Monthly Archives: April 2009

So much to do, so much to say

On the field in the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium

On the field in the Bird's Nest - the main Olympic Stadium

I finally just posted a blog I have been thinking about for weeks now. Read it below – it was a really funny story about Easter here in China.

On that same line, there are so many stories and adventures I want to share with everyone who reads this blog. For a few reasons, I have not been able to post as much as I would like recently: namely, my flash drive with a back log of finished pieces got erased recently; there are too many amazing things happening for me to get them all down on paper; and, I am having trouble keeping myself seated a chair in front of the computer!

A major distraction lately has been both the weather and the quickly approaching end to our semester here. The weather has been better and better here in Beijing, which makes it hard to stay inside too much. As our semester comes to a close that means two things: I need to get done all the stuff in Beijing I wanted to do before May 2nd and we are gearing up for a three week excursion throughout China. The first two weeks will be with our program, but the final ten days or so will just be with a few friends. Over the course of the three weeks I will visit Xian, Chengdu, and most of the Yunan province. When we seperate from the program, my friends and I will travel to Shangri-la and then Deqin, which borders Tibet. We will take an excusion to a secluded village, Yubeng, at the base of one of Tibets holliest mountains. We will then travel to Yangshuo in the central part of China and then back to Beijing. My mind is scattered to say the least.

So, please hang in there as I get stories in order to share with you all here. For now, I’ll let my pictures tell some stories.

Shaolin kung-fu monks. We took a trip to the Shaolin Temple - the home of Kung Fu.

Shaolin kung-fu monks. We took a trip to the Shaolin Temple - the home of Kung Fu.

Me in front of one of the enormous Longmen Grottoes. This is the largest Buddha we saw there. Breathtaking!

Me in front of one of the enormous Longmen Grottoes. This is the largest Buddha we saw there. Breathtaking!

Watching the sunrise after a night of sleeping on the Great Wall of China

Watching the sunrise after a night of sleeping on the Great Wall of China

My Chinese teacher and me posing for a picture on a weekend trip.

My Chinese teacher and me posing for a picture on a weekend trip.

Outside the Water Cube - where Phelps set amazing world records

Outside the Water Cube - where Phelps set amazing world records

A total tourist picture, but how could I resist! This place was much smaller than you'd imagine

A total tourist picture, but how could I resist! This place was much smaller than you'd imagine.

What’s the weather like at Colorado College?

What’s the weather like at Colorado College? This is a good question, and a pretty common one. In Colorado Springs, sometimes it seems like its winter in the summer and summer in the winter, but it’s almost always bright and sunny. Something you might read coming into the Denver airport is that there are 300 days of sunshine a year!

However, I think the best way to explain the weather around Colorado College is to show it, not describe it. So, the following are movies and photos taken from my seventh block break (April 15th-19th), four days that I spent on campus, around Colorado Springs, and in Denver. Check it out for yourself!

First of all, this is a link to a 30 second video of the weather I took on the second day of block break.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Er9dPmC6PUA

After a sunny morning on Thursday, it started hailing! (Which was fun to dance in) The sound in the background is the hail coming down. I have to mention that I took this video because I thought it was great that I could leave CC in the sunshine… drive to Denver in the fog… and return to a hailstorm!

Post-hailstorm, I went with a group of friend’s to a friend’s house in Colorado Springs. We woke up in the morning to this beautiful sight:

Friday morning!

Friday morning!

That evening after returning to campus we decided to avail ourselves of the snow and go sledding down a grassy hill that ended with the soccer field:

Me about to sled down the hill

Me about to sled down the hill

The funniest part was watching people go down the first time because they didn’t expect the bumps at the bottom!

Post-steps

Post-bumps

And finally on Sunday, the last day of block, it was beautiful. We biked to Old Colorado Springs, which is about 15 minutes away from the college and a nice little areas with lots of restaurants and shops. It was so hot we stopped for ice cream, and a little shopping.

It's very hot!

Hot and tired

Happy after ice cream

Friends: happy after ice cream

So there you go: Colorado weather. Now, this block break was pretty extreme: but generally the weather is never boring here! And overall there’s more sunshine and warm weather than anywhere else I’ve lived in North America.

When I attended high school in Singapore, which is very close to the equator, one of my stepfather’s favorite jokes to make when he called me was to ask me what the weather was like. The answer was always

EXACTLY the same!”

This never failed to amuse him.

Ah how the tables have turned!

Bunnies don’t lay eggs

A couple of weeks ago I had the most enlightening conversation with a fellow employee at work, Bill. Bill and I ate lunch together one of the Thursdays that I was at work. We took the elevator down from the 5th floor of HanWei Plaza to the second basement level where the building’s cafeteria was waiting for us. On the way, we began talking as we frequently do about our past week or plans for the upcoming weekend. We had to halt the conversation for a moment as we entered the cafeteria to fill our trays with piles of interesting Chinese cafeteria food and rice (I tend to take extra servings of rice).

We sat down and continued our talk. Bill alerted me that the upcoming weekend was a Chinese Holiday – tomb-sweeping day. He explained that he would go with his family on Sunday to the graves of his elder family members and “sweep” their tombs. The holiday is meant to allow people a day to clean their deceased loved ones’ graves and pay their respects. Not everyone in China actually follows through with the tradition of the holiday, but everyone gets the Monday after the weekend off of work. Bill explained that it was only recently made into a national holiday.

His story inspired me to mention that Easter Sunday would be the following weekend. I asked Bill if he knew anything about Easter. He said he did and gave me back the watered down religious significance of the holiday. Though not prescribed to any religion, Bill understood the significance of the story of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. He then asked me what most American do on that day. Without hesitation I began to describe some of the common Easter traditions that my family practices: egg coloring, Easter egg hunts, giving chocolate, and eating a meal with the extended family. As I described some of this, Bill stared at me with the most confused look.

He asked me, “So, do you eat these eggs.” I laughed and said, “Well, no. We just color them, hide them, and then look for them.” As I said this, I began to realize this was somewhat of an odd tradition. Bill’s face said the same thing as my thoughts. Eggs make sense since they represent fertility and birth. Looking for them seems to have some relation to the story of Jesus’ resurrection. I then explained that little children are told that the “Easter Bunny” hides the eggs. This raised Bills eyebrows even more. He said, “Bunny’s don’t lay eggs. Why a bunny?” I had nothing. Why a bunny? What a great question. I would later research this. I told him I didn’t understand it, but it was kind of like Santa Clause. I’m not sure if that really helped.

I then added that we often exchange chocolate on Easter, especially chocolate bunnies. Bill responded, “So this is like Valentines Day. Why do Americans like chocolate so much?” I had to laugh. Again, I was slightly perplexed at my own cultural traditions. I could only shrug my shoulders. With that we mostly concluded our talk and went back to eating our rice and mush.

I discovered, through some extensive reading on Wikipedia, that the bunny has significance in old folktales from Germany. The nests that hares would build resembled those of a certain bird. Thus, it was written into some folktales that hares laid eggs. Somehow this worked its way into the Easter tradition.

Bill’s ignorance with respect to American cultural traditions was a blessing. It helped me look back at my family and myself. It mostly made me laugh at the absurdity of some traditions we have. Nonetheless, it provided a new perspective for me.

Wikipedia article on the Easter Bunny: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Bunny

The Best of Both Worlds

Hey Everyone,

It’s hard to believe this was the last block break in the year and there’s only three and a half weeks of school left.  I had the fortune of having break off from lacrosse which meant one thing: the mountains.  Because of lacrosse, I haven’t done much spring skiing in my day; however, this year was an exception.  I skied closing weekend which felt more like high-season skiing though with 23″ at A-Basin on friday and saturday.  Sunday was a warm, picture-perfect blue day. 

I started the morning off skiing Breckenridge.  It definately felt like a last hoorah for most skiers with snowballs flying in lift lines and live music in the middle of peak 7.  However, I decided it would be nice to take advantage of the good weather and get a few hours of fishing in the afternoon.  Heading down 24, I went up through 11 Mile Canyon above Lake George.  I’ve fished there a few times before but I was surprised at how beautiful the canyon is.  The river cuts right through the large boulders and walls spotted with pine trees and all sorts of wild life.  The water was perfectly clear which meant spot fishing for the hundreds of brown and rainbow trout was as easy as casting right above them.  What a great way to spend a sunday. 

When I was in Chile, they locals boasted that it was the only place in the world that you could ski and surf in the same day.  I didn’t get quite as far as the ocean, but I did manage to get my feet (or in this case my waders) wet. 

As the weather continues to warm and the lacrosse season begins to wind down, it’s time to put away my ski boots for another season and bring out my fishing boots.  I need to get more practice fly fishing before I head to Argentina abroad in July.  In any case, it seems that no matter the season, I find myself making more excuses to head into the mountains.   

Until next time,

Onward!

How I chose CC.

After hosting accepted students during the April 2nd and April 9th Open House, I started to reminisce about my college process.  It delights me to think this was just last year.

I’m not going to lie.  As a senior in high school, I did not have the slightest idea of where I wanted to attend college.  Many of my classmates had romanticized the idea of college.  Students applied to very prestigious universities with a major already in mind.  I DIDN’T.  Something was wrong with me.  I wasn’t looking forward to the college process-I had no clue for what I was looking for in a college.  My parents assumed that I was going to apply to the major universities in Oklahoma.  Nevertheless, my teachers, friends, and college counselor recommended that I look at other schools outside of Oklahoma.  While I did apply to three Oklahoma universities, I also applied to six more schools.  Researching colleges was overwhelming.  Did I want a school in a rural or urban location?  What is your ideal student body size?  Diversity?  Financial aid?  Majors? Campus life?

These questions opened up a lot possibilities for my future.  The thought of planning my future as a 17-year-old scared me.  My solution for this dilemma?  Apply to a wide range of schools to insure that come decision time, I would have many options.  I applied to the medical research university, the religious-affiliated university, the engineering university, the pre-law school; a few schools in the South, Southwest, North, Northeast, the West; schools with predominantly right or left political views; and of course, liberal art colleges.  Come acceptance/rejection time, I was accepted to all nine schools.  I didn’t expect that to happen, because I assumed that schools would essentially decide if I was a good match for them.  There was no way that I was a “good fit” for all nine schools.  I realized the most important aspect of my future necessitates an interdisciplinary and critical understanding of society.  A liberal arts education would definitely fulfill the expectations of my future.  To make matters more difficult, I applied to two liberal art colleges-one of course being Colorado College.

I visited both schools.  First, I visited CC and knew I loved it.  The other school wasn’t the right match for me.  Essentially, I knew that Colorado College was going to be my home for four years.

I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but I wanted to go to a school that truly believed in a “unique intellectual adventure.” This school is unique-there are few like this.  Where else are you able to submerse yourself in one class at a time?  Where else are you able to be a philosopher, an educator, a theologian, a sociologist, and a feminist within a span of a year?  This school is intellectual–I’ve been able to take courses that I never thought I would love or interests that I am passionate about.  Without the block plan, I would never be able to experiment with different courses, start friendships with everyone in my current block (despite differing opinions), or share a common love for knowledge.  Overall, it’s been an adventure. Undoubtedly.

Seriously, don’t ever apply to nine schools.  CC is awesome.

When I visited CC last year.  It was snowing and cold!

When I visited CC last year. It was snowing and cold!

The Meeting

After my spring break trip to Sanya, I returned to work on Tuesday. Within an hour of arriving at the office, Mr. Zhang was at my cubicle. He said, “Matt we need your help again.” Once again, Mr. Zhang was making me feel like 007. This time he just explained the situation at my cubicle: The intellectual property team (IP team) at Hylands needed to prepare for an important meeting the next morning. The meeting was with a potential corporate client. The IP team needed to convince this firm to hire Hylands for a potentially high profile IP case. The catch was the meeting would be held in English. So, Mr. Zhang asked if I could meet with his IP team so that they could practice their English and bounce ideas off of me.

We entered the meeting room and sat at the beautiful, large table. Mr. Zhang then explained to the group what we were doing. He said, “We are preparing for tomorrow’s meeting. I have asked Matt to attend and evaluate our English. If you have questions, please ask him. From now on, we will speak only in English.”

The International Trade team and me (not Mr. Zhang and his team, but I don't have a picture with them yet!)

The International Trade team and me (not Mr. Zhang and his team, but I don't have a picture with them yet!)

Mr. Zhang then asked his team to begin explaining the facts of the case that they knew. Because they had not been hired yet, they had been given limited information. They spent about twenty minutes working out how to explain the case in English. I did my best to make sure that they’re explanations were very clear. The case dealt with managers of a corporation who had deceived the firm to pull profits away from a pending deal. I will spare you the details.

Once the team had finished explaining the case, they began to discuss strategy for their short meeting. I offered some suggestions, which were received very well. The team continued to ask questions about how to phrase certain ideas and concepts.

Mr. Zhang then said he had one final thing he would like me to do. He wanted me to summarize, in my own words, the case that they had explained to me.

He said, “We just explained that to you in English, however, we do not think first in English. We think in Chinese and translate in our heads. You are the only one who thinks in English first. So, if we hear a summary of this case from someone who is thinking in English first, we will have a much better understanding.”

I found this fascinating. I spent the next ten minutes explaining the case. When I was finished the team seemed extremely happy and thankful. I realized that it must have made a huge difference to hear it from a native speaker’s mouth. With that, we concluded the meeting.

These experiences with Mr. Zhang have been fantastic. I have felt increasingly more useful to the firm because of this. I do not speak Chinese well, so when I started work here I assumed my usefulness to the firm wasn’t great. It seems that just being a native English speaker has great value here. It’s almost like I am Hylands’ secret weapon. Well, maybe not quite, but it’s fun to think so.

Baca!

This past week I had a chance to go to Baca for three days with my political science class Leadership and Governance. Baca is CC’s satellite campus about a 3 hour drive from Colorado Springs, in the beautiful San Luis Valley. It’s also right next to the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, where I hiked during my Priddy trip at the beginning of the year. It was fun to see the mountain I climbed from the other side!

The view on the drive from CC was gorgeous:

Sangre de Cristo mountains

I’d been to Baca once before on a spiritual retreat through Shove Chapel during third block break. This time was equally great — though we stayed in the townhouses instead of the lodge, which made it even better!

Our professor joked that you could major in Baca — well, in classes that went to Baca. There are some professors that regularly come down to Baca with their class, and not just professors of the social sciences. There is a physics professor that regularly brings his class down! I haven’t had the time since coming back to figure out if you really could do a major where you mainly went to Baca… but I’m very interested.

For the three days we were up there, we had a “leadership film festival” and watched a eclectic mix of movies including Norma Rae, Fog of War, and Twelve O’Clock High. It was really relaxing… we watched movies in the morning and in the afternoon went out and explored the surrounding area. One day, in the middle of a windstorm, we visited the sand dunes:

It was extremely windy. I felt like a character from Dune.

Despite the wind, we made it to the top of one of the dunes,  and used our cardboard boxes (taken from the nice people in Baca’s kitchen) to go sand dune surfing. It was wild!

Now, as I’m preparing to write my final paper for the course, I’m wishing I was still in Baca! And I’m still finding sand everywhere.

三亚 (Sanya)

Out the side of a Hainan Cab

Out the side of a Hainan Cab

Three weekends ago was the middle of our semester here in Beijing. In light of this, we were given Thursday and Friday off as a spring break. A group of us in the program had settled on our destination about a month prior to the break. We were headed to the city of Sanya on Hainan Dao Island. Hainan Dao Island is off the southern coast of China and just east of Thailand. In all honestly, we were treating ourselves. Hainan Dao is considered the Hawaii of China. The beautiful beaches, tropical weather, clean air, and good eating make it a frequent travel spot for many Chinese and Russians. We were trying to give ourselves a few days of sunshine, warm weather, and relaxation. I was particularly attracted to the trip because of the other attractions on the island: the monkey island, jungle hiking, and a small population of a particular Chinese minority. Unfortunately, those extra attractions did not follow through because most of them required heavy entrance fees or long travel days on the island. It turned out that we spent a great deal of time on the beaches, swimming, and enjoying the down time.

Our trip started out interestingly, as most of them do. Hainan Dao is quite a large island. It has two main entry points: Haikou and Sanya. Our plans had us staying in Sanya but flying into Haikou. Haikou is about a three-hour drive from Sanya. There is a bus, but Ken, the manager of our hostel, offered pick-up service for just slightly more money than the bus fare. Once off of the plane, we met our drivers waiting outside baggage claim, holding signs.

Local transportation

Local transportation

As we began to walk to the cars, one of the drivers handed me a cell phone. Confused, I took it. It was Ken. He explained to me that these men would take us to the hostel in Sanya. All seemed just fine. He then added, “And if anyone is to check on you, just tell them that these men are simply your friends. Nothing else. Just friends.” At that point my confusion came rushing back. “Okay,” I said, not wanting to inquire too much. He repeated himself then said, “And please make sure you tell everyone in your group that. See you soon.”

I started to wonder if we were headed to Sanya at all? Who were these men, and why do I have to tell someone if they ask that they are just my friends? The only thing that kept me from getting on the bus to Sanya was that this hostel, and Ken, had rave reviews online. I told the group, who seemed equally as surprised. We got in the cars and took off.

Luckily, not a single person stopped our cars or asked us anything. We arrived in Sanya to find Ken waiting outside of the buildings. As we settled into our rooms, Ken explained the whole story. Apparently, the government has set it up so that flying into Haikou is cheaper than Sanya. They then offer the bus service, which makes the difference almost disappear. Thus, the officials do not like it when travelers use private transportation to Sanya.

Our worries aside, we marveled at the view we had from our hostel room. In fact, our room didn’t seem very much like a “hostel” at all. It was amazing for the price!

Looking out our window

Looking out our window

We proceeded for the next few days to explore the different beaches that the island had to offer. Our favorite turned out to be Yalong Bay. Yalong Bay was about a 45-minute bus ride from where we were staying, but it was well worth it. The sand was clean and the water blue. We even found ourselves one day sitting poolside at a five-star resort. We had originally gone to eat at their restaurant. It turned out that the pool area was relatively empty. Nobody minded that we stayed the afternoon.

One day, three of us in the group attempted to venture to a small island off of Hainan. On our way, we took a taxi through some rural areas of the island. We saw a great deal of the beautiful countryside and local farming. We arrived at the place where we could take a boat to the island. It turned out that, as with every attraction on Hainan, it cost a great deal to get in. We decided it wasn’t worth it. Even our taxi driver told us in it wasn’t all that great. So, we headed back.

At The End of the World park

At The End of the World park

We did successfully visit one tourist attraction, The End of The World Rocks. The park was absolutely gorgeous. There were lawns and gardens that were beautifully manicured and beaches that were picture perfect. The highlight of our trip here was the boat ride we took. We each paid 50 RMB to take a small boat out to see the “Love Rocks.” The main attraction is a rock formation in the shape of a heart jutting from the ocean. After a few pictures, our drivers convinced us to throw them some extra money to see the marriage rocks that were further out. While less impressive, these little humps far off-shore were fun to see.

Walking around the park, we saw many Chinese tourists dressed in their one-piece tropical outfits. These were very popular across the island. My friend, Juan, and I even purchased outfits for ourselves.

It turned out that Sanya and Hainan Dao, while full of attractions, proved its value in the relaxation and easy-going nature it brought out in all of us. We all left a little more rested and relaxed than we had arrived.

The "Love Rock"

The "Love Rock"

Coconuts at a stand near our hostel

Coconuts at a stand near our hostel

Countryside

Countryside

the beach at sunset

the beach at sunset

Ms. Chen

Hanwei Plaza - my office building in Beijing

Hanwei Plaza - my office building in Beijing

The Tuesday before my spring break here in China was maybe my most interesting day at work yet. Most of my days at work are filled with reviewing English documents for the international trade department, checking my emails, reading the news, and discussing interesting issues with co-workers. Tuesday was different.

Before the day began, I emailed my boss, Jiang Peng, to alert him that I wouldn’t be in the office on Thursday due to our spring break. I offered to do some extra work, as I would be missing a day. He wrote back promptly saying that another partner in the firm, Mr. Zhang, would be coming by soon with some work.

Around 10:00, Mr. Zhang arrived at my cubicle and asked me to come to his office. We sat, and he said, “Matt, we need your help.” In all honesty, I immediately felt like I was on an important mission. He explained that the team was looking at hiring a new lawyer. She had studied in the U.S. and claimed to speak English very well. He wanted me to confirm this by holding an informal meeting and discussion with her. English language experience is essential at this firm. Each day they communicate with international clients. He gave me twenty minutes to prepare (I wasn’t sure how to prepare for my pending “interview” as my law experience is very limited). I decided I would simply ask her questions about her studies and her career.

I entered the meeting room with Mr. Zhang, and one of Mr. Zhang’s associates. Ms. Chen, the woman “under review” came in shortly after. She was young and very smiley. Up until this point I had felt fine, but the minute she walked into the door I got nervous. What was I, an undergraduate student, doing interviewing a woman for a job at a law firm? I calmed down by reminding myself that my purpose was simply to evaluate her English language abilities.

We began speaking about her experience in the U.S. and why she is interested in law. She responded that her interest in law stemmed from her feelings that her gender is “too emotional.” She wanted to pursue something “professional.” I was slightly shocked by this response. China’s gender issues are interesting a deep. That is a discussion for another time though.

Ten minutes in, Mr. Zhang interrupts. He requests that Ms. Chen explain to me the details of a meeting she attended with Mr. Zhang last week. From here, the meeting got much more serious. As Ms. Chen spoke, Mr. Zhang prodded and corrected her continuously. As he did so, he asked me whether I understood what she was saying. For the most part, I did. I could tell she was nervous though. She spoke very well, however, she did confuse and contradict herself when speaking about law related issues.

Taken at the front desk of Hylands Law

Taken at the front desk of Hylands Law

The meeting finished, and I spoke honestly with Mr. Zhang. He agreed she was well spoken but wasn’t always clear. He then asked me to evaluate her written language by assigning her to summarize and review a case of my choosing. This completely threw me for a loop. I asked him where I might find a case to give her. His answer: “I don’t know.” I was on my own here.

After ten minutes at my desk of wondering what in the world to do, I thought of an idea. I found that the most readily available case decisions are U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Knowing little about most of these decisions, I chose one that all U.S. high school students learn in history class: Brown v. The Board of Education. My brother, who is in law school, found this absolutely hilarious. So, I asked Ms. Chen to read the decision on the 1954 U.S. Civil Rights case and summarize the case in her own words in one page.

I know this all seems ridiculous. All in all, it was a good choice. It was a straightforward case that both of us would understand. It allowed me to evaluate her written English much better than I could with a more complicated and unfamiliar case. She wrote a concise and strong summary.

I felt a little funny about the whole ordeal. Still, it was an amazing experience. I realized that my lack of law experience was inconsequential to Mr. Zhang. I am the only native English speaker in the office; thus, it makes perfect sense that I should help evaluate English ability. In fact, this little “mission” spawned an even more interesting day when I returned from spring break. Check back to read about my trip to Sanya, as well as what happened when I returned from break.

“Burning down the house…”

The "pants" next to the burned CCTV tower

The "pants" on the right with the burned CCTV building on the left

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning when I get off the subway at Jintaixizhao station, I see the CCTV tower right across the street. For those of you that don’t know, the CCTV tower is one of Beijiing’s newest architectural accomplishments. It houses the countries media powerhouse that is essentially run by the Chinese government. In February, during the Spring Festival, one of the buildings in the CCTV “complex” caught fire from fireworks being lit too close to the building. The building is completely charred now. Luckily, causalities were minimal. The building itself was a hotel, but it was still in construction. While it was not the primary CCTV Tower (the one that looks like a pair of pants), it was still part of the new CCTV construction.

The burned building up close with the "pants on the right"

The burned building up close with the"pants" on the right

I have to imagine this will open some people’s eyes. Spring Festival was very fun, but full of what seemed like thoughtless celebration. I am referring mainly to the use of fireworks. I’ll admit that I truly enjoyed the fireworks. In fact, I loved it. I still thought throughout that it was amazing no buildings were harmed as people lit rockets mere feet from doors. Turns out one of the newest buildings in China fell victim. It is a glaring symbol in the Central Business District of Beijing right now. Each morning and evening I walk on the sidewalk across from the towers, I see at least one-person snapping a photo of the charred building. Unfortunately, CCTV runs almost all of the media in China. Information on this or what happens because of it will most likely be largely unreported.

Stay tuned for a series of new posts on travels, my internship, and other fun things in China starting Monday or Tuesday next week!