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

June 12, 2015

Exploring the Temples in Shanghai

Filed under: Class,Culture,Exploring,Shanghai,Travel — Yunwen Gao @ 5:24 pm

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.


A look at the architecture of Xintiandi, the Old French Concession.

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!


The Arhats and the amazing Yunwen enjoying bowls of mushroom noodles at the vegetarian noodle shop at Jade Buddha Temple.

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.

Say Shang(hi)!

Filed under: Culture,Exploring,Shanghai,Travel — Yunwen Gao @ 5:20 pm

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.


The GEA 2015 Scholars on one of the many intricate bridges in the Yu Garden

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.


One of the streets of the Xiantiandi area, a few feet away from clothing stores and coffee shops

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.


The Oriental Pearl Tower. We were able to see the city from the second “pearl.”


GEA 2015 Scholar Megan sitting high above the ground in the Pearl Tower.

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.”


GEA 2015 in front of the private yacht that took us around the Bund.


The Bund at night.

June 8, 2015

Kaifeng Rocks!

Filed under: Culture,Exploring,Kaifeng,Travel — Yunwen Gao @ 5:32 pm

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.


Papa Sheehan gets his fortune told by a fortune teller outside a local Buddhist temple.

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!!!!


A view of the lake at Millennium City Park.


Alice and Psalm trying out a Sheehan-powered ferris wheel.

June 5, 2015

“Say (Hi)Feng!”

Filed under: Culture,Exploring,Kaifeng,Travel — geachina @ 11:53 pm

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.

Our host in the village outside Kaifeng. He allowed us inside his property to see their way of life.

Our host in the village outside Kaifeng. He allowed us inside his property to see their way of life.

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.


GEA China 2015 in front of the Iron Pagoda. Several us conquered the structure by climbing to the top

GEA China 2015 in front of the Iron Pagoda. Several us conquered the structure by climbing to the top

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.

A sample side-street in Kaifeng within one mile of our hotel.

A sample side-street in Kaifeng within one mile of our hotel.

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.

GEA 2015, huddled in the shade, outside the amusement park.

GEA 2015, huddled in the shade, outside the amusement park.

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.

Chris posing with the manicurists at a nail salon in downtown Kaifeng. Check it out on WeChat.

Chris posing with the manicurists at a nail salon in downtown Kaifeng. Check them out on WeChat.


June 1, 2015

First Day in Beijing

Filed under: Beijing,Culture,Travel — geachina @ 2:34 pm

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.

The class posing with Liu Laoshi, the taiji master, after our lesson.

The class posing with Liu Laoshi, the taiji master, after our lesson.

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.

A group of the GEA China scholars in front of the Temple of Heaven.

A group of the GEA China scholars in front of the Temple of Heaven.

June 27, 2014

Fun in the Gansu Province–Oh My!

Filed under: Dunhuang,Gansu,Lanzhou,Travel — Tags: , , , , — geachina @ 9:20 pm

By Amanda Heston & Aissa Castillo

Exploring Lanzhou (Aissa Castillo)

After flying into Lanzhou, the group was understandably tired but determined to enjoy the mysterious wonders Lanzhou might have in store for us. Some were excited by the prospect that at last in the western area of China we might encounter the seedy margins. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) the margins brought to you by a tour guide are never as seedy as you might imagine.


In front of Yellow River; Lanzhou, June 8

In front of Yellow River; Lanzhou, June 8

The group was able to enjoy an early outing exploring the area around the Yellow River. In this picture we are posed in front of the river, about to explore the area’s many Buddhist temples as well as the famed bird’s eye view of the city.


Waterfall on the way to the Buddhist Temple in Lanzhou, June 8

Waterfall on the way to the Buddhist Temple in Lanzhou, June 8

While climbing the many steps leading to the bird’s eye view of Lanzhou, the group was treated to a constructed water wall that actually offered passersby the opportunity to run behind to feel the spray of water. Most of the members of the group took advantage of this given the heat that surrounded us. (Some of us, including Professor Sheehan, resisted the impulse to run and simply walked across.)


Panoramic View of Lanzhou from the White Hills Pagoda, June 8

Panoramic View of Lanzhou from the White Hills Pagoda, June 8

After a 20 minute or so hike consisting mainly of stairs, the group was able to reach the top. We were treated to a panoramic view of Lanzhou and the Yellow River that made the steep hike more than worth the wait.


Mother River Statue in Lanzhou, June 8

Mother River Statue in Lanzhou, June 8

After returning from the bird’s eye view, the group was then taken to see the statue of the Mother River. This is a depiction of the river that was created in the 1980’s and many tourists come to take pictures with it and to absorb its cultural symbolism.


 Taking the scenery of the Yellow River in Lanzhou over cups of traditional tea, June 8

Taking the scenery of the Yellow River in Lanzhou over cups of traditional tea, June 8

Still feeling the effects of our early flight departure and the multitude of steps that led to the bird’s eye view, many of us opted to take in the scenery of the river and enjoy a local shop’s offering of “Muslim Tea.” This was a delightfully refreshing concoction of longan, dried dates, tea, and rock sugar. For many of us this was a lull in a busy schedule that would see us all boarding a 14 hour sleeper train to Dunhuang before the night was over!


Survivors of the overnight train from Lanzhou to Dunhuang, June 9

Survivors of the overnight train from Lanzhou to Dunhuang, June 9

You might not think it by looking at the photo but this is the group directly off our sleeper train to Dunhuang, a sandy city in the Gobi Desert. I think it’s fair to say that sharing enclosed bunks, a few sinks, and one very suspicious squat toilet made us all a little closer together.


June 26, 2014

Beijing-Xi’an Cultural Excursions

By Chip Becker and Sean O’Leary


Beijing 1High-speed rail (高铁) from Shanghai to Beijing – June 5, 2014

Today we caught the 7:30AM high-speed rail bound for China’s glorious capital, Beijing. The train’s top speed is capped at around 300 km/h, which is roughly 186 m/h. Needless to say, we zipped through China’s countryside at a mesmerizing pace. It only took five and a half hours! Ultimately, we all seemed to have found a good balance between sleep and sightseeing in preparation for all the wild adventures to come in Beijing and Xi’an.

Beijing 2 Beijing – Tiananmen Sq. (天安门) and the Forbidden City (故宫) – June 5, 2014

After lunch, we promptly made our way to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City smack dab in the heart of Beijing. It was hot out but that didn’t stop us from seeing what we came here to see. Indeed, the history of this location is rich and formidable. However, to some extent, it felt as if we helped make some more of its history just by being there today. Fight On!

Beijing 3 Beijing – Kung Fu show at 北京什刹海剧场 – June 5, 2014

Earlier this evening, we took a side-trip down to Beijing’s Bei Hai area to enjoy a rather interesting and energetic Kung Fu show. Giant, acrobatic pandas seemed to be a common theme throughout the performance and they managed to pull a few Michael Jackson moves near the end, which was truly icing on the cake. You don’t see a show like this every day!

Beijing 4 Beijing – A trip to the Great Wall of China – June 6, 2014

You simply cannot come to Beijing without making a trip out to see the mighty Great Wall. As we climbed, the rain began to fall. But much like with the heat yesterday, the downpour did little to stop us from reaching our goal! We endured the weather, bonded with some of the locals along the way, and eventually reached the top. What a spectacular and rewarding view! All in all, it was an experience Global East Asia of 2014 will not soon forget.


June 24, 2014

Back From Our First Expedition

Filed under: Class,Hangzhou,Shanghai,Travel — Tags: , — geachina @ 4:35 pm

By Steven Luong and Olivia Chui

A few hours were spent in Hangzhou, a city a few hours west of Shanghai. The group took a boat ride around West Lake and strolled around the picturesque lake. The place was bustling with tourists and locals alike and the group witnessed many people enjoying their weekend afternoon. Afterwards, the group bused back to Shanghai.

Taken: Hangzhou, Saturday May 31, 2014 at 14:40

Some of the group before a boat tour of West Lake in Hangzhou (Taken: Hangzhou, Saturday May 31, 2014 at 14:40)

Taken: Westlake, Hangzhou. Saturday May 31 at 14:35

A picture of the boat after the tour (Taken: West Lake, Hangzhou. Saturday May 31 at 14:35)

On a rain-filled Sunday, a day of rest and fun was in order. Many students stayed around the Fudan University area, taking time to recoup from the exhausting travels of the previous few days. Others decided to brave the wet weather and venture to other parts of the city like the popular City God Temple Area, a vestigial landmark of old Shanghai.

Taken: Pudong, Sunday June 1, 2014 at 17:40

Road signs at a popular Shanghai intersection (Taken: Shanghai, Sunday June 1, 2014 at 17:40)

Taken: City God Temple, Sunday June 1, 2014 at 18:00

A view of the City God Temple area from a restaurant (Taken: City God Temple, Sunday June 1, 2014 at 18:00)


June 23, 2014

Our First Trip: Huangshan and Hangzhou Adventures!

Filed under: Beijing,Class,Hangzhou,Travel — Tags: — geachina @ 11:58 pm

By Aleen Mankerian and Eri Aguilar

Day 1 (Aleen)

After a weekend spent settling into Fudan University and exploring the surrounding area, on Tuesday afternoon, we hopped on a bus for a 6-hour drive for our first trip to the city of Huangshan. It was a long and tiring commute but we were excited and had no idea what to expect upon our arrival. An interesting aspect about the ride was that we had the chance to see a drastic difference between urban Shanghai and the villages and small towns right outside of the city. We finally arrived in the main city of Huangshan, and it definitely wasn’t hard to miss because neon lights flooded the downtown area. They must not worry about their electricity bill! After stopping in the city for a delicious traditional Chinese meal, we drove another half hour to one of the most luxurious hotels we’ve ever seen. Our first night in Huangshan was spent at the Howard Johnson Macrolink Plaza, or what we liked to call “The Bellagio” because of its resemblance to a Las Vegas resort. Perhaps the strangest part about the hotel was the fact that it was completely empty. It was quiet and a bit creepy but we still had fun running through the huge halls and bonding with one another during our stay. We finished off the night in our comfortable, spacious hotel rooms with exciting adventures to look forward to the next day.


The GEA China 2014 group as we entered the Howard Johnson Macrolink Plaza in Huangshan, Anhui (May 27, 2014, Aleen Mankerian)

Day 2 (Eri)

Fightin on at HJ (1)

In front of the Howard Johnson Macrolink Plaza at Huangshan, Anhui (May 28, 2014, Eri Aguilar)

The trek to the top of Huangshan Mountain, the fifth wonder of the world, began with our departure from this amazing hotel. The lobby was decorated with marble floors, the rooms were opulent, and the service men and women prided themselves in offering us a high degree of hospitality. This being my first time ever traveling abroad, my expectations did not have a standard for comparison. But I was definitely eager to be exposed to novel experiences. I can vividly recall being unable to sleep the night prior, as I imagined the immense beauty of standing on the top of the mountain. Growing up in the city, the only view of nature that I had ever experienced were the hills that are behind the skyscrapers in Los Angeles when driving down the 110 North.


Working out our calf muscles climbing the steep steps of the Huangshan Mountain (May 28, 2014, Aleen Mankerian)


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


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