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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Back in the USA


It is Sunday, January 18 and after many hours of flying, gaining an entire day back after crossing the International Dateline and a couple days of rest we are all safe and sound back in the United States..... and boy are we glad to be home!

It was an incredible trip - once in a lifetime! I had the pleasure of leading an incredible group of individuals on this great adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each and every one of them. We covered a lot of ground in the Peoples Republic of China. We left the hotel each day around 8:00 a.m. and didn't return until 8:00 p.m. in the evening. Seeing everything from the Great Wall of China to the Forbidden City to the Terracotta Warriors - amazing!

Thank you for reading our blogs - we hope you enjoyed reading them as much as we enjoyed writing them.

Until next time.....

Cindy Hefner
Program Manager, Global Programs
National FFA Organization

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Our last day in China

Well..... Today was our last full day in China! We are still in Shanghai!

We started out with a presentation from Westfalia Surge (a trip sponsor). A representative from the company spoke to us during breakfast and provided us with lots of great information about China's dairy industry.

Today's pace was much slower so we left the hotel a little later than normal. Our first stop was the Yu Garden - a beautiful garden even in the dead of winter and 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It covers over 20,000 meters and is filled with lots of beautiful rocks, halls and pagodas....we are sure it is absolutely breathtaking in the summer months.

After leaving the Yu Garden we were given free time to shop for souvenirs in the nearby stores and then traveled to the Bund and Nanjing Road for more shopping. We had a lot of fun purchasing items to bring home to our family and friends.

We ended the evening with an entertaining dinner where some of our fellow participants provided us with some impromptu singing and auctioneering. After dinner we enjoyed an amazing Chinese acrobat show. We were in awe of the performers talents including a contortionist, juggling hats, balancing plates and much more.

We are back at the hotel and are packing our bags and some of us are getting our final massages (very cheap - $20 US dollars for a one hour massage). We leave for the airport in the morning to head back to the United States. This has been an amazing trip! We can't believe what all we have seen and accomplished in nine days! It has been an experience of a lifetime!

We can't wait to see all of you in a few short days!..... and to eat a nice big steak and baked potato!!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Learning about silk!

Greetings from China!

We are blogging from the bus in Suzhou, China. We started the day with a great American breakfast. There were also boiled eggs in soy sauce and sautéed black fungi - sounds delicious doesn't it? We left the hotel to head to our boat tour on Suzhou Shantang City Canal. The locals call it the Venice of the East. The canal was hand dug in 515 B.C. On the boat cruise we saw how the locals live their every day lives. We saw lots of interesting things including skinned dead chickens hanging from a line on the back patio waiting to be eaten.

After cruising through the canal, we reloaded the bus and headed to the Suzhou Silk Factory. There, our tour guide, Helen, explained to us the silk worm life cycle. Farmers keep the best 5% of silk worms for reproduction. Female worms lay around 400 worms and after hatching they eat for 25 days and begin spinning their cocoon. Then we saw the process of sorting, spinning, dying and weaving. We were able to see their large selection of products made from high quality silk. Many purchased everything from scarves to ties.

We visited the Suzhou Young-Land Company Milk Processing Plant. This plant processes all of the milk from the dairy farm we visited yesterday. In one day they process 15 tons of raw milk into yogurt and whole milk. This company also has 10,000 geese that they sell eggs from. We all had the opportunity to sample their products which were similar to the U.S. products.

The next stop was the Suzhou Institute of Vegetable Crops. They have over 35,000 square meters of greenhouse capacity. They employ 26 technicians and 16 agronomists. They raise more than 30 types of vegetables. They sell 30 percent of their produce to local markets for consumption. The other 70 percent is used to produce seed to be distributed to farmers to plant. They are concentrating on research to improve plant efficiency and growth.

We are now traveling to Shanghai to our hotel. This will be our last city to visit on our trip to China.

More tomorrow....

Dr. D's Dynasty
Tom Dormody, Group Leader, New Mexico State University
Will Amick, South Carolina
Chris Atkins, Virginia
Doug Giles, Tennessee
Annarose Hart, Kansas
Chanse Huggins, Florida
Justin Krell, Minnesota
Annie Larson, Illinois
Lauren Perry, Nebraska
Chase Rose, Montana
Cain Thurmond, Georgia

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Shanghai Surprise

Good evening fellow Americans!!! This is the last China Bear blog.

We started a very early morning with a delicious American breakfast and headed to the Xian Airport to catch our flight to Shanghai. Shanghai has the second largest airport in China and will soon surpass Beijing. Shanghai is expanding because they will host the 2010 World Expo.

Shanghai translates to “above sea” in Chinese and “kidnap” in English, but thankfully we are all accounted for… After a two hour flight we met our new tour guides, David and Helen. We were shocked to learn that Shanghai’s land area was half that of Beijing’s, but the population is larger with a total of 18 million permanent residents and 4-6 million commuters resulting in a grand total of about 23 million daily! We enjoyed a mouthwatering KFC sandwich on the way to an agricultural development zone. We were captivated by a short video depicting the advances in Chinese agriculture. We then toured the greenhouses complete with herbal mushrooms and hydroponics. Following our tour, we visited the city kennel where we saw various breeds of dogs and even witnessed Chinese police/military dogs in training!

We hopped on the buses and began a three hour (but only about 100 km) trek to a dairy farm in Suzhou. To say the least, we experienced the daily traffic of Shanghai! Along the way, we passed a technical/industrial park that supplies 1/5 of the world’s electronics. As we continued our journey we were amazed by on the largest manmade lakes in China. The lake is home to small crabs which are a Chinese delicacy; unfortunately, they are only available during the month of November. The dairy farm milked over 200 cows three times a day and is planning to expand another 100 head. The cows are fed a mixture of turnips and corn and are cared for by 14 employees who live on the farm. We found it interesting that the farm inseminates with American and Canadian semen and practices embryo transfers. In four months the farm will be fully equipped with a bio-digester which will provide fuel for the farm and nearby villages.
We arrived at our hotel and enjoyed one of our favorite Chinese meals thus far; hopefully the trend will continue! We are looking forward to our canal ride tomorrow! We miss you and our American food too!
Keep the comments coming! We love hearing from home!

Over and out,
Blake Becker, Nebraska
Adrienne Boyette, Florida
Matt Dybedahl, South Dakota
Katie Mosman, Idaho
Kris Newsom, Tennessee
Anna Savelle, Georgia
Shasta Sowers, Virgnia
Ray Scott Spence, North Carolina
Katie Zenk, Minnesota
Clay Zwilling, Illinois

Monday, January 12, 2009

China's Largest Ag University

Today was a very exciting and busy day for our group! There were several really neat events that we were able to participate in.
We started out the day visiting the Northwest Agricultural and Forestry University in YangLing, which is China’s largest agricultural university with 23,000 students. The campus was very modern and very large- 3,000 hector to be exact and also over 4,000 faculty. We were given the chance to talk with several students from the university majoring in various agricultural fields. Surprisingly most of the students were extremely proficient in English, allowing us to communicate very easily. We talked a little bit about college life and the similarities about our classes, but also we talked about regular every day differences between our cultures. For example, the Chinese students enjoy watching NBA basketball but we as Americans often tend to prefer NFL football. There are also several things that we share in common such as: the girls have a love for TV shows like Desperate Housewives and movies like Forrest Gump and Finding Nemo.

Then we moved on to have lunch where we talked with the students even more. It was a great opportunity to learn new things and share things with each other that we did not know before. After lunch we traveled to the university’s greenhouses where we looked at their different growing systems. They grew several beautiful exotic plants, as well as vegetables, and papaya trees, which were really cool. They also had a really nice hydroponics system in one of the greenhouses; hydroponics is a way to grow plants without soil- just a nutrient solution.
After leaving the campus and saying our goodbyes to our new found friends, we traveled an hour back to Xian to visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which is a symbol of Buddhist history in China. It was interesting to see the monks living their everyday lives, which encompass so much of history.

Finally ending our day we attended a Tang-Dynasty Palace Music and Dance performance with a dumpling dinner which included dumplings made of shark –fin, fish, pork, cow, interesting veggies, duck, and nuts ( a total of 18 different dumplings.) The music and dance show was amazing! The costumes were beautiful and the music and acting was enriched with so many different traces of Chinese culture both present and past. Today we learned so much not only about Chinese history and agriculture, but also about the present day lives of Chinese citizens. In conclusion, we would like to close our blog with a quote that some of our group made up at dinner: “Here’s to squatting toilets, brushing our teeth with bottled water, all while making new friends.”

Peace Out!

The Flobrasotakota Linawinoisginianans (aka: Cindy’s Group)
Carly Barnes, Florida
Berg, South Dakota
Heavner, Illinois
Hunter, Iowa
Long, North Carolina
Monson, South Dakota
Price, Virginia
Steger, Nebraska
Swartzfager, Florida
Young, Minnesota

Sunday, January 11, 2009

After The Great Wall

Wow! After an amazing day at the Great Wall, A trip to the temple of heaven, and an evening at the free market we made our way to the Beijing train station for an overnight ride to Xian. We were due to take a 12 hour ride on a sleeper train but getting to the train proved to be more challenging than expected. After mass confusion, all 55 of us successfully boarded the overnight train to our first class cabins. To our dismay first class train cars in China aren’t exactly what we had pictured in our minds. We settled in to our slightly small rooms, with rock hard beds, and four people in each room with little or no climate control. Nonetheless after 12 hours had passed we successfully made it to the city of Xian.

Austin Ashby, Illinois & Allyson Peters, West Virginia

From the moment we stepped off the sleeper train, we immediately realized we were no longer in Beijing. The quality of life and the quality of the environment around us was completely different. The city skyline was blurred by the thick smog and pollution. The people in Xian have a different quality of life, which most of us have not seen in America. Xian appeared to be much less Westernized compared to Beijing. However, we feel this is a good thing. In Xian we will be able to see how the major of the middle class in China lives, from their daily lives, rituals, and food. We look forward to exploring the culture here in Xian!

Alyssa Mottram, New Jersey & Sam Cornthwaite, Montana

We arrived at the hotel early in the morning with 30 minutes to freshen up. Then we were informed that we would be biking along the Xian city wall. The wall is the only one that remains standing in China. Our first impression of the wall as it is an ancient military tactic was intimidation and awe-inspiring. Each person of our group jumped on a one or two person bike and we were off on our 9-mile adventure. In the end only five people in our group made it around the whole way before our designated 50 minutes was up. Erica and Brett took the lead and made it back on time. From the wall we could see the inner city of Xian with both new and old architecture. On the wall they were also preparing for the Chinese New Year with very ornate puppets and decorations. This was one of the biggest highlights from our trip so far as it was fun, adventurous and a really great workout!

Caitlin Kasper, Minnesota & Erica Largen, Virginia

After having lunch and learning about the art of making terra cotta soldiers, we soon found ourselves standing at the very place where many years ago a well-drilling experience caused local farmers to stumble upon something highly unusual; the final resting place of Emperor Qin’s army of terra cotta soldiers. Our first encounter was certainly the greatest as we made our way into the main pit where nearly 6,000 soldiers, horses and chariots had been recovered, 1,000 of which had been fully restored. From then on we moved to other areas where smaller excavations were taking place and we learned that it was estimated that there were roughly 600 pits in total, most of which would never be explored. Although we were not able to visit it, the Emperor’s mausoleum is actually located amidst these numerous pits, with the legend being that they were placed around his burial ground to protect him during the after-life. In need of souvenirs to remember this experience, we found it quite easy to find some cheap terra cotta soldier replicas from the horde of vendors hounding us to buy their items.

Shane Gross, South Dakota and Marshal Sewell, Florida

Today’s meals were much to our surprise not so bad! Compared to dishes that have previously looked like deep fat fried spiders… we all like our food deep fat fried… but that is not much of what is offered here. Breakfast was appetizing, it was very American and even consisted of pancakes and French toast, which many of us have been hoping and craving for. We were given a warning by our tour guide that the lunch would be less than desired. But we were happily surprised to find one or two dishes that were very good. Aside from a big ole fat whole fried fish… many dishes including the homemade noodles were appealing to the senses. Supper was at a different hotel in Xian, it was also an American meal. Many of us indulged in the greasy French fries and ketchup that we have not seen in so long. We like to give them props for trying but the Chinese culture really needs to be introduced to some SALT!!! At our tables tonight, for the first time in China, we did not have any chopsticks… and we were just becoming experts. Overall, many of us have eaten more today than any other day before!!! Chao!!!

Cortney Schmidt, Iowa & Ricky Sparks, Nebraska

That's all for now!!

Goodbye Beijing

Hello from the Ying-Yang Gang!

Sorry for the delay of Saturday's blog, but we did not have Internet access on last night's train.

We started our final day in Beijing by visiting a Cloisonne factory. Here we learned how the skilled crafters make their products on a tour with our local guide, Herbie. After observing the making of this copper based, porcelain painted decorative art, we were able to shop in the gift store that contained over 20,000 items that ranged from 4-foot vases to the most intricate jewelry.

Next we had the opportunity to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China. No words could describe this breath-taking experience! After taking a group photo at the foot of the over 2,000-year-old-wall, we took a deep breath and began our trek to the top. Much to the surprise of many group members, the climb was no easy feat. The worn-down steps of all different sizes and heights ensured that the view from the top was well earned.

After climbing back down, the group headed to an authentic jade museum where we learned all about the different types and uses of China's most precious stone. We enjoyed another nice Chinese meal, followed by some time to shop for jade and pearls in the gift shop.

On our drive to the Temple of Heaven, we stopped for a picture at the "Bird's Nest" Olympic stadium and the "Water Cube," where Michael Phelps earned his 8 gold medals. At the Temple of Heaven, we were able to experience the true Chinese culture. Group members played Hacky-Sack, watched karaoke and card games, and even danced with some of the locals. Participating as opposed to observing, as tourists, was a highlight for many.

After this great cultural experience, it was time for supper. We were free to eat at any restaurant of our choice, and most group members chose America's finest cuisine.... McDonald's and Pizza Hut. We had some free time to shop in one of Beijing's largest shopping markets, Silk Street Market. Quite an amount of money was spent as group members found (or made) bargains galore.

What an exciting close to our stay in Beijing! You'll hear back from the Ying-Yang Gang in a few days.

Ben Arteman, Illinois
Dustin Baker, Michigan
Sarah Beaver, Iowa
Courtney Clapp, North Carolina
Willie Elgin, Virgnia
Brian Gottlob, South Dakota
Amy Holman, Virgnia
Andy Mason, Florida
Jill Petersen, Nebraska
Pete Thome, Minnesota

Friday, January 9, 2009

Dr. D's Dynasty Blog

Hello from Dr. D's Dynasty! Today we experienced everything from organic seafood to disco. We started the day at the Wholesale Market. This market provides Beijing with 80% of its vegetables and 70% of the fresh fruit. Each day 30,000 truckloads of produce come into the market knowing they will sell everything within a day or two. There is no cold storage so everything must go! This means all of Beijing's restaurants get there food from the market and it is very fresh. If this huge market were to ever close it would cut off much of the food source to the 18 million residents of Beijing. The group was taken back by the way that the meat was handled. Meat was displayed in open with no cold storage or packaging. The smell was remarkable. Anyone who walked by had free chance to interact with their meat. This means touching or chopping off cuts. Overall it was very eye opening. The ladies of the group loved to hear Ni hao may nu (Hello pretty girl) which was usually accompanied by free fruit.

Next we were off to the beautiful botanical gardens of Beijing. There we saw plants from around the world. Exhibits included tropical paradise, desert, and vegetable garden that showcased innovative farming methods. Much to our enjoyment we got to see Chinese brides and grooms taking their wedding photos. This sparked many questions and we discovered that Chinese weddings are a mix of traditional and western. The gardens were great and we even found Doritos in the gift shop!

Then we loaded up the bus and headed an hour south to the largest organic farm in China. After the nice rest on the bus we got off to find a very different scene. We unloaded the bus in a village of 860 people. The only restaurant served us very very very authentic Chinese organic food. Few were brave enough to sample all the dishes. Dishes ranged from whole fish to tofu and deep fried seaweed to corn on the cob. After the filling meal we followed the local guide to tour the greenhouses. The produce in these houses are fertilized with chicken manure that is left over from the bio fuels extraction process. The smell was new to us but seemed to be welcomed in the village because of all the fortune it brings. The manure not only degrades to make natural gases, but it grows the crops that allow the farmers in the village to make twice as much as the average worker in China. The United Nations recognized this farm as one of the top 500 organic farms in the world and we were honored to get a VIP tour.

Chance Saw Snow. (He's from Florida, Its a BIG DEAL).

Eager to warm up on the bus we started our journey to the next stop. The next place we were to visit was the Fu-Shu Cattle Farm. The accuracy of the name may be off slightly. But the point is that this farm provides Beijing with 70% of its beef consumption. They had Chinese Yellow Cow, Simmental, and Limousine breeds. We were pleased to see very high quality facilities and even happy to hear the word silage. This farm houses about 4,000 bulls at a time with 80,000 head moving through the plant in a year. We found that a Chinese Tradition was to pray before every slaughter. We found this very interesting and headed to our once in lifetime dinning extravaganza.

Our meal was very extravagant and we found out that they make automated lazy Susan's that spin on a motor. We had a meal called "Hot Pot Beef" this is where each person has their own pot of boiling water and veggies that they drop raw meat into to cook. We had the great joy of having 17 female servers. They told us this was because our group was of great importance. Soon, the TV screens started rolling karaoke music videos and mics were passed around. In traditional Chinese fun a disco ball was lowered, disco music blared, and the farm kids started getting down. I think we were quite the site for all the servers ha ha.

Now we are back at the hotel and EXTREMELY jet lagged. We will be looking forward to the great wall tomorrow!! Buenos Noches.......Yeah no one speaks that language here. Thanks for stoppin' bye....

Dr. D and Gang
Tom Dormody, Group Leader, New Mexico State University
Will Amick, South Carolina
Chris Atkins, Virginia
Doug Giles, Tennessee
Annarose Hart, Kansas
Chanse Huggins, Florida
Justin Krell, Minnesota
Annie Larson, Illinois
Lauren Perry, Nebraska
Chase Rose, Montana
Cain Thurmond, Georgia

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Greetings from Beijing!

Ni Hao (Hello!) Greetings from Beijing!

We began our first day in China with a great "American" breakfast at our hotel. After getting our bellies full, we loaded the buses and headed to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was the palace of the emperor throughout the Qing and Ming Dynasty, dating back more than 500 years; this large complex was filled wth vibrant colors and an amazing imperial garden. We thoroughly enjoyed taking in the ancient architecture and learning about the history of the Chinese culture. After our adventures in the Forbidden City, we traveled to an authentic Chinese resturant where we were all amused with each others lack of skill with chop sticks! When we finished our chineese lunch, we went to the buses to change into our official dress and head to the U.S. Embassy. However, on our way to the Embassy our bus had a small "run-in" with one of the local vehicles. After moving the bus, we all unloaded at the emabssy and listened to experts brief us on Chineese agriculture and trade. We also had the opportunitiy to ask questions about U.S. and Chineese relations in agriculture. After leaving the embassy, we stopped and particpated in a Chineese Tea Ceremony, where we sampled many different flavors and kinds of tea. Finally we arrived back at the hotel and changed back into casual cloths for our journey to dinner. We had the distinct pleasure of indulging in a Peking Duck dinner and other Chineese delicacies. After the conclusion of dinner, we ended our day at a Kung-Fu Show, that was quite entertaining to say the least. As a whole, it was a great first day in China and we are sure to continue to make new memories.

Peace Out!

The China Bears
Blake Becker, Nebraska
Adrienne Boyette, Florida
Matt Dybedahl, South Dakota
Katie Mosman, Idaho
Kris Newsom, Tennessee
Anna Savelle, Georgia
Shasta Sowers, Virgnia
Ray Scott Spence, North Carolina
Katie Zenk, Minnesota
Clay Zwilling, Illinois