We are nearing the end of this first Bethel College Interterm adventure in China! After a little extra sleep, we enjoyed another fine buffet breakfast at our comfortable Longmen Hotel. Then it was on the bus for our international departure point, Shanghai’s modern Pudong International Airport. Our first stop was the Longyang Road Station where we made a brief visit to the Mag Lev (“magnetic levitation”) Museum, then boarded the Mag Lev train for a very, very fast trip to the airport! Our luggage would remain on the bus to be picked up later curbside at the airport.
This technological wonder that is the Mag Lev train is being employed operationally for the first time in the world in Shanghai! The basic principle involves magnetic forces to both propel the train and hold the carriages a fraction of an inch above the steel rail while the train is moving.
This was our last full day in Shanghai—and the last day of our China Interterm adventure!
We were met as scheduled in GM’s modern office block by a lady who showed us a scale model of GM’s facilities at this location and, to our pleasure and surprise, invited us to do a walk-through of its assembly line.
Our Guide, Jack, also noted that GM is a generous employer in terms of year-end company bonuses paid just prior to New Year festivities. This year, reflecting a record sales year, most GM employees will get a year-end bonus equal to 16 times the workers monthly salary! The general comment from our group as we completed this 45-minjute walk-through was that the GM visit was one of most interesting of the China Interterm experience.
This afternoon was “free time” for the Interterm group. A few of us visited the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center on People’s Square, a high-tech facility that depicts the past, present—and planned future—of one of the world’s most dynamic cities.
Looking back over our five day stay in Shanghai, we were impressed with the city’s dynamism.
Jim from Shanghai
This was a day of sightseeing—our destination was Suzhou, located about 100 miles SW of Suzhou (“Su” -” fish, rice and grass”; “zhou”- “state” or “city”) is a booming city of 7 million with a history of some 2,000 years. It was mentioned by Marco Polo in reports of his visit to China in the 13th century! The “grass” refers to mulberry bushes, the staple of the city’s silk industry.
Our first stop was the 1,000-year old Fisherman’s (“Master of the Nets”) Garden, formerly owned by a wealthy Suzhou gentleman, Mr. Li, but taken over by the newly-established communist government in the 1950s. This garden, a smaller replica of which exists at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is an aesthetically-pleasing combination of trees, rocks and water.
The next stop was the No. 1 Silk Mill, a city-owned silk spinning and weaving factory established in 1926—connected to the usual retail outlet for the finished products. After lunch we were told of the life cycle of the silk worm and learned about the complexity of silk-making.
Our last stop in Suzhou was the Grand Canal, the man-made structure dating from about 850 AD. (We understand that American astronauts remarked that China’s Great Wall and the country’s Grand Canal were the only two man-made objects visible from space!)The Grand Canal, extending a few hundred miles from Hangzhou and Suzhou to Beijing, was constructed to facilitate the transport of products originating in south China—rice, tea, silk—to a demanding royal family and other government officials in Beijing. Today only about two-thirds of its length remains navigable. We were ushered onto a motorized craft with capacity for perhaps 25 passengers and treated, despite continued light rain, to an interesting 45-minute trip up and back on the Canal.
Jim from Beijing
Our visit this morning was the Shanghai Stock Exchange located across the Huangpu River in the city’s ultra-modern financial sector. We were met by our host for the visit, Mr. Jackie Liu, Senior Manager, Global Business Development, who informed us that China had two stock markets–this one in Shanghai and a second in Shenzhen outside of Hong Kong. Mr. Liu noted that today a remarkable 75% of Shanghai residents own stock.
Interestingly, the multi-story modern office block that houses the Exchange was constructed with a large rectangular hole through the entire building from perhaps the 9th through the 15th floor, done at the suggestion of the feng shui (“wind”, “water”) masters who reviewed building designs and considered this air passage the most favorable for financial success of the institution! We were surprised at the continued importance of feng shui in the location and design of Shanghai’s modern buildings!
When we are not working in the fields, helping Neal with his research or weeding, our time at the mission is relatively free. Over the past week I have found joy in this down time.
After a hot morning of work, a few of us walked down to the river that runs by the mission. The water is fairly shallow, but it moves quickly and is crystal clear. We explored up stream a ways and found a deeper spot that was shaded by a beautiful willow tree. We lounged there in the water for a long time, talking and cooling off. Some of us even washed our hair in the clear water and did some laundry. It was a very refreshing afternoon.
Later in the evening, we sat outside watching the sunset, the clouds and sky transition in a gorgeous aray of colors. And as soon as the sun set, stars began to appear. There was no moon and no light pollution in the valley so the night was pitch black and the stars were bright as ever. I have never seen so many stars in my life! I was completely mesmerized by the night sky and spent a long time watching the stars move across the sky before going to bed.
Here in Lesotho, I feel much more connected with my environment. Everything we do here relates to the land: We work in the fields, we eat the tomatoes and apples from the mission gardens, even our recreation is centered around the landscape. And when so much of one’s life is focused on the surrounding land, one feels a much deeper sense of gratitude to the earth and to the Creator. This is something I feel very strongly here in Lesotho.
Our business visit this morning took us eastward across the Huangpu River on a 45-minute drive to Pudong’s business district. Of Shanghai’s 23 million residents, about 13 mn live west of the river (Puxi) and 10 mn on the eastern side (Pudong). Travel across the river is now facilitated by 7 tunnels and 6 bridges! Enroute, our local guide Jack noted that 25 years ago Pudong was largely vegetable gardens and pig farms. Today this highly-developed area challenges Hong Kong as the financial center of East Asia.
Our destination, International Exhibition and Trading Center of Wine and Beverages, is where we met Wanny Zhang, who was to describe in general terms the work of this state-owned business. In the most general terms, the objective of the center, established in 2008 and now comprising some 80 members worldwide, is to help foreign distilleries and breweries access the Chinese market—a market that has grown in the last few years by a remarkable 50% annually.
On Thursday January 12, Neal, Bill, 5 other students and I traveled up the valley to set up research plots on some fields there. We drove in as far as we could and then hiked in 4.5 miles to a village where several famers live. It is located where the two mountain ranges in our area meet. The amazing view made the long hike worth it.
We split up into two groups and set up plots on different fields. When we returned to the village some of the women had prepared hot tea and steamed bread for us. It provided us with much needed energy to finish our work.
We were very hot and tired on the hike back, but it started raining for a while which was very refreshing. After the rain, we saw a huge full double rainbow. It was so beautiful with the mountains in the background. Bill enjoyed a horseback ride the whole way back.
When we returned to Maphutseng, the rest of the group had prepared a celebration for Bill’s birthday which was that day. We had cookies and sang Happy Birthday. It was a great day!
In Maphutseng, we have been staying at the Growing Nations Training Center. While here, we have spent most of our mornings out in the fields. We like working from 6am to 1pm best because then we get our afternoons and evenings off. The work that the majority of us have done consists of working with tomato, carrot, and beet root plants.
The first couple of days we worked on the tomatoes, planting poles, wiring, weeding, and mulching. After finishing those, we moved on to the carrots and beets. We hand weeded and hoed this section. A lot of the work we did was simple and the same each day. It was just hard because we have traveled from Kansas weather to Lesotho weather (85 degrees), and we work in the sun constantly. However, this work did allow for us to have conversations with those around us, getting to know each other better, and it even allowed time for self reflection.
At the beginning of our time here, the fields we worked on seemed daunting. But by working together everyday, we were able to finally finish this task.
Traveling through Lesotho has been quite an adventure. And it takes a lot of time. If you look at Lesotho on a map, it seems small, someone said it was comparable in size to Maryland. However, it takes hours for us to get where we need to go. Many of the roads we have traveled on here in Lesotho have been dirt roads and very rough with lots of pot holes, much worse than the country roads in Kansas. Riding in the back of the vans can get a little rough and isn’t always the most desirable place to be. The roads here never go through mountains, they always go around them. Up in the mountain they can be a little narrow too, especially when your van driver goes full speed around the corner with cars coming from the other direction. One positive of these winding dirt roads is that we get to see a lot of the scenery, which is definitely worth seeing. Lesotho is a beautiful country, bumpy roads and all.
I came on this trip expecting to only take about one shower per week. I especially expected it to be that way in the village where there was no running water or electricity. However, this expectation was quickly changed as Megan Siebert and I woke up the first morning in the village.
It was difficult to communicate with our host grandmother because she hardly spoke any English and we didn’t know any Sosotho. Luckily, a lady next door came over to translate for us. First, we were asked if we had bathed. After saying we hadn’t, she took us into the second bedroom where they had hot water in a basin waiting for us. Although our translator was speaking English, we had trouble understanding her with her accent. We finally understood that we were to take our clothes off so that we could wash ourselves. At that point, all modesty went out the window. We had failed to bring washcloths because it wasn’t on our packing list, but, luckily, our host provided them for us. Megan and I learned that you wash from top to bottom and at the end we would wash our underwear in our bath water so that we could wear it again the next day.
Learning to bathe in a different country with trouble understanding directions is tough. However, we laughed through it and realized that it makes for a great story and was a good experience.