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22 posts categorized "Resident Director"

10/17/2013

A Student's Perspective: CIEE Beijing's excursion "Environment and Rural Governance in China"

During all of our programs, whether during the fall, spring, or summer, some of the most exciting times of the semester are excursions outside of Beijing.

For many students, coming to a city like Beijing is an accomplishment in itself - adapting to a new culture, a new language, and 20 million other inhabitants competing for space at every juncture! While Beijing is a keen representation of modern Chinese life, nearly half of China's 1.3 billion people live in the countryside.

This summer, students had the choice of choosing one of two trips, each with a different theme. Held in late June, the first trip went to the northeastern port city of Dalian, while the other trip took students to rural areas the Shanxi and Hebei provinces.

Doan Tranh, a student from the University of Missouri - Columbia, was one of the participants on this trip and agreed to give a recap and some of her thoughts about what this excursion meant to her.

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In order for students to fully experience China as a complex and diverse country beyond the happenings of Beijing, CIEE has provided two very different weekend trips for us to choose from. The first option is a trip to the port city of Dalian to learn about its colonialism and modernization. The second option is an excursion to the countryside of Shanxi/Hebei to explore environmental issues on the rural landscape. Both are interesting but I decided on the latter.

The first day was spent traveling to Tianzhen county where we will stay the night. After we arrived and had lunch, we were off to a section of the Great Wall that fell into disrepair long ago. It lacked the magnificence of the Great Wall everyone knows of but it was quite interesting. Then back to the hotel, dinner, and a trip to a hot spring. It was my first ever soaking in a hot spring.

The second day we headed to the village of Zengjiacha. When we reached the village, groups were formed and each assigned to different families. This was such an amazing experience. The family that I lived with was exceedingly kind. Their hospitality, though, at times was overwhelming. I can't even count the times we have to politely refuse more food during meal times, not that we disliked the food but we physically just couldn't eat anymore. We also offered to help around the house but was repeatedly declined, although we did get to help with the weeding.

One thing that I found very awesome was how efficient the houses were at regulating temperature. Even when it was sweltering hot outside, the inside remained cool and comfortable. At night, the built-in heater under our sleeping arrangement was enough to keep us warm.

The third day was the hike. The whole hike was 10km and should take around 5 – 6 hours to finish. For someone who has no hiking experience, this was a crazy decision. Despite being completely exhausted and in quite a bit of pain after, I did enjoy it and the scenery was spectacular. I did have the option to not do the hike entirely or turn back at a certain point but I didn't and I'm glad I didn't.

The last day we stopped by a Catholic church and a Buddhist temple on the way back to Beijing. Shocked was my reaction when I saw the Catholic church. I expected something humble and quaint, not such a tall and embellished structure. We probably could have spotted it from miles away if the sky was clearer. The Buddhist temple was on the other side of the spectrum, dilapidated and in dire need of renovation. This little tour, however, does require more hiking up a mountain.

Besides getting to experience one day in a rural village, the objective of this trip is for us to gain awareness of the severity that environmental problems poses on these rural communities. It's one thing to hear about it and another to witness just how critical the situation is. If problems remains unresolved, the countryside will bear the brunt of the consequences. There isn't an easy or quick fix but it's better to be aware than ignorant of the issues.

Overall, this trip was far from comfortable and don't expect it to be but it was absolutely eye-opening and life-changing. I do urge people to give it a try and see for themselves.

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CIEE Beijing - Rural Excursion Hike IStudents walk across sheep trails during the hike!

CIEE Beijing - Rural Excursion Hike II

Doan, victorious (and tired!) after finishing the hike! CIEE Beijing - Rural Excursion Temple VisitDoan (pictured far right) on the final day of the excursion at the damaged Buddhist temple, which is now being slowly repaired by local volunteers.

A Student's Perspective: Visiting the Beijing School for the Blind

If you have been following any of the CIEE Beijing program blogs, you may have read our post about visiting the Beijing School for the Blind.

Though students did not have an opportunity to volunteer during the summer term, CIEE Beijing was able to arrange a half-day excursion to the Beijing School for the Blind.

Instead of writing any more, we would like to hand over this blog to Zachary Folk. A rising junior at the University of Missouri - Columbia, here's what this special activity meant to him.

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The blind school was huge, and had plenty of resources for the students there.  We first observed an English class.  The students there were bright individuals who looked like they were having a lot of fun with the class.  Since a bunch of foreign students were visiting their class, the teacher created a quiz game about America for the students.  During this game, we got to see the students answer questions about what is considered American food, such as pizza, chicken wings, hamburgers, and some questions about the largest American holiday, Christmas.

After the quiz on America, they asked us questions about America in English and we asked them questions about China in Chinese.  After that, we all split up to talk a little bit 1 on 1 with the students. I talked to this one student and asked him questions with the limited amount of Chinese that I knew, and he answered back in the English he knew.  He was a typical boy who was very interested in America. My friend Robby asked him if he had a girlfriend at all, and he said he didn’t have time for a girlfriend and would rather study, which I found pretty funny. His ability to study English so well, even with his disability, was astounding to me.

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The school's director explains how they teach students to cook for themselves.

During the tour, we met a little boy who was playing a Suona (a copper or brass-bodied reed instrument). He played with more skill than I could play my saxophone when I was in my high school’s jazz band, and he couldn’t be any older than 7 years old.  He told us that he had been playing for only a year, which is even crazier considering how great he was. I could listen to him play all day, but we had to continue the rest of the tour.  We saw many more rooms that helped the kids learn and adapt to their disability, such as a music therapy room and eye exam room, and we ultimately arrived in their library, which I found to be the highlight of the tour.  In the library, students could use special computers that translated webpages into Chinese Braille so the students could read them.  It also had plenty of books in Chinese Braille that students could read, learn, and enjoy.

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This special surface translates what is on the screen into readable Chinese Braille.

I had also noticed that during the tour there were bumps on the floor that students could use so they could get around easier.  I also noticed that most sidewalks in Beijing had these same bumps throughout the city, as well as many other amenities that could assist the blind in living normal lives. With the help of the blind school, it doesn’t surprise me that it is easy for people with blindness to live normal lives.  From our tour of the facility, we learned that many people do graduate and grow up to live normal and successful lives. This school has become a model for blind schools around the world. It is great to see that Beijing has put so much effort in assisting the blind, and I hope other cities around the world adopt this same policy. I wish I had more time during my short visit to Beijing to return to the school to possibly volunteer or see more what the school is like and how the students learn to live with their disability.

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During the spring and fall semesters, the school seeks CIEE students to volunteer as English teachers for the entire semester. Students participating in any CIEE Beijing programs who are willing to make a semester-long commitment are welcome to volunteer and give back to the Beijing community.

07/25/2013

Summer 2013, Issue I

NewsletterBannerBeijing
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A student takes in some scenery during our excursion to the Great Wall.

New Sights, New Perspectives - Summer in Beijing, China

If you have experienced summer in Beijing, you know how hot and humid it can be, much like weather in the midwestern United States. This, however, has not stopped the CIEE students in Beijing from getting out there and enjoying all that Beijing (and China) have to offer!

Up to now, we've had a myriad of different activities and events for students to engage China, including two excursions: to Dalian and the countryside in Shanxi and Hebei provinces, theme meals, our Expert Lecture series, trips to the blind school, and more. We hope this newsletter will give you an idea of what we do here in Beijing!

Orientation Week

As featured in other blogs, we continued our tradition of taking a group photo on Peking University's Alumni Bridge (校友桥). After visiting Tiananmen Square and eating a welcome lunch of Peking Duck, we took this shot to start the semester!

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Students enjoy the idyllic northern portion of campus.

Excursions outside of Beijing

During the final days of June, CIEE led two separate excursions each with distinct themes that expose students to different parts of China, and Chinese society. One was to the port city of Dalian, and the other was to the countryside in the nearby by Shanxi and Hebei provinces.

Dalian - "Urbanization and the Dream of Modernity"

This trip, led by Summer Resident Director Dr. KuoRay Mao, took students to the northeastern port city of Dalian.

Dalian was a small coastal outpost in late Qing dynasty before the area was colonized by Russia in 1897 and later Japan in 1905. The confluence of the Chinese, Russian, and Japanese cultures and the history of colonization have made Dalian a unique example of modernization in China. Since the late 1990s, as the fourth largest sea port in China, Dalian has transformed the base of its economic development and has become a hotspot for foreign direct investment, especially from Japanese and Korean companies. To understand Dalian’s colonial history and its recent cosmopolitan development, students explored modern city spaces, walked through plazas built by the Russians, observed the battlegrounds of the Russo-Japanese war,  rode the first railroad in China and saw Dalian's large port, among other activities!

CIEE Beijing - Excursion to Dalian - Shipping Containers

Shipping Containers being moved about at the Port of Dalian.

Shanxi and Hebei - "Environment and Rural Governance in China"

While Dr. Mao was leading students through the ultra-modern Dalian, CIEE Beijing's Center Director, Dr. Patrick Lucas, led students off the beaten path to rural parts of China's Shanxi and Hebei provinces. The focus of this trip were those places outside the large cities—the rural countryside, its people, culture, governance, and the natural environment there. Of course, in China ‘countryside’ is a relative term, since the majority of the population live outside the big cities, and rural population can actually be surprisingly dense, with villages often very close together. In China there are intense pressures on the natural environment, as well as various social consequences and competitions for resources, which are issues of critical importance to China and to our understanding of China as students and seekers of understanding.

Though less than 150 miles away from Beijing, the differences in terms of material wealth are staggering. After spending the night in a village and helping weed the potato fields, the students realized, however, that this lack of "stuff" did not mean that the villagers did not live with dignity. In addition to living in the village, over three plus days we visited a tiny garrison town, and saw an interesting, unrepaired section of the Great Wall crossing flat farm fields. We also hiked sheep trails through the mountains, visited a tiny broken down Buddhist temple, and visited a local Catholic church.

CIEE Beijing - Excursion to Countryside - Ascent

Students climb to get a soaring view of the unrepaired Great Wall seen below right.

CIEE Beijing - Excursion to Countryside - Reflections on a mountaintop Temple

Students take in a view of the valley from the side of a broken down temple.

CIEE's Expert Lecture Series in Beijing

Every semester, CIEE arranges for lecturers to lecture on their topics of expertise. This summer, we had four lectures, highlighted below, given by CIEE staff and other experts.

"Chinese Film: Projecting and Protecting the Nation" by Wesley Jacks

On July 17, CIEE Beijing welcomed Wesley Jacks, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara in Film and Media, gave a lecture our students. Jacks completed his M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Communication Arts (Film) in 2008 and in spring 2012, he was an adjunct professor teaching Chinese film history at the CIEE Beijing Study Center. Thus, having him back for a lecture was just like old times, even if it was only for a few hours!

In his lecture, titled "Chinese Film: Projecting and Protecting the Nation" Jacks gave a brief synopsis of the history of Chinese film, all the way from the first projected film in China in 1896 to the controversy over the recently released Chinese film, titled "Tiny Times". He also discussed how the Chinese government has toed the line of allowing American and other foreign films to be displayed in China while protecting and building up the local industry. And indeed, as film is a powerful tool for disemmination of messages and ideas, he talked about the use of film by the government to promote or project certain ideals.

Though this was the final lecture in our "Expert Lecture Series" like all of the lectures, it was well-attended, and students asked a lot of questions.

Wesley Jacks - Lecture 02

Jacks used the 2002 wuxia film "Hero"  starring Jet Li, to illustrate some his arguments of Chinese films projecting certain ideologies.

"Cross-cultural Communication" and "Ecological Change in Modern China" by Dr. Patrick Lucas

Previous lectures this semester were given by CIEE Beijing Center Director, Patrick Lucas, Ph.D. He gave two lectures this semester titled, "Cross-cultural Communication and Understanding in China" and "Ecological Change in Modern China: Human Impacts and Human Survival". A trained anthropologist with nearly 20 years of professional experience in China, we offer these two lectures every semester. These two lectures give students tools to examine their surroundings, with in terms of communicating with individuals from another culture, and dealing with new ideas and the pressures of being an outsider.

The second lecture "Ecological Change in Modern China: Human Impacts and Human Survival" gave students an introduction to the perilous environmental Chinese situation faces amidst rapid development. This lecture was required to participate on the excurstion, titled "Environment and Rural Governance in China", as it was a preview of some phenomenon that we would experience firsthand when visiting the countryside. In his role as CIEE Beijing Center Director, Dr. Lucas oversees the study centers at both Minzu University and Peking University, teaching an area studies course every semester at Minzu University.

Aside from engaging students in experiential learning in the trip to the countryside, he also leads a ten day field study to southern China every semester for students participating in the Environmental, Cultural, and Economic Sustainability program at Minzu University.

Pat Lucas - Lecture

Dr. Lucas gives students some tools they can use to engage a new culture.

"Neoliberal Sunshine: The Development of Underdevelopment in Northwestern China" by Dr. KuoRay Mao

Earlier in July, our Summer Resident Director KuoRay Mao, Ph.D., gave a lecture on neoliberal development in Northwestern China. Having worked as a farmer in Gansu province for 18 months conducting research as a Fulbright scholar, Dr. Mao was able to pepper his lecture, titled "Neoliberal Sunshine: The Development of Underdevelopment in Northwest China" with interesting analyses on the political economy in China.  Dr. Mao's speech gave students a good understanding of some of the most pressing environmental issues -  which are existential issues - facing China today.

Finally...

Given the abrreviated summer schedule, our Expert Lecture Series has concluded. However, we are excited for next semester's lectures, available for students attending all of our Beijing-based programs.

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This newsletter was compiled by CIEE Beijing Center staff.  Stay tuned for Issue II at the end of the semester, as well as some other blog posts by some of our summer students about different experiences and activities from our 2013 summer term!

07/19/2013

Spring 2013, Issue I

NewsletterBannerBeijing

A Semester to Remember!

Better late than never, no? :) We hope you enjoy the highlights of our spring semester of the CIEE Intensive Chinese Language program at Peking University!

Hello, Everyone!: Orientation Week

With the disruptions of Spring Festival finally winding down, our Peking University study abroad students stepped off the plane and into Beijing on Monday, February 25, many for the first time.  CIEE staff were waiting to greet them and help them get safely back to their dorms and settled down, before the activities of orientation week kicked into full gear the next day with a series of health and safety orientations, a visit to Tiananmen Square, and the continuation of a new tradition for CIEE’s Peking University programs: a group photo at PKU’s Alumni Bridge (校友桥).  The rest of orientation week flew by uneventfully, a blur of tours, orientations and presentations, placement exams, and being introduced to a new life in Beijing, from food to friends to living arrangements, and with its conclusion students were finally ready to begin on their new journey in Beijing!

Alumni Bridge 1

Food Counts as Culture, Right?: Semester Theme Meals

Continuing another new tradition, this semester’s students were once again offered the opportunity to attend small (6-8 students), private “theme meals” during one week in March.  Not only does this offer them the opportunity to learn more about a specific style of Chinese cuisine, but also lets students interact with a CIEE teacher on a more informal basis and build a better rapport as the semester begins!  This semester’s meals included Malaxiangguo Mamba (麻辣香锅 is a style of stir-fry emphasizing heavy doses of hot peppers), Journey to the West (featuring food from the Uyghur minority in Western China), Vegetarian Voyage (self-explanatory, one hopes!),  Sichuan Sensation (featuring spicy Sichuan food) and finally, Nanjing Adventure (sampling the local dumplings, in particular). It is the meal pictured below!
Themed Meal

More Cultural Exposure: Art Classes

In addition to food-centric cultural activities, CIEE Beijing also arranges for some activities centered on the traditional arts, the first of which are short, one-time classes in which students get the chance to learn about and then practice a traditional art form.  This semester’s CIEE-provided classes were offered on a Friday afternoon in March, to maximize students’ chances of attending, and included a traditional paper-cutting class and a face-painting class instructing students in the traditional face-painting used to decorate actors performing in Peking Operas.

Face Painting 1

Face Painting 2

Face Painting 3

Learning, à la Carte: Expert Lecture Series

With the success of the last several semesters’ Expert Lecture Series, students were again offered the chance to attend lectures on a variety of China-related topics on Wednesdays throughout the semester.  This semester’s lecturers included CIEE Beijing Center Director Dr. Patrick Lucas (Intercultural Communication, Chinese Nationalism, Environment and Rural Governance), Dr. Ming Li (Geomancy Studies), Dr. Xiuxin Jiang (Chinese Medicine), and Dr. Kuoray Mao (Development in NW China).  The lectures have met with a largely enthusiastic reaction from students, as almost everyone has found at least one or two topics in which they have an intense personal interest.

Service Activities: Blind School and Autism Institute Visits

In addition to the various educational outlets, CIEE students in Beijing are also given opportunities to do volunteer work and build closer links to the communities in which they live.  This semester, for instance, several students volunteered to teach English at the Beijing School for the Blind and several more participated in a day of service at the Beijing Autism Institute.  The Beijing Autism Institute trip (below, top) was as much an educational experience as a service one, as our students met and spoke with the students there and learned about the way in which mental disabilities are viewed and treated in China, more than actually doing teaching work themselves.  At the School for the Blind (pictured below, bottom), on the other hand, CIEE has arranged for students to volunteer as English teachers on a long-term basis, even for their full semester.  This is a program we hope to continue in coming semesters as we continue our efforts to help students branch out and gain a fuller, richer immersion experience in Beijing, and an opportunity to give back to the local Beijing community.

Autism Institute
Blind School

A Historic Capital: Nanjing

Of course, no study abroad experience is complete without travel, preferably extensive travel, and CIEE Beijing views extended weekend excursions a a great way to explore new places and different topics about China.  In addition to whatever travel students choose to undertake on their own, there are several CIEE-sponsored and run trips offered each semester, each revolving around a different theme (usually with either historical, societal, or cultural relevance).

The theme of this trip was “Nanjing, China's Southern Capital: Defining Chinese Identity and History from 1368 to the Present”.  As the title implies, this excursion took students to Nanjing to learn something of China’s several-times-over past capital, and focused on the ways in which Nanjing simultaneously set the trend in China and was influenced by its role as capital.  As part of this excursion, students traveled to and from the city via overnight sleeper train, tried traditional (dumpling-centric) Nanjing cuisine, visited local temples, Republican-Era monuments, and temples, and saw modern industrial development sites and their impacts.

Nanjing 1

Urban Adventures: Shanghai

For the second major excursion of the semester, students got to choose between three options, the first of which was a trip to Shanghai, focused on the urban environment and architecture of Mainland China’s most modern and developed metropolitan area.  Titled “Modern Architecture and Manmade Landscapes”, students visited neighborhoods which have preserved their traditional architecture, saw the Temple of the City God, and photographed Shanghai’s ultramodern cityscape from the observation deck of the 470 meter-tall Oriental Pearl Tower (pictured below, poking into the clouds).  They also enjoyed traditional Shanghai cuisine, built around fresh seafood and soup dumplings, visited a museum which (quietly) displays the relics and propaganda of the Cultural Revolution, and got to experience China’s high speed rail system in a five-hour sprint back to Beijing.

Shanghai 1

Traditional Beauty: Kaifeng and Luoyang

The second of the available trips took students to Kaifeng and Luoyang, in Central China’s Henan Province, with an eye towards giving students a wider acquaintance with the aspects of China that we often refer to as “traditional” or “ancient.” Thus, this trip was built around the theme “Ancient Chinese Capitals, Art, and Re-inventing History.” In a country like China, experiencing a fast-paced economic boom and resurgent power abroad, history and tradition are often renegotiated and reexamined from new perspectives, and this is nowhere more apparent than in China’s most “historical” cities.  In learning about China’s view of its own history in this region, students visited the capital district of the Song Dynasty, several traditional garden parks, and a valley filled, over the centuries, with Buddhist carvings and figures known as Longmen Grottoes.

Kaifeng Luoyang Group Shot

Window on Rural Life: Shanxi and Hebei Provinces

The final excursion option for the semester was titled “Environment and Rural Governance in China” and was tailored for those interested in experiencing more of rural China and willing to “rough it.” Hebei and Shanxi are among the most rural, poorest, and most environmentally overburdened provinces in China today, and students who participated got to participate in some aspects of village and rural life, by helping prepare a meal and planting potatoes (both pictured below) among other activities.  Additionally, they got to witness the state of the environment on which the villagers’ livelihoods so thoroughly depend. Other highlights of the trip included a six mile hike over sheep herding trails through the mountains, as well as a visit to a broken down temple overlooking a dry river bed -  a once important trade route through the mountains.

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Goodbye, Beijing!: Last Weeks and Farewell Banquet

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, in time, and this semester’s study abroad was no exception.  Upon returning from Shanxi and Hebei, many students were struck by the realization that their time in China was rapidly drawing to a close; the last weeks, for many, were filled by a scrambling attempt to do and see all the things they’d missed until then.  In an attempt to meet the demand engendered by this final burst of enthusiasm, CIEE Beijing arranged trips to a local rock concert, the 798 Modern Art District, the Temple of Heaven, and the Pearl Market, though pollution forced the scrubbing of a hike on Phoenix Mountain.  Meanwhile, students took it upon themselves to engage in travel both inside and outside Beijing, including local highlights and excursions as far afield as Inner Mongolia.

Finally, on May 31, CIEE students and staff, PKU teachers and administrators, and tutors gathered to celebrate their time and accomplishments in Beijing at our farewell banquet.  Led by student hosts Ellen Larson and Ben Omer, students relived their experiences one last time, thanked all those who made them possible, and received their certificates of program completion from PKU, before engaging in one final round of picture-taking with their classmates, tutors, and teachers.  Over the next two days all but a few students departed for home or left Beijing to travel on their own before leaving China, thus bringing the spring semester of 2013 to a close for CIEE Beijing.

Further Information...

This Newsletter was compiled by staff at the CIEE Study Center in Beijing.

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Did you like what you see? Please check the blog for our Summer Intensive Chinese Language program, which is in session through August!

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Have any questions about this program or other CIEE programs? You can contact CIEE via email at studyinfo@ciee.org or by calling 1800-40-STUDY (78839).

03/18/2013

CIEE Beijing Visits the Beijing School for the Blind

As you may have seen in a previous post where we visited an Autism Institute, on Friday March 15, CIEE students from both the Intensive Chinese Language and Environmental, Cultural, and Economic Sustainability (ECES) programs visited the Beijing School for the Blind.

Accompanied by the CIEE Beijing Center Director, as well as staff for both programs, there were two purposes of this trip was to be introduced for the Beijing School for the Blind, get an understanding of their facilities, their mission and their methods.

First, was students for the ECES program taking the Ethnographic Methods course are required to do a three-week field study at the blind school. Second, we invited all CIEE students interested in volunteering at least three hours per week at the Blind School to submit resumes. In all, four students were eager to volunteer for the semester. Thus, this was the day where they hammered out schedules for the rest of the semester, where they would teach oral english to the students.

When we arrived at the facility, it was markedly different than the Autism Institute we saw the week before. An enclosed, pristine campus with new buildings were justaposed by a six story high bell tower which soared above the other buildings and was a marked contrast from the non-descript block-style apartment buildings built in the 1908s.

The principal and staff for the school greeted us and we immediately began the tour of the facilities. The school, which has nearly 250 students from kindergarten to adult, was spacious, well-lit and impeccably clean. The principal showed us the art rooms, the home skills classroom, resource center which included braille enabled computers, as well as the evaluation rooms. All were very impressive.

What really stood out to me was after the English class, four students had agreed to stay behind and talk to us. I was paired with two ECES students, Crystal and Mai. We were lucky enough to talk to a young whose English name was Nancy. Nancy, who was 19 and from Northeastern China had been at the school for 20 days at that point, having just begun her two year program in massage therapy. She told us she enjoyed spending time with friends, singing karaoke, listening to music, exercising, and studying - hobbies like those of any 19 year old Chinese (or American) person.

So why did this really stick out to me? Well, it was how she came to choose her profession of being a massage therapist. As she told us, for blind people in China only two career choices, that is they can become a musician or a massage therapist. Nothing else, no questions asked.

Now before as I come off as some empathetic, espousing noblesse oblige-esque platitudes down upon those less fortunate than me, this systemic rigidity really did strike me. Coming from a background and a country where a disabilities are not limiting, this was a wake-up call for me. In Nancy's case, and as in the case of millions of blind people (and disabled people) across China, it is and always will be the feature that defines her. It just, for some reason, got to me.

I asked her what she thought about being at the school, and her response was overwhelmingly positive. She said that being blind already makes it difficult to get an education and to be independent, thus she was thrilled at the prospect of how this program will allow her to be self sufficient for the most part. As for the school, she commented on how impressive the resources were, after alluding how poor her schools were growing up.

Being one of the most well-funded schools for blind people in China, it was really encouraging to see such a bright place for one of China's most underserved populations, and hopefully the beginning of larger change in China.

We will keep you posted and hopefully get some updates from the volunteer students as the semester carries on. In the meantime, see the picture below:

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Above (from left to right), Mai, Crystal, and I chat with Nancy (right).

04/05/2011

Visual Anthropology – Mindscaping the landscape of Tibet

 

This is a project-oriented class. Of course it does not mean that we don’t have much reading and intellectual exchange between us in class. In fact prior to our field trip in the middle of the semester, we have a fair amount of coursework. Our topic this semester is “Mindscaping the Landscapes of Amdo Tibet.”  Before we go on our field trip, we devote much time to reading contemporary scholarly works on imagined Tibet and discussing them in class. Our goal is for each student to make a meaningful visual project regarding how he or she, while in a Tibetan area, reflects on her own image of Tibet prior to our field trip. The study of landscape is a multidisciplinary effort. Anthropologists, philosophers, ecologists and scholars from other disciplines all participate in it. Like our students I’ll also have my self-assigned project. My goal is to make a short film about the cultural function of meditation caves in relation to how place is made native with rituals and spiritual practices.

 Besides our discussions on course readings, we also have sessions for everyone to learn more about how to use film equipment. This semester we have Wei Anjie, a young director from Beijing Film Academy, show us to how to use HDSLR with full 35mm frame, an emerging tool of mini-digital cinema.

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798 Art Factory

 

798 used to be the name of a military factory. Now it is an attractive site of Beijing. Admittedly it is commercialized; however it does deserve visits from those of us who are interested in contemporary Chinese art and would like to correlate artistic expressions with social and psychological changes in China. Now some independent film makers have also rented space to show their productions. It is quite a festive place for both domestic and international visitors.

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Birthday

Today is Shea’s birthday!  We celebrate our students’ birthdays. Shortly after our Study Center opened in the morning, a florist delivered a basket of beautiful flowers. I knew it was for Shea as I remembered today is her special day, but it was ordered by her family across the ocean. Economic globalization does provide us with convenience when we want to express our affections for our loved ones. On the program because of our instructional schedule, we moved the actual celebration to Saturday at a local restaurant. Unlike restaurants in the states, most Chinese restaurants do not make birthday cakes. So we ordered it from elsewhere. My favorite cakes are carrot cakes, cheese cakes, and fruit cakes. This time we had a fruit cake! I bake bread and will find time to learn to make cakes. I often feel our program needs an experimental kitchen for our students to learn different kinds of cuisine here: Mongolian, Dai, Yi, Tibetan, Uyghur, to name a few. A mini-culinary coursework would be so great.

 

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Calligraphy with brush pens

Chinese calligraphy sessions are universal among Chinese language students. This time Professor Gao, the Association Dean of MUC’s College of Fine Arts came to join us. He is an accomplished traditional Chinese art and calligraphy. We’re very fortunate to have him.

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Spring Orientation

Spring orientation often coincides with Chinese New Year celebration. In most instances our students arrive right after the Chinese New Year.  Unlike in the U.S., New Year means January 1st – one day celebration. Tthe Chinese New Year, based on the lunar calendar, includes at least the first five days as the New Year celebration. Traditionally speaking it should have the first fifteen days for the celebration. This modern-tradition dynamic continues to show itself in the current official calendar of the city. The number of official days off from work for the New Year varies from five to ten. The city ordinances says all fireworks have to stop on the fifteenth day which is also the Lantern Festival when families have reunion again to enjoy sticky rice balls with red bean paste, meat, or any fillings of the family’s choice.  So our students arrive on the fourth day of the lunar New Year. The city of Beijing is quiet with the absence of migrants from other parts of China. The festivity rather starts after seven in the evening as the city permits fireworks after this hour. The day before our students’ arrival, it snowed in Beijing. It hasn’t snowed for the entire winter. Now all a sudden big snow poured down on the city. The campus looks wintry on the third of the Chinese New Year which is also the third day of spring according to the lunar calendar.

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It is almost universal that snow makes most people excited. We could be genuinely excited because we don’t see snow often, or we could be disgustingly excited because we see too much of it as it brings cold weather and slippery road conditions. But, regardless of our native weather conditions, everyone is excited about the snow in Beijing, including our students and local students from the land of snow in Tibet.

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To experience more of the snowy landscape of Beijing, we slightly changed our orientation schedule. We moved our trip to the Great Wall to our second day. Here we go. We went to the section of the Wall called Mutianyu. President Clinton chose one of the best sections of the Wall for his visit to Beijing. Winter is a great time to walk on it as tourists are nearly absent. Most of visitors we saw were Europeans and North Americans. I have been to this section of the wall many times in the winter, but never feel tired of it. The Wall on the landscape feels serene. We got to know each other while we enjoyed the spectacular views all around us.

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Yea! Jiaozi [dumplings] party for our New Year celebration! I rarely see anyone tired of Jiaozi. Every Jiaozi may shape the same but they seem to have their own distinct look especially when you make them with your family, friends, students, and colleagues. Our Jiaozi party was as festive as any other families in Beijing. Professor Hwanbal Dorje, his wife, and their son again happily hosted us making all us feel at home away from home. This time I also invited Nick Demetriades, my former CIEE student and now a graduate student at the School of Ethnology & Sociology at Minzu University. I feel very proud of his accomplishment and recommended him to a full scholarship awarded from China’s Ministry of Education.  He got it!!! His presence added more festivity to our party.

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Nick also kindly accompanied our new students to the Zoo market where local students often do shopping for clothing and other necessities. Beijing is an expensive city but we can always find affordable places for students’ life style. The Zoo market has all kinds of vendors. Sometimes I also shop there. It’s always bustling there. When I take a break from preparing classes and research writing, I simply visit markets like the Zoo market to feel how human we all are.

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The heart of the city is the emperor’s palace regardless of the fact China no longer has emperors. The city was constructed as a sacred site or a heavenly mandated place where the son of the heaven governed China for centuries.  This legacy continues to exist in the urban landscape of Beijing. All ring roads ring around the palace. How could anyone miss it? One could hardly miss the center of the city. The Forbidden City is decorated with the signs and symbols of the new republic, but it stands as it is when we look beyond the signs and banners.

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