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

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.

June 4, 2012

Studying in Shanghai (05/27 – 05/30)

Filed under: Class,Shanghai — Tags: — geachina @ 5:20 pm

By Janet Lee (李洁) and Alan Wong (黄飞仁)

Returning from Hangzhou and Suzhou, we were given the weekend to recuperate, study, and explore on our own. Many students made extensive use of Shanghai’s well-designed public transit system, taking the subway to bypass Shanghai’s street-level traffic. Growing more accustomed with our surroundings, we have thus far managed to take care of laundry, food, and drink, among other logistical issues, and have been fortunate enough to have pleasant weather thus far (for the most part, some rain!).

Dismantling Our False Historical AssumptionsDismantling Our False Historical Assumptions

In the Classroom (上海上课)
Studying abroad in Shanghai certainly entails studying – while given ample opportunity to explore Shanghai and have out-of-the-classroom experiences, EASC 360 is an intense course that is not to be taken lightly! In order to contextualize our experiences, we were given ‘Quick and Dirty’ guides to a number of topics – globalization, historical inquiry, and communism, among others.

The historical context given by class lectures has enriched our day-to-day activities in Shanghai, while also providing us with a foundation to build our papers and other assignments upon. For example, we could compare our experience in 21st century Shanghai to the advertising campaigns of the British American Tobacco company during the 19th century. Visiting various commercial centers, we see are able to more critically analyze the way familiar products to many Americans are being marketed to the Shanghai public.

One important topic in our class is the classification of “food drugs.” Why is caffeine (a stimulant), in the form of coffee, tea, or energy drinks, a socially accepted food drug while many other potent substances are not? Walking through the streets of Shanghai, we were able to see firsthand the prominence of many items, once regarded as commodities, that are now used daily by many people.

学习时间Sweat, Water, and Historical Inquiry

Our Chinese language instruction sessions have also added flavor to our time here, literally giving us new access to many otherwise inaccessible foods, drinks, and places. But more importantly, it has reminded us of our position as ambassadors of USC (and the United States).

It has been both challenging and rewarding to switch the role of “native” and “foreigner” we are accustomed to adopt at times in the United States. EASC 360 students arrived in Shanghai with a range of abilities in Mandarin Chinese, and likewise have been met with various expectations from the people here. While it is usually not difficult for people here to tell that we are not Shanghai residents, many people are not used to the concept of “American Born Chinese.” Likewise, since many Westerners make no effort to learn to speak any Mandarin Chinese, some people here have expressed surprise at the competency of our definitely-not-Chinese-looking-students’ initiative to use and practice a new language. Many residents here have been very kind and patient sorting through our linguistic and cultural differences in making both purchases and conversation.

练习中文Setting the Tone for Mandarin Practice

Shanghai Zoo (上海动物园)
A number of students visited the Shanghai Zoo to see the world-famous Chinese pandas, among other animals. We were surprised to find the well-publicized Giant Panda (大猫熊) as one of the less exciting exhibits of the zoo’s many attractions. One of my personal favorites, for example, was the “Lesser Panda” (小猫熊), or “Red Panda,” our more familiar panda’s less-known cousin.

As with many other spaces in China, the Shanghai Zoo was designed as a place for families to enjoy together. Zoo visitors were a diverse lot. There were, of course, many children, but also young couples, older people, groups of friends, photography enthusiasts, foreign students, etc.

While there were a number of signs prohibiting guests from feeding the animals, we were astonished to find a large amount of unauthorized interaction between guests and zoo animals. Guests would hand feed monkeys, toss fruit into the mouth of bears, and attempt to aggravate animals to get their attention. Information was posted about why such practices are harmful, but these did not deter many guests from breaking these relatively unenforced rules.

All in all, the Shanghai zoo had a far more “public” feel than American zoos. While efforts were made to emphasize education, conservation, and proper interaction between guests and zoo animals, these, like traffic lights here, served more as “suggestions” than as strict guidelines. Nevertheless, the zoo was an interesting, affordable, and exciting experience.

All the Single Ladies!
After a mini shopping expedition around People’s Square (人民广场), a couple of us explored our way into the People’s Park (人民公园) expecting to have a quiet stroll in the middle of the bustling city. However, to our surprise, the park was filled with people with signs and posters, all written in Chinese. Some posters even had pictures clipped on them. Because of our limited Chinese reading ability, we could only make out that there were people’s birthdates and basic information written on these signs. Initially, we thought it was some sort of somber occasion; maybe they were mourning the death of lost love ones. However, upon closer inspection, we noticed everyone, other than ourselves, was laughing and chatting jovially. After asking some middle age ladies what was going on, we discovered that it was, in fact, a Matchmaking Market! Every weekend, parents and grandparents of bachelors and bachelorettes set up their own postings in the public park as a way to find potential spouses for their children. Coming from a world of OkCupid and, we were both shocked and amused by this approach to courtship, one so heavily influenced by family, which is deeply entrenched in Chinese culture.

Dining in China
Family style is one of the best ways to dine in China. It eliminates that twinge of jealousy that we often get when our friend’s entrée is noticeably tastier looking than our own. With family style, no one feels left out because every dish is fair game. To make things even better, at the end of the meal, the bill is easy to split because there are no taxes or tips to take into account.

The prices for food at typical street-side pedestrian mall restaurants are more than reasonable. 10 yuan (~ $1.60) could buy a nice bowl of beef noodle soup, 20 yuan (~$3.20) for a Korean Kimchi Fried Rice, and a Tapioca Milk Tea might set you back 10 yuan (~$1.60). Although dining with friends around a round table in a restaurant is lots of fun, we can’t forget the deliciousness that is late night street carts. You can have anything from spicy pork skewers to fried rice. Although the policy is to eat at your own risk, sometimes food seems to taste better when it’s made on a cart. From the lack of tipping to the late night street food, our experience with Chinese eating culture has been an overwhelmingly positive one.

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

May 25, 2012

Arrival in Shanghai

Filed under: Class,Shanghai — geachina @ 5:29 pm

By Stephanie Guo & Fan Fan

May 19: Arrival
On Saturday, May 19th, we finally arrived in Shanghai, China! It was a long-awaited moment, and we were all very excited to step into Shanghai Pudong International Airport after nearly two months of anticipation and a fourteen hour flight. After arriving at the airport, the thirteen of us EASC China scholars and our TA Luman met Prof. Brett Sheehan and our guide, David (he told us his name is actually 文军 Wenjun meaning gentle and handsome, but that we could call him David) and then made our way on a bus (in Chinese 巴士)to our hotel near Fudan University.

May 20: Buying Phones
The next day after breakfast at the hotel (an assortment of porridge, pickles, steamed buns, red-bean sweet treats, eggs–and cake), we went on our first adventure: buying Chinese cell phones!

Looking at cell phones

Most of us paid (using our stipend money) about 120-170 RMB for a phone and then 60 for minutes and a SIM card. It was fun to be in the midst of the bustles and smells of the city, and I learned that Luman is a master bargainer.

Afterward, we had a mini-adventure in buying our own lunch for the first time!

Our afternoon activity on Sunday was also our first class assignments. One of the things that appealed to me the most about EASC 360 China is that we learn so much about globalization and Chinese history, but in a highly hands-on context. On Sunday afternoon, our class ventured to part of the old French Concession, Tianzifang, where we looked for examples of globalization. Tianzifang is now a shopping and dining area, filled with all sorts of shops selling everything from traditional Chinese paper cuts to Bob Marley buttons. As we ambled through the narrow alleyways crammed with an artsy mix of traditional Chinese decorations and cafes representing numerous different cultures, we took photos of things that to us represented globalization.


Playing with toys

Sitting in Tianzifang

Cafe in Tianzifang

May 21: Class
Our first two days of class consisted for three-hour lectures including extensive discussion on our readings, as well as two hours of language instruction. The first lesson involved defining historical analytical tools, as well as determining the aspects that constitute globalization. After a quick geography lesson, the class discussed the assigned readings on porcelain and tea, two commodities that have experienced the effects of globalization and commerce in Ancient China.

After a lively discussion where each of us shared particular points about what we found interesting and global in the reading, we had lunch together in the local pedestrian mall and enjoyed authentic Chinese food as a group. Afterward, we had a two-hour Chinese instruction period where we learned how to greet one another. We all had a good time, both the beginners and the advanced speakers, as we learned to help one another in learning this complex language.

Authentic Chinese food

Xin Tian Di
After completing our first day of lessons, our group decided to do a little exploring without the help of our Chinese friends (David, Prof. Sheehan, and Luman). We made our way to the subway station with little difficulty, and managed to get on the correct train. Arriving at Xin Tian Di was a success in our book and we happily wandered around the area, which was rather reminiscent of the Little Tokyo/financial district of our home in Los Angeles. After spending a day “looking for the global in Tian Zi Fang,” seeing globalization around Xin Tian Di became more of a game for us students as the effects of international exchange has become much more apparent after our first immersion experience. After practicing our Chinese and asking for directions (numerous times), we wound up in the popular bar and restaurant area, but quickly discovered that it was not only teeming with foreigners, but also definitely outside of our generous, but student, nonetheless, budget.

On the subway

Taking the advice of a couple of nice police officers, we took a couple side streets and placed our bets on a somewhat sketchy looking restaurant. It turned out to be both delicious and cheap, and we ate to our hearts content.

Delicious and cheap food

Afterward, we grabbed some drinks at Xin Tian Di as a reward for staying within budget and continuing with our diet of Chinese cuisine instead of opting out for burgers. The nightlife was beautiful and the weather, balmy, but jetlag was kicking in once again and we decided to call it a night. Our subway ride back was sleepy, and we ended up getting off on the wrong stop. This allowed us to explore a little, and get accustomed to the area by way of getting lost. Eventually making it back to Fudan University, some of the more energized guys in our group peeled off to start a 3-on-3 basketball game with the local students (the Americans were rather dominant), and the rest of us returned to our dorms for a night of reading and sleep. Thus concluded a successful night of exploring Shanghai and interacting with the locals.

May 22: Nanjing Lu and The Bund           

After our second day of class, our group decided to grab dinner at the famous shopping strip Nanjing Lu. Splitting up, we grabbed dinner on our own and enjoyed both local cuisines or comfort foods for home. Nanjing Lu is a popular place for tourists and locals alike and our group certainly enjoyed the night lights and shopping the area had to offer. We also went to the Bund (外滩), an area on the Huangpu River that was once part of the International Settlement. We had an amazing view of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. All around us lights and buildings flashed brilliantly in the night.

Eating local cuisine

Night out at Nanjing Lu and the Bund

On the subway at night
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