It’s Not Worth Having if it Can’t be Shared

Kingsley Leung, Public Health in China, Summer 2013

It’s only been two weeks since my friends from the Wanxiang program left. We had only known each other for about four weeks. So why is it that I miss them so much? How could it be that whenever I see them post a photo from Hangzhou I can’t help but wish that I was there with them, or that whenever we go on our excursions I wished that our bus was just a little more full? I dedicate this blog post to all my awesome Wanxiang friends who are finishing their program in a week (absolutely crazy how quickly time passed by).

Some of my Wanxiang friends that I have pictures with….here’s Andrew Sonta. Really one of the nicest guys I’ve met on this trip.

Mr. Andrew Lee – what a guy. Fire Emblem and weird senses of humor make for fast friends.

Wanxiang people are quite silly, especially if they are Tim Flavin or Jon Feldman.

Wanxiang people are quite silly, especially if they are Tim Flavin or Jon Feldman.

Megan calls me 弟弟 (younger brother). Can you tell from this picture?

Megan calls me 弟弟 (younger brother). Can you tell from this picture?

Even with old friends, our friendship gets stronger in such a short amount of time. Here’s Blake and Gu Laoshi, two of my favorite guys on the trip.

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Another two of my friends that I knew before: Alex the Ultimate Frisbee Boss and Casey the Songbird

I think studying abroad brings about something magical. Something incredible happens when a group of people are put into a foreign country in which only a few of us are fluent, some of us are kind of semi-fluent (like me), and many of us could not speak more than ten words of Chinese on the first day of the program. A sense of camaraderie formed very quickly. The more advanced students quickly took the leadership role, looking out for anyone who may be lost in the hectic world of Beijing. But the other students didn’t simply take the backseat. They would constantly be asking, wondering, and learning. One of my favorite parts of this trip was seeing my friends grow from completely clueless in Beijing to recognizing enough characters on the street to know exactly what a store is, or what area we are in. We all help each other out so eagerly, because quite honestly, it would be a bit lonely (at least in the beginning) without everyone here.

One of my favorite groups of people on one of my favorite adventures here in Beijing.

Another incredible group of people…but honestly, take anyone in the trip and it will be an incredible group.

The crazy thing is that most of us go to Northwestern. While I knew some people on the program (about six or seven), there were still more than thirty amazing people to meet. And getting to know them just showed me how much I was still missing out at Northwestern. It is so easy to fall back into the groups of friends we made during freshman year. We are all busy people, and the opportunity to meet each other may not present itself. But here we are, drawn in by our mutual love of public health, political sciences and economics, renewable energy and sustainability, and China. Now, it is impossible for me to imagine never meeting these people – people who I get along with as well as any friend at NU. How glad am I to go back to Northwestern and be able to recognize more faces on Sheridan and have dinner with more people than usual.

Despite the weather, we still managed to play frisbee outside.

Despite the weather, we still managed to play frisbee outside.

Of course, we would have a prom photo.

Anyways, I am done being sentimental. After all, I still have two weeks left with many of these friends, plus I’ll actually see some of the Wanxiang people in three weeks when they backpack down to Hong Kong, where I’ll be after Beijing. But I knew that I would not be satisfied if I had left such a crucial part of this trip out of my blogs. Memories I make here by myself are valuable, but they don’t hold a candle to the memories I make with others.

I was a bit terrified to be put into Chinese 5...but I love this class and everyone in it.

I was a bit terrified to be put into Chinese 5…but I love this class and everyone in it.

My fellow bloggers are also some of my closest friends here on the trip.

Don’t worry. I didn’t forget Youjin. Despite her love of ding-dong ditches, she’s pretty awesome.

Last but not least, an old friend and one of my best friends, Connor Tatooles. Few things are more fulfilling than teaching your best friend a language you grew up with and watching him improve so rapidly. You should try it sometimes

Revisiting the motherland as a foreigner

Liang Gu, Public Health in China, Summer 2013

My name is Liang Gu, and I’ve just finished my junior year at Northwestern. I am currently a biology major with a concentration in physiology and also pursuing a minor in global health. After graduating I plan to take a year off to attempt to enjoy life before entering the dark tunnel that is medical school.

My love for biology comes from my childhood passion for bug collecting. When I was young, to my mother’s dismay, I have caught and raised bugs ranging from Japanese Hercules beetles to the Giant Water Bug that grew so big it ate my goldfish. Having immigrated to the States in 2001, I consider myself a 1.5th generation Chinese American. I often find myself identifying with a culture that is neither as Chinese as my friends who are international students, nor as American as my friends who were born and raised in the States. I proudly tell people that I am fluent in Chinese and can easily converse with natives, but sometimes find myself struggling to read and understand Chinese children’s books (a fact that my 12 year old cousin in China finds hilarious).

China is a special place in that in some sense it is “home,” but it is a home that I have not visited for over four years. For me, it is a strange yet familiar place. I want to take this opportunity to remember but at the same time to learn anew the contemporary China and also to improve my Chinese. The economic reforms, political atmosphere, fast-paced urbanization, and the clash between the old and the new all blend together to make China unique. The pollution, population density, infectious diseases, acupuncture, herbal medicine, qigong, and cultural narratives create an environment that is brimming with opportunities for public health research. I will be participating in the Public Health in China program and I am interested in how bio-medicine and traditional healing co-exist and cooperate to create new forms of healing in China. I hope that through my project, I can help people understand the practice and the place of traditional Chinese medicine in contemporary Chinese society.

Wanxiang Fellows Reception & Research Presentations

Although we’re already two and a half weeks into Fall Quarter, last Friday, October 12, marked the official end of the Summer Wanxiang Fellows Program.  The inaugural program’s nine student participants presented highlights from their experience in China and their team research projects to an audience of Northwestern faculty, staff, and students, and visitors from Wanxiang Group at Norris.

The event, which began with an informal, open reception and concluded with the students’ formal research presentations, highlighted the cooperation between Wanxiang Group and Northwestern University in their mutual goals of promoting research on green energy technology and sustainability issues, cultural exchange between the U.S. and China, and study abroad opportunities for students of diverse academic backgrounds.  Dévora Grynspan, Director of the Office of International Program Development, began the reception by thanking all the partners who made the Wanxiang program possible: the Office of the President, Wanxiang Corporation, Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern, and IPD.

President Morton Schapiro, who attended the event and has been involved in the program’s development since Wanxiang approached him last year, emphasized his strong commitment to promoting energy and sustainability studies, as well as Chinese and East Asian studies at Northwestern.  “The marriage of environmental studies with Northwestern with China is just a dream come true. China has always been in my blood and soul,” said President Schapiro. Pin Ni, President of Wanxiang America Corporation, spoke to his company’s enthusiasm for the program and his optimism for its future improvements.  Finally, ISEN Director David Dunand addressed the crowd and gave his impressions about the program’s success.

Professor Mark Petri of Argonne National Laboratory, who led the students during their classes in May and during the two-week portion of the program in Hangzhou, introduced the students and moderated the question-and-answer portions of their research presentations.  Also in attendance was Professor Li-Cheng Gu, who leads the IPD NU in Beijing programs and accompanied the students throughout much of their experience in China.

After giving their final research presentations, ranging in subject matter from energy storage technologies to photovoltaic cell development to hydroelectricity production, the nine students of the 2012 inaugural Wanxiang Fellows Program were glad to have successfully wrapped up their class on Energy & Sustainability in China!

For more on the Wanxiang Research Presentations, see the article featured in the Northwestern Daily: http://dailynorthwestern.com/2012/10/14/campus/northwestern-students-share-experiences-abroad-in-china/

Musings from a continuing traveller

Maitreyi Sistla, Public Health in China, Summer 2012

Hello all,

It actually astounds me its only been a week since we’ve left China; maybe it’s just the multitude of things that have happened since then that makes it seem like I left over a month ago. I do still miss China a ton, but instead of spending this post reminiscing about my experience in China though, like I already did in my last blog post, I’m going to use it to express what I’ve taken away from the program since I’ve left.

Unlike most other students, my flight from Beijing wasn’t back to the United States; rather, I hopped from one large developing country to another large developing country located right next door- India- to visit some of my relatives. You’d think that traveling from China to India wouldn’t give you that much of a culture shock; I mean, China and India are both nations that are talked about as being “emerging economies” whose rapid development in the last few years has created a new era of globalization. Even so, comparing Beijing to New Delhi will give you many more bullets in the “differences” column than in the “similarities”.

One thing I never really noticed about China until I left for India was how westernized it really was. Maybe it was just the fact that we were living in one of the urban centers of the country that gives me a biased view, but I think many of my fellow program friends would agree when I say China was a lot more like America than I expected it to be. Basically everyone, from kids to grandparents, wears Western clothing (albeit, Western clothing with a twist of Asian flair to it). Every hundred meters is another KFC. Malls line the street corners, with American and European brands flashing their fancy logos outside of the windows. Although there were definitely moments when we would say “this is so, so Zhongguo”, it was definitely less of a culture shock than I expected it to me. Can’t really say the same for India, whose conservativeness and culture shocks me every time, even though I’ve been here many times before.

China fashion- albeit a little more feminine than what most guys in America would wear, you can definitely see the Western influences

Starbucks in China! Still waaay to overpriced though- some things never change

Another thing I never really appreciated about China until I left was how clean the government keeps the city. Rarely can you find trash on the streets or on the subway. Even the number of homeless people you see is substantially lower than in Chicago or New York City. The safety is also impeccable- even on those very late nights we were exploring the city,  none of us ever felt threatened or creeped out by others on the street or by the taxi drivers driving us home. Definitely not something you see in New Delhi- or even most other American cities.

Beijing subways- literally the cleanest, fastest, and most reliable form of public transportation I’ve ever taken

Even though I’m currently visiting a city that’s vastly different to anywhere I’ve ever been before, my experiences in Beijing for the last two months have prepared me well. It really does make me realize that wherever you are in the world, there will be some little thing that will remind you of home. Maybe we’re all not so different after all.

Tea Ceremony

Anthony Chiodo, Political and Economic Development in China, Summer 2012

During our trip to Hangzhou, my classmates and I found a teashop in the middle of one of the local ancient streets. While we were there, we were given a tea pouring performance by the storeowners. We were also taught the techniques of drinking tea, such as how women cover their faces as they drink.

Since tea is such an important part of Chinese culture, it was awesome to see just how intricate pouring and drinking tea can get. There were a variety of teas that we were given, and each kind had different leaves. Just being able to smell and compare then gave us a good idea of just how many different kinds of teas exist. The process seemed very similar to wine tasting, but this time China style. There were also different types of tea glasses that we used. The most interesting by far was a two-piece set of cups: one long and slender and the other shaped like a bowl. For a small sip of tea, we were instructed to flip the two cups upside down, and then allow the tea to pour into the bowl shaped cup.Overall, it was one of the smaller experiences here in China, but great nonetheless!

A Different Kind of Mindset

Tessa Chiu, Political and Economic Development in China, Summer 2012

As I finish off putting the last of my things in my suitcase to go home,  it is actually starting to hit me that we’re soon all going off on our own ways. Thinking about leaving my dorm in Peking University’s ZhongGuanXinYuan, I realize that I’m really going to miss Beijing and everything about it. Particularly speaking, as odd as it sounds and out of all things, I’m going to miss the local Beijing people.

When I first arrived here, I immediately noticed that there was a noticeable difference between Beijing and Chicago (or even larger America), and it wasn’t the large amount of pollution that was present in the Beijing air. It was more so the whole vibe of the two cities, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Beijing was modern enough; it has plenty of high risers, malls, too many taxis and cars, traffic, smog, flashing lights, etc. just like any large American city. But at the same time, everything felt different to me. It was not until maybe last week that I discovered what that difference was.

While discussing with several friends, we came to the conclusion that it is the locals that set Beijing apart. There is a common negative stereotype attributed to the Chinese people, saying that they have no manners, are extremely rude, and inconsiderate. In contrast to the social norms of America, this may appear true, but upon closer examination, one will realize that it is not that simple. In China, there are different social customs, and I’ve noticed that people often will say or do what they want, with no inhibitions. To me, this does not amount to being rude, but rather, straightforward, and I find this extremely refreshing. In America, there is so much social pressure to be “the norm” or “politically correct” that it is extremely difficult to tell what others are actually thinking. In China, if a merchant wants you to buy his goods, he will make it aggressively obvious, but also, if someone wants to give up his seat on the crowded subway for you, you will know that his gesture is sincere. To me, this makes every random act of kindness more meaningful because I can be sure that they are genuine, and I can honestly say that while Beijing has its fair share of rude people (as in every country), I’ve also come across some of the most kind people here. I will really miss this once I go back home!

My favorite street vendor! We came here so often she began to recognize us.

The Things That Stay With You

Samuel Wagreich, Political and Economic Development in China, Summer 2012

As my final days in China are fast approaching, I’m trying to figure out the things that are going to stay with me.  I know that the explicit details of this trip will eventually evaporate into the vast cloud of my memory, leaving the vague feelings and dispositions I feel for the place.

And when I try to piece together the things that have meant the most to me, my mind keeps settling on the interactions I’ve had with the people here: with my friends from the program, with the people I’ve been introduced to, even with the random tourists or merchants who decide to strike up a conversation with me on the street.

The things that have given me that cultural high that you get when you go to another country haven’t been the buildings or scenery I’ve seen, the things I’ve bought, or the nights out I’ve shared with friends.  Instead, it’s come from the interactions I’ve had with the people of China.  I know I’m flirting with melodrama here, but bear with me.

The way a rural Chinese person’s eyes light up when they realize you speak and understand Chinese is almost electrifying.  When a shopkeeper at one of the local tourist holes decides to treat you a little bit better, or even “give you Chinese prices” (which are actually still about 20% more than real Chinese prices) when you demonstrate that you’ve made a concerted effort to speak their language and understand their culture is really gratifying.  When a little Chinese boy or girl  decides to meander up to you and call you 大哥哥  (big brother) it’s really endearing in a way that’s hard to express.

I’ve tried to explain this to my dad: being a white boy with brown hair and facial hair in China leads to a lot of forced isolation.  You’re a spectacle to a lot of people around you, you’re something of interests, which means that, in a sense, you’re always on—if that makes any sense.  Chances are, anywhere you go, someone is going to want to interact with you in some way.  But at the same time, the language barrier is a very vast one.  I’ve been studying this language for about 3 years now, and It’s still difficult for me to have a more-than-small-talk conversation with someone in Chinese.  So this notion of constantly being a spectacle reconciled with the language barrier again and again reminds you of how isolated from many Chinese people you are.

So the little interactions really mean a lot.  Get ready for the cliche.  They’re the little chinks in the armor, they’re the holes in the wall—the little glimpses into what some of these people are really like.  Their sarcasm and humor shines through, their values—for just that moment—are salient, and their warmth is present.

These ephemeral moments where people let their guard down, when they tentatively feel like opening up to you, I think, is what I regard most fondly about this trip when I look back.

For example, this is a picture from one of the typical tourists market.  My friend Sam, who you can see in the foreground, was trying to buy a classical musical instrument called a Guqin (hopefully…).  And while we were waiting in the shop for the owner to go get his Guqin from their warehouse downtown, I picked up a guitar and started playing.  The store manager (the lady in the  blue dress) overheard me and asked me to teach her son how to play (the pensive-looking boy in the back).  And so I gave my first lesson in Chinese, which consisted of me saying, “This, then this, then this.  Good!  Very good!  No, this, then, that, no—not that.  This!”

After a while he picked up the three-chord Spanish-style progression that what I was trying to teach him (so that he could charm the 漂亮的姑娘‘s), and Sam and I resolved to serenading his mother and her shop attendant in Chinese (we played “What I Like About You,” but with Chinese lyrics, of course).  She complimented us on our Chinese, as other vendors looked on to see what all of the ruckus was about, and started asking us about ourselves.

It’s things like this that have made this trip truly special.  Sure, it’s the sort of interaction that could happen in the States any old day, but their particularly special because they happen in another language, under the hospice of another country, and on the terms of another culture.

I guess I’ll leave you with this:

It’s a picture of me and my inter-Mongolian fan club, haha.  These girls ran into us at the Temple of Heaven at the Summer Palace and decided that I (and my friend Haley) were white-looking enough to take a picture with.  They were super sweet about it.  One of them asked me if I spoke Chinese in really impressive English, and when I responded with 我会 “wo hui” (I can), their eyes widened with excitement.  So they walked me over to the view, and as they were getting ready to pose for their own picture, Haley managed to snap one for me.  It made this 老外‘s (slang for foreigner) day.

Self-sufficiency

Akhilesh Pant, Political and Economic Development in China, Summer 2012

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact type of satisfaction that I felt after going an entire day without speaking a word of English. It wasn’t as much pride as it was a sense of resourcefulness and empowerment that could only come after being in China for a while. Nearly two months in and suddenly this place is really starting to feel homey. I waited this long to post because I wanted to say something meaningful (hey I guess that’s not up to me to decide, but I’ll try), aside from the awesome touristy things we’ve done so far. I’m going to write a few wrap-up posts this week  for me to gather my experiences and put them in the context of everything I’ve learned about Chinese people and China so far. So here’s how I got up most of China’s east coast over the course of a day, easily becoming my favorite day of this trip.

After getting to the Hangzhou railway station at around 10 AM, I was intent on finding an internet cafe to kill 3 hours before the bullet train arrived. I knew the sign that had the character 网on it meant the place was internet-related, so I went in. Imagine at least a hundred people in a room playing video games – anything from groups of 15-year old kids playing shooting games to couples playing the PC equivalent of Dance Dance Revolution. Once I had given the lady up front money (she definitely hadn’t seen many foreigners come through, let alone an Indian person), I sat down to a screen FULL of icons and pictures of celebrities, almost none of which I could read. And worse yet, the Great Firewall is even more limiting at public internet cafes, so I ended up just being stuck on Chinese websites and reading what I could, all while being forced to breathe cigarette smoke from the guy next to me who was somehow simultaneously racing a virtual car and chain smoking.

Eventually, I got on the bullet train next to a couple who immediately greeted me: “Ah! Laowai! Ni hao, laowai!” (“Oh, a foreigner! Hello, foreigner” – actually a rather affectionate term) and then a hesitant and less confident “h-hello!” But my response saying that I can speak some Chinese prompted one of the most genuine, appreciative smile I’ve seen in a long time. The man ended up talking to me for all 6 hours, a Hangzhou native who served in the army for 8 years in Shanghai, guarding the subway system. As an “apology”  for not being able to speak English, the man offered me pounds of vacuum-packed chicken legs, 5 handfuls of sunflower seeds, crackers, seaweed and bottles of water. I ended up having to just eat slowly so that he would stop offering me more, despite saying “I’m full” repeatedly.

What really struck me about this man was that despite his theoretically patriotic army background, he could not stop praising the United States. He genuinely believed that my simple phone was somehow “better” than his iPhone. I told him that no matter where you buy a phone, a good amount of the manufacturing process likely happens in China, but no matter what, he stuck to his “meiguo mai de hao” (~”American phones are better”). Likewise, he felt the lifestyle in America is more lavish, that the American army treats soldiers better comparatively, and that houses in America are invariably larger and more comfortable. But he never expressed any envy or desire to somehow be part of this place; in fact, I would say he was almost showing a certain level of pride that China has not reached that level yet, but that he can be part of its development as a hotel manager. It’s a kind of nationalistic sentiment that felt gentle and internal, which contrasted with the kind of overt nationalism I often see in the United States. It’s an interesting distinction to look at, and something I plan to study in the future.

In general, the man didn’t have the most bubbly or “warm” social disposition, but through his curiosity, his willingness to share his life story and his incessant offerings of food, I felt a level of comfort that I almost never feel with English-speaking strangers. There was certainly an humbling sense for both of us, knowing that we each had our weaknesses in communicating with each other. But we never switched out of Chinese, and at that moment I felt a new kind of appreciation for my two years of studying Chinese. These are the kinds of experiences that can’t be planned and require a degree of willingness to “dive in,” but it’s something I know could have only happened by coming to China and spending a summer here.

My attempt at capturing the sunset over farmland from the train.

 

Welcome to 711

Yousuf Ahmad, China Wanxiang Fellows Program, Summer 2012

妳好!

Sorry for keeping everyone waiting- this will be my last post 🙁 but here we go:

The Hangzhou portion of the trip we were pampered really well. The student ambassadors from Wanxiang Polytechnic were especially kind and helpful in showing us around and making us feel comfortable. Most of our meals were provided and we rode a bus everywhere together.

We stayed in the Refined Garden Hotel, and I happened to room with Ravi. Guess what our room number ended up being (the title of this post). Yup two Indian Guys in 711. So fitting.  For the first couple of days in Hangzhou we did a bunch of touristy things- hit up the West Lake, saw the Lingyin Temple, and various other sides. We even goat to take a boat tour of the Lake. Here was the view from the top of the Pagoda:

 

It wasn’t the best day  as it was kinda cloudy but nonetheless it was an awesome site. The Lingyin temple was pretty cool too:

We started taking classes on Tuesday morning. By the way the campus was beautiful:

The Green Tech seminars were for the most part nicely delivered and the teachers were very knowledgeable. We covered a wide range of topics from Economics, Solar PV, Hydro, Natural Gas, Anti-Poverty, Batteries, Wind, and we even had a lecture on Confucius. Overall the program was well balanced. The program is going to culminate in a final presentation this Fall at NU where we will be presenting projects that we are preparing.

Hangzhou like many other cities in China is still developing. The subway is set to open up this October and I feel that after it opens the traffic and the rate of cars going to the road will decrease. That being said I feel like if I were to come to Hangzhou in about five years from now, it will be a very different city. There’s a lot of construction that’s going on. Even the campus we have our classes in is new and has been untouched by students (I think its set to  open up this Fall).  By seeing the contrast between Hangzhou and Beijing, we were able to get a better appreciation for how China is still developing.

Despite the development the instructors who were from Zhejiang University, or from Wanxiang Corporation assured us that China was taking steps to meeting their Millennium Development goals and were building up the renewable industry. Despite all this development however it was evident that China was and is still consuming large amounts of coal to keep up with its growth.  You could tell thought that Hangzhou was implementing some Green Technologies. Many of the taxis were new battery powered ones and there were many solar heaters on top of buildings in Hangzhou. Also it was nice to gain the perspective of people who were working in the industry. Some individuals just presented the material without any of their own opinions while other lecturers gave us some more insight. The anti-poverty lecturer was especially moving, as the lecturer told us of a non-profit he started to help rural students.

We took numerous field trips to various power plants, and even to villages to help couple our lectures with first hand experience. These tours were not all great especially since a lot of information got lost in translation but a few of them such as the Natural gas plant tour was good. For the Solar plant we had already visited the plant in Rockford so I don’t think I gained much out of the visit. Here’s a video of the Natural Gas Plant:

Natural Gas Plant

Despite all the field visits, we visited numerous museums. I actually think I have been to more museums in China then in the US (that’s kinda sad!- I should probably work on this). We went to a Tea Museum, Fan Museum , Umbrella Museum , Sword and Scissor Museum and a few others. It was a little overwhelming but it was still nice to really tour Hangzhou. Here are some pics:

Ramadan started  the first Friday I was in Hangzhou. One of the student ambassadors, Bruce, very kindly took me to Phoenix Mosque which was near the center of the city. Here’s a video:

Phoenix Mosque

Fasting was not really too difficult- it was actually about an hour shorter than New York. It just took a little bit of work getting the hotel staff to make accommodations for me (I would use my breakfast voucher at Iftar time to break my fast). But other than that it was all pretty smooth.

For the first few days I along with other members of our group were missing the accessibility we had in Beijing. The subway was so easy to use and everything was close by. Since our hotel was a little remote, it would take a while to catch a cab and we weren’t exactly in the middle of the city. Also our campus was not right next to us ( we took a bus every morning to get to class). After a few days however we figured out some placed to go. I went with Tommy to a halal noodle shop that was less than a mile a way and it was pretty good.

The program ended with an awesome trip to Shanghai. Hangzhou was only a few hours away from Shanghai and we got there Friday Morning.  I actually was able to go to Friday Prayers but unfortunately on the way back I lost my camera (I’m pretty sure I left it in the first cab I tried to take- but the driver didn’t know where to go, I couldn’t find it when I got into the 2nd cab). But don’t worry I was able to take pictures from my phone!

Shanghai is an awesome city. It is definitely very modern and I think if China needs to show off a city to the world it is Shanghai. We were only there for 2 nights so we did not get a chance to do nearly enough but I think even just the view of the Bund was worth it:

It’s hard to imagine that most of those buildings have been built in the past 50 or so years. Shanghai had the most foreigners I had seen in China, and there was so much to do but too little time.   My final night before coming back to the states a bunch of us went out to dinner to this Halal place that was right around the corner. The food was great and at that point I realized my awesome trip was coming to a close.

In the end my experience in China is unlike anything I have ever done in my life. I didn’t know what to expect really going into it but I am so glad that I did. I feel like my experience would have been so much better if I would have known Chinese but I am glad that I had a great group of people to help me out. All of the Wanxiang Program Students along with the Student Ambassadors were especially great in making my experience memorable. Special shout outs to Ravi for being considerate, when I had to wake up for Suhoor at 3 in the morning to eat before sunrise. Also thank you Helen, Maddy, Tommy and Robert for helping us non-Chinese speakers. Jeremy, Sam and Julia were also awesome characters that helped made the experience more enjoyable. Also thanks to all the Public Health Program and Econ Program students in Beijing for an awesome first four weeks.  I want to thank Professor Petri,  Wanxiang Corporation, Professor Chung, Professor Gu, and all the other individuals who made this awesome experience possible. I encourage everyone to study abroad and hope that all of you that are planning on it can have an amazing experience like I did.

I know I left a lot out of this post, and by all means if you guys have any questions at all ask! Thanks again everyone!

Ghetto shortcuts and 50 cent bill$

Yousuf Ahmad, China Wanxiang Fellows Program, Summer 2012

你好 and Salaam everybody!

So first thanks for all the feedback and support for the blog! Please let it keep coming!

I’m going to focus this post primarily on some of the adventures I’ve taken solo. It’s always nice to travel in groups, have a native speaker with you but sometimes you can travel much quicker/ learn a lot more by yourself. (IPD folk prob don’t endorse this behavior- don’t worry I didn’t go anywhere too far/ foreign)

As a Muslim I follow a dietary standard called halal, its similar to how Jewish people observe Kosher. I basically cannot eat meat unless the slaughter is made in an appropriate manner for those of you who don’t know. One of the biggest questions I got from family and friends before traveling to China was “What are you going to eat?”  I would follow it up with a response with “You don’t think I’d be able to find anything to eat in all of China?”

Guess what I was right (as I usually am, jk- no but really in this case I was). Well to be fair China is not very vegetarian friendly. Most vegetarian dishes even have meat flavoring. Lunch during the week which is provided through the program- Gu Laoshi (Professor Gu- sort of our main adviser program) makes sure that we always have a vegetarian option. So for lunches its been easy- usually we get some chinese food, but we occasionally switch it up and have pizza/ subway.

The first couple of days I was at Beida I was determined to find my “go-to.” I looked around on google maps and found a halal place pretty close by. It was actually around the block (but that could be up to 20 minutes walking). I eventually found the restaurant- a very simple place, seemed like it was family owned and run. The lady at the counter was wearing a headscarf, and there was Arabic scripture hung around the restaurant- so I knew I was at the right place.

I ordered some chicken dish (yes finally some real PROTEEEINNNN!), with rice, peppers, onions,  with a surprising amount of ginger,  and this really interesting looking Naan (bread). Overall I was really pleased with the meal- everything was delicious and the best part was it was only 15 yuan (1 dollar is ~6.3 yuan- you can do the math). I thought to myself it’d be really nice to come to this place often but a 20 min walk might be tough- I could buy a bike? Maybe ride the scooter that is prob my roommates (but that would be wrong). Eh I decided to look for a  shortcut on my way back.

I knew I looped around the block and that the restaurant was not too far away from the building complex I was staying in (I could see the buildings). I came across a security guard and asked him how to get to the building by pointing at it, and showing him my ID card. He signaled that I had to loop around, but I insisted that go around was too far ( this was all done by facial expressions and hand gestures btw) He reluctantly pointed me to a fence- which had an opening! It was a way back to the back of the the complex:

 

 

SUCCESS! I know what you’re thinking- that’s a grimy shortcut. When I walked over and saw the whole in the fence (you can’t quite see it in the picture) I thought to myself should I??

Well… CHOLO! (China only once- yea it doesn’t really work, we still have adopted it as a catchphrase for our trip)- I went for it. Very simple actually- just leaned against the ledge and held on to the fence. Once I came to the other side- I took the 2 pictures and right after I saw a couple of natives using the shortcut- so it wasn’t just me.

I’ve gone back quite a bit to the restaurant. I’m actually unsure of what it’s called- I think it may be Ke Yuan Muslim Restaurant (according to Google).  The other rice dishes have been pretty awesome- especially the spicy chicken one with a bunch of peppers:

 

I’ve had noodles from there too, but I prefer the rice. There’s another place actually on the Beida campus that serves food to Muslims. I’ve gone there a few times- you can get a meal under 6 yuans, but the quality is not as great as the restaurant.

I’ve been fortunate not to have Public Health class on Friday afternoons, and have been able to attend Friday Prayers or Jummah every week thus far. The first week I went to the gorgeous Madian Mosque about 30 mins total by subway/walking. The subway is awesome btw, so easy to use and it only costs 2 yuan per ride. I’m pretty sure they were renovated for the Olympics:

Subway

They also have awesome ads like this:

Haha! Love you STARBURY!

Madian Mosque was beautiful. I had never seen a Mosque like it- It had an open courtyard with different really old buildings. One building was just for wudu (ablutions), another was a gift shop, another was an administrative building. I made a comprehensive video. I apologize for it being kinda shaky- but here it is:

[youtube jnMjzXqoNk8 Madian Mosque]

After prayer I met a brother from Pakistan who guided me to a restaurant where I had some beef noodles and met another Pakistani man. Pretty awesome:

They both knew Urdu and English and we struck up a conversation over lunch about China and how far the nation has come in the past couple of decades. Both of the men were graduate students at universities in the Beijing area, and they told me over and over again how awesome of a place China is. Despite them having been here for a few years, they said the language is very tough to pick up. We continued to talk about politics, and the state of Pakistan, India and China. After a bit, he said he had to get going and told me that the food had already been paid for. I insisted to pay for the meal, but on his way out he replied “Welcome, this is China.”

Overall I’ve been impressed with the kindness of the Chinese people. Numerous people have stopped and try to help me when looking at a map, and people have always been patient with my inability to speak the language. It kinda makes me think- would I do the same to Chinese foreigner visiting New York? I really don’t know- Is it because I’m biased/ expect foreigners to know English? The Pakistani man truly gave me some food for thought (pun intended).

The week after, based of a recommendation from the Pakistani brothers- I visited Niuje Mosque. I thought Madian was awesome but to be honest, Niuje makes Madian look like nothing. The shear size of Niuje along with its age and location (more central in Beijing) made me understand why it was worth visiting. It was similar stylistically to Madian but just so much bigger. I’ve got a bunch of pictures that I’ll prob upload to fbook soon. But here are a couple:

Really remarkable stuff. Niuje had a bunch of tourists as well, a bunch of people stuck around to take pictures.

On the way back – I can’t remember exactly which trip (Madian or Niuje) I attempted at buying a subway ticket. I gave what looked like 5 yuan bill to the cashier. He looked confused- Apparently it was a 5 Wu Jiao bill which is equivalent to half a yuan- hence a 50 cent bill:

Just one of the many embarrassing moments about not knowing how China works. Well you learn something new everyday!

Alrighty that seems like a good deal for this post. I’ll be sure to talk about the group excursions in the upcoming posts.

Stay Tuned.