A monsoon or a whirlwind? My trip to China

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 by Peter

In late July and early August, I was fortunate to join colleagues from 7 US institutions on a trip through several of the interior cities in China then over to the eastern coast. Most were cities that many in the USA do not even know exist.  I believe the smallest of the cities had “only” about 6 million people, which is 1.5 times the size of Los Angeles.  That is pretty big, in my book!

July is the monsoon season in parts of east Asia.  It was hot and steamy almost everywhere we went: Guangzhou -> Shenzhen -> Chengdu -> Chongqing -> Changsha -> Wuhan -> Ningbo ->Hangzhou -> then we finished in Beijing.  We were well fed and our hosts were unusually generous with us. Try everything once: hot pot; snail; frog; jellyfish; chicken feet.  (Frog is really tasty!)

the typical 20-course meal we were fed
the typical 20-course meal we were fed

 

Large monument to Chairman Mao in the city close to where he began the long march
Large monument to Chairman Mao in the city close to where he began the long march

 

We travelled almost every day, which is tiring. One highlight was moving faster than I ever have on land - about 180 mph on a bullet train. The STEM wannabe in me wondered how they can make trains go so fast. The public policy wonk in me remarked with amazement as we passed through modern, expensive airports and train stations.  I am told that the baggage carrier system alone in Beijing’s airport (which soon will replace Atlanta’s Hartsfield as the busiest in the world), cost approximately $240 million. At the same time, Chinese culture has so many traditions and such a long history, that there were all sorts of contrasts, like this one:

This is an ancient Buddhist temple in the heart of Chongqing.  The temples to commerce surround it.
This is an ancient Buddhist temple in the heart of Chongqing. The temples to commerce surround it.

 

There has been a huge growth in applications to US colleges and universities from Chinese students in the past several years, and we at HMC have been part of this trend.  One of the biggest differentiators in our selection process is the ability of the students to speak, read, listen and write in English.  I explained it this way:  Mudd first years will take 2 writing-intensive courses in which they need to participate in helping fellow students write better – by helping them edit and revise their writing, by providing comments and suggestions. One must have  a confident command of English to do so.  Beyond that, some courses deal with difficult technical terms and it is important to understand the terminology in English to process.

The students I met in China are so earnest and dedicated!!  They want so desperately to do something important with their lives and to make their parents proud.  They have a spirit of optimism that is truly inspiring.  Those I met who are a good fit for Mudd were especially exciting, not only because I could start to establish a relationship, but because I could see their spirit for discovery and challenge.  As I write this, my mind is flashing back to the images of their faces. In the end, I had a great educational experience, and I like to think I made some new friends.

Steve from China