Monday, June 10, 2013

Day 35, Shanghai

Today we woke up to a cloudy, bustling Shanghai and after a quick breakfast at the hotel we boarded a bus to the Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (SMIC). We were greeted by Matthew Syzmanski. Yes his name might sound familiar as he spent 17 years working in Congress. To be honest, I expected this presentation to be a boring overview of the products that SMIC makes and how their company runs and I was pleasantly surprised when Mr. Syzmanski focused more on SMIC's recruitment strategies and their "company town" and engaged us by discussing more about being an ex-pat living in China. SMIC has a residential campus for its employees across the street from their workplace as well as amenities like grocery stores, restaurants, a fitness center and others. The SMIC School is one of the best private schools in Shanghai and boasts a much cheaper tuition than other schools in the city. Mr. Syzmanski spent most of the time recanting his experiences and observations with Chinese culture. He had many interesting and engaging opinions about Chinese culture, but the one that stuck out to me the most was his opinion that Chinese people behave as if they are the only one on Earth. Strangers on the street don't even register to them, but the second you have any sort of connection, they are the friendliest most hospitable people. I have definitely noticed this here. I've gotten pushed and shoved trying to make my way around a crowded subway station but the second you ask someone for help or strike up a conversation with anyone on the street, they are the sweetest most helpful people. Mr. Syzmanski gave us all new insights into being a foreigner living in China and we were so lucky to have the opportunity to speak with him.

After leaving SMIC we headed over to Thumb Square for lunch. It is astonishing just how many commercial centers Shanghai has! It's almost as though we could visit one different shopping center every day and still wouldn't be able to see them all during our time here. Next we walked down the street to visit Li Bin, a former Red Guard, who now paints historical scenes reflecting on his experiences during the Mao era. When we first walked in we saw a stunning mural of Nelson Mandela commissioned by a wealthy businessman in South Africa. Li Bin walked us through a powerpoint of the evolution of his works. It was really interesting to put the style of his paintings in context with his life and Chinese history. His recent works are layered with euphemisms and symbolism in order to get his point across without drawing attention from the government. It's funny how the government inadvertently provokes creativity to get around the censorship practices.

Our last activity of today was the China Art Museum in the China pavilion. The architecture of the building really caught my eye. It is really unique and like nothing I've ever seen before. To get into the museum we had to take these enormous escalators up into the building. The exhibits were filled with beautiful landscape paintings and oil paintings. It was very fascinating to compare the works that filled this government sponsored museum versus the works of Li Bin. The art in the museum was all very literal, typically landscape paintings or inspiring, patriotic paintings of workers overcoming hardships and building the foundation of China.

Overall, today has given me much insight into the way China treats art officially and unofficially and I feel as though the more I learn about China the less I understand it. This incredible opportunity is one that I will remember for a very long time and as this Dialogue nears the end I'm saddened that I only have a few more days to spend with all these wonderful people and in this beautiful country. 

- Milli C.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Day 34, Shanghai - "feichang youisi"

First day in Shanghai. We've been in China for over a month now and I still feel as if I've barely skimmed the surface. Beijing, Nanjing, Anhui – it's crazy how quickly time flies by, how fleeting these moments are. I've gotten close to many of the people on this trip and as it nears its end I can feel the nostalgia already creeping in. My brain is saturated with information and my life feels fuller. I only wish that this trip would last a bit longer. We've had such an amazing opportunity to listen to so many different speakers that have given us insight into the country that we're traveling in. I'm so thankful for these kinds of experiences because they allow for me to dig a little deeper into my personal journey and make the best of my time abroad.
The morning started off at 9am when we listened to speaker We Heng, the creator of "Throw it out the Window", a website that has produced a database of news reports on food scandals in China. Hearing about many of the food safety issues before coming to China – rat and fox meat being passed off as lamb in street food, the recycling of gutter oil, dead pigs in rivers– I was a bit weary of eating street food. But after hearing Mr. Wu speak, I discovered that these kinds of scandals happen all over China. Not just in street food! So, I'm pretty sure I've consumed some industrial chemicals and/or food cooked with gutter oil at some points during this trip. Even though this may be true, I'm not too concerned about it because, as Mr. Wu explained, as long as you're eating a diverse diet you should be okay. "Rotate your poisons," he said. I thought to myself, how funny is it that this speaker is saved for the end when we've already eaten our way through three cities. Well… at least it all tasted good!
Aside from these enlightening and slightly horrifying realizations, I also learned a about how the government operates when these kinds of food issues come up. There are ten separate departments that deal with food safety, which means that it is difficult to hold any one of them accountable. The system is unorganized and in that way completely inefficient. What is even more interesting is that the central government officials have their own farms so that they know where their food is coming from and what exactly their eating. They won't even eat their own country's food because they know exactly what is going on. So why is nobody at the government level attempting to regulate food safety in China? Again, we come back to the undeniable corruption in the Chinese government. Being a government official is a very lucrative position and an official's biggest concern is not making mistakes rather than protecting the people. It's better to not do anything than try to implement policy and fail. So not only is no one department or person held accountable for babies dying from formula containing industrial strength chemicals, no one has the initiative to step up and do something about it at the official level. In the end it also seems as if it is the consumers job to "rotate their poisons" and try to choose what they eat wisely. Mr. Wu's website provides much of this awareness and is now almost entirely run by public posts.
After listening to Mr. Wu's talk, the issues seem to be much more complex. It goes back to thinking about why exactly people are selling bad food and who exactly is selling it. Sometimes people need to go to drastic measures to make money for their families in order to survive. Perhaps the people who sell bad food aren't really thinking about the well being of other people and completely detach themselves from their customers. Maybe their consumer's health is not their concern – they're just trying collect their livelihood. Whatever the reasons may be, what becomes obvious is that food safety is a rather big issue in China and is something that needs to be improved.  Quality of life is a measure of how developed a country is, and as China becomes more and more developed it needs to pay attention to these pressing issues.
We then moved on to talk with Jenny from ChinesePod. I used ChinesePod in my Chinese class last semester, Spring 2013, so I was very interested to see the face behind the voice. Jenny explained to us that their goal is to make people interested in learning Chinese. They attempt to mirror what people go through in their daily lives and have over 2,200 podcasts available. I thought about how much Mandarin I've learned while I've been here in China and I feel like it's been so much more than what I've learned in the classroom. But I feel like it's only because being in China has added context to my broken Mandarin phrases and pushes me to use them even though I might be embarrassed. When I go back to Los Angeles or Boston it's going to be a little different. I won't be forced to speak Chinese and I won't have a group of people who are also learning Chinese to help motivate me. My mom doesn't even speak Mandarin, she speaks Cantonese. I'm going to have to really push myself to keep up with my Mandarin once I leave China.
 After lunch at Hooters in the Super Brand Mall, I realized that it's a little different from the ones in America. It's a bit more of a wholesome family experience here, and I could see that as I ate my grilled chicken Caesar salad. Next we went to meet Charles Wang, an architect who works in urban development in the Pudong area of Shanghai. He is the founder and CEO of Unitown Design Inc. He explained to us that Pudong was composed almost entirely of rice fields just twenty years ago, which is very hard to believe looking at the city now. It has become one of the most important locations in China geographically. Shanghai is the most westernized city of China, it has become an economic and financial center, and it has an exponentially growing population. Mr. Wang spoke of the differences between building projects in China and the US. The government in China is very heavily involved in building projects, which is very different from the US. As China's infrastructure improves, easy access to transportation increases, population also increases. Fast development such as this can generate environmental and pollution issues, as well as human rights issues concerning dilemmas including displacement.
In conclusion, today has given me a very interesting perspective on China's most westernized city. I've been here before with family but would have never gotten these opportunities to listen to these speakers had I come without this Dialogue. There is only one phrase that details all of my emotions about this experience: "Shanghai feichang youyisi." ("Shanghai is really interesting!")

- Megan I.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Day 33, Nanjing to Shanghai

Today was our last morning in Nanjing; bittersweet moment. I think most of us were already settling in and getting familiar with the Nanjing life. We knew where to go get our "jianbing" in the morning; we were meeting new people whether it was during our internship or just around the school. However, we are all excited to see what Shanghai has in-stored for us.

We took the high speed train and arrived at Shanghai around 4:00 pm.  The high speed train goes as fast as 250 kilometers per hour. When we got out of the subway station a lot of us were surprise of what we were seeing outside. Most of us were thinking that we would be seeing skyscraper all around, but that wasn't the case.

After we settle down and had some time to rest, we went to dinner at Zilanmen Restaurant and had a wonderful conversation with John Pasden.  He is a Chinese linguist, founder of Sinosplice, the first blog dedicated to Chinese learning, founder of All Set Learning, a Shanghai learning consultancy and also works with Chinese Pod. John Pasden has been living in China for a long time now and has been able to master the Chinese language. For most people learning Chinese might seem impossible thing to do. However, John Pasden gave of us helpful tips on how to personalize your Chinese education which make learning Chinese more entertaining which at the end motivates us more. You can use the Pleco app, read the short messages on Weibo, Chinese Pod, Chinese Grammar Wiki and the Anki website to mix up your language learning experience.

John Pasden also talked about the difference between foreign and second language. Before I didn't know the difference between learning a second language and learning a foreign language; for me they were both the same. Actually when you learn a second language you are surrounded by the language; you get to use it after class and on a daily basis. On the other hand, learning a foreign language you just go to class and don't really get to use what you learn after class.

I think that this talk with John Pasden was really beneficial for all of us. He mentioned several sites and apps that would help us improve and personalize our language learning. If you live a busy life there is no excuse to say that you don't have time to practice Chinese. There are so many ways to practice Chinese. You can use your cell phone apps on your way to work to listen to a podcast or instead or reading twitter message use Chinese twitter site "Weibo".

-- Kiara P.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Day 32, Nanjing - "Mystery Nanjing"!

Sadly our last day in Nanjing is almost over and like all the others it was incredible! We all finished our finals for our Chinese class and realized how much we had learned in the past 4 weeks. Personally, I can now maintain small talk, explain my background, and explain what I am doing here in China. A great improvement from just knowing "ni hao."

Nanda later threw for us a goodbye lunch and the sense of leaving started to settle. It has been incredible how we not only have learned a lot but changed so much by the city and what we have been exposed to. The classes, the host family, the internship, and the university, they have all contributed in showing us more and more about China and the culture. I now understand more about the Nanking Massacre, Chinese corporate culture and, the quick development of second tier cities. This became even clearer when after a month the metro construction diagonal from where we live has not stopped day or night, a new construction is starting beside our building, and my favorite yogurt place disappeared overnight.

Before we could continue talking about what we are going to miss about Nanjing we had Mystery Nanjing! The scavenger hunt lasted for around 3 hours and it was awesome! We got to run around Nanjing and talking to people trying to find the answers and places that would give us points. Even though my team lost we had some great moments in the hunt like putting our hands in a tank full of huge frogs, trying to hold a baby (the mom got a bit mad), and taking a picture with a McDonalds delivery men. The best though was convincing a taxi driver to let me set in the driver's seat! We were all amazed we actually convinced him, since I could have totally driven off. Another of the many wai guo ren (foreigner) privileges we have discovered in Nanjing. By the end, seeing how competitive we all were to see who won the massages was great. It made me realize that we have not only grown individually but also as a group. From being an awkward group of strangers to becoming good friends and having already great stories to tell has been great.

Looking back at our entire time in Nanjing we arrived as a small group with no connections and each are leaving with friends, a Chinese family we will always be able to come back to, and even a work office we will always be received at. These things are priceless and will definitely be staying in our minds in our future endeavors, which will definitely once again blow our minds.

We are all extremely excited for Shanghai! J Reading the course pack about the city, its lights, and the non stopping movement has tripled my expectations and now I can't wait to be exposed to everything the city has to offer. J Shanghai here we come!!!

Pan Huan 潘欢
Also known as: Juan Peña Salas

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Day 31, Nanjing - Bye to the Language Partners

            After four weeks in Nanjing, things are starting to come to an end. Today we met with our language partners for the last time. Since we began meeting with them, I feel that my language skills have significantly increased. Everyday I find myself able to speak new words, and with these new words, I am able to create more and more coherent sentences. Before I came on this trip, I learned about a language skill building technique called the Pimsleur approach. This technique involves listening to short commonly used sentences, and committing them to memory. The theory is that by knowing these few commonly used sentences, you will be able to carry a short conversation in the new language. As time goes on, you will gain a better understanding of the language and the sentence structure, and be able to expand your vocabulary of the language. This principle is based off the idea that no one makes a baby study; instead it slowly learns the words and sentences it needs to survive. Water. Food. Yes. No. All of which are necessary to know in order to make it through the day. I believe that through our language partners we have inadvertently been using the Pimsleur approach. Every time we meet with them, I learn new sentences that are necessary for me to make it through the day. Such as how to ask where the bathroom is, and how to understand the key words in the directions the waitress gives me, such as right or left. I have also learned how to order food, and how to identify the characters for several key meats that I like to eat. Not only have I learned how to order my food, but I have also learned how to "properly" order my food. I have learned how to address the waitress properly, and I have slowly come to the realization that it is perfectly fine to scream "Fu Wu Yuan" at the top of your lungs, in order to get the waitress' attention. I have learned that when you take the lid off of your teapot and place it offset on top of the teapot, this signifies to the waitress that you would like to have more tea. Not only has this experience given me a new set of vocabulary to build off of and a better understanding of Chinese dining, but I also feel that it has given me more confidence in regards to my Chinese speaking. I believe that being forced to come out of my shell and use Chinese more often has helped me significantly develop my language skills. The fact that this is a daily occurrence just makes it easier to get a grasp of the language. Overall I would say that the language partners were one of the best experiences of the entire trip. I look forward to keeping in contact with them in the future, and continuing this learning experience.

Ryan L. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Day 30, Nanjing - Last Day of Internship

Today was the last day of internships! Class in the morning was the usual: a little bit slow but still educational. After class we all got quick lunches and went our separate ways to internships.
For the past few days I have been working alternately at an environmental advocacy NGO called Greenstone and the Jiangsu Province Solid Waste Management Department. Today I took a bumpy bus ride, walked through a dirty alley, and climbed up several flights of cement stairs to Greenstone’s headquarters. Greenstone has six full-time workers in the office who manage all of its operations. It calls itself a public advocacy NGO, both in the sense that it advocates for the people of China’s right to voice their opinions and in the sense that they advocate for the environment to the people. The six staff members organize everything from lawsuits against the central government to community volunteer projects cleaning trash in the city. They move around the office like a coordinated hurricane, driven by obvious passion for their jobs.
I was assigned to work with an intern there named Zhang researching environmental law in the US and in China. One of China’s biggest environmental challenges right now is perhaps not what first comes to mind. It is not a scientific problem like water pollution or carbon emissions, but rather comes down to one fact: the public is not participating enough in environmental decisions. There is very little public input into actions that impact the environment, whether those actions are policies, housing developments, or new chemical plants. The problem has to do with environmental laws that do not require public participation, companies or government officials who don’t follow laws or provide adequate information even when the public is supposed to be involved, and public apathy because people are unaware of the issues or prioritize something else, like quick economic growth. Zhang’s specialty is environmental law, so my job was to help him compare China’s laws with those of the US and figure out where and how the people could be more involved.
As we worked I was able to ask Zhang more about his thoughts on his job, the environment, and the future of China. He, like many of the other speakers this group has been able to hold dialogues with, believes that lasting change in China will have to come from a change in people’s attitudes. He encourages Greenstone to develop its community projects and engagement programs because he believes that education is the only real way to change people’s perception of the environment. His approach makes a lot of sense and echoes Hu Jie and others we have spoken to in the last few weeks. Recurring themes for this dialogue definitely include the power of ideas and special people to make huge changes, the need to look beyond a shallow number like GDP into the deeper implications of a matter, and a sense of the responsibility of every person to look beyond themselves.
Saying good bye to Zhang and the others in the office was bittersweet. I have learned a lot from the people at Greenstone over the past week. They told me to keep in touch, and I definitely plan to!
- Maddie S.