Tuesday, July 31, 2007

East looks west

Judging by the look of billboards, magazine covers and other images that pummel you on the streets (between dodging cars, bikes carts and anything else with a horn) you might get the impression you are not in China but in the U.S. with a lot of odd type-style choices. The faces of non-Asians fill the downtown vistas. Along one city block in Beijing, of the eight massive billboards for a variety of trendy fashions, only one model had a slight resemblance to being Asian. Magazine covers (with many Western titles including Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan…) reveal the same sort of look. If you wanted to avoid Chinese culture and cuisine during a trip here, it wouldn’t be too hard, as a group just left for the nearby Starbucks. They have Wal-Mart and Buicks, Pizza Hut and the Disney Store, and the king of them all – KFC. I’m told going to a KFC is a special treat – a sort of date night place. They are easy to find (I spotted one across the street from another in Beijing and plenty here in Shangai) and I worry about this country’s cholesterol levels.

Then again, I could go for some fries…

At the University they are doing a lot of renovation (as the entire city looks massive construction site), but are thoughtful enough to post a banner, running about 100 meters, along the site.



For Carter

Well, I ripped apart my backpack to grab the camera in time to get these photos on the street for Carter. The the thing turned around and nearly ran me over. With all the people armed with brooms I never thought I would see this!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Housekeeping (or, things I should have mentioned along the way)

Ok, so I've resorted to writing this myself again. Sitting in my room overlooking the cityscape of downtown Shanghai after a night of bad Chinese TV (mostly games shows that are a tragic mix of US fare, with all involved guilty of extreme overacting ... but I did stumble upon a Chinese version of QVC! Good stuff!), good dinner with the Fry family (borsch along with stir-fried beef and rice at a cozy restaurant filled with red and blue velvet seating, then an ice cream treat from a street vendor) and a treacherous journey from the hotel and back, dodging cars, bikes, scooters (at night the preferred method of travel is without lights for the scooters∑). They somehow failed to mention that the bikes and scooters (and sometimes cars, trucks) ride up on the sidewalks too, so there is no real safe place to walk. My introduction was a car honking behind me on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. I made it a whole 12 feet from the safety of my lodging before running into trouble. Another tip; if you hear a horn honking or bell ringing (old bicycle style ... rrrinnnggggg-rrriinnggg) you must ALWAYS yield if you care to survive. It seems quite clear if you possess any audible warning device, you have the right-of-way ... street, parking lot, sidewalk, wherever. It was a thrill to witness Dr. Fry nearly get struck by a car, with her saying, "Well, I had the green man," (the walk/don't walk are green man/red hand of death). I mentioned we could put that on her headstone.

Even inside things here have a new type of danger. If you think you can get an elevator door in China to stop from closing by inserting a body part, be prepared to live the rest of your days without that part. And to add to the challenge, the doors stay open approximately 1.57 seconds. They have places to go. Inside your hotel room is a nifty feature -- a room key holder. Too fancy you say? Well, this also controls all the power to the room. So, enter room, insert key and lights come on! This is also when the air conditioning kicks in too, so the rooms are pretty steamy upon arrival. Just don't pull out the key (say, to check the phone number of the hotel in case you talk your wife into calling so you can hear her sweet voice for a moment) or you'll be left in the dark.

Throwing caution to the wind, I venture out into the Shanghai night and visit a local supermarket down the block from my hotel. Another thing I have forgotten to mention is the absence of doors in most establishments, but the use of strips of plastic (ala walking into a warehouse freezer type). Perhaps the perception will be you can cool off if you walk on through, but tonight I was just people watching and picking up some basic room supplies (fruit, candy, bottles of tea and a Chinese version of Harry Potter for Franci). I avoid buying everything in sight thinking "Cool! Look at this bag of Tang with Chinese writing" (though I MIGHT really need some Tang!) and every other product I recognize, but repackaged somehow (the Oreos ARE kinda cool too!). The prices seem very reasonable (roughly 45 cents for a Snickers bar and the same for a bottle of ice tea ... my new favorite is green tea with lemon- Ummm!) and the place is packed on a Monday night. The check out is about a dozen people deep, with people buying everyday items. Like HEB in China, except for the guy at the fish tank with a net tossing fish into the air, or the hard to identify fruits and veggies, and the fact no one in the entire store understands a word you utter. My checkout goes like most transactions, a smile, and nod of the head and production of money. Questions are answered with a smile and nod (from me) or a smile, stream of loud, unintelligible phrases and a series of nods (from others). Handing over money seems to smooth all the problems, most of the time. It was nice just taking part in a common occurrence in an uncommon place.

Tomorrow, more classroom work and perhaps a trip to indoor skiing!


updated post below

The "Summer Palace Tour" post has been updated!

Baylor I5

More writing from April:

Baylor I5

Baylor in Shanghai is the I5 program’s newly developed study abroad opportunity designed to link upper level engineering/computer science students and business students in prospering economic setting through cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Dr. Greg Leman, University Director of Entrepreneurial Initiatives, envisioned a learning environment in which students could learn the technical side of and industry along with business principles. Dr. Leman teamed up with professor Cindy Fry from Baylor Engineering and Computer Science, Dr. Anne Grinols from Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business, Dr. Robert Hisrich from Thunderbird University, Dr. Bright Shi, Dr. Gao Guangkuo and Professor Ray Zhang from USST to implement the program.

Shanghai, China is on the cutting edge of developing business and technology and was thus chosen for the program’s location. Nineteen American students signed up for the start-up summer program and were joined by 21 Chinese students from USST in Shanghai. To enhance the cultural experience Tai Chi, Mandarin and Chinese/American history are taught along side the business classes. While in China, MBA and undergraduate students work directly with Chinese companies on various projects that add value to the companies and give the students useful business and technical work experience.

The six companies / entrepreneurs participating in the program include:
• USCN (Shenzhen)
• Dow Corning Corporation
• VMI (USST Science Park)
• E5S Corp (Jinan)
• Perfect Software Corporation Ciapetti Import Company

Morning Tai Chi

Here's a haiku from April Leman, now helping with the blog. (Yes, it's become too much for just me!) Each morning students take part in Tai chi lessons in a courtyard next to the classrooms. The sounds of string music and the fluid movements wash over the campus. Watching is a simple pleasure. Enjoy!

Early courtyard dance
Of "supreme ultimate force"
A balance of Yin and Yang

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Good morning from Shanghai!

This might have do for tonight's blog entry as I went to bed after midnight working on photos, then awoke a bit after 5 to a very strange sight to me ... the sun, as I have yet to see it during my visit here in China. The smog/smoke/haze makes spotting the sun a rare treat and you have to imagine what the towering white skyscrapers MIGHT look like against a blue sky. But not many blue skies here, and we told that during the process of the site visits by the Olympic committee, the government would shut down factories to clear the air before their arrival. But here's a photo of our morning as we get a glimpse at Monday a bit earlier than you. And for all the students who are sleeping in today ... here's what a sunrise looks like. Out my window, a solitary figure begins the day with some Tai Chi, and music from a nearby stadium drifts over the city while a group of athletes jog around the soccer field.

After a long weekend of touring, it is back to the classroom for the students. I promise to write about our tour of the Summer Palace and the adventures of shopping at Silk Street. Plus if anyone has questions about the group (yes, he did walk the Great Wall barefoot…) just let me know through the blog, as Franci has been passing along your comments. For some reason I have been unable to access the site myself now, so my loving wife has been working hard at posting stories and photos. My thanks to my love.

Just one last thought – on the ride to the hotel last night after a long day, the conversation in the back of the bus turns nostalgic for things at home, like Taco Bell, family and home (we have noted that the day we are melancholy about missing Waco water is the time to return). While the group is enjoying the adventure, we often turn our thoughts back home. Me? I’m have about a dozen students looking for a Chinese Port-A-Potty for me to photograph for Carter! Every once and awhile you’ll hear someone yell out “There’s one!” and we aren’t talking about any sort of historical site of China.

Good Night Baylor and Good Morning Shanghai.

I hope you all get to enjoy our sun in a few hours. Until then, sweet dreams.


Tour of the Summer Palace

You know, it's kind of funny that I've found a way to outsource my work while in China. It really DOES work!

Here's Amber:

Beijing Weekend
Amidst the Chinese masses, Baylor students and faculty spent a warm, hazy Sunday afternoon exploring the wonders of Beijing's Summer Palace and Silk Road marketplace.

The Summer Palace is named for the season it receives the most visitors -- often 40,000 daily during the summer months. The ancient towers sit pristinely along the shores of the. Lilly pads blooming with lipstick pink flowers line the edges of shoreline and add to the oddly serene atmosphere despite the crowds of people and vendors. One of the palace‚s historical highlights is the Rock of Bankruptcy. The large boulder first brought the jealousy of an Emperor upon a wealthy rock lover and later was said to resemble an ingot of silver and was deemed a symbol of prosperity. After touring the grounds, one of many large boats decorated with dragonheads sailed everyone across the lake and back to the streets of Beijing.

The tour bus then shuttled everyone to the much-anticipated Silk Road marketplace. The locals hawk their wares -- from knock-off designer handbags to silk robes and electronics -- in a five-story warehouse. Only the strong-minded and persistent survive the intense haggling and aggressive shop owners. Most shoppers run into problems determining high from low quality materials and then translating the quality into a reasonable price. A general rule of thumb is to divide the designated price of an item by five and refuse to pay more than the quotient. Most determined shoppers, in the end, get their price but not without frustrating the workers who often resort yelling, pulling and grabbing in order to motivate you into their store. Needless to say, the cultural barriers are huge, but at the end of the day everyone seemed quite satisfied with their purchases.

And from Robbie:

The morning after shopping brings out students showing off their bargains like pirates displaying their haul after taking over a smaller ship. Silk, pearls and other booty were part of the treasures. But the sword clanging was the largest part of the fun in shopping (and I had some help from students in the price-reduction process. An 80% off deal was a good bit of work).

First off, imagine flea market like stalls spilling over with shirts, ties, silk, jewelry, shoes ... well, you name it and you could buy it here. At each a sentry greets you in a wide variety of ways, but mostly yelling at you to come in, should you happen to make eye contact, no matter how brief. Some reach out to grab you by the sleeve. Some try the full on, hand on both shoulders grab ... a lot like a rowdy game of indoor touch football. You are surround by stuff you probably might want, really don‚t need, but will end up taking home.

"Hello handsome man," was one of my favorites (I only heard it about a few hundred times) in the yell out category. And before you ask, there was NO WAY I was going to take a camera into this shopping insane asylum, as it would have been marked down to about $12 USD and sold off. "Some toys for your children?" "Something for your girlfriend or wife?" "Need some underwear?"

So you want to buy something? Well, you take a look the booth, with a new shadow attached to your every move. Should you make eye contact with an item, or ask a price, the vendor whips out a calculator and punches up some numbers the both of you know will never be the final price. (By the way, the large plastic calculator, sort of an older-style desktop model, really is put to good use all over the city to help tell non-Chinese speakers what to pay. Just a little pointing and a calculator can get you most anything) The art of bargaining is become friends of the deal and dealer. They want to haggle and you want some cheap stuff. "Give me your best price," they ask you. You knock off about 90%. They cry out, roll eyes, make sad pouty faces and plead, "Give me just a little more!" If you have begun this process, or are holding the item you want to purchase, OR the calculator, you are now in a formal long-term relationship with this vendor. You try to walk away; they cling to you, repeating the phrase for more money. You REALLY try to leave, and then begrudgingly accept your offer or talk harshly about your heritage. It is more show than shopping and not for the timid.

After two hours of this madness we were back on the bus, comparing loot and prices. Now, we have to figure out what to do with four handbags and a dozen pair of sunglasses ... Merry Christmas! (... and if you think we've had our fill of this, planning another shopping outing this week.)


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Here I am Lord

Ben and I decide to take in Mass at the Catholic Church across the street from the hotel. Our guide has mentioned this is the oldest church in China, so worth a visit. A crush of people force into the packed church and at first we are stranded in the back, after being handed a bulletin filled with the Mass and events of the week, all in Chinese. This is the third service of the day, held in Chinese (they begin in Latin, then two Chinese services and one in English) and they are prompt, as the service begins at 8:30 a.m. An usher spots the two tall Americans in the back and leads us to the front, with really no place to sit. A man gets up from the kneeler and leads me over to take his spot, and then I am offered a seat. Inside the temperature reaches 32c (do the math…I don’t know the conversion quite yet) and the oscillating fans strapped to each column try to cool us, but still a sweaty gathering. The building is majestic, but the trappings inside are simple. The cross in the front of the church is modest, with two floodlights putting it in a reverent (but a little like a yard display) glow. The front wall is covered by a huge framed painting of Mary, with portraits of angels on each side. Large-bulb multi-color Christmas lights surround Mary. Potted plants are placed around the altar and benches and kneelers are placed tight together with little room to stand. The place is packed. I spot one teen texting in the pew ahead, as another doses off while writing a note. A toddler complains until mom takes her out to bring back an orange drink and the entire time the air is filled with music and gospel. They clap while singing and smiling, nodding people surround me. This is a very inviting place and I feel welcome to celebrate Mass here. A woman next to me tries to strike up a conversation, but I am unable to converse in her language. We end the chat with smiles and nods. That I can do.

Looking around, I notice the light fixtures (chandeliers hanging from the vaulted ceiling) seem modern, as does the stained glass, looking a bit more like a large window cling with a Jesus/Pokemon feel. I’m guessing this place has seen some rough times over the years. Together we all rise up, join hands and pray together before Communion. We turn and greet each other, which is yet another round of smiles and nods. A crush of people head to the altar and I am greeted by the priest, who tells me “The body of Christ” in the best English I have heard in awhile (well, missing a Texas twang and sounding a little like James Earl Jones). Except for the occasional Amen and Alleluia I can’t discern much from this morning. Yet I feel the presence of God filling this space. And while I am kneeling on the black, stone floor, far from family and home, a familiar hymn settles over us from the loft above – Here I am Lord. It seems as if I’ve been located and I am comforted by knowing I am never too far away.

As we leave the church, Ben and I meet up again, now facing a sea of people trying to get into church for the next service. We are guessing more than a thousand are attending each Mass. It was amazing to see the number of people at this place.

Enjoy your Sunday and find your place.


Ming Tombs

Great BIG Wall

I can now understand why you can see the Great Wall from outer space. If you climb high enough, you can reach up and touch the satellites as they pass over. Our climb this morning was blessed with “cooler” weather (still seems hot to me, but could have been worse, I guess) and our guide mentioned that climbing the wall turned people into “heroes”. The place was packed, so the assent was slowly paced, with all climbing and sweating and heavy breathing at the same time. A group from Antioch joined us for the day, as they are here on business for the church. We had 100 minutes to hit the stairs (which have indents into the stone after I’m guessing years of tourists making the trek) and several made it to the highest point of this part of the wall. I got as far as the spot in the photo, waiting to catch my breath and hoping to make photos of Baylor folks on the climb down. No adventure of mine is without incident as I ended up getting flashed while on my descent – as a female climber was headed up, she paused long enough to use the bottom of her shirt to wipe her brow. Of course this Chinese woman was about a million years old too. My memories of the wall may be a bit scarred.

After lunch (which included a visit to a host of shops – and NO bartering the price! We were told by our guide Tony all prices are fixed, which is not typical of China markets. But, well… maybe we can take a little off… Like perhaps the jade cat for roughly $24,000 USD. Sorry Franci, I didn’t get this for you.) we visited the Ming Tombs (as if we didn’t get in enough walking already) and toured the gardens and tomb. It was a bit more leisurely paced and did
get to enjoy the four-star toilet there. It did live up to it’s rating!

It is now night here and after nearly getting killed just crossing the street to check on Sunday service time at the oldest Catholic church in China located across from the hotel, it is time to prepare for another day. We are flying out to Shanghai tomorrow and the start of our week in the classroom.