Beijing, Day 11, June 18 – Ashley Pierce

We woke up to a very “foggy” day which may or may not have contributed to the slow start to our morning. We enjoyed our last meal in the executive lounge and thanked Henry (our favorite server) for all the help he gave us in finding restaurants and tea markets and other such things. We figured out how we were going to check out of the rooms and where all of our stuff was going and then Christine, Andrew and I accompanied by Christine’s new friend Lucy headed out to the tea market.

It was a long taxi ride but so worth it. The first store we went in we were treated to tea tasting and Andrew and I found a good Oolong tea that we both enjoyed. We then entered the tea mall where every vendor tried to entice us into their stores by bringing out tea for us to smell. It was wonderful and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Andrew found some more tea that he was looking for and I, after a long search, found a tea pot for my parents. Lucy and Christine helped communicate what we wanted and then helped us lower the price.

We headed back to the hotel and spent the rest of the time before our flight sitting in the executive lounge while Adam S. conducted some interviews. We left the hotel for the airport leaving Christine to continue her adventures in Asia. We got through security with no mishaps or quarantined students, ate our last meal in China and boarded the plane. Where we sat. And sat. For about an hour and a half. Apparently a volcano had erupted and the plane was being rerouted and so needed more fuel plus the weather in Beijing was not so nice. We finally took off and besides a screaming baby in front of me and a kid kicking the back of my seat the flight was fine. We arrived about 3 hours later than originally expected but we were home.

Beijing, Day 10, June 17 – Andrew Bouland

Today was the most fun I’ve had in China so far.   Adam P. was able to book us a great deal for a tour to the Great Wall.  For only 400 yuan a person, Adam P., Ashley, and I got our own tour guide and driver to take us to the wall and other attractions along the way.  And lunch was included!

We departed our hotel early in the morning.  After battling Beijing traffic for about an hour, we reached our first stop: the Ming tombs.  There are a total of 17 tombs in the area, but only 3 are open to the public.  We only visited the Changling tomb, which is celebrating its 600th anniversary.  Apparently, the tombs are designed as palaces for the deceased emperors.  The architecture reminds me of the Forbidden City, although it is a lot smaller.

Our next stop was a local jade factory.  We received a brief tour of the factory and took a look around the show room.  We were also taught how to distinguish real jade from fake jade.  We were able to guess which pieces of jade were fakes before the demonstration, so apparently we were already jade experts!

After another short drive, we reached our ultimate destination: the Great Wall at Juyongguan.  The towers of the wall became visible on the mountains above us as we arrived.  As we drove through the pass below, the wall was really impressive, especially the way in which it scales the steep mountains.

We were able to climb the section of the wall in about an hour.  We started at an elevation of about 300 meters and climbed to about 800 meters.  When all was said and done, we climbed about 1,640 feet worth of stairs to the highest lookout tower.  I’ve never seen so many people panting in my life!  The view at the top was well worth the effort, however. We were able to get some great pictures, even though it was a little cloudy.

Exhausted and soaked in sweat, we headed to our quick lunch.  We then visited a local teahouse where they showed us the traditional Chinese tea ceremony and allowed us to sample a number of different teas.  After purchasing some tea for ourselves, we made our way back to the hotel for a quick nap before dinner.  I think we all agree that the Great Wall was the best part of the day, and in my opinion, the best part of the trip.  I really hope to visit the wall again someday!

Beijing, Day 9, June 16 – Ashley Pierce

As the Adams and Andrew headed off to the Military Museum Christine and I made our way to the Summer Palace which was just a subway and a taxi ride away from Adam S’ hotel. Although we got to the summer palace around 3:30 we only managed to see a fraction of it because the Chinese like to do things on a very large scale it seems. The whole complex covers about 716 acres which is mostly dominated by Kunming Lake, an entirely man made lake. The Summer Palace is a very poetic space and the long corridor that you can walk along between Longevity Hill and the lake has images from Chinese classical literature, folk tales, historical and legendary figures, and famous Chinese buildings, landscapes, flowers, birds, fish, and insects. We also saw the marble boat, crossed the Seventeen-Arch Bridge and generally just enjoyed the beautiful landscaping and architecture. We also passed a man who was doing water calligraphy on the stone walkways. We managed to make it through the rest of the afternoon without getting poured on again. When it was time to leave we were pestered by taxi drivers vying for our money. We finally found a suitable driver and made it back to the subway.

Beijing, Day 9, June 16 – Adam Pflugrath

As my final post for our trip to china, I would like to go out with a bang. We awoke this morning early in time to get on the Beijing Metro, which was such an ease to use and made our way amongst the thousands of tourists to Tian’anmen Square where we lingered and took a lot of photos for 45 minutes or so. It was an incredible site and a great tribute to the Chinese people.  Afterwards we went to the Forbidden City.  Despite much confusion and shoving our way to the front of the ticket lines (apparently the concept of a line doesn’t exist in traffic or ticketing formations) for the Forbidden City, we made it through the Hall of Middle Harmony without a problem.  Upon breaching the final barrier into the city we were met with an unwanted visitor, rain.  I have never seen a sky get so dark.  It looked like dusk at noon.  Mixed with the already visually hindering smog, the awesome thunderstorm clouds rolled in without warning and made a trip to the Forbidden City very interesting.

We quickly made a run for the exit after purchasing chopsticks and seeing all the necessities (with photos of course) amidst a shroud of rain and very intense lighting! Finally, we made it to Adam S.’s hotel which was only a “few” blocks away, but seemed forever in the pouring down rain.  Afterwards we ate lunch at a Sichuan restaurant in the huge mall underneath the hotel.

When the rain cleared, Ashley and Christine went to the Summer Palace while Adam, Andrew and I went to the Military Museum. I can say, without a doubt this was one of the best museums I have ever been too.  There were more tanks and guns, both artillery and used by infantry from 1900-1946 to outfit a small army, most weapons coming from other countries.  Upon reading the history of China that few learn about in public education in America, I was very impressed with the proud nationalistic display presented at the museum.  With artifacts ranging from the beginnings of the Chinese Empire to the present with most of the museum concentrating on the multiple civil wars beginning in 1911, the failure of the Great Revolution, the Anti-Japanese War and the war for the solidification of China under the Communist Party.  The history presented from 1927-1947 was unbelievable and I would highly recommend a visit to this museum if you plan to visit Beijing and are interested in learning about the rise of the Communist Party in China from a different historical perspective.

Wuhan to Beijing, Day 8, June 15 – Christine Dang

It has been an emotional day for me as we left the city of Wuhan and our new friends.  However, the ride to the airport with the driver drumming to profound Euro/80’s techno lifted my spirits.  As we were leaving, the hour-long drive provided a visual summary of the city—the yellow crane tower, Yangtze River, and the museum accompanied with bell performance.   Over the weekend, Xiong Li made our stay very comfortable, introduced us to her many students, provided us a window to the culture and local food, and educated us on the city.  I don’t think words could do justice to our appreciation and gratitude to Xiong Li and her efforts, but we would like to thank her for putting together the best weekend for us.  Even more important, we will miss her dearly. As we drove to the airport in Wuhan we passed a Michelin, BMW, McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, and Super 8 Hotel.  Although Wuhan is a city with a population of approximately 10 million people (half the size of Beijing), it is located in central east China thus well hidden compared to Beijing and Hong Kong.   

We arrived to Beijing at around 15:30, and holding back tears saw Professor Dan Cristol off to the bus.  As we tried to get to our hotel we ran into some aggressive drivers (Adam Stackhouse may have gotten the worse), but in the end we all ended up safely at the correct location. 

The hotel that Ashley, Adam P, Andrew, and I are staying at caught us very much by surprise.  This requires a special thanks to Adam P’s father, who was able to donate his points to further our international experience in Beijing.  Furthermore, thank you to everyone that made this trip possible!  

Later that night, we ate dinner at a local hideout thanks to the suggestions of the concierge; the Sichuan inspired food was delicious! At the restaurant, Adam P attempted new Chinese phrases, under my instruction, and successfully ordered in Chinese! We concluded our night with a delightful walk around Beijing in the area near our hotel.  The weather was perfect for walking around, with a nice breeze. 

Wuhan, Day 7, June 14 – Ashley Pierce

For our last day in Wuhan we got up and met one of Xiong Li’s students who led us to the campus of Central China Normal University. Along the way, Dan stopped to look at birds and we passed a group of ladies performing their morning tai chi routine and then a group of guys performing their morning routine. Apparently, as Christine put it tai chi is like water aerobics, anyone can do it but it’s aimed towards a certain age group. The campus is very pretty and even has a tree lined grassy area that is the equivalent of our sunken gardens, although I think I prefer our brick buildings to concrete ones.

The main reason for our trip to the University however was not to observe the art of tai chi, rather the reason we were there was to see Dan give another talk on mercury and birds. After some computer trouble and a room change Dan finally was able to give his talk. The talk was well received by the students and faculty and was followed by a rather long session of questions where it was obvious that although the masters students didn’t have perfect English, they had definitely understood and enjoyed Dan’s lecture and had some good questions.

After the talk, we headed over to the campus cafeteria for lunch, bird watching along the way of course. Although most of the places we have eaten so far have had public areas to eat, we have been taken into private rooms the majority of the time. We enjoyed a really good lunch with a couple of students and professors who had been at the talk. It seems that eating a big lunch is normal but it also seems like the majority of what we have been doing here in China is eat. I will say though that every time we sit down to a meal we usually end up eating something new and usually there are several new things to try.

We headed over to some dorms after dinner. Let me just say that we have nothing to complain about when it comes to dorms. The first dorm we saw was of another one of Xiong Li’s students. There are four girls to a room the size of a double on our campus. Two bunk beds on either side of the room with a window at one end and the door at the other. The girls slept on the bottom bunks and used the top bunks as a storage space. A narrow table ran down the center of the room that served as a desk as well as a place to eat. Concrete floors and no AC made for a rather uncomfortable room. We also visited the international student’s dorm which was much nicer but the cost of living there for one month was the same as living in the other dorms for one year.

After visiting the dorms we headed over to the taxidermy zoo. Yes, taxidermy zoo. This was a two-year effort by the University to amass a collection of specimens to display. These included butterflies, monkeys, peacocks, all kinds of birds, a very large sturgeon, tigers, and a panda. All preserved and stuffed and we were warned not to touch any of the specimens because the arsenic used to preserve them would be very harmful to us….always a good sign. Although this was all rather disturbing for some of us in the group, it was a rather interesting and impressive collection and probably the highlight of Adam S’ entire day.

We headed back to the hotel to rest for a bit before we tried to stuff another Chinese dinner into our stomachs. Dinner was with a couple more professors and students and we again tried multiple dishes that we had not yet tried including spicy crayfish. Gifts were exchanged and pens were handed out. When we arrived back at the hotel after dinner Xiong Li’s students offered to show us the night market. Although it was hot and many people crammed into the windy passages of the night market, we still managed to find some neat stuff to buy. Cheng Can (the students whose dorm we saw) continued to show Christine and I around long after the boys had given up on the shopping.

Observing the different social interactions here has been very interesting so far. According to Chinese culture everybody has a certain place in society and the cultural and social rules are so complicated it’s hard to get them all straight. These are only a couple very basic observations that I’ve noticed, women are not supposed to drink alcohol much and the most prestigious person at the table is supposed to order the meal. The most important person at the table sits directly across from the door and is flanked by the next most important people, and yes it matters how important you are. Women are supposed to be rather submissive to the men but this is starting to change with the younger generation where men often hold bags and umbrellas for the women. Servers are called fu wu yuan and they tend to be very attentive. In stores, they will generally stand at your elbow at all times. There are many more complicates interactions that I will probably never understand but its been fun figuring out a few of the differences in our cultures.

It’s much hotter and more humid here in Wuhan than it was in Guiyang. It is actually fairly similar to Williamsburg although there is a lot more smog here. This generally means that while outside you are coated in a lovely layer of sweat at all times. The traffic is no different than in Guiyang, we still fall asleep to a cacophony (or a symphony if one is in to that sort of music) of horns outside our windows.

Silver fish signing out

Wuhan, Day 6, June 13 – Andrew Bouland

I awoke in my bed this morning to Adam P. yelling, “we have to leave in 10 minutes!”  Apparently, we had slept through both of our alarms.  We were both tired from last night’s flight.   Nonetheless, we forced ourselves to get up and hurried down to the hotel lobby to begin our day of touring through Wuhan.

Downstairs, we were greeted by two Central China Normal University (CCNU) graduate students who served as our tour guides for the day.  Once everyone had gathered we crammed into a van and headed to the Hubei Provincial Museum.  I’d like to mention that the driving in China is completely different than that in the U.S.  I’m surprised we haven’t seen any accidents yet!  Adam P. summarized the Chinese driving style well by asking, “Why do they even draw lines on the road?” 

The Hubei Provincial Museum is pretty comparable to the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C.  It is funded by the state and contains exhibits of Chinese history, culture, technology, and government.  Exhibits included topics such as the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng and the Yungxian Man cranium and human evolution.  The tomb is particularly well known for its bronze wares and musical instruments.  Being a percussionist, I found the bronze bells, stone chimes, and drums particularly interesting.  We also attended a concert focusing on traditional Chinese music and dance.  It showcased many of the instruments found in the Zeng tomb.          

Apparently, the Hubei museum is especially rich in exhibits because of its central location in China and its proximity to a number of historical sites.  On the topic of geography, I want to mention that Wuhan’s geography and climate is much different than that of Guiyang.  Wuhan is situated in a valley and is very hot and humid.  I think we’d all prefer Guiyang’s rainy weather over this weather!

We then headed to lunch with our CCNU guides and went on a short driving tour of Wuhan.  We passed by East Lake, where Dr. Cristol was able to check out some of the local bird species.  We then made our way to the Yellow Crane tower. The tower is situated atop a hill, and we were able to see the Yangtze River and most of Wuhan from the top of it.  This city is huge!  It is populated with almost 10 million people!

Following some shopping, we went out to dinner with Professor Xiong Li and other professors from CCNU.  Thankfully, dinner was finished relatively early so we were able to go to the hotel with plenty of time to relax after our busy day!  Tomorrow, we will spend the entire day on the campus of CCNU.  I’m looking forward to meeting more students!

 

Guiyang to Wuhan, Day 5, June 12 – Adam Pflugrath

Today marked the last day of the ICMGP conference and our final day in Guiyang.  Our morning was spent listening to the final presentations, packing, followed by lunch, the intriguing plenary presentations and more packing! Fitting all of our new gifts and keepsakes in our suitcases was a little bit of a problem, but I can only imagine it will be SO much worse when we fly out of Beijing next Thursday.  The presentations ended by 1530 hours; however our flight to Wuhan was scheduled to depart at 2250 hours, so we had a lot of time to kill before our flight. 

We spent the rest of our last day in Guiyang between the end of the presentations and our trip to the airport at QianLing Park followed by yet another delicious Chinese dinner; the food to date has been amazing.  At QianLing Park, a special hideaway from bustling Guiyang composed of a few small mountains, vast forests, a monastery, a lake and monkeys!  Oddly enough we had to pay 6 CNY to enter the park for tickets and an insurance policy in case the monkeys maimed us; this was a promising sign.  However, despite the ominous insurance the monkeys were quite peaceful and were very friendly.  They were fairly difficult to find, partially due to the size of the park and the large number of people out soaking up the sun. 

The rest of the day was spent at the Guiyang airport awaiting our late night flight to Wuhan where we will spend the next 3 days.  I look forward to what tomorrow has in store, for I am extremely tired.  We are staying in a very environmentally friendly hotel which took Andrew and me a while to find out how to turn on the lights, until we realized the old put the key in a slot on the wall to turn on the electricity trick… forgot about that one.  Now it is finally time for bed, early wake up tomorrow for our first full day in Wuhan!

 

Guiyang, Day 5, June 11 – Adam Pflugrath

Today, Dan, Adam S., Andrew and I went to the Huangguoshu waterfall, Doupotang waterfall and an old Han village. We were almost late to our bus because the elevators refused to head up to the twelfth floor, so we were forced to take the stairs. The stairs at our hotel in Guiyang was like a labyrinth and shrunk with every flight almost as if out of Alice in Wonderland. We did emerge however, unscathed and reached the bus in time! Upon first arriving at the first waterfall ticketing area to change buses, we were suddenly attacked by a force of extremely persistent old local village women. Thankfully we survived without any dents to our wallets, however some from our group were not so lucky and bought an unnecessary amount of ponchos, cheap umbrellas and ugly string cell phone holders.

 

After escaping the scene we made our way to the Huanggoushou waterfall entrance gardens, which were splendid, elaborate and had the neatest rocks weathered through the years; we even past the infamous “Dragon Rock,” but we did not linger long for pictures, it was time for the largest waterfall in China. Spanning a distance of 78m high and 100m wide, our guide compared it to Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls and Angel Falls it just was not quite as big. Despite the lofty comparisons, the waterfall was magnificent. The surrounding area was a mixture of vibrant green forest and old houses. The most exciting aspect of the waterfall is the interior cave covered by a water curtain. After passing through the cave we had to make our way back up to the top of the mountain to return to our bus. To our surprise we were the last people up the mountain for the rest of our group took the express lift and we chose to walk, which was the better choice in my opinion.

Following Huanggoushu waterfall we went to Duopotang waterfall where there were many peacocks. At that point the sun had come out and we could see some blue in the sky, for the first time! After spending some time gazing at the smaller waterfall we left and went to an old Han village dating back 400 years. I was expecting something much older than that and was surprised to hear our guide, named Howard say the buildings were only 400 years old; I’m sure the actual history of the town was much older than 400 years.

Guiyang, Day 5, June 11 – Christine Dang

To preface my blog post, I want to provide a slight background. Unlike everyone one else on the trip, I have been to China before (last summer), I do speak some Chinese (a year and a half of Mandarin at the College), and I am Asian (Chinese-Vietnamese American, but I can only speak Cantonese which is like being from Mexico and going to Italy). I can’t decipher if this has really been to my benefit or my Achilles’ heel. Although I am able to communicate to locals on a VERY basic level, people look at me, assume that I am Chinese, and speak so fast my head spins. Furthermore, the Chinese also assume that I understand the culture, contrary to popular belief I understand as much as a six-week Chinese culture class can cover. The reason is that I am twice removed from this culture; my parents are of Chinese descent raised in Vietnam and I am American born and raised. Therefore, my experience and perspective of the trip will be wildly different from the group.

Today was different from the normal regiment because all the boys that traveled with us left the grounds to tour local waterfalls that are famous throughout China. Obviously, the girls are more dedicated to the study of mercury. The highlights of today’s presentations were Ashley’s boss in California and the boisterous yukalaylee artist we met yesterday on our tour of the Ancient town.

My educational accomplishment for the day was my interview with one of the speakers. Her name is Wu Dan, from Peking University, and she works on environmental economics and policy. During her interview, I asked her questions concerning her presentation (Economic Analysis of mercury emission control in China) and Chinese environmental policy. Her English was very impressive to me, but she seems to disagree because every time she faltered she crumpled giggling into the chair and by the end of her interview, she spoke in Chinese.

After the presentations, Ashley and I decided to do what girls do best—go shopping. Initially in the stores, people weren’t being very receptive; luckily by the eighth store our luck changed. The sales woman (fu wu yuan) was helpful, nice, and compliments just came spilling from her mouth. Naturally, we suspected her of being a very good sales woman, but she proved genuinely wanting to be our friends because when we asked her for recommendations on shoe stores she proceeded to provide us her boyfriend as our GPS. The hunt for shoes turned out to be two locals showing us the ins and outs of Guiyang. We went to the mall, bought some mangosteens, ate spicy tofu that had to be washed down with jell-o tea, and bought tea and batik (Guiyang’s specialty). Some how our afternoon disappeared and we were unable to go to the local park with monkeys that our new friends were adamant we see. To everyone’s dismay, we walked back to the hotel to prepare for the banquet.

However, the fun did not stop when we returned. People were piling into the hotel, some wearing nice dresses and others jeans. The dinner was elaborate and consisted of what felt like never ending food. It was quite the fiesta; the table beside us loudly finished their bottle of bai jiu, Chinese liquor, demanded more, and began scavenging at other tables. The best part of the banquet was the outdoor concert. Where there was at least eight different performances ranging from Chinese pop/rock to a makeshift Mercury Conference yukalaylee band. Offstage there was a clown running, chaotic balloon distribution (approximately 30 balloons for 300 people), fireworks, and glow sticks. I am not sure if the people at the conference had been exposed to mercury for too long or if this was how you celebrated in China; regardless, it was a blast and China party on.