Three Gorges Dam!

We spent our last excursion day of the trip at the Three Gorges Dam, by far the largest power producing facility in the world. It is the largest concrete structure in the world, has the greatest flood control capacity, and has increased cargo shipping upstream by over five times. It also displaced more people than any other dam and is blocking sediment from flowing downstream, which will lead to Shanghai’s demise later. Environmentally, it is one of the most controversial projects in the world. So it’s both good and evil I guess.

While the Three Gorges Dam was one of the places I really wanted to visit in China, I thought the chances of visiting during this semester’s trip were less than 0%. It wasn’t on the Davidson website as one of the places we were going (although in hindsight, that list meant nothing). It is sort of in the middle of nowhere. You don’t just accidently end up at the Three Gorges Dam. You have to intend on visiting it, and with our two classes being about Chinese Culture and Chinese Literature, I was pretty sure a trip to the Three Gorges wasn’t going to fit into either of those classes.

Then Tibet was too high and dangerous, Inner Mongolia was too cold and barren, Chengdu written on the white board as a joke got some hypothetical talk going, then consideration, then it became part of the plans, and Chongqing is part of Sichuan too so might as well, and they have river boat cruises from Chongqing down the Yangtze, and those go to many historical/cultural sites and just so happen to end at the Three Gorges Dam, and boom, we were at the Three Gorges Dam three months later.

We were with two other boats going through the locks.

We were with two other boats going through the locks.

For me, the highlight of the dam was going through the ship locks at night. There were five locks, each one lasting about 40 minutes. Each lock would bring us down about 70ish feet in about ten minutes and the rest of the time was spent opening/closing the gates, moving into the next lock, securing the boat, and sitting there waiting for other boats. The locks lasted from 11:30pm to 3:30am. Alex and I were two of the four people that stayed on the observation deck for the whole thing. Everyone else on the boat went to bed by the second lock. I found the whole tedious process exhilarating. These were the Three Gorges Dam ship locks! I knew about these when I was 12, and

After 70ish feet of water was drained out.

Here is the same lock ten minutes later. Each lock drained 70ish feet of water. After five locks, we were 350 feet lower than when we started. 

here I am! The massive scale and engineering of it all made me feel that China pride again, and I’ve only been here three months. Maybe it was more of a human species pride. I’m not really sure. For a few hours, I forgot about all the river dolphins and many other species this project pushed to extinction. Go humans! Whether for better or worse, China has definitely accomplished something here.

The next morning was spent touring the area around the dam. The dam was impressive, but the tour itself was… underwhelming. In fact, it might have been the worst put together tour I have ever been on, and coming from me, that is saying something. I’ve been on hundreds of tours on seven continents, and this was got the gold medal for the worst.

  • Was the point of the three-hour long Three Gorges Dam tour to keep us from seeing the dam? Okay, maybe it was foggy so you couldn’t see the dam if you were more than half a mile away, but why were we never within half a mile until the last five minutes? Do they think we all have rocket launchers in our bags or something?
  • No, I don’t want to spend half of the tour at a treeless park that has nothing to do with anything. Cool, there is grass. Great engineering feat landscapers.
  • 30 minutes at a gift shop. Are you serious?!
  • Oh, thirty minutes left on the tour? Are we going to go to the dam yet? Oh no, we are going to stare from an awful vantage point at other boats going through the ship locks you just spent all of last night going through yourself.
  • What dam tour doesn’t let you onto or inside the dam? Hoover and Grand Coulee dam in the U.S. allow you to see the turbines and inner workings of the power plant inside the dam, and the U.S. is the most paranoid country in the world. You would think China would want the world to see the largest power generating plant in the world up close. I guess I expected too much. Bring out the dynamite.
They should rename the tour the park and fountain tour.

The park and fountain tour.

Despite my rant, I was still happy to be there. Spending ages 8 to 16 watching Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and National Geographic, I had seen many shows on the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. It was almost like I was getting yearly updates about the dam’s construction through these programs. Those days seemed like a different lifetime, and then here I was, at the Three Gorges Dam itself. It’s a weird feeling learning about something half a world away and then finally visiting it.

In the last ten minutes of the tour, we got to see the backside of Three Gorges Dam. Still pretty cool.

In the last ten minutes of the tour, we got to see the backside of Three Gorges Dam. Still pretty cool.

Phoneless in China

So, it didn’t take long for me to lose my phone. After pretending to do homework for a couple hours in a park at Xintiandi, we decided to go look for my dinner. Five minutes after we left the park, I realized I didn’t have my phone, and after retracing our steps, it was gone. Definitely not one of my better moves. Not having an iPhone for the rest of the trip drastically altered the way I experienced the rest of my time in China. Well, maybe not drastically, but a lot more than I would have guessed. I got the cheapest smartphone I could find (since cellphones are about three times as expensive in china). I settled with a 700 Yuan Lenovo something-something. A 200-page book couldn’t even begin to explain how bad this phone was, but I was stuck with it for the last 80 days of the trip.

This phone negatively affected my trip in many ways. It couldn’t read my Chinese character handwriting. This made learning Chinese out in public ten times harder. After a couple weeks, I gave up trying to use my phone to discover what things meant and became apathetic to trying to understand what things said. My phone ruined my curiosity for learning characters while out and about. My phone camera was so bad, I feel like I didn’t capture any of my time in China. The internet was so slow, I couldn’t look up information I wanted to look up. The map was in characters, which made navigating much harder. My phone would decide at the most inopportune times when it didn’t want to receive or make calls. It would have been worth it to just by the 7000 Yuan iPhone4.

It's super frustrating to be unable to capture something so beautiful. If you look at these 20 pixels from far away at an angle, you might be able to make out the landscape that inspired the floating mountains in Avatar.

It’s super frustrating to be unable to capture something so beautiful. If you look through the glare at these 20 pixels from far away, you might be able to make out the landscape that inspired the floating mountains in Avatar.

There were some good things that came out of having a terrible phone though. In China, everyone seems to be on their phone 24/7. They seem to be on their phone twice as much as Americans, and Americans are on their phone 16 hours a day already. Sometimes on the subway, every single person in my car will be on his or her phone. Everyone on the bus: phone. People walking down the sidewalk: phone. Five dating couples at the tables next to me: 10 phones out. Crossing the street: phone. Huangpu river laser tunnel ride: phone. Going up the elevator of the Shanghai WFC: phone. Chinese people love their phones. I was so disinterested by my phone’s inability to do anything correctly that I would rather stare at the pole in front of me for 20 stops than my phone screen. It was quite liberating. I guess the public transportation culture might make conditions more conducive for a smartphone life though. Everyone in America has to keep their eyes on the road.

On the train: "Oh, what's that really tall building under construction? Let me look it up on my phone. Oh, I'm unable to connect to the internet on this five hour train ride."  (future 5th tallest building, Goldin Finance 117 building). My iphone could have told me in 13 seconds.

On the train: “Oh, what’s that really tall building under construction? Let me look it up on my phone. Oh, I’m unable to connect to the internet on this five hour train ride. Bye.”
(future 5th tallest building, Goldin Finance 117 building). My iPhone could have told me that in 13 seconds.

I don’t see China’s infatuation with smartphones as a bad thing though. Many waiters use smartphones to take orders at restaurants, which is much more convenient and accurate than writing it down. Many people used their phones to help me understand what they were trying to say, whether it was through pictures or pleco or some other method. Sometimes I would watch online videos with random people. Even though we couldn’t effectively communicate with one another, a video would always bring us together. I feel that a culture of smartphones can be a great thing, unless of course you have a dumb smartphone like me.

Moral of the story-

my time in China with an iPhone5- 10.0

my time in China with a Lenovo whateverphone- 9.5

Not a day has gone by where I haven’t wished I could go back in time to that day at Xintiandi.

 

Mr. Basil Plant, and His Feng Shui Contributions

On day one, we went to a toy store at Wanda Plaza, and I decided to buy a plant in a can. It was pretty much just a can full of dirt with a packet of seeds taped to the bottom. I chose violet seeds. My seeds started growing after two days. There were only five sprouts. After a week, there was only one. He kept growing though.

First appearance of my plant (at 1o'clock).

First appearance of my plant (at 1o’clock).

Mr. Basil emitting Yang energy in my room.

Mr. Basil emitting Yang energy in my room.

According to feng shui, the southwest corner of the house should have an orange tree. The southwest corner of our apartment was in my room, but I didn’t have an orange tree. My violet plant was the next best thing. I watered it once every two days and made sure it got enough sun by the window. I also gave it some time under my desk lamp for extra yang energy.

After a while studying feng shui, I realized that my bedroom was a bad place for a plant. Plants contain a lot of yang energy, which is bad for sleep. My room should be a quiet, calm place with a little more yin energy. I knew I had to get my plant out of my room ASAP. I moved him out to the living room. There he stayed for about a week. During this time, I realized he wasn’t happy. The blinds were always closed so he couldn’t get any sunlight. Wei Laoshi, our language teacher, also always felt the need to pull his leaves off whenever she visited. She also knocked him four feet to the floor once. I also couldn’t enjoy my plant while I was in my room. I knew I had a decision to make. Either I go the rest of my time in Shanghai without enjoying my plant, or I disrupt the balance of yin and yang energy in my room. After a couple days of tough consideration, I decided to move Mr. Plant back into my room. I would just do other things to make up for the bad feng shui move, such as keeping my room clean to avoid blocking the chi with trash and dirty clothes.

In October, my plant surprised me once again. I was sitting there on my laptop with my violet plant on my desk next to me when I had a major realization. My plant didn’t look anything like a violet plant. It’s looked and smelled like basil. It was a basil plant! Five minutes on Wikipedia confirmed my suspicion. I guess false advertisement is okay here in China, even outside the fake market. I decided I would love my basil plant just as much as when I thought he was a violet plant.

Mr. Basil on my desk having a good time and increasing the chi flow.

Mr. Basil on my desk having a good time and increasing the chi flow.

Adult Mr. Basil some time around day 100.

Adult Mr. Basil some time around day 100.

Mr. Basil continued to grow throughout October and November. Hermoine, one of the UC students, took care of him while I was away in Beijing and Chengdu. Anne took care of him while I was in Zhangjiajie. It was a team effort to keep this behemoth basil alive. He ate all of the dirt out of his can so I had to steal some out of the dinosaur egg flowerbeds by Wujiaochang. His limbs got to long so Hermoine and Emily used meat skewers to hold them up. Then it started flowering and dropping petals all over the place. Although the basil plant was putting more and more yang energy into the air, my sleep cycles got better and better. I feel like Mr. Basil brought a calming influence to my room, even though he was turning into a giant green monster. In a room of sharp edges, white walls, and metal railings, Mr. Basil’s organic aliveness was much appreciated. Maybe my room did have too much yin energy to start out with, and Mr. Basil was helping balance it. Maybe I am thinking too much into it.

I will miss you! Enjoy the rest of your life with Hermoine!

I will miss you! Enjoy the rest of your life with Hermoine!

 

Mr. Basil was a fun little project that taught me about responsibility and caring for another living thing while studying abroad. I feel like I am ready to raise a son now. I feel Mr. Basil brought a lot of joy and yang energy to our group.

 

Urban Planning Museum!

 

After a few failed attempts, I was finally able to make it to the Urban Planning Museum (or Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center for short). This was the museum I was most excited to visit during my stay in Shanghai. I decided to go on my own without telling anyone, because the last couple times I had tried to visit with other people, we would never be able to make it. As a group, we are always waiting for someone in the shower or waiting for someone to get dressed, and then we wander off while waiting, and no one has a working phone anymore because I guess $10 is too expensive for a phone card. Then people get hungry while waiting for the wanderers to come back and want to get food before we go. Then they want to wait for people who are still in class because we might as well wait another 45 minutes. Then that becomes two hours. Then it is rush hour. People want to take the subway since a $5 cab split 4 ways is too much, etc. This is how a departure time of 11am is too late to make it to a museum that closes at 6pm.

This is the first thing you see when you enter the museum. It's also the only thing you see when you are looking through the locked doors of the closed museum because you arrived too late.

This is the first thing you see when you enter the museum. It’s also the only thing you see when you are looking through the locked doors of the closed museum because you arrived too late.

Anyways, the Urban Planning museum was a 40-minute subway ride to People’s Park. By myself, I was able to make that journey in… 40 minutes! That was 4 hours less than the last attempt. I spent about three hours at the museum, a majority of which was spent looking at the massive model city of Shanghai. It took up the majority of the third floor. The model was impressively detailed, trees and all. It also had future projects that were lit up with LED lights to show what the city will look like in the future. The model city was beautiful, however it was a little outdated.

Model city of Shanghai, the highlight of the museum.

Model city of Shanghai!

Now don’t get me wrong, I thought the museum was awesome. It’s just that it was less about predicting Shanghai’s future and more about predicting Shanghai present from the year 2000. For example, the model city was very outdated. Buildings that were canceled 7 years ago are still on there. Many building that were built have designs that are very different from the original conception, but their 2004 renderings are still displayed. Some newer buildings aren’t even on the map. The model didn’t account for projects that were scaled up or down within the last ten years. The model was really neat and my favorite part of the museum. It’s just that it was a little 2000-late, along with most of the other exhibits in the museum.

I didn’t see it as a bad thing though. I think it was really neat to see what vision people had for today’s Shanghai. It was interesting to be able to see which projects got built, which didn’t, which got changed and by how much, which ones the museum didn’t see coming, etc. Being a skyscraper and urban planning enthusiast, I felt I went into the museum knowing a little too much already. The meaning of the museum was changed for me. It was less about what Shanghai could accomplish and more about what it has already accomplished.

The museum only reminded me how amazing Shanghai and the rest of China are when it comes to the rate of urban development and growth in the past decade. Ten years ago, if every city in the world had their own model depicting where they would be today, almost all would have less than half of the projects Shanghai has had come to fruition. This is one of the reason why I have enjoyed China so much. I can feel the progress and the futuristic attitude, which is a lot more exciting than America’s snail’s pace attitude. China is changing and developing very quickly, and I can’t wait to see where it will be in the future.

Bird's eye view

Bird’s eye view of downtown Shanghai. 

Shanghai World Financial Center!

Before coming to China, at the top of my Shanghai bucket list was visiting the Shanghai World Financial Center. At 1,614 feet tall, the Shanghai World Financial Center is the fourth tallest building in the world by roof height. At the time of its completion in 2008, it was the tallest building in the world by roof height. Today, it has the third highest observation deck in the world and second highest hotel. It is still the tallest completed building in China, although Shanghai Tower still under construction next door dwarfs the Shanghai WFC. Being very interested in skyscrapers (as mentioned in my Jin Mao Tower post), it is no wonder that this was number one on my Shanghai to do list. If only the Shanghai Tower was open already.

Shanghai World Financial Center, fourth tallest building in the world, representing China's present.

Shanghai World Financial Center, fourth tallest building in the world, representing China’s present.

Even though going inside the Shanghai WFC was at the top of my to do list, I ironically ended up waiting until our last day in China to visit. I decided to visit in the late afternoon so that I could be there for sunset and nightfall. A ticket was only 120 Yuan with my student discount. It was quick ride up to the 94th floor, followed by an escalator to the 97th floor, and then another elevator ride to the 101st floor observation deck. At 1,555 feet high, I was higher than the rest of Shanghai, minus the Shanghai Tower, which was still looming eight miles above me.

The 101st floor observation deck, spanning the bridge at the top of the tower.

The 101st floor observation deck, spanning the bridge at the top of the tower.

The observation deck spanned the bridge of the iconic rectangular opening at the top of the building. The floor was also made of see-through glass, looking down at the bottom of the opening. China seems to have a weird obsession with glass skyways. I spent about two hours in the observation deck, which allowed me to see the city switch from day to night mode. I was also able to spot Tohee way out in the distance. It’s weird to know that while I stare out my Tohee window at the SWFC, people in the SWFC can stare back at little 12-story Tohee.

The view of Lujiazui and the Huangpu River. You can look down at the Jin Mao Tower (bottom left foreground), representative of China's past. Then you can look at the Shanghai Tower (not pictured), representative of China's future. It's as if they have planned this metaphor from the very start. Oh wait.

The view of Lujiazui and the Huangpu River. You can look down at the Jin Mao Tower (bottom left foreground), representative of China’s past. Then you can look at the Shanghai Tower (not pictured), representative of China’s future. It’s as if they have planned this metaphor from the very beginning. Oh wait.

I was about 11 years old when I learned about the Shanghai World Financial Center, and that was when it was just a hole in the ground. As the years went by, I remember watching shows on the National Geographic and Discovery Channel about the construction of the SWFC. And then finally being at the tower itself, and reading all the Do You Know fun facts they had on the walls that I actually did already know from those shows I watched as a teenager. It felt like things had finally come full circle. From 11 year old me trying to comprehend how the hole in the ground next to the tallest building in China was going to turn into a building another 300 feet taller, to me 10 years later finally visiting the building myself. It felt like a very fitting way to end my time here in China.

Nighttime view of Lujiazui, the Bund, and the rest of Shanghai. Last night in Shanghai! It's been fun.

Nighttime view of Lujiazui, the Bund, and the rest of Shanghai. Last night in Shanghai! It’s been fun.

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