Xiè Xie & Zàijiàn

 

The class in Huangshan, China. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

The class in Huangshan, China. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

By Lola Buonomo and Caroline Deakins

It’s crazy to think that three and a half weeks ago we were a group of thirty strangers. Coming into the trip, we all had various expectations of China as most of us had never been. The first days in Beijing were definitely a culture shock. Not only were we jet lagged, but the language, the food, and the people felt so foreign to us. Armed only with a few simple Chinese phrases, our group took to Beijing, struggled to eat with chopsticks, and attempted to shop at the markets.

Students Caroline Deakins, left, and Lola Buonomo. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

Students Caroline Deakins, left, and Lola Buonomo. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

By the time we made it to Shanghai, a lot had changed. New friendships had been formed, chopsticks and bartering had been mastered, and we knew many Chinese phrases. These changes in all of the students were the visible changes- something that could be assessed and graded on. But beyond that, what will never show up on our transcript, our group matured and became more independent as we absorbed the amazing culture around us.

As teenagers, most of us have never traveled or left the country on our own. Even with Xinli and the Chinese students as guides, there were many times when we had to fend for ourselves and speak on our own accounts. With the language barrier and cultural differences, this took some getting used to. By the end of the trip, however, most of us could order in a restaurant without speaking English, barter at a street market, and navigate public transportation systems like pros. The trip has increased our independence and maturity exponentially as we were put into positions that many would find uncomfortable or alarming. By the end of the trip, many students could even see themselves working or interning in abroad.

As for engineering, I think we finally understand how integral culture is to an engineering project. Not only does an engineer need to ensure structural safety, function, and efficiency, but many times, culture needs to play a significant role in design. For instance, Chinese find luck in the number eight. Many designs highlighting eight features are considered lucky and advanced. Another example are the fishtanks in front of most Chinese buildings. They originally served as a fire prevention technique, but now are a cultural necessity in most hotels and offices. As students at an American university, we need to keep these ideas in mind. If we want to be world-class engineers, before designing and implementing a project, we need to study those who are affected by our work. There are many reasons behind design features besides function and many times these cultural requirements can make or break the project. With culture and function in mind, our designs can assimilate into more societies and become more successful.

From friends, to culture, to engineering, this study abroad provided more opportunities than we could have imagined. Although we all came to China with different perceptions in mind, none of us could have anticipated such an amazing experience. Now that the trip has come to a close, we are not thirty strangers, but thirty best friends.

Squatter

Toilets in public areas are extremely rare as Chinese believe they aren't sanitary. (Photo credit: Lola Buonomo)

Toilets in public areas are extremely rare as Chinese believe they aren’t sanitary. (Photo credit: Lola Buonomo)

By Lola Buonomo

It’s been 3.5 weeks in China and a lot of us have grown accustomed to the food, the travel, and the people. But there is most definitely one thing I can never get use to — the public toilets. They are literally just holes in the ground and without fail I pee on myself every time. I will miss a lot about China but the squatters are the one thing I am excited to never see again.

Walking through Old China

Students shop at Lao Jie, or Old Street, in Tuangxi in Huangshan. Many of the restored houses date back to the Ming Dynasty and now serve as souvenir shops, antique dealers and restaurants. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

Students shop at Lao Jie, or Old Street, in Tuangxi in Huangshan. Many of the restored houses date back to the Ming Dynasty and now serve as souvenir shops, antique dealers and restaurants. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

By Kate Waskiw

Yesterday after breakfast at the hotel everyone piled on to the bus. Dr. Wu then informed us that we were going to the best preserved Ming Dynasty street, the Lao Jie or Old Street, in all of China located in Tuangxi. I myself was very intrigued because I have a image of what ancient China looked like, mainly from watching Mulan as a child (and teenager…and college student….). We have seen many old buildings so far like the Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and Temple of Heaven, but these were all built for the emperor so they all had the same designs and color schemes. As we got off the bus, I hoped to see small houses and stores crammed together with roofs that curved up at the corners.

When we exited the bus everyone quickly became confused. The street we began walking down had neon signs above stores, a paved street, and new construction happening. That was definitely not what we had envisioned. Just we some of us began to question if Dr. Wu had gotten the address wrong we came to a cross section and instantly knew we had stumbled onto an ancient Chinese street. Looking left and right down the street, the small road was made by large stones with one to two story builds on either side pushed up against each other. I was thrilled to look up and see that the corners of the roofs did curve up elaborately just as I envisioned.

With the time that was given we began to wonder the street. I think I speak for everyone when I say that this was probably the best shopping excursion we have had. The stores here were very nice and the best part was the owners did not stand over us like hawks constantly asking if we liked an object and how much it costed. I was immediately drawn to the tea shop on the corner.

Tea in this region is highly prized because there is no pollution in the area. They grow tea on the mountain tops were the elevation is just right (I was informed that there is even a special tea that only monkeys pick because it is too high for the pickets to reach). The local tea is a red tea that I have never heard of, so naturally I bought some. Like a kid in a candy store I went crazy and ended up with some oolong and green tea as well. The owner even brewed us some tea to sample. After that, we wandered further to look at the other shops. There were so many calligraphy shops, jade shops, tea shops, and random triket stores everywhere. Everyone had a relaxing morning, walking around, shopping, and looking at different things.

To top off the morning we went to a restaurant on one end of the street. My table sent up Victor to order for us, and he did not disappoint. We had noodles, delicious chicken, beef with vegetables, sticky rice with pork, and pigs feet. We also had these amazing pork (we really like pork) dumplings that not only had the meat filling but also broth making it a soup dumpling. All in all probably one of my favorite meals here.

The rest of the day included going to Dr. Wu’s brother’s house and going to a tea museum. We went to his brother’s house to tour a Chinese family home and also watch a documentary on the Hangzhou Bay Bridge that we drove over a few days ago (all the problems the engineers encountered were astonishing, but we saw their end creation). The tea museum was also very interesting and we even got to have a tea tasting which was great. To finish the day we toured an old communist command center and had a large dinner consisting of all the local delacacies. One dish was a fish whose directly translated name was “smelly fish”… and boy did it live up to its name. All in all a great day!

Visiting a High School in Huangshan

Lola Buonomo

The other day we visited a local high school in a rural part of China in Huangshan. The students were so excited to practice their English with us which was great since we aren’t exactly fluent in Chinese yet. We went to their campus store and got some ice cream then headed to their outdoor gym area. While the American guys played some half court basketball with the students some of us stuck to the ping pong tables. They were telling me all about their schooling and it is completely different than the States’. They live dormitory style with 6 people to a room. The housing is segregated and dating is not allowed. They live there 5 days during the week and are free to travel home during the weekends. Classes start at 6 am and go until 10 pm that evening. During the day they study 10 different subjects. I was just blown away by the differences. A few of the students took me to their classroom where they were learning college level physics as just high school sophomores. The students were so bright and really happy to share their experiences with us. I wrote a small note in their notebooks to show my appreciation for them showing me around. I really hope I can visit again, this was a highlight of the entire trip.

Caves, High School, and a Home-Cooked Meal

Engineering student Lola Buonomo writes some English in a Chinese student's notebook during the Penn State class's visit to a secondary school in Huangshan. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

Engineering student Lola Buonomo writes some English in a Chinese student’s notebook during the Penn State class’s visit to a secondary school in Huangshan. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

By James Futrell

Today was one of the best days so far. It started with a cave that had 36 separate grottos. we went into two of the grottos and it was an engineering marvel that they were carved over 2000 years ago. There was one part where the cave was carved so that it would stay up and not collapse in on itself. The area came to a point so in order for it to stand up the engineers had to let the support billow out so the cave would not collapse in on itself. Another amazing thing was how big the rooms in the caves were. The cave was not just tiny, narrow hallways like a lot of caves are.

Next we went to a secondary school. It was really interesting to meet the kids and see what high school was like for them when comparing it to what high school was like for us. It is amazing how long their day lasts; from 7 in the morning to 10 at night. I cannot imagine a 15 hour day of school. The guys at the school love to play basketball. It is one of the main things they did in their spare time. The also enjoy playing table tennis. Another thing different from American high schools is that the secondary schools are boarding schools. They have there own dorms and have to wash their clothes. Having to live at their high school is something I could not imagine doing.

Next, we went to Xinli’s house where he grew up as a kid. While dinner was being prepared, we went for a walk around the town and we met a group of kids. We also saw where Xinli went to elementary school. His town is very different from any town I could imagine growing up in. After playing with the kids for awhile, we had very good food. It was nice to have homemade Chinese food after all of the restaurants. It was all a great meal.

This class it has been great learning and understanding the Chinese culture. I have learned a lot and do not regret the decision one bit. This will definitely be something I remember forever.

Go Further

Students pose with Changan Ford CEO Marin Burela

Students met with Marin Burela, president and CEO of Changan Ford. Burela showed the students the new Ford Escort designed and built exclusively for the Chinese market. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

By Lola Buonomo

A few days ago we were given a tour of the Changan Ford production plant in Chongqing. It was so interesting to see how the autonomous robots put nearly the entire vehicle together.

Changan Ford director of human resources gives the Penn State students a tour of the company's state-of-the-art Congqing facility. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

Changan Ford director of human resources gives the Penn State students a tour of the company’s state-of-the-art Chongqing facility. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

I was quite surprised to see how modern and safe their facilities were. It was clear they are the forefront of technologies in the automotive industry. After an introduction by Changan Ford director of human resources Daryl Mahon, we met the president and CEO of Changan Ford, Marin Burela, who shared a lot about the cultural differences. He unveiled a car they designed specifically for China.

He left us with a very inspirational speech about never being afraid of failure and to live our lives with no regrets. We are writing the pages of our book and decide where this storybook takes us. I’m excited to see what new adventures we undertake to add to this chapter of my life.

Pagodas, Panda Pee, and Pizza

Despite seeing some of China's greatest historical treasures, students were delighted to see one of the country's greatest natural treasures in the pandas at the Chongqing zoo. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

Despite seeing some of China’s greatest historical treasures, students were delighted to see one of the country’s greatest natural treasures in the pandas at the Chongqing zoo. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

By Caroline Deakins

These past two days have been a whirlwind of laughs, good food, and more adventures. Yesterday our expedition featured an interesting climb up to Shibaozhai Pagoda. Beginning with a not so sturdy footbridge over the river, on to the treacherous wooden stairs, and up the slippery boulders, our entire group was fortunate enough to make it in one piece. From the top of the temple, our efforts were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the river and it’s surrounding mountains. I never did get used to the breath taking views we experienced along the cruise. After some much needed nap time, we joined the rest of the cruise for a late night talent show. Kate and Paul even demonstrated some stellar swing dancing.

The students' final excursion was to the Shibaozhai Pagoda, a 12-story structure built into the side of a rock wall overlooking the Yangtze River. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

The students’ final excursion was to the Shibaozhai Pagoda, a 12-story structure built into the side of a rock wall overlooking the Yangtze River. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

Today, we disembarked from the cruise ship. Luggage in hand, we crossed some pretty sketchy metal planks and climbed multiple flights of stairs. Slightly winded, we boarded our tour bus and headed to the city of Chongqing. Our first stop was the zoo in order to see some pretty awesome pandas. They were munching on their bamboo, snoozing, and even peeing a little- or a lot. After some selfies with emus and elephants, we headed off to a marketplace along side of a mountain. This eleven floor structure was quite the engineering feat, as we entered on the first floor, climbed around a water fall, and headed to the top only to emerge on the top floor, ground level with another street. After a much needed Starbucks pit stop, we experienced the native spicy food of Chongqing. After an afternoon trip to the Three Gorges Museum of Chongqing, we were able to check into our hotel for some much needed R&R. For dinner, some headed out to enjoy authentic local cuisine, while myself and others (the less adventurous) went to Pizza Hut for a fresh reminder of home. All in all, it’s been a fantastic two days.

I’m on a boat

As part of their cruise up the Yangtze River, students got on some smaller boats to get a closer look at some of the gorges along the waterway's tributaries. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

As part of their cruise up the Yangtze River, students got on some smaller boats to get a closer look at some of the gorges along the waterway’s tributaries. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

By Matthew Spencer

Well let’s see, today started out with an early morning, at least it felt early for me. But it was so worth it.

After breakfast on the cruise ship we got onto another boat. On this boat we went from our port into what I’m pretty sure was another part of the Yangzhou River.

After a very scenic boat ride we stopped at this platform in the middle of the river. Here we got on small wooden boats, they were very small and felt very fragile. We took these boats farther up the river. There were amazing cliffs all around our trip.

Also built into some of these cliffs were coffin caves. This is where people long ago would put people after they died. To this day it is unknown how they got the coffins up the cliff and into the cave. After that we went back to the ship and we ate lunch. After that we relaxed for the rest of the day and then ate dinner.

A Dam Good Day

Students pose in front of the first ship lock to the Three Gorges Dam. The dam features a five-level double ship lock — some more than a mile long — designed to raise or lower a ship a total vertical distance of 370 feet. It took the students' cruise ship three hours to traverse all five lock gates. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

Students pose in front of the first ship lock to the Three Gorges Dam. The dam features a five-level double ship lock — some more than a mile long — designed to raise or lower a ship a total vertical distance of 370 feet. It took the students’ cruise ship three hours to traverse all five lock gates. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

By Joshua Bowman

Today, after waking up bright and early to the loud sounds of the PA system blaring in our rooms, we hauled ourselves out of bed for the first breakfast of the cruise. After a nice spread of Asian and American cuisine most students opted to sleep the rest of the morning away since the night before was so late.

After waking up repeatedly to the random sounds coming from the PA system, 12 o’clock finally rolled around. It was comforting to have mostly American food provided even though it wasn’t quite up to our own standards from home. A few of us did take a few extra trips to the cake stand, however.

Shortly after lunch our first excursion began. We met down in the lobby to prepare to visit the Three Gorges Dam Project. The trip was to the top of a nearby mountain which provided a bird’s eye view of the area. The dam was absolutely immense. We drove past the lock system while it transported several barges upward as well.

The mountain itself had a viewing area decorated with art, a room with a model of the entire area and the ever-present gift shop. The day was hot and people were tired so the trip back down came with some relief. Now we have the rest of the day to relax and enjoy the welcome events.  But the scale of the dam and its lock system remain the highlight of the day.

On the Road Again

Three Penn State students watch the film "Top Gun" while hanging out in a hard sleeper car, which fits six people in a submarine bunk-like arrangement in each compartment. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

Three Penn State students watch the film “Top Gun” while hanging out in a hard sleeper car, which fits six people in a submarine bunk-like arrangement in each compartment. (Photo credit: Curtis Chan)

By Curtis Chan

After an incredibly full day in Xi’an, it was time for students to hit the road again to their next destination — a river cruise along the Yangtze to view the Three Gorges Dam.

But before they could do that, the class boarded a sleeper train early Wednesday morning (May 22) to take them to Yichang.

Some students slept, while others played games and socialized during the 14-hour trip. The ride offered a glimpse into how rural Chinese live. As the train winded through mountains and plains, much of the country looked similar to the American Midwest, with fields of crops and farmers tending to the soil.

After the exhausting train ride, there was an hour-long bus ride to where the ship, the President Cruises No. 1, was docked. The class finally got to bed around midnight.