By Jim Becker & Joseph Bailey
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.