Coming to America!!!

by Nathan Taylor

After two weeks of intense exposure to Chinese culture, it was time to come home. There were mixed emotions as we met at the Beijing airport for one last group picture (minus Jan who left in Xi’ an to go to Shanghai).

The first emotion was excitement for what we had experienced. We had just visited one of the seven wonders of the world, met wonderful people who opened their hearts and life experiences to us, and surrounded ourselves in a culture that challenged the way we thought about the world. We leave with feelings of exhaustion as we sought to experience Chinese culture, which resulted in an inward search that provided greater understanding for ourselves. We leave dreading the upcoming 13 hour flight to Detroit, which was extended after waiting 2 hours on the tarmac waiting to depart.

We leave balancing the excitement of this developing country, with a fear of how the development will alter the beauty of Chinese tradition. I find myself asking what will happen to the people? What will happen to families? How will tradition change? If I return in ten years, will I be able to witness the same majesty of China that I have experienced the previous two weeks? The complex interplay between communism and capitalism will be pivotal to how these questions are answered.

We leave with with a recognition of the infancy of American culture, as we were exposed to 2000 plus year old symbols of Chinese culture. Though often thought as antiquated symbols, many seem to still play a role in the peoples life. We leave having seen on one hand the beauty and prosperity that is China, and on the other hand seeing many of the challenges and obstacles of everyday life.

We leave with a greater understanding of Chinese culture, and a greater awareness of of how little we know about the world. We are surrounded by a diversity of people, whether 1000’s of miles away or sitting next to us in the cafeteria at UNL, all molded by their experiences and culture. With this awareness comes a call to be more open, inviting, and sensitive. We were told several times that if there was no food left on the table, though everyone was beyond full, it would mean that there was not enough prepared. We are leaving China full, knowing there are still parts of Chinese culture left at the table that we still need to experience. This experience resulted in a desire to nourish the seed planted to further understand and experience China.

As the plane departs from Beijing, I watch the shadow of the airplane displayed on Chinese soil. The Delta plane holding 350 people has a shadow that at first seems larger than life, but the higher we ascend, the shadow can barely be seen when compared to the vast geography of China. Though small, it still casts a shadow, an imprint on the world. We leave China hoping that the imprint we leave on the world is  positive, with a greater sensitivity and appreciation to all walks of people.

Finally, we leave with new found friendships. New friendships developed in our “family” during the past two weeks, and for those who invited us into their family during our journey in China.

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A Perfect Ending

by Bethany Barone

Once the day started, I knew it was going to be a little crazy. Everyone needed to get ready, eat, and be packed before we headed out for today’s activities. As everyone started to dwindle out from the rooms, I started to get really excited about our visit to the preschool at the Jiaotong University. Everyone really enjoys interacting with children, so I knew this was going to be a lot of fun!

Upon arriving at the preschool, we were greeted by the staff. They were extremely welcoming and very excited to share and show us their beautiful school. At the preschool, there are 1,300 students and 200 teachers with 44 classes and 30 students in each classroom. In the classrooms there are three teachers, which include two English teachers and one assistant teacher. They also informed us about the different levels at the preschool. In level 1 the ages are three to four, level 2 the ages are four to five, level 3 the ages are five to six, and level 4 the ages are six to seven. Also, the curriculum is heavily based on art, nature, and culture which is different from the rest of the Chinese education system. After the English teacher told us this, it really helped all of us understand this preschool and their mission to educate these children.

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Next, we were ushered through the gates and the first thing I noticed were the all these little tiny children exercising. They were the cutest little children and I couldn’t stop watching them. It wasn’t just me either, everyone in the group was smiling ear to ear. Inside the first building, we got to listen to the first class, which was about six year olds, sing to us in English. I have to say, I think my heart melted because they were just so adorable. Their English was great and the way they bounced their heads side to side was just perfect. Again, everyone was so welcoming and they invited us to sing and dance with the children.

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During our visit, we got to go several different classrooms and interact with the children. We sat and talked with the kids as they shared all the arts and crafts that they made. A lot of them spoke great English, so it was really fun when we started talking about the crafts they were making. I spoke with this one little girl and she told me about the chicken she was sewing. Let me remind you, she is six years old and she is threading a needle and sewing all by herself! After showing me her almost finished chicken, she asked me to end the last side. Well, after a few stiches I messed up and she wasn’t impressed. However, she was a very sweet girl and fixed it for me. In the other classes we visited, children were playing with puppets, dressing up, painting, and drawing all while having a great time learning about art, nature, and their culture.

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Near the end of our visit were given a grand performance by the children. Our first performance was three lovely girls playing together on a Chinese instrument. They played so well and so poised, we all were in shock. They were extremely talented and the music they were creating was magnificent. The next performance was a little more upbeat and with lot of kids. It started out with boys showing us their kung fu skills to some really fun music. They looked like they were having so much and all of us really enjoyed watching the mini kung fu masters. After the boys, the music transitioned and a bundle of little girls ran out from the sides and started to dance. All their hard work paid off because they looked beautiful dancing out there in their white flowing dresses. All of us here blown away by their dancing and kung fu skills that children demonstrated. Before our visit ended, we were invited to watch the raising of the flag that happens each Monday. It was a great honor to be invited and really special to see all the children take park. During this ceremony, the weekly lesson is announced. For this week, the lesson is on safety and ways children can display safe action in their daily lives. I wish we could have spent all day there, the staff and children were so great.

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at the trackPicture wall

After our visit to the preschool, we were all headed to the Muslim market for last minute shopping and lunch. Our main mission was to try a bunch of different street food and let me tell you, it was delisous! All of us tried a bunch of different food such as, quail eggs with sesame sause, lamb skewers, potatoe spirals, bread desserts, and a Chinese hamburger. Dr. Bischoff told us about the Chinese hamburger I was determined to try one. The line was long, but it was totally worth it. It looked like a pulled pork sandwhich, but it was really lamb with a special spicy sauce.

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Once we arrived back on campus, we headed to the gate to leave for the airport. The day was so busy and fun that it was already time to leave for Beijing. We arrived at the airport with no time to spare and all of us were rushing to make our flight. I guess I would say our flight to Beijing was a little chaotic. However, once we relized that we were fine and going to make it, everyone started to relax. After arriving in Beijing, we headed over to our very nice hotel. By this time everyone was hungry and Jenae was in charge of directions to the resturant. Without no problems we made it and had a great dinner. We ended dinner with a discussion on how this trip had impacted us and what we have learned. Everyone had great comments about our time and the cultural awernress that we have gained. It was a perfect ending to a perfect trip.

Lunch with Families

by Jan Esteraich

This was our last full day in Xi’an…Rich, Bethany, Kelley, Jenae, Natalie and I were up and out the door at 6:45am to go to the park. We wanted to join a Tai Chi group to get some eastern exercise, and we anticipated the Tai Chi’ers would start early and end early. And, this was our last chance to really take in the elegance and beauty of the Chinese gardens.

Again, the park was humming with all kinds of activity:  fierce games of ping pong, spinning tops with a whip, fan dancing, jazzercise, singing groups, ribbon dancing, a saxophone group. Rich, Natalie and Jenae tried their hand at spinning a top with a whip. This is a difficult task, given the weight and length of the whip.

The women then found a Tai Chi group and we joined in, trying to follow the flowing movements of the Tai Chi Master, who was appropriately dressed in a white robe and pants. Although the movement is low impact, my heart was beating fast and my arms were getting a good workout. Note to self:  Find a Tai Chi group to join in Omaha (where I live).

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Natalie and I walked around the park’s lake and again I saw the four elements found in a Chinese garden: The traditional Taihu rock (although other rock can be used), plants, water, and a pavilion.  These elements together offer serenity and relief from the hustle and bustle beyond the park’s edge. After sauntering for about an hour, Natalie and I headed back to the dorms. Internet access in Xi’an had been a little sketchy, but we did discover a coffee shop close by, where, for a cappuccino, we could get online. We had a little time to go to the café and make some Face Time calls to our loved ones.

Today was the day we split into small groups and visited families in various parts of Xi’an. The family was having us over for lunch and conversation. At 11:10 we walked as a group to the university gate to flag taxis. Natalie, Jenae and I went to a home in the western part of the city; the area known for producing airplane engines and parts. The 30-40 minute cab ride (for a fare of under $10) took us to a high-rise apartment complex. Cavin, our host for the day, was waiting for us at the curb. He was a university graduate, in his mid-late 20’s, currently working at a company that arranges international study abroad experiences in the UK for Chinese university students. As we were chatting during the walk from the street to the apartment high-rise, we noticed he had a British accent. Cavin also spent part of his university experience at Sheffield College in the UK.

The apartment complex was about 10 years old, and Cavin had lived there with his parents for the last 8 years. It is not uncommon for young adults to live with their parents after high school or college, before they get married. The 11th floor apartment had 3 bedrooms, 2 baths with galley kitchen and large living/dining room, probably about 1400 square feet. They family also owned a car, which was parked underground.

We were greeted by Cavin’s girlfriend, Daria, who was sitting in the living room, making pot stickers for our lunch!

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Daria and Cavin went to high school together and she is currently getting a graduate degree in mathematics. Cavin’s father appeared from the kitchen to say hello and tell us he was cooking lunch today. We said ni hao and thanked him for his graciousness. Cavin kindly translated for us, and then we joined Daria in making the dumplings. She showed us how to hold the circle of pastry, put just the right amount of pork filling in it, fold in half and pinch. Lunch was a scrumptious 9-course meal… with tea and a taste test of Cavin’s home-brewed mulberry wine.

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The conversation flowed easily between all of us, giving us the rare opportunity to ask each other questions and have immediate back and forth discussion. We covered a lot of topics, but probably the one that interested me the most was about his view on the one-child policy. He thinks it is a good thing for parents to have 2 children, so the children can share the responsibility of taking care of the parents as they age, and one child is not burdened with all of the care. He confirmed what we had heard before – children have a responsibility to take care of their parents when they are elderly. The parents take care of the child through childhood, and very often take care of children’s children (their grandchildren) until the grandchildren go to preschool or primary school. As reciprocity (another very important value in the Chinese culture), the children take care of the parents as they age. Cavin asked about America’s retirement communities and nursing homes. He said if he were to put his father or mother in a retirement community or nursing home, people would think he was a “bad” child. He said the parents sometimes live with the children, and sometimes live very near the children. His father’s father (Cavin’s grandfather) was in the apartment high-rise right next to his. The grandfather’s apartment can be seen from their kitchen window. Cavin’s father visits his dad everyday. He said that if he and Daria get married and have children, he would like to have two.

During lunch Cavin offered to take us to the nearby market, where the locals go on a daily basis to buy their food. But before we went to the market, we stopped at the monument marking the beginning of the Silk Road. We snapped some pictures and headed for the market. We found a bonanza of fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, poultry, tea, eggs, mushrooms, you name it.

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We told Cavin that the watermelon we’ve had in China is some of the best watermelon we’ve ever tasted…What did he immediately do? He bought us all big slices of the delicious treat. We also walked by a Chinese liquor store, where he knows the owners. The owners welcomed us in and gave us samples of his white wine, and the very potent Chinese vodka. We all tried a swallow. Wow, keep that stuff away from flames, because it could ignite.  And, then Cavin suggested we go to a tea store, as Natalie and I were asking where we could buy good loose leaf tea.

What a delightful experience we had at the tea store. We had a tea service, sampling green and black and jasmine tea. Natalie and I settled on the jasmine tea…can’t wait to try it.

After we traded email addresses, Cavin walked us back to the street, hailed a cab, gave the cabbie directions, and we were on our way home.

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All three of us thought the visit could not have gone better. On the way home we talked about Cavin’s easy-going personality and his generosity in taking the time to show us around (Daria, the same).  Personally, I thought being in the family’s home and having lunch with them at their table offered an intimacy and an automatic openness that usually can’t be reached at restaurants or cafeteria settings. Our conversations were immediately relaxed and informal, offering a nice compliment to discussions we’ve had in a big, formal group setting.

Back to the dorm and we had a little free time. Jenae suggested we visit the Education Discovery store we saw at dinner the other night. Natalie, Sarah, Jenae and I trek to the mall, expecting a toy store. When we walk off the elevator, we see it is some sort of club for young children and parents. We inquire at the front desk. A cheerful young woman offers to show us the club. Sure! We would love to see the inside of a Kid’s Club in China. During the tour we learned that parents bring their 0 – 6 year olds to the club for enrichment classes. The classes may be art, gross motor development, learning English. The parent can sign the child up for a number of different options, ranging in cost from $20 to $40 for a 50-minute session. The parents can also take classes with the child, or separately themselves. This visit confirmed what we had heard before:  Chinese parents sometimes/often sign their children up for extra activities outside of school (or in this case, before school entry) to give them the best opportunities they can afford.  Sidebar:  Jenae got offered a job.  Our tour guide wanted to hire her on the spot (it was half jokingly said, but half in earnest too!) . Jenae certainly received an invitation to return Xi’an…for a part-time job perhaps?  J

Finally, we all reconvened at a restaurant to share our small group experiences. We were all a bit weary at dinner, and thinking about having to pack for our journey to the airport the next day.  I am looking forward to visiting the pre-school tomorrow morning…

Saturday the day full of new cultural experiences!

by Kelley Stefanec

At Xi’an Jiaotong University, the college we are staying at is throwing a cultural festival.  Over 88 colleges in China were at this event.  The festival provides food, fun facts, and information from different cultures around the world.  The cultural fair is put on by different ethnic groups that attend Xi’an University.  The fair also provides the different cultures to go on stage and provide song and dance from their culture.  It is very interesting to see different styles of song and dance. This fair really opened my eyes to see how little I am compared to the world. Even though I feel like I am insignificant to the world the little impacts I make on myself and show the world can change one person and that can be a chain for change to the rest of the world.

Group outsideStage show

Next on our agenda we are headed to a Chinese wedding.  We arrive and hour before the wedding because it is very impolite to be late to a wedding.  Our waiter sits us almost in the front where the family of the bride and groom sits.  During this trip I have not really felt uncomfortable or that I was a minority but this afternoon I felt very different.  The moment we walked into the ceremony all eyes were on us, it almost seemed like we were on display at a museum.  Another event that made me feel uneasy was the fact that smoking was legal in public places, it was very different scenario to be in a place where it reeked of smoke but to the Chinese it is a norm.  To say the least I really felt like a fish out of water.  Once again this is where I can see myself growing as a person and stepping out of my comfort zone.  I am able appreciate a different cultural experience and grow in my cultural awareness.

Wedding

The Stone Forest is collection of Chinese history that was carved in stone.  There are 4000 pieces of Chinese poem written in stone that depict their history.  The Chinese did a great job keeping track of their history because they had a written language that marked back from centuries.

Stone forest 1Stone Forest 2

Ni-Hao! (By now this has become a regular hello for all of us)

by Janae Gatzemeyer

We started the day being on time for once. We always seem to get off to a slow start in the morning, time changes are rough. After our prompt start, we headed over to the Shaanxi History Museum. We met up with our tour guide in Xi’an, Helen. Helen has so much knowledge on Chinese history and culture; it’s captivating to listen to her talk about it. On the way to the museum, Helen told us stories of the emperor. I love to hear stories of the emperor. No matter how many stories I hear, new information always seems to come up. When we got inside the museum, Helen continued to educate us on Chinese history. Just when you think you kind of have a grasp on Chinese history, you get flooded with more information. Chinese history is something us as Americans will never know enough of. Chinese people are so interested in learning about our history and culture. Why aren’t we interested in learning Chinese history? Or any other countries history? I’ve been thinking about this a lot during my time in China. I urge you to think about this as well as you continue to read our blog posts, maybe we’ll inspire you.

Since we’ve been here, the Chinese people have been so welcoming. I’ve felt so at home and welcomed with open arms here. Do we do the same for Chinese people that come to America? We talked with Chinese students the other day and we asked what they think the U.S. is like. Almost everyone said freedom. For a country that seems so free, I’m not sure we’re so welcoming. Myself included. Looking back at my encounters with international students, have I done my part to make them feel welcome? These thoughts have been running through my head during my experience in China. Americans talk a lot about the U.S. being a “melting pot.” But, our group has been talking a lot about this as well. We feel like we are a melting pot, but we expect other cultures to melt into our U.S. American Pot. It’s an interesting topic; spend some time thinking about it in a 3rd person perspective.

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Fun fact: Yellow river has been the mother river of China. In fact, all rivers flow from west to east because of higher elevation.

When we first got to the Shaanxi History Museum, we were greeted by a smiling lion in front of the museum. This is very rare for China; Dr. Xia hadn’t even seen a smiling lion before. Helen told us that the Chinese adapted this concept from Afghanistan. Also, special shout out to the all the archeologists who discover that these rocks being displayed in a museum, aren’t just rocks. We spend a lot of time looking in the display cases thinking, how did they know that was important? So, Hooray for archeologists. Next, we headed off the Wild Good Pagoda, where they keep scriptures and statues from the Tang Dynasty. The 3rd emperor called for monks to translate, if they could translate the scriptures, they could come to the capital city. While we were here, we saw people worshipping the money god and bringing flowers and apples to the various gods around the pagoda.

After the pagoda, we were all withering away of starvation. (Okay, I’m being dramatic here, but you get the point). So, lunch was definitely on our agenda next. Of course, Helen took us to a great Chinese restaurant. Chinese food is really growing on me! Yay! Next, we biked 12 km (9 miles) around Xi’an City Wall. We had 3 tandem bikes and 2 singles. Now, this was many of our first time on the tandem bikes. Kelley and I were a team and it was not a pretty sight to see us get going. It was an interesting experience. We required one person to say at the back with us as our spotter, in case we fell. But, let me tell you….. It felt like 12 miles instead of 9 miles. So at the end of the day, we biked 9 miles and walked 7 miles. We’re all going to be in shape when we come back. Watch out. 😉

JanaeNatalie on Bike

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Next up for the day was the Mosque, a Muslim temple. This Muslim temple was made in the Ming Dynasty. It is a place to worship. Nathan asked a great question; “What brought the Muslims to China?” Helen, of course, had a lot of information to share with us about this topic. The Silk Road is the main reason that they traveled to China. It was a gradual move though, as to not overwhelm the Chinese people. There were a ton of shops surrounding the Mosque, so we obviously had to stop and buy some things. We’re getting really good at bargaining. I hope we remember we can’t do that in the U.S. After shopping around Muslim street, we headed to dinner. We ate dinner at the Shaanxi Grand Opera house in Xi’an. We enjoyed a delicious dumpling dinner upstairs. After we were stuffed full of dumplings, we headed downstairs to the ballroom. The show we watched was a Chinese culture show. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It was so incredible to see all the traditional dances. It’s amazing to watch these young Chinese people perform traditional dances from many, many years ago. There were many different styles at the show; Traditional dancing, singing, and drumming. If you didn’t already know, cultural tradition is what China is based on.

PillarDancing Woman

Let’s talk about communication. I’m sure many of you are wondering how we’re communicating over here. Communication is something we’re constantly learning. Not everyone speaks English and we don’t speak Chinese.  Most recently, it’s been pointing, head nodding, head shaking, body language, talking with our hands and a few attempts at simple Chinese words. I downloaded a Chinese dictionary app on my phone for when I need to know a few words. What I’ve done recently is look up words, and try them out on Dr. Xia before I try them on anyone else. It’s kind of awesome to think that spoken language isn’t the only way to communicate.

This trip has really inspired me to learn the Chinese language. It’s something I find so interesting and I’m excited to learn. Wish me luck!

Saving Some History for the Future

by Tuyen Huynh

Today was our second full day in Xi’an, China. I have to admit that I find the Xi’an Jiaotong University campus and its local surroundings more fitting for me. Everywhere we go there is a serene atmosphere that is created by the abundance of weeping willow trees and sounds of nature. Everyday it feels like I’m walking through the amazon but there is always a group of people exploring with me. This kind of natural environment truly inspires students or even visitors like my colleagues and I, to sit and reflect on a much deeper level. It encourages us to actively understand how our own consciousness is processing these immersing experiences.

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Xi’an is a made up of a population of 8 million people. However, before Beijing became the capital of China, Xi’an rightfully held this distinguished title. We had lerned that much of China’s history happened in Xi’an such as the famous Silk Road or textile factories. However, like many historical discoveries throughout the world, at some point in time it was lost due to the strong push for modern developing in their societies. Oftentimes it is due to serendipity that history is accidentally rediscovered. It is then that a renew appreciation for the past where we attempt to preserve these rediscovered historical sites and honor the legacy that once was. Chinese culture is all about the past, present, and future and today we were able to witness it through some amazing museums.

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As mentioned earlier, some discoveries are unintentional. The Exhibition of Unearthed Relics of Bampo Site is a good example. What started out to be a typical development project for the ever progressive China such as a power station, ended up becoming a remarkable discovery that will demonstrates the true power of time and history. While digging a local site to build a power station, workers soon discovered that their working grounds held something far more valuable than ever expected. Underneath all the dirt lies a hidden civilization that soon contributed to the undeniable beauty of Chinese history. The museum displayed the areas of living spaces, pottery, and graveyards where ancient Chinese ancestors once occupied. At this exhibit we were able to see the presentations of skeletons of the ancient people. Later, we learned that only the same gender could be buried together and some even had their heads turned to the direction of the west or facing down. In addition, the positions of the bodies represented something very specific. Bodies that were facing the ground meant that the individual had died an “abnormal death.” Fascinating, right?

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Further, children from this society oftentimes do not know who their fathers are. Even more interestingly, grandmas are the ones that held the dominant power within the village. In comparison to the own Western society, there is quite a contrast. However, looking at current China’s culture, grandparents, particularly the grandmothers still hold some sort of power over the family. It may not look the same compared to the past since the meaning has been redefined over the years. Still, these values may still be relevant to China’s current culture even if it’s subtly transformed.

It would be impossible to visit Xi’an and not explore the Terracotta Museum where 8,000 Terracotta Warriors were discovered, one again by accident. Prior to visiting the museum, our tour guide Helen took us to a local ceramic warehouse where we learned a bit about the structure of the famous Terracotta Warriors who are made up of a special type of clay. Some of us couldn’t resist the opportunity to buy one or two items of the very detailed artwork of the warriors. At the actual museum we visited three pits that displayed the restored statues of the warrior by archeologists. It is believed that these statues were created to protect the famous first emperor of China, Qin Shi Haung during his afterlife. The Terracotta statues are designed to be taller than the average human being. This is because the China believes in the afterlife; therefore it provides more a powerful presence in the afterlife. The outfits and poses of each statue represent their rank and role. The current discovery displayed of the Terracotta army consists of 6 generals, infantry, and cavalryman. Strikingly, in attempt to preserve history for the future, not all the warriors were dug up. The resistance to not further explore the site is intentional and reflects the China’s beliefs of understanding value with respecting the past, present, and future. By having the discipline and self-control to leave these areas alone for future exploration, China’s will always have something miraculous to marvel at. In a way, the untouched warriors will remain intact in their current condition since the existing warriors had lost its original colors subsequently after they excavation. According to our tour guide, Helen, within 1-2 weeks of the uncovering of the warriors, oxygen had caused the diminishing of the original paint/colors of the statues. Until archeologists could figure a scientifically advance way to preserve their natural coloration of these artifacts, it may be best to leave what is unrevealed, untouched.

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One lingering question that I have been pondering since the museums, especially the Terracotta Warrior exhibit, is whether our current discoveries or inventions are truly ours. For example, the Terracotta weaponry that has been studied by experts revealed similar compounds on the weapons as the ones Germans discovered only a few decades ago. The Terracotta statues have long made this discovery before modern man claimed or patented them as their own. There is a level of intelligent that we tend to underestimate when we look at our past ancestors. Sometimes I think we let our sense of pride and ego devalue what our past ancestors had contributed to our existing worlds. I wonder what the world would look like if we all started to take pride in the histories of our culture and the natural world we live in. I really think it can offer us more than we think if we choose to be present and open to these new ideas.

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That moment when the group finds free Wi-Fi

May 20th

by Sarah Taylor

Our first full day in Xi’an consisted of a variety of exciting activities.  We began our day with a different style of breakfast than we had experienced the previous week.  Instead of a continental-style breakfast in our hotel, we got our breakfast from street vendors located near Jiaotong University.  We were able to try an assortment of traditional Chinese breakfast foods. We had mini bananas, dumplings, and other bread-like items filled with egg, meats, and vegetables.  It was interesting to see how these foods were made and all the ingredients that went into them.

Eatin food

While walking around for breakfast, we noticed ways that this area of Xi’an is different than Beijing.  Xi’an does not seem as urban and modern to the extent that Beijing does.  You could also tell that we were not in a tourist part of the town, as the only items sold were food and necessary living materials.  Many locals were out and about buying their fresh fruits and vegetables, so we enjoyed watching them partake in this process.

Market

After breakfast, we had a lesson on Chinese calligraphy and a lesson on Chinese painting.  We started off by learning the art of Chinese calligraphy.  We were provided a calligraphy brush, black ink, and a large piece of paper to use for practice.  Controlling the thickness and thinness of the strokes was challenging for many of us.  We enjoyed drawing Chinese symbols and then finding out what they stood for.   After we finished the calligraphy lesson, we moved on to painting.  We were able to use the same supplies as we did with calligraphy, with the addition of water. The painting instructor showed us how to paint a shrimp and a willow tree.  The tree seemed much easier to paint than the shrimp.  As we practiced, we learned that Chinese painting is connected closely with the Chinese culture.

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After we ate lunch in the Jiaotong University cafeteria, we briefly stopped by the Jiaotong University – University of Nebraska exchange center.  This center is located on the Jiaotong University campus and works to support the cultural exchanges between China and the United States.   It was an odd, yet comforting site to see pictures of Nebraska around a university center in China.  The center has three interns from Nebraska, so we also found it interesting to meet other students from Nebraska in China.

Next, we attended a presentation about Jiaotong University and were able to have an insightful discussion with five Jiaotong University students.  We asked these students questions and they also asked us questions.  They were very curious to know about the teaching style in United State’s college classrooms. We explained that most classes consist of lecture, and this seemed similar to what they experience.  However, an obvious difference in schooling between the two countries was the importance of college and preparing for college in China.  We had a long discussion about the stress Chinese students face to getting into a top university and how their parents influence their career choices. One student even mentioned to us that he wanted to go into math but his parents convinced him to go into engineering.   Additionally, we had a conversation about the Chinese students’ perceptions of America and vice versa.  It was interesting to learn that the Chinese students view America as the land of opportunity.  It was mentioned multiple times by Chinese students how “free” people in America are and how much “freedom” there is for students.  They emphasized that students in America get to do whatever they want or like to do.   These comments really made us ponder the reasoning for these students to think this way.  I think we could have carried on this conversation with the Chinese students for much longer than time allowed.

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Finally, before ending our day with dinner, we had the opportunity to get kung fu training from Chinese kung fu masters.  The masters taught us both offensive and defensive moves. These moves reminded many of us of self-defense moves we had learned in past self-defense classes.  For instance, we learned how to defend ourselves against punches thrown by the enemy.  When watching the masters do the moves, the moves looked easy.  However, once we tried to perform the same moves, we quickly realized that they were challenging.  This activity was a nice way to end the day, as well as interact more with Chinese people.

Natalie beating up innocent bystanderTakedown

All in all, it was a good first day at Jiaotong University!

Sarah