Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Adventures with Dad In China

The highlight of China was spending time exploring with my dad. It was awesome that he had a week off of work and we could spend time together. We arrived in Shanghai on September 4th, a bit tense from a 14 hour flight with little to no sleep. Instead of catching a super expensive taxi about an hour across the city to our hotel from the Pudong Airport, we took a cheap bus (about $1) for about an hour and half. This ride gave us a great introduction to the colossal city, with more skyscrapers than anywhere I have ever been. It was astounding and overwhelming. Just think, an a hour and a half to cross the city, with gargantuan buildings the entire way.

Our first meal was a failed attempt at verbal communication, but we successfully conveyed our order through gestures and body language. We couldn't read menus (in Mandarin) and there weren't pictures, so Dad just pointed to what someone else was eating, then held up 2 fingers and gestured to the two of us and did the same for Suntory beer. Beer is serve in liter bottles along with small glasses. Chinese drinking tradition requires you to chug an entire cup each time anyone drinks and says "gambe". This can get tough, quick. We had some tasty, spicy noodles in a red, greasy sauce, which may or may not have contained bits of meat, possibly peanuts, still not sure. It can be quite a guessing game while attempting to be pescatarian (no meat, some seafood) while traveling, just have to do my best.

Dad and I wandered across a pedestrian bridge by our hotel in the Puxi (Pooshy) district of Shanghai, which gateway from overwhelming opulence of fancy business buildings into the reality of a small community. Despite being 10pm on a Sunday, many people living in smaller apartments around were on the street playing cards and sitting at cafes, with shoe stores and food-on-a-stick vendors open and busy. Some bemused old men chilling in folding chairs shouted hello (in their best English) at us, everyone else observed us as we did them. It was a sweet peek into their lives.

We enjoyed wandering in Shanghai, checking out lots of sights, like a fresh market. This was my first of sooo many in Asia. I absolutely love them.

I experienced some traveler's guilt. Arriving in China, I knew that bargaining was an expected practice, but I had trouble getting into it when buying items on the street. While buying lace ribbons and some other crafting supplies from an old man on a bridge, I knew I should have given a counter-offer for asked price (which was lower than what I would pay in the states). But I didn't, feeling like I had so much, being fortunate to travel to his country, and knowing he would benefit. Later, this lady asked for 10 yuan (about $3) for a mixed bag of odd nuts, sesame rounds, and twistie snacks, I paid it having the same sentiment in mind. Afterward, her smile was huge, a friend came to talk to her and she pointed and laughed at me. Then I realized, to bargain is culturally expected. If you don't do it, you are being stupid. Asked prices are buffered for the bargain. I appreciated this lady for teaching me a lesson and encouraging me to be thrifty for my future travels.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Faces of China

On Nanjing Rd in Shanghai, looking at a sea turtle in a tank
Bladin' in Shanghai

New friend Candy :). We met her while wandering in Hutong (ancient courtyard neighborhood) in Beijing.
Met up with Candy's art teacher's daughter

Park in Beijing
Pretty Princess at the Forbidden City, Beijing

Mao at the entrance of Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Diligently guarding an embassy in Beijing.
Pedicabber in Xitong, an ancient water town.

Tiger Hill in Suzhou
Grandma's PJs say "Barrel of Monkeys"

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Learning about China

As I was traveling in China, I read China Road, A Journey into the Future of Rising Power by Rob Gifford, an NPR Correspondent for China from the U.K. Rob lived in China for 6 years and at the end of his stay, traveled by bus and hitchiking across the country from East to West in 2007. He provided a great perspective of life in China and interviewed farmers, students, government workers, activists, hermits, factory workers, anyone he could to further investigate the intricate subtleties of China today. Any quotations are taken from his book.

Marxist communism no longer exists in China, since the Death of Mao in 1976. The current label is "socialism with Chinese characteristics", but as far as Im concerned its Capitalism. People no longer have free health care or guarenteed jobs. An estimated 200 million farmers and people from more rural areas have moved to cities in search of work, but the divide between the wealthy and the poor is expanding rapidly.

The Maoist regime instituted The Great Leap Forward in 1958, which was responsible for the shift in China from an agriculturally based to industrial economy. Private farming was outlawed and factory jobs were promoted. The result was a huge famine beginning in 1959 when crops began rotting in the fields as the farmers toiled in factories, food shortages occured which were exacerbated by flooding. It has been estimated that between 23 and 43 MILLION deaths occurred during this time period beause of The Great Leap Forward (into a deep chasm). This was followed by the Cultural Revolution beginning in 1966 which was Mao's attempt to redeem himself after losing much respect from the disaster of the Great Leap Forward. The Cultural Revolution was an attempt to reform the cultural, spiritual, and intellectual characterisitics of China in order to implement Socialism and acceptance of Mao's regime. Basically it incorporated intense violations of human rights and resructuring of society, while decimating cultural and religious heritage.
He did however make accomplishments for society. During Mao's regime, the life expectancy, literacy, and infant mortality rates all increased. He encouraged families to have many children in order to fortify the work force, which is responsible for the current population of over 1.3 billion.

Anway, that was a lot of history. Basically I wanted to point out that much of the cultural, societal, and religious basis of China was lost throughout that period of history. During Mao's regime, the lower class lifestyle greatly improved, but the sense of identity of the Chinese people was nearly erased.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is now officially in power. The best students are recruited to be party members, as it is an honor to be asked to join the CCP. They attribute the CCP to the opportunities that they have. One student Rob interviewed said "'We are the ziwo yidai, the Me Generation,' she says, a little wistfully. 'We believe only in ourselves'."

So, the CPP has their hand in every aspect of society and has the support of the best students, who will most likely get the best jobs. Some interesting facts about how the CPP operates follows... The local officials have a great deal of power and often times are not overseen by anyone which encourages corruption and extortion of the local people. It is sometimes said that "the strong dragon is no match for the local snake". The CPP appoints all judges and there is a 99% conviction rate in the courts. Thousands of people are sentenced to "reform through labor" yearly. Farmers rent land from the government.

The rapid industrialization, lack of environmental consciousness, and enormous population have resulted in serious detriment to the environment. “16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China”. They rely heavily on coal as the main source of power, which contributes to significant air and water pollution. There are both water and electric shortages throughout the country. The farmers can now earn more in a month working in a factory than they could in a year working on a farm, about $120. But instead of interacting with and cultivating the land through agriculture, they are decimating the environment working in a sea of factories.

They do have dual trash and recycling recepticles throughout the country. Also, in Shanghai I saw many solar cells on top of the 30 story buildings. They attempt to counter some of the air pollution with millions of trees in and surrounding the cities, many are new and have support structures to prop them up.

"There are 9 cities in the U.S. with more than one million inhabitants. In China there are 49." They are experiencing quite a shortage of electricity. It may be the environmental detriment that ultimately causes China to crumble.

It seems that there are fences everywhere. It is hard sometimes to figure out how to cross the street in Shanghai because of gaurdrails that navigate pedestrian traffic. Thousands of electric scooters and old school cruiser bicycles weave through vehicular traffic. No one wears a helmet. Traffic seems like structured chaos. There are many VWs (almost every taxi), as well as Japanese models and Audis are the status symbol. In Shanghai, there are 100 miles of elevated highway, riding in a taxi to the airport seemed to be a rollercoaster ride.

The high speed train from Shanghai to Beijing took about 5 hours, cost $90 and traveled about 300-310 kmph (180-195 mph). It was very clean with stewardess, overhead storage, and spacious seats. The other riders were obviously the rising middle and upper class members of society. On the return train from Beijing, I thought someone had gotten a cricket stuck in their luggage, I kept hearing a chirping from overhead. After I woke up from a nap, dad pointed out that the older lady in front of us had a miniature bird cage and inside was a grasshopper chomping on a soy bean pod! At a museum in Suzhou, I learned that intellects who spent their time enjoying art, writing calligraphy, and reading philosophy were often accompanied by pet cicadas, crickets, or grasshoppers!

"There couldn't be a better summary of the Chinese dilemma today: the tension between the need to enforce orthodoxy in order to retain the unity and the need to allow freedom in order to encourage creativity."

Got behind on my blog in China as independent blogs, facebook, and youtube are all inaccessible in China. The great wall of today is the blockade internet and media. Chinese society is not infiltrated by the idea of freedom of speech, unification to take action, or exploring creativity. The grip the government has is strong enough to squelch any unwanted seedlings of opposition.

"Karaoke is the ultimate socially acceptable vehicle for Asian people to say the things that are hidden deep inside them".

After the mass murders of students protesting Communism in support of a democratic government in Tianamen Square in 1989, there was an unsaid treaty between the government and the people "The people stay out of the government and they will be left alone". Therefore activism now is through nonpolitical issues. The people have learned the consequences that occur if they voice any contempt.

It can be observed that individualism is increasing. The status of women is higher and there is no longer an enforced morality. Mao stated that "women hold up half the sky" and encouraged women to work, which gave them worth in society, instead of solely as wives, which could be bought and sold. Women now hold many positions in China. In terms of the oldest occupation, it is estimated that between 10 and 20 million Chinese women are involved in sex trade in China. There may be improvements in the treatment and perspective of women especially urban women of the rising middle class, but in 2007 China had the "highest rate of femal suicide in the world, and suicide is the number one cause of death among women between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four." There is widespread dispair amongst rural women. While striving to become a world power, many are being left behind.

While Confucius stressed order and duties and finding one's place in society, Daoism focused more on metaphysical questions finding one's place in the universe... Confucianism followed the rules of li, or "proper behavior according to status." Daoism followed the concept of wuwei, or "nonaction".

Daoism is the only indigenous Chinese religion, as Buddhism was adopted from outside and Confucianism is more of a social philosphy.
"Although there is now a resurgence of interest in some folk religions and a growth in religious acivity around the country, mainstream China feels very secular...In destroying its traditional ways of thinking, it has done away with any ethical restraints on a headlong pursuit of wealth and development". It can be now argued that the current religion is the worship of money. A government sponsored church does exist, house churches are not allowed.

Anyway, as I was reading and experiencing, there was a lot about China that I wanted to share. I will add another post about my adventures with Dad in China and some pics. Glad to have gotten this off of my chest! Clearly this was all presented with bias through the perspective of Rob Gifford.

Gifford, R. (2007). China road, a journey into the future of a rising power. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Headed to Taichung

After 5 funderful days staying with Amy Sullivan in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, I am busing to Taichung for a 10 day meditation course. No talking, reading, writing, technology or yoga for the whole time! Should be an awesome challenge.

Haven't done so well updating consistently since I have been on the road, too many adventures to be had and planning to be done when on the comp. I hope to write about adventures with Dad in China, fun times with Amy, Dave, and Chris in Taiwan, and post pics after the course is over on Oct. 2nd.

Enjoy the onset of fall. I send a big hug to y'all.


Initial Observations of China

So many cameras, seen on buses, streets, hotels, stores, underground metros…

Scanning devices are also typical to enter metro and bus stations, just like airports.

Babies and children pee on the streets; this is facilitated by slits in their pants and no diapers, baby butts everywhere!

Street signs and businesses are mostly labeled in Chinese characters as well as English.

On the whole, the Chinese don’t have butts; their only cheeks are on their face.

The Chinese equivalent of “um” it sounds like the n-word. That made me feel quite uncomfortable and confused.

People did not stare at foreigners as much as I had prepared myself for. They will smile and nod in return, but overall are pretty reserved.

Noticeably few pregnant woman and children in Shanghai. They must pay extra for multiple children, but not twins.

There are high rise buildings and apartments EVERYWHERE!!!!! More than in any country I have ever seen.

Friday, September 2, 2011

First Fall Without School!

Off to my biggest adventure yet and quite a challenge, as this is the first time I have traveled in countries where I did not speak the language.


9/4 – 9/16 China with my Dad

9/16- 10/11 Taiwan (Kaohsiung, Taichung for a meditation course... Taipei)

10/11- 11/9 Malaysia, maybe Indonesia, leave via Bangkok, Thailand

So far, planning to meet with a friend for a bit in each country. I will attempt to do weekly updates!

Conservation Jobs Corps

Working for the Maryland Conservation Jobs Corps (CJC) was awesome! I believe it is a fantastic use of tax dollars, though I am admittedly biased.

CJC is a summer jobs program that aims to employ teens living in urban settings throughout Maryland and expose them to nature through completing conservation and restoration projects in MD state parks. The program is in 7 of Maryland's state parks, at Gunpowder (where I was stationed, there 16 crews of young men and women between 14 and 19. The program operates on the SPIRIT principles of stewardship, professionalism, initiative, respect, integrity, and teamwork.

As a crew chief, I supervised a team of 5- 14 year old boys from East Baltimore to do trail maintenance on the Gunpowder South trail in Whitehall, MD (very close to my parents). Tues-Thurs, we trimmed, lopped, hacked, and raked mountain laurel, ferns, and other over growth as well as created stone river crossings.

Mondays we did "Community Action". We went into Baltimore City (I drove the kids in a 12 passenger van) to remove trash from Herring Run. Along with 2 other crews, we removed around 200 lbs. of trash each week. The river running through it was closed by the Health Department (deemed hazardous).

Fridays were for enrichment. Each crew had the opportunity to build rafts, kayak, go on a 3 day camping trip, hike, and fish. This was amazing. For so many of the kids each Friday was a completely new experience. It was awesome to see the kids grow in their confidence, willingness to participate, and enjoyment of these activities.

The Super 8 Almighty was the name of my crew. An awesome group of characters. For most of them it was their first job, experience outside, and work as a team outside of sports. We really developed a great bond, established teamwork, mutual respect, and had fun together. Though there were definitely times of disrespect and dis-synergy within the group (and times they drove me completely crazy), but overall I think everyone had a great experience. Because we were stationed super close to my parents house, I had the opportunity to show the boys some of my favorite spots including the Gunpowder Bison Farm, Bluemount swimming spots, and a horse farm. We were even able to meet my mom to be treated to snowballs!

With the possibility of summers off when working in the schools, I would love to do this again next year!