A View Through the Gates

Adam Lukoskie has studied in London, Ukraine, Tanzania and China. The following are excerpts from his travel journal.

June 2, 2004Beijing - Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden CityTiananmen is the largest city square in the world, and it really fits the title. We wandered the square and made our way to where Chairman Mao rests. There were flowers everywhere. The Chinese bowed and seemed to pray to his preserved body. Our tour guide shared stories about Mao that helped shed light on why the Chinese revere him so much.

We took a group picture in front of a huge portrait of Mao that hangs on the gates of the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was impressive. I especially enjoyed the gardens. It took about an hour to walk through the compound and read all of the plaques. But it helped to have information headphones to explain most of the things we were seeing. I can’t believe how many tourists were in the square.

After lunch we went to the state-owned Chinese International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) trading company. CITIC has $40 billion in sales and 61,000 employees. Our speaker was Ding Jian Zhong, a senior economist and executive vice president for CITIC.

Jian Zhong gave us an overview of CITIC and the Chinese economy (9 percent growth in 2003, etc.), and then opened the discussion for Q&A. We asked about initial public offerings of Chinese stock and CITIC’s role in getting Chinese stocks on Wall Street. Someone asked for advice for U.S. students trying to do business in China. Jian Zhong told us to be more humble. He said we are very confident and competitive, but Chinese culture demands humbleness - something Americans are not used to. I know there is something I could learn from his advice.

Another student questioned the skills of the Chinese labor force and educationsystem. Jian Zhong’s answer was surprising. He said that most Chinese want to be managers, and what China really needs is technical workers. This makes sense because the majority of the labor force is unskilled, and the rest are college-educated. There is no technical school education to fill the void. This poses a large problem in a developing economy. If there is no one able or willing to perform the “inbetween” jobs, what is China to do?

Jian Zhong later brought us to the 48th floor of the building - a floor designated for members only. We had an excellent view of the city. Apparently, it costs tens of thousands of dollars to be a member. And we were lucky enough to see it.

The next stop was an acrobat show, where performers twisted and turned in ways I never thought possible. We ended the evening with dinner at the Great Wall restaurant. We had a wide variety of dumplings accompanied by a sweet and sour fish (head and tail attached), chicken and peanuts, and assorted steamed vegetables.

June 8, 2004Xi'an and ShanghaiBreakfast this morning in the Chinese school cafeteria (again!). The dishes did not change. The food tasted exactly the same. I was excited to get to Shanghai to eat some new food.

After breakfast, we walked to the local elementary school. I was looking forward to visiting with the kids. A teacher greeted us and said the kids were thrilled to see us. The first classroom had 5-year-olds sitting on their mats playing games. I sat with one boy and put together clamps to make a monster. We then put together a Chinese province map, a European map and a U.S. map. I had no idea where any of the provinces were, but I was able to show them where all the states were on the U.S. map.

In the next classroom I listened to children play keyboards and sing. In another room with much younger kids (3 or 4 years old?); they were learning an English song, and I was able to join in. Then we danced around in a circle and had a group hug. I felt like a giant. The kids were so happy to see us and to speak any English they knew. I only wish I could have spoken Chinese with them.

After we left the school, we headed to the Muslim quarters. We shopped, but I didn’t buy anything. I walked around with Andy, and somehow we managed to miss the mosque. That was disappointing.

Lunch at the cafeteria … again.

In the afternoon, we took a flight to Shanghai and met our guide, Mrs. Yu. She was humble and nice, and older than our other guides thus far. We quickly unpacked and settled in before dinner at our hotel, Yun Feng.

After dinner we went to the river in downtown Shanghai, where many people were flying kites. Kate, Andy and I walked the boardwalk together. The view was really something. There were neon lights everywhere. Shanghai is ultramodern and spectacular. Street vendors were selling things like kites, fake mice, watches, etc.

For the rest of the evening we headed for the posh, young hangout area of Shanghai. Again, it was very modern and very Western. There were many bars and restaurants. Some in our group wanted to stay and take in the atmosphere, while a few of us wanted to return to the hotel and get some sleep. Sleep felt good.

June 14, 2004KunmingToday was probably my favorite day on the trip. We went to the Stone Forest, about an hour and a half from Kunming. The drive was incredible. We drove through rural areas and got to see what life was like for peasants. Many were out in the rice paddies, wearing triangle straw hats and working on their crops. The rice paddies were set in rows of water with little rice plants growing in extremely straight lines.

The hillsides were a vast array of colors because of the wide variety of vegetation. And the temperature was not too hot. We were greeted by our guide for the day when we arrived at the Stone Forest. He told us the Stone Forest used to be an ocean and the pillars (some were 30-40 feet high) were old coral. There are only two forests like this in the world. The other is in Croatia, but is not nearly as large. The Chinese Stone Forest covers kilometers of land and is full of trails.

Our guide was amazing. He described the ancient traditions of the land and he sang to us. Some of the songs were by Americans, such as John Denver, and others were in Chinese.

From the Stone Forest we went to lunch at a small, off-the-road restaurant. They had a wide variety of food, including dried worms, but the group did not want to order them. The restaurant’s specialty was roasted duck, like many of the places we have eaten. And we finally found out what the Chinese do with their duck and chicken bones - they spit them out onto the table.

After lunch we went to the Yunnan Software School, which is a part of Yunnan University. The school was still under construction and had limited enrollment, but planned to open in September.

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