The team took a three-week trip to China from May 23 to June 12, 2019. The itinerary included Beijing, Qingdao, Tengzhou / Zaozhuang, and Shanghai. The team entered China in Beijing and left China from Shanghai. The activities in these two cities were designed primarily for cultural immersion and broader exposure to the Chinese society and economy. In Qingdao, the team engaged in many exchange activities with faculty and students at the China University of Petroleum (CUP), such as a roundtable discussion with Chinese students. They also visited several resource related sites such as a seaweed company, a manufacturing facility (AUCMA), and the Sino-German eco-park. Additionally, Professor Gai was invited to give a public lecture on “Decoding the US-China trade war” at CUP. In Tengzhou / Zaozhuang, the team did research on the transition of the city from a coal-based city to a more diversified economy. They did one informal interview with a few local representatives and conducted a written survey with a convenient sample of about 150 people. Two graduate students from CUP went with the group to Tengzhou for this W&J-CUP collaborative research. In addition to doing research, the team also visited the Confucius Temple and other related sites in Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius.
Below are reflections on the 2019 LIASE China trip from the four students on the team:
Beijing was the first city we traveled to. After landing at the airport, we were initially surprised and excited to explore this beautiful city. We visited a multitude of historical sites such as Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, The National History Museum, and The Great Wall. Our cultural and historical understanding of China were deeply broadened in Beijing for many reasons. The first major site we visited was Tiananmen Square. It seemed quite peaceful the day we explored there, even though numerous protests and a horrendous massacre had occurred right where we stood. At The Forbidden City, we watched a dozen guards from the People’s Liberation Army file in and honor their country. Additionally, we explored the fascinating temples that were built centuries ago in the Forbidden City. Moreover, at the National History Museum Dr. Caffrey guided us along our journey through each floor and provided us with additional information on exhibits we wanted to learn more about. The last historical site we visited was the Great Wall. Our group ventured all the way to the top and the experience was surreal. In addition to the places we visited, we were able to devour traditional Beijing food. Dr. Gai introduced us to the famous Peking duck. None of us had tried anything like that before. Overall, Beijing was a fabulous way to begin our trip to China. We were introduced to the history of the city, got the opportunity to talk to the locals, ate traditional food, and experienced a westernized city that we were not familiar with previously.
We traveled from Beijing to a city called Qingdao, a place none of us was familiar with. Though we were nervous at first, all of us quickly adjusted to Qingdao’s culture and made the most of our stay. We stayed right next to the China University of Petroleum (CUP); therefore, we were able to interact with professors and students of the university. During our first day in Qingdao, we engaged in a discussion with Chinese college students, which was a great way to make comparisons to college students in China and the United States. We had several group dinners with professors and students, teaching us proper Chinese dining etiquette and exposing us to a wide range of traditional Chinese dishes. As a group, we had the chance to explore the Sino-German Eco Park, Aucma, a residential community center, a local kindergarten, the BMSG China Seaweed Museum, a local tomato-producing greenhouse, Laoshan Mountain, the Qingdao City Planning Museum, the beach, and more! We were extremely fortunate to have CUP professors and students act as our tour guides and provide us with information and insight about Qingdao. We learned a lot about how Qingdao is developing as a city and what kind of incredible experiences the city has to offer. We all would like to travel back to Qingdao in the future.
The third stop on our China trip was Tengzhou near Zaozhuang. Since this was one of our research cities, we were able to conduct our research here as well as continue to culturally immerse ourselves. We were fortunate to have two CUP graduate students, Ashely and Mila, accompany us in Tengzhou as we continued our research. Although they only spent a few short days with us, the bond formed is one that will last a lifetime. They helped us greatly with our research, but they also opened our eyes and helped us view Chinese culture in a completely different way. Some of the best nights we had were spent with them and they really helped us adjust to the culture shock in Tengzhou. The economic state of Tengzhou was clearly different from the three other cities we visited. There were not many tourists at all in Tengzhou and we did not see the hustle and bustle of city life like we did in the other cities we visited. There was still a plethora of people, but Tengzhou was more laid back in comparison. Everywhere we went, there was a large number of people taking our pictures, staring at us, or taking videos of us just walking around and exploring our surroundings. Due to everyone being interested in us, it was relatively easy to get our research done and hand out surveys. We noticed that it was almost an unspoken rule that the subject would participate in our survey as long as we took a picture with them afterwards. While good for research, this was a little uncomfortable to live like that. Tengzhou made us more comfortable being uncomfortable. In life, we realized that not everything we do will put us in the most comfortable environment, but that is not always a bad thing. Sometimes being in an uncomfortable environment can help one grow as a person.
Of all the cities we visited, the influence of tourism was most notable in Shanghai, which therefore allowed us to focus mainly on cultural immersion. We were fortunate to have Dr. Gai, a Shanghai native, as our tour guide. As we walked to the Bund shortly after our arrival, we saw so many other foreigners. We no longer stood out more than everyone else on the street. In addition to witnessing a beautiful view from the Bund, we also took a boat tour on the Huangpu River following our tour of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. It was interesting to see the city from such an iconic landmark. It also was incredible to see the city at night from the boat. Shanghai is such a beautiful city and such a culturally diverse place. It was interesting to note that in the middle of this modern city, there were also more traditional tourist areas such as the Yu Garden. The Yu Garden allowed people to see a traditional way of life in the middle of the bustling city. The garden was located near one of the most popular shopping districts in the city. Shopping in China was more entertaining to us because we could bargain! This allowed us to practice our bargaining skills as well as our Chinese language skills. We found the food in Shanghai to be fantastically delectable. The food in general was much sweeter than the rest of the food we ate during the trip. From the soup dumplings to the baked goods, the food was very memorable. As the trip came to a close, we were all saddened to say goodbye, especially to this culturally rich city.
As we continue with this project, we will be able to process and analyze our data and make conclusions. Using the surveys taken in Tengzhou, we will be able to see the opinions of average civilians on our research topic. Our survey asked a great deal about how they perceived the current changes associated with the transition of their resource based city. This quantitative data will be the greatest asset as we move forward and begin to draft our research paper, which we will present in a LIASE symposium this fall and various conferences in the spring. From the weeks spent in China, to the research paper and conferences, this grant has truly helped prepare us for future endeavors. We are truly fortunate to have had such a well-rounded experience.