Thursday, May 31, 2018

Migration and Bacteria

Hello everyone! We’re less than a week away from our departure, and I for one couldn’t be more excited. I’ve starting the process of getting my suitcase and carry-on in order, and gathering all those last-minute bits like bandaids and earbuds. 
I’ve also been doing some reading about the culture and recent changes in China. I’ve been reading Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler and China In The 21st Century by Jeffrey Wasserstrom. They’ve both been really interesting reads. I was particularly interested by Hessler’s discussion of the movement of people from rural china to the larger cities, in an incredibly wide-spread voluntary migration. Coming from a small town myself and pursuing a medical degree, I’ve seen first hand the push on professionals to return to rural areas after their education and work there, which Oracle Bones discusses a little. China is shifting from a primarily rural-based nation into a city-based one, which I’m interested in getting to see when we’re there. China In The 21st Century is a really interesting read if you’re looking at a more academic look at the changing landscape of politics and culture in China.
On a more personal note, I’ve recently gone and gotten the last vaccination I needed to be ready for our trip, and was really interested by the tips given by the Center for Disease Control for reducing the likelihood of sickness while abroad. I wanted to share some of these with you all (when it comes down to it, medicine and biology will always be my first interests). The areas where we’ll be traveling will be pretty warm, but the CDC still recommends wearing long sleeves and pants whenever possible, to minimize the likelihood of being bit by any furry things or creepy-crawlies. While cities may not be as likely to have insect vectors, animals can also carry infections. On the topic of infections, I’m sure most of you are familiar with traveler’s illness. Leaving your own accustomed bacterial fields and entering another (like leaving the U.S. and going to China) may create a bad gut reaction, where you obtain new bacteria that aren’t part of your own internal system, and your body tries to flush the new bacteria out. It’s great engineering by your body, but it does tend to make travel nasty! I’d recommend everyone check out the CDC’s page on China travel and read up on prevention methods and safety. I’m hoping for no issues so we can all enjoy learning about China’s culture first-hand and China’s potential health risks second-hand from the CDC.
Less than a week to go and we’re getting down to the wire! Are you all feeling nervous, excited, or a mix of the two? I’d be ready to get on the plane tomorrow, if I had the option. I’m ready to go!

Addison McGuire

Health Information for Travelers to China. (2018). Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from:

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Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Terracotta Army

Good evening, all! Is anyone else counting down the days till we leave for China? I have my own little imaginary wall calendar I mentally cross off each day on (like in the classic 90’s movies – red marker, white background, the works) …

One of the sights I’m most excited to see is the Terracotta Army, at Xi’an. This magnificent archaeological discovery has actually been on my bucket list since I was eight years old, when it was briefly mentioned in a book I was reading at the time; I was immediately struck with fascination by the mystery of it all, and curiosity for the purpose behind the thousands of clay soldiers.

The Terracotta Army makes up a portion of the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di, China’s first official emperor. A lone soldier from the Army was (accidentally) discovered in 1974 by Chinese citizens who were digging a well, and in the decades since, around 8,000 more figures have been unearthed – some found alongside clay horses to indicate their rank, others beside clay weapons such as swords and arrow tips. One of the truly incredible features of the Army is each soldier’s uniqueness; each one has a distinctive face, without any one expression repeated throughout all of the Terracotta Army.

What could be the purpose behind this creative design? And what, for that matter, was the purpose behind the Terracotta Army itself? At present, scholars and archaeologists speculate that the Army was designed to keep guard over Emperor Qin for all eternity (although other theories have been suggested, since this marvelous discovery). As to the first question, perhaps we’ll someday find out! Emperor Qin has been hailed as one of China’s most memorable leaders, as not only was it he who united the Warring States into a unified China, but he also made significant contributions to Chinese culture and society – such as initiating the construction of the Great Wall of China (another wondrous monument we’ll be seeing shortly!). When considering his interest in China’s cultural growth, it doesn’t seem inconceivable that he may have simply desired to have a hand in the creation of an artwork unlike any other… and the Terracotta Army is certainly that!

Just think, only eleven more days until we’re on our way to China! Let the countdown continue!

Becca McGuire

National Geographic. Discoveries May Rewrite History of China's Terra-Cotta Warriors. n. d. Web. 20 May 2018.
National Geographic. Emperor Qin’s Tomb. n. d. Web. 20 May 2018.

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Strange relations in China

Lest we slip into thinking everything in China is just the joy of wantons and donkey burgers, here are a few current issues to ponder.

1.  As one headline puts it, "China has world’s most skewed sex ratio at birth – again."
On the mainland, a traditional preference for boys has encouraged selective abortions that resulted in 115 boys born for every 100 girls from 1994.
And this matters:
In terms of gender equality, the nation ranked 99 out of 144 countries, down from 91 last year, the report said. A wide gap also exists in education levels of men and women on the mainland. China was 119 in terms of secondary school attainment, behind countries including Singapore, South Korea and Ghana.
On a different level, this also disrupts the future of families, dating and marriage in China   
Like India, most of China is patrilocal: in theory, at least, a married woman moves into her husband’s home and looks after his parents. Also like India, China has a deep cultural preference for boys. But whereas India has dowries, China has bride prices. The groom’s parents, not the bride’s, are expected to pay for the wedding and give money and property to the couple. These bride prices have shot up, bending the country’s society and economy out of shape.
 It is a buyer’s market, complains Qiang Lizhi, a newly married man who runs a café nearby. A 47-year-old man, Deng Xinling, says that men are now considered shopworn if they are unmarried at 25. By contrast, no woman is thought too old to marry; even widows have no difficulty in finding husbands.

One curious new institution seems to be courtship and dating schools for men...time to be sensitive and polite...

2.  The air in Beijing still isn't great.  One sample report, this from the NYTimes in 2013, "Life in a Toxic City."  
                                       (this from 2013)
The Chinese government is unhappy about this, and perhaps a bit sensitive.  It may be rude of me to inhale when I step off the plane and simply collapse.  I'll try to avoid that, but hey, heads up, I have trouble driving into St. Louis with the windows down.
                                        (this from 2015)
Is the air quality improving?  Maybe.  Maybe sometimes,  but not so much other times, depending on weather conditions, like during this recent sandstorm, when the hazard alerts were high.

Well, click here for a real time index of air quality.  We could use more of these!

Sometime, we should talk about solar and wind efforts in China.  Real, though coal is still...emperor.  

3.  And recent disturbing news, which Brian probably knows more about, politics and all--the "indoctrination camps" (I suppose it would be rude to call them concentration camps) for Chinese Muslims over in a western province.  Here's one Washington Post take on the camps:  "Chinese mass-indoctrination camps evoke Cultural Revolution." 
Since last spring, Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang have ensnared tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Muslim Chinese — and even foreign citizens — in mass internment camps. This detention campaign has swept across Xinjiang, a territory half the area of India, leading to what a U.S. commission on China last month said is “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today.”
The internment program aims to rewire the political thinking of detainees, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities. The camps have expanded rapidly over the past year, with almost no judicial process or legal paperwork. Detainees who most vigorously criticize the people and things they love are rewarded, and those who refuse to do so are punished with solitary confinement, beatings and food deprivation.
Probably not something our guide will talk about.

Now on with our innocent trip to China!

later, bob

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Jamaica - Education Department

Want to experience a trip that helps you grow as a professional, partake in tourist activities, assist a community in need, AND not break the bank all at the same time? The Education Department Jamaica Trip is the trip for you!

During this one week study abroad trip we stayed at a Methodist church's dorm in Falmouth, Jamaica. The staff there cooked three meals a day for us, did all of our laundry, and walked us to and from local places (they were AMAZING). Every day, we went to Falmouth All Age School and taught some kiddos! Each student was paired with a teacher and we got the chance to spend the entire week with them! From the Jamaican teachers, we experienced nothing but respect and open arms - we loved coming to work with them every day! The kids were so great about welcoming us as well. They helped us to better understand Patois (Jamaican slang) and we helped them with their academic studies. The school was right off of the ocean and every single day was filled with beauty! At the end of the week, each CC student packed up a suitcase of donated school supplies that we flew with us from the US. Each suitcase was packed for our own specific teacher. On Friday afternoon, we brought all the goodies to Falmouth All Age and gave them to our classes. There was no better feeling than to be able to help out these teachers/students, who so obviously deserved it!

After school was when our group got to go see some tourist attractions. These attractions included...

  • Dunn's Fall River 

  • Luminous Lagoon
    • (not pictured because only the naked eye can truly perceive the beauty of the glistening waters)
  • Martha Brae

  • The very last day of our trip, we stayed at a Jamaican resort! It was beautiful there and it was so nice to be able to relax and enjoy ourselves after a long, busy week of working! This beautiful country and the people will forever hold a special place in my heart. Going on this study abroad trip was one of the best decisions I've ever made. 

    I will end this post with a quote from the teacher I was paired with, Mrs. McLean. 

    "You have to make a difference. You cannot just teach to teach. You have to want to change the world. When you help a child, the world is a better place."

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Food in China?

So, a big part of every travel and study trip is eating--not just for the obvious reasons, but because so much of a culture is carried in its food.  That said, food is also one of the things that travelers tend to worry about.  When I texted my friend Roz about this summer excursion to China, her immediate response was "Just don't eat the food."  When pressed, she said "avoid the fish eyes."  I would say that's a given, but then, at that pleasant outdoor cafe in Greece, when the guide ordered up the fried whole fish, and said, "just start by biting through the head," well, I did, and was a bit glad I had an ouzo chaser.  And in a Mekong market, the two Australian dudes I was with decided it would be fun to do shots of the rice whiskey liquor in which any number of dead snakes were coiled up, and, eh, I had to go along.  So, fish eyes, maybe.

I have been to Taiwan, and loved the food there, even the mass-quantity, super-crowded, pushy hotel buffet breakfasts, but more, wandering around at night eating "street food" from all the booths.  Often, I would just watch the people and booth, then wander up, say one (holding up one finger), and holding out a handful of change.  Lots of interesting results.  

Here's a slightly long video of street food in Xian.  I want to do this:

So, I'm up for food adventures in China, though I expect surprises.  That is, I don't expect food there to be too much like the food in Chinese-American restaurants here.  Here's one website that surveys the basics.  It sounds like the expected staples of rice, noodles, tofu, with a variety of meats and veggies.  They say that pork is the most popular meat, and there are eggs in quite a few dishes.  Though not all chicken eggs.  I've raised geese and ducks before and eaten those eggs, and yes, some difference, if nothing else, that goose eggs aren't just a bad math score, but are enormous.
Food in China is also strongly regional, so I hope we get to experience the differences in the three cities we will visit (and that we have good enough wi-fi there to report as we go).  I did a quick look for food in Beijing.  Try this site.  Roast duck, Chinese dumplings, "Jing Jiang Rou Si--Shredded Pork in Beijing Sauce"--ummm.  The recommended Donkey Burger?
Originating in the city of Baoding in northern Hebei province, Beijing has adopted the donkey burger (驴肉火烧 lǘròu huǒshāo /lyoo-roh hwor-shaow/) as its own. Restaurants offering this dish serve a number of different donkey meals, however the one to try is the donkey burger. Shredded donkey meat is served in a piping-hot, crunchy bun with a green pepper relish.
This dish isn’t recommended solely for its novelty value. The contrast between the succulent meat, crunchy bun and sweet relish make it incredibly tasty and you are unlikely to stop at one. Look out for a big 驴肉 (donkey meat) sign clearly visible on the front of all restaurants offering this meat.
Well, um, maybe.

One other venue that will surprise my fellow travelers--I'm interested in visiting a KFC in China.  Surprising, because?  Oh, I'm that guy who scorns students and others who get homesick for McDonalds and sneak off for a Big Mac the first chance they get.  I'd have their stomachs pumped immediately, given the authority.  Though when the whining became too loud on a CC trip to Egypt, I did ask the guide to administer some American food, so she lined up a visit to a local TGIF.  Which I innocently boycotted, sitting out in the not pleasant Cairo sun, drinking warm water and eating a stale roll I'd kept from breakfast.  Guilt is a useful tool.

But KFC.  Someone recently told me it was worth the venture into the global corporate estate, since the food choices there would be--unexpected.  I recently had a speaker in a class who talked about similar KFC adaptations in her native Pakistan, so I'm willing to give this credence.  Check this article:  "KFC's Explosive Growth in China."  A lot of business model information, for those of you into that, but then this comment from an executive there:
"One of the lessons I take away from this case is that to do China, you have to do China," says Shelman. "It's a large, complex, and dynamic market that deserves single-minded attention." That attitude extends from the boardroom of Yum! Brands to the menus in KFC restaurants. A small number of items would be familiar to Western visitors—mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, fried bone-in chicken—but most would not. The Chinese KFC menu may include fried dough sticks, egg tarts (which Shelman raves are "to die for"), shrimp burgers, and soymilk drinks, as well as foods tailored to the tastes of specific regions within China.
The large selection of menu items is meant to appeal to the Chinese style of eating, in which groups of people share several dishes. But it's also part of the "New Fast Food" initiative Su developed in 2005 in response to concerns about the role of fast-food restaurants in the obesity epidemic—concerns that he shares and takes responsibility for. "We have been too greedy, too shortsighted," Su said, referring to the traditional high- volume, low-choice fast-food model.
Interesting, including the detail that the chicken there will only be dark meat.  Better already.

What of course will not be ok on this trip is if Explorica chooses the most objectionable route and feeds the whiny Americans French fries and burgers for our predetermined meals--something that occasionally happens on these tours.  Something I always noisily and in writing object to...

later, bob  

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The Moon Project

The moon has been one of the most important elements of inspiration in Chinese poetry. Chinese people, especially the poets worship the moon and have magnified the moon in countless poems. In many of them, the moon is the emotion carrier of the yearnings towards purity and beauty, the longings for family and love. (Chinese-at-ease

Here are a couple of moon-themed Chinese poems you should know. Both poems are from Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), a period which witnessed the flourishing of Chinese poems.

Quiet Night Thoughts” (静夜思) by poet, Li Bai (李白, 701–762 AD). Li Bai, as Bob mentioned, is one of the most prominent Chinese poets from his own time till present days. His works are full of passion, imagination and also elegance. Even today, his “Quiet Night Thoughts” is one of the must-know and it is often one of the first poems learned by children.

I wake, and moonbeams play around my bed,
Glittering like hoar-frost to my wandering eyes;
Up towards the glorious moon I raised my head,
Then lay me down — and thoughts of home arise.

Looking At The Moon And Thinking Of One Far Away” (望月怀远) by another Tang poet, Zhang Jiuling (张九龄, 675-740 AD). Apart from being a noted poet, Zhang Jiuling was also a prominent minister and scholar of the Tang Dynasty, serving as chancellor at his time.

The moon, grown full now over the sea,
Brightening the whole of heaven,
Brings to separated hearts
The long thoughtfulness of night….
It is no darker though I blow out my candle.
It is no warmer though I put on my coat.
So I leave my message with the moon
And turn to my bed, hoping for dreams

“Leave my message with the moon.” Such a lovely thought. And artists Olafur Eliasson and Ai Weiwei gave us an opportunity to do just that. Which brings me to the main reason for this post.

The Moon Project - The Mission: Draw on the moon!

Artists Ai Weiwei and Olafur Eliasson's collaborative art project, Moon, creates a shared online canvas, allowing a global audience to leave their individual mark in the form of drawings. 

‘moon’ is a digital canvas, which invites individuals to draw on its surface, whether it be a phrase, a doodle, a thought, a greeting — your mark acting as a catalyst for further communication between you and the rest of the universe, whoever is out there. (Chin)

It is a place where people from anywhere on Earth can connect through drawing. It exists beyond the art world, beyond borders, beyond traditional ideas of authorship and value.

“Turn nothing into something – make a drawing, make a mark. Connect with others through this space of imagination. Look at other people’s drawings and share them with the world. Be part of the growing community to see how creative expression transcends external borders and internal constraints. We are in this world together. Ideas, wind, and air no one can stop. […]mark the passage from nothing to something and from thinking into doing. Leave your fingerprint and see the shared moon grow as others reach out too. Let’s show the world that together our marks matter. Creativity defies boundaries.” – Ai Weiwei and Olafur Eliasson

Ai Weiwei stated: “The moon, like the Internet, in many ways exists beyond the reach and control of the government, and thus provides a perfect metaphor for their experiment in mass mobilization. “It’s the idea that the moon represents something unconscious from society” Eliasson also mentioned that, “The moon is interesting because it’s a not yet habitable space so it’s a fantastic place to put your dreams." … “The moon is really about a feeling we have of space, in that it doesn’t have any boundaries. Doesn’t have any walls. Doesn’t have any religious boundaries, or political boundaries” (vice creators)

“From any point of view, the moon carries our imagination. Any culture, history, or religion can sense that,” says Ai. “But the scientific landing showed it’s just cold rock there, which quickly destroyed all of the beautiful ideas and imagination people had about the moon.”

I’m not sure I agree. The moon still holds plenty of magic and poetic mystery for me. But their Moon project is pretty cool.

Check it out! Moon

More info:

Ai Weiwei is the most famous Chinese artist living today. He is involved in art, design, sculpture, architecture, curating, photography, writing, film, and social, political, and cultural criticism. His activities are mainly focused on freedom of expression and ways to support human rights and social justice.

Ai Weiwei's father was Ai Qing, one of China's most renowned poets. 1958 he and his family was exiled to farms in northeast China, and then in 1959 transferred to Xinjiang by the Communist authorities. During the period of the Cultural Revolution he was forced to work daily cleaning the communal toilets for his village of about 200 people. This had an effect on Ai.

Be sure to take a look at his extensive body of work.


·      Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry film on vimeo

·      Ai Weiwei

·      Ai Weiwei on Poetry

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Three Perfections: The "Soundless Poem"

Have you ever wondered why Chinese paintings have writing in them? Did the painter do the writing or was it someone else? And if so, who? What does it say? Did the painter deliberately leave room for it? How did painting, poetry and calligraphy merge into this beautiful art form?

The Three perfections is the gathering of poets, calligraphers, and painters to create an artwork in ancient China. The resulting product would be a painting that would include the work of a calligrapher to write a poem.

Legend holds that the Tang Dynasty poets Du Fu and Li Bai (see Bob’s post below) were the first to introduce the combination of painting and poetry into one artwork. However, according to Pang, painting was not equated with poetry until the eleventh century, in the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127). Scholars who were versed in poetry and calligraphy adopted painting as a vehicle of self-expression. (Pang)

The merging of poetry and painting became so valued that artists at the Northern Song Imperial Painting Academy included the integration of poetry and painting. Painters would be given old poems to paint. For instance, how would you paint:

Treading the flowers returning home,
Horse hooves are fragrant.

This practice of painting old poems as a method of learning this tradition was called painting "poetic ideas," shi’i.

According to Leni Rubinstein, great paintings were not just used to decorate walls and match the couch, they were meant to inspire and cultivate the personalities of the individuals participating. They would be shown at gatherings as a sort of "live painting con­cert," or perhaps hung on a wall for a short while for a special occasion, or sent as a "letter" to a good friend.

A poet would write a poem inspired by a painting, a painter paint a poem-or com­pose a poem, then paint-and maybe put the poem on the painting. In this way, there developed the beautiful and unique idea: "a painting within the poem, a poem within the painting.

As a result, a common expression emerged, the "soundless poem," to describe how one might experience a painting with sound, sight, smell, touch, and emotions. Painting was regarded as ‘silent poetry’, and poetry as ‘painting with sound’. And adding to the interplay between poetry and painting was the was the third perfection, calligraphy.

Here are some symbols seen in Chinese paintings. The development of the Chinese characters for “mountain”  (shan) [top] and “water” (shui) [bottom] is shown from left to right. The concepts of “stillness” and “movement” are conveyed through the forms of the characters themselves. (Calligraphy by Dr. Kenneth Chang) 

In Confucian philosophy, mountains are an image of calm stillness, and water, of movement and change-hence, of the complementary concepts of Being and Becoming. Thus, the skilled artist can use his works to address and portray the trans­formations and subtleties of the universe.
This is a rich tradition in Chinese painting and I’ve just scratched the surface here.

Here’s an essay and website if you'd like to read more.

Three Perfections: Poetry, Calligraphy and Painting in Chinese Art

Be prepared, Bob and I might just break out the brushes, ink, and paper and have you all create your own soundless poems!

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