Ann: Mountains, Beaches, People; worth coming back for
Taylor: Unique, yet familiar - could easily be home.
Ann: Is wasn’t enough to learn to sail in the most challenging waters in the world, hike in the dark of the night, or cage dive with sharks, but my most memorable moment was how easy it was to decide to bungee jump from the highest bungee jumping bridge in the world and the resulting awesome adrenaline rush was so worth it.
Taylor: I'm tempted to choose the bungee jump, but luckily there are two other moments that also come to mind. The first was one windy night, when our trip to a third outdoor movie was cancelled due to bad weather, and instead of giving up on doing something, we (Mom, our wonderful roommate Kathryn, and I) decided to take our chances at Hint Hunt. We may not have gotten out of the room in our allotted sixty minutes, but we had a great night that was probably better than the movies - because we got to work together as a team and tear apart the room we were in. The second was our last day at the building site, which coincidentally was the same day as the Christmas party being held for the kids. There was no concrete that day, but we spent the morning dancing around with the kids and then giving them the Christmas presents that we had bought for them the day before. It was a really great day to spend not only with the kids at the site, but also the adults there - even though we saw everyone again the next night on Lion's Head, it was a wonderful way to say goodbye to the wonderful people we worked with for our 8 weeks.
To be honest, there wasn't too much we had to adapt to in South Africa - it was incredibly easy (maybe too easy) to spend time in the landscape downtown, which felt like any current western city, or at our host family's home. The predominant language is English and the customs, food, culture and many people are products of many varying cultures, similar to the melting pot of the US. The biggest culture shock came in Lavender Heights, where our project was located. The environment, like the many other informal settlements that are home to hundreds of thousands of people was the most difficult and gut wrenching we've experienced on our journey. More than once, we were shuttled away from the work site early due to gang violence in the area, and we were not allowed to walk around the township without our project supervisor. It was also a shock (even though it was expected) to see the state of the "homes" that people live in. Even though you know it exists, it's a lot harder to be inside a family's home made of tin, with rubber tires keeping the roof down than it is to see a picture of it. The beauty of being there was meeting the people and watching the strong community support of each other within the settlements.
Ann: The beautiful mountains, the oceans and bays, the culture of community, the sharks, the whales, the penguins and all the great people (big and little) we met.
Taylor: Everything. The people are amazing (both within Projects Abroad and the people in the community), all the food is so yummy, and the landscape is fantastic. Being at a place in the world with such spectacular mountains and two oceans in such a close proximity to a wonderful town is so rare and such a great place to spend time - whether for a short trip or a very very extended one. I even miss the crazy, crowded, minibuses. The first few times we took the minibuses, I counted the number of people sitting in there, it's supposed to be 11, but we had more than 20 people in one during one rush hour. It was hot and sweaty and such an experience that I can't bring myself to be glad that it's over.
Ann: Fear of easily transferable infections and diseases.
Taylor: Probably hearing about other people being pickpocketed, mugged, or stolen from. There were many smart phones from people we knew that were taken, as well as a few purses, and a home that was broken into and everything (from their clothes to their laptops) was taken. The worst part of (most of) them, was that they were entirely avoidable circumstances, people just... didn't always think through pulling their phone out on a busy street. Luckily, we never encountered this, but just hearing about it from other people was stressful. And I'm definitely not missing leaving my phone at home every day.
With the ease of culture adaptation, great host family, large volunteer base and a great supportive office, Cape Town would be a strong recommended opportunity for anyone wanting to do a volunteer assignment with Projects Abroad and in South Africa. Our experience in Cape Town was wonderful, and 8 weeks wasn't enough. We really got to know Grassy Park, Lavender Hill and Cape Town and even though we didn't travel too far on weekends from our home base, we felt that our time was well spent on the peninsula.
I leave Cape Town with a great feeling. Satisfied and humbled with being able to make a significant contribution in the lives of many in a short period of time. The people, both locals and the volunteers, were a fantastic part of us enjoying our time here in Cape Town and I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed the life style and opportunities with being on Cape Peninsula. My future hopes for Cape Town is to find a balance between providing employment opportunities to their large populations of unemployed and the continuation of finding sustainable ways to use active hands on education for those who live in informal settlements. Improving the education to enhance the living conditions within the informal settlements with classes in gardening, sanitation and use of natural resources; i.e. rain water, wind and solar would be fantastic. Another welcomed change would be for each Capetonian to proactively find opportunities where communities can work together to form a better balance of resource sharing and to build a more cohesive community. This seems like a place where the strength of the parts would build a wonderful whole community system.
Cape Town is easily a place I can see myself living in. There's two sides of the city: the side that is doing just fine and the side that needs to continue to pull itself up. I had such a phenomenal two months there, and that was not a fluke. It wasn't just the people we worked with or lived with or helped. It wasn't just the unique atmosphere and stunning scenery. It wasn't just that the city has something to offer everyone all the time. It was all of those things and more. Being able to experience it in such an intimate and special way allowed me to see more than a guided tour. We saw the side of Cape Town that you read about, the side of Cape Town that some Capetonians don't even allow themselves the chance to see, and had the amazing opportunity to give a lot in a little amount of time. I got to know Cape Town in the short time we were there. And what I got to know was an amazing place, with a talented, unique, and wonderful group of citizens that is working towards a better future.
We only had one week at our project in Bostwana and it was not nearly enough time (have you heard that before?). After the long flights from Barcelona, through Paris, Frankfurt, and Johannesburg to Polokwane, we finally got to walk around in the fresh air - before being shuffled into a van that didn't quite have enough seats for all 9 of us. Two hours later, we were at the South Africa/Botswana border, passports in hand, when we were informed that we would be walking from there. So bags in hand, we set off across the Limpopo river, entered Botswana, and were released into the wild for a week.
We only walked the quarter mile to Botswana's border patrol and then were picked up by a new vehicle (with more than enough seats) and drove into the bush to our camp. That night we were given a tour of the camp, shown the boundaries, informed on how we would be showering, and warned about the hyenas. The camp consisted of 6 tents and a bathroom in the volunteer area; a separate camp for the staff; and a common area where we ate, hung out between activities, and charged camera/kindle batteries.
Our project in Botswana was conservation, so we had plenty of activities to do while we were there, but because we were only there for one week, we only had the chance to do a few of the many we were told about.
The main activity we did in our week were censuses. We did at least one every day we were there, though every time we were at a different location (or hide). The first time our location was on top of a kopje (an isolated hill in a very flat area), where we sat and watched elephants, zebra, and a water buck for about 3 hours before heading home. We also had one census where all we did was try to identify birds (we weren't very good at that). And then another very special census that we did was an overnight in a hide which looked over a watering hole. We didn't see much that night, and we were very thankful to have the first two shifts, but it was very cool to sleep out in the bush underneath the full moon.
Our first manual labor activity that we had was road creation, where we spent a hot morning under the sun with pick axes, axes, a chainsaw, garden shears, and machetes taking down trees and clearing rocks from the path of the soon to be completed road. It sounds like the kind of activity that is the exact opposite of the reason we were there, but in creating a new road through the bush, they will be able to close off an old road, and allow the grasses to grow back.
The other manual labor activity that we did was fence removal, which sounds a lot easier than it actually was. Although that might have been more due to the conditions rather than the actual activity. The fence used to delineate the border between a farm and the private reserve we were working on, but after the reserve purchased the farm's property, the fence became a hazard to the animals there as they needed to be able to run freely without getting caught in the wire fence. The activity itself was us kneeling on the ground, bent over, untwisting wires from metal poles (about 12 per pole), and then moving the pole to a pile once all the wires were unattached. But then it was also hot. Really hot. We were informed it was 48.5°C (about 119°F) just before we left, and we got there about an hour and a half before sunset, so the flies in the area were going crazy to the point where there were hundreds surrounding each of us. Suffice it to say, we were very happy to go back to camp after that activity.
Since we were in the bushveld of Africa, it was pretty much assured that we would be seeing plenty of animals. And we definitely did! Between the three times we happened upon groups of more than 30 elephants, and all of the game drives and censuses we did, we had a pretty impressive week for seeing animals.
In addition to just seeing animals on our game drive, there were three pretty special moments where we saw something special and/or a little too close to "home" for comfort. The first encounter was on our second night in camp, as we were all leaving the communal area and heading back for our tents, joking to each other to not be attacked by a hyena on the short walk, we shined our head lamps out of the room and realized that there was a spotted hyena standing there, staring at us. Even though we were definitely more scary to her than she should have been to us, we were all pretty uncomfortable on the walk back to our tents. Our second moment was on a game drive we did after a pretty unsuccessful census, as we were driving between some kopjes, we were incredibly lucky and spotted a leopard lounging on a rock, who seemed to be just as interested in us as we were in it. And the final encounter was also in our camp, in the middle of the day. An elephant (named Captain) came into our camp and decided that our buckets full of water for laundry made a perfectly fine watering hole. So, as is natural when a massive animal is in your camp, everyone went to go watch him from about 30 feet away. He moved from the water onto the tree leaves, before deciding that he wanted the very small amount of water right next to us and moved very very verrrry close and trumpeted and knocked over a tree in his frustration at us. And even though we were incredibly tempted to run, we had to slowly creep away from him. It was a pretty exciting end to our trip in Botswana, that we will probably never experience again.
Because we were only there one week, we decided to put everything in one post for Botswana (sorry, no food posts!). We're both so glad that we did the conservation project and would have liked to have been able to stay for another week or two, but we've both agreed that any more than that would've been rough. We took cold bucket showers the entire week, because it is the dry season and there is no running water, and the food was typical camp food, so we were very happy when we got to Cape Town and enjoyed a nice, warm, indoor shower and a nice, warm, indoor breakfast. The work that is being done in the Tuli block is so impressive, especially as it is entirely private and not aided by the government at all.
Botswana Experience in 7 Words or Less
Living in nature and elephants every day.
Most Memorable Moment
Definitely when Captain the elephant "visited" our camp. It was one of those experiences that was wholly unanticipated, even though we were living in the bush, so when it happened it was quite surprising and exciting.
Things we do miss
Being so close to nature.
Things we don't miss
Being so close to nature.
One week in Botswana was not enough, but we probably wouldn't suggest a stay of longer than a month (some people really enjoyed their longer stays in the bush, many did not). Also. Always bring a flashlight. Everywhere.
Experience in Morocco in 7 words or less
Ann: Accept what is as God’s intent.
Taylor: Wonderful people and yummy tea. Also cats.
Most Memorable Moment
Ann: My most memorable experience in Morocco was our travel to Merzouga and the camel trek into the Sahara desert with our full moon sleep out under the stars. It was the unexpected peacefulness riding a camel over the vast hills of endless sand while watching the sunset behind the dunes to then arrive at a small tented camp where to our surprise and delight we enjoyed a late evening tagine dinner followed by us playing the drums that made this trek a wonderfully new experience and then it was our choice to sleep under the stars and the moon versus in the tents that made this entire adventure a memory I will never forget.
Taylor: To pick out one moment from eight weeks worth of unforgettable ones is quite difficult, but I would have to choose the first time we went to the hammam as the most memorable – probably because I had no expectations going in, and it really was a shocking experience for my western sensibilities. But there really were so many others: seeing the tanneries in Fes, riding a camel and sleeping out in the Sahara, figuring out how to use the trains, bartering for everything, exploring some souks that seemed to go on forever, rug shopping, meeting our students, the first time we were asked if all Americans hate Muslims (not so much the positive kind of unforgettable), meeting our students families, learning so much about a culture that is so different than our own... It really could go on forever.
It's funny that now the Moroccan culture seems totally normal to us. At first many things surprised us, but as the weeks went on and our understanding of Morocco grew, we very easily began to relax into the culture. We also were very lucky to have talks in our house about Moroccan culture and Islam. These helped us to understand just as much as actually being out on the streets did. It was definitely a shock to learn about the differences between women and men in their culture – and how some of what we typically interpret as disrespectful to women is just the opposite. For example, women wear a hijab because they choose to, not because a man told them to cover themselves in public or even because the Qur’an has instructed them to do so. Another thing that was especially hard for us to grasp was the level of women’s education. Some of the reasons were initially a surprise as it is not because the government doesn’t provide the education, but due to the sentiments of the family of keeping the girls safe working at home once they hit puberty, while it is the boys and their brothers’ responsibility to gain an education in order to provide a living for the woman and girls. In the urban areas and more westernized cities, there are many women who hold significant positions within the government, education and healthcare and also many hold doctorate and masters degrees, but as a country view, it is scary to think of the impact on progressing forward with other parts of the world when the illiteracy rate is so incredibility high among women and the opportunity lost for not only each woman but the country is most likely missing out on a whole population of new thinkers, leaders and innovative creators. It’s very easy for feminists to become offended by the way Muslim cultures treat women, they view it as unequal and degrading, but what they don’t understand (and neither do we, entirely) is how some (not all) of these offenses aren’t intended or viewed as degrading at all. Despite all of this, we found it incredibly easy to acclimate to the wonderful culture as long as we remained respectful to it.
Doors of Morocco
Things we will miss
Ann: It has been 3 weeks since we have left Morocco and the immediate things that come to mind that I miss are the food, the wonderful mint tea and the people with whom we were in regular contact like our wonderful house management team, the waiters from Venezia (our favorite gelato shop) who treated us like regulars, and our students. I also miss the colorful design and architecture of many of the buildings. No matter where we traveled around Morocco, it was always interesting to see how color and design were used in homes, restaurants and towns of the very rich and the very poor. Even those with very little still used color and design to make their home warm and inviting. One could easily describe Morocco in one word, colorful.
Taylor: The food and the people, mostly. I'm also very tempted to say the design. Islamic design is so interesting to me, not only because it's different than western designs, but because it's so colorful and full of life. And I know I’ve mentioned it before, but all the people we met in Morocco were so open and friendly with us that it was hard to say goodbye. Especially to the people in the house. I already miss the food. Definitely eating couscous every Friday. There are so many small aspects of the culture that we learned about (and so many more that we still do not know) that just makes the mystery of Morocco that much more enigmatic and appealing. And despite looking forward to spending the next 8 weeks in South Africa, I’ll miss the unique culture and atmosphere of Morocco in general. Unlike our experience in China, where at the end of our four weeks I was ready to leave, I spent the last few days in Morocco already mourning the loss of such a wonderful place. I can definitely say that without a doubt, someday I’ll be back.
Things we won't miss
Ann: Although I learned to have an appreciation for the roles of woman and men within the Moroccan culture and an even greater appreciation for the work being done to improve opportunities for women and education, it is still very much a challenge to think about how long it would take for all to truly feel there are equal opportunities for women and men, when today 60 % of the entire country’s women population are illiterate and have not received any type of education past the 8th grade level. I think it is a difficult challenge to overcome and I simply find it as a disadvantage and difficult to see the inequality driven most often by family choice and the continued societal perceptions of woman’s roles to be within the home and man’s roles to be in the outside world.
Taylor: Bread. While the food was delicious, eating so much bread with it did get tiring after a while. Especially as someone who doesn’t eat bread frequently, I was done having bread (and lots of it) with every meal of the day. Also, lesson planning. I enjoyed teaching and my students, but being in charge of what they were learning is incredibly stressful. Especially because so many answers to questions about the English language is “because it is” or “I honestly have no idea.” Especially with the beginners, because what you're teaching then is the foundation of their language skills – which means that you can’t show up and just have a conversation with the students about some topic or give them reading comprehension assignments – you need to teach them the basics and determining what the most important of the many many basics are is very difficult.
Cats of Morocco
It didn't take long after arriving in Morocco to realize that cats seem to be the national animal. They're everywhere. So after about the first... 3 days of seeing them every place we went, I decided to start taking pictures of them. So here's a collection of 45 Moroccan cats.
Recommendation for Others
Anyone considering learning more about Morocco, it’s Islamic culture, the Berber, Roman, French and Spanish historical influences, the study of design and architecture, and finds enjoyment in food, I would highly encourage a trip to Morocco. The choice of us doing this assignment here in Morocco was a great educational immersion for us and we enjoyed every bit of it. If anyone is considering doing a volunteer assignment here in Morocco, I would highly recommend the teaching English assignment, as it is so rewarding to teach students and adult students who are so eager to learn. It also teaches you so much about the culture and the people, it is a wonderful educational exchange. For anyone just considering travel, the cities like Fes and Marrakesh should be definite visits on the list as well as I would add the coastal city of Essaouira and the mountain city of Chefchouen for two quick stops. We also visited Tangier and Casablanca which I am glad we did, but if we were on a tight travel schedule, I would skip. While going to Fes, as you would be in the Middle Atlas mountains, I would spend an extra day to visit the Roman ruins of Volubilis and the city of Meknes. The city of Rabat where we lived for our assignment was a great place to live as it was the most westernized and the English language was most prevalent, so if I was going back for an extended period of time, I would again stay in Rabat, but if I was just traveling for 2 weeks or so, I would not add it. And of course, the number one thing everyone should experience in Morocco is a camel trek in the Sahara.
Final Thoughts: Ann
Morocco was a country and a culture I knew very little about and I was so intrigued to learn about it’s history, language, religion and culture. I am pleased and surprised how much I learned in 8 weeks and I have a much greater appreciation for the strength of family, the strong religious influence on day to day living and the resistance of the Berbers to the Romans, French and Spanish as they tried diligently to make Morocco part of their own. All of these influences certainly shape the culture in remaining adaptable, accepting, and quite independent. In thinking about describing Morocco and as I wrote “accept what is as God’s intent”, I thought about the many people we met who carried this somewhat casual but committed, laid back but intentional attitude about life where accepting all that you have and all that you experience to the purpose of what is intended for you, you really get a feeling of genuineness in the way the Moroccan people accept you for what you are and the experience we are having together whether its for 10 minutes or 6 weeks, they are thankful for having had met you and for that experience.
Final Thoughts: Taylor
It’s really hard for me to write final thoughts for Morocco. In the 8 weeks we spent there I absolutely fell in love with the country and the people. I didn’t know much going into our time there, mostly that I loved the architectural design details everywhere and the mint tea (and it’s so much better in Morocco). It’s hard to put into words how much I came to appreciate the simple day-to-day activities as well as the exciting weekend trips we were able to take. I loved the people, especially my students, and think they may be the nicest collective people that I’ve come across. Leaving China, I felt critical of the country’s overall inability to transition into a modern country and in Morocco I felt the exact opposite. Morocco is a country in transition and it feels like it. There were no out of place cars or people acting as something they aren’t. Change is in the air, but it isn’t racing towards the finish line of modernization. It’s accepting the change as it comes and not trying to be something that it isn’t. Maybe that’s what I loved the most: Morocco is genuine. Whether it’s the people you meet on the street, the culture itself, or the feeling behind every interaction, it feels comfortable. It almost feels like home.
We left China almost 2 weeks ago (sorry for the lack of updates since), and decided that it would be good for us to include some final thoughts and answers in one last post about Chengdu, the Sichuan Province, and China.
Experience in China in 7 words or less
Ann: Juxtaposition of a traditional culture in transition
Taylor: Duplicitous, in both good and bad ways
Most Memorable Moment
Ann: My most memorable experience would have to be seeing the vast population of terra-cotta warriors and thinking about the emperor who directed this work, and the sheer number of skilled workers it took to create this army made of stone with all the fine details designed into each and every warrior and horse.
Taylor: I think I have two: the first was less than 72 hours after arriving in Chengdu – when walking down an escalator, we saw a parent holding their child over a trash can so the child could poop. That was a nice orientation to children’s toilet habits. The second was much more positive, and was when we had finally made it to the summit of Emei Mountain just in time to see the clouds clearing around the golden statue of Samantabhadra.
For both of us it was relatively easy to adapt to life in China. During the work week, we would wake up every morning and take a bus to work, work, eat Asian cuisine for lunch in small family run restaurants, go back to work, take the bus home, go out to eat or do some sort of activity around Chengdu, come home, read, go to sleep and repeat the following day. The small amount of free time we had was spent planning our next fun weekend adventure, so we were always looking forward. We packed in a lot and are so glad we did as we felt as though we learned what we could about the history of China and the importance of its traditions and what is was like to live and work in Chengdu.
There were a few things we surprisingly became accustomed to. One was the overcrowding of the people on the buses, in the parks, on the streets, highways, and at every tourist location we visited. Even eating out in restaurants that could, in a single word, be described as sketchy – became normal. And in our four weeks, we almost became accustomed to the total lack of adherence to any road rules. We definitely decided if there are rules, they must really only be guidelines. There were two specific and unfortunately regular things that neither of us could become accustomed to. Spitting and children’s bathroom habits. Everyone spits, anywhere and everywhere (yes, everyone and yes, it’s everywhere) and children when out in public very rarely use actual toilets (ie. they just drop their pants on the sidewalk and go). We were actually amazed how frequently we saw this happen and we saw it in every city we visited. Overall it was an easy four weeks, the people we met were great, we enjoyed the food, the language barrier wasn’t an issue and we did not encounter any major roadblocks to prevent our stay from being anything other than an enjoyable month in a totally different culture.
Taylor: It is widely known throughout China that Chengdu is a laid back city. There’s a pretty slow pace for everything (except driving), which ends up making an appointment that it 15 minutes late seem early. There was an after lunch phenomenon that seemed to happen nearly every day in my office. I do not know if this phenomenon was just in my office, or all around Chengdu, or even all of China, but the number of times I spotted a coworker taking a nap after lunch was a little bit nonsensical.
Things we will miss
Ann: The things I will miss the most about China are the food, tea time and the people. I know we have mentioned the food many times, but the Sichuan cuisine vegetarian style was simply yummy and oh so spicy and flavorful. I’m just hoping I am able to replicate the flavors when I get home. I will also miss tea time whether it was the standard and accompanying tea for lunch or dinner or it was the special tea breaks at work or in a tea house in the evenings or on the weekends. It is such a nice way to relax and enjoy time with family, friends or co-workers. I now have so many more teas to add to my favorite selection(s) that I had to actually start a list. And the people; I already have several friends in other parts of China, in particular Shanghai and Beijing, and it was great to see that the people I met and worked with in Chengdu were just as friendly, helpful and caring. Some say it takes a while for some Chinese to get comfortable enough to share a good conversation and something about themselves, but I found the opposite. I was pleased and equally engaged in sharing by the willingness to share stories about themselves and to ask bold questions about the American culture, as well as engage in some pretty good conversations about social topics.
Taylor: There are a lot of things I will miss about China. The food, for one (I know, I know, we’ve said it a million times). I especially enjoyed eating out with coworkers because it gave me an opportunity to get to know them and the food they typically eat. And I will definitely miss the people I got to know at work – there were two women in particular who I spent the most time getting to know and I’ll miss being able to ask them questions about themselves and Chinese culture (and answer their questions about the US). I’ll miss all the history. Almost everything in China has a massive documented history, which means that everything and everyone has a story to tell that is sometimes centuries old. And I will definitely miss those weekend trips (although we are taking them in Morocco, as well). We only had three weekends to enjoy in China and there were so many things to see. Living in Chengdu for a month was such a great experience. I don’t know that I could live there much longer, but my four weeks gave me a much different insight than a shorter period of time as a tourist would have.
Things we won't miss
Ann: I was often bothered by the pollution in the air and although the air quality in Chengdu is better than places like Shanghai and Beijing. I can’t help but think about how damaging this is to others and what the impact this will have on future populations if something isn’t done to work on solutions for cleaner air. Four weeks of breathing polluted air was enough for me and I will not miss breathing that poor quality of air into my lungs.
Taylor: There are some things I definitely won’t miss: the terrifying experience that made up crossing any street, the staring, the spitting, the lack of always breathable air in the city, and the children defecating in trash cans (Yes, we did see that more than once). But this experience was more positive than I think I had even anticipated it being, and while I’m happy to move on with our trip and to see new places, I am very glad to have spent those 4 weeks in Chengdu.
Recommendation for others
We initially signed up to work in a panda care program in Chengdu, so we started out with a pretty big change. But doing a business assignment gave us a better opportunity to explore the city and Sichuan province in general. I would, however, suggest a change based on the fact that we had a 30-day visa. If I was talking to someone who was planning on doing the same 4-week stay in Chengdu, I would tell them to: shorten your assignment to three weeks, arrive on a Friday and use the weekend to explore the city (and see the pandas!), take one weekend to see one of the mountains in Sichuan, take the other weekend to explore more of the Sichuan province (like the Jiuzhaigou Fairy Pools), and then take the fourth week to travel to Beijing or other locations (Xian, Shanghai, Guangzhou) in order to see as much of the country as you can within the range of your visa.
Final Thoughts: Ann
I leave China with a greater respect for its history and traditions and an appreciation for the long history of people’s ingenuity in design. With the great abilities it took to build the Great Wall, the terra cotta warriors and to design the intricate details of the palaces and their furnishings in a time period with little resources, they built wonders. But I wonder about the current transition of the country and its people, even if it is a country which has survived and excelled through significant changes over their history. The traditions and history is clear about the importance of respect for each other, a caring attitude followed by selfless actions for family and neighbors, all for the benefit of creating a cohesive environment in which to live. And yet what you see in the new forward looking cities is more of what appears to be very self focused and materialistic versus the good of the whole. My reference to the juxtaposition between the old and the new that is ever so present is with those wanting to ensure the history and traditions live on and another who is showing no loyalty to keeping those traditions. My thoughts on this were primarily influenced by seeing and discussing the amount of wealth and the availability of new personal and luxury products being infused into the country over a relative short period of time, along with the enamored idealism about the western cultures, primarily around materialism and yet for the most part the people and cities do not yet have safe drinking tap water or filter systems to manage emissions and pollutants. There is also no evidence that resources are being put into place for educating the public about ways to work together to create a sustainable cleaner breathing environment for themselves and the generations to come.
Final Thoughts: Taylor
There are so many new things I’ve come to realize and learn in the time I spent in China. Before, I had a hard time understanding certain aspects of the culture. Now, I think it’s easy to understand why China is the way it is (in general; I’m certainly no expert). How I now see it is: everywhere in the world, there is some connotation of “Old China” and they’re currently working to combat that stigma with their “New China.” In forcing their way from “Old China,” there has been a developed sense of materialism – it’s important to own the expensive (real) handbags and drive a car that costs more than a home (we saw more Ferraris, Bentleys, Maseratis, and Aston Martins than we’ve ever seen before). I can’t say why for sure, but it seems that with the extensive amounts of Western influences in marketing and in the media, they’ve adopted a materialism based off of what they believe first world countries to be and have. American’s have expensive clothes. So should we. The British drive fancy cars. So should we. In gaining this newfound consumerism, some of China has lost its sense of human necessities: breathable air, potable water, and sewage systems that can process toilet paper being just three examples. For the 2008 Olympics, 60,000 taxis and buses were taken off the road by the end of 2007 and all manufacturing plants had to shut down two weeks before the hordes descended on their capital city. There was a 70-80% decrease in carbon monoxide emissions around Beijing thanks to these efforts. And the reason this happened? The government recognized that the air quality was not good enough for the world’s greatest athletes and did something about it. Something that was not permanent. Something that would not help their own citizens in the long run. I had a very hard time understanding why a country could neglect these basic needs when they have the ability to make it happen. I have such a great respect for China’s history for how different it is from our own, and because of how well documented it is. I loved having the opportunity to stay in a country where everywhere you look is a reminder of the past, and a sense of hope for the future. This is so evident in the architecture and the clothing, where you can typically see a building originally built in the 16th century just down the street from a modern skyscraper or a modern dress inspired by the traditional cheongsam (mandarin dress). These small moments give me hope that China won’t forget all the old, and will take their time adapting to the new instead of trying to leap ahead and miss the important bases.