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Monday, December 27, 2010

Lanzhou, China (Lots of Pics)

Lanzhou, China (兰州,中国) is the capital of Gansu Province, which is pretty much smack in the middle of China. Here's a map - (Click on any of the pictures to see them full size)

Lanzhou has about 3.5 million people, so it's a pretty good size city. It has a big petrochemical industry in the city, so the pollution is pretty bad...really bad, actually. Sometimes parts of the city are obscured due to all the pollution. Lanzhou was put on the map for being a major stop on the Silk Road for foreign traders centuries ago, but it was eclipsed by Xi'an, a city to the southeast of Lanzhou, where the Silk Road ended.

Interestingly enough, Lanzhou built the first bridge across the Yellow River:

It is located in a semiarid part of China and is about on the latitude that Chicago is on, so those of you who have been to Chicago have an idea of the weather (especially the winter). My National Geographic Traveler says that Gansu Province's winters is 'harsh' and 'brutal' and 'punishing at times'.....yeah, that's encouraging. 

A really cool place I'd like to go is here: the Binglingsi Grottos. It's about 70km away from Lanzhou. The caves and grottoes are carved into the side of Xiaojishi Mountain and were built between the 5th and 19th centuries. Most of the caves were built during the Tang dynasty (618-907AD). There are almost 200 caves and niches featuring murals, 694 stone statues and 82 clay figures.

Xi'an, which marked the end of the Silk Road, has enjoyed a much more prosperous run than Lanzhou and tons of people have told me to go to Xi'an, so I guess I'll be going there. There's lots of stuff to do, from the various museums and historical stuff to riding your bike around the old city walls. It's a day trip, about like a trip to Dallas from Tyler or something like that.

Yes, that is a KFC banner.

Lanzhou University of Technology (兰州理工大学), the University I'll be going to, is, like the name indicates, a mainly technologically oriented school, but their English department is growing as the need for learning English grows. Interestingly enough, I will be in the first class of international students to ever go to this school and the first from ETBU to ever go to the school for a semester. So, naturally, this is a big opportunity for me (and it looks good on a résumé). I will be taking Chinese Language classes (Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking), a class on Chinese Culture, and my Senior Thesis. Everybody who has looked at my Facebook Group, "Austin is Studying Abroad!", you have already seen the pics of the school, but you can always check out Google Images:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

News Update/Interesting Facts About China

      Okay, first things first. My Visa Application is in the mail and will be coming back to me in a couple of weeks! I needed to get together a lot of documents, and since I have been formally accepted to Lanzhou University of Technology already and have a contact there, there is no reason for me to be turned down (not likely, anyway).
       Also, I am being registered for classes this coming week. Here's what I will be taking
  • Intermediate Level Chinese (A comprehensive reading/writing/speaking/listening course)
  • Intermediate Chinese Speaking
  • Intermediate Chinese Listening
  • China's Culture
  • China's National Situation
  • My Senior Thesis, which I will be talking about soon.
       However, I may not be able to do the National Situation course, but we'll see. I have not bought my plane tickets yet because I have not scraped together the money yet; it's hard to find people who want to give with the economical situation, which I understand.
        Normally, people would call these "Fun Facts", but I absolutely hate that phrase, so I'll just leave it at Interesting Facts. 
  • Fortune cookies are not a traditional Chinese custom. They were invented in 1920 by a worker in the Key Heong Noodle Factory in San Francisco.
  • The Chinese invented paper, the compass, gunpowder, and printing.
  • Giant Pandas (“bear cat”) date back two to three million years. The early Chinese emperors kept pandas to ward off evil spirits and natural disasters. Pandas also were considered symbols of might and bravery
  • The Chinese were the first to invent the waterwheel to harness water in A.D. 31—1,200 years before the Europeans. China was also the first country in the world to use an iron plow. Europe didn’t begin using the iron plow until the seventeenth century.
  • "Chinese" is spoken by 92% of China’s population. There are at least seven major families of the Chinese language, including Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, Hakka, Gan, Xiang, and Min.
  • The Chinese have made silk since at least 3,000 B.C. The Romans knew China as “Serica,” which means “Land of Silk.” The Chinese fiercely guarded the secrets of silk making, and anyone caught smuggling silkworm eggs or cocoons outside of China was put to death.
  • In some parts of China, “pigtails” were associated with a girl’s marital status. A young girl would wear two pigtails, and when she married, she would wear just one. This may have contributed to the Western view that pigtails are associated with children and young girls.
  • In Hong Kong , cars are driven to the left side of the road, following the British way, but the rest of China drives on the right side.
I didn't thoroughly check all of these like a historian normally would, but they sound believable enough ;) Anyway, that's that, hope everyone is doing well! Leave your thoughts/questions in the comments!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

General Information

Okay guys, here's the deal.

I am in the midst of reserving plane tickets for February 15th to leave from D/FW, fly to LAX, then to Seoul, then to Beijing, then stay in Beijing for a couple of days then take another plane to Lanzhou, where my school is.

While I am at school, I will be studying Chinese Language, Chinese reading/writing, Chinese History/Culture, and working on my Senior Thesis (which I will cover in a different post).

I recently found out that I will be the FIRST EVER international student, not only ETBU, but from ANYWHERE, to study at Lanzhou University of Technology, so if I wasn't nervous enough already, I have that to think about!

The reality that I am going to leave is beginning to sink in, and it is kind of a scary thing, to be honest. At times it's a good kind of scary, and other times it is a bad kind of scary. The language barrier is going to be a difficult thing to overcome because I have only been studying Chinese since about February, but I think with my awesome teachers I will be able to get around. It is comforting to know that many of the students I have talked to as well as some staff are very excited that I am coming and are very receptive to questions and open to talk about just about anything.

I am sending in my Visa Application and other documents out by the end of the week, so everything is beginning to come together!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

1st Post: "...An adopted son of China"

Well, this is my 中国 Blog. 中国=China "Zhong" (middle/center) and "Guo" (Kingdom/country)

After reading this, I realized how rambling it was, but this was a quick type and hope you enjoy it!

John Pomfret, in his book "Chinese Lessons", speaks about his experiences in the early 1980s as an exchange student in China. He ended up spending many years in China doing everything from being a student, a tourist, a lover, and eventually a husband. He was an American student within China less than 2 years after the United States normalized relations with China. He was in the streets of Tiananmen when the government cracked down on thousands of students. He made lifelong friends in China. He met and married his wife in China. He witnessed firsthand the power of the government. Near the end of his book and looking back on his experiences, he wrote "I feel like I have become an adopted son of China".

He spent such a significant amount of time in China and poured his life into telling people about China's history, culture, and newly-found political identity on the world stage. He is someone I greatly admire because of his intellect and the fact that he made China a real place for me. Reading his book, you come across real people who he shared meals with, laughed with, got in trouble with, went to parties with, and just lived with him. These friends all had faults, shames, little tics, nicknames, and all the nuances of  relationships which any part of the world would have.

Living in Texas (and the South in general), people tend to talk about China in a few ways: "Oh yeah, they're good at math and make all our stuff" or "Those **** Communists, they oppress their nation just because they can". Putting a quick and convenient label on a country or a race of people is all well and good for the occasional benign joke, but there are all kinds of dangers due to an oversimplification of culture (when the oversimplification is honest and mal-intended).

I think mostly we do this because of convenience due to cultural differences. It is difficult to get to know a culture, and no one really can sum up what a particular culture is in one neat and tiny package. To know a culture, or to know anything, really is a matter of 'stepping back' and taking in every sociocultural trend, idiom/expression, language, and far more and asking the question, "What does this say about that particular country?"

"A lot of times when we work overseas we tend to put the experience of someone who lives overseas, a Chinese person or a Korean person or a Bosnian person, within the prism of an American life." - John Pomfret

It is true that we try to put things in an American box or what-have-you and it is easy to forget just how similar people are. All people get angry, all people laugh, all people want happiness, all people have fears, all people love something, and all people have problems letting some things go. 

I cannot wait to go to China and to get to have the experience of living with people on the other side of the world for 5 months or longer! The people I have talked to, laughed with, shared my uncertainties with, and been here for me have done me more good than they know, and I know that there are people just like those on the other side of the world, and I can't wait to meet them!

The next post I will be putting up some information about where I am in preparation and what my trip is all about.

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