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Out of the Smog, Into the Splendor

  Our day consisted of a long bus ride, and breath taking scenery. We took a four-hour bus ride to Enshi. Along the bus ride we passed through gorgeous mountains. We were going to a more rural place. At the beginning of the drive we were surrounded by mountains with little rural village areas at the bottom. The land was being farmed in little sectors. As we kept driving, the mountains surrounding us became steeper. The valleys that we saw and drove over were outstanding. The bridge we crossed that suspended over a deep valley was terrifying and wondrous. We kept driving through gorgeous mountains that were covered in mist and clouds. It was unbelievable. The landscape reminded me of the floating mountains in Avatar.
  We checked into a beautiful hotel. It was the nicest one of our entire trip. It was almost resort-like. The view from the front of the hotel was ideal. When we arrived the sun was just setting between mountains under a layer of light mist. The country in China is quite different from the city. I prefer it. The air is cleaner and fresh. The scenery is astonishing, and everything feels peaceful.
By Jade Direnfeld 


By Yvonne Yu

Today, we visited Tusi City, a UNESCO heritage site. The area seemed to have a pretty well preserved structure of the village. When we first went in, we saw some aspects of the culture, including a pole with many different knives and swords stuck in it, which may have showed the type of weapons used by the people. There was also a performance, which was a central attraction, with singers in traditional dress, singing both in Mandarin and the ethnic dialect. A lot of the stairs and rooms of the different buildings seemed to be close to the original. However, the entire area was filled with different shops, many in unexpected places, such as near the top of on of the buildings. This was a little strange to me, and it brings to question, do the ethnic minorities who cater to tourists and rely on them economically feel that their culture is not correctly understood/being "sold" for toursim? Or, do they feel that they are proudly representing their culture and sharing it with others?

We also went to visit a tea garden in the Dong ethnic minority village. The area was very scenic and pleasant, and I really enjoyed the meal we had there. Many of the people we interacted with only spoke their ehtnic dialect. The food seemed to have a more homey feeling to it, and gave a sense of authenticity that was more difficult to find in big-city restaurants. In general, I felt that this village gave a good sense of the general ethnic culture and was not changed by modernization, like it was in urban areas.

In general, both ethnic minority villages gave a good comparison to the urban life we had been surrounded by the past few days. We later traveled to Enshi, staying in a hotel that was located in the mountains. The air felt a lot more fresh and most of the haziness in the air seemed to be fog instead of smog/pollution.


By Alex Hardy

On March 19, we visited the UN cultural heritage site.  On the bus, Professor Godfrey engaged the group about the hidden pros and cons that go with heritage sites.  We discussed eligibility, application processes, and the need for local governments to support them both physically and financially.  This intrigued me, because I never thought about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into preserving a place like the site at Tusi City.

The first thing that caught my eye were the statues at the site.  The first thing we did while visiting the heritage site was watch a presentation by the locals concerning the culture and traditions of Tusi City.  Of course, I didn't understand a word of the actual presentation.  However, the mannerisms, extravagance, and over-the-top nature reminded me of performances at places like Medieval Times.

This nice lady, specifically brought some realism to the show.  Tired and seemingly bored, this woman played one of the main characters and waited for her turn on stage.  Of course, the entire presentation was clearly meant to earn money with the booming tourism industry.  Many students even debated about whether or not this tourism-centric display was a good thing for the region.  For me, I leaned on it being positive, since this was clearly an opportunity for young, local citizens to earn seemingly good money with a job that allows them to express their cultural heritage on their own terms.
On the morning of March 19 right before leaving Hotel Riverside No. 1 in Yichang, Hubei a group of students and faculty decided to do some water testing along the Yangtze river as we were told it would be the last time we saw the Yangtze. After some quick watertesting, we determined that the turbidity in this area of the river was much lower than the previous area we collected data from because as we had previously discussed this area was located downstream of the Three Gorges Dam we visited the previous day.  After water testing the Yangtze River we started our four-hour bus journey to Tusi City in Enshi, Hubei. During this scenic bus ride we learned that the highway we were riding on is the most expensive highway in Hubei as it has 4 long tunnels, elevated freeways, and the world’s highestbridge: Sidu River Bridge.  During this time in preparation for our visit to the UN Cultural Site, Tusi City, Professor Brian Godfrey spoke to the group about the idea behind UNESCO World Heritage Centres like Tusi City. He discussed the concepts of a changing culture, tourism as a growth machine, what the interests behind preserving certain sites might be, and the term "orginality" among other concepts. After several hours, mountains, and rest stops we finally arrived to Enshi, Hubei where we had a quick lunch followed by our visit to Tusi City. As soon as we handed our tickets in order to enter Tusi City I began to think of the concepts Professor Godfrey mentioned on the bus. As I walked in I saw various souvenir shops, followed by various musical performances where crowds of tourists stood watching and taking photographs. As I walked further into the city’s buildings I kept encountering sales shops until I reached the wall that surrounded this city.  Throughout the time I spent there I thought of the beautiful scenery and architecture Tusi City provided yet I couldn’t help but question the purpose behind “preserving” Tusi City as a UNESCO Cultural Site and the role of tourism and what our role as tourists and students was in this site. Thinking about Tusi City and the time I spent there I believe it sparked various thoughts about the idea that culture is always changing, the various meanings behind authenticity, the role of tourism, preservation, and development that I am still trying to process.


- Jessica Cervantes

Food, Dams, and Karaoke

Until today I could not get enough of the food. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner each seemed like a challenge to eat as much new, tasty, and already prepared food as possible. Today, however, the 5 steamed buns a day for breakfast and food consistently and deliciously drenched in oil and grease finally caught up with me. I suppose I’ll have to take it easy…

Today we visited the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze river, the largest hydroelectric project in human history. The dam provided 3% of China’s entire energy consumption when it was completed in 2012. One of the largest benefits of the dam is the mitigation of flooding. Experts say the dam reduced the risk of major floods from once every ten years to once every 100 years. It also improved trade to inland China by allowing larger ships to travel inland for further upstream.

The National People’s Congress of China approved the dam in 1992 in the most controversial vote in the nation’s history: out of 2,633 delegates, 1,767 in favor, 177 against, 664 abstained, and 25 members did not vote. The dam created a reservoir upstream that flooded the homes of 1.3 million people. Academics and policy experts around the world continue to debate the merits and consequences of the Three Gorges Project.

That night I was introduced to karaoke in China. We had a private room, refreshments, about 20 students singing along to the words of our favorite songs displayed on a big screen tv. It was a great bonding experience and one I’ll never forget J

Lennon Jones

               After yet another early wake up call, we jumped on the bus and headed out to visit the City Wall of Jinzhou. We walked along a circular remnant of the old wall, and learned about the wall’s history. The wall centuries ago acted as a critical defensive structure as well as potential offensive structure, since enemies might find themselves entrapped within fake entrances, and then suddenly berated with the stones and cross bows of soldiers. After walking around the City Wall, we headed over to the Jinzhou museum. The museum’s main exhibit, focused on a centuries-old preserved body of a bureaucrat named Sui. The museum actually had the preserved body in a glass container, for all of the museum’s visitors to see. I was amazed about how intact the body was, and equally amazed about how much information the body’s research team were able to gather about Sui, including his cause of death.

              When we finished touring the museum, we once again hopped on the bus. We stopped to eat at one point and then afterwards, in government vehicles, headed to Three Gorges Dam. We were given a tour of a fancy museum dedicated to the history of the dam. The major parts of the tour included a rather propaganda filled informational video, as well as an intricate diorama of the entire Three Gorges Dam complex.

              After exploring the museum it was finally time to visit the dam. Although we didn’t get to physically go on the dam, we took a series of escalators to a park that overlooked it. As I stared down at the dam and thought back on the earlier explanation of the dam’s construction, I was overwhelmed and I struggled to internalize that at this moment I was staring at the world’s largest dam. I had learned so much about Three Gorges, and now the gargantuan structure was right before my eyes. In the back of my mind, news articles about the dam’s displacement of large numbers of people, its ecological consequences, its pollution, etc. flashed in succession, but (similar to my experience at a part of the S-N water diversion project) despite the Three Gorges Dam’s issues I was locked in a state of sheer awe.  Yes, I still believe that China can resolve a lot of its environmental issues through more localized strategies, but it would be insular of me to heavily criticize Three Gorges Dam, and not respectfully acknowledge its position as an extraordinary engineering feat as well as a critical component of China’s net energy production. From the City Wall to Three Gorges Dam, today was a very influential and interesting part of this China trip.


James Gibson

By: Neal Bhandari

After traveling between various areas of Hubei province, we arrived in Jingzhou, a major economic hub of China for the past 6,000 years. Situated on the mighty Yangtze river, Jingzhou has held significant military and cultural importance since the City Wall was built during the Zhang Dynasty (1046 to 256 BCE). Even though the wall was destroyed, it was then rebuilt some eight hundred years later.

The City Wall in Jingzhou

Within the museum, a 2,000 year corpse is on display. The body, rumoured to be involved in the tale of the Three Kingdoms, hold significant historical importance, in addition to the many other artifacts. The coffin was excavated in Jinan, the former ancient capital city, by the museum in 1975. Its distinct age holds a mystery, and researchers have concluded that because it was so well sealed and buried, it was able to remain preserved. Many other local treasurers, which give insight into the ancient Chinese culture, were also on display.

We then traveled several hours away to Yichang, where we observed the North-South Water Transfer Project (Gezhouba Dam) and the Three Gorges Dam. In order to send water from the flooding South to the dry North, a large system of canals, rivers, and dams was established in the 1980s and has significantly expanded since.

The Sanxia Hydroelectric Station, which includes the Three Gorges Dam

Unlike in the United States, where rivers are generally used more for transportation, like the Lower Mississippi River, or for generating energy, like the Colorado River (with 15 dams), the Yangtze River is used for both. When the Three Gorges Dam was built, it was required to encompass a system of allowing ships to pass from downstream to upstream (and vis-a-vis). As a result, a system of five gates was created for large ships and an elevator system for smaller ships, allowing them to traverse the river. Students were able to witness this in action as we observed ships enter the five-lock system. However, the entire process generally takes around three to four hours.

We were able to get close to the Three Gorges Dam, but not able to go ontop of it, like we did the Gezhouba Dam. Nevertheless, the scenic park at the top of a nearby mountain gave us an excellent view at the entire Sanxia Complex (which is the largest power-generating complex in the world). It was so long that despite the many angles from which we saw the dam, I was never able to see the other side.

Once we arrived back to the hotel in Yichang, about half of the students went to a karaoke bar, where are own Professor Zhou kicked the night off.

March 18: The Three Gorges Dam

By Zoe Kurtz

Today we went to the Three Gorges Dam. This, for me, was the physical culmination of all my studies about dams and their impact on people and the environment. The process began with us watching a video obviously made by the government and in English about the positive effects and engineering accomplishments of the dam. While the movie was propaganda and did not cover any of the problematic issues surrounding the construction of the dam, it was an interesting to see footage from the dam’s actual construction.

The next part of our tour was going to a tourist center on top of a hill that offered people a view of the entire dam from afar. The center was full of outdoor art sculptures highlighting the power of water. This tourist area was really nice, but we got to go even closer to the dam. With a short walk down the hill, we arrived at the closest view to the dam a nonessential person to the dam could access along the river. The view from that close was amazing. I was struck by just how large the dam was. Stretching across the entire river, the other side of the dam was hard to see. As damaging as the dam was to the people in the area and the environment, I could not help but feel impressed by the engineering of the dam.
This is the view from the river.

The dam was not the only fun thing we got to do that day. After dinner, a group of people went to explore the city we were staying in. We saw the riverfront and places for the city residences to exercise, but we also were able to go and do karaoke. It was so fun to go and sing in our own private room in such an easy-going environment.

Thursday, March 18th: YiChang

By Emily Weiss

Today, the weather was relatively clear. We ate breakfast in the hotel and visited the Jingzhou Wall. We then went to the Jingzhou Museum, an athropology museum that contained artifacts, such as silk and embroidery, from tombs found in the area.

When we got back on the bus, we discussed how Chinese people are increasingly encouraged to cremate bodies and put them in towers, as opposed to just burying them, in order to conserve space.

Since migrants often cremate and then bury their dead, they have to leave their ancestors’ graves behind, which is very emotional for them.

We then drove to a restaurant, had a delicious meal, and were picked up in government vehicles to travel to the Three Gorges Dam. We received special treatment, including a movie showing and private tour, before heading to the site.

The Three Gorges Dam provides a pathway for the Yangtze River from the Sichuan Basin to Yichang and is important for both providing water to water-stressed regions like Beijing and generating hydroelectric power across China. It is located in Yichang, a medium-sized city.

However, much of the material at the site seemed biased toward the Chinese government. I felt that many of the controversies over the Three Gorges Dam were excluded, and the tour focused on the positive aspects of the dam.

Still, the dam was beautiful, especially the view from the top of a mountain and a central fountain. The dam may have been created to improve access in water-stressed regions, but at the site, there was so much water that it gave off the appearance of being inexhaustible.

At dinner, we celebrated Amna’s birthday! The restaurant provided longevity noodles with an egg in it, which is a Chinese tradition. We also had cake, which we learned is generally not as sweet in China.

We checked into the Riverside No. 1 Hotel, and then Professor Yu Zhou took a group of students out to KTV to sing karaoke. We stopped at a playground and the waterfront, where we saw lotus-shaped, plastic flowers floating in the water, with candles and Chinese characters on them. Ultimately, we sang American songs for about two hours. Finally, exhausted, most of us went to sleep.

Mar. 17th, 2016

  We went to East Lake where there was a beautiful garden full of flowers across the street. After talking to Professor Su, I learned that these kinds of gardens were inspired by similar gardens found in Japan. In the 1970’s and 1980’s when the Sino-Japanese relationship was at its best since World War II Japan gifted Cherry blossoms to China as a representation of a good relationship between the two countries. Unfortunately, the relationship between the two, though recovering, has not been as great as it was during those times. This garden
  It was a day full of travelling on the bus. We left the garden to go to the see part of the Water Transfer Project in Qiangjiang. On the way, Professor Susman gave an interesting talk about plasticity and inspired me to look into noise and light pollution on animal development.
  The Water Transfer Project was located in a rural area, and had recently opened but it is not yet accessible to the public. It seemed that they were constructing an entrance to start welcoming tourists and most likely profiting off of their amazing structure.
  After walking across a long bridge we arrived at the dam. Unfortunately, the dams were closed today because the water level was still too low to open the gates, but it amazed me that humans had the power to move so much water from the South to the North towards Beijing. But, I cannot imagine the amount of people that had to be relocated and the amount of animals affected. I wonder if something like this will needed in more areas around the world as global warming dries the lands.

Kentaro Kaneki