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!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Maijishan Buddhist Cave Grottoes

            Last weekend I took the opportunity visit Maijishan (Pronounced My-Jee-Shon), a pilgrimage site of Buddhist Cave Grottoes. It was absolutely spectacular. First of all, I got to experience the Chinese train system, and its delightful combo of timeliness and chaos. Then, since Maijishan is right outside the small city of Tianshui, I was able to see China beyond the big city. I realize now as well that I have not explained why I have had the opportunity to visit the City God Temple and this site. Here in Xi’an at Shaanxi Normal University, I am taking a class on the great religions and philosophies of Asia, and, as part of the class, I must visit many ancient temples and sites (not that I’m complaining, as I said before, they are fantastic, and it is a privilege to visit them). Now, back to Maijishan. One of the four Great Buddhist Cave Grottos in China, the site is a grandiose carven cliff face with over 200 grottos, accessible by a maze of stairs and walkways. Maijishan’s construction began in 384 CE during the later Qin dynasty, and was continually added to and repaired throughout the following years, from the Sui dynasty to the Qing dynasty. Anyway, I ramble, so here is a probably unnecessarily detailed description of the journey up the mountain:
As a pilgrimage site for many Buddhists, the ascent is a significant part of the pilgrimage process. The climb begins on a road up to the mountain, and although it may seem that such a modern implementation would mar the journey, the area still holds beautiful scenery in abundance, encapsulating the rolling, verdant mountains China is famous for. Additionally, Maijishan’s grandeur remains in view, and only becomes more impressive as you ascend. At the base of Maijishan lies a temple, unfortunately closed off to visitors, as well as signs and a visitor’s center for further information on the site. It is at this point that Maijishan, an enormous carved pinnacle, looms over you, the true size and grandiosity of its grottoes and statues in view. A short path of stairs leads to the base of the cliffs, and here, like a goat clings to the rock of a mountainside, the web of stairs and pathways provide an ominous indication of the next leg of your journey. As you navigate the stairways, the cave grottos pass by on the side, holes hewn directly into the wall. Most grottoes follow the same pattern, of a Buddha with its attendants and Bodhisattvas by its side. Many of the grottoes are painted as well, in colors whose vibrancy has survived centuries. Near the top of Maijishan, a row of much larger grottoes are sunken in, the row of Buddha statues flanked by two red-skinned figures, named Ha and Heng, who are often referred to as the guardians of Buddhism. Above each guardian are smaller grottoes containing the figure of a seated Buddha, known as Maitreya, or the “Buddha of the Future.” Continuing through the stairways, on one side the figures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas stare eternally past you at mountains the color of jade, the tree shrouded mounds unfolding before their eyes. The stairways end and a path winds you back to your departure site, the temple at the foot of the mountain.

            So, that is Maijishan. Ancient, beautiful, and above all, culturally significant in its perseverance as a pilgrimage and prayer site. It was undoubtedly the best adventure I’ve been on here yet, and I am psyched to be able to visit another one of the great cave grottoes in Luoyang in a couple weeks!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Beautiful Cars, Terrible Roads

             I have found that while abroad, it is not the huge changes from your home country that take you by surprise, but instead small observances and experiences that may frighten you, but are also incredibly interesting. I believe this is because when you are mentally preparing to travel abroad, you prepare for grand upheavals in daily life, but not for the small things that catch your eye whilst whizzing by. In my case, I found that cars here in Xi’an are very different, but not exceptionally so, instead, it is a topic that constantly fascinates me. Specifically, the one thing that has stood out the most is the makes, models, and years of cars in Xi’an. There are cars everywhere that are simply flashier, from the middle of downtown to a dilapidated alley by the university.
            In the US, the luxuriousness of a parked car depends most often upon its whereabouts. In a lower income neighborhood or region, the cars will often be of common makes and models, and older as well, due to most of the cars being bought and sold used. In contrast, a wealthy neighborhood or business parking lot may contain cars of more varied and rarer makes and models, and are often much newer, owing to cars in such regions and of such owners are commonly bought new. To be frank, I have never seen more expensive, new, luxurious cars in a single area than here in Xi’an. Besides the taxi drivers, buses, and trucks, the majority of cars on the road are new, and from many more uncommon suppliers. Simply walked down a parking lot, in just about any part of town, the listing process goes as such: Mercedes, New Honda, Nice Chinese Car, Range Rover, Porsche, Nice Chinese Car, Jaguar, Acura, and New Toyota. I am just constantly amazed at the display of wealth that the cars signify. However, when I brought up the observation with a professor, I was given quite a plausible reason.

See, here in China, there is very little to invest in. If you wish to buy a bigger and better house, you will most likely be out of the luck. Property is primarily government-owned, and although you may be able to rent a more spacious apartment or house, there is very little housing variety, and such locations are often only available outside the city or are instead kept and not sold. Despite the majority of skyscrapers in the city being apartment buildings, these buildings are built with, foremost, the government’s ideas in mind, therefore all apartments are remarkably similar. Investment itself is also rare, as many Chinese people are not informed of such an opportunity and many more are not given one at all. This culminates in a culture where any disposable income is then spent a new, luxurious car. I have found this to be incredibly interesting, and a small observation that is easy for many to overlook.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The City God Temple

On Thursday I took the opportunity to visit the City God Temple in the center of Xi’an. This temple is exemplary in a few different ways. The temple’s architecture and organization are unique and beautiful, it portrays an incredible amalgamation of Daoism, Confucianism, and local religion, as well as, most importantly, the temple is still in use by many of the locals. Visiting the temple was quite an invaluable and rewarding experience.
The temple is extremely hard to miss as it stands as an enormous red and gold monument to the past, its archways jutting into the street and looming over passerby. The passage into the temple is crowded with various street vendors, the majority of whom sell incense and prayer papers, which are more expensive at their usage points further into the temple. Due to such market activity, the entrance is loud and boisterous, goods from produce to children’s toys being hawked and bartered. This is why it is even more startling to enter the silence of the temple proper. In Confucian style, the temple is bisected into two courtyards, the first of which, in earlier days, would be for guests and visitors, and the second for family, or in the case of a temple, the clergy. The guest courtyard is dominated by a large pool full of koi, surrounded by tables where monks in robes and old men played Chinese chess and loudly debated ideas.
Once you walk over the divide into the second, private courtyard of the temple, the ambiance changes once again. Here, two rooms lie on either side of the courtyard, and a large building rests at the back. The smell of incense fills the air. There were no other tourists. Instead, a few locals walked past, placing incense in the burner and entering the large building gin the back to pay their respect to the gods within. The side rooms each contained three statues to local gods, their interiors ornately painted. Entering the main building at the rear placed you in the middle of five gargantuan statues, forefront of which was the City God of Xi’an, wise, robed and gilded. As is common in Daoism, the philosophy had fused itself with the local religion, becoming a Daoist temple to the city’s local gods.
This temple is an awe and wonder inspiring feat of architecture; the style and beliefs it holds are a beautiful blending of Confucian, Daoist, and local beliefs. It was a privilege to be given the opportunity to visit such a spectacle.  

Friday, May 29, 2015

Information Overload and Modern Nature

    First impressions are often given the majority of credit for someone’s assessment of a person, a region, or a people. However, it is with prolonged exposure that one may gain a broader assessment of such a thing. I have been in Xi’an for nearly a week now, and I feel that I have a better understanding of the society than my first impressions endowed me. Specifically, there are a few little observations that I find intriguingly different from the US. To begin, there is a stark visual contrast in Xi’an compared to much of the US. In Xi’an, the first thing to notice is that signage is much more prevalent. From street signs to hundreds of shop signs, there is never a lack of visual information. The most interesting thing I noticed about the signs is that they are most often in at least two languages. These languages are primarily Chinese and English, however many signs also contain a Japanese, Korean, or French translation as well. And although most places have signs in both Chinese and English, I am often hard-pressed to find a shopkeeper who speaks both languages. Most shops in the city are incredibly small, allowing for many more than I’ve ever seen in the US packed onto one street. Due to their size, they are all fighting over signage real estate, so day or night every street is garishly lit up. Parallel to the streets, the wide sidewalks are usually made thin by street vendors and haphazardly parked cars, the vendors who, of course, must also find space for their own signs.

    The second little observation offering a stark contrast from Xi’an to the US is the amount of vegetation. By this I do not so much mean natural vegetation, but instead the pervasive amount of potted and household plants. That is not to say that there is not very much vegetation in Xi’an, conversely, the humidity and climate allow for ubiquitous greenery throughout the city. Every shop, every house, even the interior of restaurants and bars have various potted plants clustered on shelves and on the porch. I believe this has a deep rooted connection to Daoism in Chinese society, especially the Daoist ideal of naturalism, blending the natural environment with the modern environment. I also enjoy the amount of beauty that all the plants bring to the region, contrasting gray and brown of modern architecture. These are a couple small observations that I have noticed differ quite a bit from the US, and in a small way, create a unique society in Xi’an.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Late Starts, Missed Flights, and the Great Firewall of China

               Ah yes, the first post on a new travel blog. Usually fresh, exciting, and setting up a grand adventure yet to come, the first post is a groundbreaking event. However, this is not such a traditional post. This study abroad story begins instead with a student’s close friend and worst enemy: procrastination. I believed that I would be leaving for China on Thursday, May 21st, so I planned to set up a VPN (a necessity in China, but more on that later) and this blog, a day or two before (see: procrastination). Alas, as often befalls procrastinators, one bump in the road derailed all my plans. Well, “bump” may not be the correct comparison, try “cliff.” See, I fell prey to every world traveler’s worst nightmare; I missed my flight.
               Now, you may thinking, ‘That’s awful! Of course, there must be an entirely plausible reason for such a tragedy!’ And I wish you were right! However, that is not the case. Remember how earlier I mentioned that I thought I would be leaving on Thursday, May 21st? Well, it turns out that my flight was actually on Wednesday, the day before. You can probably see the problem. The situation played as you would expect. I turned off my phone Tuesday night, had a restful night, and then turned on my phone in the morning to find out that I had missed my 6am flight! What a crazy day! As I am currently in China, it can be puzzled out that I was able to resolve the situation (quite expensively, of course), and catch a flight a few days later. I arrived at Shaanxi Normal University in Xi’an with, thankfully, only a few missed events. After arriving, it was time to create this blog!
               Not so fast. I discovered quickly that China was not overly fond of Blogger, as it is run by Google, whom they disapprove of. Censorship in China is widespread and varied, across many sites and companies, and is often referred to as the Great Firewall of China. Now, I did have a plan to circumvent this wall, by using a VPN I had set up while in the US. However, missing my flight just so happened to put that plan into disarray. In order to create this blog, I needed a VPN. In order to get a VPN, I needed to not be in China…or use a different VPN. So, to that effect, I have spent the last two days attempting to get a VPN, without a VPN, with no luck. Today, I was incredibly worried I wouldn't be able to create this blog, until I was talking with a friend, who said she had a way to help me! She let me use her VPN to get online long enough to find a good VPN and purchase it, which was a huge relief. So, with my feet firmly on Chinese ground, classes started, and blog created, I am excited to spend the next four weeks broadening my horizons and imbibing the local culture!