USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences > Blog

June 26, 2013

Adventures in Henan

Filed under: Travel — geachina @ 11:25 pm

By Charlene Tran and Tyler Tokunaga

9 June
We said goodbye to Beijing and caught our very first train in China to Zhengzhou. At the speed of 307 Km/ Hr, the image of the vibrant city of Beijing quickly faded into the background from the window view to give way to vast rice fields that stretched as far as an eye can see. While the cities of China constantly reform themselves to catch up with the pace of globalization, the vibrant agriculture in the countryside remains the firm foundation of China’s economic development by embracing and nourishing lives. Instead of taking a nap, some of us took advantage of this rare opportunity to contemplate the beautiful scenery of the countryside and let our thoughts be carried away.

Zhengzhou, a provincial-level city that not many know of is actually home to a population of roughly seven million Chinese and is a political, economic, technological and educational center of Henan Province. We arrived in Zhengzhou in the afternoon and after lunch, we went to the city center of Zhengzhou, also known as Zhengzhou New Area or Zhengzhou Eastern New District. On our way there, we saw both sides of road being crowded with ongoing constructions of apartment and office buildings while various parts at the middle of the road were fenced for construction of highway bridges. At Zhengzhou New Area, our bus stopped at a large park along the river opposite to Zhengzhou International Art Center. We felt as if we had entered a completely new country; the area was devoid of traditional Chinese characteristics while having an advanced city design with a combination of ecological city and ring city ideas. Many buildings were also branded “International” to blend in with and enhance the modern feel of the city.

Zhengzhou New Area, despite its cosmopolitan look, is China’s largest ghost town. The park by the river was filled with visitors, who came to enjoy the greenery and beautiful man-made marshes, but rows and rows of newly constructed luxury apartment, hotel, and business buildings surrounding it still sat empty on vast, deserted boulevards. The lack of demand for these new constructions was indicated by missing air conditioner units. Will life spring up in this “ghost town” in the near future? The answer, perhaps, depends on how fast Zhengzhou New Area can become a center of capital flow to attract foreign investments and a place where jobs are better paid and easily found to encourage migration of workers from rural areas to the city center. At around 5pm, we left Zhengzhou New Area and headed to our hotel to check-in and have dinner.

After having a filling family-style dinner at the hotel, some of us went with Professor Sheehan to the shopping center of Zhengzhou at around 7pm. We met a very friendly female taxi driver who was also our age and college student. During the entire taxi ride, she chatted wholeheartedly with Elisa and Grace, our two Chinese-speakers, and even took a photo with us. The shopping center was crowded and lively, and a popular spot for locals to spend their night. Many of the shops had English names, and some were named after global brands, such as Playboy, even though the products were not related. The middle of the road was fenced up for the construction of the first subway line in Zhengzhou. On the fences, we saw images that portrayed the future Zhengzhou, moving towards modernity, consumerism, and globalization.

Construction at the "Ghost town"

Construction at the “Ghost town”

Zhengzhou New Area

Zhengzhou New Area


June 25, 2013

Trip to Wuzhen, Yiwu, and Hengdian World Studios

Filed under: Hangzhou,Travel,Wuzhen — geachina @ 5:02 pm

By Kristi Rogers and Michelle Lau

Wednesday 29 May 2013

On Wednesday, we got on the bus, with a new tour guide in tow and drove three hours to Wuzhen, which is an old fishing town in Zhejiang province. The first thing that we did there was take a small boat ride through the canals from the entrance to the other end of the town. It reminded us a lot of Venice, but more rustic, and Chinese. Then we moseyed our way back to the entrance. Along the way we saw a rice paddy shaped like a dragon, and drying racks for the textiles that they dye in the village. The village also had the nicest public restroom that we’ve ever seen in our lives, which was sweet relief because most of the public restrooms that we have encountered thus far in our travels have been less than pleasant. This restroom had an indoor waterfall, a river inlaid in the floor, and a bridge to cross the miniature river. Josh said that he wants to get married there!

Milling around and stretching our legs at our first pit stop.

Milling around and stretching our legs at our first pit stop.

A view of Wuzhen from the canals.

A view of Wuzhen from the canals.

All smiles!

All smiles!

Jumping photo in the rice paddy shaped like a dragon in Wuzhen village!

Jumping photo in the rice paddy shaped like a dragon in Wuzhen village!


June 8, 2012

Beijing (北京)

Filed under: Beijing,Travel — geachina @ 4:57 pm

By Brian Barkeley and Nate Fulmer

June 2
Beijing huanying ni! (北京欢迎你!) Beijing welcomes you! Global East Asia China students were on the move again this past week. This time, we traveled to Beijing to see many historical sites of ancient China, as well as modern life in the Chinese capital and globalization in yet another urban context.

After landing in Beijing and settling in at the hotel, we took some time to explore the Hutong, or back allies, where many Beijing residents live.

Exploring the Hutong

June 3
On Sunday, the first site students visited was the Ming Tombs, a series of elaborate buildings that house the remains of Ming emperors. The tombs are guarded by a path of intricate statues such as the elephant in this photo.

Posing in front of the statues at the Ming Tombs

After eating an authentic Chinese lunch prepared in a local village, we visited the Great Wall. Students learned about the wall’s construction, purpose, and eventual penetration by the Qing dynasty. Here, a group of us pose on top of the Great Wall.

Jumping for joy at the Great Wall

It wouldn’t be a complete visit to Beijing without having a chance to see the elaborate Olympic Park constructed for the 2008 Olympics. Students enjoyed a group dinner at a nearby restaurant and capped off a busy day of site-seeing with a more modern twist.

Beijing Olympic Stadium, the Bird’s Nest

June 4
On Monday, we woke up and made our way to the reinvigorated Qing shopping district. The shopping district houses all sorts of stores and shops – from the name-brand and big gift stores, to the small food and souvenir stands that fill the back alleyways. Many of us bartered our way into everything from clothes to art work to Mao’s little red book. After an afternoon of bargain shopping, we headed out to Houhai (后海) Lake for lunch, where we were treated to Beijing’s famous specialty dish: Peking Duck.

  Reinvigorated Qing shopping district
Slicing the Peking duck

After lunch we were given free time to explore Beijing on our own, and several students and myself chose to explore Tian’anmen (天安门) Square and the Forbidden City. Tian’anmen means “Gate of Heavenly Peace,” and is one of the largest city squares in the world. The area in and around Tian’anmen is home to several national landmarks, including the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the National Museum of China, the Great Hall of the People, and the Forbidden City. Our visit to the Square was exceptionally timely as June 4th is the anniversary of the pro-democracy protest movement, which ended on June 4th, 1989 with the implementation of martial law in Beijing by the government and the death of several hundred civilians. I think this served to remind me that while I explore so much of China’s auspicious beauty, I must remember that the chronicle of the nation is not so clean and neatly packaged; triumph lives side-by-side with struggle and beauty with horror, but the plaiting of these together serves to write China’s rich history. Pushing past this momentary melancholy, I made my way with my classmates towards the ever-watchful gaze of Chairman Mao’s enormous portrait – beyond which lies the Forbidden City.

Fight On! At Tian’anmen Square in front of the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City was the Chinese Imperial Palace through both the Ming and Qing Dynasties. For almost 500 years, it was the home of some of the most powerful men and women in Asia. As we approached the entrance to the Palace, we were greeted by the giant portrait of Mao, overlooking the world he is credited with creating. Most of us spent the better part of our afternoon touring the Forbidden City and exploring layer after layer of the Imperial Palace. Behind one gigantic throne room, there would be another gigantic throne room and colossal halls built in honor of the mighty emperor. From the grandiose castles to the auspicious imperial garden, the Forbidden City offered a breathtaking presentation of ancient Chinese power and beauty. Thoroughly exhausted from a day’s worth of walking and exploring, we headed back to the hotel for some well-deserved nap time.

Within the Forbidden City

June 5
It was Tuesday, and our time in Beijing had come to a close. But our flight did not leave until 3pm, so that left plenty of time to cram in as much Beijing exploring as possible! So Steph, Joe, and myself went ahead and got up at four in the morning to go to Tian’anmen Square to watch them raise the flag. I was expecting there to be no more than a dozen people including ourselves at the Square, but we were shocked to find that when we got there at 4:30am, Tian’anmen was flooded with people. Almost all of them appeared to be domestic tourists who were visiting Beijing and wanted to watch the flag be hoisted up with the sunrise. On cue, a troop of the People’s Armed Police force emerged out of the Forbidden City and marched the flag to the flagpole under the approving gaze of Chairman Mao. And at exactly 4:46am, the flag was raised to the sound of the Chinese national anthem. All the crowds and pomp and circumstance made for a truly dramatic moment.

Gathering at Tian’anmen for the sunrise flag raising

The three of us returned to hotel where our classmates remained snuggled up in their beds enjoying the much needed opportunity to sleep in. After a solid three hour nap, I got up again, for I still had a day to seize before I left Beijing. A handful of us got up to do more touring before we said goodbye to Beijing; Fan went and visited Moa’s Mausoleum (or as I like to call it, the Mao-soleum) and the National Museum, Brian went for a jog around Tian’anmen Square, and Steph, Joe, Cynthia, and I went to Tian Tan (天坛), or “The Temple of Heaven.” It was a place filled with singing and dancing, seniors on a day out with their grandchildren, and plenty of tourists and locals alike. We visited the ancient Ming temple, wandered around the park, and watched people gather together to sing, dance, and play.

In front of the Temple of Heaven

Finally, we returned to the hotel, packed our things, and were bused back to the airport. With a heart heavy from departing but eagerly anticipating the time we still have, I took one last look and waved goodbye to Beijing.

June 5, 2012

Trip to Guangzhou & Shenzhen

Filed under: Guangzhou,Shenzhen,Travel — geachina @ 4:36 pm

By Jim Becker & Joseph Bailey

Brian and Cynthia at breakfast

6:45 AM – Thursday, May 31st – Hongqiao Airport, Shanghai
The wake up call rang at 4:15 AM before the sun came up and we filed down the four flights of stairs at the hotel at Fudan still half-asleep. The highways were empty at that hour and we arrived at Hongqiao airport in plenty of time for breakfast. Brian and Cynthia chose sausage and egg sandwiches at a KFC-like restaurant. Brian may have even had seconds. Hongqiao is an incredibly clean and modern airport. Checking bags and passing through security wasn’t a hassle at all. Although we were still a little groggy, we were excited to board the plane for Shenzhen at 7:30. Our two-hour flight on China Eastern Air was only about 2/3 full, so we were able to stretch out and catch a nap. The first thing we all noticed upon stepping off the plane was the humidity. Canton is a sauna!

Rams of Canton

11:00 AM – Thursday, May 31st – Guangzhou
Our first stop was Guangzhou. Here, we visited a local park. Since it was still morning, we observed groups of women exercising. A huge statue of rams stood at the center of the park.  It symbolized the 2,000-year-old legend describing how the city was saved from famine by immortals riding on rams. After lunch, we toured an Opium War museum. This was particularly exciting for our group since one of the major topics we’re studying and discussing is the historical role of opium in China and the consumer culture associated with the drug. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the museum was how China portrayed opium’s role in its history, seemingly assigning a majority of the blame for its evils and destruction on the British. Our next stop was a cannon battery used in the First Opium War. It was cool to go through the beachhead and get a better sense of what it was like for the Chinese soldiers fighting the British invasion. After exploring for about an hour, we all got back on the bus and, tired from the long day starting at 4 AM, promptly fell asleep. After an early family-style dinner, everyone went back to the hotel and called it an early night.

Students cross the street in Shenzhen headed for the Luohu Market
Interior view of Luohu Market

10:00 AM – Friday, June 1st – Luohu Market, Shenzhen
After taking the coach to Shenzhen and getting a good night’s sleep, we set out to test an old adage through an Asian perspective: is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? The Luohu Market, adjoining the Hong Kong border is a five-story shopping mall boasting only replica goods. Beats by Dre headphones, Coach and Gucci bags, “designer” suits, and of course, Rolex watches were just a sampling of the offers we received as we wandered past hundreds of stores. Haggling was a requirement. Joe successfully got a pair of headphones for 200 yuan that were originally 400. I found a Holland national soccer team jacket and scarf for 275 yuan. The proprietor of the soccer store literally climbed on his shelves, up into the ceiling to retrieve the right size for me. We couldn’t help but laugh in amazement.

The whole group posing outside the Window of the World Theme Park
Fan, Cynthia, Jim, Stephanie and Janet in the Japanese section of Window of the World
After a long day in the sun, the group waits for dinner.

3:00 & 6:00 PM – Friday, June, 1st – Window of the World Theme Park, Shenzhen
One of the coolest parts about Shenzhen was going to the Window of the World theme park. The entrance to the park provided a great photo opportunity and, to an extent, summed up what the park seemed to be all about. The whole park was a massive clash of cultures. It showed major world icons from six continents and placed all of them in the confined space of a theme park. The exterior of the park displayed how odd this concept was, displaying statues from the classical Roman Empire next to Indian depictions of the Buddha next to the Eiffel Tower. Not only were objects from vastly different parts of the world placed next to each other, but these objects were also from vastly different time periods. Everyone in the group seemed to have mixed feelings about the concept, not sure what to make of the whole idea. After dinner, we watched a musical based on six stories from the Ancient Greeks to Soviet Russia. Actors used rollerblades and different wardrobes for each story. A rotating set design and elaborate choreography just added to the grandiose scale of the park.

Karen and Jim hiding in the lanterns.

4:15 PM – Friday, June 1st – Shenzhen
In the Asia section of the theme park, we had the opportunity to take photos in traditional Japanese kimonos. While we declined that offer, we did spend time admiring their lanterns. I think this is definitely a candidate for photo of the trip. There was also fish food for sale and for 5 yuan we could kneel by ponds and feed orange and white fish. I think the park did a decent job of differentiating the diversity of Asian cultures within the Asia section of the park. It’s easy to label something as “Chinese” by virtue of its great geographic and population size. But there are hundreds of Asian identities independent of national borders or historical narratives. While contentious regions like Tibet and Taiwan were not given equal representation, they were also not demonized. Perhaps in theme parks built in the future, as political ties and alliances change, these regions can also be glorified.

May 30, 2012

Suzhou and Hangzhou

Filed under: Hangzhou,Suzhou,Travel — geachina @ 6:17 pm

 By Cynthia Yang and Thomas Armstrong

May 25th
Wednesday morning we left the “city above the sea” for the provincial capital of Suzhou. About 50km outside of Shanghai, rows of fields replaced the endless expanse of skyscrapers. But about two hours later, we were back to the familiar landscape of high-rise apartments buildings. We stopped in a government-reconstructed village in older Suzhou to grab lunch. After passing all the American franchises like KFC and McDonalds, we walked into some of the side streets to check out the local food. None of the street food looked appetizing so we went to a local favorite. Ordering was a bit of a struggle because customers are supposed to write down their orders on a slip of paper and then pay for those dishes, but none of us knew enough Chinese to read the menu by ourselves or write down anything. The waiter laughed at our foreignness but then kindly helped us out by taking our order. We ordered traditional beef noodles and dumplings called shu mai, which were both delicious.

Group Photo at Suzhou Temple

While Cynthia and most of the group split off, I went to a local restaurant with Luman and Professor Sheehan. Luman was heart-set on ordering her favorite Suzhou dish: watermelon chicken soup. Naturally, the kitchen wasn’t serving that dish. But Luman still ordered a delicious meal of sweet lotus root, roast chicken, wonton soup, and other tasty snacks. After lunch, the three of us explored the less touristy neighborhoods, conversing with locals and stumbling upon a several hundred year old well still in use. We met up with the group and headed off to one of Suzhou’s most famous garden (the Humble Administrator’s Garden), and the provincial art museum designed by I.M. Pei.

Humble Administrator’s Garden

The garden was scattered with pavilions, each displaying a different room from a specific era. My favorite was the “House of Sweet Smelling Rice” that showed a traditional dining area. Our tour guide David told us that one of the bridges we walked over was designed to be crooked because, according to Chinese legend, the devil could only walk straight. The pathways of the garden were also designed with Chinese symbols of luck, such as the bat. According to David, the “Humble Administrator” had ironically designed part of his pathways to be in a stacked arrow formation resembling the Chinese character for people, “ren,” because he wanted to literally step on the people and show his elite status.

At the art museum, we looked at porcelain pieces, jade sculptures, and snuff bottles that corresponded with our study of the porcelain industry and opium trade in China. One of the jade pieces was meticulously carved out of an elephant tusk, with dozens of figures created out of the huge piece of ivory. This served as a reminder of China’s influence and connectivity with the world, even hundreds of years ago. Post-museum, we checked into the hotel and ate a traditional Chinese dinner at the hotel restaurant. The night included a fine performance of “Hey Jude” from Logan “Justin Timberlake” Heley, a pool game against an American history professor teaching in Suzhou, and exploring the Suzhou nightlife.

May 26th
We woke up and boarded the bus to SeAll, a logistics factory at the heart of the Suzhou Industrial Park. The complex—built only 18 years ago—houses over a million people. Located on “Modernization Road,” the factory serves as a center for goods assembly and trade, handling nearly $100 billion in goods this past year. We then drove back to downtown Suzhou where we toured a silk factory. Our tour guide was a very energetic woman who explained to us the life cycle of a silk worm. In case you are wondering, after the silk worm spins a cocoon, “the farmer, they kill them” (a quote from our tour guide). The factory showed every process of manufacturing the silk from examining the quality of the cocoons by hand to unraveling the cocoons and stretching them out to make silk products.

Creating Silk Bedding

After the silk factory, we left for Hangzhou. Three hours later, we arrived at the Sophia Hotel. Each room number began with 8—a sign of luck in Chinese culture. We went out for a planned group dinner on Luman’s birthday. She split off and had a second birthday dinner of a favorite Hangzhou specialty, sweet and sour fish from the famous West Lake. Later that night, some of us went to a popular club G+ and mingled with locals. We met a fellow Southern Californian from Long Beach named P.I., who was breaking into the entertainment industry in China.

May 27th
Friday may have had the best food of the trip to date. In the morning we toured a picturesque tea plantation outside of Hangzhou, where we learned the history and production of tea. Included in the tour was a tea tasting session, where we sampled four different flavors of fresh tea. We left the boutique shop and made sure to snap some group photos before returning to the cityscape. After a visit to another silk museum, we ate a group lunch at a restaurant on shores of “Xihu” (West Lake). After lunch, the group split up. David and Luman went on a bike tour around Xihu, some returned to the hotel, and others, toured the lake. Cynthia and I were among the people who walked around the lake, admiring the pagoda and a pool with a mass of turtles. Eventually we all returned to our hotel rooms to rest before going out for dinner and more exploration.

Group Photo at Tea Museum

When we headed out again, we were in search of delicious street food and shopping. One local favorite was a sticky rice treat with a thin rice peel. The shops and vendors all sold similar items. Many of the small shops were even selling live animals, including frogs, turtles, eels, and other chickens. Somehow, after an hour or so, we managed to walk in a giant circle and ended back at our hotel. A big group of us took a taxi to bustling downtown Hangzhou to eat at the famous Grandma’s Kitchen. We sat in a booth and ordered several dishes to share including kung pao pork, eggplant, pot stickers, lamb chops, and fried rice. Needless to say, no one left hungry. The bill came out to everyone paying 35RMB so about $5USD. A steal. After dinner, we walked around the nearby shopping mall and saw many of the latest fashion trends. After cabbing it back to the hotel, a big group went back to G+ where they saw P.I. perform and met more locals.

Posing at Xihu
Dinner at Grandma’s