Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Day 36: The Final Post

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The end of a long journey in China. We all woke up this morning after a long night of bittersweet celebration and said our goodbyes. Many of us are traveling straight home and some to interesting destinations after the trip. Kush will be traveling across southeast Asia, Kevin to Singapore, and Julia down the coast to Hong Kong. I will be finishing the week in Shanghai then headed to Guilin, in Guangxi province, and then fly home from Hong Kong. 

I am looking forward to pacing my own trip. I feel I have taken away a solid base of knowledge from this dialogue which will allow me to more critically analyze the experiences I will have on the rest of my trip. This ability wasn't easily earned. Days were spent listening to speakers, visiting sites, and writing papers all broken up by the moments of oddity (Dong Laoshi falling into a fish pond, meeting a millionaire in his home,  frantically sprinting to board our flight to Chengdu). 

If I could give advice to anyone coming on this dialogue in the future it would be; suck it up. You will face difficult moments from translation mishaps to squat toilets (Leah even got hit by a car). You could eat the same bowl of noodles and one day your completely fine and the next your studying notes from the toilet. I chose to return to China because I yearned to be stripped of expectations. Not only has this allowed me to become self-reliant using my mandarin but its incredibly exciting. Once we walked into a grocery store to find that it was a dance club that only played the parts of songs where the beat drops. Another time we went to see a band and bought some food for our table. After ordering in Mandarin our waitress remained by our table looking at us. After about 5 minutes, in a perfect Godfather-esq accent, she said "Give me all your money, now". 

It is the same reason humans are fascinated with space and the depths of the ocean, this need to explore and understand. My host dad took me to a park and pointed at all the high-rises on the skyline and told me that 40 years ago none of these buildings were here.  During our time at Sichuan University, two new restaurants were built on our school buildings street. You could leave Beijing on a weekend trip to come back and find that your entire neighborhood has changed. As we've seen with the hutongs and tea houses, things are more-so evolving rather than being destroyed so there are new experiences constantly being made for you. It can be quite terrifying the sheer expanse of China, so just take a deep breath and keep moving because there is a lot to see.  

Thank you Dong Laoshi and Benny for the planning and translation effort it took to create and manage this dialogue. 

- Jack H.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Day 35: Last Day

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Today we finally got to sleep in a little bit; it was very nice to get some good rest after being constantly on the move for 34 days. However, today was officially the last day of the program, and it was relatively packed. We were up at 10 to listen to a man name John Pasden, a linguist based in Shanghai who specializes in the western education of the Chinese language. He offered us some great resources and tips for learning Mandarin, which are helpful after an intensive study of the language. He was very knowledgeable of the subject and even gave Dong Laoshi (董老师) a gift, a graded Chinese reader that they have recently published! 

After Pasden spoke to us, we then heard from a panel of three business students who graduated from Northeastern and do business in Shanghai. While they also offered some great insight about learning Chinese, they also explained what it's like to be a foreigner living in such a culturally different city, which was helpful since most of us would like to return to China one day. 

After the two presentations, we had a short break during which we ate some lunch. A group of us went to a local wonton restaurant after getting Bubble Tea from our favorite spot (Yi Dian Dian). After that, Leanne and I dipped into the Fish and Insect market with the five minutes we had left until our next dialogue to see what they had to offer; there we saw all kinds of fish, crickets, and kittens. We even saw a cage full of chipmunks and a turkey, which we thought was kind of odd, but we didn't question it.

The next dialogue was at an artist's home, and we had to take a Didi there ourselves; I was in a car with Leanne, Cedrick, and Gustaf, and we got lost for a short moment before we found out we entered the artist's neighborhood from the wrong gate. Once we were with the group, we went into the artist's home and listened to him talk about all his paintings. They were beautiful, and he gave us each a book full of copies of some of them, which will be an amazing souvenir to bring home to my family.

After the dialogue, we traveled to the Grand Hyatt in Didis; we didn't get lost again, which was fortunate because the view from the building's 54th floor was phenomenal. We were supposed to hold our final group discussion meeting there, but there wasn't enough room for us, so we just went straight to the location of our final group dinner. After we held the discussion, we enjoyed a delicious meal and were treated to an impromptu dance party, as pictured. It was a great way to officially end the program. 

We split up after the meal to make plans for the night; we want to make the most of our final night in Shanghai and have a good time with each other. We've grown so close together during this 34-day program, and we're like a family now. As I type this and prepare to pack for my departure tomorrow, I know I am going to miss all the friends I've made until I can see them again in the fall. I'd rather spend the day tomorrow exploring Shanghai, but a fourteen-hour flight doesn't seem so bad when I get to spend it with a few amazing people. 

- Michael J.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Day 34: IDEO and Honeywell

Monday, June 11, 2018

Today was an exciting 3rd day in Shanghai. We started off the day by getting a tour of a design firm called IDEO. IDEO was actually originally founded in Palo Alto, California and is now based in San Francisco. The American influence of the company was quite apparent as everyone spoke fluent English and the layout of the office space gave a laid-back Bay Area vibe. The talk was quite fascinating as we learned about IDEO's ventures both with clients and regular Chinese citizens. For instance, a recent project of theirs had been working with rural farmers to help gather information surrounding the agricultural industry in China. After the talk we were given a tour of the office space which was quite amazing. The open floor plan, comfortable chairs, and all the other small details were all there for particular reasons. They then pointed us to a map of Shanghai on the wall with a list of recommendations. I tried to frantically memorize the list as there were no photos allowed in IDEO. 

Once the tour concluded we said goodbye and headed to lunch, then it was on to the next company; Honeywell. Honeywell is a  product design and manufacturing company. We started our visit with a quick look through of their products and international reach. It was fascinating to see the multitude of products they are involved with from non-cut gloves to bulletproof vests. The types of products they manufacture are often the ones you would not think about, an earplug dispenser for instance. After the quick tour, there were numerous talks and presentation regarding the finances of the company as well as its design process. It was quite fascinating, as Honeywell is also an American based company, to see how the same company works across the world from each other. 

Once the Honeywell tour was over we were given the rest of the day to explore Shanghai by ourselves. I headed immediately to dinner as the tours had rendered me starving. I enjoyed a large plate of sweet and sour pork and an order of dumplings both of which were delicious and refreshing. Both the weather and food, I have found, in comparison to Chengdu have been quite refreshing. As the food is no longer intolerably hot and the weather is not drastically humid.  

After dinner Francesca, Leah, Taylor and I decided to go to place called Bar Rouge. Bar Rouge is a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Bund which is one of the most spectacular views in all of Shanghai. This place is always packed with foreigners but we managed to order our snacks and find a table. We spent the night laughing and reminiscing about the dialogue. We are all surprised that we only have two days left as the trip seemed to have begun yesterday. We all decided that we were going to make the most of the rest of the trip, but begin planning our trip back. 

- Jack H.

Day 33: Free Day in Shanghai

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Today was the day we were all looking forward to after the assignment-heavy last week. With no scheduled events (I think our first entirely free day so far) and lots of suggestions, I was ready to wake up early and head out. After taking heavy advantage of the free coffee at the hotel, I set out with Josh and Isaac. We wandered through the city until we arrived at The Bund, the famed skyline along the river. On one side of the river is a lot of colonial architecture that gives the street a European feel, while along the other is the famous Pearl Tower and other high-rises. After Alejandro and Chris met up with us, we had a quick lunch of wontons and then set out to go to the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center, the tallest building in China. Though it was cloudy, the view was astonishing. 

We decided to meet up with some other classmates at the underground shopping mall, just a few subways stops away from the Financial Center. This mall is known as a bargainer's paradise; it's not common to get the prices down to half of what the initial price was. Leanne, Winnie, and I wanted a new pair of prescription glasses and managed to get them for Y180 (a little under $30), a huge drop from the initial Y450 they asked for. I couldn't believe that they can make prescription lenses so quickly, or for so cheap! Leanne and Winnie were disappointed with my bargaining skills and insisted that we could have got the price down to Y160, but this was my first time at a market like this, so they forgave me. After all, this was a great deal and now we all have brand new glasses.

After what felt like three days at this market, we parted ways with most of our classmates at the mall. A few of us went to a restaurant that Benny recommended as his favorite in Shanghai. It's apparently very popular, as we had to wait almost 45 minutes for a table, the first time I've had to wait to eat since coming to China. Safe to say that the food was delicious and definitely worth the wait! We ate the steamed egg with yellow croakers (a small local shrimp-like fish), eggplant stir-fried with peanuts, roasted duck, and some more croakers, but these were sautéed. After dinner, we returned to the hotel where Isaac called it a night and Josh and I met up with Alejandro. We walked back to the Bund to see the skyline at night and get a taste of the local nightlife, and then returned to the hotel. All in all, a great free day! I ended the day with a comfortable 36,915 steps and about 16 miles of walking, overtaking my first day in Beijing as the most walking I've done in one day since arriving in China.

Tomorrow we're off to some dialogue visits, so, for now, I'll go sleep. Thanks for reading!

- Kevin M.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Day 32: A transitional day

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Busy week…Busy day…. but almost to the finish line!

Got up at the crack of dawn to finish up packing before leaving for Shanghai.  Still can't believe we've spent a full month in Chengdu, and now thinking about it, I'm definitely feeling a little nostalgic…

As I finished up packing, I sat down with my host family to have our last breakfast together. Our breakfast, like any other day, consisted of some scrambled eggs (Chinese style), dumplings, and some traditional Chinese bread. My host family was incredibly hospitable, and I ended up getting to know both the Mom and Dad so well over the past week. 

We were tasked with interviewing them for our oral history project, but the conversations ended up happening daily, getting deeper and deeper in meaning. The mom worked for the Peace Corps and the dad owned a small tech company, so they had incredible stories and insights. Being able to live with a family (including Grandparents) that has experienced and witnessed all walks of Modern Chinese history is not only eye-opening but also incredibly important in understanding Chinese culture, traditions, and the country as a whole. As a way to help me further understand Chinese culture and thinking, my host parents gave me two of their favorite books as parting gifts, both of which I'm excited to start reading! Their kids were also incredibly cute; I know I'm going to miss the 3-year-old laughing uncontrollably all the time.

As our chapter in Chengdu came to a close, so did our time taking Chinese language classes. Although I can't say I'll miss sitting in four-hour classes, taking quizzes, and doing Chinese homework everyday…. Learning a language in a formal setting while being fully immersed in it is the best way to improve your abilities. I started learning Chinese in high school but took a two-year break and ended up forgetting most of it. But, I can honestly say that in this last month, I learned more than I had in two years of studying Chinese back in the states. If I had the choice, I would do it again every time. 

As we said our final goodbyes, and got to the airport, and were off to Shanghai!

Today was a transitional day for us. Besides traveling, we also had to finish up our weekly journal assignments along with our oral history assignment. Once we arrived in Shanghai, we also had our weekly discussion meeting. This week was a big one because it covered not only two weeks of dialogues but also our individual experiences with our host families. Today's topics consisted of "The Chinese Dream," the development of a middle class in China, the sustainability and significance of Teahouses in Chengdu, as well as the opinions of our host families on major issues in China; including but not limited to: the GaoKao, Hukuo System, Guanxi, Government, Freedom of Speech, and the Great Firewall. 

Since we arrived in Shanghai a little late today, tomorrows a free day for us to self-explore the City and its sights! This is my first time here so I'm excited to explore the business capital of China and see what all the hype is about!

- Kush P.

Day 31: Last Day at Chuanda, Dialogue to the Host Families

Friday, June 8

Today was our last full day in Chengdu, as well as our last full day with our host families! After a stressful morning of finishing up our final projects for Chinese class, we said goodbye to our 川大 (Chuanda) professors as well as to 川大 (Chuanda) with a professional group photo.

Flowers were given and hugs were shared, as we parted ways with the teachers we've spent the last few weeks with. After our picture, we broke off to work on our many homework assignments, such as an oral history project we are writing on our host families as well as an independent research project we are conducting on a topic of our choice in Chengdu. 

Our final activity for the day was then a party with our host families at 祖母的厨房(Grandma's Kitchen), where we shared a western-style meal with our host families. After the food, we hosted an informal panel where Northeastern students could share with our Chinese friends the experience of education in the United States. Since the education systems in the US and China are very different, especially in regards to parental involvement in children's extracurricular activities, we had a very interesting conversation! For example, over the course of the last week of host family time, many of us have gotten to see first-hand how much Chinese parents stress the importance of as much education as possible. My host brother, who hadn't started elementary school yet, already had multiple classes a day, such as Chinese culture, English, swimming, boxing, etc… So many students chose to share their experience growing up, and how they had more freedom to choose extracurricular activities and hobbies, and how they had much more free time to play as a child.

Additionally, many parents hope to send their children to American universities, so they had many questions about how to teach their kids to cope with American culture and lifestyle, as well as how to avoid distractions and become the best student they can be. Overall, it was a very productive cultural exchange!

- Josh B.

Day 30: An uneventful day

Thursday, June 7

I woke on this morning on one of the last days of our homestay. At breakfast, my host mother, Huang Ayi, commented on how quickly time had gone by. I ate English Muffins we had made the night before with her and my host sister, Zhao Weiran, for breakfast. After breakfast, it was time to commute! In order to get to school from my host family's house, I have to take the Line 1 train and then transfer to the Line 3 train. Since Line 1 is the busiest line and I get on at rush hour, it is very difficult to get on the train. Oftentimes you have to push people in order to get on! The trains are usually very fast and I can get to the stop I need to get to in about 20-25 minutes.

In class, we reviewed our final grammar lesson. Everyone was very sad that soon we would have to part with our teacher from Sichuan University, Deng Laoshi (邓老师). She has been incredibly kind to us and very understanding. My classmates and I decided that we would buy her a cake and some flowers as a thank you gift. After class, we stayed in the classroom and worked on our projects. It was very very hot outside (almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit!), so none of us wanted to go outside to try to study or even walk to get food.

Around 5 pm I made it back to my host family's apartment. My evening was largely uneventful since I told my host family I needed time to work on homework. My host brother, Leo, went to a friend's house to play, so the apartment was quiet for the first time since I had been here. We had leftovers for dinner, but even so, they were 很好吃!I took the quiet time to interview my host parents for my Oral History Report and my Independent Research Project. Zhao Weiran and I talked about our favorite Disney princesses. Now, I'm studying for my last test while Zhao Weiran reads the silly stories in my textbook. Wish me luck!

- Carolyn B.

Day 36: The Final Post

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 The end of a long journey in China. We all woke up this morning after a long night of bittersweet celebra...