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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Back in the United States - January 16

This is the last blog entry for the 2010 ILSSO trip to China.

After a very long day of flights, we are all back in the United States of America and glad to be home!

Our last morning in China was spent packing which was a challenge for many due to all the shopping we did on the trip. We rode the Magnev train to the airport, most people have heard this referred to as a "bullet train". The train operates off of Electromagnetic levitation and goes 430 km per hour which is approximately 267 mph. The ride was a lot of fun; a normal 30-45 minute bus ride to the airport only took us 7 minutes.

I am very thankful to have gotten to know each of the participants on our trip; they were a great group. We had an experience of a lifetime.

Thank you for reading our blog.

Cindy Hefner
Program Manager
National FFA Organization

China - Last Day in China - January 14

Today was our last day in China!

We started the day by visiting the Yu Gardens. It was a classical Chinese garden with ponds, trees, and buildings. We took lots of pictures and tried to envision the beautiful colors of the summer. Then we hit the streets starting at a bazaar right outside of the gardens. Here we battled and bargained for souvenirs. Most people stopped at McDonalds for a delicious and nutritious lunch. For those who had money left, we went to Nanjing Road where all of the high class, brand name stores are. We, however, took advantage of the cheaper, side road stores with mostly knock off items. We were able to get good products for a much better price.

The highlight of the day was a Chinese acrobat show. Michael Dolch risked his life by volunteering to participate in the knife throwing event. Luckily, he was blindfolded and no knives were actually thrown at him, even though he thought there was. The show was amazing. It was a great combination of gymnastics, magic tricks, juggling, and beautiful dancing. It was a great finale to our Chinese experience. We look forward to seeing all of you tomorrow.

God bless America.

Friday, January 15, 2010

China - Day Seven - January 13

Hey everyone!

What a big day we have had today! We experienced a lot of things, which will be memorable.

We started our day at a goose farm. It was rather cold, however it was still very much an adventure. We saw 5,500 geese on the farm, and the farm produced 165,000 eggs each year!

We then traveled to a tea farm and saw a very large operation. The farm has been operating for two generations. We were then invited into the owner’s house where we were treated to some tea and homegrown oranges. We also were able to tour her house.

A silk farm was our next stop. Who would have ever guessed a worm (which grew to full size in 25 days) could produce such a valuable product. We also had the opportunity to watch how silk was collected and made. A stop at the gift shop was also an adventure. Seeing how many products could be made from such a simple resource is amazing!

Some of us opted to go to a boat ride at night. It showcased some of Shanghai Huangpu River’s buildings, lit up to display a different view you would not see during the day. Seeing the World Finance Center (which is the second largest building in the world) lit up in such a colorful array of colors was the highlight of the cruise.

Gu Mai Dang Lao (Old McDonald)

o Mr. John Rakestraw – Agra Holdings
o Michelle - VA
o Ashley - TN
o Amanda - NE
o Nathan - FL
o Tyson - OR
o Jordan - NE
o Bev - MO
o Ellen - IL
o Chris - TN
o Taylor - VA
o Jonathon - MI

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

China - Day Six - January 12

After two enjoyable days in Xian, it was time to move on to our next location, Suzhou. We boarded our plane after being treated very respectfully by our young, “mei nu” flight attendants (that means beautiful ladies in Chinese)!

After 2 ½ hours in the air, we landed in Shanghai and enjoyed some American KFC for lunch on the bus. There, we met our tour guides, Helen and Lily, who explained some of the differences between Shanghai and Beijing. This allowed us to gain insight into the beliefs of government, language, and culture of the people in Shanghai versus people from Beijing.

We quickly traveled from Shanghai to Suzhou where we toured the Uni-President Enterprises Corporation, one of the largest instant noodle and beverage distributors in China. We were surprised to learn that this corporation has joint ventures with companies such as Starbucks, Coldstone and 7 Eleven throughout Asia. We toured the facility and learned about the mass production of these products.

Since Suzhou is known as the Venice of the East, it was no surprise to find ourselves wrapping up our day with a ride through the famous city canals. We even stopped in the city to tour some of the markets. This brief visit allowed us to see what a true Chinese village is like. Although we only have one more day in Suzhou, we are thoroughly enjoying seeing and experiencing another Chinese city.

Zai jen, (Goodbye) !

Team Yin Yang
Neil Bringle, Tennessee
Katie Frenzen, Nebraska
Austin Gibson, Florida
Lora Gonzalez, Texas
Kiersten Kasey, Illinois
Allyson Ladd, Iowa
Whitney Perkins, Virginia
Caitlyn Prichard, Florida
Ken Quick, New York
Erica Ramsey, Idaho
Zach Wakeman, Virginia
Nick West, Oregon

Monday, January 11, 2010

China – Day Five – January 11

Day Five – January 11

Have you ever heard the rumor that foreign countries such as China do not easily accept American people? Well we, as the Karate Kids have all agreed and come to the conclusion that this rumor is false. Let us explain…

We started off the morning by traveling outside the city of Xian to a local farming village. When we arrived, we were greeted with a very warm welcome from the farmers as well as several government officials. This farming village consisted of over 300 greenhouses covering approximately 10,000 acres. This particular village is considered to be one of the most advanced farming operations in the area. We were surprised to see what looked like dug out pits, with clay walls, and covered with straw tops. Each of us had the opportunity to go down through a tunnel to visit the underground greenhouses. We viewed many types of vegetables and also realized that the inside very closely resembled the typical American greenhouse. The farmers at this village make on average, 5500 Yuan, which equates to nine hundred U.S. dollars annually.

Our next stop for the day was a “prominent” Chinese farmer’s home. For this to be considered an upscale home, we were again surprised at what we found. A 55’’ flat screen, disco lights, and no indoor plumbing or centralized heating.

After enjoying a buffet style lunch consisting of spaghetti and potatoes, we then headed to the Wild Goose Pagoda. This being an active place of worship, we witnessed several monks and local people practicing Buddhism. Just like many of the museums and buildings we have previously visited, the temple was no exception. Being very intricately detailed of gold, we again stood in awe. Our tour guide Ms. Linda informed our group that 70% of the Chinese population claim atheists or no religion at all. The thought of heaven and hell is not based on religion, but is a part of their culture.

What have each of us taken for granted the most on this trip? American cuisine! Following the Wild Goose Pagoda, we got to treat ourselves to Dairy Queen, Coffee, and Pizza Hut. After one blizzard at DQ, several went back for a second round.

Not one of us will deny the fact that it seems as if all we did today was eat & eat! Next on the agenda for the 46 students in the group was another buffet style dinner featuring fish, french fries, and again spaghetti. Tonight we also reflected on our experiences while in China thus far, we discussed quality of living, government differences, and things each of us take for granted daily. As our night comes to an end, many of us are looking forward to massages and a few rounds of cards before an early morning flight to Shanghai. To our many followers, we love you all very much and anxiously await sharing our stories and pictures with each of you.

From the polluted city of Xian,
Karate Kids

China – Day Four – January 10

After a 12 hour train ride, we arrived in Xian. Many slept well on the train while others were not as fortunate. After settling in our hotel we headed to the Terracotta Warrior Factory and Museum. On the way to the countryside we were able to see many different levels of poverty in rural China.

The Terracotta Warriors, which are the 8th World Wonder, are clay figures that were discovered in 1974 by a farmer digging a well. We were fortunate to shake the farmer’s hand today. After the Terracotta Warriors we visited the Xian City Wall. Many of us took a tandem bike ride around the wall where we saw the Chinese New Year Decorations and the city skyline. To top off the day we had a great dinner where we tasted 20 traditional Chinese Dumplings and watched a Chinese Opera Show, complete with original costumes and instruments. One thing we all noticed throughout the day was the high levels of smog in the air. It makes us grateful to be from the United States. We continue to have great experiences in China, although we miss your great cooking and hospitality! We wish you all well at home and will talk to you in a few days.

PS- Please send toilet paper and chocolate as soon as possible!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

China – Day Three – January 9

Hello America!

Today we had the “greatest” day of this trip so far. We went to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, The Great Wall of China! The Great Wall was much steeper than we originally thought. Everyone made it up but not everyone made it to the top. Those lucky few who did make it to the top were privileged with breathtaking views down the wall and the surrounding mountain range.

After finishing the hardest stairmaster in the world, we cooled down by going to the Cloisonné Factory. Cloisonné is the ancient Chinese art of bronze sculpture making. Everything from flower vases to chopsticks was created there.

However, most of the souvenirs for the day came from the pearl factory that we went to after lunch. Thousands of pearl and jade necklaces, rings, bracelets, and more filled a giant warehouse that dazzled with translucent beauty.

And to top off the “greatest” day we drank some tea and went shopping. We took part in a ceremonial tea service and then headed to the night market. At the night market everyone was able to strike up deals and walk away happy.

Now, we are headed to the overnight train ride across the Chinese countryside. See you soon!

China – Day two - January 8

As our day started off earlier in the morning on January 8, 2010 here in Beijing, we headed out to the Xinfadi Agricultural Products Wholesale Market to discover the bountiful fruit, vegetable, and meat supply for its people. This wholesale market was founded in 1988 and covers a whopping 150,000 square meters. The main products for sale include vegetables, fruit, meat, seeds, oil, aquatic products, seasonings, eggs, tea, etc. We first viewed the fruit and vegetable markets and were greeted by smiling faces, one who had visited with us the night before at our disco party at the Cattle Yard/Hot Pot dinner. We saw fruits that were known, such as kiwis, oranges, and apples and many that were unknown like dragon fruit and a HUGE pokey fruit that smelled wonderful on the inside. Next, we experienced the shocking view of the meat market. It was highly unsanitary and would never meet USDA and HACCP standards. There was pork carcasses being stored and sold in the back of a van and inside the building, the meat was being placed, cut and sold from wooden tables (NO REFRIGERATION!!!). The sight, as well as the smell was completely disturbing to our American eyes. But this is just a different perspective of Chinese Agriculture and how it is lacking in modernization and progressiveness. We can tell you how much more we appreciate the American cheeseburger now than ever before.

Moving from an unattractive picture of China, we got to experience the beautiful botanical gardens of China. The most amazing landscaping we have ever seen was displayed in multiple greenhouses. They were set up in various habitats and terrains. We got to climb through boulders in a jungle to view the scenery from above. There was also a magnificent display of cacti and desert like landscaping. After adventuring and admiring through the gorgeous gardens, we made a stop at the Chinese snack shack in the visitor’s rest area in the garden to devour some Chinese ice cream and American snacks. We gave them more business than they probably have had in a long time. As we exited the botanical gardens, a little mischief had taken place as a snowball fight broke out. We were only half way done with our day and we were getting a little hungry.

We headed to lunch for a ‘Lazy Susan’ style meal in a very fancy restaurant. We tasted some very delicious Chinese foods, including eggplant and ostrich egg, and some more traditional foods like beef and sweet and sour chicken. We all continued to practice our chopstick skills.

After lunch we headed to the Cangdafu Dairy Farm that milks 2, 200 dairy cattle. The dairy farm was large, and it was neat to see the workers in action as they herded and fed the cows, still with traditional bells. The dairy’s manager was very happy to show us the dairy and we saw every part of the farm, from the milking parlors to the corn storage barns. Many of us asked the dairy manager questions about their breeding and nutrition programs and it was a good opportunity to exchange ideas with each other. This farm even imports alfalfa hay from America! The dairy had some neat buildings and looked quite different from the barns of America. As we departed the dairy farm, the managers offered us complimentary yogurt.

Our next stop was a soybean operation that specializes in research and also makes tofu. The managers of this operation were extremely passionate about what they do and were very willing to share their business with us. The managers allowed us to sample many different dried fruit chips that they sell, including carrot, banana, and apple chips. We then got to tour the process of tofu-making from start to finish, and the managers explained the process of exporting their tofu product to Japan. The workers who make the tofu work in very sanitary, but cold conditions as they dry the ‘soy paper’ to make it into tofu. As we left the soybean operation, many of us bought the products that the operation sells.

Today was a great chance to learn the culture of China. Our tour guides taught us to sing a Chinese song, Jasmine Flower, on the bus. The Chinese are very gracious and hard-working people. Most are very aware of agriculture.

We had a day full of learning! Everyone’s excited to climb the Great Wall tomorrow and see the final sites in Beijing!

Friday, January 8, 2010

First day in China.

Ni Hao! We are finally here! After a 12 hour flight with our backpacks packed, we begin our journey exploring the rich history China has to offer.

Today, January 7, 2010 (possibly your January 6) we recovered quickly from the jet lag and started our day bright eyed and bushy tailed in Beijing, China with the focus of today being the history of China.

As we made our way to the Temple of Heaven, we joined the local retirees in there morning activities. Some of these were dancing, individual exercises, and a place to socialize with friends. The Temple of Heaven was constructed about 600 years ago during the Ming Dynasty. It was built as a place for people to gather and pray to heaven for good harvests with rituals of animal sacrifice. We were impressed with the detailing and architecture of these structures. Nothing in China’s architecture is by chance; everything has a meaning. For example, the color gold symbolizes the sun, wealth and royalty, green means people and red means power.

As we ended our time at the Temple of Heaven, we headed to Tiananmen Square were we saw the National Museum, the mausoleum of general Mao Zedong, where for the past forty years he has been on display for people to pay their respect, and a statue that represented the people’s heroes, the great hall of people and the Mao Zedong. This statue is also where the center of Beijing is located.

The Forbidden City was used until 1924 by the royal family. With 9,999, it was hard to wrap our minds around how big it really was. We braved the cold and spent two hours walking about the Forbidden City. We could have spent a whole day there as the Forbidden City covers about the same of a small town. We had interesting experience as we toured. We witnessed a naked man doing a push-up, while videotaping himself. There was also a brief snowball fight with people from Florida who had never been in a snowball fight before. We learned a ton from our tour guides (Lou Lou and Lynn), who really know their China history, and had a great time there.

We enjoyed a nice piping hot lunch and headed out to the United States Embassy, where we met with international businessmen. Getting thru security was a bit of a challenge though. With the fifty of us trying to get thru security, the thick glass doors, and multiple metal decors, it was a challenge. The businessmen we met with had a very important role in creating a good relationship with China and creating ties that will help the U.S in the long run. In a question and answer session, we were provided with some outstanding information about China and the U.S and how they worked together for the future of both countries.

To finish our first full day in China we headed to the Fuhua cattle farm. It provides seventy percent of Beijing’s meat market with product. Fuhau means “Big Ranch” and it sure was large! By the time we made it to the grounds the sun was setting and we were unable to truly grasp the size of the surrounding operation. There were three thousand head of cattle on the farm and we could most defiantly confirm that fact by the smell. The China yellow cow, Simmental, and Limousine breeds were present in the genetics of the herd. All the cattle had a rope tied around their horns for easy access to herd. Conveniently dinner was served that evening in the farm’s restaurant. The hot pot dinner included lamb and beef meat. Boiling water with vegetables and seasoning allowed us to grasp the traditional taste. After eating a disco ball was dropped from the ceiling and a disco was started! It was a BLAST! Everyone danced the night away including the waitresses. They laughed at our mad dancing abilities and videotaped us. They could not understand us but the universal language of dance and smiles bound us together to end our great first day in China!

The Karate Kids,
Emily Achen - MN
Lance Atwater - NE
Amie Burke - IL
Caitlin Cribbs - FL
Michael Dolch - IA
Macy Eaves - TX
Jared Henderson - MO
Austin Larrowe - VA
Ivan Martes - PR
Hannah Miller - KS
Dani Saathoff - NE
Morgan Shaver - NY