Monday, June 1, 2015
Today we had to leave all of our amazing friends and hosts from Chengdu and took an early flight to our last destination, the city of Beijing. We arrived and were met at the airport by the one of the directors of international programs from Beijing Sport University and got on the bus to the campus. After we arrived we unpacked our stuff in our rooms in the international programs dormitory building and headed to lunch. After lunch six students from BSU took us on a tour of the beautiful campus. We were then introduced to the dean of the international school and were shown a video of the university and learned what they have to offer.
After a speech by the dean and director we continued our tour of the campus and arrived at the national training center, which is a training gym, that houses an array of national and Olympic level Chinese teams such as rhythmic gymnastics, weightlifting, trampoline and track and field. Hongwei was able to get us in to watch the practice of the rhythmic gymnasts, which has never happened! We all felt extremely privileged and thankful that we were able to get an inside look at such a private practice. We watched them practice and perform their routines and it was astonishing how talented they were.
There were little girls there who were just admitted into the program/school for rhythmic gymnastics and were just 8-10 years old! These athletes stay on the campus and practice all day everyday in order to prepare for national and world level competitions including the Olympics. It was really amazing to see how intense their practices are and it almost felt like we were able to have a first look at top-secret Olympic routines! We watched the trampoline practice as well and Hongwei told us that they have dominated the sport for a very long time. We then were able to get a quick look at the indoor track, which was also so beautiful. We went to dinner after touring the center and then walked to a big mall with some of the Chinese student volunteers. We came back to our dorms and got good nights sleep in order to be prepared for the next day of sight seeing and adventure!
This morning at breakfast we wound up eating at the same table as an Olympic gymnast! We had no idea who she was at first but then Hongwei pointed out that she was a gymnast in the Barcelona Olympics and a bunch of other national and international competitions. Her name is Yang Bo and she was amazing at the balance beam, so good that they named a move after her! After breakfast we got to experience some of Beijing’s famous traffic jams on our way to the Summer Palace, a place created for the Emperor to stay cool in the summer. This traffic was not very fun!
The Summer Palace was absolutely beautiful and we learned all the history about it as we walked through. We walked through the longest corridor in the whole world. We also walked up to see the Buddhist temple at the top of the Summer Palace, which had the Thousand Hand Guayani Buddha inside of it. The view from the top was breathtaking and you could see the entire site including the man made lake and all the mountains. The temple itself was also stunning. There were people inside who were praying to the Buddha and lighting incense. There was a little shop inside that was selling beautiful prayer beads. After we hiked down all the stairs we made our way to see a famous marble boat that was made of concrete and marble.
We ventured back to campus and ate some lunch then prepared for our trip to the Olympic Park! First we went to the Bird’s Nest and we where allowed to drive our bus under the facility for VIP service (thanks Hongwei)! We took “The President’s Path” which meant we were going through all of the VIP spots the many Presidents who attended the Olympics that year got to go to. We went to the room where the Chinese Government meet and sat in all of their fancy chairs (thanks Hongwei)! We walked out to the stadium and it was bigger than I could have imagined. We were allowed to sit in the seats that the Chinese government sat in (thanks Hongwei). After we took 5 million pictures, we took an elevator to the top of the Bird’s Nest and saw a view of all of Beijing, which was so incredible! We rushed over to the Water Cube and they were setting up or a big concert and also had the place set up from APEC so we couldn’t see the actual water or pool, however we were allowed to go down onto the floor and the pool was right underneath (thanks Hongwei)! It was an incredible experience.
We came back for dinner and prepared for a performance that the Chinese student volunteers wanted us to put on. We met students from the University of Minnesota who were doing the same kind of program as us. We learned about calligraphy and played a bunch of games. It was a really nice way to meet all of the students from all over the U.S and China. What an amazing day!
Monday, June 1, 2015
The first place we went today was the Chengdu Panda Base. Chengdu is the home of the Giant Panda. At this base we saw a bunch a pandas ranging in age. I had never seen a panda in person before. It was an amazing opportunity, we went early enough so the pandas were still active. Pandas’ diets consist of mostly bamboo now, they use to consume more meat regularly, but they have evolved as a result of changes in their environment. When we watched the video about the panda, I was surprised to see how much smaller the newborn pandas where compared to fully grown pandas. According to the WWF website, newborn pandas are 1/900th of their fully grown size, making them one of the smallest newborn mammals- compared to their possible fully grown size.
After going to the panda base and reading more about pandas online, I am surprised that they are not extinct. They are incredibly sensitive to their environment and their newborn are extremely vulnerable. Pandas typically have only one cub at a time and they tend to reproduce every two years. As we saw in the video at the panda base, the mothers do not always carefully handle their new born cubs. They don’t always know how to take care of them, so in places like the Chengdu Panda Base, they workers there sometimes take the cubs from their mothers so they are safe and properly cared for. A lot has been done to help save and regrow the panda population, I think that going to the panda base and learning about these amazing animals aids in spreading awareness of the issue. There is no other creature on this planet quite like the giant panda.
Monday, June 1, 2015
5/24: Chengdu: Pandas (Alison’s Blog), Sichuan Art Museum, Sichuan Changing Face and Performances
A small group of students traveled to the Sichuan Art Museum. We saw ancient ceramics, ethnic Chinese minority art, frescoes on thin paper scrolls, Guangdong artifacts, and much more. Aside from all of the details, I was simply amazed by the variety of art and the variety of cultures that contribute to the differences in art and its creation. Different regions contain different resources and treasures with which to create art. Some found porcelain pots to be unpractical and used cheaper clay and other materials to make them instead, for the sake of durability and function. Due to the available resources, the colors used to pain the pots were restricted to red, blue, yellow, and black, and each was uniquely symbolic. It quickly became evident that “Chinese culture” is much more than the vague term appears. Minority groups don’t gain much attention, and their cultures are just as important as the land that has shaped them and their neighbors. Some cultures specialized in ivory carvings and others in the most intricate embroidery. It was very interesting to also observe a progression of ancient to modern art; some modern works could be seen in the shops and separate areas of the museum, as well as around China wherever we go. The history of China’s people is reflected in its art, music, dance, and environment. Every people has a history and a culture. Each ought to be respected, especially in their dark times, through the suffering and perseverance of their people.
The Sichuan opera and changing faces performances also represent this idea of history captured in art. Sets of traditional Chinese dances alternated with other performances, including the shadow hands story about the simple daily activity of animals and man; the tea master act; an erhu performance of the popular horse race piece; pot and table balancing acts and yo-yo; the classic act about an angry wife punishing her husband who went out to play mahjongg without inviting her; and Sichuan changing face. Such performances, in the setting of a smoky room with tea, are a glimpse into the history, humor, reverence, and discipline of the culture around us. I couldn’t figure out how they were accomplishing the changing face act, and it still stumps me. I wonder how it is taught and how the skills are kept so secret. It is amazing that the rapture that can be found in this entertainment is just as strong today as it was at the time of its creation. I almost envy the strong sense of community that could be sensed in that room; it is a rich one that transcends thousands of years of history. The love felt towards the culture is evident by its people’s devotion to its beautiful art forms, in their perpetuation of Chinese talent and innovation. As previously mentioned, it is so interesting to observe the juxtaposition of ancient and modern, as these performances were held in the same building as a shopping mall with all modern amenities and fashion. While China continues to develop and make discoveries, it will not forget its past.
Thursday, May 28, 2015
We started the day with our second Chinese 101 class where we got to interact more with the Chinese students. We were all more comfortable with each other after the class and exchanged WeChat information to talk during the day. Then we went to the martial arts building and dressed in our white robes to attend our first Tai Chi class. We walked into the building and received stares from all of the students. Our instructor Li Wei was very enthusiastic to have us there and wanted to teach us everything! We started by warming up and stretching and the Chinese students found it hilarious how horrible all of our flexibility was. We learned the first 4 movements to an 8-movement choreography. It took us almost 2 hours to learn and we still needed to watch Li to remember the moves. He taught us about the flow of energy and how the moves are all based on fighting to defend the city. The studetns joined us throughout the class to help us and correct our form. During our breaks the students performed their skills including a chain whip and traditional Wushu Tai Chi. We learned that some of the students were national champions and famous in China and that a group of them were training for the upcoming nationals. We took a lunch break and then practiced for 2 more hours and some of the students took turns teaching us.
We were scheduled to perform in the closing ceremony of the 7th new arts festival and one of our students Keryn was performing a musical piece with two other Chinese students. When we entered the auditorium it was packed with hundreds of Chinese students who all followed us to our seats to take pictures of us. We sat and watched the end of the festival until we were introduced and we had to stand again for all the Chinese students to see us. We felt very embarrassed because we were all in our white outfits and clearly not Chinese Tai Chi students. We walked to the front stage and did our performance, which went very smoothly. All of the students were very impressed with how much we learned in just one day. Keryn performed next and did an amazing job and all of the Chinese students were in awe of how well she played.
After the performance we had dinner and went to a “party” hosted by the Chinese students in their school. They prepared many games for us including draw the nose on the girl and other games similar to Pictionary. They were great icebreakers and the students became very comfortable around us. They invited to go to a tourist area similar in concept to the commons but much bigger to walk around and try Chinese beer. The streets were decorated with lanterns and flags and there were many vendors and shops and restaurants to go to. We sat outside by a small pond and ordered Chinese beer which was similar in taste to budlight but was much stronger. Then we tried a German beer, which was more flavorful than the Chinese beer. We played a few drinking games and noticed that the Chinese students did not drink very much but Chinese adults drink a lot. They all either didn’t like the beer or did not want to drink. We got to know the students much better and had a really enjoyable night with them all!
Thursday, May 28, 2015
Today in our Chinese Language class Professor Yang Fei gave us a brief introduction to his beautiful city of Chengdu. It is the capital of the Sichaun Province and is a very important economic hub in this part of China. Chengdu is over 3,000 years old and is filled of amazing stories and many historic places. The city was voted the 4th most livable city in China by China Daily. It is referred to as “the country of heaven” or the land of abundance because of all of its resources. Chengdu was built of circles surrounding center city which is called Tianfu Square that has numerous amounts of historical building as well as many important businesses.
Yangfei told us about many different historical and tourist sites that would be fun to go check out during our stay in China. These included the Jinsha site which is museum that has many ancient artifacts and relics and Mt Qing Cheng which is a Taoist temple. Taoism is the only recognized religion in China and one of its main philosophies is that “everything comes from nothing” and the goal is to find inner peace and make use of your self. He also talked to us about different Taoist temples as well as one Buddhist temple named the Wen Shu Temple. There is a panda sanctuary located in Chengdu which we are visiting this weekend! He also told us about a few streets with local bars and clubs, which we were all very interested in. We actually ended up visiting one of the streets later that night and it was beautiful!
We also learned more Chinese phrases including hello, how are you, I’m very good, and how much is this, which were definitely useful as we walked around the town later. We learned how to say different family members names as well as I love you and I like you. YangFei was joking around with us about picking up Chinese students and taught us how to say handsome and beautiful. The other class we took today was Wushu where we learned Tai Chi and watched some of the martial arts students perform. It was amazing!