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

Monday, June 22, 2009

Beijing Week 3: Halfway

Without realizing it, I have already been in Beijing for three weeks, marking the halfway point of my internship and independent study in China. These past three weeks I have learned a lot from at my internship place, cross-cultural experiences (interacting with students from Peking University), and weekend excursions. I admit the first week was filled with cultural shocks and trying to adjust life to Beijing. The second week was more of an adventure and seeing Beijing and China. As for this third week, it was spent trying to digest what has just happened in the past two weeks.

I would characterize my third week as calm and trying to balance my internship, research, and touring. It is exhausting. This weekend I did not go sightseeing or touring around the city. Instead, I chose to stay in and relax. I know that my time here is limited, but sometimes it is nice to take things slow and enjoy the surrounding.

The work at my internship has slowed down a bit because the article regarding satellites and missiles was submitted and accepted by the Naval War College Review. However, I have a feeling that I will be doing research on other interesting topics regarding China’s security.
As for my independent research study, I have had many chances to interact with quite a few Peking University students. I have been asking them questions on their thoughts of East Asian popular culture- in return they ask me about American culture and how's life in the US. They have asked me where I'm from and I tell them Utah. One of the girl's response was "Oh, I know Utah! It's where the last Prison's Break was at..." I just smiled and nodded and replied, "Sure...I've never seen Prison Break, but I'm from Utah." And then we would continue exchanging dialogue, with them asking if the US was similar to the TV shows/movies they have seen. For example: Was your high school life like High School Musical? Well on the bright side, that movie was also filmed in Utah. But I would try to explain to them what life is/was really like for me in the US.

Side note: YouTube does not work in China, however they have YouKu which is basically Chinese YouTube.What I found interesting is that their perceptions of South Korea/Japan/Taiwan from what they've seen are different from their perceptions of the United States. I'm guessing it maybe the proximity of the places. But it was a great cross-cultural experience. And I know that will be having more conversations with Peking University's students for my remaining stay in Beijing.

- Manith Hang

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More Photos

Beijing Week 2: Playing tourist while learning

I think I've adjusted to life in Beijing for the most part. My roommates all speak Chinese and I also have a friend who's from Beijing. They have taught me a few useful phrases and words; however, I still think my pronunciation can use some work. Regardless of the language barrier, the locals I've met so far have been very nice in trying to help me (from taxis to ordering food). When I need to take the taxi home, I just show the drive a picture of the road sign next to my apartment.

These past two weeks, I have also done some sightseeing with a group of from Mount Union College, who are currently studying at Peking University. We went and saw the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, and the Pearl Market on a Saturday. The Forbidden City was massive. I grew up watching Chinese fighting dramas that take place during ancient China and to be there, it felt so surreal. It was exactly like what I've seen from TV, expect instead of palace guards, it was filled with tourists. This last week I was at the Great Wall of China. It was a breathtaking (literally) experience. I also went to Houhai, a bar area similar to Dupont Circle or Adam's Morgan. It was interesting to see what the night life was compared to America. The area has traditional Chinese buildings mixed with modern looking bars and pubs. In the middle there was a pond where people can rent paddle boats or have a Chinese version of a gondola. Yet, the feel was similar to what it was in the states.

Besides playing tourist the past two weeks, I am in China to do an internship and an independent study research. I am an intern at a place call China Security or Chen Shi China Research Group ( . It is a policy journal that writes about Chinese security issues from both the United States and China’s perspective. The past two weeks I have been doing research on Chinese satellites’ capabilities along with what missile defense technology. It has been great learning experience. Especially, I am reminded that I am “behind” the great Firewall of China. As in there are a few terms and internet websites that I cannot access. An example is this blog. I’m am sending this blog by email, since I can’t access blog site.

Likewise, I was able to interact with current students from Peking University for my independent study research. I am interested in Chinese students’ perspectives on South Korea, Japan and Taiwan from their popular cultural products (dramas, music, comic books, and cartoons). It is interesting to learn about their thoughts about these places. My goal is to see if what they have seen/heard/read has encourage them to become more interested in the place of origin. For the most part say they want to go visit the country, yet at the same time a felt a strong presence of Chinese nationalism when talking to these students. As in, they are saying, that China also has been producing cartoons and dramas that are up to par with South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. Now this is only the second week, I’m sure there will be more learning experiences to come.

- Manith Hang

Friday, June 5, 2009

Beijing Week 1: Getting situated

I have traveled to many places such as large cities like New York City to small rural villages in Cambodia. So what was my first impression of China (well specifically Beijing), it was “WOW.” Beijing is best described as just one very large city that does not seem to end. Even the cab drivers here get lost. To tell you the truth I was hoping to find some traditional looking buildings, street vendors and just the whole city swarmed with people, instead I find this city that is a lively metropolis with fancy restaurants and shop. Maybe it’s just my first week here and I have no completely explored Beijing, but that was what I first saw in Beijing.

So what was my first week like in Beijing? I would say kind of hectic in trying to get myself situated in the city and figuring out how to get from one place to the other (whether its walking, subway, bus or taxi). I don’t speak Chinese, and I am Asian. So the locals here think that I speak Chinese, but they were not too surprise to learn that I can’t speak the language. As a way to get around, I walk around the city with a dictionary. I’ve tried speaking- but my pronunciation and tones of the words is horrible that the locals here just stare at me. My solution: I just point at the dictionary and my map. It works out well. Not to mention, their public transportation is AMAZING! The subway system is great. Although it is kind of complicated to take the bus because the signs at the bus stops are only in Chinese- so I could not tell where the bus was going. But once you are inside the bus, there are signs in English.

I was fortunate enough to go a rural mountain village with a group of Vanderbilt college students with Peking University. It was interesting to see how different their lifestyle is from the city. I’ve learned that the government is helping the village in terms of technology advancements, along with providing the children transportation so they can go to school.

Likewise, I was in China during the 20th anniversary of the Tian’anmen Square. I did not get a chance to go there. However, I felt the government’s efforts in trying to control the situation. My access to certain Internet websites was blocked and there was nothing on TV here about it. It is one thing to read about it in the United States, but it is another thing to experience it. Regarding government regulation of the Internet, this blog that you are reading, it was sent as a word document to the States. Because I did not have access to the website.

Overall, I am happy that I survived my first week in Beijing. I’m sure that there will be many more adventures and learning opportunities in the weeks to come while I’m in China.

- Manith Hang