Follow the experiences of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of Moravian College, Moravian Theological Seminary and the Comenius Center who live in or travel to China for pleasure, for business, or for study during the 2010-11 CHINA | IN FOCUS thematic year.

Monday, October 25, 2010

We're not in Peddler's Village anymore, Toto!

by Richard Button

Today we spent the whole afternoon in the Yu Garden Bazaar, better known as Shanghai's "China Town."

Of course, all of Shanghai is a "China Town", but the bazaar is called that because it is large, probably six blocks by four blocks, all marked off with pagoda style gates. There are many types of stores in the bazaar.

The vast majority are very small specialty shops...really, really small and extremely specialized, like shipping tape stores. Yep, there were two shops that sold nothing but clear shipping tape. And chopsticks stores. Many foods stores, full of vacuum sealed opaque bags. Those were a problem for those of us looking for a snack. The writing, not surprisingly, was in Mandarin and we had no idea what was in the bag.

There were large and small chotchki shops, with the same buddas and trinkets. I came very close to scoring a Chairman Mao analog wrist watch, with the seconds delineated by Mao's waving hand. We couldn't agree on a price. She asking fifty yuen ($7.50), but I knew others in our group had bought them for $1.00. I offered 5 yuen. She scoffed, countered with forty. I said five. She scoffed. I turned and walked away. She chased after me. "Thirty," she shouted. I kept walking. "Twenty." Walking. "OK, ten." I said, "Five." She walked away. I guess Chairman Mao is staying in China where he belongs.

There was a department store in the bazaar, sort of on the scale of a BonTon. No air conditioning. But what really surprised me was the aggressiveness of the sales clerks. They behaved just like the vendors outside. They came up to me from behind their counters with merchandise in hand, offering to lower prices before I said anything.

Our meals have been very boring and only marginally good. So we were all looking for treats at the bazaar. I pride myself in generally looking for indigenous foods when I am out and about. I had been a pretty good sport, I feel, about trying everything and not prejudging food. But my taste buds were bored. I just couldn't resist the lure of TWO Starbucks in the bazaar. Even with international chains, don't order coffee drinks in a country that is the basis for a phrase like "...for all the tea in China." I tried two different drinks, and they were mediocre. They also didn't have decaf, which is all I have drunk for thirty years, so I was pretty wired by the time we left.

Speaking of tea, yesterday we visited the Dragon Well tea plantation in Hangzhou. Tea is very serious business here. We learned about the growing and harvesting...and the hand drying of the tea leaves. We learned how to really brew tea and learned that the tea in tea bags comes from floor sweepings, according to the tea sales rep we met! Really good green tea...the best...smells like freshly cooked spinach and makes a robust beverage that cures most human ailments, again, according to our sales rep!

Tomorrow morning we head back. It is a very short flight. We leave Shanghai at 12:00 p.m. and arrive at JFK at 2:15 p.m.!


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

DATELINE Hangzhou....

by Richard L. Button

...this is an eastern China city, capital of a province. I am afraid I don't know which province, a province nevertheless. Everyone may take comfort. Holiday Inns are the same the world over — the same noisy weddings and the lounge singers!

Yesterday we were in Suzhou and went to Tiger Hill (not to be confused with the old men’s store, Tiger Hall in Bethlehem). Tiger Hill is the site of a 1000 year-old Buddhist pagoda and a former Buddhist Temple. It is a remarkable place.

Local legend says a monk picked a spot for his own burial. When he picked the spot, a rare white tiger made an appearance (hence the name of the hill). He died, was buried, and the workmen who buried him were all killed so they could not reveal the location of his tomb. People searched for years, but never found the tomb. The pagoda was built on the same location — unbeknownst to the builders. After several years, the pagoda began to lean. Workman looked for the source of the problem and found the tomb. A thousand years later, the pagoda still leans!

The grounds are extensive. Our group split up to explore the ancient grounds and various out buildings. It was beautiful, even though it was a gray day. As we gathered back at the appointed time, several of us in the group commented that tranquility came over us as we walked the grounds. The spirit of the monk is still bringing peace.

Today we got away from the tourist traps and spent an hour exploring a local market in Suzhou. Suzhou is known as the "Venice of China" because of the canal system that used to permit farmers to deliver their produce. Parts of the canal remain and we visited a canal community market. All sorts of items could be purchased...huge cucumbers about a yard long...more kinds of beans than I knew existed...boiled chicken turtles for eels...and chickens and ducks killed while you wait.

We explore more of Hangzhou tomorrow and then back to Shanghai.

Catch you later,


Monday, October 18, 2010

Golly, Ellie Mae -- they have a cement pond out back!

by Richard L. Button (Photo: Dick Button and Debbie Walters, an adjunct in the Comenius Center who was also on the tour)

I have to admit I felt a little like Jed Clampett when we arrived here Saturday night (or maybe it was Saturday morning, hard to know for sure when it was!). After 17 hours in the air and about 10 hours in assorted airports, when I walked into my room here at the Crowne Pointe Sun Palace in Beijing at 1:30 a.m., I was stunned by the splender of my room.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but I didn't expect a glass enclosed bathroom with power blinds, four heavenly pillows, an L-shaped desk (facing the TV!), towels thicker than a Big Mack, and sheets softer than a baby greyhound's behind (don't really know how soft a baby greyhound's behind is, but I thought I would throw in a Moravian College reference!). China has come a very long way since Chairman Mao. It turns out that our hotel was built for Olympic guests.

A travelog would too typical for a blog, so I thought I would let you know some of what I have learned -- as a China visitor and first-time world traveler.

The Chinese are wonderful: tranquil, peaceful, friendly, remarkably slender, and very gracious -- except, as soon as they step on an elevator, they press the "close door" button. Also "waiting your turn" must be a western concept.

With apologies to Frau Ream and Herr Dr. Opperman, who both tried unsuccessfully to teach me German, the importance of language has made a strong impression.

Today at the Forbidden City. We were on free time and I strolled through a little concession stand to see what they had. It was cold and raining, and a young couple was drinking something that looked hot and delicious. I asked them what it was, they smiled looked at me blankly and pointed to the rest room (identified by signs that say clearly "toilet"). We both recognized we were not communicated very well and laughed. I walked on and noticed three girls about 14 years old were sitting nearby and watching. I smiled, waved, they waved back, and I continued to walk on. Suddenly remembering what I learned that morning from our guide, I turned around and said in nearly perfect Mandarin, "Ni Hao", which is "Hello." The girls looked at me startled, starting giggling (like school girls, interestingly enough) and all said "Ni Hao" with huge grins and nodding their heads in approval. Their reaction to my attempt to communicate in their language was a delight....the high point of my day.

As we were leaving the Forbidden City, we were surrounded by street vendors. I really wanted a book that one was selling for $10. She was bugging me like crazy, so I tried the old "Ni Hao" and added "Three dollars." She responded with a surprised grin, she responded with "Ni Hao. Eight dollars." Through perseverance, I got it for $3. I hit her with "Xie Xie" ("Thank you") and she delightedly giggled. It was fun (or maybe I said, "Your mother and the horse washed the sheets").

I won't go into how the Chinese army guard, trying to look ferocious when I took his picture, responded to my "Xie Xie"

All for now -- tomorrow we head east to Shanghai.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Globalyours, September 2010

from Kerry Sethi, Director of International Studies

I hope you enjoy reading the articles on China in this edition of Globalyours!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sichuan's forgotten corner

By Christopher K Colley ‘02

China’s breakneck growth over the past 30 years has led to an enormous domestic tourism market. Areas of China that were once off limits to all but a few intrepid travelers are now just a few hours drive from regional airports and train stations. In 2007, 132 million visitors from both China and overseas blazed trails through the Middle Kingdom and they and others are turning China into one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Because of this multitude it would seem that there are few untrammeled places left to discover in China.

With this in mind, I set out recently to explore an area that few Chinese and even fewer foreigners experience, a slice of rural China that has so far been largely bypassed by Beijing’s modernization drive. I was joined by two fellow travelers, one European and one Chinese from the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou as we set out on a 7-day trek through the mountains of Sichuan province in China’s southwest. It turned out to be a land of breathtaking scenery, lush valleys carpeted with wild flowers and framed by peaks, some of them snow covered.

I had heard about this journey by word of mouth since reliable information about this area is not listed in English language guide books. We started in Lige on the northern shore of Lugu Lake, where we hired Qing Dujie a 42 year old member of the Pumi minority group as our guide, and his 16-year old daughter Yong Jing Zhimen who would serve as the stablewomen. We were told that we were the first foreigners to do the trek this year and this bit of intelligence seemed accurate. During our weeklong journey we encountered only three other travelers - three men from Shanghai in their mid-20s. The troubles in Tibet are undoubtedly responsible for the low number of tourists but a dearth of basic facilities along the route may also dissuade many tourists.

The trek began at our guide’s home; it would end at Yading Nature Reserve, revered by Tibetans for its three sacred mountains, all soaring about 20,000 feet above the earth. After burning incense for good luck we set off with two donkeys and a small horse that carried our supplies. Within the first hour, after crossing into Sichuan province, the landscape transformed into picturesque alpine meadows dotted by small minority settlements centered around streams at the bases of valleys. Except for the non-Caucasian people inhabiting the area, this was a scene from Heidi. We would trek through four ethnic minority areas, Yi, Mosu, Pumi and Tibetan, with the Tibetan areas making up the majority of the trek. While the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) often grabs the world’s attention and is seen by many as the center of Tibetan culture, according to the Chinese National census of 2000, it is home to only 46 percent of the Tibetan population in China. Sichuan province is home to 23 percent of China’s Tibetan population and in many ways the Tibetan areas of Sichuan are less exposed to Han Chinese influence and are less developed than are many areas in the TAR.

It didn’t take us long to become acquainted with our guide and his daughter. Over a dinner of noodles mixed with hearty chunks of salted pork and chili on our first night Qing told us how he made a living picking up construction jobs and how his employment was often erratic and exploitative. “In a good year I can make 10,000 RMB, (about 1,400 American dollars) but in a bad year I make 4-5,000RMB”. We had negotiated to pay him 100 RMB per day for his services and 50 RMB per pack animal. Over eight days this would total 2,000 RMB, a sizable take for him and his family. Qing’s family was a microcosm of contemporary rural China. Twenty years ago he had migrated to northwestern Sichuan to work on road building projects. He currently relies on odd jobs to make ends meet and in many instances his bosses cheat him. “I once worked with two other guys for three months on a project and the boss did not pay us”. Instances like this are not uncommon in China and potentially pose a serious threat to social stability. In recent years protests over issues like non-payment have rocked China and Chinese president Hu Jintao has spent considerable time and energy promoting a “Harmonious Society” with the chief aim being to reduce economic gaps between urban and rural areas and to spend more resources on rural development.

Yong will soon have to make a choice as to what she will do in the future. She has been a student for 6 years and recently spent her holidays digging ditches on road construction for 20 RMB per day. When asked what she would like to do with her future she said, “if possible I would like to continue with my study, but now I am not sure”. Regardless, she may end up joining the largest wave of migration in human history. The 2005 China Human Development Report estimates there may be as many as 250 million migrant workers like Yong flocking to the cities by 2010. While she is still undecided, there is a powerful economic incentive to migrate and become one of the millions of workers who are now spread around the country, many heavily concentrated in coastal areas.

Our trek was not for the squeamish. Our nighttime shelter generally consisted of a 6-meter long plastic sheet that was tied to two cut tree branches and formed a small roof over our heads. It proved to be durable enough to ride out some of the tough storms that came through at night. We always camped near a stream or river for a source of water.

We awoke each day at seven and set off by 8:30. Much of the hiking was tough climbing through mountains at altitudes ranging from 7,000 to 17,000 feet. We often began the day below the tree line, ate lunch above the line, descended below the line in the afternoon, only to push across it again in late afternoon to set up camp. The second day consisted of a 4-hour climb up forested hills crawling with leeches that attached themselves to our boots and tried to make their way up our bodies. We kept flicking them off with our fingers and at times we ran up the mountain so they could not attach themselves. The donkeys and the horse were not as lucky and Qing would often pluck leeches off of their bodies. One morning one of the donkeys was bleeding around the eyes while the other two animals’ ears looked as though they had been painted fire engine red. Leeches had gotten to their ears during the night. On the second day the animals’ legs were often dripping blood and on at least two occasions when I paused for a photo and lost sight of the guide and animals I could find them by following the blood trails. The day ended with camp pitched at the 14,000-foot level in typical wilderness with no altitude reference points. On this long and tiring day we were pleased to discover our campsite was overrun with Yaks, and that Tibetan nomads had set up camp about 300 yards away. By chance Qing knew one of the nomads and they invited us that night into their dwellings.

I have visited many Tibetan homes in other regions of China, but this was my first experience inside a nomad’s hut. The roof was a plastic sheet; the floor was dirt covered with pine branches and the walls were loosely stacked stones with many gaps. I was offered some Yak Butter tea (a combination of Yak butter, salt and tea) some Yak cheese and a piece of bread. Our hosts were gracious and were willing to share their after dinner fare. I do not speak any Tibetan, but Qing did. (He also spoke three other minority languages and Mandarin.) There was no running water, electricity or any other modern convenience.

In many parts of the Tibetan world motorcycles are the standard mode of transport, but there were none here. I have traveled extensively throughout all of China and have a particular interest in rural areas, however this was the least developed area I have encountered. Even if there had been a motorcycle, there are no roads or discernable paths to ride on. Having lived in Beijing and Shanghai for the past 6 years I could have found no more radically different place. Development in this largely forgotten section of Sichuan was closer to Central Africa than to east coast China or even the provincial capital, Chengdu, about 600 miles away. China’s “Develop the West” policy has made enormous progress in other parts of China, but here it was difficult to find evidence of it.

There is considerable geographic diversity in these mountains. Meadows give way to alpine forests that turn into grasslands only to turn into marshes two miles further along. Some of the forests are heavily wooded with pine trees and one can easily lose their way. On the third day as we finished lunch Yong set off to round up the animals. After fifteen minutes she had not returned and a frantic Qing began racing up and down the hill screaming her name. The stream next to our camp would have drowned out her return calls. Soon a steady downpour made communication even worse. I began to fear that she had fallen and hit her head and at that altitude and temperature hypothermia can be a serious threat. Fortunately, within a half hour I found her in a gully, soaking and in tears, but unharmed. Qing later told us that one time it took four days to find a lost Chinese in the same stretch of woods. After regrouping we continued on our journey. The rain was relentless, we became soaked and at one point we had to pull the donkeys out of a bog. At dusk we settled inside a broken down cabin on one of the meadows, and after setting the plastic tent sheet over the roof the five of us and a local, who sold us half a goat and some rare mushrooms, sat around a roaring fire. We began steaming from the heat of the flames as we cooked the food and dried off. I had to admire Yong, who at 16, had kept pace with us and I could imagine few of her Shanghai or Beijing peers having the stamina and the stomach to endure what we had experienced. Had she been born in America she might have made a good softball player - she was constantly throwing rocks into lakes and swinging a stick at plants and scaring off menacing-looking dogs. The gulf between her and the college students I lecture to at Renmin (People’s) University is difficult to describe. Just three weeks before the start of the Olympic games she had not heard of Chinese superstar Liu Xiang, the defending Olympic 110 meter hurdle gold medallist. In urban China Liu is omnipresent marketing Coco-cola and Nike to China’s growing middle class.

The physical stress of the hiking was demanding. Blisters formed quickly on our feet and the constant walking took its toll on our knees. But we easily forgot these inconveniences because of the incredible experiences we were having. Most of the trekking was through Tibetan villages and with the exception of the last day the unrest that had spread through the Tibetan world in the spring was not noticeable. On the train from Beijing one of our fellow Han passengers told me she was “too terrified” to go to these parts of China for fear she would be attacked. While four of us were non-Han Chinese, our companion was and he encountered no problems. In fact we were all welcomed warmly into Tibetan homes and some of these homes had portraits of Mao and posters of Chinese military leaders. Many of the Tibetan women wore People’s Liberation Army hats. In one small Tibetan village a resident was even wearing a Beijing 2008 Olympic torch relay shirt.

On the fifth day we by chance came across three Chinese travelers who were coming the opposite direction and were bound for Lugu Lake. Our guides asked if they could switch and having agreed, we then picked up a Tibetan guide named Charlie who had a face that had been weathered by the high altitude Tibetan sun to the color of raw umber. He would often challenge me to a mountain climbing competition. I am training for the Beijing Marathon and took up the challenge. Charlie was a formidable climber and I soon was glad when half way up the mountain - at 4,500 meters – he dropped out to cover his gear from an approaching storm. Charlie smoked constantly and part of our agreement was to buy him a carton of cigarettes for the hike. I joked with my companions that Charlie would be Olympic marathon caliber if he didn’t smoke. While we were sucking up as much air as our lungs could take in these guides were marching along smoking like chimneys.

As we were hiking back to Charlie’s village past stuptas, decaying ruins and glacial rivers emanating from snowcapped peaks, we came across a “Tibetan ambulance”, consisting of a horse carrying a gravely ill young man. I asked one of his four companions the location of the nearest hospital. “There are no hospitals”, was the reply. They were taking him to a Tibetan doctor.

The infrastructure in this part of China is basic and although we did see road construction it will be at least a year before they open. Roads can mean the difference between life and death in cases of serious injury or sickness. While Beijing’s policy in Tibetan areas is often ridiculed in the West for its alleged “Cultural Genocide”, few give it credit for trying to develop what is one of the poorest regions of Asia.

As we were approaching Jiu Lou Cun, the town where Charlie lived and where we would spend the night, the setting sun lit the mountains and the river valley below in a beautiful cascade of oranges and reds. Although we were exhausted after hiking for 12hours the gorgeous sunset was uplifting. Jiu Lou Cun hugged the side of a mountain and was framed by rice terraces that descended to a river hundreds of yards below. We spotted another Tibetan village located on the opposite side of the narrow valley. We followed Charlie to his home near the top of the village, passing wandering Yaks and cows making their home from their pastures for the night.

Charlie had three rosy-cheeked beautiful daughters and a wife who helped us bring in our bags into his spacious home. His home was radically different from the nomadic families we had met along the way. The first floor stable harbored a family of pigs and a resident cow and we had to negotiate our way past these critters when going to the bathroom at night. The second floor consisted of four rooms, a main room with a fireplace. I noticed religious relics and Mao memorabilia. There were two bedrooms and a main hall. While there was electricity there was no running water or toilets. Charlie’s three daughters, aged 16, 20 and 24, spoke only Tibetan and in the new Chinese capitalist economy their future opportunities will be severely restricted if they do not learn Mandarin.

While hundreds of millions of Chinese are consumed by a near “craze” to learn English, many of China’s ethnic minorities struggle to learn basic Mandarin. Charlie’s daughters never had the benefit of formal schooling – when they were young there was no village school and only since 2002 has there been one. While it may have come too late for them, it will have an enormous impact on the coming generations. Charlie lives in a Tibetan part of Sichuan province; had he lived in the TAR his daughters might have had more educational opportunities. This is because in Beijing’s quest to “Develop the West” the government has transferred billions of dollars to China’s poorer western provinces. According to a 2006 report issued jointly by UNICEF and the Chinese Office of the National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council, per capita expenditure on education in the country’s western provinces averaged 1,031 yuan in 2003, however in the TAR it averaged over 2,000 yuan. In matters of health care the differences are even starker. Sichuan province spends on average 39 yuan per capita per year while the neighboring TAR spends 233 yuan. These transfer payments help in part explain the anger felt by Han Chinese towards foreigners who are critical of Beijing’s Tibet policy. Many Han feel foreigners and in particular westerners concentrate on only negative aspects of Beijing’s policy, while ignoring the economic sacrifice many feel they are making towards Tibet’s modernization. To be fair to Westerners the Chinese government has failed to effectively articulate the positive aspects of their Tibet policy.

The second to last day of the trek proved to be the most challenging - for the most part we hiked all day up mountain sides. At some points we were forced to climb through driving rain and hail at altitudes pushing 18,000 feet. We stopped once at a hut that was home to a semi-nomadic family of four where for 20 yuan each we enjoyed a heaping portion of lamb and rice complimented by the usual Yak butter tea. They lived above the tree line but their prized possession was a chain saw that was vital to the family’s survival. They made occasional forays below the tree line to cut wood for heat and cooking.

A two-hour hike later we arrived in the rain on a meadow at about 15,000 feet and decided to stay the night in a small stone hut with a leaking stone roof. It was here that the cold and altitude took its toll on me. After briefly going outside to photograph some passing Yaks, I started to shake uncontrollably from the cold. At that altitude hypothermia can develop quickly and one must take care to avoid it. Fortunately we had a strong fire burning and I quickly threw on several layers of dry clothing. The leaking roof posed a problem for me and I spent the night inside a garbage bag inside my sleeping bag with a poncho over my head.

The following morning would be our last day and we started with a gradual hike up to the highest point yet, a mountain pass at 18,500 meters where we encountered a local and a European who conducts tours of the area. We were just outside the Yading Nature Reserve and were told that many parts of Yading were closed because of civil unrest that had occurred the previous summer. We had heard similar stories over the past week. In remote corners of China and especially in minority areas, protests are usually not reported but when they are noted they become extremely sensitive. Information is often scarce and eyewitness reports are nearly impossible to come by. We were informed that the government is trying to develop the Yading reserve into a major tourist attraction. Several sources told us that last summer plans to build a chair lift and wooden walkway in the reserve provoked a protest that turned violent. When we arrived in the reserve many men surrounded us and there was visible damage to some of the tourist facilities. The bathrooms had been smashed and it appeared that someone had attempted to set them on fire. There was also graffiti on doors that had been painted over.

While some will welcome the economic opportunities that will come with more tourists, others see increased tourism, mostly by Han Chinese, as leading to a commercialization of Tibetan culture. This is not completely unfounded and many Tibetan sites in other parts of China now have a manufactured feel to them. Both Han Chinese and Tibetans need to find a middle ground where economic development is fostered while Tibetan culture is preserved. Unfortunately for all concerned the current state of capitalism in China tends to erode all traditional cultures whether it be Han, Tibetan or Miao. Perhaps once the road from Yading to Lugu Lake is completed in the next year or two this pristine corner of China will become a stomping ground for tour busses and their armies of Nikon toting tourists. For those who complete the trek before this happens, they will have witnessed as slice of rural China that has changed very little over the tumultuous years of modern Chinese history. This history is about to catch up with Yading and it is yet to be determined if greater numbers of tourists and their RMB will be seen as an agent of development bringing much needed cash and investment to one of the poorer corners of China or as a threat to the essence of Tibetan culture.

Christopher Colley currently lectures in the International Relations Department at China’s Renmin (People’s) University in Beijing. He has been living in China since 2002.

If you go

-The trek can be commenced from either Lugu Lake or Yading Nature Reserve, however from our experience in Lugu Lake it seemed that finding a guide in Lugu Lake was easier.
- An experienced guide is a must, there are many trails and in some areas no trails at all.
- Proper footwear in the form of water proof boots is essential
- The guide can tell you what you will need to buy in terms of food and supplies from one of the local markets.


- From Beijing we took a 43 hour train ride from West station to Xichang, from where it is an additional 8 hour bus ride to Lugu Lake.
- Access can also be gained from the air as Lijiang in Yunnan and Xichang both have airports from which bus travel can begin.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Great day on the Great Wall!

As I write this post at 8:22 pm, Brian is already asleep...the jet lag has definitely caught up with him. I wanted to take a few moments to share our day before crashing myself!

Today we left our hotel at 7 am to venture north of Beijing to the town of Jinshanling. Many friends recommended doing "the hike" on this section of the Great Wall and said it was a "must see". We thought the ride would be about 2 hours, but our driver suggested closer to 3. He was right - the traffic getting out of Beijing was terrible and everytime I thought we were out of the city, we'd discover more skyscrapers, more traffic. Given that we will get very little time out of the cities of Beijing and Shanghai, however, we enjoyed the long ride and took it as an opportunity to see more of China.

Prior to our trip, we heard so much about the development and construction efforts here. Being from the northeast in areas that have fallen victim to suburbianization we thought it would be the same. It is not! The development here is unbelievable. Unlike back home where a cornfield may be converted to a 100 house development, here the projects are redoing entire towns. Everywhere you turn there was construction. We also realized that the planned landscape we mentioned in our last post continued miles outside of Beijing - perfecly aligned rows of trees, beautiful rose bushes in the medians of all the roads, and perfectly manicured shrubery on the roadsides. We can't help but think about the level of staffing needed to maintain the landscape, yet we only saw 1-2 people working on it during our 3 hour drive.

Once we got out of Beijing we started to see little towns that surprisingly seemed very similar to the "Chinatowns" you find in the major US cities. At the entrance of the town would be the large archway followed by homes and shops standing closely together. Unfortunately we didn't have time to visit these towns, but got to see many of the residents either selling fruit at roadside stands or riding their bicycles or electric bikes along the highway. I keep mentioning bad traffic - there are cars everywhere but I feel like there are as many cyclists, too. Between these two types of commuters (plus many walkers), the roads are so crowded with people, cars, and bikes going every which way. I am certain I would not feel comfortable driving here for many years as the flow of traffic seems so unpredictable. Fortunately our driver was a pro and got us there a little under 3 hours.

Now, onto Jinshanling. I should mention that as we left Beijing we kept hoping to escape the smog I mentioned before, which we did, but only to find fog and rain. The entire drive to Jinshanling we experienced sporadic showers. Although we were prepared to hike in the rain, we knew the fog would prevent us from seeing the amazing views.

Upon arriving, we bought our ticket into the Great Wall and the rain started coming down steadily. We threw our ponchos on, Brian invested in a hat and we were off! There is a small dirt trail that leads up to the Wall but given the rain we decided to take advantage of the gondola. The gondola ride took about 10 minutes and dropped us off at the Little Jinshanling Tower. As soon as we got to the Tower, we were in awe. The rain started to slow down and the fog was clearing a bit and we just saw miles and miles of The Great Wall. It really seems endless!

We were warned that Jinshanling was really a hike, not just a walk, and we found that out pretty quickly. The hike consisted of steep uphills stair climbs, a plateau at a Tower, down a steep set of stairs. Repeat. I have included some pictures to show the steepness. At every Tower we would take a break to enjoy the view (and catch our breath, let's be honest) and then continue again. We quickly realized we needed to set a goal - time, Tower, something - because you really could just keep walking. We had planned to do a 5k hike from Jinshanling to Simatai; however, we learned that they government has closed Simatai for renovations. As such we set out for 1.5 hours in one direction and then turned around.

The walk back was just as beautiful and we kept saying to each other, "Wow, we are on the Great Wall". Standing there you can't help but admire the beauty of the Wall against the lush, green mountains surrounding either side. You also can't help but respect the vision and hard work the Chinese people invested in creating the Wall. Parts of it are definitely showing wear and tear from time and travellers, but the foundation is solid. (We have many beautiful pictures to share, but can't seem to download them from our camera to the computer. I'll try again soon).

Tomorrow we will be joined with about 15-20 students and spouses from Brian's program at Wharton who have also travelled to Beijing prior to their studies in Shanghai. We are taking a trip to the Forbidden City and another section of the Great Wall. We look forward to seeing our friends and exploring more of Beijing!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Arrived in Beijing!

Brian and I arrived in Beijing yesterday afternoon. What an amazing adventure already! The flight was not nearly as bad as we had anticipated. 14 hours goes quickly with all the free food and entertainment the provide. Upon arriving to Beijing, we were amazed at the efficiency and order of the airport - everything moved so quickly. Upon exiting the gate arrive, we felt like celebrities with all the Chinese lined up with signs to pick up friends and guests. It seemed like the papparazzi!

We took about 1 hour drive to our hotel and were amazed at the planfulness of everything in Beijinng. The stretch of highway leading to downtown Beijing had miles upon miles of planted trees, shrubs and flowers. It was nice to have this (planned) landscape to look at because traffic was pretty bad. It didn't seem to bother our driver who used the shoulder of the highway as a fourth lane!

The other thing we noticed on our drive was the "fog" wasn't until we saw the big orange ball of sun peek through the "fog" that we realized it wasn't fog, but smog! If you ask a local, they will call it fog / rain, but in speaking to some ex-pat Americans it is definitely smog (more on that later).

We are lucky enough to have a friend here in Beijing from America who is working for a pharma company in China. He invited us to his home last night and we spent hours talking about the Chinese culture and business world (more on that, too)! It was a great introduction to Beijing and hopefully set us up for a great week. We also are excited to meet up with Chris Colley, another Moravian grad from '02 (Brian's year), who is living in Beijing. We will meet up with him on Saturday before we leave for Shanghai.

All in all, we were successful in staying up for 30 hours straight. While this part was grueling, it has been totally worth it as we are now acclimated to the time change and ready to start our day!

We are about to leave to hike the Jinshanling-Simatai part of the Great Wall so don't have too much time to write now, but we plan to share a few posts this evening. Stay tuned!
-Brian and Jaime