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Friday, September 30, 2011

UPDATES and Umbrellas and More!

***First, I just want to say thank you for everyone who has been reading - you guys are great. I have changed the design of the site as you can see as well as how to comment. You no longer have to subscribe to comment - anyone can do it! I didn't realize how much of a turn-off that was until I had to sign-up, etc. to comment on other China blogs. Also, this new layout is called "Dynamic Views" and you can change the look of it if you don't like what I have picked out. You can change back to the classic if you like :)

A question to you readers in other countries. I know I have YouTube videos that may not be accessible in your country. Which sites should I upload them on so everyone can see them? ***

Anyway, enjoy!


I was reading through the China Daily and saw a couple of interesting things and thought I'd expand on them. The first is about umbrellas:

Chinese Paper Umbrellas

When it comes to China, nothing screams Chinese culture more than their production of paper umbrellas. Today, they are mostly collected by art enthusiasts who prize their delicate aesthetic beauty.

It's not hard to see why people want to collect these - they really are beautiful and reflect the Chinese spirit in art. 

As the article says, the Chinese character for umbrella is what's called a pictographic character, 伞, which means that it is a literal picture of its meaning. I learned something from this article - China makes 80% of the world's umbrellas (paper and normal umbrellas)! As Peter Boyle would put it, "Holy crap!"

It makes sense. Everywhere you go in China on a sunny day, you will see a parade of umbrellas - they are everywhere! Not because it's raining, but because Chinese women want to have beautiful white skin. You always want what you don't have - Chinese want white skin, White girls want dark skin.

These paper umbrellas will not be seen on the streets because of their relatively expensive price and their delicate nature, but they can be seen in the homes of some Chinese. But they are more popular with foreigners, of course. Every tourist wants a little piece of China to bring back home, and a paper umbrella really is a good one to have!

Chinese Shuttle Launches

This article is about China's launching of a new space shuttle. It's pretty much self-explanatory, but it is reflective of China's development in ALL areas, not just economics and manufacturing.

I also thought it was interesting because the shuttle was launched from Jiuquan, not Jinchang, which was where the launches used to take place. They are both in Gansu Province and I have been to Jinchang, although I did not go to the launch site because it is in a very remote area and I don't even know if people can even go there.

Article on China's Social Media Concerns

China is well-known throughout the world in regards to its internet censorship. The article above gives a very typical example of the vocabulary the Party uses to defend its actions. "Abuse of these networks...violent morality...fraud, porn, and violence are frequently found on these sites."

The government has had some very serious 'management' (censorship) problems as of late, particularly in regards to the Zhejiang Bullet Train crash and the more recent Subway crash in Shanghai. Chinese youth have taken to Renren (Chinese Facebook), QQ (Myspace/AIM), and Weibo (Twitter) in storms bashing the Communist Party for various things in pretty harsh language.

As more and more Chinese college students and young people get around the Great Firewall of China and see the freedom of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, it's pretty much impossible for them to go back to the censored Chinese networks. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years as still more Chinese use these networks and the Party expends more effort to stop them. 

In the next 5 to 10 years, internet freedom will become an even greater issue and there will be a big intellectual stand-off between the Party and the people of China. When people do not know they are being severely limited to the education and fun that is available through unlimited internet access, it's okay. But now people are beginning to see how limited they are in China, and many are not happy about it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Movie and a Little Insight

This is a movie that me and my friends made. Actually, they made it and I just played a little part because I was really busy at the time. The movie is about 4 students and their struggle in pursuing their dreams. It is definitely an amateur movie, but I believe it reveals an underlying truth about the part of the cultural mindset of the youth in China.

*Note - this is an English-subbed Chinese language movie 90% of the duration. There is a 3 or 4 minute section where it is not subbed, but you can just watch and try to figure it out :) and when "Cat" AKA Janson starts singing at the end, keep watching :)

Three of these guys are my best friends. I do not know the "scientist", Jiang Feng pronounced (Jee-ah-ng Fung), the one with the glasses, very well. However, from long talks with all of my friends throughout my time in Lanzhou and other places, the sentiments expressed in this movie are echoed all throughout China's collegiate population.

The theme is this movie is the difficulty and feeling of impossibility in attaining one's dream. It's manifested most obviously in the song 老男孩,The Old Boy, which plays after each of the four guys encounters their difficulty or distraction. It begins at 8:49. Lyrics such as

"Look at the sky and scattered flowers
They withered in their most beautiful moment
Who will remember that they ever came into the world?"

Lyrics like this are so sad and are a real reflection of the feelings of the Chinese students, which is why this song is incredibly popular among China's students and young people. Chinese students have such huge dreams, to go to Qinghua University or Beijing University (China's Harvard and Yale) along with dreams that vary from person to person, such as "Cat"'s dream to become a master guitarist. He really is very good, but there is no outlet in China for him to really make a living from that, which leaves him in the dust. He told me that the times when he is happiest is on stage singing and playing guitar, but the times he can do it are too few as a college student and will only become less after college.
Pay attention to that, THAT is the underlying mindset. People have these amazing talents and dreams, but they have it in their head that no matter what they do, their dream will never be realized, so they do not even try. They don't try. Some of my friends wish to go to America for graduate school, but they feel the competition will be too hard in the English exam, so they are not going to try it because they, in their minds, know they cannot do it!! But their English is wonderful - they have the ability, but something about society has just crushed their initiative and self-confidence. It might also have something to do with the Chinese idea of modesty. They don't want to try because if they get the chance to go overseas, some people might think they are showing off their abilities and are egotistical, which is NOT a label you want to have in China.

This mindset is all over the place and is it one of the saddest things about China. It just breaks my heart to see people like these not go anywhere in life because of something society's drilled into them.

Near the end, there is a screen with Chinese that comes up. It basically says: "No matter how small the seed, because you don't give up, that seed can one day grow into a big and great can realize your dream in no time, but in order to realize our dreams, we expended great efforts!"

Dreams are something you have to work for - they don't just happen. They are totally right.

However, "Cat" and "Boss" have let go of that to a certain extent, because now they are both in Chicago's NEIU and will be there for 2 semesters! That's such a great thing! They have pursued their dreams!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Been Busy!

Sorry I haven't done posts the past two days - I got a job offer at the International High School of New Orleans teaching Chinese and have spent the past day and a half traveling, interviewing, and teaching a class as a trial run. The teaching part was fun, no problems, but I was surprised at the unevenness of the kids' learning, given that the current teacher is Chinese.

New Orleans is a great city and I'd love nothing more than to be able to work and live there in the emerging Chinese community, but the school was not upfront with me on certain matters, and I will probably decline the job.

I will be back to normal posts tomorrow, promise!

For now - I'm going to do a shameless plug for my YouTube account:

My two favorites are these - Beijing: Take 2

I like the video because it represents a fun and not fun time in China. I got a little dose of American things and I got to see a different side of Beijing. It wasn't the shiny and new Beijing I had seen before. I lived in an average residential complex with a non-English-speaking Chinese guy. I spoke Chinese all the time and really got into the everyday grind of writing, reading, going out to enjoy the tourist sites and make friends. It was a good time for me, although I got pretty sick in the course of it. You can tell at the beginning. My voice is a little funky.

白塔山 - Bai Ta Shan

I love this video because it was an unexpectedly good time. My friend Benjamin Xi had recently returned to Lanzhou from my university in Texas, so we were both excited to hang out together with Stan. Ben was so excited once we got off campus, and that excitement and fun rubbed off on me and Stan. Check out Ben's little thing at 1:10-1:12....great time. Bai Ta Shan's surrounding area is a really neat place, especially around the Western peak where the mosque is. Lots of good restaurants and good people live and work there.

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Favorite Pictures: Part 3

Another day of pictures, hopefully you like them! According to the views I've been getting, it seems to be a good thing :) As usual, click to enlarge and feel free to subscribe!

This is the Lanzhou University of Technology's kindergarten, where the young children of the LUT teachers go to school. This institution is talked about in my thesis, so I took a picture for posterity.

Lanzhou University of Technology during a February snow. wonderful home for six months.

These guys are my brothers. I spent so much time with them that they became my family. This was a screen pic I took from a movie we all made together called "Struggle Story," which I am going to post a link to at some point. It is about the struggles four Chinese students face in trying to fulfill their dreams - a very relevant topic for a movie in China. The words at the bottom come from a song 我是一只小小鸟, "I am a Small, Small Bird", which is about someone who, like a small bird, wants to fly high, but cannot.  I miss these guys.

Lanzhou University of Technology's West Campus lake

Lanzhou University of Technology's West Campus entrance. Although I lived on their main campus, I spent nearly every weekend of the semester at this campus because the students at this campus are freshmen and sophomores and are generally more friendly and open than those on the main campus. No offense to the main campus. 

Typical market street just off the West Campus

People just selling their stuff - shops or just putting their fruit/veggies on a blanket on the street.

Fresh, fresh, fresh. Most Americans can only dream of this kind of fresh unless they regularly go to Farmer's Markets

A ruined walkway at the Old Summer Palace. No matter how grand and elaborate a place is, the onward march of time cannot be halted.

The Summer Palace, built around Kunming Lake in Beijing, is a maze of courtyards and walkways in the area immediately adjacent the lake. It is really neat, but you get to wondering, "Where the heck is the end of this thing?"

This is 苏州街, or Suzhou (Sue-Joe) street. It is part of the Summer Palace tour and is kind of like Venice :D

The street itself is a little disappointing. Sure, it is really cool to walk along the winding and water-lined street, but all of the places on the street are shops designed to get foreigners to spend too much money. Sure, there are cool things which you can only buy in China, such as authentic traditional instruments, authentic tailored silk clothes, special kinds of tea, etc., but I don't like to fall into those tourist traps, so I was a little disappointed.

It really is a beautiful street, isn't it?


That is the end of today's post - tomorrow I will do something different. Stick around! If you've got any comments/questions/anything, feel free to leave one at the bottom! Also, feel free to subscribe if you're interested!

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Thesis and Good News

Hey everyone - so, today I won't be posting any new stuff, but there is some good news!

I am turning in my senior thesis today! "Lanzhou and Lanzhou University of Technology During China's Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution."

It is about the university I studied at during the Cultural Revolution, which was one of the worst times of Chinese history. During the most violent phase of the Revolution, 1966-1968, somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 Chinese died. I cannot talk about it at length in this post because I am, understandably I hope, doing some last minute work on it. I will tell you guys about it soon!

After I turn in this thesis, my new focus will be job hunting. The International High School of New Orleans is interested in me as a Chinese language teacher in their expanding Chinese language program, and I am preparing my resume and the needed materials. Although I'd really like that kind of job, I'm going to be looking around at other places as well.

We'll see what happens, DFTBA! (Don't Forget to be Awesome --

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Favorite Pictures: Part 2

Today is Part 2 of my favorite pictures from my time in China. Just like last time, you can click to enlarge them, and feel free to comment and subscribe!

This is Mr.....we'll call him "Wang". - he is the father of one of my best friends. He comes from a really small and remote village in Gansu Province. He used to work in the fields and also did some construction work on the side. When my friend was in middle school, his dad heard about an opening at the county-level school (the county is 环县) for a village student. He wanted to take a bus to the county, but it had rained earlier that day, so the dirt roads have become unnavigable. Mr. Wang walked all day and all night to that school, and the next morning he met with the school officials and my friend got  the spot! He worked his way up to the number one student in the class all the way up until he graduated high school. He went to Lanzhou University of Technology and is now the number 1 English student at the University AND has spent 1 year studying in America at my university, ETBU. All that is possible because of this man. Although he is still poor and living in a 1-room house that measures about 15' x 10' with his wife, he has moved up into Huan county (环县) and is now an engineer. Imagine that.

These are some of my best friends. L -> R is Ethan, Janson, Freddy, William, Danny, Jim Green, (i forgot this guy's name), and Zhu. This particular occasion, we wanted to find a classroom to hang out in, but they all had students in them. We found one with about 10 or 15 students in it and we pretended that I was a foreign teacher that was going to have class now, so we kicked them out and just chilled! Sometimes being the foreigner is great.....

These two pictures came from the Terracotta Warriors exhibit in Xi'an. The Terracotta Warriors are a true treasure of China and of world history. They have survived since 210-209 BC. They are more than 2000 years old. It's unimagineable. Unbelievable. 

This is an interesting one - a nearly full-sized chariot and charioteer from the Terracotta Warriors exhibit! This is actually made of bronze, I believe.

This is fruit beer! I had it when I was in Xi'an. I don't know how in the world they make beer from fruit, but it's really really really good. It doesn't really taste like beer - it's pretty much just a soda. Kids drink it. I think the alcohol content of 果啤 is pretty much non-existent. When you drink it, you can taste one or two distinctive fruits - for me, the best one I can remember had a great mix of pineapple/apple flavor to it. It's really great stuff. I had it all the time. America needs this. 

This is me in front of Maiji Mountain, a really famous mountain just outside of Tianshi, in Gansu Province. It has 7,200 Buddhist sculptures that date from the 4th century all the way up until the 19th century Qing dynasty. It has 1,000 square meters of murals and the sculptures are scattered throughout 194 caves on the cliff face. 

When you are standing on the mountain looking out, it becomes obvious why the people who did the carving did it here. The landscape is second to none. It truly is majestic and is one of the most beautiful and truly awe-inspiring places I have ever been. 

This photo was taken in Tianshui itself. It's just a kid playing in some water, but the amazing part about the picture is just the innocence and happiness that was happening within that moment. The kid was having so much fun playing in the water, and the father was having just as much fun watching the kid play in the water - even the guy way over in the background of the picture is watching them. In the picture, it looks a little creepy, but it was not. He was smiling and watching them play in an innocent way.

It's truly reflective of the lifestyle in Tianshui - it is probably the happiest city I visited in China. Everyone was out and about and just enjoying themselves. People were doing Tai Chi everywhere, people were singing songs, playing instruments, reading - it was kind of like a dream, really. It was a great place, and to me, this picture just embodies the life there. I hope to go back one day.

This is me having dinner with Mr. Xi and his family - to me, it was an honor. After I heard his story, I could barely look him in the eye, but he was honestly one of the happiest men I ever met. He had the biggest laugh lines and Crow's Feet that I have ever seen. Although he was a poor man, he offered me so many gifts and treated me as royalty - he had never been around a foreigner before and I was his honored guest. But, for me, the honor was being accepted as a part of his family. His son and I are brothers, and I believe his father treated me as a son. 

These two pictures mean a lot to me. The first one features my friend Ethan's arm as we skipped rocks down on the Yellow River. Imagine that - skipping rocks on the Mother River. Our group of five had nothing to do, so we went out to Lanzhou's Xi Zhan aka West Station, and had hotpot. After that, we walked around and went down to the river. It was just a time for us to be kids for a bit - we were 10 years old again and skipping stones on the river.

A beautiful twilight after a beautiful day in Lanzhou. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My Favorite Pictures: Part 1

Today, I thought I'd start a series of my favorite pictures and stories. I've got 10 for you to look at today and I hope you'll be interested! Please feel free to leave comments and to subscribe! Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Today we've got 9 from Lanzhou and the last one is from Beijing. I planned it to be a little more eclectic, but by the time I finished, I realized they were almost all from Lanzhou. Next time, I'll mix it up a little bit.

I was an exchange student (the 1st ever) to attend Lanzhou University of Technology. The university has two campuses and the 1st time I went to the west campus of the university, I met some total strangers and they invited me back to their rented apartment and cooked a huge meal for me and 3 friends I was meeting there. 

You can see that people do meals differently in China - all the dishes are the in the middle of the table and are shared by everyone, but everyone has their own rice bowl. It's a much more enjoyable experience than everyone spooning off onto their own plate. It's a group experience.

This was taken at a primary school assembly in Lanzhou, where I talked to some of the kids and did some games and all kinds of stuff. It was an "English Adventure Day", so they were desperately trying to find a foreigner to participate. 

It was an interesting experience - the kids put on short English language plays like Snow White and everyone did their best to participate, although it was hot that day and the sun was beating down on everyone for the whole 2-hour(ish) assembly. Props to the kids for putting up with it!

This is the 兰州理工大学运动会。The Lanzhou University of Technology "Sports Meeting" - it's kind of like the university's version of the Olympics. All the departments show up and parade in like in this picture, there are shows of martial arts, their ROTC (ish) program, music, and there are events like the hundred meter dash, tug-of-war, etc. It's a cool thing and I'd recommend anyone who goes to China to study to attend a meeting like this if their university holds one.

These are 3 good friends of mine (r to l) Zhu Jiacan (Mike), Xia Fei (Kevin), and "Suella" Zhang. They're all good people and really friendly and speak great English. We took this on the West campus of LUT.

This is from the time I tried Stinky Tofu. It was not exactly my favorite, as you can see...but the night market was a really cool place!!!

This is Eric, the son of one of my teachers. He's really cool and super hyper and super funny, but the only thing is that he gets angry when people speak English because he can't understand :( poor kid

My band!! Exchange Student Band - I was an exchange student, and Freddy and Janson are now exchange students in Chicago, and Christina is an exchange teacher. She was only in the band for one performance, so I guess it was E.S.T. Band for one performance. E.S. Band forever!

This is a pic of ZhongShan bridge (中山桥) in downtown Lanzhou. It was the first bridge built across the Yellow River in a Provincial level city in all of China! Cool! It's a little over 100 years old - super cool! A lot of YouTube vids that you will see of Lanzhou will feature this bridge.

This is a view of south-western Lanzhou - this bridge is the 七里河桥 Qi Li He bridge. At night, it's lit up with neon and it changes colors and it's is really, really cool! This was taken from the western part of the Bai Ta mountain, 白塔山.

This is one of my favorites from the whole trip - this is a jump back to Beijing. This was taken as I exited the Forbidden City's north entrance. The pagoda/pavilion/whatever that you see in the top center of the picture is the central pagoda/pavilion/whatever of Jingshan Park.

It's actually a part of Chinese fengshui. If you have a palace or importance building, it is good fengshui to have it surrounded by water (the moat of the Forbidden City), and then on the north side protected by a hill (Jingshan Park, created by the earth scooped out for the moat). The hill and water are supposed to protect you from demons.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Sorry about the mix-up with the last post - I posted the YouTube embed code in the wrong section, so you saw the HTML and not the video you were supposed to see.

If that happens again, PLEASE let me know ASAP! My YouTube is if you can remember that....maybe you will or won't.

Anyway, the problem is fixed now and everything is good!

Tianshui and Maiji Mountain

Tianshui is the second largest city in Gansu Province, but you'd never know it - I spent almost a week there and I thought it was only about 400,000 people! I thought it was a small city until I looked it up on Wikipedia after my trip! It has a real small-town feel to it; people are happy and seem to know each other, life is super-relaxed, and the natural beauty surrounding the city makes you forget that you're in a big city. Crazy!

Overall, I think Tianshui is my favorite city (or possibly Huan Xian, but we'll get there later). I had a wonderful time meeting lots of great people and eating some good food - especially the mutton. It was a really enjoyable experience. 

Benjamin Xi, a Chinese friend of mine who studied a year at ETBU, has an uncle who lives there and own the 黄河原 water company, a prominent bottled water/office water cooler supply company. Here's a picture of them:

He knows pretty much everyone in the city, but he's way down to earth. He was so nice and so gracious. One day he took us to Maiji Mountain, a very famous mountain in China.

When we got there, he called the Tianshui tourism bureau or whatever it is, and the head of the bureau let us in for free because he's a friend. Holy crap! The entrance fee was like 80元 or something, and we had 8 of us! Well done, sir!

We climbed the mountain and took a lot of pictures and really enjoyed the scenery. After that, we went to a really cool restaurant over a little pond and had some great food and great conversation. 

He wants me to come back and visit him when I return to China and come into his business and help maybe branch out to other places! We'll see what happens :)

Tianshui was a great place and Maiji Shan was truly majestic, but the treasure of Tianshui lies in its people. They're so loving, giving, open and hospitable, so it was tough to leave there, but I have fond memories of the times I had.

The mountain is immediately visible from a distance due to what I call its "straight-down-ness".

Not natural.

Wow, there's a lot of empty space here with this picture haha...

Anyway, I had only heard of the place and hadn't seen any pictures or anything, so I didn't know what to expect...needless to say, I was struck by the scale of it -- it's a freaking mountain full of Buddhist carvings!! A MOUNTAIN!!!


If you click on the picture, you can see how tiny the people are in comparison to the stature. It's insane.

All of those little windows are grottoes with statues/paintings inside.

There's 194 of them.

That doesn't sound like a lot, but trust me, 194 grottoes handcarved into the side of a freaking mountain is a big deal. 

Normally, I hate having pictures taken of me, but this time I had to do it --- the scenery was just to beautiful and the place was just too unique to do without it.

Some of the Buddhas like this one date back almost 1,000 years. Dude, look at that. Looks pretty good for 1,000 years unrestored! Carving grottoes was a good idea -- keeps the paint out of the sunlight!

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