The City of Shanghai

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(June 1, 2016) With going through several different types of cities within our stay in China, this was one of my favorite cities to visit. Shanghai is a more modern, big city in China where we spent 6 days visiting and touring around. We visited ExxonMobi, gardens in Suzhou, the World Financial Building in Pudong, and the Bund in Central Shanghai. Visiting the World Financial Building and watching all the buildings on the Bund light up at sundown were my favorite parts.

The World Financial Building, located in Pudong has the 3rd tallest observation deck in the world, as well as the 7th tallest building in the world, and the 2nd tallest in China. Luckily, we all got to travel to the top… to the 100th floor! And it reminded me of the Willis Tower in Chicago, IL; where you can overlook the city on a viewing-glass platform that overlooks the city, except in China it was below our feet towards the middle and outside of the platform.

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Hong Qing Village

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Before departing for our final destination, Shanghai, our final night in Huangshan was spent paying a visit to a village on the outskirts of the larger city. We came to this rural area for the long awaited dinner at Xinli’s mother’s house. While being surrounded by tall buildings and massive amounts of people in a foreign nation is interesting, I was excited to traverse through a new environment. Being this is Xinli’s hometown, we toured around the entire village, met some locals, and cherished the beautiful scenery that encompassed Hong Qing Village. It seemed so peaceful, as everyone just continued on with their daily routines. Children would run around playing, local farmers were harvesting crops and most important of all, they all greeted us with smiles. It really put things into perspective, seeing how close neighbors are to one another it’s as if they are all just one family; it’s comforting. I can understand how people can enjoy living like this, even when the city is just a several miles away; the lifestyle may not be ideal for most people, but I can see how the villagers cherish the important pieces that they do have. The remainder of our stay in Hong Qing was surreal; we ate a wonderful homemade meal and spent our final moments setting off fireworks as the rain started to come down. We made it back to the bus with some of us wet, some covered in mud, but all of us full of smiles and laughter at the day’s end. I can never forget these days. I would go back and do it all again if I could.
May 27, 2016

Chongqing with Family

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Aside from all the wonderful experiences I had because of the program itself, the greatest experience of all was getting the chance to finally meet some relatives. Knowing that I had the opportunity to meet my sister-in-law’s family during our stay in Chongqing made me even more excited to reach this new destination. Initially I barely knew anything about my sister’s family and with only one of them knowing English, being with them was a bit uncomfortable and awkward to say the least. But that all quickly changed as I saw their excitement to meet me and they embraced me as if I was their own child. Despite the language barrier, I got to know all of them very well as we had a blast touring the streets to see the city and eating dinner together. One spot in particular we went to was Jiefangbei Square at the heart of Chongqing. It resembled Times Square in NYC. The rest of the night went unplanned but it was all still a blast.
The following night I got the opportunity to visit my aunt and uncle’s apartment nearby. They showed me around the house and the view of what I believe is Egongyan Bridge from their window. We spent the remainder of our time together around the living room table talking and taking pictures. It was all simple, yet so much fun. I appreciated getting to see more first hand of the lifestyle of locals in the city and comparing it to all other interactions I had experienced prior to this. More importantly, I am overjoyed that I spent these days with a family I never knew about. These days alone made this entire journey through China worth every second for me.

May 22-23, 2016

Terra Cotta Warriors

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Our stay in Xi’an was one of the shortest of the entire trip but I felt that we hit upon some of the most important and thrilling aspects of one of the oldest cities in China. After coming from some of the larger, modern cities such as Beijing and Dalian, it was refreshing to travel to this capital that is invested in its history. While I am sure there are plenty of other sites we could have visited in Xi’an, I am overjoyed that we at least traveled to Lintong to see what is considered one of the “Eight Wonders of the World.” The Terra Cotta Warriors exhibition was by far my favorite tourist site we visited during the entire trip. The amount of pictures I took at Pit 1 alone was excessive, let alone how many I took over the course of the day; but I felt it was necessary it capture every angle possible of these pits to fully grasp and recognize what we were observing. I wish I had a better lens or could have gotten closer for more details but these life size terracotta soldiers essentially show the craftsmanship of China from over 2000 years ago and the loyalty the people had towards their Emperor to craft such a large army. I was happy to be able to bring back home a piece of such astonishing artwork, and my father was certainly happy to receive this statue knowing how much he appreciated this site too. At the time we visited, there was roughly around 8,000 soldiers on display and knowing that more are constantly being discovered and restored, I hope to return one day to see more presented.
May 17, 2016

Student Interactions

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Visiting and learning about the differing architectural sites throughout China is interesting an all, but another important aspect I got the chance to experience is the lifestyle of students in China. Speaking with these students, both at college and middle school levels gave a great deal of insight on the similarities and differences between schooling in China and the U.S. In the first picture, I am standing with my awesome guide from the No. 7 Middle School of DDA, the local international middle school we visited in Dalian. His English name is Peter, he is in 7th grade and pretty fluent when speaking English. He was curious on what living in America is like, how the schools are there, and was clearly excited to hear first-hand what it is like in another country and I happily answered everything I could. In return I would ask the same, but I got a better scope on how different middle school in China is when touring through all the classes. Compared to my middle school experience, China schools appear to be more cultured and dynamic in what they teach. Overall I had a grand time spending time and learning from these students, as their excitement to have us present made the entire experience worthwhile.
May 14, 2016

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Another joyous time spent was during the days in Beijing with an international college student. His name is Chang Pu, he studies at the China University of Mining and Technology in Beijing (CUMTB), and he traveled with us during our stay in Beijing. I spent a great deal of time with him during the bus rides to new sites and got to talk to throughout the days before having him show us around his university. While the college campus lifestyle in China resembled ours, I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him and hearing his perspective on different ideas and just learning random little facts about China. It was a pleasure having him around those days and I am excited to hear from some more when he comes to study at Penn State this upcoming semester!

The Bird’s Nest

 

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Our days in Beijing were certainly the most activity intensive travels during the program; going from one day of walking around Tiananmen Square and the entire Forbidden City to having to wake up the next morning to scale the Great Wall. Even though I am accustom to running, my legs still ached after the Wall. But that did not stop my excitement to see the famous Bird’s Nest the same day. I initially did not know much about the Bird’s Nest aside from the fact that inside lies the Beijing National Stadium, the track field used for the 2008 Olympics. With my history of being a track runner, seeing this field and the entire arena was breathtaking. The stadium’s unique design separates Chinese architecture from the rest of the world and to me it gives insight to how Chinese culture will spare no expense to have their work recognizable, especially for such an important occasion such as the Olympics.

Alongside our exciting time seeing the Bird’s Nest, we followed it up by seeing one of several water show displays during our stay. This one was brief but I got the chance to capture some nice shots. Overall, the area surrounding Beijing National Stadium was just as interesting as the stadium itself. The only aspect I wish I got to see more of was the Water Cube nearby, but nevertheless this was a well spent day in Beijing.
May 11, 2016

Top of the world

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May 31 — We were fortunate enough to experience so many amazing things in the great city of Shanghai, but I think my favorite was visiting the observation deck in the Shanghai World Financial Center. We took an elevator up to the 100th floor, which was really incredible, since there are only a handful of buildings in the world over 100 floors, let alone in the United States.  Unfortunately, it was not a very clear night, which limited our views of the beautiful city, but just taking everything in, and thinking about where I was, made up for the loss in scenery.  Also, since it wasn’t clear, and we there at night, none of the photos turned out as well as I hoped. The elevator ride alone was an experience, as it was definitely the longest of my life.  My ears were popping as I watched the display counting up the floors. This is definitely something that I will remember for a long time.

Human Skateboards

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May 15 – Dalian is a city with lots of excitement. One day we spent the afternoon in a public area by the water.  In the bay there is a huge and impressive bridge, spanning the length.  Along the shore there is a small amusement park, massive hotels, a large open park, and, my favorite, a giant concrete ramp, which felt like a giant skateboard half-pipe, for lack of a better word.  You can walk across the ramp or climb up the sides, where it starts to get pretty steep. If you make it to the top and lay down, you will slide back down the incline, which was a ton of fun…Just be careful not to tear your clothing.  I was amazed that at the top and along the sides there are no safety railings.  I know that in the U.S. there would certainly be a railing, and tons of safety warning signs, which I saw none of.  This whole location was a blast, and I haven’t been to any place in the States that I can compare it to.

Goddess Stream

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May 20 — So far one of my favorite days of the program was the trip down the Goddess Stream. This offshoot of the Yangtze River is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  Our small boat floats down the river, engulfed by the steep cliffs and towering mountains on all sides.  The peaks of the mountains poke out of the fog, which adds a mysterious feeling.  Our tour guide told us that green tea leaves are grown up high in the mist.  It is an incredibly peaceful place, especially compared to the cities where most of our time has been spent.  Quite a ways down the stream we stop at a dock to watch some of the locals perform songs and dances for us.  This is such an incredible place, I could have spent hours just looking around and been completely happy.

Olympic Park, 8 years later

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May 11 — The Beijing Olympic park perfectly captures the essence of Chinese architecture. My observations have been that nearly everything they create is designed to catch your attention and create a lasting impression.   Nothing is made to be boring.  Thus, the Bird’s Nest, Water Cube, and surrounding buildings are designed with the same idea.  Average looking facilities simply wouldn’t do, so they constructed these unique buildings, which are sure to impress.  This is why they still attract so much tourist attention, close to a decade after they hosted the Olympics.  I also enjoyed picturing how the park must have looked during the Olympics, filled with crowds of people and tons of excitement.