3 Gorges Dam Propaganda

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:58 am by Benjamin Ross

Today I visited the 3 Gorges Dam Museum in Chongqing.  Here are some of the exhibits on what’s become of the over 1 million people who were relocated by the project.



The Chinese backpackers have arrived!…but where are all the guys?

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:45 am by Benjamin Ross

I’m in Chongqing for a few days, and I’m staying at a youth hostel. Yesterday I made friends with two of the travelers and in my room and we decided we would go out for hot pot (the local specialty) that evening. By the time evening rolled around, our group had snowballed to 7 backpackers. We had a recommendation for a place, but that was met with friendly bickering as we all haggled with each other to decide on the most appropriate place to sample Chongqing hot pot. After about half an hour of walking around the central area, we settled on a place to eat, and settled on a meal meat, tofu, and vegetables boiled in pot of scalding spices.

Up until this point, nothing from this story would have been out of the ordinary. What made it a first time experience is that all the other travelers I was with were Chinese, and women in their 20’s taboot. Youth hostels are nothing new in China (On my first backpacking trip in 2004 I stayed exclusively in hostels in Xi’an, Chengdu, and Kunming). And neither is traveling new for Chinese. Any Western traveler in China is bound to have bumped into the infamous herdlike Chinese tour groups.

But the idea of backpacking, and youth hostels, and independent travel is still relatively new for Chinese, and if my informal observations are correct, it is growing exponentially. The first time I stayed in a Chinese youth hostel (2004), I was with my Chinese girlfriend at the time. As we checked in, I remember they asked for both of our passports, and when my girlfriend said she didn’t have one, there was a moment of panic and disbelief among the staff. After a brief silence, she pulled out her Chinese ID card and asked if it would suffice. With a look of reassurance, they smiled and said it would be ok. Apparently room requests from Chinese nationals (this was in Xi’an) were not a common reassurance. When I returned to Fuqing, and my university students asked about my trip and accommodations, I told them I stayed at a youth hostel (青年旅馆), and none of them had the slightest clue what I was talking about. My how things have changed.

This will probably be the only youth hostel I’m staying at this trip, so it’s hard to make any real conclusions at this point. However, it is interesting to note that all of my roommates thus far have been Chinese, and have been female, the majority of whom being college students. As I was writing this piece, I asked my roommate, a Peking University student from Tianjin, about this gender divide, and she said that Chinese guys are more “宅“ than women, unlike England, where she had previously traveled, and where, she said, it tends to be the opposite.

I’ve always been a fan of youth hostels, not just for their cheap and convenient accommodations, but for the chance to meet and exchange ideas with travelers from across the world. Back when I was living in China fulltime from 2004-2007, youth hostels in China were primarily a Western institution, even though staff and ownership were mostly Chinese. Thesedays, the site of young Chinese students bypassing tourgroups, and backpacking independently around their country brings a smile to my face. And afterall, sleeping in a room full of female Chinese college students ain’t too bad either.



Chengde Excursion

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:30 am by Benjamin Ross

One of the requirements (perks) of my TA job in Beijing is accompanying students on weekend excursions around Beijing.  Most of these excursions are within an hour drive and take up only the better part of a single day.  But for our big over-night excursion, we got to go to Chengde, the imperial retreat (think Forbidden City meets Camp David) of the Qing Dynasty Emperors.  Chengde is located in Hebei Province, a 3 hour drive from Beijing, and is one of the more interesting “vicinity of Beijing” trips I’ve done.

Chengde is home to a multitude of sites, including 8 imperial temples, a mini imperial city, and even a miniature Tibetan Potala Palace!  However, many of the sites were undergoing significant renovations.
These pics are from the Puning Temple.
In addition to the typical Han Chinese features, the Puning Temple  incorporates Tibetan architectural and accents, such as these prayer wheels.
and many of the temples incorporate both elements of Han Chinese architecture.
…as well as Tibetan architecture.
The imperial gardens, which have now been converted into a public park.  Locals can gain access for a yearly fee of 50 RMB.
During the Qing Dynasty, only the emperor and his nobles would have been allowed access to the gardens.
Tower in the Imperial Gardens
Modern Chengde’s skyline, of sorts
These pics are from the miniature Potala Palace, a copy of the one from Potala in Lhasa, at 13 the scale.
And one final temple, which contains of a dome shaped after the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.
Here’s another skyline shot of Chengde.  That’s the mini Potala Palace in the background.
And finally, a class picture!  Good times in Chengde.



The “How to Get into a PhD Program” Workshop

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:45 am by Benjamin Ross

Walking around a university campus in Beijing the other day, I came across this advertisement.

Let me do my best to translate…

Tiandao Workshop.
Future Academic Elite Plan
The fast track to full scholarship PhD applications

Open training course
Real experience of the full stipend PhD process
One on one training + polishing from a foreign teacher,
the solution to confusing applications
Elite group of returning PhD’s, will provide you with real-life DIY experience

Six elite courses, and also interview counseling
Audience: 2014 top rated PhD applicants
Starting time: May 2013 boutique class, July 2013 summer vacation class
Register before April 15 and enjoy a discount of up to 3000 RMB

For more information, check out Tian Dao Study Abroad’s official website. You can also search for our official WeChat page.

Now, let’s introduce the “prominent alumni” shown at the bottom of the poster.

Student Wang, Harvard University, Biomedical PhD, Zhongshan University, Biology BA

Student Han, Harvard University, Statistics PhD, Qinghua University, Natural Sciences BA

Student Chang, Princeton University, Computer PhD, Qinghua University BA

Student Xing, Univesity of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Botany PhD, Beijing University, Biology BA

Student Feng, Texas A&M University, Engineering PhD, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Engineering BA

Student Song, UC Santa Barbara Chemical Engineering PhD, Beijing University of Chemical Technology, Chemical Engineering BA

Student Su: UCLA Psychology PhD, Beijing University Psychology BA

When I first stepped off the boat in China in 2004, the national obsession was learning English.  Increasingly it appears that English proficiency is a given, and that a foreign degree, particularly a PhD from an elite university in the United States, is becoming the new gold standard.  For pricing perspective on the workshop, the *discount* they are offering of 3000 RMB is equal to about $480 USD off of the full price, which is not listed.  If the cost of this event is any indication, maybe there is indeed a bright future for American PhD’s in the consulting business.



Curbing government waste, one doggy-bag at a time.

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:53 am by Benjamin Ross

Tonight I saw something I’ve never before seen in China.

Along with several colleagues, I was meeting with high-level representatives of an organization funded by the central government. After two hours of meetings, the representatives suggested we adjourn for dinner. We were taken next door to a fancy restaurant where we were seated in a private room, and treated to a delicious 10-12 course Chinese meal complemented with an expensive bottle of baijiu. We slowly dined on exotic Chinese foods, passed along stories, and toasted each other with baijiu and beer. (Anybody who has lived in China has no doubt attended at least one of these banquets, if not 100)

After an hour and a half, our host for the night asked for the check, and then it happened. He asked the waitress to box up the leftovers!

This may sound insignificant to those who unfamiliar with Chinese banquet culture, but in the 4+ years I have spent in China, never once have I seen a host (overtly) ask for a doggybag. More likely, several excess platefulls of food are left behind on the table, as a failure to order excessively or a desire to take home lunch for tomorrow would present a colossal face-losing proposition.

I mentioned the doggybag incident to a Chinese colleague on our way home, and he said that it has been an imperative of the new Chinese Regime to eliminate profligate spending on things such as banquet dining. In addition to ordering a quantity of food commensurate with the number of people dining, government officials have been encouraged to take home leftovers, in order to curb waste.

While this was only an isolated incident, I did find it quite striking, especially since this is the first of such banquets I have attended during this trip in China. I’ve often estimated that you could feed several Third World Nations off of wasted leftovers from Chinese banquets, so hopefully this incident is indicative of changing trends in the Middle Kingdom. Oh, and by the way, our host also took home the rest of the baijiu.



Breakfast Street Meat

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:01 pm by Benjamin Ross

So I’m over in China for 4 months, and sure there are a lot of little daily inconveniences… power outages, air pollution, air conditioners that blow out air but don’t actually change the temperature, and so on.

But China also has its share of daily conveniences.  Consider these folks, migrants from Dongbei, who hang out below my office tower every morning, and whip up these delicious breakfast concoctions.

It’s called a 光饼 (a generic term for a multitude of breadlike Chinese snacks), and consists of a fried pancake, filled with an egg, and topped with a patty of chicken breast, potatoes, radishes, hot sauce and greens, and then folded together like a Chinese taco.

…all at the cost 6 RMB, slightly less than $1 USD.  Stopping for a 光饼 tacks an extra 2 minutes on to my 5 minute commute to the office. Yes, in some ways we are indeed living the good life over here in the Middle Kingdom.

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