Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Going to China after all...

We had a team meeting tonight to discuss more "details" of last week's emotional roller coaster. Larry began our meeting by handing back our passports. He said something like, "Inside, you'll find your visas for China..." We all looked at each other very confused (because as far as we knew, we had been denied) but sure enough, inside our passport was a lovely, page-sized sticker - our Chinese visas! 

We all had many questions but reserved our emotions - mainly because it seemed as though every time we were updated on our travels and got excited, the plans were switched. 

There was never anything wrong with our visas. When the Chinese National Security claimed that there were students on our team who failed the background checks because of misdemeanors, this was false. When Larry and GIEU involved higher ups (i.e.: the UM provost, etc.) in our situation and talked with the embassy, the embassy told them that our visas were in the mail and they had no problems with them. So, the Chinese National Security (which apparently doesn't collaborate with the Chinese Embassy) 'fabricated' or 'lied' or 'fibbed' those details about the misdemeanors. Nothing about that story is true. After further thought and investigation, it seems (and Larry told us this) that the Chinese government was going to 'deny' us entry into the country because of our involvement with Golden Courage. GCI is one of 5 NGO's in the entire country and they rely on government funding to survive. Therefore, the government feels they have a say in what GCI does - including interacting/hosting American instructors/interns for the summer. This probably also has something to do with Dr. Lu Jr. being part of the Tianamen Square riots 20 years ago and getting exiled from the country. I'm sure they (the government) are apprehensive about our involvement with him and his organization. Because GCI relies so heavily on the government funding, they cannot risk to bring our team in to work with them and possibly lose that funding. So Larry, GIEU,  Dr. Lu Jr., and Golden Courage decided it was best not to risk anything that could harm the GCI program and the kids, so we will not be working with them anymore. As soon as GIEU told the Chinese National Security that we were no longer working with Golden Courage, they had no problem granting us entry into the country. So, something about our previous denial into China definitely had something to do with Golden Courage - details are to be determined. DRAMA. 

What does this mean for our trip?

We are no longer working with Golden Courage, obviously. We are also not going to work with high schoolers or elementary students like before. Instead, we are staying all 4 weeks at Peking University in downtown Beijing and working with college students our age. Peking University is THE BEST school in China. It's extremely difficult to get into and has a prestigious reputation. Larry said, "This is the Harvard of China." So, not to brag, but it's kind of a big deal. 

We will still do the basics of our arts modules but focus mostly on English. Many of the students are said to have very good English but want/need to learn English from native speakers. They are also interested in learning colloquial speak. So, we'll be engaging in many informal teaching situations (hanging out, being friends, etc.) to help them learn. We will live in the dorms at the school, attend the opera, visit tourist sites, even take a day trip to Golden Courage but strictly as tourists - not as teachers, sadly. There is still debate about what/who/if UM and GCI will send some Golden Courage students over Ann Arbor in the fall - we'll see what happens with that. I can't believe the Chinese government would endorse that but it would be great to see them! 

So all the original travel plans are the way they were a week ago. I'm still going to Shanghai, Hong Kong and Bangkok. I still need to buy a bunch of travel gear, I still need to take all of my malaria and anti-diarrheal  pills, and I still will run out of money by the end of the trip, but at least all of this will be done with my entire team, with Larry and IN CHINA! 

The countdown:
-3 hours until I turn 22
-2 days until my summer is 'official' with no more required obligations for school
-32 days until I leave for China
-And 81 days until I join September in Florida for a post-travel vacation! 


The one & only,
Mo chou. 

No trip this summer

As of today, it's all over. No trip to Tanzania and no trip to China. We have a team meeting tonight to discuss "details" but I'm not sure what other details need to be talked about at this point. I don't really feel like hearing how we came so close to going overseas and then things were messed up.

I'll update later if it's worth while. Otherwise, I"m working on changing the name of this blog to 
www.morganNOTinchina.com. Look for it. 


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Getting used to the idea of Tanzania

I just got SO EXCITED for Africa!

The Best of Both Worlds

Habari! (Hello, in Swahili)
Ninaitwa Morgan (my name is Morgan)

It appears as though the Chinese government have not approved our visas or entry into their country. I received an email this morning from Larry saying we will be getting 'the best of both worlds.' We have postponed our trip to Beijing until 2010 and will now be traveling to Tanzania this Summer. According to Larry we're 'headed to the cradle of human civilization' (not sure what that means) and we're 'working in some capacity with HIV/AIDS education, English teaching and health ministries' (not sure what that means either.) The details of location and activities are still being determined. So are the dates. I guess ideally, we'd be taking the Tanzania trip the same time we were going to take the China trip. We might only be staying 3 weeks though, instead of 4. I'm just not sure on details right now. 

I guess we just sit and wait some more .... I'm not even sure if I can refund my ticket to Beijing. I didn't buy insurance for it. :(  To be honest, I'm more stressed about this 'adventure' right now than I was Tuesday night when I learned of it. I just REALLY HOPE I'm not out $1200 for my plane ticket. Even though GIEU is covering everything for Africa, I cashed my savings bonds to buy that ticket to China. If I can't get some sort of refund, I don't know what I'm going to do....?

I wonder if we'll get Tanzanian names.... in Swahili, or something... ? Or if we'll be living with the locals? If we can climb Mt. Kilimanjaro? 

I feel horrible about bailing on the Golden Courage kids. I wish there was some way the Chinese government could have understood our plea to help, and that we were coming to China to work WITH the country, not against it. 

More details will be posted as I learn of them. 

Kwaheri! (Goodbye, in Swahili.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

China or Tanzania?

Apparently, the Chinese government is not giving our team permission to enter their country. They are not giving us our visas and our trip may be postponed until Summer 2010. 

The story goes something like this:
There are 2 major anniversaries this summer that would take place while we are there: A 20-year anniversary of the student-led protest in Tiananmen Square (1989) and the 60th anniversary of the Communist government. The Chinese officials are afraid that we, as Americans, are going to cause 'a disturbance of peace' - I guess because some members of our team have misdemeanor on their record? I have a foggy understanding of everything at this point. So, the people who have records here are seen as a threat by the Chinese who are reviewing our background checks/visa information. 

What does this mean?
We are patiently waiting to hear back from Dr. Lu Jr. to see if we can get the visas for China. He said we will know by tomorrow. He is working with an international lawyer and has many people on his side backing his story. He is telling the government that our team is going over there not to protest, or inhibit with the celebrations, but to teach homeless, impoverished HIV/AIDS infected youth. Michigan's GIEU program is also writing letters on all of our behalf saying that Larry Gant, our professor leading our program, is our 'dad'. Yes, our dad. He is writing a letter saying that we are his kids and that we will not go anywhere in China without him. Should be interesting - considering we have people of all ethnicities and we're all pretty much the same age. I guess we'll say we're adopted.... ?

So we will find out tomorrow if the trip is a go or no-go. If we do not get access to China and our visas, we will be taking an alternative trip to Tanzania this summer. The trip would be completely paid for by GIEU (airfare, lodging, everything.) We would be working with the same types of children (HIV/AIDS/severely impoverished) doing the same teaching modules we had originally planned for China (arts and English). Then, in 2010, we would be given the chance to go to Golden Courage to do our lesson plans. This trip in 2010, would be through GCI, not through GIEU - kind of like a study abroad. 

There are still many questions to be asked and details to be figured out. But for now, we just sit and wait, patiently, and trust that Dr. Lu Jr. will do his best to get us over to China. Most importantly, we need to go for the kids. The kids have been learning our English and Chinese names for months now, and they are anxiously anticipating our visit. Dr. Lu said they are very excited to have American big brothers and big sisters. They would be devastated if we cannot come over this summer. So I hope it works out. (Even though a free trip to Tanzania sound breathtaking - we NEED to go to China for those kids.)

So, that's all I have at this point. Our entire meeting last night focused on this new drama. Everyone was silent - stunned - numb. The situation is completely out of our control. All we can do at this point is be patient and hope things work out as originally planned.

This is going to be the longest 32 hours of my life. 

I will update as soon as I have more information. 

Mo chou

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Belated entry

Sorry I haven't updated in almost 2 weeks. I have been slammed with work and finals preparations. 

Last week in our team meeting, we had the director of Center for Chinese Studies come in and give us a power lecture on 'Social and Political Challenges of Rapid Economic Growth in China.' Invigorating, right? Parts of the lecture were fascinating to compare with our own Western government. But for the most part, I found the material dry and over my head. I am not one for political science or economics but I took mad notes so I can study up before going abroad next month. Basically, I learned the following:

-There are major trends of inequality among the Chinese- Urban citizenship is highly valued but only given to a select few. People holding urban citizenship have better opportunities (economically, health-related, politically, etc.) Rural citizenship (the majority of the Chinese) are overlooked when it comes to government funds, education, health care and political voice. 

-There is a growing number of 'floating population' - migrants, basically. Who travel from city to city looking for work but can barely support their families. This population is extremely devastating to hear about. They are completely overlooked by the government but make the largest portion of Chinese residents. Note: The children of GCI all have parents/guardians that are part of the floating population - which contributed why they never received any formal education. 

-There are major population issues in China - which most of us have heard before on the world news. How the professor described it was, "It's like all of America lived east of the Mississippi." Hard to imagine 1.6 billion people stuffed into an area that small. China has decided for some years to implement the 1-Child law. This law states that a couple is only allowed to have one child - unless both the husband and wife are single children, in which case they may try for 2 children. A couple may also try for two child, apparently, if the first one is a girl. But I keep getting mixed reviews on this. So, I'm not sure if it's enforced. There is a major sex imbalance in China because girls are not wanted. These are also rules that only apply to the Urban population of China, not the rural.

Basically, we spent an hour talking about how corrupt the Chinese government is, how only the rich are the successful ones in the country and how the government is trying to 'get better' but isn't, really. We talked briefly about the different pollution problems (air and water) but focused more on the government. 

Well, that's about all for now. I've been practicing my Mandarin, although I am not sure how much I am retaining. It's proving to be quite difficult. I'm also practicing how to write the numerical characters for numbers 1-10. Just for kicks, I guess. 

More will be posted Tuesday evening (ideally) about our last meeting. We'll be discussing the etiquette expectations at Golden Courage. Dr. Lu Jr. is coming in and this will be the last time we see him before China. Should be interesting! We're definitely getting down to the wire now! (To put it in some perspective, my classmates that are going to Vietnam and Indonesia with this GIEU program are leaving in a matter of days.... like 12... so, it's all coming very quickly!)

All best, 
Mo chou

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Map of Beijing, China

More random pictures - Food

Note: I did NOT take these pictures

More random pictures - Parks

More random pictures

Please note: I did NOT take these pictures - I found them online to 'enhance' my blog entries

Chinese smog - smog over land (above); smog in city (below)

Over 100 degrees......HOTTTTTTTTT

How to survive in Beijing 101

Tonight we had a meeting with Lucinda and Jeremy (former delegates to Golden Courage in October 2008) to talk about some basic things to expect in China this summer. This meeting was particularly informative as I continue to plan the details of my travels and packing. It was great to hear their stories of the delegates' time in China in the fall and what we can expect as young, American 'tourists' this summer. Here are some of the basics that I learned from tonight:

-There are many vegetarian options (about 70% of the food served will be vegetables and/or with tofu)
-I should practice with chopsticks NOW!! Otherwise I'll have a difficult time eating meals. Forks aren't available - obviously
-Dinners are served around a circular table that rests on a Lazy Susan - so it rotates and there are between 10-20 tapas styled dishes of food for each dinner (no dessert)
-The markets are supposed to be incredible and an adventure all of their own
-Chinese food as we know here in America is not even close to the Chinese food we'll eat in China - that goes without saying (it'll be better!!)

-We're staying at a hotel the first week while shadowing the students at the opera school
-The hotel is literally down the street from the opera school
-It is safe for women to walk [alone] at night around the hotel
-The hotels will have Western style bathrooms with toilet paper provided - everywhere else we'll need to bring TP and we'll be using "squat toilets"
-Internet is provided in the hotel
-We will be the only Americans in the hotel and the only people who speak English in the area of the hotel in Beijing - most of the locals in the area have never seen Americans so we will be stared at out of fascination

-There is a huge park across the street from the opera school that has lakes, temple replicas and thousands of visitors everyday
-Crowds often form around Americans (particularly if they participate in any of the activities in the park i.e.: singing, dancing, Tai Chi or Tai Chi ball) because the Chinese are fascinated by Americans
-It is a great time to wake up and do Tai Chi with the locals and to immerse ourselves in Chinese culture right next to our hotel!

-Being late is the most offensive, unacceptable, frowned upon thing we could do in China
-To be early is to be on time, and to be on time is to be late = our motto for the month of June
-We should expect to be everywhere 20 minutes early because the Chinese start activities, etc. 10 minutes before that
-The jet lag is rough - drink water

-Short clothing is unacceptable - the Chinese are modest
-Rarely should we wear any clothing above the knee, although longer 'shorts' are okay
-The Chinese do not dress up - they are not dressy people so when we perform in front of the officials/government, we can dress 'casual' by American standards because that will be dressy by Chinese standards

-It's going to be HOT (80-90 degrees) in the city
-The school we're teaching at is about an hour outside of the city (north, I believe) and will be 10-15 degrees cooler because it is in the mountains
-There is no telling what the air pollution will be like during our week in the city, so we are advised to bring a few bandanas. Jeremy said when he was there after the Olympics, the air was pretty clean, but the days that it was not, he could feel in his eyes and lungs after being outside for only 2 minutes. 
-The air in the mountains will be clean and refreshing... not to mention the beautiful backdrop
-June is the rainy season
-When we go to Thailand, it's going to be in the 100's

-While many Chinese have never seen white Americans, they also have never seen black Americans - they will stair, again, out of fascination
-There is a place that was recommended we visit for hair washing/upper body massage and the workers are captivated by naturally curly hair - yay for me!

-Free speech is not free in China
-Under no circumstances are we to talk about religion, politics or sexuality
-Some Chinese locals may try to engage us in conversations about Chinese or American politics (if their English is good enough) but they may actually be trying to get us in trouble with the government: if we talk about religion, for example, they might say that we are trying to convert them - and then we're in big, big trouble with the Chinese government
-We need to be aware of what to say (and what not to say) and where to say it (and where not to say it)
-It's a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy with regards to sexuality
-Under no circumstances are we to talk badly about the Chinese government or policies - even if we are unaware of how the subject came up in a conversation or where that conversation is headed - we should say, 'That's interesting. Bye now.' And walk away.

-We will be picked up at the airport and driven back to the hotel upon our arrival
-We are encouraged to bring books, music, etc. for the plane ride
-The plane ride is LONG
-Most people have a layover in Tokyo (that really cool airport that is built on a man-made island per the Discovery Channel) but I am flying into Seoul instead. However, when I go to Shanghai and Hong Kong, both of those airports are in the list of top 10 airports in the entire world - so I guess it all works out after all.

Well, I can't think of anything else to write about, really. We only talked about Beijing 101 and the logistics of our visas this evening. No time for Mandarin today. We only have 2 more team meetings too! I can't believe how close it is to travel time!! 

More again soon. 


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Random pictures

Short update

This is a picture of the backpack from REI that I want to get for my travels. You can fold the straps in to make it a duffel bag and the little pack shown below can be removed to use as a daypack. This bag is amazing! What would be more amazing, is if I could fit all of my belongs for 6 weeks of travel to fit inside! 

Meeting update:

Yesterday, as we do every Tuesday night, we had another team meeting. The Chinese delegates have gone back to China (or they will the next day or so) so it was a smaller, quiet, sad meeting. Fortunately, we'll see them again in 50-some days! 

I had to get a picture taken for my visa and I can say wholeheartedly, that the picture is the worst I have ever taken. I wasn't sure when the guy at Walgreens was going to hit the shutter, so I was NOT ready. I look PISSED in the picture. My nostrils are flared, eyebrows furrowed... it's positively the worst picture I think I have ever seen. Thank goodness the visa is only good for 3 months! I will have to scan it and post it. It will surely turn a bad day into a hilarious one!

To learn more about our team members, since we are spending a month together on intimate terms, we played 'Speed Dating'. It was pretty random. Everyone had cards with questions on them (i.e.: What is your favorite color? What is your ideal pet? If you had 6 more hours in the day, what would you do with the time?) We only got about 3 minutes with each person to chat. The thought was cute but the execution was a bit off. We also spent a considerable amount of time on our Mandarin lesson. I'm having a particularly difficult time learning the numbers. The inflections are also very confusing to me. Each word has a different tone, and there are five tones in Mandarin (see one of my earlier entries) so you could be talking about your friend, for example, but would actually be saying the tone for horse or something. So, I have LOTS to practice between now and the end of May. 

We also received a more detailed day-by-day schedule of our time in China in June. We will be very, very busy. Every day there is something we need to attend to, whether it's shadowing the students at the opera school, touring the sites, teaching, taking pictures for our photobook ... lots of work. Originally, Golden Courage wanted us all to start bright and early at 8am on June 2. They decided, however, that we'll need a day to recover from jet lag. So, we still begin at 8 but the day will consist of us getting familiar with the opera school, the local parks, and resting. The second day though, we're starting our shadowing! 

There isn't much else to report from the meeting. It was a lot of catching up, reviewing documents, discussing some trip details, etc. We only have 3 more team meetings! I can't believe how quickly this semester has flown by for this trip. Our next meetings will be practicing more Mandarin and focusing on the 'culture shock' of visiting China. We will learn about customs, appropriate public behavior, manners, and we'll get all of our cultural questions answered. 

Hope everyone is enjoying the sunshine! Sorry I don't have more to say. Check back again soon!

Zai  jian!