The Modern City: Shanghai

The last stop we traveled to is the modern city: Shanghai. We lived in a hotel very close to the center of the city and lots of famous streets. Shanghai is a much more international city compare to the other places we have been visited. You can see foreigners everywhere, and most of them come here for business, according to  the conversation I had with some of them. What most Chinese people have on mind is that they want to go abroad for better job opportunity and education. However, what I saw in Shanghai is that people from all over the world come here for business, social events and even education.

The bund, the first place we went to, gave us a decent night view of the modern city. It was always so crowded with visitors, and we could see all the tall buildings across from the river. We also visited the financial center building, the tallest building in the world. I couldn’t even capture the whole building with my phone on the ground. We took the  fast speed elevator to the observatory on the top of the building and had an amazing view of Shanghai city. What’s more, some part  of the floor were transparent, so we can look at the group from all the way at the top. It was an unforgettable experience to be ‘ on the top of the world”. Another modern thing about Shanghai is people there dress in top fashions, especially in Nanjing Street.

After a week in Shanghai, I can deeply taste the modernization of Shanghai.

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night view from the bund

 

Hangzhou Bay Bridge : world’s largest cross-sea bridge

Previous to the visit to Hangzhou Bay Bridge, professor Xinli showed us a documentary film about Hangzhou Bay Bridge. This film revealed how the successful construction of the bay bridge represents a milestone in engineering field. Hangzhou Bay bridge is so far the largest cross-sea bridge in the whole world, with a total length of 36 kilometers. It shortened the ground transportation distance from Ningbo to Shanghai by an incredible length. This bridge marks the more expanded economy for regions around the bridge.

The most astonishing part about Hangzhou Bay Bridge is how all the strained circumstances were all overcome by engineers’ intelligence. The construction of Hangzhou Bay Bridge had encountered tons of problems, more than what engineers expect initially.  The eruption of natural gas in a shallow layer along the bridge line, the unpredictable severe weather above the sea and special construction material requirement are all the obstacles that keeps the bridge from being completed.

Our bus drove on the bridge on the way to Shanghai. Looking out from the bus window seat, I felt the pride for being an engineer because we are ready to solve the challenges all the time.

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Hangzhou Bay Bridge: A Legendary Project

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It is the second longest bay bridge and the third longest bridge in the world. This massive miracle locates in one of the most active bay areas in the world, Hangzhou Bay. It connects two of the busiest cities in China – Ningbo and Shanghai. There are many options for us to go from Huangshan to Shanghai, but we chose bus ride instead to just go through this legendary bridge.

Earlier in Huangshan we watched a documentary about this bridge. The engineers needed to conquer challenges with natural gas underneath the water, powerful tides and wind. I am sure it took more than what they introduced to build this bridge. But taking a bus ride on the bridge actually took less time than I expected. I realized that the entire bridge is not flat all the way down, instead, its middle part is higher than its left and right ends.

China is famous for its many massive engineering projects. We were lucky to visit many of them during this program including the Hangzhou Bay Bridge. It is amazing to see how engineering technologies have been developed in China. China has set many records for its engineering projects including many longest bridges and tallest buildings. The Chinese government has output a fancy national image with Chinese intelligence and technologies. However, when we are proud to put billions of RMB into a massive project to build “the longest”, “the tallest” and “the biggest”, we still have tons of social security issues that are waiting for money to solve.

 

Celebrity Status

As a foreigner, and especially as a white American, everywhere I went in China, I truly felt like a celebrity. Walking down the streets was like walking down a runway. I felt like I was being followed by the paparazzi when I was doing something as simple as eating a meal and someone would take my picture. Additionally, any time we took a group picture, at least 10 other Chinese people would take a picture of our group photo.

I had heard before leaving for China that people would want to take my picture, but I never thought it would happen as often as it did. I was completely shocked by it at first, but as the trip went on, I embraced my newfound psuedo-fame it and would smile, wave, or pose for anyone trying to take my picture.

As Americans, it’s hard for us to imagine living in a country with such little diversity. One of our tour guides told us that almost 92% of the population is the Han Chinese. Thus, it is no surprise that so many people took pictures of us; most of them have probably never seen Americans or even white people before.

Overall, it was fun feeling like a celebrity for a while, and I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little sad to be an average citizen again at home.

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High School Highlight

When I was anticipating this trip, I was definitely most excited to see some of China’s most famous landmarks like the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Terra-Cotta soldiers. Seeing all of those places was even better than I imagined, but what I did not anticipate was how much I would love seeing everyday places and meeting everyday people. That being said, one of my favorite parts of the trip was visiting the high school in Dalian.

The day we went to visit the high school, I was very tired. I fell asleep on the bus ride there, and I was in no mood to be awake, let alone to be social when we got there. However, as soon as I stepped into the building, my mood completely changed. All of the students were so happy and excited that we were there, and they were so friendly and welcoming; I couldn’t help but smile and be friendly back to them.

The girl that I met that day first introduced herself to me with her Chinese name, and I could not pronounce it, so she told me her American name was Fortune. She chose that name because she liked that it meant good luck. She gave me her favorite book, which was a book a poems written in Chinese. I was the first American she ever met, and she kept telling me how glad she was to meet me. She had never been outside of China before, but she said that she hoped to travel to America sometime after college.

As I walked around the high school with Fortune, I learned a lot about the Chinese education system and the culture that I did not know before. Fortune told me that she started school around 7:30 am every day and didn’t finish until 8 or 9 pm. I was even more surprised to find out that she went to school on Saturdays until 4 pm. She lived at school during the week and only got to see her family on Saturday night and Sunday even though they don’t live that far away. When I was in high school, I complained about going to school from 7:30-2:30 5 days a week, and Fortune didn’t complain or even seem to mind at all.

Not only did I learn a lot from Fortune, but I think she learned a lot from me. She asked me a lot of questions about what my high school was like and about what I did for fun. I told her I liked to play sports in high school, and she told me that girls didn’t really play sports there. For fun she said she liked to play piano and another instrument that she didn’t know how to say in English and to hang out with her friends.

In the end, I realized that Chinese high school students are really not that different from American students. Though they spend more time in class, they still like to have fun, hang out with friends on the weekend, and look forward to summer break. Going to the high school and meeting Fortune was a really great experience that I’ll never forget.IMG_9549

A Wall Greater Than I Expected

Call me naïve, but prior to going to China, I thought that the Great Wall was going to be relatively flat. Of course I figured there would be some stairs here and there, but for the most part I figured it’d be a smooth, relaxing walk. I was pretty surprised, to say the least, when we arrived there and I saw a series of winding staircases going straight up a mountain. I quickly mentally prepared myself for what would be one of the most intense “leg days” of my life.

As I began climbing the steepest staircase I’ve ever climbed, I thought to myself, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” About 7 staircases later in the excruciating heat, my thoughts weren’t so positive. My legs were tired, I was out of breath, and I was sweating more than I ever have in my life. Nonetheless, I pushed on until I finally made it to the top, and I’m so glad I did.

The view from the top was absolutely breath taking. Seeing the wall stretch on miles away really put into perspective how big and how great it really was. I couldn’t help but be in awe of how thousands of years ago people were able to build this incredible 13,000 mile-long structure with such little technology. It is a prime example that with hard work and determination, anything is possible.

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Pots > Squats

IMG_9457 I am, as a white girl would say, very #blessed, and I know that there are many things in life that I take for granted. However, I never would’ve thought that one of those things would be a public toilet until I went to China and experienced the squatter.

The squatter is essentially a hole in the ground used for going to the bathroom. In order to use it, you must literally squat all the way down to the dirty floor and hold that position for the extent of your defecation, all the while hoping you don’t lose your balance and fall in and/or walk out of the stall with wet shorts.

The Chinese people prefer having squatters because they feel that they’re more sanitary and prevent the spread of germs. I understand their reasoning, and although I still loathe the squatters, they are a part of the culture, and at the very least they were interesting to experience. Throughout my experience with squatters during the month I spent in China, I’ve learned many techniques and tips for dealing with them:

  1. “Preventative Peeing”: always go to the bathroom before you leave for the day. Hotels will always have Western toilets; so take advantage of them when you can!
  2. Always carry a pack of tissues or extra toilet paper with you. Often times, the squatters don’t have any toilet paper, and if you don’t have any with you, you might find yourself in an unfortunate situation.
  3. Condition yourself before you go to China, and don’t skip leg day! Be sure to get in some squats, lunges, and quality leg workouts to lessen the strain when you have to use the bathroom.
  4. Last, but not least, always carry hand sanitizer with you. Chances are, the bathroom won’t have soap, and you won’t want to leave the squatter without cleaning your hands.

Traffic in China

IMG_9266Before going to China, I had heard about how bad the traffic was there. People had told me that traffic lights were considered optional, speed limits were nonexistent, and driving on the right side of the road was not mandatory. When I went to China, not only did I discover that all of those things were true, but that it was actually worse than I had imagined. Cars, scooters, and bikes all share the road, and any one of them had the right-away over pedestrians making an attempt to cross the street like a real-life game of Frogger. Horns are honked constantly, warning the other nearby vehicles in the bumper-to-bumper traffic that they’re about to get cut off. Cars came inches away from hitting our bus, taxi rides felt like amusement park rides, and everywhere we went, we saw cars casually parked on sidewalks. I remember our tour guide saying that the most popular kind of jam in China is a traffic jam.

In America, there’s a stereotype that Chinese people are terrible drivers, and you’d think that after what I saw and experienced, this stereotype would be reinforced in my mind. However, my experiences with traffic in China actually had the opposite effect: I now think Chinese people are incredible drivers. Maybe they seem bad in the United States because they aren’t used to all of our traffic laws, but in China, they are great drivers. I would not last 5 minutes driving there. The traffic jams are usually caused by the overpopulation in many of the cities, and with so many people, Chinese drivers must do whatever it takes (i.e. run red lights, drive on the wrong side of the road, etc.) to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. They drive recklessly, but the do it well. To my surprise, I did not see one car accident the entire time we were in China. Thus, after this experience, I have a newfound respect for Chinese drivers.

Two days in Xi’an

Xi’an is a city that I have always wanted to visit, due to its long history and constantly mysterious discoveries. Xi’an is known as the ancient capital of China, and it was once to be the most prosperous city in the country. The completely reserved city wall in the city shows Xi’an’s unique culture. We luckily had a chance to cycle on the entire city wall. The city wall was 8.5 miles long, and it took me around 40 minutes to complete one round with the double-seat bike. I have watched lots of ancient Chinese shows on tv when I was young, so I felt like I was riding through the historical scenes on the city wall. Even though we were all feeling sunburn while cycling, the view of Xi’an city on both sides of the wall was totally worth it. I really appreciated the reservation of the city wall after the visit, because it makes the city more charming.

Another outstanding place we visited is the world famous terra cotta warriors and houses. The buries soldiers were presented with dignified appearance. Walking through the 3 pits, I can deeply feel how Qin Dynasty represent a dictatorship at its peak. We have also learned that soldiers have different hair styles based on their army position. It was quite a valuable experience to see one of the eight wonders in the world in person.

Last, we also visited the local food street and tried out the popular local specialties. The street was noisy and crowded due to the competition between sellers and exploration from visitors. We were strongly suggested to check out the Chinese hamburger. It turned out to be quite different than what I expected, but I was glad that I at least tried it.

In conclusion, Xi’an is a very attractive city.

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Top to bottom: terra cotta warriors, food street and city wall

Ford Motor Company

ford-logoVisiting Ford Motor Company as an engineer is like a ten-year-old visiting Disney World for the first time. Seeing the assembly line in full action and understanding the process of how they make their vehicles was really a humbling experience. It is amazing how Henry Ford created this idea and it is still used today in his company. I was surprised to see the workers smiling and enjoying their time as a worker at the ford motor plant because that isn’t the impression you would get if you are an American visiting a Chinese factory. Before I visited China I would think of intense sweatshops where workers would work ridiculous and dangerous hours at their job just to keep it and support their family. Seeing the ford motor plant and talking to the CEO of the company I was shocked when he told me that their workers enjoy their job and how Huang-Chong Ford has a 92% retention rate; their workers don’t want to leave. After the CEO brought us around the assembly line and talked about what each worker does in the assembly line he brought us into a room and talked about how this particular Ford plant was one of the most successful plants for the company of ford. He told us how the Chinese place a lot of value in something called “face.” He went on to explain that this is a value that shows others how successful they have been in their lives. The Chinese show this face value by buying luxurious homes, vacations, and most importantly, cars. Because the CEO knew about face value he got designers to make ford into a more luxurious car company for the Chinese to want to buy their products. It was at that moment it all made sense to me, I now understood why Chinese people had extremely nice cars up at State College. I was always so quick to judge the Chinese for wasting their money on overpriced cars that they didn’t need but now I finally understand why they do this. It is because of their emphasis on the “face” value in the Chinese culture.