Archive for the 'China' Category

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…

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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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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’

14
Jun
14

You Must Not Be This Tall to Ride (the yak)

I handed over a well-worn 10 yuan note (US $1.60) for a ride and approached the yak. Its handler guided me to the side of the hirsute bovine (the name in Chinese, 牦牛, is homophonous with “fur ox”). When I prepared to mount, the yak backed away several paces, presumably apprehensive of such a large foreigner climbing into its saddle. The handler, a young lady of the Qiang 羌 ethnicity that populates this region of Sichuan, told me that her yak was somewhat skittish around strangers. No problem. I had ridden horses before and knew how to get my foot in the stirrup and throw my other leg over the saddle—even if my mount was moving. On my second attempt, the handler suddenly shouted, “no, no, no” as I put my foot in the stirrup. But hadn’t I paid the 10 yuan for a ride? No. The handler told me I was too large for her precious, white yak. So, I only ended up getting a photo op next to the beast.

"No ride for you!"

“No ride for you!”

Continue reading ‘You Must Not Be This Tall to Ride (the yak)’

13
Jun
14

Ups and downs of field work

I love doing field work — getting outside and observing, seeing and recording what is going on, noticing what most others over the age of ten or so will walk right past without even a glance.

Part of my joy in this trip has been getting to share this with a group of students. These students did not necessarily sign on because they were excited to see what field work was about–I don’t fool myself that a trip to China wasn’t the big draw. (I do have students occassionally who would go anywhere for the field work, but none were in my radar at the genesis of this project.)

In the first days of data collection, I loved watching the transformation of this group, as will usually occur in any group given a similar challenge. As they stopped to watch the flowers and see what visitors arrived, they began to see what was happening on the flower. Some bees flit from flower to flower, spending significant time only when sufficient nectar is there to hold their attention. One little bee, that we could see often in Shenyang, stayed long at each flower, collecting more and more pollen for its significant store on its mid leg. They started to watch not just because they knew that they had to do so, but because they were interested and curious as to what these six-legged creatures, which previously may have held more fear than interest, were really up to. Continue reading ‘Ups and downs of field work’

09
Jun
14

Shenyang, Imperial Palace, photos

Our first full day in Shenyang, we took a tour of the Imperial Palace. This was once a capital for the Qing Dynasty, and is apparently the only royal palace outside the Forbidden City in China.

We went with our local contact, Kevin (Xing Wang), his daughter (as it was Children’s Day), and several students from Shenyang Jianzhu University, our hosts while we stayed in Shenyang.

Of course, there are pictures.

Find them below the jump:  Continue reading ‘Shenyang, Imperial Palace, photos’

07
Jun
14

Pictures from Beijing

Oops– I haven’t been sharing as many pictures here as I probably should! We have slightly better internet now, so I will try to get some more posted!

We had a couple of days of sightseeing in Beijing before heading off to Shenyang to start research. We will also research in Beijing, but at the end of our trip. While we were there, temperatures were at or near 100F, so it was much too warm to do much.

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More below the jump. Continue reading ‘Pictures from Beijing’