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3 posts from September 2013

09/18/2013

你好, 南京欢迎你!Welcome to Nanjing! Fall 2013

After the hot summer, fall finally comes along with cool breezes and the aroma of blossoming osmanthus fills the streets in Nanjing. Students have attended classes for four weeks at the CIEE Study Center at Nanjing University. The past month has been busy with schoolwork and many activities, from exploring Nanjing and meeting new Chinese friends, getting involved in community engagement projects, to weekend excursions… It has been very exciting to start such a journey with everyone in the program in a booming metropolis with 2,500 years of history.

Orientation

We started our orientation with activities to introduce ourselves and explored Nanjing in a scavenger hunt around the university neighborhood. We found the alley with local dumplings, noodles, and an authentic Korean restaurant, the most artistic bookstore in Nanjing, LIBRAIRIE AVANT-GARDE, the university gym, and small coffee shops that previous students have enjoyed. Everything is so close!IMG_6932Dream Team One for Scavenger Hunt

Our Chinese Roommates/Tutors/Language Partners/Friends

Getting to know our Chinese roommates and tutors was fun. We visited the six-hundred-year Ming City Wall together and took boats on the picturesque Xuanwu Lake with lotus flowers floating around the lake. To know our tutors better, we did an activity called “Deep Connections” sharing our interests, dreams and goals with each other. Surprisingly, although growing up in different environment, we really share something in common and had quite a few laughs.

IMG_6995Hoopie Pass with Chinese roommates at the Xuanwu LakeIMG_7041We both love the same sport teams!

IMG_6956On the six-hundred Ming City Wall by the Xuanwu Lake

Our Chinese roommates and tutors are the best helpers and local guides. They showed us the student cafeteria and popular small eateries, local supermarkets, shopping at the Fashion Lady, how to buy things on Taobao (the Chinese Amazon), and how to play Chinese mahjong… They are also the best language partners and tutors. We each learned a Chinese song with our roommates and tutors and went to a CIEE organized karaoke club to sing Chinese and American songs! Singing karaoke in China is so different from karaoke in the U.S. We were in a private big room with only CIEE students and roommates.

Each week, they will tutor us on Chinese language for two to three hours. This is very helpful for our learning outside of the classroom. Because it’s one-on-one, tutoring is tailored to the individual.

IMG_7191Singing together with Chinese roommates

During the orientation, we had a lecture on the Chinese economy and trade with the U.S. The lecturer, Dr. Tsang, has taught for the University of Arizona for many years before he relocated to Nanjing and was rated one of the best lecturers by student at University of Arizona and previous CIEE students. Dr. Tsang started with the question “Is China a rich or a poor country?” and explained the astonishing development of China’s GDP over the past twenty years relative to the world, the Chinese export industry, the Chinese currency and how that affects the Sino-U.S. trade and consumers in China and in the U.S. It helped us to understand what we heard or read before and made us think deeper about what we see in China.

IMG_6940Lecture on U.S.-China Trade Tensions

Weekend Trip to Shanghai

On September 6th to 8th after hearing the lecture on China’s economy growth, we visited the economic and financial center of China—Shanghai. With around 28 million people, Shanghai is a fascinating metropolitan city from every aspect: the skyscrapers, the busy footsteps in the subways, the shopping areas, and so many international people. We had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Consulate General in Shanghai located in the French concession. After a meticulous security check, we met with two political officers and an economic officer at a historical Western-style mansion. The officers talked with us about Foreign Service, their special areas and the representation of the U.S. in China. Students asked all kinds of questions from hot issues in U.S.-China relations, to environmental pollution in China and to how to become a Foreign Service officer. After a delicious Shanghainese meal with Sheng Jianbao, we went to see Shanghai Acrobats “the EREA”. It was a fantastic and breath-taking show!

The next day, we had a walking tour with an American architect at the Shanghai City Planning Museum and the Bund. Having lived in Shanghai for 18 years, Spencer speaks fluent Shanghainese and knows a vast amount about the colonial history and modern development of Shanghai from an architectural standpoint. We learned so much about how Shanghai evolved from a tiny fishing village in the 1840s with 30,000 locals in the Opium War, to how the reform and opening up of China in the 1970s led to the recent 20 years of roaring industrial development.

IMG_7305   A walking talk of Shanghai colonial history and modern development

Community Engagement

This semester, we are happy to announce that CIEE Nanjing Center is collaborating with one of the largest law firms in Nanjing to offer internships for CIEE students. Two of our students majoring in legal studies will be involved with the law firm. They really look forward to observing a Chinese court with their mentors in the coming week.

As usual, many students this semester will carry on the great community engagement projects such as volunteering at the local community center tutoring kids English and teaching at Yuhuatai Elementary School with half of its student population coming from migrant families.IMG_7371Chatting with kids at the local Community Center

IMG_7414Paired teaching at a Migrant School

中秋节就要到了!The Moon Festival is just around the corner. The homestay students will spend the holiday with their Chinese families. The dorm students are invited to go to CIEE staff’s house to experience this homecoming festival with a wonderful meal and eating some delicious moon cakes. Happy Moon Festival! 花好月圆!

09/17/2013

American-ness

As I was applying to study abroad in China, I had a professor tell me something I will never forget: "When I studied in Spain, I didn't so much learn about how Spanish people live as I learned how American I was." At the time I did not think much of it- I know I'm American. I'm a white, Christian, middle-class male, a runner and a drummer. I love being a part of what I have always been told is the most powerful nation on earth. I also happen to be interested in languages and particularly in non-western languages like Chinese. Naturally I knew that culture and language go hand and hand, so I was eager to explore the depths of this relationship, even electing to live with a host family.

 

It's been several weeks now that I've lived in China, learning the language and culture from my family and teachers and I've been thinking about that lesson a lot. I never realized that in order to understand how something is different (like a culture), one must first understand the one side of the equation. Instead of noting that Chinese are crazy drivers who pay no heed to the lines on the road, I've begun to examine why my American self is so appalled by this behavior- why do I, as an American, see the Chinese style of driving as reckless and crazy? Is there something hardwired in me that says that lines in the road are meant to be stayed between and turn signals used? Along those same lines, I've also had to reconcile who I am as an intellectual being. As an American, I attend a prestigious university, and express myself very well in English- that description doesn't work in China. I'm now the outsider who can't speak the language beyond expressing yes or no and who my family members are. I've had to look at myself and see the lumbering ignoramus that the outside world sees.

That reflection has driven me to think before I judge. I am an American and I will have certain opposing ideas about how the world should run, but these are not necessarily the best ideas for every situation. In the eyes of the Chinese people around me, I know nothing about how they live and their values. My goal is to change that perception ever closer to the Chinese way of seeing the world in the coming weeks.

09/12/2013

Pretty Fly in Shanghai

This evening our group returned from Shanghai, one of the most unbelievable cities I've ever visited. Never have I seen so many outrageously sky scraping monsters of steel and glass, people of every possible background, and such an eclectic spread of languages.
We took the bullet train over from Nanjing, which only took an hour, and if my Chinese is correct, is due to the high velocity of 300kmh. Faster than a speeding bullet!

Once we arrived we booked into our hotel, ate lunch next door, and then headed off to the American Consulate. We were lucky enough to have a debriefing by three of the representatives there, and were able to ask questions about anything and everything. Most of us were extremely curious about just how to pass that Foreign Service exam, to which they had little advice but to stay persistent and keep trying (since its likely to fail the first 2 or 3 times). Great. More studying to do. But they were fantastic, and we all learned a lot about the representation of American in China.
Next we got dinner, and then went to a circus du soliel themed show, but the stunts these people pulled nearly gave me a heart attack. Such as putting 7 people on motorbikes in a giant metal globe and having them ride around like maniacs and not hit each other. Quite the thriller.

The next day we had a great tour of the Shanghai Construction and Planning Center, where we were able to see the development of Shanghai over the last hundred years. Very briefly: Shanghai was nothing more than a small fishing village on the coast, and then after the Opium War, Britain demanded to be able to own land in China, and settled/developed the port of Shanghai, which quickly flourished alongside French and American towns. There are many areas in Shanghai that still remain preserved of their cultural heritage of French and British influence. Thus, from it's birth Shanghai has been a city of international commerce. We also saw the entire city of current Shanghai in miniature scale, lights, rivers, people and all. It was quite astounding. Our tour guide was an incredibly fascinating guy named Spencer, who knew extensive amounts about the city and its development.

Oh during our walk along the Bund we saw this:

After that we had free time, at which point I decided to meet up with a friend who is studying in Shanghai and go to the underground market. I was shocked at how fluently all the storekeepers spoke English, and how little I used my Mandarin. An important note on the language in Shanghai: the local dialect is called Shanghainese, and is more similar to Cantonese than it is to Mandarin, which greatly displeases the government that such an important city doesn't speak the official language. Extremely interesting dialect I'd love to look into at some point. But back to the shopping: I haggled my way through the whole store, got some pretty nice shoes for $10 (down from 45), and a very impressive speaker for the same price. They're tough, but it was an interesting experience, especially being a foreigner.

That evening we all went out and explored the city, walked along the Bund, and met many people from different countries. This was the most perspective shifting experience of the trip. In Nanjing, we are all somewhat peculiar, and people often stare at loud, pushy group of white people wherever we go. We are often questioned about the cultural differences between our countries, and the local people seem to be genuinely interested in getting to know us. In Shanghai, it was the complete opposite. We didn't stand out there, and unless you happened to be super-model gorgeous or ridiculously wealthy, you didn't matter. It was a bit of a shock to realize that, and I noticed how challenging it was to meet local Shanghainese, and trying to start conversations was fruitless as most of them stared blankly back, or simply ignored us. Not to say that we didn't meet any friendly people, but the overwhelming majority of attempts to cross the cultural barriers were met with little or no effort. A very interesting experience indeed. I wondered why our efforts were rebuked, and what it might take to be noticed here. How difficult would it be to find a place among all the other people vying for jobs, social status, and respect. Does that require them to be extremely selective in their relations? To be as efficient as possible in their time, and determined not to waste any on those deemed insignificant? Who knows! Just an interesting thought. So many people have such exhaustive experience, backgrounds, education etc etc, what does it take to make it big in the country that is so quickly on the rise to superpowerdom? Quite a fascinating city Shanghai has developed into.

The next morning, we went to a wonderful museum that was a good change of pace after the night before, and reminded me why I think this culture is amazing. The 5,000 years of culture represented in that one building was mind blowing. All the while I strolled around looking at ancient seals, poems in flowing Chinese characters, and ornate tribal garments, I talked with my program director about various topics such as the censorship in China, bias in American history books, every Chinese dynasty and its influence, and on and on.

Overall, Shanghai has left me with some thought that need some reflecting. I fell in love with the day life, but was disillusioned by the night life. That expression "like night and day"? That could be applied pretty accurately to this city.