17
Jun
15

Junior Year Abroad

When talking about study abroad, sometimes I share with students that “my father did his junior year abroad in Korea.” Reactions vary. With the popularity of the current “Korean wave,” some students feel that his experience must have been pretty “cool.” Others show little interest at all. Few, if any, figure out that his “junior year abroad” in Korea was actually a stint in the US Army during the Korean War. He was, in fact, drafted and served while pursuing his B.S. degree at the University of Minnesota. Although my mother gently encouraged him to share his experience with family as he got older, my father never did before passing away in November 2011. There were only bits of factual information we had gleaned over the years. He traveled to and from Korea on a troop ship, stopping in Yokohama en route. The winters were cold and miserable. The food was awful. There were few very laughs, unlike depictions from the TV series M*A*S*H (Altman’s movie version seemed closer to the experience according to my father).

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Broken Bridge over the Yalü

It’s highly problematic, of course, to associate military service overseas with study abroad. But during our recent trip to Dandong 丹东, China, which lies on the Yalü river 鸭绿江 across from North Korea, I could not help but think about how different my father’s experience must have been while stationed on the peninsula. Here I was with a group of students and my colleague traveling on a comfortable bus to the border. There are still obvious reminders of the war, such as the “Resist America, Aid Korea” 抗美援朝 museum in Dandong and the Broken Bridge 断桥, which was bombed in 1951 but still stands today, spanning just over half way across the Yalü River from the Chinese side. But our trip was safe, fun, and touristy. We got very close to the border on both the ground at the Eastern Great Wall and during the Yalü River boat cruise. We even had the opportunity for “illicit” contact with citizens of the DPRK. Halfway through the river cruise, our tour boat stopped and a black North Korean skiff pulled up beside us to offer “forbidden” North Korean goods for sale. I made my purchase using American dollars, which are in high demand on the black market there.  Continue reading ‘Junior Year Abroad’

15
Jun
15

Everything changes

(Post started on 9 June 15) This is my third trip to China in as many years. While I’ve been to many amazing places here, there are some sites I’ve visited repeatedly—a feature of traveling here with different students each time. Some of these sites are worth revisiting, and the Great Wall makes that list for me.

Yesterday I spent nearly the entire day on my feet. Five of our six students and I headed towards the mountains from the ‘farmhouse’ (really more of a bed-and-breakfast, though we take all of our meals here), looking for flowers and bees along the way.

The farmhouse

The farmhouse

Already, just walking around the village (a sign near one entrance of town tells us that there are 352 residents) showed signs of change — new buildings going up here, a family home gone and a two-story “farmhouse” is going up in its place. Heading out of the village towards the mountains, there was more of the same. New buildings going up, new “farmhouses” open for business. Trucks, including dump trucks with only three wheels, barrel past on the narrow road — and the motorcycle-truck hybrids also pass — as well as some nicer passenger vehicles such as a Jeep SUV. (I suspected we would see this one again.) As we headed uphill, eventually the construction was behind us and only the road, trees (chestnut and walnut; cash crops), and the wall was ahead.

The trail is marked in two ways: with a sign or few saying that the path is not open to tourists and with standard trail markers to keep you on the correct path. This time, there was a third way as well: motion-activated, talking poles. Unfortunately, there was no text on them, and they spoke only in Mandarin, which no one in our group could sufficiently comprehend. As to the ‘no entry’ signs, we were originally set on this path by the proprietors of the ‘farmhouse,’ so we felt invited to use this path. (And yes, the Jeep was parked in the lot at the start of the trail.)

The hike is on a well-worn trail. It’s narrow in parts, enough so for a local to bar the way across and demand payment for access. On the bright side, he handed us three cold waters (!) once we had crossed his path. (It was also less than half of what tickets at the official tourist entry cost.) The only real rigor in it is that it heads up and up and up; no surprise as we are heading to the Wall, which runs along the ridges in the mountains here.

As to why we hike, we did stop along the way to complete observations and collect data. Interestingly, on this trip, we did not see any active bee hives anywhere we went. But—it was along this way that I stopped to investigate the telltale sign of buzzing bees, which turned out to be a large number of honeybees visiting a collection of flowering chestnut trees.

Chesnut in flower

Chesnut in flower

The numbers seemed sufficient to suggest a hive nearby, but a quick hike through the area did not show any signs of the beekeepers we saw in a different part of the forest last year. We also stopped perhaps halfway up the trail to the wall and saw yet more honeybees on a patch of flowering plants. (My gut feeling is that we saw more honeybees this morning than any other, but the data have not been collated yet.) We would miss all of this had we followed the ‘official’ paths.

This time, as I made my third visit to this stretch of the Wall, I was with five students who had never seen it but for pictures. Where we gained access to it, there are views of both sides of the mountain and down into the valley from which we came, and along ridges where the Wall extends, with towers visible as far as the eye can see.

A view from the Wall

A view from the Wall

The valley from the Wall

The valley from the Wall

While the initial ‘wow’ may not be what it was for me the first time I saw it, it’s little matter when I’m watching five students who are seeing it with all of that wonder and awe and more. Some things, maybe they don’t change so much…

When we exited at Mutianyu, vast changes were apparent. Where only a year ago there were stalls and hawkers to pass both entering and exiting the entrance to the Wall, there were now open paths and buildings — and a shuttle bus to an area where the vendors had clearly been moved. Vehicles were now restricted in the immediate area of the ticket office, with only the shuttle buses allowed up. This allows another ticket to be sold: for the shuttle bus.

The word that came to my mind in considering all of these changes (from Mutianyu to its sleepy neighbor Beigou) was ‘gentrification’. They seem to be ‘cleaning things up’ and ‘improving’ in ways that definitely induce change, but I’m torn as to whether the end result is better than it was. Perhaps in the long run, they are making the sites more sustainable, generating income that will be used to maintain it for the future. Forgive me if I maintain a healthy sense of skepticism as I consider that.

Perhaps these workers (seen last week)  are restricting future access?

Perhaps these workers (seen last week) are restricting future access?

While I started this post the day after hiking; I’ve finished it on my fourth day back home. And a series of communications from Steven, hiking today with students from the non-research group, suggest yet more changes in just the past week: doorways that were open onto the Wall at the top of the trail last week are now closed, and someone is charging an entrance fee at this part of the wall. Last I heard, the group wasn’t paying unless tickets were issued in exchange…

08
Jun
15

Quiet in China

I have not been very good about blogging this trip. I’m not sure why—it’s my third time here, yet much is still new. I’ve made some progress with language, but that’s to say that I can now hear the language in a way I couldn’t before, can recognize some of the characters, and can tell someone where I’m from and who I am (both name and occupation). I can tell someone that their price is too high, but I still don’t like to bargain. And I’ve embraced my Chinese name, 海恩师, Hai-en-shi, which both sounds like my surname and describes who I am. I also got this name on a student ID while in Shenyang, and a ‘chop’ in Beijing.

海恩师

Yesterday, we went to Tiananmen and did something new to me: went up into the gate, looking out upon the Square as Mao and others have done before. There’s power in that space: looking out at the vastness of the Square, and to imagine it full of supporters. I recently finished reading Apex, the third in fellow IMSA alum Ramex Naam’s trilogy, and the scenes of protests in the large squares of China are still fresh in my mind, and so to stand there and look out upon the Square is to sense the energy and power of this place.

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Tonight we are in Beigou. The Great Wall is within sight, and we’ll be climbing up to it tomorrow. This is such a quiet place to be, with simple rooms and home cooked meals. A lovely way to end the trip…

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01
Jun
15

Here we go again…

In what has become an annual ritual, once again we’re back in China with a group of Benedictine students. Actually, this year we have two groups at our host and partner institution, Shenyang University of Architecture 沈阳建筑大学 (and three total in China this summer counting Dr. Joel Ostrow’s Model UN delegation, which traveled to Beijing and Xi’an).

The China Pollination Project is continuing research on pollinator diversity in China, which began last year thanks to support from the Freeman Foundation and ASIANetwork. Shenyang University of Architecture invited us back this summer and is paying for room, board, and local sightseeing for all our students. This year’s CPP team includes: Amy Klingbiel, Ann Pendergast, Katie Vittal, Rachel Warren, Annie White, and Jermeen El-Zabet. More about the Benedictine University Pollination Project, including student blogs, can be found here. We have support to continue the project summer 2016 thanks to a Benedictine University internal grant and continued support from Shenyang University of Architecture. More information forthcoming later this summer on the project site. Please let Dr. Cheryl Heinz know of any prospective students for the program. Early fall, students can apply online through the project website.

A second group of students as well as the CPP team are learning about Chinese language and culture through special summer courses offered by Shenyang University of Architecture, whose Office of International Education created the program exclusively for our students. Jade Beadle, Ashley Dvorak, Jake Kennedy, Faryal Mushtaq, and Felipe Rangel III (as well as CPP member Jermeen) traveled with me through Hong Kong and Beijing en route to Shenyang. With continued support from Shenyang University of Architecture, we also plan to continue the short-term classes here summer 2016. Please spread the word.

With Cheryl’s parting post last year, it seems that we have come full circle on this blog; picking up where we left off, charting familiar waters yet making many new discoveries, which we hope to share with you here along the way.

23
Jun
14

Cheryl’s last post here, for now

It’s the end of the trip. I’ve been gently restricted to stay at the hotel all day, right before leaving, I don’t feel very well. Not the way I planned to end the trip. But, like field work, life doesn’t always go exactly according to plan.

Tomorrow will be an exceeding long day for myself and our five students. We will wake up in Beijing, perhaps collect a bit more data, pack all of our things, and make our way to the airport. We’ll say goodbye for now to Steven, who won’t be making the journey home just yet, and board a plane that almost seems magical. When you look at your ticket, the flight only takes 20 minutes. Sadly, the total time on the plane will exceed 13 hours (I didn’t say it was good magic). But, we will both leave Beijing and arrive in Chicago on Tuesday, gaining the day we lost on our journey here. At the other end is home — my husband and kids, my students’ parents, siblings, and families. We haven’t seen them in four weeks, except for the occassional (or regular) video chat. But, I look forward to the hugs my boys will have for me… Continue reading ‘Cheryl’s last post here, for now’

21
Jun
14

Up, On, Over: Experiencing the Great Wall

Although I have visited the Great Wall many times, including both the eastern and western termini at Shanhaiguan 山海关 and Jiayuguan 嘉峪关 respectively, I have never quite experienced it like this before. Our research team is staying in a farmhouse at the foot of the Wall in Beigou Village 北沟村. From our patio, we have an unobstructed view of the Wall at Mutianyu 慕田峪. It is said that many of the residents here in Beigou and neighboring villages are descendants of Ming dynasty (1368-1644) laborers who built this section of the Wall, which links up to Juyongguan to the west and Gubeikou to the east.

Yesterday, it was a beautiful morning in Beigou Village; clear skies and clean air. We started our research by going into a valley that eventually leads up to the Wall. Mr. Cao, our host in the farmhouse, told us we may have better luck finding pollinators up there since the locals use pesticides around the village and in the valley below. After spending nearly two hours doing observations, we decided to make an attempt on the south face. After getting off a narrow paved road, we started our climb, which was well marked with arrows and dots painted on rocks, on a muddy path up the steep slope and to the Wall above us several hundred meters. At one point, we lost sight of the Wall on our ascent. It suddenly re-appeared after the final turn of a switch back on the path. At this point, I was in front and announced that we had arrived. The students behind me were rather skeptical, until they made that final turn and saw, too, before us all the foot of the Great Wall. It was a splendid sight, especially after our brisk climb up.

Ah, almost there.

Ah, almost there.

Of course, the way we had ascended meant that we still needed to get on to the Wall after climbing up to it. There was no official entrance where we had ended up. Obviously, there was only one way: we had to climb up and over the Wall to get on it. Now, this may sound rather daunting. Wasn’t the Wall constructed precisely to prevent such breaches? How could a group of seven docile pollinator researchers scale such a rampart? Continue reading ‘Up, On, Over: Experiencing the Great Wall’

17
Jun
14

Counting

One week. One week is all that’s left of a four week journey. Of course, there are still two more hotels, plus the one I’m in now–we have done a lot of travelling in the past week or two, and there’s more yet to come. Once again, I’ve experienced many ways of travelling here in China — a new one yet again today.

For the past three weeks, I have seen the same colleague and the same five students daily. We have generally shared at least one — if not three — meals each day. I have not tired of any of the bunch, and as much as I now miss my family at home, I know I will miss this bunch dearly.

We’ve collected a good bit of data in the past three days. But we have perhaps stumbled onto a pattern which surprised us in its strength. Of course, it’s irresponsible to draw conclusions before analyzing the data — and we have much more yet to collect. One day can be a glitch… too early to call it a pattern for sure.

One more week in China. In the past week, we were in Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou, Huanglong, Songpan, Xi’an, and now Beijing. The next big journey for most of the group will be homeward. Once home, we’ll have jet lag to get over, data to enter, sort, and analyze, and conclusions to draw.

But for now, I’ve got wet clothes hanging to hopefully dry quickly in the dry Beijing air, notes to write from today’s field work, and some sleep to catch up on, after spending two of the past three nights on trains. Tomorrow’s another work day, and true to form here, we’re still making plans.

And nope, I’m not writing anything more about transportation this time.

-Cheryl




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