“Fake Market”

Before coming to China I had heard about the fake market in vague detail. There was a place where you could go purchase goods for discounted prices. You could get things that would elsewhere cost three or four times more. When I arrived in China I heard more of the same thing from my peers at Fudan. This market intrigued me more as I learned more about it. There seemed to be something else besides the cheap prices that kept people going back – bartering. This seemed to be the key attraction to the fake markets. In my marketing placement class, this was something one of the groups presented on. People loved the thrill of bargaining for a low price. So the product, in turn, became a bargain that you, the buyer, felt proud about. As I looked back on my trips to the market, this definitely was the case. First, I went to the market looking for a good deal on shoes – I ended up buying this hat.

Stuntin'

Stuntin’

 

The reason I abandoned the shoes and went for the hat was the exact reason the market placement group had suggested most people do. When I approached the shoe stores, I had in mind how much I was willing to spend (around 100 kuai) on any given pair. As I was talking to the store owners, I realized that I was not going to reach the price I wanted. Many of them refused to go under 150 kuai. This frustrated as I had met friends who had gotten the same shoes for cheaper than that. In the shop owner’s unwillingness to go below a certain price, though, I saw another peiece of information I had heard upon coming to China come into play. Many store owners had quality items and were not willing to cave to consumer perceptions of their goods being “fake”. This was a part of the fake market that I had also come to learn influenced the fake market culture. However when I started looking at the hat, it was at a much higher price than I expected, but I got it down to 10 kuai, a price I was really proud about. Looking back, this was my motivation for the purchase and my motivation for continuing to return to the market after this specific visit. So instead of goods being the main takeaway from this experience at the fake market, I learned much about the interesting market place culture that made things work there.

 

Senior Citizens and Taijichuan

One of the main aspects of Chinese Culture we have learned about during our time here has been Taijichuan (In American we pronounce it Tai Chi). Taijichuan is a matial art that consists of beautiful flowing forms and deals with the transference of energy. In a fight, someone who incorporates Taijichuan into their style of martial arts would use thier opponents energy against them. But today, Taijichuan is most commonly utilized as a meditative exercise tool. A large percentage of Taijichuan practitioners consist of the elderly. When I took a visit to peoples park, this was something I had noticed. There’s a large trend in which older citizens of Chine meet in parks to do several forms of physical activity. There is what seems to be organized dance, as well as badminton, and of course, Taijichuan.    We had learned this already from professor Shao–Taijicjuan was not only a main aspect of Chinese Culture in general, but also a huge part of Chinese retired life as well. In public spaces (especially parks) This seems to be a subculture within itself–when I went to the park and shanghai, and when we visited a main park on one of our trips, I noticed that there was a sense of community among the elderly.   Taijichuan therefore plays another role in this case–a social one. As one could imagine, there is not much to do in retirement. This is why many of the Chinese elderly come together in parks. It seems like daily park time and Taijichuan play a central role in the life of the Chinese elderly. In this way Taijichuan is beneficial on many levels. One one hand it gives the elderly something to do.  And beyond this, there are potential health benefits of Taijichuan, among which is supposedly longevity. And while claims like this should be taken with a grain of salt, it has been noted by Harvard medical school that there is scientific evidence for the health benefits of Taijichuan. Overall, I think it is both interesting and great to examine the role that Taijichuan plays in the lives of China’s senior citizens; it seems to be the kind of exercise I would want to practice.

Xi An and Terracotta Warriors

This week we went to Xi’An and Beijing, two of China’s Major cities. The main attraction in Xi’An was the Terracotta Warriors. Going to the museum to see them was one of the most surreal experiences I have had thus far on this trip. Before coming on the trip, I had only heard the name, and I kind of knew what the warriors were, but I did not know the full story until our tour guide filled us in. First, we learned the cause for the warriors. The Emperor Qin Shi Huang, considered by many to be the first Emperor of China, wanted to have his army with him when he passed on to the afterlife because he feared enemies he had defeated in his life on earth would try to attack him when he died. From this spawned the idea of the Warriors. But the idea was not always to have the sculpted soldiers that the world knows as the Terracotta. Initially, the emperor wanted to have his real life army buried with him! This no doubt meant that some would be buried alive! In an effort to save many lives, one of the emperors officials convinced him to use the sculpted warriors instead, and then began the manufacturing of one of the worlds most amazing sites. Upon seeing the sculptures, I could NOT believe how old they were. Even though many of them had to be put back together, it still amazed me that the material had not deteriorated over the years. Standing in the room, I imagined in my head the hours of work it must have taken to accomplish this feat. Even considering the large number of people that were involved in the project, its still remains impressive how many pieces of art they managed to produce. This experience was truly one that will stick with me as a highlight of my semester abroad.

Journey to the West: Pinpointing Spiritual Themes

A good way into Journey of the West, we are not yet able to analyze the novel as a whole, but there is much that can be discussed. One main topic that continues to arise is the one of the roles of Buddhism and Taoism, as related to each other, in the story. We have noticed as a class that many things hint to Buddhism being favored over Taoism, as many Buddhist characters appear to be more powerful, and there seems to be a general shift towards Buddhism as the story progresses. One point to mention when speaking of how this appears in the novel, is The Monkey King’s story before he meets Sanzang. After being introduced to Monkey at the story’s opening, the reader sees him acquire immense powers. In discussions with Professor Shao, we learned that these powers were rooted in Taoism. With these powers, Monkey begins to wreak havoc on earth, stirring up conflict wherever he goes. Many characters–who also have powers characterized as Taoist– try to defeat him, including some of the most powerful warriors from the upper levels of heaven. Even they prove to be inadequate when facing The Monkey King. Finally, those trying to defeat monkey call on a great Buddha, who in turn, defeats monkey. If anything, this passage at least suggests that the powers of Buddhism are greater than those of Taoism. Especially when considering how easily the Buddha subdued The Monkey King. Another hint that suggests the idea of Buddhism being favored in the story is Sanzang’s (the main character) seemingly Buddhist spiritual progression, symbolized through his disciples. As a class, we came to find that there was an analysis in which Sun Wukong symbolizes Sanzang’s mind, and Piggy symbolizes his desires. As the novel progresses, Sun Wukong (another name for The Monkey King) defeats several monsters along the Journey, including one who in turn, became Piggy. The monsters can be interpreted as obstacles blocking Sanzang from reaching enlightenment, and Sun Wukong’s constant battles with said monsters can indicate Sanzang’s mind struggling to overcome said obstacles. Specifically, In the case of Piggy, when Sun defeats him for the first time, he begins the battle to gain control over desire. Another key indicator of this theory is Sun Wukong’s conversion to Buddhism after he is freed by Sanzang from the Five ELements mountain. This is especially potent as an example when you look at the fact that chronologically speaking, he converts after he is subdued by the Buddha, illustrating a strong Taoist figure’s defeat by, and submission to, Buddhism.

 

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.

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