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Author: cag011

Hangzhou

Hangzhou

The first time I heard of the West Lake was during our trip to Beijing. We went to the Capital back in September during the first month of our study abroad experience. Our program visited the Summer Palace after walking most of the day through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, both political and cultural relics of China. The Summer Palace was beautiful; resting adjacent to a picturesque lake that I presumed was naturally formed. Little did I know that the entire grounds of the palace were seated on the soil that was dredged up to form this man-made lake. The lake was created by workers hauling buckets of earth and depositing them nearby, surmounting in a great hill that is at the center of the Palace grounds. I wondered what the inspiration was that would drive the Emperors of ancient China to build such a place. What were they trying to replicate? It was the West Lake in Hangzhou, over 1,300 kilometers south of the Capital.

 

Hearing of the Lake’s beauty, and considering how the emperors of old replicated it in the Capital I was eager to finally see the original lake. We departed from out dorm for Hangzhou around 8:30 in the morning last Saturday, taking a high speed train from Shanghai Hongqiao Station, arriving just in time for lunch. Meeting a local friend of our program coordinator, I was glad to have the chance to practice my Chinese and learn about the area. We headed over to restaurant near the station. There we had a family style meal chock full of local dishes including dumplings, seafood balls, meat, and vegetable dishes. There was not one thing on the table that I didn’t like, and my favorite was a peanut dish. They were soaked in a kind of vinegar sauce that made you pucker; they were so good I had to get a doggie bag to snack on them later.

 

From the restaurant we walked through the downtown area, past a canal and some old-style residential areas. I noticed the streets were much less crowded than Shanghai or Beijing, Hangzhou being a city of only 8 million. This comparison would have shocked me before coming to China, as the closest city to my home, Baltimore, has just over half a million residents. But now, having lived in a city of 24 million for over three months, the streets of Hangzhou felt relatively unoccupied. It was somewhat refreshing.

 

We passed Halal restaurants and western-style coffee shops, heading towards the lake. Here the crowds became denser, waiting to walk across a small arch bridge then along a zigzagged path that spanned part of the shoreline. Our group made it out onto the bridge and got a quick photo. Next to the lake shore, we saw the beautiful lake and surrounding mountains. Off in the distance to the left was a pagoda, and out on the lake there were many boats ferrying people about. We would find out where the boats would take us the following day. We ventured along the shore, walking through several parks where people were playing folk instruments, singing songs, and dancing. This is one thing I will miss about China, how the older generations fill social places with music and life. It makes me smile.

 

The next day we took a boat across the lake to an island where we found trees bursting with fall color encircling three small pools. The island was small and we were able to explore it in its entirety in about an hour, snapping a ton of great photos with the beautiful backdrop nature provided. Taking the same boat back to shore, a bus was waiting to take us to the next destination, one of the biggest Buddhist temples in all of China. Through a short spat of traffic around the lake, we made it to the temple grounds in good time. First we saw Buddha’s carved into a cliff face, I estimate there were as many as 20 of them strewn about the rock. A placard revealed that some of them were over 1000 years old. I enjoyed this place because it was truly ancient, whereas in some other tourist destinations the structures I found had been reconstructed within the last 20 years or so. As were the temples that we would see next, which were rebuilt during the 1990’s. Still they were a sight to behold, housing massive Buddha’s and occupied by the devoted. We burned incense, explored the temples, and headed back on the bus to our final stop in our tour of Hangzhou.

 

The Ancient Cultural Street that the driver took us to reminded me a lot of the area surrounding the Yu Gardens in Shanghai. Full of handicrafts and local treasures, this place was also crowded with tourists, even a few westerners. I tried to stay off the crowded main street, so I stuck with our local friend Tom for this part of the trip. He took me into some traditional Chinese medicine stores, which I found fascinating. They had a barrel of free tea and boxes upon boxes of natural remedies. People sipped tea and discussed with the shop’s proprietors (who wore white lab coats like doctors) about their ailments and such. I did not dabble in any of the cures, though. Maybe the next time I am in China I will. We left the cultural street late that evening and began our journey back to Shanghai.

 

It had been a long day, and the bus ride back was relaxing. I reflected on the city and our activities there, and I wish I had known about the treasures of Hangzhou sooner.  It would have made a great place to do some personal travel and really get a feel for the town. To me it seemed the people there were in less of a hurry than Shanghai, where the streets and metro lines are full of the daily rush hour drama. Having run the gauntlet of rush hour transportation in Shanghai, Hangzhou was a welcomed break. I enjoyed the trip very much and hope to go back in the future.

Rise

Rise

Something I’ve learned while studying alongside Chinese students and studying under the local professors it is that the world is about to be turned on its head. Their creativity, work ethic, and devotion to success cannot be compared to the students of the United States, who seem to have fallen far behind the rising global standard for education in my opinion. Additionally, any class taught in the U.S. on Asia and the Pacific cannot compare to the firsthand experiences gained from living here. The more visible indicators of Asia’s rise, including the increase in share of global GDP and prevalence as a manufacturing superpower are clear, but I do not think the capture the pace at which the change has begun to occur.

Any walk down a street in Shanghai and you will see young professionals, dressed to a T moving hurriedly through the swarms of pedestrian and electric scooter traffic, their phone conversations drowned out by frantic honking. Shanghainese spoken loudly by shop owners and slurred over intercoms at bus and subway stations, cab drivers hailing passengers rather than the other way around. Open stalls where peddlers sell fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and stranger things that I’d rather not mention are commonplace. Overladen scooter-bike hybrids full of bottles that can fetch 10 Mao (about 5 cents) take part in the hustle of city life, where each person is trying to earn their stake. Hurling themselves into a world of commerce and progress, some westerners would question the tactics these people are using to eek out a meager living under the feet of foreign brands. But I think it is for just that reason that these people will scrape and claw to gain ground in any way that they can. They have been under the Louis Vuitton boot, the heel of Prada, behind the screens of  our Apple phones, melted down into the plastic toys, sanded into the furniture and shipped to the west.  As long as this machine grinds unceasingly, the west may still have the advantage. But I think something else will happen. Chinese ingenuity can’t be kept under the thumb of the west for much longer. Collectively the people are advancing at a mind boggling pace. It is time we start teaching children in the U.S. Hanyu.

Temple

Temple

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Being here for three weeks now, I am beginning to know the ins and outs of the city. The towering buildings can be daunting, but a few blocks up a side street or into a quiet neighborhood park one can find moments of peace and quiet. Such stillness also comes late in the evening several residents from the buildings surrounding the campus come to the canals to fish, with poles longer than 10 feet dangling bait over the murky waters. It is very dark, but you can see the glimmer of the metallic lures and the waving of the rods. They sit in silence, and do not seem to catch much when I am watching. Maybe I am bad luck.

We went up the Great Wall last week, the only man made landmark that can be seen from outer space. The west side of Juyongguan Pass had a staggering concentration of Australian and Turkish tourists, and I had to make this climb according to our program leader, but my eyes were set on the seldom tread upon east wall. There I could only make out one other person scaling the heights. I rushed up the popular wall, and the descent was much like skiing. I should have saved myself for the latter half of the short time we were allowed on the wall, my quads burned and ankles crumpled at times. There was a temple on the east wall where one German sat, drinking a beer and musing at a large steel bell. He motioned for me to take a stone and ring the bell, so I did so, but the sound was drowned out in the traffic below. I moved further down the wall to the east, toward Beijing. Crossing one fortress outcropping I could see down into the valley on the other side. Suddenly the sound of traffic disappeared, replaced by the clucking of chickens and the slow roll of a freight train.

Today I went to a Buddhist temple in the heart of old-town Shanghai, near the popular Yu Gardens, yet removed from the tired tourist shops with haggling sales people who would try to convince you that a simple beaded bracelet was a priceless relic of ancient China. But the entrance to the temple was unassuming, just as I have found many of the treasures in this place are. At the door we were given bundles of incense, and then proceeded to walk out into a courtyard. We were the only ones there it seemed. Still unable to get a good glimpse of the temple, we climbed some stairs to a terrace, where we saw the actual opening to the temple and several people standing inside. Monks in pale orange clothing stood, bowing three times in each direction, holding their incense over their head. Sitting to observe this custom, I tried to understand what they were doing. Seeing this compelled me to bow as well, standing outside the structure with the sun behind me.

The buildings that swept the sky around me at this time reminded me that the temple is where you make it. An oasis of calm in the middle of traffic, where you can deliberately concentrate the mind on the life that you are living. Sometimes you have to put yourself in the loud places to reconnect with the quiet ones instead of always running to them for solace. The ebb and flow of the city is teaching me things, and this is hopefully one of many lessons.

 

Global Harbor

Global Harbor

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The first three days in Shanghai have been nothing short of spectacular. Having never been to Asia I knew little about the east and what it had to offer. As of now it has surprised at every corner. From the first night in town as a jet-lagged traveler, having drinks with a myriad of international and Chinese students, to the second day getting adjusted to campus life, then the bus system and subway, it is clear to see that this is truly a global city. I feel like a rock in a stream surrounded by running water, and now I am only an observer. I think that soon when classes start and the internship gets underway I will be an active participant in one of the fastest paced cities on the plant. Dr. Bian, a professor and coordinator of the international students programs urged us to go off the beaten path to truly understand Chinese culture, and that is what I intend to do. I am here for a reason, and am excited to call this place home for the next few months.