We had a later start on our second to last day in China. So, naturally, I woke up super early. I was also sick most of the day, due to my earlier brush with death.
First up was a delightful conversation with Eric Li, the founder of the Chinese version of YouTube. He voiced his opinions on journalism in America as well as globalization in China.
Most of our group did not enjoy this meeting due to Eric’s views on journalism, particularly because he views journalists as often arrogant and liberally biased and full of their own role in the preservation of democracy that they’ve become too full of their own power. It was rather funny to watch several of the program participants trying to argue with him rather than listening, because their behavior was basically making his point for him.
Lunch was at a vegan/vegetarian (never got a clear answer) restaurant. The vegetarian in the group was extremely happy that she didn’t have to worry about eating everything. However, the one person with Celiac ended up eating dessert with flour in it and I basically didn’t eat anything but fruit, so I’m not sure I could call the restaurant a win-win.
I’m not opposed to meals without meat, but in China it was hard enough to figure out which dishes didn’t contain nuts and my safest options were often meat dishes. That being said, this restaurant was particularly bad because none of the foods were labeled with the allergens, like the buffets at the hotels.
Fruit wise, the meal was delicious. In China I discovered dragon fruit, which is a white or sometimes deep, dark pink fruit with a pink (non-edible) shell and little black seeds. It’s almost tasteless, but refreshing and a yummy addition to most meals. It was quite popular at all of the buffets we ate at.
Our next tour was at Partner X Robotics. So. Freaking. Cool.
Robots danced. Robots came in pink to encourage girls in STEM. And robots are made so that eight-year-olds can program them from their iPads.
My favorite part was when the guy explained they don’t call their drone robots drones, rather ‘flying robots’ because drones scare people and the title has a negative connotation. But the robots are still drones by definition. Love the rebranding.
I also liked that he answered me honestly when I asked why they’d made some of the robots pink. He had an entire spiel about encouraging girls in STEM. It was nice that he acknowledged they don’t have many women currently working in STEM in China right now and claims the company is working to teach girls that STEM and robots are for everyone. As a side note, he also explained that the robots come in pink and blue so that parents will buy more than one toy robot per family: one for the daughter and a different one for the son. Very clever, marketing department, very clever.
I definitely needed more time to recover from my earlier brush with death, because I dozed off during this meeting. I felt bad about it because the conversation was interesting, but apparently my body needed the rest.
Dinner with a View
Our final stop and dinner for the evening was at the Shanghai Pearl TV tower, which overlooks the Bund. (If you check my last blog post you can see the tower from across the river in the first picture). Again, we got the VIP treatment and drove past the main entrance and right up to the base of the tower.
We were greeted by official looking men and women in fancy red coats. They escorted us inside – bypassing security, metal detectors, bag searches and the long line; we rode to the top in our own private VIP elevator.
At the top, we first went through the Shanghai Museum and were given a brief history of the city. Next, they took us to the first look out point with a glass floor. Good thing I’m not afraid of heights!
The second view floor was next. My understanding was that this view floor was reserved for special guests; it was much less crowded.
Finally, we were taken to the most amazing dinner buffet with a spectacular view as dusk set in. The food was located in the non-spinning part of the tower while our tables slowly revolved. Every time you got up you had to walk farther and farther around to find your seat!
The meal was really good; I ate a lot of raw salmon. It was fun to eat and then look up and realized the view of the city had changed. It was a great way to end our last evening in Shanghai, our list evening in China.
Last Night in China
After retiring to the hotel, Japaira and I headed to the pool. For most of the evening I had the entire pool house to myself. It also came complete with a private Jacuzzi and sauna. I could get used to such luxury.
We stayed up late packing and showing each other the souvenirs we’d gotten our families for Christmas over glasses of wine. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my last night in China.
Last day in China: the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Museum
Waking up on our eighth day in China was hard, I needed more rest. But I was in China for two and half more days to go go go it was.
Up first was the Shanghai Institute for International Studies where we had an interesting conversation with several Chinese and international researchers. As a budding academic, it was nice to see how an institute outside of D.C. operates.
The Bund and Sixth Tone
Following that was a walk around at the Bund, Shanghai’s famous skyline. I can’t say I was overly impressed. It felt like I was at New York with about 20 million more people and 85% more smog.
But it was fun to get to walk and talk with my friend Japaira and take some photos before a light lunch at another hotel buffet.
Another ISU Alum?!!
After lunch we visited a governmentally funded, media start up called Sixth Tone. There I met another ISU alum!
Coming to China and meeting one ISU alum would have been insane, but meeting two ISU alum and an AU alum was crazy!! Even in China I found myself saying, ‘small world!’
During the meeting, this one particular woman had really stood out both by her work and her personality. Then, one of her coworkers mentioned that she had studied in the US. It was like all of the hair on my arms stood up and I leaned forward, already knowing how she would answer the question ‘where did you study?’ When she answered ISU, I literally threw my hands in the air and shouted ‘me too!’ We hugged afterward and caught up about some of our favorite professors.
Sixth Tone was a very interesting organization and it was great to hear all about the work a fellow Greenlee alum is up to in the field of visual arts. One of the most interesting aspects about Sixth Tone was when I asked how they were funding their start up? The answer was a bit of a circle, but basically they’re governmentally funded, which they’ll admit to but not as blatantly as China Daily. Still, it’s something to keep in mind when looking at any source of media – who is funding the message?
Our final stop of the day was at the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum, dedicated to the Jewish refugees from WWII who fled to China.
I really appreciated three days of back-to-back exploration into different religious in China. It gave me a glimpse into parts of China that I was unfamiliar with and didn’t expect prior to the trip.
It was an amazing experience for me because I appreciate learning about other religions in a respectful context.
After dinner at the hotel, most of us headed to the famous Yuan Market to do a final round of souvenir shopping. We took the subway there and back and stopped at a bar on the way home before turning in for the evening. It was fun to take the public transportation for a change. Having a personal driver is great, but it's nice to see how the people who live in Shanghai make their way around town.
After another beautiful night of sleep, we woke bright and early to make it to our first activity in time. A Taoist temple, the Temple of the Eight Immortals. Again, one of the most amazing experiences I had in China.
We also met my personal favorite tour guide, Phoenix, who was with us for the reminder of the day to help translate some of the colloquial phrases that were difficult for our other Chinese companions to translate because of the local dialect. There were some phrases and words that our other Chinese hosts couldn’t understand.
During the tour, I discussed religion and my view on respect and appreciate with Phoenix. She was amazing and part of why it was such an incredible experience. I also got my fortune read by a priest. Apparently I’ll be lucking in 2 years (so 2019) as well as in 2022. I also found out I have to do good things to have good things happen to me. And there’s something in my live that I need to fix and only I can and have to fix it.
All in all, it was a cool and exciting experience. I’d recommend a visit, but would impress upon everyone the importance of respect when visiting an unfamiliar religious site and don’t expect anyone to cater to you. I was incredibly fortunate that Phoenix and the priests were willing to share their beliefs with me as well as ask me questions about my own beliefs in return. It was a wonderful exchange and something I wish more people would take the time to do.
Next, we were off to a rural village outside of Xi’an. Now, anyone who knows anything about me knows that some of my favorite travel memories come from visiting with locals, especially those in rural environments, so I was really looking forward to the trip to the village.
The town of Yuen is home to 4,000 people and located a bit over an hour outside of Xi’an. We ate lunch, I suffered from an allergic reaction, and then I was given a private tour of the village and market. All in all it was a pretty great day!
Oh, you want to know more about my near death experience?
We were about halfway through lunch when they brought out this amazing fried dough dish. During this lunch they had promised there were no foods containing nuts. Still, I always waited until someone else had taken a bite to see if there were any of those pesky poison death fruits in my food before digging in. Several people had assured me that the delicious dough thingies didn’t have nuts, so I helped myself.
I paused to take a drink and continued eating a few more bites when all of a sudden I started to react to something. Worried, I put down the yummy pastry of questionable origin and drank a bit more tea.
Certain I was having an allergic reaction, I got up and alerted our hosts and asked about the pastry. Again, they assured me it didn’t have nuts and someone else at the table eating it also told me it didn’t have nuts.
Still, I was definitely having an allergic reaction so our host and bus driver walked me back to the van where I popped an extra Allegra and retrieved my emergency-for-that-exact-purpose toothbrush. Our driver was also kind enough to offer me a cup of his hot water.
In the mean time, one of our other hosts had gone to investigate the cause of my allergic reaction. I had mentioned the possibility of cross contamination: a knife being used to chop nuts and then to cut something I’d eaten, for example. It’s so easy for nuts to end up in supposedly nut-free food, especially if people don’t realize how serious it can be for someone with my allergies.
Basically, any time I eat food prepared by someone else I’m putting my life in their hands. Knowing this, it’s not going to stop me from enjoying my life and eating foods prepared in a variety of kitchens around the globe.
Back to the investigation into the mysterious source of the nuts: by the time I returned, our host had eliminated all of the other suspects and narrowed it down to one culprit.
The delicious fried dough pastry was proven innocent and instead the prime suspect was the tea!
Apparently the tea had been brewed with wild, hanging ‘nut berries’ from the garden. I’d never heard of nut tea, but you learn something every day.
I knew the first time I saw that most of our meals in China were going to be family style that I’d have difficulties. Basically, I had to be on constant alert during meals to ensure I didn’t die. However, even at my most cautious I still couldn’t prevent the inevitable. I think part of the problem was the lack of serious concern on the part of our hosts – both the American and the Chinese – to my allergy. So, in the future, I think I’ll make a bigger deal out of the importance of knowing what my food is, as well as not trusting certain people who have demonstrated that lack of understanding to feed me.
All in all, I was fortunate that the tea had been really hot when I sipped at it, because I didn’t drink very much. I’m also glad they figured out what was causing the reaction because otherwise I would have continued to blame the food and kept drinking the death tea in an attempt to keep my swollen throat clear (which would have exacerbated the issue).
Still, it was enough to make me fairly ill for the next several days of the trip.
But I wasn’t going to let a tiny brush with death stop me from enjoying Yuen.
Touring the Village
Instead, I embarked on a private tour of the village and market with Phoenix and the elected leader of the village.
We walked through every inch of the town and stepped inside several of the shops and buildings. It was incredible and a completely different piece of China that Beijing or Xi’an.
I was also the only student who wanted to go on the tour, which meant it was all at my digression. It’s not every day you get a chance to have your own personal tour with the most important guy in town and your own personal translator and newfound friend.
I enjoyed learning a lot about the man’s hometown, and he clearly loved displaying it.
I also terrified a baby. Oh, you want to hear this story too?
Before lunch, I’d smiled and waved at a little girl and her mom and grandma. Then, hours later during the tour, we ran back into them and they asked if I’d take a photo with them. Since I’ll never say no to photos with adorable children, I of course said yes! I now am the proud owner of a series of photos on my iPhone in which this baby gives me the side eye before crying and turning away.
One of our hosts, Emma, told me later that the mom had said I was very beautiful. Considering I wasn’t wearing makeup and felt like I’d just eaten a bunch of poison, I enjoyed the heartfelt compliment.
The tour ended only eight minutes before we were due back on the bus, and I had one stop I wanted to make. Since I hadn’t been late before, I decided this was my one chance to toe the line and dashed back into the village.
I was determined to get my over own street sugar candy creation.
I trekked through the streets until I found the cart and after some broken Chinese and wild gesturing, was able to use one of the nearby teenagers to track down the cart owner and determine the price of the sugar sculpture on my iPhone calculator.
When the cart master arrived, I spun the wheel and landed on a horse – my third favorite animal for anyone interested. However, the artist had other ideas and shook his head, spinning the wheel some more until it landed on a dragon. Which, quite frankly was a better choice, because, when in China… right?!
The sugar was heating and I was late, but I have zero regrets because I was able to get an awesome video of my creation being made.
Look at my dragon!
For the record, when I made it back my group didn’t seem that put off by the few extra minute wait once I shared my candy. If you’re curious what the dragon tasted like… sugar. Pure sugar. It was good mixed into my tea the next morning.
After we go to the airport we discovered our bags had been checked for us (oh the joys of traveling with government supervision). It was a nice reminder we were in China getting the gold star treatment.
Getting through security was easier and less eventful that it always seems to be in the States. I did get a very through pat down (as did everyone else as far as I could tell) but beyond that the airport and flight itself went smoothly.
I fell asleep on the way to the hotel, apparently the shock to my system was a bit too much, so I didn’t get much of a first impression of Shanghai. But arriving at our hotel, it was beautiful, as usual.
Upcoming: a visit to the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum.
For the first time in several days, I didn’t wake up at five a.m., which was probably thanks to our amazing room and hotel in general. 10/10 recommend.
We headed for the Terra Cotta Army museum through some, if not the worst, smog we experienced since arriving in China.
Not that I was going to let a little (lot) or air pollution stop me. I had the time of my life viewing the Terra Cotta warriors. I don’t even know how to describe the feelings that I experienced while touring the Terra Cotta museum. I honestly didn’t have, in my wildest dreams, a clue that I would ever see this wonder. I also never would have thought I would do on a Chinese government hosted trip as a journalist… but life, you know.
The site is a lot larger than I think most people would believe based on Google images. There are actually several sites each filled with a different dig and different sets of warriors. Some of the highlights include the famous archer warrior and the miniature horse drawn carriage.
As we were driving up to the complex, I noticed a substantial crowd gathering at the front gates of the site made up of a whole lot of tour buses. However, our van drove right past all of them and to a back entrance where we drove all the way to the front door of the museum. Not the front gate. The literal front door of the museum.
The only other person allowed to drive this close to the site was a police car (hidden behind the crowd). Also note the heavy smog covered mountains in the background]
Lunch and Conversations
Next, we had lunch and were treated to the coolest fruit carving of a dragon that has ever existed. I need to spend more time researching the symbol of the dragon in Chinese culture, but I’ll save that for another blog post.
Following lunch was the meeting with journalism students at a local university. Most of them were first year master’s students, with a few underclassmen undergraduate students.
Overall, the conversation was disappointing because of the mismanagement. There were too many of us and we were sitting across the room from each other and not able to have a genuine conversation. I strongly belief in intercultural dialogues, but spending an hour shouting across a large room just didn’t live up to those expectations.
I much preferred the conversations we were able to have one on one afterwards because it allowed us to talk openly and ask and answer questions. I also was able to befriend one student and exchange WeChat accounts with her.
Diversity in Xi'an
Our final stop of the day was in the Xi’an Muslim District. We toured a mosque and had free time to wander around in the market. I shopped for souvenirs and Christmas presents while delighting in the smells of street foods and sounds of Xi’an.
When you think of China, you probably aren’t going to immediately picture Muslims. However, there is a thriving Muslim population in China, a large percentage of which is concentrated in Xi’an. The history of Islam in China is rich and fascinating and something I’m looking forward to exploring in future research.
Too Many Dumplings
After the market, we were treated to a famous Xi’an dumpling dinner. I lost count of exactly how many different kinds of dumplings that were put in front of us, but it was around 20. I’m sad to say I didn’t get to try all of them – partially because I got way too full – and partially because one particular dumpling that was shaped like a chestnut and filled with walnuts. There was also a large walnut salad that I had to watch extremely closely because the communal chopsticks kept getting swapped around.
Some of the best parts about dinner were the dumplings shaped like frogs or chickens or even some tiny ducks! My favorite flavor was the shrimp dumplings, boring I know, but classic is always good.
After dinner most of us went to a nearby bar street. I tried a new beer –EnBoon, and would not recommend it.
Marvels of Xi’an
Xi’an was by far my favorite city we visited. Not only because the Terra Cotta Army was amazing, (which it really, really was), but also because there a presence in Xi’an, of history and traditional Chinese culture, as well as a diversity that’s surprising and exhilarating. I loved Xi’an and if/when I return to China, it will be my first stop.
Next post: My adventure in Xi’an comes to a close and I head to Shanghai.
After our last breakfast buffet feast and checking out of our hotel in Beijing, we drove to the Forbidden City. As ambivalent I was about the Great Wall, the Forbidden City was freaking amazing
The entire complex is gigantic and we were only able to explore a tiny piece of it. I learned several things from our guide: 1) that I have a preference for Ming Dynasty artwork, 2) that turtles and cranes are symbolic of long life in China.
Our guide also has two pet turtles that are over 20 years old. We bonded over my love of turtles when I told her I also have a pet turtle, Lizzie, who’s about fifteen years old.
I love turtles.
One of my favorite sections of the Forbidden City was the north gardens. The amazing architecture and rock formations our guide explained had been dragged up from the bottom of a very far away lake.
Our guide also told us stories about the lives of the people who lived within the Forbidden City. I could truly feel the history while walking through the walls and over bridges and while climbing the steps to the different buildings.
In short, I loved every moment of the Forbidden City.
Earlier in the week we’d been told it would be impossible for us to drive by Tiananmen Square because our passenger van was too large. The significance behind this is that the Chinese government doesn’t want large groups of people being able to gather in the square. Naturally, as a journalist, I was disappointed because we were so close to a piece of history I studied in ethics class as an undergrad.
But fear not! Our driver had us covered.
On our wait to the train station, our driver suddenly called back and we were told he was going to try to take us by the square. We cheered and gathered anxiously with phones and cameras as we rolled by Tiananmen Square.
Side story: the previous day, during lunch with the diplomat, he’d brought up his belief that tanks are far superior weaponry to the THAAD technology currently in South Korea. I couldn’t help but mention that tanks can be stopped, and proof of that was right down the street. I had a bit too much tact to say ‘#TankMan’ but that was more or less my point.
After the excitement of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, we prepared for the bullet train to Xi’an.
One of the things I expected when I visited China, and one of the things post people asked be about when I returned, was the mass amounts of humanity stuffed into relatively small pockets of space. The only time I ever felt that way was on the train platform. In all honestly, it wasn’t even that bad. There wasn’t nearly as much shoving as there had been at the airport.
But I’d been expecting crowds like this everywhere in China and was surprised by the reality that it just wasn’t the case.
The train ride was pretty fun, I regretted not buying food at the Chinese McDonald’s before boarding because the train food was only partially edible and not filling. But alas, I was on a budget and you live and you learn!
The view was awesome! I felt like I was seeing more of China than I would have in an airplane and it didn’t make me carsick like a bus ride would have. The train was smoother than the trains I’ve been on in the states and there was more space to get up and move around.
However, the seats were simultaneously more and less comfortable than a plane. They were super narrow through the shoulders but offered decent leg room. You also get to keep your luggage with you on the train, which I guess could be a blessing or a curse. But all in all, it was a better experience than flying and we didn’t have to go through security like you do at the airport.
We arrived in Xi’an after dark, and boy am I glad our ‘trip leaders’ knew where we were going because that would have been madness otherwise.
The new hotel was very lovely and our day ended with a new buffet including a chocolate fountain!
After filling our tummies my roommate and I headed for the pool – which we basically had to ourselves! It was nice to relax after a long day with a swim and a dip in the sauna hot tubs (we actually first climbed into the children’s pool because it was heated, but were directed back to the dressing rooms where the actual heated pools were).
My roommate and I also discovered that not only were we on the penthouse floor, we were also in a special section marked ‘Red Level.’ We felt extra classy in our stylized bathrobes ordering custom pillows and wine from room service.
Living the high life in Xi’an!
Next: the Terra Cotta Army!
After a surprisingly short and un-nauseating bus ride, we reached one of my primary reasons for visiting China: the Great Wall!
The actual real life Great Wall is amazing and beautiful and breathtaking and freezing cold in December. We only had an hour to climb, so I pushed myself a bit too hard trying to make it too high, but after mountain climbing in Puno (check out some of my earlier blog posts) I knew not to cause an asthma attack. Either way, it was gorgeous and I’m glad I came halfway around the world to see it.
My favorite part of the Great Wall trip was actually when my friend and I had come down from the climb and ran off to a side area where there weren't as many people. The views were spectacular.
Next, we had Peking Duck with a Chinese diplomat. Several people had mentioned Peking Duck and while it was good, it wasn’t anything to write home about. The conversation was fascinating; we got into talks about US-North Korean-Chinese relations. Listening to a Chinese career diplomat’s perspectives was an incredible opportunity.
After lunch, we headed back to the hotel but it wasn’t the end of the day. Rather, we spent an hour talking with several foreign corresponded based in China from CNN, the New York Times and Buzzfeed.
Learning from them, the best advice given was: “I don’t interview sources, I speak with my friends.” Something I’ll definitely hold onto as I begin my own career as an international journalist.
Finally, we headed out for one last activity and acrobatics show. Casually the highlight of an already spectacular day.
The show was phenomenal. My favorite acts included a dancer who stood on point on a man’s shoulders and then his head! And a set of men in giant spinning hamster wheels on a teeter-totter who were blindfolded and running around outside of the cages 40 feet in the air!
My absolute favorite act was when the drivers of eight motorcycles circled each other at high speeds in another hamster wheel of potential death. I hadn’t seen since I was a child at the circus!
At one point there were four motorcycles circled; I was expecting a fifth to be added but the girl next to me was dumbfounded by the fifth, then to everyone’s shock they added three more at the same time!
I will note that the majority of the performers were children. Boys and girls between ages 9-16 or so with the occasional performer who looked to be in their twenties. You could insert a distasteful Chinese child labor joke here – but in reality, it really made me think about the spectacle being put on for a mostly American or European looking audience.
This day was perhaps our busiest day but I ended the evening by making friends and learning new Chinese words such as ‘popcorn.’
Back in D.C., I had a Lyft driver who informed me he was Chinese. At one point he offered me a piece of gum and I said ‘thank you!’ in Chinese. He then proceeded to say something back to me, that I’ve loosely decided to interpret as ‘You speak Chinese?’ I unfortunately do not, I replied, and say the only words I remembered were ‘thank you’ and ‘popcorn!’ We bought thought this was rather funny.
Next stop: the Forbidden City and a bullet train ride to Xi’an
US Embassy - Beijing
Our first stop on our second full day in China was at the US embassy.
I’ve rarely felt as privileged as I did when I stood outside and watched 500 Chinese people waited in lines with visa applications.
Prior to arriving at the embassy, we’d been given strict guidelines to bring out passports. We’d even had to return to the hotel because one person forgot there’s.
Instead, we bypassed the extremely long lines and walked directly into the embassy through a side security entrance. Inside we were run through a metal detector, but not once were our passports checked.
I was the first student delegate inside and was able to speak to our host David, who happened to be a fellow ISU alum!
He and I chatted about ISU, DC and Iowa for several minutes until everyone else arrived. He shared that the Chinese ambassador (aka Governor Terry Branstad) loves to talk about Iowa, especially with David; and that David was headed to a lunch meeting with the ambassador right after his meeting with us!
Our second stop was lunch with the former editor-in-chief of the China Daily, Zhu Yinghuang. We would learn later that he is also the founding father of the paper’s online edition.
This was a delightful lunch, especially because Mr. Zhu was an eloquent speaker who has decades of experience with Chinese media. Listening to his perspectives helped me further grasp the Chinese understanding about the role of journalism.
After lunch, we took our shortest bus ride of the trip down the street to the China Daily offices.
Best meeting ever!
After working on a project analyzing China for a semester, I was quite familiar with China Daily’s work. Actually, going and speaking with their reporters was amazing!
Again, it was fascinating to speak with Chinese journalists who work within the state-run platform about covering potentially controversial topics.
One of my biggest takeaways from both meetings was that we cannot use Western definitions of journalism and the role of the media to understand Chinese media. The Chinese understanding of journalism’s purpose is very different than the American understanding (even in our tumultuous climate where opposite ends of the political spectrum disagree about the media).
We learned that the China Daily English addition is specifically tailored to target a foreign audience – which makes sense because the majority of Chinese people do not speak English – but this goes beyond translating Chinese articles to English. Instead, the English addition of the China Daily is written for English speakers. Additionally, we learned that the articles in the print addition differ from the online addition and in essence are different papers.
The China Daily meeting blew my mind in ways I’m still struggling to put on paper. It was an incredible experience and one that I would highly recommend if you are ever given the chance to visit their offices in Beijing.
Second Alum of the Day!
Our final stop of the day was at Caixin Media. Another media group based out of China that focuses on economic and financial news.
At Caixin I met an American University alum and learned more about how non-state funded Chinese publications function under strict regulations. It was great to see how other AU students are using their degrees.
Dinner with Mr. Wong
Upon returning to the hotel, we were treated to a lovely dinner with Alan Wong, the executive director of the China-United States Exchange Foundation (our sponsor organization). The discussion was lively and informative.
Even as I almost nodded off in my vegetarian paella, I asked him about Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty back to China and if he could compare and contrast with Taiwan. His insight was most insightful.
Side note about this dinner: I was asked about my allergies (i.e. nuts) and then given a special dessert nut free! This was awesome because at most fancy restaurants I can never eat dessert because for some reason people think nuts are fancy. [For the record, they’re not.]
But I appreciated the restaurant’s care and forethought in providing me safe and delicious food.
Next post: Climbing the Great Wall!
Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs
Our first meeting in China was with an American woman working for a Chinese non-governmental agency in the field of environmental protection – the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.
The meeting focused on the three environmental problems China is facing: air pollution, water pollution and soil pollution.
The IPE is a unique organization in it specializes in collection public domain information through environmental records in an effort to increase transparency. One of the most interesting things was learning about how the Chinese government is supportive of this type of transparency because the Chinese government is heavily committed to decreasing pollution in China.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Next on our list, we met with our host organization: the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During the meeting I specifically asked about Chinese foreign policy and the One Belt, One Road Initiative (OBOR) I had researched for my first semester as a graduate student. I enjoyed the project so it was doubly fun to continue my research in China as well as speak with members of the Chinese government about the project.
Although, perhaps my favorite part of this meeting happened as we were departing. We were pointed to a wall of books and told to help ourselves.
I picked out a large hard cover on the topic of Chinese vast collection of World Heritage sites. (Life update: my dream job is to work for UNESCO – so this 20-pound book was worth carrying around in my backpack for the rest of the trip.)
Following the meeting, we stopped for lunch at a mall. Again, Christmas explosion.
Visiting places like a mall, which was similar to one I’d find in the States, was one of the tiny pieces that aided me in creating a more holistic view of China.
Family Style Lunch
I’m not sure I have ever eaten so much food. I kept saying, “I don’t know what this is but I’m putting it in my mouth!”
Side story: I’m deathly allergic to tree nuts, so eating in China was a bit of a different experience for me. I’m usually fairly safe with vegetables and meats, but there were several dishes that our guides kept assuring me were peanuts (which I can eat) but I played it safe and avoided eating anything with nuts. This was made even more difficult as this was our first meal ‘family style’ with a lazy Susan in the middle of the table and all of the foods being passed around with their own sets of chop sticks. This type of communal meal means I had to remain ever vigilant if nuts were present to make sure the chock sticks didn’t move from dish to dish – which they did often. I use the same vigilance at buffets: if a dish with nuts is next to one without, but there is the possibility of a shared spoon, I will avoid both dishes.
My allergy didn’t cause me any hardships at this meal; I was able to find plenty to eat. But having a severe allergy influenced my trip in ways I was just beginning to understand.
Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy
Our final meeting was at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center. Probably my favorite meeting of the day.
We were able to tailor the conversation to our individual interests – which was particularly helpful for me because my interests lie beyond the traditional aspects of reporting and delve into the more creative aspects of journalism.
I also appreciated learning about China from another new perspective – American, but Americans who are living in China.
After a long care ride back to the hotel, we collapsed for a short reprieve before heading to the buffet. I ate two spoon of chicken broth (or fish soup, basically zero idea what it was).
My stomach was so upset from the long car ride through Beijing traffic.
I had forgotten how carsick I get in vans. I know this sounds kind of silly. How could I forget I get carsick? But seriously, I can be on a boat, in huge waves, reading a book with no issues. Or I can hop on eight roller coasters in a row, or even in the backseat of a car for a long road trip – all with zero issues. But put me in a van and I’ll get motion sickness at the drop of a hat.
This was the worst day of it. I took better precautions to avoid getting as sick as I did this night. But if you ever want to travel, like I do, it’s something to learn about your body before you spend hours trapped in Beijing traffic.
Silk Street Market
After ‘dinner’ my roommate, the third student from our university and I visited the concierge to pick up some really cool post cards and got directions to the Silk Market – the huge tourist trap that I couldn’t wait to visit!
Despite the name, I did not see any real silk at the market.
The three of us set out on our first adventure in China without translators or guides – after dark and in heavy levels of smog without our masks. Let me assure you, it was great fun!
The market was only a brisk, if chilly, 10-minute walk from the hotel. I was able to test my rusty bargaining skills and picked up a much needed scarf!
Prior to visiting Beijing, I’d read several other blogs about the Silk Market, but I didn’t find it as overwhelming as others had described. Although this could be because we went less than an hour before closing so there weren’t very many people around and we were mostly browsing rather than shopping.
All said and done, it was a great second day in China – learning about Chinese perspectives from both a governmental agency and from Americans who have made their living in China.
Day Three: Visiting the US embassy and meeting a fellow Iowa State alum – Go Cyclones!
The adventure begins…
My dog woke me up at 1:58 a.m., which was actually perfect because my alarm was set for 2 a.m. and waking up to his face was better than waking up to the screeching of my phone.
A quick shower and some last minute packing, and my mother and I hopped into the car and headed for the airport.
Normally the drive takes a bit over two hours, but at during the ‘witching hour’ when no one else is out and about, it took barely over two hours and that included a stop for breakfast.
I had checked my bag and was sitting at my gate before 5:30 a.m. My entirely empty gate. No one else showed up that early for a 7:30 a.m. flight.
Two hours later I was seated at the gate in Chicago waited for my next plane to board. I’d already discovered that the majority of Day One was going to be spent waiting around.
Flight: Chicago to Beijing
Fourteen hours really wasn’t that bad. I dozed for a lot of the flight, probably due to having been awake for over 24 hours by the time we landed in Beijing.
I watched a movie, read, listened to music, normal stuff I do on a flight – just an exceedingly lot more of it. No part of the flight was ‘the worst,’ which I had been expecting. I actually managed to keep myself occupied the entire time.
I will say, during the last three hours, my head and neck were a bit sore from the way I’d dozed off, but overall it wasn’t that bad of a flight. Actually, the almost four hour layover in Chicago was way worse.
Where we waited. And waited. And waited.
After 30 minutes of watching other people from our flight collect their suitcases, I was starting to get a bit nervous. Not only because I was afraid my bag wouldn’t arrive, but also because the ‘lost bag’ area had a line of 80 people waiting. Not even exaggerating, it was approximately 80 people and I was not eager to become one of them.
Eventually, miraculously, my bag appeared and we exchanged currency and headed through customs where we were selected to have our bags sent through the X-rays. But finally made it outside and to the rest of the members of the delegation outside the airport.
China World Hotel, Beijing
I wish I could relay how bad the Beijing traffic was during my first trip through the city, but I slept through the whole thing!
After about an hour of driving, we arrived at our hotel: the China World Hotel in Beijing, a Shangri-la hotel. (No, not like the cool mythical place, more like the 5-star, luxury hotel chain.)
I have literally never stayed anywhere nicer.
Side story: one of the things I did before traveling to China was consult with several friends I knew who were either A) Chinese or B) people who had lived in China for an extended period of time.
One of the friends had told me that I would experience ‘Christmas shock’ when I returned to the states because “China doesn’t really celebrate Christmas.”
Yeah, tell that to our hotel.
Food: Part One of Many (so much food)
Dinner that night was amazing; the buffet had so much good food. I tried to grab a tiny piece of a bunch of things. I wasn’t hungry after the flight, but wanted to try all the food.
My first day in China was complete. And the adventures were just beginning.
Stay tuned for my next post: Day Two in China: meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and hitting the streets of Beijing!
So, as you know from my last post, I'm going to China!
The purpose of the trip I’m going on is to expose graduate students to organizations and media outlets in China. Our itinerary isn't 100 percent complete, but I know several of the adventures I will embark upon in China’s wee capital city of 21.5 million people.
We will be meeting with foreign correspondents based in Beijing as well as local media outlets including China Daily. One of my graduate research projects this semester specifically focuses on China and I used China Daily as a resource more than once; so I am particularly excited to meet with the Editor-in-Chief.
The US embassy is also on the list, which I think is cool because Governor Branstad, excuse me, Ambassador Branstad, was governor of Iowa for basically the same number of years I've been alive.
Total side note, but we'll also visit the Great Wall while we're in Beijing. Not a big deal or anything, it's not like it's a freaking Modern Wonder of the World or anything.
[For those who are interested, this will bring my total number of visits up to four out of the seven Modern Wonders of the World, and one out of seven of the original Ancient World Wonders. Bonus points if you can correctly guess which places I’ve been!]
After Beijing we will take a Chinese bullet train to Xi'an, the cradle of Chinese civilization and an ancient capital of the empire. I'm totally not excited out of my wildest dreams to travel to this historic city. (Literally so excited).
We haven't been given any specific details on what we will be doing in this tiny city of nearly nine million people, (for the record this is more people who live in the entire state of New Jersey,) but I can tell you one thing I'm fairly certain we will be taken to see:
It's the burial site of the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang. You might not have heard of him, but you've probably heard of his army.
His freaking TERRACOTTA ARMY.
Ok, I'm done fan-girling over a dead guy and his amazing art collection. Moving on.
From Xi'an we'll fly to Shanghai. Shanghai is even larger than Beijing with a population of over 24 million people.
I've included a map of the three cities so you can see how much/little of China I'll get to see on my trip.
In Shanghai I'm most excited for the Propaganda Poster Museum. I have a particular interest in propaganda, and am eager to learn about China's perceptions about propaganda especially in visual media.
Also scheduled is a trip to the Pearl Market... which I'm sure will be awesome and heart breaking for a broke grad student on a tight budget.
Home for the Holidays
I depart Shanghai on December 22 at 5 p.m. and I'll arrive back in America at 5 p.m. on December 22...? Gotta love those international time zones. From there I'll have another flight back to Omaha where I'll land bright and early at 12:15 in the lovely hours of the morning when it will be pitch black outside and every sane person is at home, in bed, preparing for the holidays.
I'm sure I'll spend Christmas extremely jet-lagged, but I'm looking forward to it anyway!
Next Post: Understanding the Chinese Media Censorship
*Unless otherwise stated, all photos in this post were chosen specifically because they were listed as common domain
**Check back for my own photos of China after my trip!
My name is Hunter and this the blog of my worldwide adventures. The purpose of this blog is to show that you can be a traveler, not just a tourist.