Saturday, June 27, 2015

Final Thoughts

            Well, this last week has been ridiculously busy. I realize that I talked of being really busy in Xi’an as well, but this was a much different form of busy, which was, unfortunately, not a type of busy conducive to writing a blog. So I apologize for my silence during until this point. I am actually currently flying over the Pacific Ocean as I write this, scribbling in the near dark on a notebook (Hainan Airlines doesn’t allow the use of phones or computers at any time of the flight, a frustrating restriction on a ten hour journey). Anyway, I suppose my study abroad experience has come to an end, and as usual in these circumstances, it does feel as if it went by quickly, however I am satisfied at what I was able to accomplish in such a time. Therefore I would like to summarize my experience and how it has changed my current and future outlooks.
            To begin, I believe I have attained a new appreciation for travel that I did not have before. Prior to this study abroad trip, the longest I had stayed in a foreign country was about two and a half weeks, and every travel experience has been as a tourist. Being a student made a world of difference. I was not only able to better immerse myself in the culture and language, but also seize the opportunity to live the life of a foreign student. I decided early on that the experience of studying abroad is not at all comparable to travelling for leisure, and is a far more rewarding experience. I cannot say that I now have a different appreciation of Greeley and UNC, however I am grateful for this opportunity the university has granted me. Studying at Shaanxi Normal University in Xi’an was not better or worse than UNC, but has nonetheless greatly broadened my perception of world education.
            As for globalization, and business in China, my views have changed quite a bit. Despite rigorous amounts of governmental infrastructural control, business still flourishes, albeit in a different manner, based upon what I saw on my trip. First of all, unlike the US, it is ridiculously easy to start a business in China (to an extent, of course), due to lax protocol, and common ignorance of existing protocol. This leads to heavy competition everywhere between small businesses, and an excellent buying experience as a consumer (heavy bargaining is still very widespread in China). Interestingly enough, the only big businesses I could pick out were primarily government owned/influenced or foreign businesses (read: mostly American), with a few exceptions. I thought this odd since coming from the States, where business seems predominately chains and large companies. Unfortunately, operating any business in China is incredibly risky, so it was not uncommon to see a shop somewhere one day, gone the next, and something new constructed within the next week. Madness, to my American eyes. Anyway, I do not feel entirely against globalization, and from the local students I spoke to at SNU, they were in fact proud that China manufactures most of the world’s goods, however they were all quite adamant that the phrase “Made in China” be transformed into “Created in China.” They believed that this change would alter the connotation of Chinese manufacturing, by promoting the idea of China as a product’s point of origin, instead of in the lower-middle of the industrial chain. This notion is very interesting, and it was a delight to be able to discuss it with local students in Xi’an.
            This trip has also given me a new outlook on the future. I definitely want to return to China, preferably soon, as I greatly enjoyed learning the culture and improving my Chinese language skills. I believe the next time, however, I would like to return for work, or an internship. I was able to spend the majority of my trip as a student, and some of it as a tourist as well (an experience I did not particularly enjoy, as being a tourist doesn't really resonate with me), and so I would now like the experience of working abroad as well. Ideally, I am planning to find an internship in Information Systems (my emphasis) in China next summer, so I may both have such an experience as well as fulfill the MCB professional experience requirement. As for further into the future, this study abroad experience has more created questions than provided answers, and I am now looking into different possible future careers and career locations. So, it looks like I have much more pondering to do in the upcoming year. Nevertheless, I gained more excitement for the future, and am really looking forward to what it may hold.

            Well, these are a few of my final thoughts on my study abroad experience in China. Overall, this experience was revolutionary, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Therefore, I cannot help but mightily encourage any student to pounce on any study abroad opportunity that comes their way, as I guarantee it will be incredibly rewarding! Whew, well it’s hard to believe the trip’s over, and even more difficult to believe that I have another class starting in two days! This study abroad trip was an absolutely phenomenal experience, and I have learned so much, and widened my view of the world!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

SNU v. UNC Part 2

            The next differentiation I’d like to make is on class organization. Firstly, the classes at the Shaanxi Normal University were primarily very long classes, lasting two to four hours each. From students I spoke to, short classes were not as common. This the opposite the University of Northern Colorado, where the norm is short classes, with a sparse collection of long classes also offered. Also, at SNU, because of the lengthy classes, ten minute breaks, announced by a gong in each building, were common as a way for students to slightly recoup before returning to class. However, as nice as these breaks were, they were easily balanced by the rigor of the classroom, where information is fired at you at 100 mph, and you must retain it all, and very well at that. Similar to every university and school out there, if you don't know the material, you will test poorly, yet, in China, the grading system is nowhere near as lackadaisical as it is in the States, and not prone to the same grade inflation either.
            Due to the incredibly large student population in China, in order to do well in school, and ultimately, get to college, you must stand out among the rest. This is heavily apparent in the harsh grading methods of Chinese classes. At the end of the month, during which each student in my intermediate level Chinese class, a three hour class every weekday morning, not a single student scored above an 85%. Don’t get me wrong, in many classes a harsher grading method is necessary, but I was among some of the most studious individuals I met on this trip, and it was interesting to see how everyone scored. Nevertheless, it makes a lot of sense for China to implement such a system, as the schooling is ridiculously more competitive than in the US.
These are some of the primary differences I have seen between these schools, and it was an exceptionally rewarding experience to be able to take an entire Chinese language class in a month at Shaanxi Normal University. I already really miss Xi’an, and my time in the city was absolutely wonderful. I would definitely recommend this experience to anyone interested in different cultures, societies, and learning styles.


Monday, June 22, 2015

SNU v. UNC Part 1

            First of all, I must sincerely apologize for the lateness of these posts. As I write this, I am on a high speed train leaving Xi’an, and since I am on my way to spending the next few days in remote towns between Xi’an and Beijing, there is no guarantee when I will have a stable internet connection again. Nevertheless, I will do my best to send this out as soon as possible. Anyway, leaving Xi’an is honestly quite sad. Xi’an was an incredible city, and I will definitely miss my time there, I spent one month at the Shaanxi Normal University in Xi’an, and it was definitely one of the most amazing experiences I have had to date. So, after four weeks taking three classes at two universities, I have a comparison to make. As a Normal University, SNU is a teaching college, much like UNC, which was also at one point a Normal University. I’d like to elaborate a few differences I noticed between the two universities’ teaching styles, class organization, and grading.
            To begin, the teaching style is quite different between the two schools. At Shaanxi Normal University, they mostly used a teaching style based off centuries-old Confucian methods. These methods area primarily based upon read and repeat, with the purpose of exact rote memorization. This method was very useful in ancient times, when, in order to do well on the Civil Service Exam (A highly prestigious test in China based on mostly Confucian literature that qualifies you for government positions), you had to be able to have a multitude of texts and poems memorized word for word. In class, this method materialized itself in our teacher spending most of the class reading sections of a dialogue or vocab list in Chinese, having us repeat after her, and then asking us specific questions about the text to make sure we knew it exact. Later, we would be quizzed on the vocab dialogue to test for rote memorization. In contrast, at UNC, and most Western colleges, the teaching style is lecture or Socratic discussion, the goal of which is holistic comprehension instead of rote memorization. Obviously, the objective of both styles is a form of memorization, but each society takes a different route.
            Alas, it looks like I may be out of time for the rest of this post. We are spending this week on tour, and having just arrived in Beijing, there is a dawn ‘til dusk day of tours awaiting me. I promise to get the rest of this topic spoken of this evening or tomorrow morning. Until then, enjoy perusing the rest of the blog!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What Could be Considered Innately Chinese?

            So, as a part of another of the classes I am taking here (read: not the one about philosophies and religion), we had to write a paper on scene or picture we could take that we felt was “innately Chinese;” a situation or activity that would be difficult to find elsewhere. Now, I thought about using excerpts of my essay, but there would be a big problem with that. You see, the essay is in Chinese, so although it would look awesome resting on the front page of my blog, it would also be quite unnecessary, and possibly overkill. Nonetheless, I thought I would take this time to discuss a few things that I believe may be considered uniquely Chinese.
            The first item on the uniquely Chinese agenda is mahjong. This game has been a staple throughout Chinese history, and although it has many varied origin stories, what cannot be contested is that it has been around for a very long time. Mahjong can be seen everywhere throughout China, its gameplay ubiquitous in the culture. Now, the game played here is very different than the most popular version in Western society. In the States, I thought of mahjong as a kind of Chinese matching game. Given an artfully stacked set of tiles, you would match pairs to remove them, hoping that it would be possible to remove all the tiles. Here, in China, the game is far more complicated (I’ve tried to learn, but it may just be too sophisticated for me). From what I’ve garnered, the game is played mostly by four players, and through an inscrutable web of suits, series, hands, and melds, a player can be determined as the winner. Anyway, what makes the game stand out is that you can see it being played everywhere, outside of temples, in a crowded market, late at night on the street. This game is inherently Chinese, a fact that becomes apparent the longer I spend here in Xi’an.

            A second innately Chinese activity I’ve noticed is the aversion to cold drinks. Most Chinese people believe that a cold drink is unhealthy, an idea whose origins, once again, are very difficult to pinpoint. Nevertheless, this idea also appears in many Chinese philosophies, along with traditional Chinese medicinal practices. Now, this does have a few effects on the dining experience that differ from Western practice. First of all, there are cold drinks you can find, in markets and from street vendors, but the selection is sparse, and you’ll have to suffer through a strange look. In restaurants, either tea or hot water is served. I don’t really understand why, but one of the oddest things I’ve had to get used to is drinking a steaming cup of water with my meal. It’s quite interesting honestly, and I believe that the practice may be innately Chinese in use.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Point A to Point B Quick and Easy

               I spoke previously on the process of hailing a cab here in Xi’an. Well, I now realize that that gave quite a frightening and negative spin on transportation in Xi’an. Yes, the roads are packed with cars that will do anything to get over in to the next lane right now. Yes, often times signs and stop lights are seen as optional, and cars will shoot out, across, and through intersections. However, although many people do own cars, and nice ones at that (see: earlier post), most people use the public transportation system here in Xi’an. And, being at a university, I can tell you that public transportation is all that students use. Needless to say, the public transportation in this city is quite fantastic.
            Public transportation in Xi’an primarily consists of two options: buses or the subway. The subway is the simplest and most straightforward method. Comprised of a north-south route and an east-west route running directly through the center of the city, along with plans to build at least two more lines, the subway system is incredibly convenient. Payment is also simple, as everyone simply purchases transportation cards that can be preloaded with money and swiped before you get on the train. Also, I know I mentioned it earlier, but the signage here is really helpful, so it is difficult to get lost. The other option are the buses, which seem to be omnipresent on the streets, frankly because you can pretty much take a bus to any location in Xi’an. The only caveat here is that all information and signage for the buses is in Chinese, so if you don’t have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the language, or a really good bus route guide, riding the buses may be difficult. However, in my case, muddling through does me fine, and I’ve only gotten on the wrong bus like, twice. No big deal. Anyway, getting on the buses is quite easy and convenient, especially since you can use the same transportation card as the subway. And, as I believe can be seen in an earlier in my blog, the buses have are quite adept at navigating the crazy street of the city. For most of my traveling, I have used the subway, mostly because I am visiting temples and historical sites, which are congregated around the center of Xi’an. Nevertheless, I find that the longer I am here, the more I use the buses, and how much more I appreciate their convenience. It will honestly be difficult to return to a city without much public transportation.

            To be succinct, the public transportation here in Xi’an is surprisingly well laid out and very convenient to use. This has been integral to my travel experience, as I have been able to simply pick a location to visit, and be confident that I can get there by bus or subway. Well, I’ve got more travels to complete tomorrow, and Xi’an’s the place for it!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Guangren Monastery: 广仁寺

As another site visit for my Chinese philosophy class, I got a group together to go to Guangren Monastery. This temple is by far the most impactful site I have visited, the atmosphere of the temple grounds holding weight and depth like an aura. The only Tibetan Buddhist temple in Shaanxi, the Guangren Monastery lies just inside the northwest corner of the Xi’an city wall. The temple is gorgeous, managing to be both ridiculously ostentatious as well as incredibly humbling. The temple is used mostly by locals, and holds great cultural significance for its place in Xi’an’s society. This is extremely important, as the great majority of visitors to the temple are not tourists, but instead locals wishing to pay their respects to a Buddha or Bodhisattva of their choice. Although the temple is Buddhist, it portrays several elements of Daoism and Confucianism through symbols and architecture throughout the monastery, creating an amalgamation of Chinese philosophies. The Guangren Monastery is a place of worship first, and landmark second, a beautiful structure with not only cultural and historical significance, but also strong connections to longstanding Chinese philosophies.
            A waving, fluttering awning precedes the gates of Guangren Monastery, the flags attached to it whipped and wafted by the wind. Four Tibetan stupas of gleaming white marble sit on either side of the temple, each representing one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols, icons that are ubiquitous throughout the Guangren Monastery. Below each of the stupas is a short description written in three languages, Tibetan, Manchu, and Chinese. Entering the monastery, the first thing to catch the eye is an enormous carved stone wall, or Zhao Bi, placed directly inside the gate. Upon it is carved Buddha and a chained tiger beneath a peach tree, surrounded by the clouds above, mountains on the right, and the sea below. Past the Zhao Bi is a small hexagonal pagoda, which contains a stele with an inscription by Emperor Kangxi during the Qing dynasty. Four inner walls and four outer walls of the pavilion portray the eight auspicious symbols in vivid colors. Beyond the pavilion you will pass two octagonal walled pools, on which are also carved the eight symbols. Soon after is a marvelous hall dedicated to the Thousand-Hand Buddha, whose statue within glitters and gleams from heavy gold gilding. Around the back of the hall, two glass-encased vibrant and colorful paintings, one of the Ha destroying the enemies of Buddhism, and the other a detailed depiction of the Dharma Wheel lie on the reverse side of the hall. This courtyard also contains an enormous lamp, referred to as the “Ten Thousand Year Lamp,” which can be filled with enough kerosene to last days. Moving onward, you will reach the grandiose Hall of Longevity, containing gilded statues of different Buddhas and surrounded by rotational sutra barrels, gold barrels that we watched many of the visitors spin as they walked around the hall. Passing through this hall, Guangren Monastery then opens up to another large courtyard. Here, a gargantuan building fills the view, its gold roofs glimmering, and its colorful and ostentatious design dazzling the eyes. This is the keeping hall of the monastery, a depository of thousands of Buddhist scripts. This hall contains a Buddha statue at the forefront, and behind that statue stands a grandiose, two story tall golden figure whose upper body is lost among the multicolored rafters. The Guangren Monastery is beautiful and timeless, the sincerity of its visitors contradicting the skyscrapers just beyond the temple walls.
            There was definitely something special about this temple. Speakers around the temple project a live chant originating somewhere within the monastery, and although they are modern instruments, the speakers manage to create an atmosphere of peace and spirituality. It is difficult not to feel something as you watch monks walk languidly stroll through the temple, past kneeling visitors and songs sung in reverence. Guangren Monastery was an amazing temple to visit, and I am glad I had the opportunity to experience it.


Friday, June 5, 2015

A Taxi Ride? No Problem.

Everyone has heard the stereotype: The Chinese are terrible drivers. I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it. It’s quite pervasive in the States. And that’s where I come in. I am here dispute that stereotype, and ultimately prove it both true and false. Yes, I realize that makes little to no sense, but stick with me, and let’s take a frightening ride down the hectic streets of Xi’an.
            First, let’s hail a taxi. No, we can’t just walk up to the road, do you see those dividers? Most of the roads in the city have tall metal dividers on the edges and middle of the street to deter jaywalkers. Nevertheless, this street is going the wrong way, so we are going to need to cross. If we just walk down a bit, aha, there’s a break in the dividers. Crosswalks, you ask? Well, yes, they’re there, but mostly ignored by driver and pedestrian alike. Alright, time to cross. What are you looking at me like that for? You can’t just wait for a break in the traffic; there is never, day or night, a break in the traffic. Well, unless a truck tips over. That happens with odd frequency, probably because most of them are trike buses. Ah, but I digress. Anyhow, have you ever played that old video game Frogger?  That little frog who would cross heavy streams of traffic one lane at a time? Hmm, you’re looking a little pale, I’ll take that as an affirmative. So now we just wait for a small break in traffic in the lane directly in front of us, and, quick, run down one lane! Stop! Stand right there. Try to ignore the cars whizzing in front and behind you. Ready? Wait for a break, and one more lane over! Quick, one last lane. Oh! Stare him down, you’ll have a better chance of him not hitting you! Whew, alright. We’ve crossed the street. Now we can hail a cab.
            Now, this part should be familiar. Flag him down, give him the address, and get in the cab. Fantastic. Alright, now we should be able to relax while he – Jeez, is he really in between two lanes…and cutting in front of a bus? Crazy. However, this is actually how the driving here works. The lanes are ignored, the signs are ignored, and every car does their best to get to their destination as fast as possible, regardless of signage, or petty things like running red light and wiggling their way through oncoming traffic. Hey, one time, I even had one of these drivers take us through a construction zone, an impossibly narrow path under a bridge, and then shoot out into an intersection. We made excellent time though. Ooh, by the look on your face I can tell this isn’t helping, but you can trust me implicitly, I’ve spent a whole two weeks here. Huh, you don’t look reassured. Just look out the window though, and watch how the cab driver expertly weaves and twists through the traffic. Seriously, he could probably tell me the dimensions of this car down to the centimeter judging by the way he just squeezed it in between that biker and double-decker bus. Ah, here we are. Told you we’d get here fast, didn’t I? Now just take a minute to watch the traffic. Still looks ridiculously insane? Not so much. Accidents are rare, and people drive here like a crowd of people walk, i.e. everyone speeding and slowing down, slipping through gaps between groups of people. Well, now you know the process. I’m sure you can do it on your own now, no problem. Good luck!