Ryan Gist (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Beijing (May 7th-11th)
We arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) after a long 14 hour flight; the first stop on our four week trip. Stepping off the airplane into the third largest terminal in the world was amazing. The first thing I saw getting off the airplane was a vending machine; I took a picture of this vending machine because it was already so different than anything I had ever seen before. This vending machine serves as an excellent metaphor for the rest of my trip; different, exciting, and intriguing. (1)
We boarded the bus and headed to Tiananmen Square. We first walked around the National Centre for Performing Arts, the architecture of the Opera house was amazing. It was circular and made almost entirely of glass panels, and it was surrounded by a square pool of water fountains (unfortunately closed for maintenance). All the entrances to the Opera House were underground, and the building was right next to Congressional Building (once the highest building in Beijing because the government is the highest power). (2)
After touring the Opera House, we headed across Tiananmen Square to the Forbidden City. I was taken aback at the sheer size of the palace. From the street, I had no inclination as to how big it was, and walking through the Forbidden City it seemed to stretch on forever. The Forbidden City has 9,999 rooms (9 is the most powerful and lucky number in Chinese culture), and the 10,000 room is considered to be Heaven. Moreover, I learned that the emperor living in the Forbidden City would sleep in a different room every night so that he could not be assassinated while he slept.
Today was absolutely incredible. We started the day by taking an hour bus ride outside of Beijing to the Great Wall of China (Badaling section). The hike to the top of the wall was difficult but the view was breathtaking and one of the greatest experiences of my entire life. The wall in its entirety is 13,170 miles long. (3)
After spending 3 hours at the Great Wall, we headed to Olympic Park and explored the famous Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium. Much like the Opera House, the architecture of the Bird’s Nest is awe-inspiring. We learned there were 13 final designs being considered for the stadium, but a panel of professionals selected the “nest scheme” for its unique and natural style. Walking inside and around the Bird’s Nest was very special to me because it was the first Olympic games that I truly remember growing up since it happened in 2008 and I was 9 years old at the time.
Leaving the Bird’s Nest, we walked past the Water Cube where Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals. We headed to dinner then walked to Silk Street. Exploring the Silk Market was an experience like nothing I’ve ever done. Bartering with the merchants was new for me because in America prices are typically set and no negotiation is allowed. At the Silk Market, I bought a designer wallet, Nike shoes, and two shirts for 40 US dollars.
We also visited the National Museum of China right next to Tiananmen Square. My favorite exhibit was titled “The Power of Truth”. This exhibit was all about the influence communism has had on China. In the U.S we’re taught capitalism is the best and only solution to freedom, however this exhibit idolizes Karl Marx and other communist thinkers/leaders. It was crazy to see communism shown in this light since we’re so used to being taught it is ineffective and chaotic way of leading.
After this museum, we visited CUMTB. This was an amazing experience that was incredibly eye-opening. At the school, I met a nice graduate student named Claire who gave me a tour of the campus. She told me that at least 6 people live in a single dorm, and dormitories are separated by gender. Also, the bathrooms are in a completely different building across campus that students have to walk to in order to shower or relieve themselves. After this experience, I certainly won’t take my amenities at PSU for granted.
Dalian (May 12th-13th)
Arriving in Dalian at 8 am was rough, I didn’t sleep well on the train. But we checked into the hotel and headed to Rockwell Automation Facility. It was once again eye-opening visiting Rockwell and seeing first-hand how an international company operates. Seeing the company dynamic and how it operates in the Chinese cultures is slightly different than in the U.S but for the most part office etiquette seems to be the same. Leaving Rockwell, we drove around Dalian and went to an amusement park in the city right on the water. This area was full of young people skateboarding, flying kites, and enjoying the rides. (4)
Visiting the Number 7 Middle School is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. We were taught a lesson about Mother’s Day since we visited on Mother’s Day. The middle school students also performed for us; they reenacted scenes from the Sound of Music and also danced a ceremonial dance. The middle school students spoke excellent English and were very interested in my duties as a college student in the U.S. We had an amazing lunch with the students at the school; my table talked about American sports the entire time. It was hard saying goodbye to the kind students we had met, nevertheless we headed to the airport to fly to Xian. (5)
Yangtze Cruise (May 15th-18th)
We caught an early morning train to Yichang (hard sleeper) this morning. Almost the whole day was spent on this train, we got to the cruise ship at night after driving through the countryside. The sky was beautiful and the stars were easily seen since we were away from the light pollution and smog of the cities. We boarded the cruise and spent the night, ready for the days on the river ahead of us.
Today we finally slept in, then bussed to the Three Gorges Dam. Driving up on the Dam we were able to see the three different parts of the project; the lock system, the turbine housing, and the underground section also used for power production. The dam itself is 607 feet at its peak, and around 2.3 kilometers long (1.4 miles). Moreover, the hydroelectric energy produced supplies about 1/9 of all of China’s energy needs. (6)
Today we explored the Xiling Gorge on smaller boats. The excursion took us along the Shenlong Stream and we got to observe the gorges/mountains up close. I was amazed to learn that people still live in the hills of the gorges; I figured it was uninhabitable after the gorges flooded from construction of the Three Gorges Dam. After returning to the boat a couple of us watched the cruise ship navigate through the Wu Gorge, and later the Qutang Gorge, from the sundeck. (7)
The Fengdu Ghost City was different than anything else we had seen thus far. Climbing to the top of the mountain we saw dozens of scary looking statues that represented hell and the tortures that accompany it. Additionally, there was a bridge that was meant to be walked over with your significant other to promote happiness and longevity in the relationship. Our tour guide told us to not walk through the middle entrance to any of the building because that is reserved for practicing monks. Also we learned there are three tests that need to be passed before moving onto the next life. After the Ghost City we all headed back to the boat for a farewell dinner with the captain of the boat. (8)
Chongqing (May 19th-23rd)
We arrived in Chongqing this morning and carried out luggage from the boat into the city. Our bus picked us up and we went straight to the Three Gorges Dam Museum. Having seen the Three Gorges Dam in person it was cool to learn more about the project than what was explained to us by our tour guide on site. The 360 movie we watched was also cool because all the views looked so familiar to the views I experienced on the boat. We then walked through the City Hall Plaza and could see the government building. As I walked through the plaza I saw large groups of people singing and sharing food together while playing board games. The culture in China is much different than in the U.S when it comes to public gatherings. In the U.S typically people do not convene in parks of plazas that often, they are more reclusive than people in China. (9)
The next day (May 20th) was a free day for everyone. We slept in a little then headed out to get lunch. A group of us got pizza hut and ate two large peking duck pizzas (very good). We then tried to find a market place similar to Silk Market in Beijing. We got very lost since none of us had cellular data but it worked out well because we got to explore the city of Chongqing. We saw a fashion show, got a pedicure from little fish in a tank, and fished the Yangtze river with a stranger. All in all, the day was beneficial in just experiencing the city and absorbing the culture around us. (10) (11)
Visiting the Ford factory is on the same level of amazing things on this trip like visiting Number 7 Middle School and CUMTB. Although we couldn’t take pictures I will never forget walking around this facility. At the factory, we witnessed the assembly line and saw first-hand how Ford vehicles are put together. The most interesting part of this process to me was the robots installing the windshields. The robots used lasers to precisely locate where the windshield needed to be installed, then set them into place. This process moved very rapidly and was amazing to watch for a few minutes. Additionally, I really understood how the culture of China impacts engineering when our guide told us about how most Ford SUV’s come with optional third row seating, however in China the third row is always installed because the population is so large the vehicle needs to be able to seat as many people as possible. Wrapping up the tour we asked the Plant Manager some questions and one that remains prevalent in my mind is that only machines run maintenance on the robots creating the product, meaning that no humans are involved in assurance testing the robotics. This surprised me very much since technology is not always reliable and stigmatized in American culture for putting people out of work; however, it seems in China they have greater trust in the technology being used.
Shanghai (May 28th-June 2nd)
Today we got on a bus headed to Shanghai. On the way, we visited the Hangzhou Bay Bridge, the second longest bay bridge in the world (roughly 22 miles long). The bridge is built in a unique S-shape to reduce tension from the currents in the bay. After stopping on the observation deck to take some pictures we continued riding to Shanghai.
We tried visiting Chongming Island this morning but unfortunately it was closed for construction. We then drove around the Dongtan Eco-City Project and learned that the area will be completely green in the near future with solar panels and electric vehicles. After this bus tour, we went to a market in the city and I got lunch and some souvenirs for my family. After spending time at the market we went to the Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world. The tower over looked the entire city and we were many floors above the business building which was previously the tallest building in the area. (12)
Today we visited Shanghai Disney. We spent nearly 12 hours at the amusement park and got to experience the culture impact on the common Disney characters we see in the U.S. It was very odd to see the Disney characters I grew up watching, speaking Mandarin. Moreover, it was surprising and very cool to see the montage of characters at the end of the night in the light show; they sung primarily in Mandarin to the same tune they do in the English version of the movies. (13)
The following game we went to the Ambassador’s Gardens, which was once a private garden until the Chinese government took control of it to allow tourists to visit. We got to see bonsai trees and enjoy the relaxing feng shui. Additionally, I learned about how frequently and differently bamboo is used in China. We sat in bamboo chairs in a bamboo gazebo eating boiled bamboo shoots. We left the bamboo park to ride a boat along a man made canal, shaped over 2000 years ago. Along the canal were man made bridges crafted 1300 years ago. After the boat ride, we sat in traffic coming back into Shanghai for a while, but when we returned a group of us walked down to the Bund to see the skyline at night. The view was breathtaking and trumps any other skyline I’ve ever seen in my life. (14)
Today class concluded. It was really hard to say goodbye to all the lifelong friends I had made on the trip, and leave the country that I had come to love so much. Our flight departed around 3:30 local time and we left China.