Summer 2005 - Volume 8 Number 3
China MILE 2005 - Senecans' Trip of a Lifetime!
For centuries China stood as a leading civilization, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts and sciences, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the country was beset by civil unrest, major famines, military defeats, and foreign occupation.
After World War II, the Communists under MAO Zedong established an autocratic socialist system that, while ensuring China's sovereignty, imposed strict controls over everyday life and cost the lives of tens of millions of people.
After 1978, his successor DENG Xiaoping and other leaders focused on market-oriented economic development and by 2000 output had quadrupled. For much of the population, living standards have improved dramatically and the room for personal choice has expanded, yet political controls remain tight
"China, there lies a sleeping giant. Let him sleep for when he awakens he will shake the world." Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in a memo.
Thirty-two intrepid MILERs including administrators, professors, retirees, staff, family and friends completed a whirlwind tour of China visiting six cities in 14 days early in May 2005. Like 21st Century Marco Polos, Senecans felt the pulsing heartbeat of the New China with its 1.3 billion people moving swiftly from a socialist planned economy to a mixed market economy within two decades.
The China MILE (Mobile Intensive Learning Experience) left Toronto on May 7th for two weeks, covering a total of nearly 30,000 kilometers, almost 4,000 kilometers in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and Hong Kong. After a 15 hour flight from Toronto via Vancouver, the group visited six cities moving south down the eastern coastal region, including the capital Beijing, as well as Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong.
Gleaming, towering commercial and apartment complexes seem to spring up like giant toadstools overnight in China on the site of former dull Soviet-style housing tracts. Relentless demolition takes down a swath of buildings at one blow; the soon-to-be tallest building in the world is currently underway in Shanghai. There are clean, wide and broad avenues in the new economic zones populated with a plethora of Mercedes and BMWs. Villas on the Yellow Sea start at a cool 500,000--$US.
"The Chinese have gained achievements in only 20 years which would take many other countries two centuries to accomplish" James Wolfensohn, World Bank President.
Chinese come by the tens of thousands to visit their monuments, palaces, parks, and templestrue heritage treasures, touchstones of their 5,000 year old imperial past. With the push on for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China is now eager and ready to display its legendary hospitality to the world as a major superpower. As Canada's second largest trading partner, some economists predict China will surpass the US economy by 2014.
Master planner for the MILE Patrick Zheng, Associate Director, Seneca International China said, "The China MILE opened the opportunity for Senecans to see China as a super powerhouse, through their own eyes. They were on vacation and it's my job to make sure that everyone had a memorable trip. This was a lifetime opportunity! When you understand that China is like a banquet or feast, nobody in the world wants to miss that invitation right now."
The affable Mr. Zheng, a native of Beijing, is a graduate of International Business ('95) and hosted the first trip to China in 1999, with International Business students and later with the Women's Soccer team in 2004.
Patrick also noted that, "Mandarin Chinese is hot right now," referring to a Toronto Star article which notes that by 2050, the number of people speaking Mandarin will exceed the number speaking English worldwide."Follow Wally"
Of all the tour guides on the sleek modern air-conditioned busses, Wally was the hit of the trip. His favorite exclamation: "Follow Wally!" became the MILER's mantra and nobody got lost in the sea of other tour groups as we trouped behind Wally's little red pennant. His sense of fun and humour also shone through in the Forbidden City as he described how the emperor had access to 3,000 "cucumbers" in his palace. He meant concubines, but this provided several ribald commentaries for the rest of the tour.
On the bus, Wally sang songs in English and Chinese and kept everyone intrigued with his prodigious knowledge of every site and event. MILERs responded with Canadian, Caribbean, French, German, Greek, Indian, and Nigerian Ibo folk songs demonstrating the multicultural makeup of the group.
Everything important seems uphill in China. Beginning in the 7th Century B.C. it took more than two millennia for the Great Wall to be completed; it extends over 5,000 kilometres from east to west in northern China, like a great serpentine dragon, hugging the mountainous landscape and built to ward off invasions by northern nomads. Today, planeloads of foreigners hopscotch over the Wall to land and visit this testament to China's legendary skills in civil engineering.
The Great Wall is not especially fun for those who are overweight, short of breath or have had hip replacements. The so-called "Easy way" and the "Hard way" paths up the Wall were similarly daunting No matter which way one took, one faced serious 55 degree inclines on a blustery, cold, drizzly day at Badaling, the so-called "lock" on the Great Wall, an hour and-a-half outside Beijing.
Nevertheless, several energetic MILERs earned their certificates of achievement by making it to the final tower at the summit, but others, including younger MILERs had to retreat from the climb. After getting to the summit, the trick of course was to get to the bottom holding on for dear life to well-worn railings, hoping that a group of Nepalese Sherpas would come along and carry one safely back down on their backs.
Getting off the Wall is also a trick since a wrong turn at the bottom could take one onto the 10,000 Mile Long March towards Mongolia. Bewildered by the lack of oxygen and a Tim Horton's to recharge my batteries, I found I was not alone as I discovered from my taxi driver who rescued me from this fate. After directing other MILERs in the right direction, away from Mongolia, we were happy to get back on the bus.
Later, a bicycle/rickshaw ride through Hutong, the oldest part of Beijing, included a visit to a children's kindergarten and a tour and Q&A period with a resident in their home. This tour gave new meaning to narrow streets, walled-in compact houses and how peasants lived in centuries past, next to the imperial grandeur of the Forbidden City. Now in the throes of renovation for the Olympics, the Forbidden City is truly a jaw-dropping site situated at the end of Tiananmen Square, opposite Mao Zedong's memorial. With its 9,999 rooms, the palace quickly gives one the vivid impression of how the Emperors of China lived out their lives in splendid luxury the average peasant would never see.Moving an army across China
Wayne Norrison, Vice President of International and Business Development, and his team including Patrick Zheng, Associate Director, Seneca International China and assistants Sergio Vazquez and Andrew Yang who also accompanied the tour, worked hard to achieve the smooth precision of moving a small army down the eastern coastal region of China.
An army travels on its stomach and encouraged by new-found friends on the trip, everyone soon became adept at handling chopsticks, Chinese cuisine and etiquette. Like the Chinese, MILERs soon fell into the daily routine of thinking about their next delicious meal.
Breakfast buffets included western style offerings including bacon, ham and eggs along with an interesting variety of Chinese offerings including cereals with warm milk, rice-filled triangles wrapped in bamboo leaves, and steamed white buns. Six vegetarians in the group were also given consideration, although there were a few missteps along the way.
Lunches and suppers were served on a large Lazy Susan, so that everyone could choose tasty morsels from the myriad dishes of beef, duck, fish, pork, seafood, various soups, and the ever-present rice. There were intriguing ensembles of culinary delights to be found at new restaurants every lunch and dinner.
Few MILERs complained about their rooms as each hotel was rated four star, and sometimes plus. High speed internet access was generally available in rooms or business centres in the hotel. One might find the beds somewhat "firm" as there are no box springs. Others with back problems found them "...just right!"
Since water quality was a problem on the mainland, beer became the main beverage at lunches and dinners. The famous Tsing Tao beer was the most often ordered beer when available, although some other local brands were quite tasty.
Dinners could be followed up with small tots of a local firewater known as Arguotoe, for the famous Chinese "Last Man Standing" multiple toasts that went on during more formal meals. I was pleased to find out that when the host said: "We are egg; you are stone!" this meant that the "friendly competition" had more or less concluded, thanks to my several years of training on the Canadian Drinking Team.
In China, smoking is another way to gauge the "Gweylow "or foreigner guest. Foreigners are also referred to as Da-bizi or "Big Nose" in a non-derogatory way. When they found this out, MILERs joined in the hilarity by sporting look-alike Groucho Marx masks with glasses, a big red nose, a moustache and a whistle that extended paper tubes out the sides.
Exchanging cigarettes and smoking them is another sign of trust among the Chinese, reminiscent of smoking the "Peace Pipe". However, smoking is definitely under siege in China and ubiquitous "No spitting, smoking or swearing" signs appear in airports, hotels and restaurants. Smoking will be banned in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics and swearing is fined by the number of syllables in the offending phrase.Seneca's International Development in China
"This China MILE was an exercise in planning," said Wayne Norrison, "I think it paid off extremely well. China is a country filled with such a long history that to fully appreciate it would take several tours to see all its treasures. The power of tradition is universal; it might help explain why China is so dynamic today!"
Mr. Norrison added, "One of the objectives of this MILE was to help Senecans understand the background of our Chinese students and how hard-working and proud they are of their culture. This is part of our strategic outreach plan to bind Seneca with China and develop the several opportunities this presents for the College."
As V.P. of International Development for Seneca, Wayne has been to China 17 times and developed numerous contacts with various institutions ranging from the prestigious Shanghai University to several colleges on the mainland. Seneca's expertise is welcomed by Chinese students and post-secondary institutions. Several courses complement their career goals in such areas as Aviation and Information Technology as well as English language studies. During the MILE, Wayne left the group to deliver the keynote speech to 3,000 people attending a conference on post-secondary education in Nanjing.
Learning English is high on everyone's list in China. Seneca's Darryl Nunn and wife Donna teach in Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province where they taught at six universities and lived in three places. They joined the MILE in Beijing and added excellent colour commentary about their many experiences in China.
Janet Maher a retired Seneca English professor teaches English oral communications and American literature at the University of Shanghai. She says exuberantly, "Spending a year in the most exciting city in the world, teaching at Shanghai University's beautiful new campus, discussing literature with graduate students, meeting fascinating new people, and eating Chinese food every daycould anything be better?"
The President of Adult Education at Shanghai U., Mr. Wang Xilin, hosted dinner at Shanghai's new campus, home to 30,000 students, and one of the highlights of the trip. After a tour of the sprawling new campus, most agreed the meal with the Chrysanthemum fish and battered crab was the "best of the tour".
Another event hosted at the Guangzhou Civil Aviation College by President Wu Wanmin included a knockout performance by students demonstrating Chinese flute playing, singing, ballet dancing and Chinese dances in full regalia. A large banner over the stage proclaimed this, "An Evening of Friendship". As the Seneca MILERs entered the auditorium, they were met with enthusiastic applause from hundreds of students who helped put on the show. A rousing version of "Oh Canada" including all the performers, audience and MILERs ended this very memorable event.
There is a saying that "Patience was born in China" One could add "Shopping" to that list. While much of every day was dedicated to sightseeing, there was ample time to sample the wares of vendors who wanted to sell everything from exquisite cloisonné, a form of metalwork and ceramics, to Armani and Prada fashions, and knock-off Rolex watches. Zealous shoppers had to buy extra luggage to bring all their booty back.
Unfortunately, one had to be careful about receiving Russian rubles back as change instead of Chinese yuan. One quickly learned to check and see if former Chairman Mao Zedong's picture was on every bill.The Great Leader-Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong is still the most revered icon in China as evidenced by his dominant memorial in Tiananmen Square, his giant portrait over the entry to the Forbidden City, his smiling cherubic face on the Chinese yuan and his waving arm on Mao watches sold by the thousands to amused tourists who have never read his "Little Red Book".
From his cryogenically-cooled crypt, Mao is still the "Great Leader" to hundreds of millions, many who line up for hours to view his body on the catafalque and still revere his memory as the one who snatched the country from the abyss of history in the 1940's and turned China's "Long March" towards the 21st Century. Mention that you are from Canada and Chinese due the fact that Dr. Norman Bethune, from Gravenhurst ON, is probably the best-known Canadian to millions of Chinese.
The altruistic Dr. Bethune ministered to Mao's army on the tortuous 10,000 Mile Long March across China fighting enemy forces nearly every day. The revered thoracic surgeon died of blood poisoning after accidentally pricking his finger with a needle.
Beijing was a real test for first time bargainers since nobody pays the asking price in China. In the early stages of shopping, this was somewhat difficult since almost everyone's Mandarin Chinese amounted to Hello, "Ni hao" (KNEE-how) and "Shea-Shea" (Thank you).
Eventually, one's skill in language expanded to "Tai-guile!" (Too expensive!) and Boo-Yow (I already have one!). Walking away from the vendor's booth could sometimes reduce the price dramatically. For anyone who might be romantically inclined, there is always: Wah-Eye-Knee (I love you).
One of the principles that one can use for bargaining includes: "Cut them in half, and go up a third if you really want it!" In another version of bargaining, Vi Kumar says, "We used the 'knock off a zero and divide by two' formula as a rule of thumb while offering a price and we were able to get the items too! However, we did not shop for big ticket items. It did work on small and medium priced items."Qingdao by the Yellow Sea
A one-hour flight from Beijing took the group to Qingdao, (CHING-Dao) a lovely seaside resort located on the Yellow Sea. A former German "concession" and holdover from the Opium Wars in the 19th century, there is a strong European influence on the city's architecture with its red-tiled roofs. The famous Chinese Tsing Tao beer is made here and Qingdao is the main venue for all Olympic water sports in 2008. Toney villas line the causeway along the beach with starting prices at $500,000 US. A tour of the former German Governor's Mansion where Mao stayed while forming his government, is de rigueur along with a full body or foot massage for those who tire from all the walking.
The next day, an hour's bus trip took the MILERs to Laoshan Mountain, a delightful park where the dramatic craggy hills, huge rocky boulders and river reminded one of scenery found on ancient Chinese scrolls. It is here that one could feel the true serenity of the Chinese countryside "far from the madding crowd". Again, more uphill steps for those who sought to see the famous spring of water at the top of the summit -reduced to a trickle, at that time of year.
It was Andrew Yong's 25th birthday party and the group, after happily consuming the heavenly chocolate cake, retired to a local nightclub for some revelry. Early to bed was the general rule of thumb on the tour as the bus usually left between 7:30 and 8:00 for the next round of sightseeing. There was no time for a beauty sleep on this trip as every day was packed with something eye-popping.
The next day the group toured Baby Qingdao Island, had lunch at a restaurant where there were two delightful captive seals ready to take fish from one's hand, if not the whole hand, and then it was off by plane to Shanghai.Shanghai-The Economic Powerhouse
The group arrived in a light drizzle and went for dinner to a Chinese Dai restaurant. Dai are Chinese who live close to the border with Thailand; many of their costumes, dances and hand movements are similar to the stylistic Thai dancers. One MILER was invited to participate in the fierce bamboo pole dancing which, if not timed exactly, could crush the participant's ankles between rapidly "clapping" poles.
Situated on the meandering Huangpu River, Shanghai is the economic powerhouse of China with approximately 16 million inhabitants, eight times the size of Toronto. The density of its apartment buildings and the superstructures which rise over the old main Bund riverfront avenue and across the river in Pudong are stunning-one might say "jaw dropping". At night, on a tour boat, the city takes on the ethereal quality of a gorgeous Asian "Magic Kingdom" orchestrated by a Disneyesque Imperial Wizard.
Sights and smells included heavy pungent joss burning at the Two Jade Buddhas' temple; a silk factory with real silk worms; a tour of the Oriental Pearl Communications Tower-- third tallest in the world; a visit to the market and a tour of Shanghai University with its stunning new sprawling campus. It would require more space here than is available to do justice to this vibrant New China city.
After two short days in Shanghai, it was off by bus to Hangzhou. One was struck by the miles and miles of freshly planted trees along the roadside and miles and miles of blooming rose bushes growing on the highway median, something one would never see along the 400 series of highways in Ontario. Rice paddies dotted the landscape adding a reminder of China's need for food on a grand scale to feed its growing population.The West Lake District and Hangzhou
Hangzhou is located in one the more beautiful areas of coastal China, the West Lake district. The lake is man-made and idyllic in its pastoral setting with beautiful pagodas sitting on hilltops stretching into the hazy distance. A boat ride on the lake is a must for the thousands of Chinese who come here to "...get away from it all". As with all paradoxes in China, one could find the Broken Bridge that is not broken, The Long Bridge which is not long and the Solitary Island which is not solitary.
A quick trip to the famous Dragon Well tea plantation was a hit as MILERs got to see how green tea was grown, dried and then served properly. Those who were willing to part with the money obtained a fully packed tube of first quality tea, the kind usually reserved for high ranking members of the Communist party. A 5-inch by 3-inch tube of green tea went for about $47.00 Canadian.
Hangzhou is Andrew Yong's home town, and as his roommate for the tour, I was delighted to enjoy a superb dinner, along with Wayne Norrison, Patrick Zheng, Sergio Vazquez, Andrew and David and Lee Malcolm hosted by Andrew's father, Mr. Yong. The restaurant looked like something out of a new Palace of Versailles with its large classical paintings and gilded gold pillars.
Mr. Yong, a successful contractor, is currently building several major projects in Hangzhou. His gifts to each diner included a boxed set of superb Chinese tea, a beautiful Chinese vase and a 30-foot long Ming Chinese scroll depicting an ancient landscape. Mr. Yong's generosity was stunning, along with his fabulous selection for dinner. Non-smokers in the crowd were soon smoking along with the host to show their appreciation for his superb hospitality.Guangzhou -The largest city in Southern China
A two-hour flight from Hangzhou to Guangzhou took MILERs to the largest city in Southern China, formerly known as Canton. Here, intrepid Senecans climbed 100 stairs, or was it 98, to see the Five Rams statue, which has great significance to the Chinese and their tale of learning how to grow rice in the dark reaches of history.
Here was another opportunity to see Seneca at work in its twinning with the Guangzhou Civil Aviation College. After a brief tour of the campus, and a great dinner, MILERs were presented with warm applause from hundreds of students. Patrick Zheng gave a welcoming response to the President's address and Doug Hunt gave an impromptu speech on the qualities he admired in his Chinese students in his classes, which was well received by all.
Following that, students demonstrated their many talents in a showcase and the entire cast and crew, along with MILERs delivered a rousing rendition of "Oh Canada", led by Gary Taylor.
In a taped interview, College President Wu noted how important Seneca was to his students, especially in the Aviation, Electronics, Computer Engineering and English as Second Language programs, which Seneca offers Mr. Wu's students.Hello Hong Kong!
In order to demonstrate the current political distinction between the former Hong Kong colony and the Peoples Republic of China, MILERs were required to stop and off load all their luggage leaving the mainland, go through long lines at customs, reload luggage and get back on the bus. The scene replayed itself five minutes later at the next checkpoint. A paradox? Yes, but this is China.
China's weather varied from cool and drizzly in Beijing to hot and humid and rainy the further south the MILE moved towards Hong Kong. The weather did not cooperate in Hong Kong as heavy monsoon rain and mist covered some of the more spectacular views.
For anyone who hasn't visited Hong Kong in several years, the island has changed dramatically from a sleepy British colony to a vibrant Asian trading post. Hong Kong officially returned to the People's Republic of China in 1997. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region, symbolizing the "One country. Two systems," that currently operates today. And the language changes abruptly to Cantonese, which is totally unlike Mandarin. Shea Shea now became Doe Jay (Thank you.) It was somewhat reminiscent of the bi-lingual status of French and English in Canada.
A whirlwind of sightseeing here included the Wong Tai Sin Altar, Mongkok Ladies Market, Aberdeen Fishing Village, Repulse Bay, Stanley Market, Wan Chai Exhibition Centre, and Victoria Peak. Shoppers who were hot for electronic goods found them not as cheap as everyone had hoped.
In comparing my Samsung video camera with one on sale, I found that the same camera bought for the trip was $300 CAD more in Hong Kong than what I paid in Toronto on Yonge St. Furthermore, the camera was in the PAL British format, useless in Canada which uses NTSC formatting.
Returning to the Kowloon side on the Star Ferry was pure nostalgia for me, as I had not seen Hong Kong since 1967. The waterfront and downtown of Hong Kong were barely recognizable and all the landmarks I remember were torn down to make way for the new towers that symbolize much of China's coastal cites today.
Unfortunately, the monsoon rains made it impossible to find the Peninsula Hotel which I wanted to see one more time. The new crush of buildings completely hid it and a very wet race along with Julia and Gary Taylor to find a cab back to the Swiss-run Knutsford Hotel became the first order of business.
Two days in Hong Kong does not do the city justice; however, it is definitely more expensive to live there than on the mainland. Housing costs upwards of $2,000 US a square foot to build and three thousand US dollars a month to rent.
Everyone assembled on the bus on the last day, May 21st to make their goodbyes. Wayne Norrison thanked everyone and hoped they had a good trip. Naturally, the MILERs responded in kind and wished him a good one too as he was staying on for business along with Patrick Zheng.
The trip home was uneventful on Air Canada, but the jet lag is more severe coming home than going to China. Many said they slept for two or three days to try to get back on the circadian cycle.
Air Canada announced it was inaugurating direct flights to Beijing. If you go, forget about upgrading to Executive class although sleeping in Economy is not the easiest thing to do. On the way home to Toronto from Hong Kong, I found one could upgrade for about $3,500 CAD --the price of our entire two-week stay, including busses, hotels, meals, most tips, international return trip and three domestic flights.
On the whole, was the 2005 China MILE a good bargain?
You bet!MILER's Voices
The MILER's oft -repeated conclusion about the trip: "WOW! Just great!" and "I'd do it again! It was so well organized."
In an E-mail following the trip, Ourania Korentos, Reference Technician in the Newnham Library writes: "The China MILE is what the rest of my travels will be compared against. From the excellent job the International Development Department at Seneca did in organizing this trip, from China itself with its spectacular and awe-inspiring sites, the excellent accommodations and superb food, to incomparable shopping opportunities and of course its polite and courteous people. Through this MILE I got to love China and its people. Thank you Seneca for giving me the opportunity to grow."
Roland and Morag Stimpfig, in Continuing Education and Training wrote: "The China Mile 2005 was a once in a lifetime trip. What a beautiful country. We went places we could never have found on our own while enjoying great accommodations, excellent food and wonderful company. What a fantastic way to make new friends at Seneca while broadening our horizons. Many thanks to the Seneca International Department for all their hard work."
Vaidhehi Kumar, Faculty of Continuing Education and Training wrote: "What a great trip! I am walking around with a beaming smile radiating a sense of great accomplishment! What a wonderful trip! I am glad I had the chance to know some of the Senecans and their families. This was indeed a great trip with full of fond memories to last a life time!" Vi was joined by her husband Sam Kumar, School of Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology.
In a similar vein, Nkechi Iroaga, wife of Nwab Iroaga, Accounting and Finance writes, "The China Mile was a unique experience; I'm so glad my children talked me into going. Qingdao City was just beautiful; I would love to live there someday."
"A word of caution to all tourists; avoid being robbed by taping your valuables to your body as no place and no time is safe for a tourist".
Elizabeth McConaghy, Program and Information Services Officer, FCET, was joined by her father, Mr. Hermann Weller and hosted a reunion of the China MILERs at her farm wrote: "It was an amazing trip thanks to the excellent organization by Seneca's International Department. Thank you to all involved. I would recommend this trip to everyone and we will definitely have to plan a return to China (right after Middle and South America!)"
Nick May, the youngest member of the trip will be attending Seneca in the fall and is the son of Mr. and Mrs. William May. Jeane May is Payroll Officer in the Payroll Department.
Nick wrote: "It would be impossible to concisely explain how amazing the whole China MILE was for me. One thing I can say is that every day was interesting and exciting, and I never at anytime got bored or anxious to go home."
"For me, it was an excellent learning experience, and I am certain that the things learned about myself and the world will be of use as I continue to mature and progress through life.
"I know that we all agree that we couldn't have asked for a better group. Everyone got along well, and as Senecans we already shared a common bond. This, plus the fact that we were able to see so much in so little time made this trip unlike any average tour."
"I would personally like to thank Patrick and Wayne for making this possible. Thanks also to Sergio and Andrew and all the advice-giving adults. I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity at my age."
John Ebden, School of Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology, wife Lynda and daughter Karen also joined the tour. Karen wrote: "I had a great time getting to know everyone on the trip and, while I'm glad to be home, I will miss our little tours and bussing around and singing and eating all that wonderful food…"
"Our Senecan Leaders really did an amazing job, and the fact that everyone would say the same speaks volumes about their effort and success. So thank you, thank you, thank you!"
George Scott teaches in the International Student Development Program at Seneca College; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-491-5050 x2439.
Vi Kumar teaches in the Distributed Learning Centre in the Faculty of Continuing Education and Training at Seneca College; she can be reached at email@example.com or 416-491-5050 x4071.
• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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