Heavenly Temple park, this old man sat alone playing an unusual-looking instrument.

“Ms. Tea” educates us about varieties of tea and how to enjoy them.  And of course, encourages us to buy some from their shop!  Lychee with rose was my favorite.  If you have a friend who bought tea here, they can introduce you to “PeePee Boy”.

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WKU Presents Madame Xu Lin Honorary Doctorate Degree

July 22, 2011, was a historic moment for not only the Confucius Institute, Hanban, North China Electric Power University.  Why you ask?  That date marked a time following action taken by the Board of Regents this Spring (2011), as the first time that WKU bestowed an Honorary Doctorate Degree off campus, let alone in China.

President Ransdell welcomed everyone to the “Recognition Celebration” for Madame Xu Lin, Hanban, and North China Electric Power University.

Next, Madame Xu Lin receives the first every “Honorary Doctorate Degree.”  Madame Xu Lin was awareded, and received WKU’s first Doctorate Degree off WKU campus and in China.

During her thank you speech, Madame Xu Lin, Director General of Education, in fact applied to WKU in 1988, and was ultimately awarded admissions; however, only 1/2 scholarship awarded, thus, she did not attend.

Lastly, even at this point, there was more to the celebration.  While here in China, the sole purpose was not a vacation to China.  It was to learn the cutlure and language.  Each day our diligent Zhongguo Adventurers traveled to class for 4 hours a day learning language and culture.  This day, was the culmination of the groups dedication to the mission of the trip, as we sung, “Ge Sheng Yu Wei Xiao” which is translated to “Bring the Song Home.”  We were all nervous, but as we started, the crowd clearly knew the song and really rallied behind us.  What an experience, is all I have to say.

All in all, the event was a success.  Dr. Ransdell, Dr. Pan and myself have learned a lot from Mrs. Lucinda Anderson, as she would have been proud.

 

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NCEPU campus

My main purpose in the this quick post is to add some photos of life here on campus at NCEPU so our family and friends can see where we have been living for the last two weeks.

This is one of the carts and brooms used by campus staff. They sweep the street each morning of small fallen blossoms and leaves from the overhanging trees.

 

This is the infamous "squat pot". Fortunately our hotel rooms and some restaurants have "Western toilets" available. This type is typical in the classroom building and many other places.

Some of our rooms have small balconies that are good for drying laundry.

 

This is the school cafeteria, open short windows for three meals a day.

This is where most of our classes are held.

 

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Great Wall Adventure

Today was a very eventful day from beginning to end.  First we started out with the WKU President, Dr. Gary A. Ransdell joining the group of Zhongguo Adventurers as we depart to the “Great Wall.”  Boy what an adventure it was.  Before I discuss the trip, I would like to insert the actual drive to the “Great Wall.”  First and foremost, our driver was a fearless, dedicated, and aggressive driver that made sure that our group safely made it to and from our various destinations.  However, it goes without saying how scared we all were the first couple of days with something as simple as crossing the streets.  Our first adventure off campus was to ICBC Bank to exchange our money the second day on campus.  I thought I was in New York City, as I have not heard so many horns blowing  at one time, except in New York City during rush hour.  Here is a list of items I have learned on the road:

  • When you hear a “beep,” you must be on the look out for coming your way.  This means you are driving to slow, you are about to be passed, or move out of the lane your in.
  • Driving in Beijing is not for the feint at heart.  If you are not an aggressive driver, you have no business on the road.  This even goes for pedestrians.  There is a sort of code for anyone or anything in the driving lanes.  It is sort of like “organized chaos.”  I have only witnessed 2 accidents, and if you have seen what I have seen, it is a wonder.  While drivers are aggressive, the point is not to hurt, hit, or wreck on the roads.  Everyone is actually courteous, but on a time schedule, nonetheless.

Ok, now back to the “Great Wall.”  Here is the whole group before we each prepare for the huge climb to the top.

 

 

 

 

 

I am deathly afraid of heights, but this being a once in a lifetime chance, I would not let my fear derail my chance to branch out of my comfort zone.  The steps are very steep, and if you don’t believe me, see the attached picture below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The views were phenomenal, see below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At last, I made it to the top.  It only took about 1 1/2 hours to reach the top.  Whew.  Actually both me and the Mrs. made it to the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, wait, that isn’t anything.  The elder of the group, Mr. Richard Burnette, who will celebrate his 75th birthday in November, climbed the top of the “Great Wall.”  Now that’s an accomplishment.  Way to go Richard!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Stay tuned for our visit to Summer Palace!!!

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The Air We Breathe

On our trips to downtown Beijing, I’ve been taken aback by the amount of congestion and development, and the resulting environmental damage. Beijing has overcrowded highways and a plethora of high-rise buildings. The sky is a constant shade of gray. We haven’t seen blue skies since we’ve been here; the sun is just a gray ball.  “What have we, humans, done to this planet” keeps echoing in my head. 

The imbalance and unsustainable structure of our life on this planet is most evident in this country on the other side of the world from my home. These thoughts are not meant to be judgmental of the Chinese; they are only striving to obtain the same comforts and conveniences (air conditioning, automobiles, etc.) we have in the western world. To obtain this lifestyle, China produces 17% of the world’s greenhouse gases, while the United States produces 16% and the European Union produces 11%. Yet, per-capita gas house emissions are United States 24%, European Union 10%, and China 6%. It is frightening to consider the condition of the world’s air if China ever reaches United States’ per-capita energy use.

The United States, as the highest per-capita greenhouse gas producer in the world, has a responsibility to take strong leadership on the issue. Yet, of the 192 countries that have signed the Kyoto Protocol, the United States is the only country that has not ratified the agreement.

Much of the air pollution in China belongs to those of us in the west who demand cheap consumer goods.  Yet, we don’t have to breathe the air.

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Quite a Blend

China has been quite an experience so far. The mix of an ancient culture and 21st century technology has resulted in an interesting blend. For example, the college students here dress very much like college students in the U.S. Some even wear T-shirts with English phrases and logos. But the students must rely on the university boiling their drinking water for them. They do this by dropping off large thermos-type containers at certain places throughout the campus, and then they pick up their water later. The tap water isn’t potable, and the students are not allowed to boil water in their dorm rooms, so the university provides the boiling service for them. Also, some university facilities workers on campus use modern equipment, such as jackhammers, while others move supplies about on old, three-wheeled pedal vehicles.

There is one English-speaking channel on the TV in the hotel, a CCTV news channel. CCTV stands for China Central Television, and it’s a government-controlled outlet. The big news today on the channel has been the phone-hacking scandal in Britain and the debt-reduction fight in the United States. When the station isn’t broadcasting news programs, it has documentaries. For example, earlier tonight I watched a program on the 60th anniversary of the peaceful liberation of Tibet.

I will have too many high-res photos to post all here, so I will put many on my Flickr account, Neil Ralston2008.

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Week #1 – Random Thoughts

This week has been a phenomenal week full of work (yes, I said work), excitement, and adventure.   The week started with 44 Zhongguo Adventurers setting flight to China.   Oh, what does Zhongguo mean? It is a term used to refer to all territories claimed by the People’s Republic of China (Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan).   The food has been plentiful and very delicious, with the highlight of the food (for me) being the roasted duck from the HePing Gate Roast Duck Restaurant.  Our hosts have been most gracious to us, and have truly taken care of all of our needs.  It is amazing how nice everyone has been to us, regardless of where we have been, who we have spoken with, and what questions we have asked.  A big thanks to our guides, Leonard, and Li Bo (a.k.a Cookie).

A week later, I feel like a local of China, as if I have been here all of my life.  We have been to great places such as the Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square, Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban), Lao She Tea House, and many of the local outlets, such as the Pearl Market and Silk Street, with many more great adventures to come.  It is also interesting to intermingle with other colleagues as everyone is navigating through.

Peking Duck
The HePing Gate Roast Duck Restaraunt, an enormous five story restaurant, that prepares many cuisines, but specializes in the “Peking Duck.”   The Peking Duck, is a roasted duck, prepared by separating the skin of the duck from the meet, and roasting it in such as way as to render the fat from duck, leaving behind a beautiful crisp skin. The best part of the whole meal was how crispy, and delicious the skin of the duck tasted, as it just melt in your mouth.

Saturday 7/16, we split into two different groups, and was bound and determined to adventure away from the safe confines of the campus, into the city of Beijing (Watch out Beijing!!!!).   One group went to the “Silk Street,” and the other group went to the “Art District.”

Silk Street
What is silk street you ask?   Silk Street is market that sells commodities such as shoes, bags and cases, leather, famous brands, causal wear, fashion clothing, silk wax printing, crafts, jewelry, and antiques.  If ever you need to brush up on your negotiating skills, this is the place to come. Wow, I have never been at a place in which the vendors are literally pulling and pushing you into their booths. Tip, go in knowing what you want, how much you know/think it is work (basically how much your willing to pay), be prepared to walk away from a deal you aren’t happy with, don’t be afraid to use their calculator, and know the currency rate.   All those tips will allow you to confidently purchase the items you want, and know that you have a great deal.

Art District
The art district commonly referred to as “798 Art Zone,” is a part of the Chaoyang District of Beijing that houses a thriving artistic community, which is often compared to New York’s Greenwich Village or SoHo.   Here you can enjoy the artistic ambience and flare, at the same time enjoy some of the cafe’s located around the site.   For more information please go to the following link, 798 Art Zone.

In conclusion, week one was chocked full of both lecture, language study, and also free time.   Weeks two and three will be much more intense, but will definitely be noteworthy. Stay Tuned!!!!!!

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Day of Contrasts

After our morning lecture on Chinese Traditional Medicine, we went to the open market in town near the university. Produce vendors were selling a variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, and eggs. (How many kinds of eggs can you identify?) Five large enclosed areas, similar to a U.S. flea market, had vendors selling everything from computers and cell phones to household supplies and religious icons. It was very crowded, yet orderly, without the usual aggressive sales techniques we’ve experienced other places. This place seemed to be for the locals, not the tourists.

Then, we took public transportation (adventure!) to the 798 Art District in downtown Beijing. Located alongside a former Soviet-style factory, this District has a variety of contemporary art galleries and boutiques. Much of the high-end art is similar to what one might see in the trendy art galleries in New York and San Francisco. Many people were dressed in upscale, stylish clothing.

The Art District has many lovely cafes and restaurants. We ended the evening at a wonderful Chinese restaurant (Aren’t all the restaurants in China actually Chinese!?). We had a private dining room and a range of delicious dishes – one of our best meals.

China’s emerging middle class highlights the contrast of this day. Perhaps the best way to describe the contrast is Mr. Dan’s lecture that morning: Yin/Yang of China.

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Photo Dump – Day 2 and Laoshe Tea House

Due to the small amount of storage on this blog, I am placing my image files on Flickr for now. You can still email me to request the original, full-size image file of any pictures I have from this trip. … Continue reading

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China – first week

The first week has been quite an experience.    We have had lectures on language development, traditional festivals, Traditional Chinese Medicine, practical Chinese speaking, and  active classes on folk arts, qi gong (similar to tai chi) and traditional dance.    We have been fed wonderfully.  We had the welcome banquet, a mongolian barbeque lunch, an authentic Peking duck dinner in one of the premier duck restaurants in Beijing, dinner and entertainment at the famous Lao She tea house, wide selections at the school cafeteria, and a few excellent lunches and dinners out in the local shops (the kung pao was great).    Our Chinese student volunteers have been extremely gracious and helpful.  We would all be lost without them. “Leonard” and “Cookie” are to be commended on their efforts to make our stay enjoyable.

The weather is hot and muggy.  The sun looks nearly like an eclipse and you rarely see shadows because of so little direct sunlight.   Fortunately is has mostly rained only at night.  However, last night many of us on excursions to the Silk Street or artist district ended up getting soaked on our journeys back to the hotel.

We visited the Hanban / Confucius Institute Headquarters.  Their China Exploratorium is impressive.  Besides their interactive displays, they have a lot of fantastic artifacts.    We have already been to Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Lao She Tea House.

Our group is a great mix of people.  Everyone seems to be getting along well and helping each other.  Each is getting their own perspective of Chinese life and society and finding ways to compare it to the USA and their own lives.

bus ride to the mall

Bus ride to the mall

Hanban group photo

WKU group at Hanban headquarters

Tian'anmen Square

temporary decaration at Tian'anmen Square

Natasha at Forbidden City

Natasha at one of several gates leading into the Forbidden City

seated dancers

Dance class - trying to figure out what these things are for . . .

There is so much more to come in the next two weeks.  Time is going quickly.

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