Saturday, May 31, 2008

Arrival in Beijing

We are now entering the last phase of our trip:  Sightseeing in Beijing.  After saying our goodbyes to friends in Xiamen, we went to the airport for an afternoon flight to Beijing.  During the flight, everyone on the airplane was given a scratch off ticket, much like a lottery ticket.  The top prize was Y200000 with several other smaller prizes.  While none of us won, judging from the cheering from the back of the plane, there was a winner there.

We are staying at the RedWall Hotel, which is very near to Tiannamen Square.  We begin our three days of touring tomorrow morning at 8:15 and will of course be posting pictures.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank everyone that made our trip to Xiamen so special and the work they did  on such short notice to accommodate us:  Professor Chen in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering and Lisa in the Foreign Relations office.  Of course, my friends, Ann, Michael, and their children, Thomas, Helen, and Sophia, were wonderful guides for our travels.   I only wish I could have stayed a few minutes longer today to have one of the chocolate chip cookies that they were baking. 

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Last Day of Class

Water Fountain Xiamen University Campus
Lake and reflecting bridge at Xiamen University

The lecture hall and last day of class.

Hosts and Class in front of the Chemical Engineering Building Xiamen University

Xiamen University Expansion

Helen and Sophia with Children's Day Gifts

Friends living in Xiamen
Chinese Student using a Diabolo's (Lg. Chinese Yo-Yo)

Fun Gifts for Children's Day in China!

All five of the students made it to the last day of class. The final exam was taken this afternoon and all that remains is the project that is due a couple of weeks after we get back. In class, we were joined by a number of graduate students from Africa studying for their Masters degree in chemical engineering. At least two of the students have expressed interest in further graduate school at SUNY-ESF and we may be seeing some applications from them. The students seem quite happy that class is done and are looking forward to our sightseeing trip in Beijing. In the picture, we are standing in front of the Chemical Engineering Building with our hosts.

We leave for Beijing tomorrow afternoon and will have three days of guided tours starting Sunday with visits to the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and the Summer Palace. On Monday, we will visit the Beijing Panda House, a Hutong tour (old Beijing streets by rickshaw), and the Yonghe Lama Temple. Finally, on Tuesday, we will travel to the Great Wall at Badaling and the Ming tombs. It looks to be a busy three days of sightseeing in Beijing.

Today was Children’s Day in China. Every student got a special present from their teacher in honor of the day. Walking around campus in the afternoon, I saw a number of students with Diabolos, or Chinese Yo-Yo’s. The older children got these, while the younger children (like Helen and Sophia, my friends’ daughters) got monkey nerf paddles.

The other pictures are some more sights around the campus including the lake in the middle of the campus and the water fountain that is shaped like a stack of books. The university is also under construction like the rest of China. Two weeks ago, this road was lined with shops that were open and thriving. When we arrived, most of them were shuttered and closed. As we leave, the building is down to the ground to make way for an expansion of the university. The city has built a new “mall” nearby that will contain many of the shops, but it isn’t ready for occupancy yet. It seems that China is constantly changing and everywhere you look, there is building going on.

The next post will come from Beijing. Please be patient as it is sometimes an effort to reconnect to the Internet after moving to a new city.

Earthquake Update

Today was a day back to class for the students: It is hard to believe that they will be taking their final exam tomorrow and the lectures will be over. The time in China has been going very quickly. As part of the class, they will still need to do a project that they will hand in by the end of June.

Since there is not much to say about what we’ve been doing, I thought I would comment on the news reports regarding the earthquake and the recovery efforts. The area is still experiencing aftershocks, with a 6.4 magnitude aftershock on Sunday and a couple of smaller aftershocks later in the week.

The big concerns being reported on the news are the “quake lakes” and the threat of disease. The landslides triggered by the earthquake have blocked rivers and now have lakes behind them. They are dealing with over 30 such lakes throughout Sichuan Province. The fear is that the landslide barriers will fail and cause massive flooding downriver. The army has mobilized using very large helicopters to move in earth moving equipment to create channels for a controlled release of the water. However, bad weather has been preventing fuel deliveries to the location and they have army soldiers standing by in order to deliver fuel to the work areas by foot. Evacuation plans have been made for the affected areas and drills have been held. Some of the lakes are raising at a rate of 2 to 4 meters per day and will overtop the barriers within about 1 week. These landslides have also changed the landscape of the region significantly. Mountains that used to be tree-covered, are now slopes of dirt.

Disease prevention is also a major focus of the effort. Epidemic prevention is on the minds of all the government leaders. They are disinfecting many of the destroyed building using hand sprayers.

Housing problems including both temporary and permanent are also being considered. Tent production has been stepped up in order to provide the needed tents and other temporary housing is being built. The army has over 100,000 in the area to help with the housing issues.

The statistics regarding the devastation are simply beyond comprehension. As of today, there have been 68516 fatalities and 365399 people injured; 19305 are still missing. 15 million people have been evacuated and it is estimated that over 45 million people have been affected. Since 12 May there have been 219 tremors less than 3.9 magnitude.

Help has been pouring in from all over the world. So far over 37.3 billion yuan has been pledged (over US$5 billion). The news cast just reported that even the monks at a Buddhist temple in Chengdu have donated money in addition to praying for the victims. I am sure that we are all thinking of the many people in the Sichuan Province that are affected. While not of the best quality, I include pictures taken off the reports on the TV news including one of the quake lakes, the army building houses, and the monks praying for the victims.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Visiting a Haka House

In the afternoon, we visited a type of house found in the Fujian province. These are large, multifamily dwellings originally built for protection from raiders. Some of the houses that we saw date from the 18th century. They are built around a central courtyard, and are often 3 or 4 stories high. The walls are made of compacted soil reinforced with bamboo and perhaps rice. With over 10,000 of these houses still in existence in the Fujian province, they are still the home to many people in the area. We probably saw over 50 on our drive through the countryside. Two of the ones that we visited have rooms for rent, so you can, if interested, stay in one of these houses for the night.

Visiting a Biodiesel Plant

Wednesday was another of our excursion days. On today’s agenda was first a visit to a biodiesel plant. This plant, located in Longyan, brings in waste cooking oil from restaurants, and converts it into biodiesel. The plant converts approximately 70,000 tons per of waste oil into biodiesel. We were shown around by Mr. Huodong Ye, the chairman of the company. We had to travel about 2-1/2 hours to get to the plant, which was located in the hills on the mainland.

To the Beach

Tuesday was another nice and sunny day and in the afternoon after class, the students decided to check out the beach. Xiamen University is right on the coast, and the ocean is a 10 minute walk from the Guest House where we are staying. There was a small number of people actually in the water and some of the students also braved the waves and water. It seemed that most of the people were at the beach simply to sit and watch the water.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Back to Classes

While Monday was a holiday in the United States, it was classes and business as usual in China. We were back in class on Monday, continuing where we left off in Guangzhou. Today was also the students’ midterm exam. I am happy to report that everyone did fairly well on the exam, even with all the distractions of being in China.

As we have not had much time to travel or see various sights since our trip to Gulangyu on Sunday, I leave you with some photos from the roof of the guest house where we are staying (including a picture of my laundry in the “dryer”). I hope that everyone is having a wonderful Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Playgrounds in China

All children love to play; that is true all around the world. China has its share of playgrounds which sometimes cannot be resisted by college students also (Well, and faculty too). The safety standards are certainly different, however, with several of the playgrounds being built over concrete. The pictures show different playgrounds on Xiamen (in the Botanical Gardens) and on Gulangyu.

Church in China

The students had the option of attending church this morning with my friends Ann and Michael and their children. The services are in English and the priest is a former teacher that taught himself English. The service also had a choir with guitar and flute. They have been only holding services at the church since about 1994 but the building has been there (as a church) for much longer. Much of the architecture on the island is quite western since the island was originally the western trade concession and originally (before 1949) inhabited by the various western people that traded with China. Some of the buildings are old consulates that used to exist and the church itself probably dates from early in the 20th century. The pictures show the exterior and the interior of the church. The fourth picture is my friends’ three children: Thomas, 12 years old, is the oldest; Helen (Huan Huan) is 6 years old and was adopted from the same province (and at the same time) as my daughter Megan; and Sophia is their youngest at 2 years old. As mentioned before, they have been living in Xiamen since last August and will be returning to the United States in July.

Warning Signs in Haoyue Garden

As I climbed to the statue of Zheng, I couldn’t help but notice the large number of warning signs that were posted. As with many signs, they are usually quite clear about what they are warning about by the picture, but the English warning may not be quite so clear. Here are the six signs that were all posted on the walkway to see the statue

Trip to Gulangyu Island

Ferry heading back to Xiamen.
Statue of Zheng in the distance.
Stairs to get to statue.
Statue of Zheng from rock outcropping.
Walkway around the base of the Zheng Statue.
Statue of 5 children in the park
Narrow street on the island.
Bonsai like tree at the harbor.
Cargo boat on the wharf being loaded.

On Sunday we made an excursion to Gulangyu Island, which is a smaller island off of Xiamen Island accessible only by ferry. My friend, Ann, Michael, and their children escorted us there as that is the location of the Catholic Church in Xiamen. (More on the church later).

Leaving the university, it took a bus ride (2 RMB cost since the air-conditioning was on) and about a five minute ferry ride (free to get to the island, but 8 RMB on the way back). The weather was again hot and humid, but was not too bad if you could stand in the breeze. Our plan was to go to church on the island and then the students would be free to explore the island and make their way back to the university. After church, the students went off on their own and I had lunch with my friends on the island. After lunch, they needed to get back to the university, so I explored a bit of the island, did some shopping, and returned just before the thunderstorms hit.

One focal point of the island is Haoyue Garden which also contains a large statue of off Zheng Chenggong. It is 16 meters high and carved out of 625 pieces of white granite; it is the largest stone carved figure in China. It is quite an impressive sight from the mainland and even more impressive up close.