New China

Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
Trip End Jul 24, 2007

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Monday, June 25, 2007

(I've been behind on posting my blogs; the Internet access is simply not as easy as I thought.  Here's one I typed up 5 days ago on my computer.)

June 20, 2007
Weather: AC ON!!
Today was a day about new China.  It started with an eye-opening experience at the Suzhou train station.  People lined up on the platform!  That was completely unexpected, given our previous experience in China: we had learned to fight our way into a crowded bus or subway train!  Yes, a girl did cut in front of me on the platform while we were waiting for the train to Wuxi, but she did it in such a mallow way that we all considered a great improvement from what it was like before.
The train pulled in the station, and we were pleasantly surprised.  The exterior looks like a bullet train, even though it wasn't one.  There was even a name for the train: Harmony.    We got on the train and quickly found our seats.  We bought the tickets for the second-class soft seats, but the seats felt anything but second class.  They are like any airline seats with pull-down trays.  The interior of Car No. 8, in which we were, was very clean and well maintained.
The ride was quite smooth, and the scenery along the railway reflects the rapid development of modern China.  Gone are the rice fields and vegetable farms; concrete houses and apartments line up the road to Wuxi, which is about 20 minutes away.  The "national bird" of China, the cranes, could be spotted amid the high-rise apartments as we arrived in Wuxi.  The numerous, and newly built, high-rise apartments, along with the 8-lane, newly paved roads, reminded us of Hong Kong and Shenzhen, the economic power houses of China.  On the way to Wuxi Institute of Technology (WXIT), Lily, who met us at the station, pointed out for us a coal-fueled power plant whose 20-story high chimney was spewing ominous plumes of white smokes as we drove by.  She expressed her concern about the problem of pollution but was quick to make it clear that Wuxi has started to make efforts in environmental protection.  The plant will soon be moved outside the city, she said.  Against the gray, hazy sky the looming white clouds of the smoke from the power plant were onerous and worrisome.
The sky cleared up a little as we arrived at WXIT.  The college was founded in the 1950's, but it underwent a major expansion and rebuilding three years ago.  Buildings are all new and quite spacious.  After a brief meeting with the party secretary of WXIT, who is in charge of international affairs, we were invited to lunch at a beautiful restaurant in a nearby hotel, which is located by Lake Li (Lihu).  Lihu is part of the Lake Tai (Taihu), one of the most popular fresh water lakes of China.  The hotel was modern, and the service was courteous.  Food, of course, was heavenly.  We were treated to the local specialties: Taihu Three Whites (white shrimp, white fish, and silver fish), as well as the legendary Wuxi short ribs.  We ate like a king!
Next to the hotel we saw a lot of a few subdivisions with stylish, spacious one- to two-story houses not unlike those in Houston.  Given the fact that land is scarce in this part of China, we were amazed that such subdivisions exist.  Apparently, the houses were the last batch under the old policy.  A new policy prohibits building houses like these exactly for the reason of land shortage.  Interestingly, as we walk along the outside wall of the subdivision, we found that not many houses were occupied.  There were even moles visible on the outside walls of one of the houses facing the water.  There has been a tension between real estate developers and the government in this region of China because of the amazing and, some say, worrisome growth of the real estate market.  This subdivision may have fallen victim to the government's crack down on over-priced properties.
New buildings are also featured on the sprawling WXIT campus.    We visited the brand new library, the machining lab/display room, and the residence hall for foreign professors.  All what we saw tells a story of modern management and privatization.  Roads were named after the corporations that have developed co-op programs with the college.  WXIT is also active in establishing relationships with foreign colleges.  Being the first Chinese member of CCID (Community College International Development, Inc.), it has ties to Daytona Beach Community College and Green River Community College.  It is also running a program with a university in Australia in which students receive intensive language training for the first three semesters and take classes for another three semesters in English for their majors through the Australian university.  We met the wife of the Australian professor who is teaching at WXIT.  She was very satisfied with the living condition and life in Wuxi.  There doesn't seem to be much to do in the ways of culture and history in Wuxi, but she was fine with it. 

It was an extremely hot and humid day, and I didn't realize I had a heat stroke until I returned to the hotel room.    Thank goodness AC was on, but the air felt just like 2 degrees cooler than outside.  I decided to get my AC - and a haircut - at the beauty salon two blocks away from the hotel.  For 25 yuan (US$3.50), I got my hair shampooed and cut, with a 20-min massage of my back and arms.  It was probably the best $3.50 I had paid!  The shampoo boy's name is A-Liang.  During the entire two hours, he told me why he came to Suzhou from the Hubei province, and how much he enjoyed working in the big cities.  He heard the laughters of Ben and Bobby, who were waiting for me, and commented that he really liked the way they laughed, hearty and without reservation.  I asked why he felt that way.  He said, "Chinese sometimes are too reserved.  They don't seem really happy.  I like straightforwardness.  I want to say what I think instead of worrying about what other people think."
The night ended with a dumpling dinner at a national chain restaurant, Da Nian Shui Jiao (Big Mama's Dumpling House).    Bobby had a craving for dumplings, and he got 5 different kinds of dumplings!  (Ask and thou shall receive.)  While we were waiting for the bus to return to the hotel, we heard music coming out the Harry's Bar behind us.  The band was playing "Lay Down Sally" by Eric Clapton, and it was surprisingly good.  We could see from outside the bar that they were not American or British.  In fact, they look Filipino.  That's modern China to you: An American bar in a historic district of China with a Filipino band singing a song by a British musician.  China is going global!
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