June 16, 2015
By: Yunwen Gao
Now that all the Global East Asia (GEA) scholars are flying over the Pacific Ocean back to LA, when I am organizing the photos I took along the trip I still can’t believe our summer program has come to an end. As Professor Sheehan’s metaphor goes… “coming to China is like going through a worm hole, time is both elongated and shortened.” It feels like our GEA family has been living together for more than a year, and yet we have only been together for a month. I can’t describe how immensely this summer course has reshaped many of our assumptions about Chinese consumerism and globalization, for both the scholars and myself as well. As someone born and brought up in China, this trip to Beijing, Kaifeng, and Shanghai is a process of rediscovering China through a fresh lens.
The final day consisted of the final project delivery and farewell banquet. Despite the last minute rush, as any last day of USC courses would have, our amazing scholars delivered their final projects at a high level of professionalism and insightfulness. The Foodies (Christopher Carpenter and Alice Kim) examined fast food restaurants and food courts in shopping malls in Beijing, Shanghai, and Kaifeng with our course tools, and compared the fast food industries in first tier cities versus a third tier city like Kaifeng.
The Skins (Phoebe Yin, Megan Lee, and Ashley Szydel) focused on the cosmetics industry, in particular, face masks produced internationally and domestically, and formulated their observation of the three prevailing models of marketing strategy, the luxury, mainstream, and niche models supported by extensive research and interviews.
The Arhats (Jonathan Peppin, Psalm Chang, and Michelle Ngan) took the issue of the commodification of religion in China and enriched the dialogue of globalization greatly. Their visits to jewelry stores, Buddhist and Daoist temples, restaurants, etc., provided us with a new picture of how religion has been commodified to convey the sense of piety, pragmatism, and playfulness. With the help of Professor Sheehan, all three teams successfully elevated their observations and analysis of Chinese consumerism and globalization to a whole new level.
As we were waiting to be checked in at the Pudong airport, some of us started analyzing the advertisements around us. Looking at each other, we realized that walking out of this class, none of us could view advertisements or commercials as we used to do without examining what’s behind them. As the TA of this class, I feel proud of everyone in this program just as Professor Sheehan does and look forward to seeing each of them succeed in the future.
June 12, 2015
By: Jon Peppin, Psalm Chang, & Michelle Ngan
It has certainly been a busy couple of days for us. We have finally made it to Shanghai, and wow what a cool city it is! Never imagined that we would get to walk on the Bund in person and see what Papa Sheehan calls the “architect’s playground” before our eyes. It’s very different than Kaifeng in that there are actually many tourists, which makes us stand out less. At Xintiandi, the Old French Concession, we explored high-end shops and enjoyed the refurbished buildings. We got to experience how bartering works (and sometimes doesn’t work) at the City God Temple area, with its numerous shops of souvenirs and different items.
In terms of our research project, we have been working very hard at figuring out a concrete thesis that would then lead to smooth transitions and present our evidence-driven argument in the most effective way. Needless to say, we’ve had to tweak and sometimes even change our theses completely. Guess that’s why it’s called a working thesis. Once we got the thesis established, the structure of our research became a lot more clear and we are now working on finalizing our thoughts into a succinct 1600-2400 word essay, as well as forming our presentation to share with our class.
Today was our last day doing deliberate fieldwork. Yunwen was kind enough to show us how to take the subway and the bus. Without her help, we would not have made it to the City God Temple and Jade Buddha Temple as smoothly as we did. The City God Temple stood out to us in the sense that the temple seemed to be willing to move along with society, specifically with the presence of Daoist-themed iPhone 6 cases. The gift shop cashier claimed that all of the objects for sale were blessed (“kai guang”), so buying the items would almost give the consumer an added sense of security, thereby giving the temple added power in terms of its marketing to its consumers. Our long morning doing fieldwork ended on a delicious note when Yunwen brought us to her favorite noodle shop, which is part of the Jade Buddha Temple site. We each had mushroom noodle soup–yummy!
It’s hard to imagine that our 2-week trip to China is coming to a close soon. We will definitely remember these days even after departing… taking this course has also been such an eye-opening and significant part of the trip that only added to the wonderful experience here.
By: Alice Kim and Chris Carpenter
Shanghai is an absolutely amazing place. For someone experiencing the city for the first time, it would appear to be a fusion of the old and the new, the antique and the advanced. While this is partly true (lots of developments in the city have been reconstructed to appear ages-old for the sake of tourism), the city is, as it was intended to be, an example of immense growth, expansion, and investment.
After traveling by train for over six hours, we arrived in Shanghai to the smiling face of our new tour guide, Clare. Clare took us on a preliminary tour of the city. It was nice to gain a lay of the land before being on our own for a majority of the remaining week of our time in China. One of the stops was the Yu Garden. The intricate pathways snaked through a preserved example of an exquisite Shanghai palace that included quarters for concubines and servants.
We then turned our attention to the personality of modern Shanghai. We toured the Xiantiandi area, stopping at coffee shops, international clothing stores, and even an art installation. The area was distinctly European in its makeup, with narrow streets lined with arcing trees that created an intimate and romantic experience amidst the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Shanghai.
The day’s tour culminated in seeing and climbing the Oriental Pearl Towel, the gargantuan centerpiece to the modern Shanghai skyline. After zooming into the air roughly 260 meters in 30 seconds we were given a view of the city unlike any other. It was dizzying to see the city from a bird’s eye view.
A long and exciting day came to an end in the most unforgettable of places: aboard a private yacht circling the Bund. GEA 2015 Scholar Phoebe’s immense hospitality allowed us to cruise the beautiful waters and see the nighttime skyline of a city on the forefront of modernity and technology. Advertisements as large as the high-rises they adorned broadcast messages about cell phones, and some buildings illuminated their sides with messages like “I Love Shanghai.”
By: Ashley Szydel, Phoebe Yin, and Megan Lee
We began our day visiting the Men’s and Women’s Muslim Mosques in Kaifeng. The followers of this religion in the Kaifeng community are referred to as a minority group called Hui Zu. Professor Sheehan expressed his excitement as even the tour guides had trouble finding the hidden locations of the mosques. Though our visit to each mosque was rather quick, we were able to see the areas in which the prayer practices occur and the remaining interior of the mosques. In the men’s mosque we were not permitted to step inside the prayer area, but were able to observe from the outside windows. At the women’s mosque, the rules were a bit more lenient and we were granted permission to remove our shoes and enter the prayer area. The experience was a very interesting one, as we had learned about the Muslim community’s presence in Kaifeng in previous readings during class back in Los Angeles. It was definitely a memory that will be taken with us as we continue on our journey through China.
After the marvelous trip to the men and women’s Muslim Mosques which gave us a glimpse of the mysterious Muslim world, we then proceeded further on our religious quest, which led us to Jiuku Temple or Jiuku Miao. Jiuku in Chinese means salvation from bitterness. The temple itself houses iconic local gods in which people would come to worship and ask for help. There’s an interesting intertwining between the representation of folk religion and Confucianism’s filial piety that we discovered inside the temple.
Most of us got our fortune telling stick at the place and allowed a peak into the near possible future. Both the mosques and the temple are located in remote and distant places that tell the story of Kaifeng’s religious tolerance and its once glorious past as the capital of the Song Dynasty. Later during the day, we had our last lunch in Kaifeng. Here are a couple of pictures; hopefully you don’t get too hungry!
To seize every opportunity we have to work on our final projects, three groups split up and went to their own designated places. As for us, we came to the newest, the best and the chic-est mall in Kaifeng for research on our cosmetic topic. With lack of international brands in this second/third tier city in China, we were surprised to find a store called Whilmex Cosmetic that is home to many luxury skincare brands. The store owner was really friendly, welcoming and easygoing like the rest of people we encountered in this lovely city, which made our departure seem even more saddening.
Later in the afternoon, a group of us went to Da Xiang Guo Si (Temple), which according to the hotel’s front desk staff is the most famous temple here in Kaifeng. There, Alice, Ashley, Chris, and John got their fortune’s read by an elderly woman who has been reading people’s fortunes for 27 years. Everyone fortunately received good fortunes and very much enjoyed the experience. Afterwards, close by to the temple we took a walk down a street full of local tent shops offering various stylish clothes, shoes, and many more accessories for purchase. Relatively cheap prices make the shopping fun and entertaining, especially when trying to negotiate prices with vendors. It also serves as a way to see what kind of items are particularly popular among the vendors and buyers, as there are often certain items that are repeated in each stall. Tonight, as we wrap up our final night in Kaifeng we regret that we are leaving after such a quick stay. The past four days have been just as enriching as we’d hoped they would be and have proven to be just as much fun as anywhere else. We head off to Shanghai at eight o’clock tomorrow morning, and should arrive late in the afternoon around six o’clock. Though Shanghai is our last leg of the trip, our adventures in Beijing and Kaifeng will not be easily forgotten! We hope to return one day to this beautiful city south of the Yellow River.
June 8, 2015
By: Jon Peppin, Psalm Chang, & Michelle Ngan
Wow. This city of 700,000 people is so precious. We love how close to “authentic” it’s been (although “authentic” does not exist) and how it’s not tainted with tourists as much as Beijing was. It’s been a great three days- we visited many temples and theme parks that gave us more of a sense of the culture here, and are thankful for the experience thus far. These places as well as the free time have been especially beneficial to us in terms of our fieldwork, as they are so rich with religious display.
At the Digital Plaza, we were able to use our Chinese skills and talk to two young sales girls. We showed them the “Mo Shou Lin Lin” (fortune telling app), to which they remarked that they never heard of it, but rather, thought that a “Feng Shui” app was more widely used and accurate. Thanks to Professor Sheehan, we were able to get the addresses of two local temples, one Daoist and one Buddhist, that a salesperson recommended for fortune telling. Our spontaneous adventures continued from there!
At the Daoist Temple, we were presented with mixed messages about fortune telling––while the salespeople at the Digital Plaza had told us that there was fortune telling at the temple, once we were there, employees told us that there was no fortune-telling. Eventually, one woman, in a hushed tone barely audible to the foreign ear, admitted that there was a fortune-teller, but alas, that he was a scammer. We tried to go meet the fortune teller, but employees blocked our path to his room and told us that the area was reserved for employees, although from our spot, we could see temple-goers inside the mysterious room. Suspicious much?
Undeterred, we continued on our path to search for fortune-tellers and walked to the Buddhist temple. There, we found several fortune-tellers right outside the temple. Eventually, we found one woman sitting outside the temple. Papa Sheehan volunteered to have his fortune told (we’re grateful, because we definitely would not have been able to completely understand without his translation). He chose to have his wealth fortune told, and according to her, he would have the luckiest future ahead of him.
In terms of our research, our escapades to the Daoist temple and fortune-tellers spoke especially to our research topic. As Professor Sheehan described after, many fortune-tellers’ prices are contingent on the fortune that is told––good fortune equals high price, bad fortune equals bad price. This practice reflects the commodification of religious practices, and speaks to the conflation between religious ideas and consumer behavior, as consumers will pay differing prices for different fortunes, as if selecting a product from a shelf of selections.
Onto today’s events! Our day started off with a visit to a “theme park”––not the theme park that we Americans would normally think about, but rather a park with an overarching theme. In this case, the gargantuan park was based entirely off a five-meter painting of Song dynasty Kaifeng. There was so much to see and to do. We saw a lot of animals, for one thing. There was a camel, a goat and a monkey, and horses (whom we could definitely smell). While one group won prize after prize at the carnival games, the others frequented the myriad of shows that the park had to offer––from a fire-spitter spewing forth a tumultuous gulf of fiery chaos (that nearly took off our hair and head) to an animated joust fought between numerous martial arts masters. Our day at the park was a truly exceptional experience that will not be forgotten anytime soon. KAIFENG ROCKS!!!!
June 5, 2015
By: Alice Kim and Chris Carpenter
June 4, five days since we arrived to China and our first in Kaifeng. Our morning was defined by travel. At nearly 200 mph our train zoomed inland toward the Henan Province. Upon arriving, our first stop was a rural village where we had the opportunity to explore and experience a China that was more representative of the majority of the population; Dorothy, we’re not in Beijing anymore. Professor Sheehan led the class through back alleys and conversed with locals in the hope that we would be able to enter their property for a closer glimpse at their lives. One such gentlemen was compliant (albeit with his less-than-trusting mother nearby) and we learned that it was harvesting season, and this his crops were wheat and garlic.
Another highlight from the day was of the Iron Pagoda, built during the Song Dynasty. Several members of the class joined Professor Sheehan in climbing to the top of the pagoda. Many Sheehans were earned this afternoon.
June 5, six days since we arrived to China and two days we’ve been in Kaifeng. What an amazing place Kaifeng is: nearly devoid of Western tourists, the city is a cross-section of antiquity and advancement. The morning was spent getting a lay of the land. While walking among local schoolchildren heading to class, we explored alleyways and side-streets to paint a better picture of what life is like for larger portion of Chinese. We stopped by a small dumpling shop to buy steamed breakfast dumplings; it was the first of the two occasions that Chris was asked to pose for an advertisement picture for the store’s WeChat profile.
The day contained three stops: a section of the Song Dynasty-era city walls, Guild Hall amusement park, and Wan Sui Mountain Park. The amusement park was of particular interest because it was a re-embedding of a global amusement park template. It was a hodgepodge of cultural icons, texts, and characters being employed for tourists. We saw cheesy kung fu performances, raced go-carts, played archery games for prizes, and explored a variety of installations.
A good portion of the day was spent doing field work inside Kaifeng. Zhong Shan Road became a central fixture for the group examining fast food in a globalized context, and we were able to explore international chains like McDonald’s, national chains like Dicos, and an interesting smattering of local and plagiarized brands. We had the opportunity (and perhaps the luxury) of interviewing manicurists while we had manicures. They told us that trips to restaurants like KFC and McDonald’s are viewed as special occasions, but that they preferred these brands to domestic chains due to the cleanliness, convenience, and taste. This nail salon was the second time Chris was utilized as an advertisement for a WeChat profile. We look forward to the rest of our time in the city.
June 3, 2015
By: Ashley Szydel, Phoebe Yin, and Megan Lee
Today is Day 4 in Beijing (A.K.A. Bae-jing…we have to entertain ourselves somehow.) for this 10/10 group! (There are 10 of us, and each one of us is 10/10 on a scale of 1 to 10 Sheehan points.) If we were typing this in Chinese, we would have omitted the number 4 because it sounds like the word for death and is considered bad luck. Since we’re typing this in English instead, we’ll let the 4 stay. We cannot believe that we were just in a classroom in Los Angeles half a week ago! It seems like it’s been an eternity since then. However, we think it is safe to say that everyone is having an absolute blast in China!
So, although today was Day 4 and the number 4 is associated with death, our Day 4 was in no means death-like. It was, in fact, CHOCK-FULL of life, energy, enthusiasm, and the like as we visited Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Hutong, and a few other locations. This was quite a feat, considering that some of us had climbed to the very top of the Great Wall the previous day – mad props to these lion-hearted individuals! If this synopsis of the day’s festivities has piqued your interest…read on for more pure entertainment from the scholars of Global East Asia China 2015.
We began the day with a visit to Tian’anmen Square, where we marveled at the People’s Hall and the enormous portrait of Mao Zedong. As you can see, we scholars got some serious air in the photo below. Here, we also see an impeccably dressed Professor Sheehan in his element at Tiananmen Square. As a side note, tomorrow, June 4 is actually the anniversary of the protests at the Square.
We then visited the Forbidden City (but not so forbidden anymore). It was larger than we expected, with so many nooks and crannies to explore. Some of us wandered around the first plaza of the City for quite a while before we realized that there were a plethora of plazas (how’s that for an alliteration) beyond, waiting to be discovered. A few places of interest in the City are the Imperial Garden, Hall of Mental Cultivation (where some green bean popsicles cultivated our taste buds), Concubines’ Quarters, and Throne Room. In one of the photos below, we again see our wise and agile Professor Sheehan enjoying the view. Infinite Sheehan Points were awarded to him, he is the Father of Sheehan Points, after all.
We then took a rickshaw tour of a Hutong, which was a time of great merriment for all. Many a rickshaw was given a friendly kick by the riders in the other rickshaws as they passed by, while we rolled through the streets of the Hutong. No innocent bystanders, riders, or rickshaws were harmed during this process, we assure you. Though, we may not be able to say the same for egos.
Following the rickshaw tour, we proceeded to have lunch at Heping (Peace) Restaurant, where we consumed a myriad of delectable dishes and encountered French-Canadian tourists. The food in Beijing is absolutely exquisite, and we are sure that we do not speak for ourselves when we admit that it is tough to stop helping ourselves to more! At the end of the meal, we struck power-poses to re-energize and re-focus our bodies and minds in preparation for conducting fieldwork at Wanfujing. There, the Foodies looked into the contextual relationship of fast food chains, the Skins took note of the marketing strategies of skincare products, and the Grab Bags analyzed religious icons in jewelry. On a scale of one to a lazy Susan, we were at the most productive end of the spectrum (not the lazy Susan side).
After a quick class session in which we presented our research thus far, we ended our day with a fine dinner of Peking Duck (a famous delicacy of the city for good reason)! And that, was the finale of our lovely frolic in the capital of China. Bright and early tomorrow, we’re off to Kaifeng!
June 2, 2015
By: Jon Peppin, Psalm Chang, & Michelle Ngan
It’s hard to believe that we have only been in China for three days! In that time, we have been able to learn so much about the culture here in Beijing.
We were warned by Professor Sheehan that today was going to be a busy day, and he definitely wasn’t lying. One of the most amazing things we did was climb the Great Wall — specifically, the Juyongguan section. It was truly an awe-inspiring and tiring experience! Most of us were able to climb past four guardposts. Ashley, Psalm, Jon, Chris, and Professor Sheehan took it to a whole new level and made it up to the farthest part of the portion by climbing past seven guardposts, thereby earning official Sheehan points! The view at the top was simply breathtaking. Just imagining the amount of effort that went into building the wall, with its uneven steps and two distinct sides to the wall (i.e. one side being taller to keep the Mongols out) made us realize what a privilege it was to be there. When we made it back down to the bottom of the mountain, we rewarded ourselves with some iced tea and ice cream. Thanks Papa Sheehan!
Before climbing the Great Wall, we went to see the Ming tombs, particularly the Changling tomb, the tomb of the third emperor, Zhu Di and his wife, Empress Xu. An interesting fact that our tour guide told us was that even though there were 16 Ming emperors, there were only 13 tombs because the other emperors were buried outside of Beijing, in Nanjing. There were several parts of the enormous tomb: Ling’enmen gate (Gate of Emminent Favor), Ling’en Hall (Hall of Emminent Favor), Minglou (soul tower), and Baoding (where the Emperor and Empress are buried).
The Sacred Way was a nice breath of fresh air after being in the sun. We strolled through the path, which the emperor would walk through on the way to the Ming Tombs, except we went the opposite direction, since we had just come from the Ming Tombs. This stop was an example of dis-embedding because we were viewing the Sacred Way as a tourist attraction by stopping to take pictures and admiring the scenery. This was contrary to what would have happened at the time it was built or what the emperor used the path for.
To get a more modern perspective on Chinese architecture, our tour group then journeyed to the heart of Beijing to view the national symbols of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was truly awe-inspiring to look upon the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube up close; it’s crazy to imagine that it has been 6 years since Beijing hosted the Olympics––we were just 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at the time! Oh, and we can’t forget Chris’s 15 seconds of fame when a mob of ladies decided to get pictures with him in front of the Olympic buildings. Mr. Carpenter then proceeded to talk about nothing except his claim to fame, and his plans to take Kaifeng by storm.
Just a bit about our research project progress- we, the “grab bag” group, were finally able to narrow down our topic by focusing on the pervasiveness of religion through various forms of expression (e.g. restaurants, fashion, and electronics). We’ll be conducting more field work tomorrow!
June 1, 2015
By: Alice Kim and Chris Carpenter
Sheehan (n.) – a unit of measurement for how awesome and adventurous a GEA China scholar is during the trip.
To use the term in a sentence: You did a full round of taiji; major Sheehan points for you. We devised the Sheehan because the Sheehan is how we’re going to be approaching this trip. We want to make the most of every day, every encounter, every experience, and every opportunity.
After an initial 12 hours of flight to Incheon, South Korea, a 3 hour layover, and an additional 2 hour flight to Beijing, China, we’ve finally arrived. Our entire group of 10 slept multiple hours on our flight and were ready to start our adventure. Half of us have never been to China before, so the moment we exited the airport we were met with the same sights that the 2008 Olympic athletes saw. The terminal and its art installations were built for when the world’s eyes turned to Beijing, and it was incredible. We met our tour guide, Lisa, and tour bus driver, Mr. Yung, immediately after arrival and made our way to the hotel. We are currently staying in the Tiantan Hotel near the Temple of Heaven and we love our rooms.
One thing we’ve realized is that water is liquid gold in China. Alice would like to contribute that she’s been drinking at least 3x as much water as she normally would in Southern California and her skin is feeling GREAT. Even at meals, we are provided with multiple bottles of water to drink and carry one around with us at all times. Between the hot weather and constant activity, we need to stay hydrated. The weather has been fairly decent with a high of 95 degrees F and 95% humidity.
On our second day in Beijing, we woke up and headed out at 8:30 AM to visit the Temple of Heaven just down the road. We met Liu Laoshi, our taiji teacher, and spent the next hour learning the multiple poses and exercises of a taiji master. She taught us movements to help control “qi” or energy in our bodies and we had a blast doing the exercise. We earned several Sheehans.
After our taiji lesson, we spent the next hour exploring the Temple of Heaven park and central area. Multiple selfies and group photos were taken. The place was packed and the weather started to warm up, but we still enjoyed going through the multiple buildings and looking at the displays to take a look at China’s history.
May 29, 2015
By: Ashley Szydel, Phoebe Yin, and Megan Lee
It has already been two weeks since the first day of class. Everyone is so nice, extroverted and intelligent, which makes the class all the more enjoyable. The friendly environment of the class, along with such a benign professor has made us look forward to our upcoming journey in China even more. Within only two weeks of lecture, we have gotten a basic understanding of Chinese history and dived into its consumer culture since day one. Once mysterious and exotic, this East Asian country has slowly begun to reveal itself in front of our eyes.
To begin with, we want to express our excitement about taking off to China tomorrow. The idea that there is just one day of class in Los Angeles left is thrilling, even more so when we think about all there is to come in the next two weeks. The ability to take the information we have been learning in class and apply it to our on-site research is definitely something to look forward to. As we pack our bags, we couldn’t help but wonder all that lies ahead in China. What we’ll experience, what kinds of exotic flavors we’ll be tasting, what beautiful sights we’ll be seeing, and last but not least, what research we’ll be doing for our final project are all questions we are asking ourselves.
For our group’s project, our initial idea is that our final research project be focused on the forms of cosmetic brand advertisement in China. We are more specifically concentrating on marketing strategies as displayed in advertisements by three higher-level brands such as, L’Oreal, Lancome and Estee Lauder, as well as three lower-level brands in China such as, Da Bao, Xiao Hu Shi, Pehchaolin. Marketing strategies employed by different cosmetic companies vary in China when compared to other countries. Exploring the Chinese consumers’ perceptions of beauty, we want to see how these perceptions affect Chinese cosmetic companies’ advertisements. Moreover, how foreign cosmetic products were modified to appeal to Chinese consumers is an additional interesting point to explore. Last but not least, we made the interesting discovery that brands with foreign counterparts are considered higher-level and domestic brands are often seen as lower-level in terms of their status and price. We hope to take these ideas and further understand the difference in marketing among higher-level brands when compared with lower-level brands of cosmetics in China. With our departure quickly approaching, we look forward to sharing more on our adventure in China shortly.