Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beijing Week 6: Bye Beijing

My six weeks in Beijing has come to an end. It has been a cultural enriching experience: from the sights, my internship and my interactions with Peking University's students. The last week has been calmed, in terms of sighting seeing and my internship. Basically, I would try to hang out with the friends I made there, along with preparations for my travels to South Korea and Taiwan.

I was busy with my independent study. I was trying to get in as many interviews as possible. In the end, I managed to talk to 28 students, the original goal was 30. I know through the dialogues I've exchanged with these students; I have learned a lot about their perceptions and they have learned a lot from me.

So on my last day in Beijing, I went to the Beijing Zoo. One of my goals in China was to see a panda. I know I needed to go to Sichuan province to see them, but the Beijing Zoo is just as good. It's in China.

The Beijing Zoo has 7 pandas! I was very excited! Although 6 of the 7 pandas were sleeping and the one that was awake was stuck in a tree. Either way I was satisfied . Besides the excitement over the pandas, what surprised me the most was the people's behavior at the zoo.

I'm pretty sure at almost every zoo there are the "Don't Feed the Animals" signs. And for the most part, people will compile and follow it through. That's not the case in China. The signs are everywhere around the zoo, however, the people do not follow. Instead, I see a bear being fed a banana, a pack of wolves scouring for food thrown in there, plastic bottles surrounding the tigers and lions exhibits (my guess they are throwing the bottles to get the animal's attention). I think my favorite is seeing an ostrich that is accustomed to this walking around deciding what food it wants to it. I guess in my mind, I'm thinking this is a country that is supposed to be authoritative, but yet at the zoos there is a sense of disorder in following rules. But then again, I've learned that in China there are many rules and laws, however, it's not enforced.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience. I'm glad that I chose China because I was able to witness first hand how this "developing" country has come so far. It's one thing reading about, but it was another thing to see it.

- Manith Hang

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Beijing Week 5: A Hong Kong Comparison

I have now been in Beijing for five weeks. During the week I did my usual internship and college student interviews for my independent study. I also took a trip to Hong Kong. My independent study research is progressing well. I’ve met and talked to many students about their views and thoughts on South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan to assess what local Chinese students have seen and learned about each of the countries. Each of their responses was different and unique. Compared to the previous weeks, most of the people I talked to this week watched/listen to the cultural products from all three places, instead of just one. This provided me a better comparison of the success of one cultural product over the other. Specifically, five out of the six students that I spoke with agreed that Japanese anime provided a better look and understanding of Japanese culture than South Korean or Taiwanese dramas. Even though South Korean dramas are popular among those I interviewed, one stated that "Korean dramas are over exaggerated. However, I do enjoy their romantic story lines."

My internship is going well; however, it seems to have slowed down quite a bit from when I first started. After the article about China’s satellites and missile capabilities was submitted, there has not been a lot for me to do. Instead, I have been given the tasks to read and edit articles that will be published on the next issue of China Security.

As for my weekend, I took a trip to Hong Kong, which was a spur-of-the-moment decision. My friend Lingwen from Beijing told me that she has never been to Hong Kong and would not mind visiting there. I saw this as a great opportunity to go to Hong Kong, plus the travelling and hotel accommodations cost were not that expensive. So what was Hong Kong like? I would say INTENSE! There were a lot of shopping places and tourists everywhere. Hong Kong is very touristy compared to Beijing. The people for the most part all spoke English, making it relatively easy to get around. The prices were more expensive. The biggest contrast I see between Hong Kong and Beijing is the economic status. In Hong Kong, luxury goods were everywhere- real or fake. At the same time, I saw many female Filipino migrant workers who would congregate at various stations or parks in Hong Kong, socializing.

I was in Hong Kong for a total of three days and four nights. My friend and I did the best to see everything possible. We managed to go to two bar districts. What I found surprising was that in the news or in the movies there are portrayals of businessmen from overseas going to Asia and having a one night stand…. well it is one thing to hear about it or watch it, but another thing to witness it. While at a bar, there was a married man (which was apparent from the ring on his finger) flirting with two Hong Kong girls. After a few drinks they left. There was not just one case, but instead the whole area seemed to be like that. I guess you can say the first night in Hong Kong did not leave a good impression.

During the remainder of our trip we saw popular tourist attractions and places of interest. The Peak Tower provided a nice view of the city from a tall place. We managed to take a ferry to Lantau Island to see the fishing village Tai-O and the Giant Buddha statue at Ngong Ping. The lifestyle there is more rural than urban, giving me a different perspective of life in Hong Kong. However, when I returned to work in Beijing my supervisor told me that a police officer in Hong Kong told him that Tai-O use to be a point of drug smuggling. Interesting how things are not always what they seem.

After Lantua Island, we went to Kowloon which is across from Hong Kong Island. We saw a night view of Hong Kong from there. At nighttime there was a city night show, during which a majority of the buildings use their lights to put on a show. It was something I have never seen before. There was also an “Avenue of Stars” where we were at. It was like Hollywood’s Star of Fame, but instead it was with Hong Kong actors. I’ve also learned that Macau was only an hour away by a ferry right. I would have gone and visited Macau if I knew about it earlier, but it is something I can keep in mind now.

Hong Kong is also a shopper’s paradise ranging from overpriced boutiques to shopper stalls. Even the airport is like a high-end shopping mall. Each market in Hong Kong had a special characteristic such as Temple Street/Night Market and is also known for having fortune tellers of all sorts from palmistry and face reading to tarot cards. For fun, we had our fortune told. I’ll just wait and see if it comes true or not. I’ve also spoken with some friends from Beijing and when I told them I’m going to Hong Kong they all said: “Buy some cosmetics there, it’s cheaper than Beijing and much better.” I didn’t really buy any cosmetics but they were abundant.

Overall, Hong Kong is a city of East meets West. The history of Hong Kong has made it a unique place to visit. The influence of British culture is there, along with Chinese culture. Add in migrant workers from the Philippines and other countries and the culture there becomes very diverse. I wouldn’t want to live there or return anytime soon. However, I would recommend going there at least once to see what it’s like.

- Manith Hang

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Beijing Week 4: I can go local…

My Chinese language skills have not improved; however, I’ve used my dictionary less and less now. I feel I can be a local here, if I can speak the language. Even, if I can’t speak the language, I think I’ve adapted and adopted some of the local habits. Before, I was afraid to cross the streets in Beijing (even with the signal lights and crosswalks) but now I have no fear and just go with the flow. I also play badminton at our apartment’s courtyard with my roommate EJ (he’s from George Washington University). Every now then, I would think I can manage living in Beijing, if there was not a language barrier. The food here is great, if I want Western food or other cuisines, they are available. There is always something to do-from tourist attractions to a simple afternoon tea in the park or a weekend trip to the mountains.

The past weekend, Dr. Sun took us to the mountains to have our weekly discussion about our internship and independent research. It was a nice change of scenery from the city. I guess one can say that the novelty of Beijing was wearing off. Because the fourth week, I toured the 798 Beijing Art District along with the Olympic Village, and the Summer Palace. These attractions and spots were nice; however, by being in the mountains and witnessing what life was like there was a refreshing new perspective of what life was like an hour northeast of Beijing.

As for my internship, even though it has slowed down, I have continued to do research on satellites and missile defense. Even though the article has been approved by the Navy War College Review, the article was submitted to a few reviewers. These reviewers have provided some comments and suggestions, where in more research is still needed. Likewise, I have also been reviewing articles that will be published in the next issue of China Security.

My independent study research is going well. This week I talked to students who were fans of Japanese anime/manga. In the previous weeks, most of the students were fans of South Korean dramas. So I was able to learn a few students’ perspectives of Japan as compared to South Korea. Plus, it was enjoyable because two of the interviews were a big fan of anime I watched (Bleach) so we were able to talk about what was happening in the show and our favorite characters.

So in the future, if I return to Beijing for work or for another reason, I know that it will be easier to adapt

- Manith Hang

Monday, June 29, 2009

Week 4

After a month in China, even though the novelty of being in Beijing has not wear off, I was starting to get a little home sick. I sort of miss not having to bring toilet paper with me at all times (i.e. not every restrooms have toilet papers), as well as not having to eat Chinese food every day, even though I love Chinese food.

In Beijing, there are western food chains such as Outback Steakhouse, TGI Fridays, McDonalds, and KFC, but I have to say that I was super excited to discover an area called The Village, which is located near an area equivalent to D.C.’s embassy row. The Village is essentially a giant shopping area that reminds me of the U.S. that consists of stores like North Face, Nike, and Puma, and Italian and Mexican restaurants…etc. Thus, The Village is frequent by lots of “foreigners”, and I increasingly find myself there when I miss the States.

This week’s field trip was to the rural area of Beijing. As we drove further away from the city, plantation of agricultural crops begins to replace modern commercial and residential high rises. The stark contrast between the city and the rural areas of Beijing was obvious.

First of all, the air was generally cleaner and there were less traffic on the road. Secondly, the city folks live in high rise apartment complexes with access to basic amenities similar to what we have in the U.S. and guards at their front gates, where as the farmers live in traditional Chinese style houses (generally called “Si he yuan). These are compounds featuring thick roofs and walls with a wide courtyard, no western styled toilets, but just hole in the ground type bathrooms. Lastly, the disparities in income and education level between the city folks and the farmers were evident based on the differences in their living conditions and mannerism.

Overall, I think the field trip was very educational and relaxing as we were able to witness the differences between the new (city) and old (rural) Beijing.

- Jenny Lin

Week 3

Between researching for possible case studies to present at the next mayoral training program and translation projects, I attended a JUCCCE-Yuesai press event, featuring Chinese super model Du Juan. The majority of the influential press in China was present to learn about the partnership between JUCCCE and Yuesai, as they relayed the message of hopes for a greener China and the importance of energy conservation.

I also attended a presentation on the topic of “Where does China’s toxic Waste Really go?” This was presented by a journalist at the Beijing Science and Technology Report. It was about her investigation on a strange fact that, the newly constructed toxic waste treatment center in Beijing does not have enough toxic waste to process. After trailing China’s toxic waste, this journalist reached the conclusion that even though environmental policies and laws are in place in China, local officials and factory owners often do not follow them because it is not “cost effective” to obey the law. She hits the nails on the head with her illustrations that corruption is very much a problem at the local level, thus making environmental policies and laws mandated by the central government ineffective.

- Jenny Lin

Week 2

This week I officially start at the Joint US-China Cooperation on Clean Energy (“JUCCCE”) as an intern. JUCCCE is a non-profit organization based in Beijing that is working towards accelerating the greening process in China through its various programs. One of the programs that I’m most involved in is its mayoral training program on energy smart cities.

Due to the central Chinese government’s “11th 5-year plan” that sets targets for the country to a 10% decrease in greenhouse emissions and a 20% increase in energy productivity by the end of 2010, it is actually up to the local government officials (i.e. mayors and deputy mayors) to implement the plan. Thus, JUCCCE’s mayoral training program targets the mayors and deputy mayors across China, providing knowledge (i.e. case studies) and services (i.e. local vendors) that the mayors need to implement such plan.

As an intern, I had the opportunity to sit in and observe a follow up meeting on this year’s mayoral training program and witness Chinese politics at work. I listened in as the most powerful groups of local decision-makers in China discussed their thoughts on the effectiveness of the program. It was during this meeting that I noticed the importance of knowing one’s place in this hierarchical society, as well as the increasing Chinese nationalism at play.

One of the most important lessons I learned was, “China does not like to be criticized”.

- Jenny Lin

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Week 1

China has always seemed mysterious but familiar to me. One of the reasons why I think this is because I grew up reading Chinese classic literatures, and so I imagined China as this place that is romantic and poetic, but chaotic at the same time. With the majority of the population who based their moral and values on Confucius’ teachings, I have always thought of China as a country with law abiding citizens, especially after the establishment of the communist party.

Therefore, for someone who has never been to China but has only read about China, I was a little scared but excited to finally visit Beijing and truly witness what China or Beijing is all about. So, after a roughly 16 hour flight from Houston to Beijing, my first impression of Beijing was how beautiful and grand its airport was, but at the same time, how empty it was. Either it was because it is “swine flu season” and not many people were traveling, or it could be that Beijing over expanded its airport for the 2008 Olympics (i.e. the newly constructed Terminal 3 of the Beijing Capital Intl. Airport is currently the second largest airport terminal building in the world).

On the way to my apartment and also my first taxi ride in Beijing, I learned from the taxi driver that, Beijing has grown and modernized itself so fast that he can hardly keep up, such as the construction of buildings to expansion of freeways and subways. For example, he claimed to have never used the subway system, so he couldn’t begin to tell us how or where a subway stop is.

Upon my arrival at the apartment, I met my roommate for the first time and went on a mini tour with her to try and familiarize myself with the area that I will call home for the next 6 weeks.

On my first tour of Beijing (Chaoyang District, Beiyuan Road area), I found that walking down the streets of Beijing can be a little scary. First of all, I can see that the government’s land use planning is relatively efficient in the transportation sector, for it plans for car lanes, bike/motorcycle lanes and sidewalks for pedestrians. However, the enforcement of traffic laws seems none existent. For some reason, pedestrians ignore traffic lights and cross streets without lights turning green and zigzag through oncoming cars and buses and motorbikes. Also, even though there are sidewalks for pedestrians, more than often, those spaces are occupied by parked cars (usually luxury cars). So, people have no choice but to walk on either bike lanes or even on the road. Further, I have not seen speed limit signs on streets except on freeways/toll ways.

As we passed by some residential and commercial areas, I see both luxury high rises, as well as older and undeveloped buildings. For residential areas, I like the fact that there is almost always a large red banner hung across the front gates, stating somewhere along the lines of either “fight crime with neighborhood watch” or “working towards a more scientific, modernized, and greener Beijing”. Same types of red banners appear at some commercial areas. For example, red banners stating that “ABC” construction company is using environmental friendly materials in constructing “DCE” building. Whether or not these statements are true or mere propaganda, I think only the “insiders” would know.

On my first night out in Beijing, my roommate and I decided have dinner at a local Sichuan restaurant. At this restaurant, the tables come with a hole in the middle to make room for a giant wok. The food is prepared in the kitchen, and instead of using plates, the food gets dumped into this wok. Because it was a Sichuan restaurant, the food was extremely spicy that the waitresses had to bring two bowls of hot water for us to “de-spice” to make it more edible.

I think our experience was pretty unique at this particular restaurant because the waitresses were fascinated with us and wanted to know everything about Taiwan and the U.S. When one of the waitresses found out that I was born in Taiwan, she immediately light up and expressed how much she enjoyed watching dramas from Taiwan. She said she looks forward to visiting the country one day, but knows that it will never happen due to financial reasons. Another waitress said she had heard from a friend that, night and day is flipped between China and the United States. She just wanted to confirm whether or not her friend’s statement was true.

Looking back at my first week in Beijing, I can say that it was eventful and exciting, but a huge culture shock as well.

It was an exciting week because every experience was new. From learning about the Chinese perspective of the U.S. and of the country’s own rapid development through the lens of taxi drivers and waitresses, who obtain information through films and television shows and whose financial situation will never allow them to travel aboard, to learning about ancient China through touring the Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, and The Temple of Heaven.

It was an eventful week because my roommate accidentally locked me inside our apartment on my first day in Beijing. Long story short, I ended up throwing my keys out the window to my friend so that he could unlock the door from the outside. Further, my debit card got stuck in the ATM machine, so I didn’t have other ways to get cash out. Eventually I did get my card back, but continued to experience issues throughout the week. After going through the ordeal of not having cash (i.e. many places do not accept credit cards unless it is a credit card issued by one of the local banks), I took my roommate’s advice on taking out as much cash as I can whenever I have access to a functioning ATM machine.

On experiencing culture shock, I think it could just be a learning process in understanding a new culture and the way of life in Beijing. I think my language ability only allows me to converse with the locals easier and read propagandas on red banners. I am still learning how to better communicate with people in Beijing using their way of communication. For example, we could be speaking the same language (Chinese Mandarin), but cannot understand what the other person is asking due to accents or differences in using certain phrases (i.e. in Taiwan, we call plastic bags, “bags”, but in Beijing, they refer to plastic bags as “pockets”).
Overall, I am grateful that I was able to retain fluency in the language after migrating to the U.S., because at least it allows me to ask lots of questions with more ease.

- Jenny Lin