Final meal in China

The long journey home (and we do mean long) and an Epilogue

We had to be up at 5:30 a.m. in order to catch our shuttle to the airport. Director Zhou and Feng Xin were waiting for us in the lobby and the back half of our shuttle was already loaded up with luggage. We were on the road soon after to make our 9 a.m. flight to Beijing. Director Zhou bid us a fond farewell at the airport and then we got our tickets, checked our bags and made our way through airport security.

This first leg of our trip was uneventful and when we arrived in Beijing and collected our baggage, we met Jaclyn, one of our Bohua hosts, who led us to a second floor restaurant for our last meal in China. One of the dishes was a whole cooked fish, with head and tail intact (we’d had many whole fish during dinners on our trip), and, as Dr. Lu explained, that’s a dish traditionally served at an important meal to symbolize a good beginning and a good end. What a perfect dish to cap off our culinary experience in the country!

We said our goodbyes to Jaclyn, Dr. Lu and Huidi, who were staying an additional week for vacation and time with friends (though they were planning to continue work on recruiting for us–they had a meeting lined up with several potential students that very evening). And then it was on to our half-day flight from Beijing to Newark. We scored a few last-minute treats at the duty free shop and tried to charge up our electronic devices as much as possible before our flight was called. Lucky us–we got seats near the back of the middle section of our Boeing 777, so, technically, there was no one behind us we needed to worry about. So we settled down to movies, snacks and napping as our plane cruised in a northern arc past Russia, the Arctic, and back down toward the eastern seaboard. There is no denying it’s a long, hard flight, but most of us did catch a few winks and all of us were grateful that we only had one more flight left to go.

Or at least that’s what we thought at the time. It’s highly possible that an extremely long rant was drafted for what comes next, but to be kind to readers, here is an attempt to present it briefly: Long line at Customs. Long line at baggage claim. What? Tram to next terminal broken? Shuttle bus instead?? Let’s go through security again! Flight delayed. Only one restaurant in the terminal. Flight delayed again. Why is the terminal freezing cold? Flight delayed again. Can you believe we’re 28 hours into our travel day? Flight canceled. Reroute includes two stops. Oh, Newark! Hotel or sleep in the airport? Hotel it is!The view as we left Newark

Up at 5 a.m. Farewell, President Schott (who had to catch a flight to D.C. for another conference). Let’s go through security again! What? We have to check our carry-ons at the gate? Flight to Montreal. One hour to make connecting flight. Terminal’s at the other end of the airport. Where are our carry-ons? Impatient waiting. Finally delivered. Up the ramp and out the doors. Wait, doors are locked. Doors are locked!! Get an airline official. Clear! Head to Customs again. Let’s go through security again! On to our gate! Wait, why are there flashing lights? Why is a big metal barricade blocking our way?? A fire drill?!? You MUST be kidding us. Go outside. Line up against the wall. Wait. Wait some more. All clear. Barricade gone. RUN to terminal! RUN TO GATE! No one in the waiting area. Oh no. RUN FASTER! What? They waited for us because they saw us running? Running paid off! THANK YOU! Fly to Quebec City. Collect bags checked in Beijing. No bags. Really?? They never left Newark. Oh, Newark! Back to the car. 5.5 hour drive back to Presque Isle. So tired! Rest stop at Tim Horton’s before we hit the border. Bathrooms out of order. OK, Subway is next door. Bathrooms out of order. Weird! Gas station is next door. Bathrooms out of order. Water main is off due to road construction. This is just cruel!

The good news is, that was the last bit of craziness that befell us on our (we counted) 48-hour travel experience from Xi’an to Presque Isle. We made it back safe and sound and while we had so many wonderful memories from our trip, we were just so glad to get back to our own homes, our own beds, and our families.

EPILOGUE

It cannot be stated enough that this was an amazing trip. We accomplished so much in terms of strengthening relationships with our Chinese educational partners and looking at new partnerships with other Chinese universities. It was so important for us to meet these officials in person, have sit-down conversations with them, and see first-hand the facilities they offer their students and would offer ours should they travel there in the future. We are extremely pleased with the connections we made with potential students and look forward to seeing a strong cohort of Chinese students join us this fall. We were so glad to meet with parents in person and set their minds at ease that their sons and daughters would be in good hands.

It was also an amazing trip in terms of the sights we were able to see and the cuisine we were able to enjoy. Getting to walk through the Forbidden City, climb the Great Wall and visit the Terra Cotta Warriors were rare treats. Savoring the many different meals and dishes we were served on our trip, having the opportunity to take part in traditional Chinese-style dining, and being the guests of such good hosts, are experiences that will stay with us.

There is so much history and tradition there. So much life happening half a world away. And to be a part of it for a little while, to experience it all first hand… well, that just might be the unexpected but delightful takeaway from the trip. We thought we were working, and sightseeing on the side. But what we were really doing was understanding Chinese culture on a much deeper level than just reading about it or hearing about it from others, and, in so doing, being better able to understand our Chinese partners. And being better able to host the Chinese students who come to UMPI in the future. Maybe there will be a greater focus on Chinese cuisine in the cafeteria. Maybe there will be a shift in how we host our visitors. Maybe. And, if there is, it’s because our delegation experienced it, brought that knowledge back home, and incorporated it here.

And isn’t that what really makes a trip like this amazing?

Panoramic view from on top of the city wall

Xi’an City Wall and Shopping in the Local Market

Panoramic view of the Xi'an City WallTo make up for our busy Sunday and to relax a bit before our big trip home, we were able to spend the day taking in the sights and sounds of Xi’an. Our Siyuan hostess Feng Xin took us to the beautiful old city wall. The huge, fortress-like wall (one of the oldest and best preserved in China and tentatively included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list) used to encompass the old city and designers were careful (and smart) to work the wall into their plans as the city expanded. For example, some of the roadways cut right through the walls, but arches have been built to accommodate them in a style that befits the ancient architecture.

An underground walkway took us to the South Gate, an impressive and beautifully restored structure. In the courtyard, we were encouraged to enjoy several traditional Chinese toys and take group photos.

We were there just in time to view a performance of a ceremonial changing of the guard as it would have been done centuries ago.

 

Climbing the steps from the courtyard, we could actually walk the length of the wall and view the gate and several other small buildings up close. The surrounding grounds were lush and the 360 degree view of the city was gorgeous. So much beautiful architecture—we had to laugh when we pointed to a very detailed traditional-style building and asked what it was and were told it was just a restaurant.Yep, just a restaurant

Watching friends and couples taking in the wall on bikes encouraged us to do the same, so we secured three tandem bikes and then headed for the West Gate and more impressive sights of the city.

A complete ride around the wall would have been about 13 kilometers, so we opted to turn around at the West Gate and head back to our starting point (which still allowed us to cover about half the distance around the wall).

Lunch was next on the schedule and this time we went to a spot famous for its Chinese dumplings. On the walk there, we happened by a tent where salespeople were touting the next big revolution in fitness equipment—a kind of vibrating stepper. It was hilarious to watch all the locals and tourists just standing on those platforms and jiggling away. But Tom topped that by taking his own turn on one of the machines and inserting a few very signature arm movements into the routine.

Appetite worked up, we climbed to the second floor of our restaurant and were seated at another traditional Chinese round table. We ordered five different types of dumplings and several more delicious dishes to share and then dug in.

Entering the public marketThe plan for the afternoon was to explore the local market, which started (rather strategically) just outside of our restaurant. A long walkway extended about the length of a city block alongside the big building where our restaurant and tons of small shops were housed. Several items caught our eyes, but Dr. Lu suggested we keep looking for better deals. Across a bustling street, we entered the narrow, roof-covered walkways and crowded shops of the market proper. Here, you could find just about anything and everything you could want—quilted fish backpacks, brass pocket watches, the leather belts with prominent silver buckles that Chinese businessmen seemed to favor, colorful shoes, miniature Buddhas, dragons, lions, and coinage, home decorations, jewelry, hats, scarves, toys, food, sim cards and other electronics. And the haggling was at a fever pitch. We lasted a few hours, and despite our group getting separated on at least two occasions, we all walked away with some great deals on gifts to bring home.

After more than a week of activities and meetings, half the group opted to head back to the hotel while the other half explored another market and then enjoyed dinner at a restaurant featuring local handmade noodles. The signature dish? A very hard to eat 3.8-meter-long flat noodle served in a giant bowl with two “dipping broths” on the side.

The group met back at the hotel at 8:30 p.m. for the signing of a letter of intent with Siyuan University. Director Zhou was there representing Siyuan and President Schott, Dr. Rice and Dr. Lu participated on behalf of UMPI. Following the signing and picture-taking, Director Zhou led a round of hearty handshaking and all were pleased to have reached this milestone in our collaborative efforts.

Director Zhou said he’d see us in the morning for our send-off to the airport and then it was off to our rooms to pack and get a good night’s rest ahead of another long day of international travel.

Look at the size of that crowd

Emperor Qin’s Terra Cotta Warriors, and more Siyuan meetings

To balance our full meeting schedule in the afternoon, our Siyuan hosts suggested a visit to the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in the morning. We knew the Terra Cotta Warriors displayed there were much bigger than the ones we’d seen the day before, but we weren’t prepared for the size of the excavation and how extensive the grounds were. We were greeted at the gate by a two-story tall emperor and then passed tour busses laden with passengers on our way to our drop-off point. Our wait for tickets gave us the opportunity to people-watch, and we were again struck by the wide-ranging fashion (did we mention the women climbing the Great Wall in high heels? Or the crazy outfits we’ve seen on the streets of Beijing?). Couldn’t help but snap one picture of an especially unique T-shirt.fashion is smashin' all over China

After a few group photos outside the Mausoleum, we descended into the first pit. The Eighth Wonder of the World did not disappoint. Eighth Wonder of the WorldHundreds of Terra Cotta Warriors were lined up in long rows in an area that was much bigger than a football field. The level of detail in the warrior’s faces and dress was amazing and the work being done to excavate them was extensive. In fact, the excavation has been underway for about 40 years now. We had a chance to see some of the restoration process in action and couldn’t help but be impressed as a group of Chinese restorers stood around a partially reconstructed warrior and tried to figure out where one particular piece of terra cotta needed to be fit back in, like a puzzle.

Pit 2 gave us a chance to see more excavation work underway and view replicas of some of the warriors up close. Archers and high officials stood behind glass, and being able to get that close gave us the opportunity to see just how detailed the artists who’d crafted them had been. You could see individual hairs on their heads and detailing on their armor. Considering the thousands of warriors that had to be created for this burial ground, that level of detail in each statue was almost inconceivable.

The third building we entered touted the fact that the place we were visiting was a UNESCO World Heritage site and provided us with a close-up look at some of the many other items that had been buried there (everything from acrobats to entertain the emperor to water pots to exotic birds, in materials from clay to bronze). The building also included more details about the excavation process—we’re sure many people leave that space thinking how amazing it would be to serve as an archaeologist working at this site.

Our way back to the parking lot ended up being a much longer walk than we thought, with more buildings along the way that we didn’t have the time to visit as well as shops offering jade bracelets and food booths selling all kinds of local treats. We made a brief detour to an obviously-for-tourists booth that gave visitors a chance to “dress up” like the Terra Cotta Warriors, which provided us with some of the funniest photos of our trip.President Schott leading the charge Rachel taking things seriously; Tom, not so much

After a quick lunch, we were back at Siyuan for several more meetings. We were delighted to meet up with Sha Liu, one of our graduates, who is now working toward her MBA at Johnson & Wales and was home in Xi’an for a visit. Sha Liu at SiyuanOur first meeting of the afternoon: a chance to give a presentation about UMPI to a crowd of about 200 Siyuan students. Director Zhou provided introductions and shared with the students our Chinese names. (Don’t think we’d mentioned those yet, but Dr. Lu gave the President, Tom, Ray and Rachel Chinese names—just ask us to present our business cards to you as we pronounce those names in Chinese.) Sha provided the translation as President SchottA snapshot with UMPI Alum Sha Liu and President Schott delivered the official UMPI welcome and then Dr. Lu and Huidu offered a powerpoint presentation. We’re very hopeful that this will lead to several student inquiries and, while many students seemed most excited about the American chocolate that was offered at the end of the presentation as small gifts, several students stayed afterward to ask more questions.

While this presentation was underway, Rachel and Tom had a chance to meet with the marketing/public relations director for the university. With translation help from Sha, she took us on a tour of her area, which included a whole floor of offices focused on everything from graphic design to videography to overseeing the university’s television station and call center. We then returned to her office for green tea (we were alarmed when she “primed” her tea pot by pouring hot water into it and then dumping it straight onto the table, until we realized that the table was a specially designed “tea table” with a drain in it) and discussions about promotion efforts, social media, internet marketing and how we hope to work together on materials to encourage Siyuan students to attend UMPI, once an agreement is reached.

Next on the agenda was an interview with a Chinese high school student connected with Phoenix who will be attending UMPI in the fall. He and his father had traveled about 8 hours to meet with us. It was a chance to allay some of the father’s concerns about sending his son halfway around the world and to meet with some of the people representing the U.S. university where his son plans to spend the next four years. President Schott was able to share, as she had with several parents already, that the student would be safe and comfortable on our campus, that he’d be in a beautiful place with clean air and water, and that we’d take good care of him.

We were also able to meet with a past and future visiting scholar. A few years ago, UMPI hosted a Siyuan professor on our campus for several months as she conducted research and helped to develop more connections between our institutions. It was good to reconnect with her and also meet the new visiting scholar—her focus is early childhood education—who will travel to UMPI in September and join us for the fall semester.Meeting with our past and future visiting scholars

Our day done at Siyuan, we were on our own for dinner and invited the Chinese high school student and his father to join us at a local restaurant with Sha and three of our other alums for yet another feast. With no official transportation, though, we had our first experience hailing and riding in taxicabs (yikes!)—we had to take three separate cabs to get everyone from the hotel to the restaurant. From what we could tell, seat belts weren’t installed and then we were a little nervous when we couldn’t find the restaurant at the spot where we’d been dropped off. Still, all three groups eventually found each other, and the restaurant our alums had chosen.

After we were seated in our private dining room, Dr. Lu led the selection of several sumptuous-looking items from the menu. Our meal started off with watermelon the father of our soon-to-be UMPI student had picked up on the way to the restaurant in honor of the occasion, and then dish after dish came through the door. There was more gan bei-ing, the majority connected with our alums and our new student. A note: when you order white wine in China, you will not get Chardonnay, but instead will be served the much more potent wheat-based liquor that was presented at several of our other special dinners.

During our meal, the Lu’s presented our alums with special gifts from UMPI (lovely pen sets from the Campus Store) and they caught us up on what they’ve been doing post-graduation (going to grad school, working for a tech company, snagging a position at BMW). Obviously, we were bursting with pride to hear about our alums’ accomplishments and hope we’ll have a chance to repeat this with future alums from China.

To work off all those calories from dinner, we opted for the 20 or so minute walk back to the hotel. What we failed to consider, however, is that walking would give us yet another first-time experience in Beijing—surviving road construction and crazy traffic as pedestrians. It was probably the moment when we had to squeeze single file past a bulldozer on one side and traffic careening around the bend on the other that we questioned whether walking had *really* been such a good idea after all.

We were very relieved when we all made it back to the hotel in one piece. And with only one full day left in China, it was off to bed for us.

Presidential gifts

Siyuan Negotiations and Terra Cotta Warriors

We were out the door around 8:30 a.m. for our meetings with Siyuan officials, but not even 10 seconds into our ride, we heard loud popping noises on the street and then a car entered the hotel driveway adorned in ribbons and flowers—a Chinese wedding, complete with firecrackers. Why so early? The Lu’s explained that the first time you are married in China, you get married in the morning. If there is a second marriage, it would take place in the afternoon. What if you got married a third time? Well, laughed Dr. Lu, then probably you would get married late at night.

Our ride to Siyuan University took us through the bustling city streets of Xi’an—shopping, noodle stands, and plenty of pedestrians. Even though there was less traffic in general than what we experienced in Beijing, there was more honking. Our route changed to highway and then to more rural roadways. As we’d seen in just about every place we visited, there was major building and construction underway, both in the city and in the less populated areas.

Once on the Siyuan campus, we were brought on a short tour of a faculty development lab and later, in the university’s library, we took in a 3-D scale model of the campus and a room that showcased the university’s 16-year history, including the torch that Chairman Zhou Yanbo was chosen to carry in 2008 as part of the Beijing Olympics.

Asked to sign a large red guest book, President Schott offered both her signature and her wish for the fruitful collaboration between our universities. We enjoyed a short break, including our introduction to Chairman Yanbo and their Provost and a chance to chat and enjoy jasmine tea, before heading into a well-appointed conference room for our discussion on academic programs and partnerships.

The main point of order? To expand our partnership with Siyuan, which has been in place for six years, to include the creation of majors delivered jointly through UMPI and Siyuan. Through such an agreement, students would be able to complete some courses on site in China and have the option to travel to Presque Isle for their last year or two. Excitingly, our UMPI students would have the same opportunity to complete their coursework at Siyuan University in Xi’an, China. Discussions about how to make this work for both campuses took the entire morning and only broke off as we needed to eat.Conversations between UMPI and Siyuan underway

Following a quick, working lunch (which still featured the traditional round Chinese table and about 20 different dishes), we moved to the university’s administration building to continue discussions with Chairman Yanbo and his staff. More detailed discussions will need to take place in the future, but at the end of our talks, to symbolize our collaboration and good will, we exchanged gifts from our respective campuses.

Later in the afternoon, we had the opportunity to visit a historical site, the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi (also known as Hanyangling), which featured some of the ancient terra cotta warriors that had been unearthed. The museum was underground and before we were allowed to enter, we were asked to enclose our feet in little blue baggies elasticized at the ankle. Tres chic! Blue booties before heading into Hanyangling

The terra cotta warriors themselves were probably about 2-3 feet tall and the site showed the excavations encased in glass. In fact, at some points along the way, we had the opportunity to traverse glass-paned walkways and look beneath our feet to view some of the excavations. The site featured many half-sized warriors, chariots, horses, pots and other items that it was thought the emperor would need in his afterlife. Before we left the museum, we had a chance to watch a 3-D holographic “movie” about the Han Dynasty and the politics, family history and court intrigue that happened centuries ago.

Our Siyuan hosts honored us with a very special dinner featuring a traditional specialty—a whole roasted lamb. The meal started in a reception area with modern Chinese furniture done in a traditional style and bowls of several snacks (pumpkin seeds, cherry tomatoes, pistachios, etc.). For atmosphere, a TV at one end of the room was turned on to national sports news. ;) Next, we were served an extravagant-looking tea we’d never had before. It was presented in glasses that looked more like beer mugs and had nuts, dates, huge sugar crystals, and flower buds floating in it. Not only was it delicious, our hosts explained, it was a natural fat reducer.Fat-reducing tea! (with nuts, dates, sugar crystals and flower buds)

Especially helpful, considering the meal we were about to eat. In the next room over, a special table had been set with a whole roasted lamb on a rack placed in the middle. At each of our place settings, there was a clear plastic glove along with our plate and silverware and we were instructed to put the glove on and use our hands to pull meat from the rack. Scraps and used gloves were to be discarded into a well underneath the “rack of lamb.” It was a lot more intimate contact than we were used to having with roast lamb, but it was decadently spiced and absolutely delicious.

The lamb was served with several smaller dishes, including raw cloves of garlic, broccoli, prepared cabbage, and a special type of flat bread. It was a little difficult negotiating the plastic glove and the lamb and then the chopsticks and the rest of the food, but we managed. When we got to a certain point in the meal, the server took apart what was left of the lamb which led to the utterance of several sentences that we probably wouldn’t use anywhere else ever. For example: “Should I pass the legs?” And, when the President got hit in the face with a piece of lamb as it was being taken apart: “I just got lambed!” Or Tom’s improvement upon it: “I just got lamb-inated!”

We had just about gan bei’d and gorged ourselves completely when one of our hosts, Tommy, said it was time for the second course. SECOND course? Well, it was a chance to experience a traditional Chinese hot pot, so how could we say no? We moved over to the next table with a large pot of steaming broth in the middle and bowls filled with vegetables, noodles and meat encircling it. Hot pot!Using our chopsticks, we dipped mushrooms, cabbage, bok choy, chicken liver and ramen into the broth, cooked it to our preference and then ate it in small bowls of the broth mixed with sesame paste and coriander. The only disappointing thing was that we were too full to enjoy very much of it.

We thanked our hosts for yet another amazing meal and then headed back to our hotel for as much sleep (and in some cases pepto bismol) as we could get.

A sea of people in the courtyard

A Travel Day, but First, the Forbidden City

Saturday brought a much welcomed weekend and a bit slower pace for our little delegation. We were due to board a plane for Xi’an around 6 p.m., which left us time to view one of the most impressive historical attractions in Beijing—the Forbidden City.

The imperial palace was first built in the 1400’s during the Ming Dynasty. Its grounds cover many acres and feature many important buildings, structures and gardens.

Our wait for tickets outside the main gate gave us the opportunity to watch hundreds of people from all over the world pouring into the Forbidden City.

A sea of people in the courtyard

When it was our turn to walk through the gate, we were struck by the enormity and symmetry of the first courtyard. We were greeted by five walking bridges followed by a large set of staircases into the first building (or “door” to the next courtyard). Past that, we walked through inner courtyard to ever more inner courtyard, catching glimpses through the crush of people of the emperor’s reception area, his building for thought and reflection, the throne room, the living quarters, the mother-in-law’s residence, and many other beautiful spaces. You can’t walk into these spaces but you can stand at the gated-off doorways and peek inside the various rooms, which meant a lot of jockeying for position (including little grandmothers who weren’t shy about elbowing past Ray and Tom). No matter; there was architecture all around us and the level of detail was awe-inspiring.

A turn to the right took us to a fascinating museum of Chinese watches and clocks created over the centuries, including clocks that had staircases in them and clocks that had flowers that would “bloom” on the hour. One of the loveliest spots on the palatial grounds was the private garden of the emperor. Carefully cultivated and shaped trees, several pagoda structures, and many walkways adorned the garden, and a feeling of luxuriousness, but also of absolute tranquility, was palpable.

All that walking left us more than ready for lunch. This time, we were able to experience a typical Chinese restaurant, “Fortune Long Beijing Bean Sauce Noodles,” buzzing with lunchtime activity. An offering at the door was a given and, despite the fact that this was a “regular” lunch, it still involved more dishes than we could possibly hope to eat—fish, shrimp, baby bok choy, yellow pea cubes, pork, sticky rice, date nut cakes; the list just went on and on.

Next stop: surviving a shopping experience in Beijing. Dr. Lu and his wife took us to a well-regarded pearl market, which included several floors of merchandise (iPhone cases and electronics to name brand handbags and clothing) and a whole floor dedicated to pearls. The hard part for us Westerners? The high pressure sales pitches at every turn and the fact that you’re expected to bargain over the price of everything, as the initial asking price for an item could be more than 80 percent higher than its actual worth. With Dr. Lu’s bargaining skills, though, we were able to enjoy some very good deals.

A surprise find in the shopping area was a Starbucks, so we popped in before our drive to the airport. Ray got an extra special treat when they announced that they were out of what he’d ordered and he got a green tea frappuccino with Chinese red beans on top. Probably one of his most unusual purchases ever from Starbucks, but he insisted it was good.Starbucks in Beijing

Two minor moments of panic at the airport. First, when we arrived and thought we only had 20 minutes to make our plane and still had to go through the very busy airport security. Luckily, we were an hour off and had plenty of time til our flight. Second, when we went through the bag check (which involved a scan of our luggage) and they found something “suspicious” in the President’s suitcase. Turned out to be a shoulder massager that looked kind of like a hair dryer and looked just vaguely enough like a gun to elicit concern. They ran the suitcase twice before they’d let us proceed, and then more bustling was underway when she decided to deal with the inconvenience by throwing it away in a trash can just before airport security. Let’s just say the security people were somewhat alarmed about the whole thing. Ultimately, with Dr. Lu’s help, a crisis was averted and we ALL made a note to NEVER bring anything in that particular shape with us to China.

Our flight was short and uneventful, and our new hosts from Siyuan University met us at the airport, drove us to our lovely hotel—Jianguo Hotel—and bid us a good night’s sleep ahead of our meetings the next day. With a full day of talks on the agenda for Sunday, thus ended our relaxing weekend.

Welcome to Century College

Century College and the Great Wall

Our adventures today took us outside of downtown Beijing to Century College, located in the Yanquing District (about an hour away, with traffic). Part of the Bohua group, this college focuses on telecommunication and digital media. We were greeted with a welcome sign in the foyer of one of their buildings and were able to meet with the College President Li Jie and several administrators and faculty members to discuss new partnerships with them, including a potential student exchange and a 3+1 or 2+2 agreement (meaning their students would study for 2 or 3 years in China, and then travel to the U.S. to finish their remaining 2 or 1 years of education, allowing the student to graduate with degrees from both institutions).

Following successful collaboration talks, we were able to take a tour of the college’s very cool digital media labs–they boast a motion capture lab, 3-D lab, and sound synchronization lab, just to name a few. We were also able to view some of the students’ excellent projects, on display in a beautiful gallery space.

We were treated to yet another fabulous lunch, this time at a nearby spot called Wild Duck Lake. More amazing food and abundant toasting, and many wishes for our continued good collaboration.

Century College is fairly close to a section of the Great Wall, so following our lunch, we were able to view this wondrous site. It’s an understatement to say that we were pretty exhausted, what with the jet lag and all the work and walking we’d done so far, so we cheated a bit and took a gondola from the base of Badaling Mountain up to the Great Wall. Once there, though, we still had a bit of a climb to get to one of the high points. The view: incredible. Knowing that we were walking on the Great Wall: priceless!

For our efforts, we were rewarded with dinner at a pretty exclusive restaurant at the base of Badaling–again a private room with a traditional round Chinese dinner table, and again, more food than we could possibly hope to eat. This would be our final meal together with Xue Li before our departure to Xi’an the next day, so there were many toasts thanking us for making the trip and visiting with many educational officials, and wishing us well on the next leg of our journey.

One last item of business for President Schott, Dr. Rice and Dr. Lu–another interview with a Chinese high school student considering attending UMPI next fall. The days couldn’t be more packed, and the meetings in person, we are told, are extremely helpful to the parents and the students who are making college plans. We are delighted to have had the chance to visit with so many and look forward to more opportunities in Xi’an to talk with students, parents and educational officials about bringing more students to our campus.

Dining traditional Chinese style

UMPI in Beijing

One of our meetings at BohuaWe kicked off our morning with breakfast (Japanese, Korean, American and Chinese options at the buffet!) and then a walk to the offices of Bohua Education Group, which is just a few blocks from the hotel. Even though it was only 9 a.m., it was already at least 85 degrees outside. And it was pretty warm inside, too. A full morning of meetings with officials from Bohua (which oversees about 6 different educational entities), including Executive Director Wu Weiqiang, and Phoenix New Union Education Tech Co., Ltd. (which includes a school focused on TV broadcasting and mass communication). Matching shirts (and chocolate!)And then we had an opportunity to give a presentation about UMPI to several Chinese high school students connected with Phoenix who are considering attending our campus. Great interviews with the students and it’s safe to say we loved the matching shirts two of them wore as much as they loved the chocolate bunnies Huidu Lu gave them as small gifts from the U.S. “Oh, so cute!” they exclaimed upon receiving them.

Dining traditional Chinese styleLunch was an unexpected delight–for many of us, it was our first experience dining in the traditional Chinese style, at a large, round table where the (MANY) dishes are placed on a center rotating disc and diners grab a little bit of this or that as it glides by. Needless to say, it was delicious. And to eat in a restaurant located in what was once the Olympic Village was pretty impressive, too.

Beihai=beautifulThe adventure of the afternoon? Beihai Park–a beautiful, tranquil spot that was once an imperial garden and is now open to the public. More BeihaiWe walked through temples, hung our good wishes for happiness, and even sampled some new-to-us flavors of Chinese ice cream (potato, for example).Wish for Happiness Chocolate-covered potato ice cream?!?

The view from the White Dagoba was gorgeous and after climbing all the stairs it took us to get to it, we enjoyed a short trip through a cool cave and then a boat ride across taihu lake before heading to our next destination–dinner at another excellent restaurant.

The room was just as lavish and there was even more food than at lunch. We were joined by the parents of one of our current UMPI students who hails from China and had a lovely evening of eating, merry-making, and following the tradition of the Chinese toast. Many toasts during a special meal are commonplace and after the toast is made, they say, “ganbei” which means “bottoms up”. More of those to come, we’re sure!
Excellent Chinese dinner!

 

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Beijing or Bust

IMG_0925 smLet’s start at the beginning. It wasn’t too long ago that our President Linda Schott decided that a group of six of us would travel to China to strengthen old partnerships and create new ones with several Chinese education groups. That UMPI delegation included President Schott and her husband Tom Fuhrmark, Dr. Ray Rice, UMPI’s Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, and his wife Rachel Rice, UMPI’s Director of Community and Media Relations; and Dr. Zhu-qi Lu, UMPI Professor of Math and his wife Huidu Lu. Dr. Lu and his wife served as our interpreters and guides.

Our goal: meet with Chinese education officials, determine where new collaborations could be made, interview students considering our University, and maybe squeeze in a little sightseeing on the side. In order to do all that, though, there was first the matter of getting to Beijing.

Our route: Presque Isle to Quebec City to Montreal to Chicago to Beijing. And there’s only one word to describe that: Yikes! The trip commenced on Monday, May 19, 2014, with a drive to Quebec City and a (brief) night’s rest. Owl Be Thinking of You!Our big day of travel started at 3:30 a.m. with a trip to the airport. Bad sign that our shuttle was half an hour late? We REALLY hoped not! Uneventful flights to Montreal and Chicago. Our walk through the airport took us past several sights (a restored plane here, a giant dinosaur skeleton there), and it was perfectly fitting that President Schott managed to find the one snowy owl in the place!

Nine hours into our travel day and we were aboard our Boeing 777 to Beijing. We’re not going to lie here–knowing that we had a 13 and a half hour flight ahead of us was a bit daunting, but luckily there were movies and snack breaks. Not a lot of sleep to be had, but we were plenty grateful when we touched down at the airport in Beijing.

Amid a sea of people and hand-written signs at Arrivals was one that read “University of Maine at Presque Isle” and then we knew everything was going to be just fine.

Our drivers took us to our hotel, the amazing China National Convention Center Grand Hotel (some of the stadiums from the Beijing Olympics are just around the corner from this spot–note the view from one of our hotel rooms, buildings everywhere and about 12 lanes of traffic).View from the hotel

After settling in, we enjoyed a lovely buffet dinner at the hotel with Xue Li and a few of our other hosts. More on the food in a later blog post, but can we just say how delicious authentic Chinese cuisine is?

A visit with parents and one of our newest studentsOne last thing on our agenda for the day–a visit with a Chinese high school student who is planning to attend UMPI in the fall. He and his parents took the high speed train from their home to Beijing (a 3 hour trip that used to be more like 8 before the new train) in order to meet us. We had a lovely visit and are looking forward to welcoming our new student in the fall!