Beijing and Coming home

Summer Palace located in Beijing.

Summer Palace located in Beijing.

This post was written by Tom Abbott, studying in China this summer.

For the last stretch of the trip, we took the high speed train from Hangzhou to Beijing. The bullet train was really something to actually see in person. We traveled at about 300 km/h, which had us arriving in Beijing about 5 hours later. The ride was really smooth!

Our first stop after arriving in Beijing was to see the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is actually much more than just a temple. It is surrounded by a huge park and other great monuments. There were tons of people relaxing and playing games with others in the park and temple area. The temple itself was quite large and serves as a great spot for wedding pictures (three couples were there at the time we were).

View looking up at part of the Great Wall

View looking up at part of the Great Wall

Looking down.

Looking down.

The next day was the Great Wall. Often times you will hear people say that they have “walked” the Great Wall.

View looking up

View looking up

This can be deceiving, however, because the part of the wall we visited was located in a very hilly area and I would call it more of hiking or climbing the Great Wall instead of walking it. The image29views from the wall were spectacular and it was a warm day with very clear skies. The part of the wall we went to was about an hour from our hotel in the downtown area and we spent at least 2 hours climbing the wall.

The Birdsnest, 2008 Olympics

The Birdsnest, 2008 Olympics

For the time we were in Beijing the skies were actually really clear and the air did not feel like it was extremely polluted, as many people assume. Actually, the skies in Beijing were the clearest that I saw in all of my time in China.

Building inside the Forbidden City

Building inside the Forbidden City

The last day of activities was spent at the Forbidden City. The shear size of the Forbidden City was unbelievable! We walked through the whole thing and it took us close to two and a half hours. There is something like 8000 different rooms in the city and we got to see the political buildings as well as the halls for celebration. The Forbidden City served as the living quarters of many emperors but now it has been turned into a museum.

Me sitting on a royal chair

Me sitting on a royal chair

Beijing was one of the coolest cities for me in China because there is so much history, yet it is also quite modern. It was a mix of all the other cities we saw all out into one. image27The night life in Beijing was also quite superb as well. There were numerous night markets and food markets that Valpo students checked out and found to be satisfying.

Writing this final blog after having already landed and arrived home, there are definitely some last things I would like to say about China. First, although it feels great to be home, I already miss China and the people I met there and the things I saw even though I have not yet been home for one full day! I am already thinking about when I could go back again.

The thing I will miss most will be how affordable everything was, especially food and transportation. I ate a good sized breakfast every morning for less than $2 and took a cab home from work everyday which normally came to about $1 when split three ways. I always felt safe in China as well. I think this feeling was shared by all of the students there, even with the ones that were not able to converse with the people of China.

Tienanmen Square

Tienanmen Square

 

This experience has been one that I will definitely never forget and it has shaped me in so many different ways, as well as given me the opportunity to meet and get to know some great people. I am forever grateful for Valparaiso University for offering this trip and for all of those who have helped me to make going to China for a month possible!

Picture Blog From China

These photographs were taken by Tom Abbott, studying in China this summer.

 

A group of Valpo students on one of the peaks of the Yellow Mountain.

A group of Valpo students on one of the peaks of the Yellow Mountain.

A neighborhood street in the Yellow Mountain area with many small shops.

A neighborhood street in the Yellow Mountain area with many small shops.

Drum tower in the ancient capital of Xian.

Drum tower in the ancient capital of Xian.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian.

The largest exhibit in the terra cotta warrior museum.

The largest exhibit in the terra cotta warrior museum.

A view from atop the Yellow Mountain.

A view from atop the Yellow Mountain.

The Life of a Monk

This post was written by Tom Abbot, studying in China this summer.

View from the outside of the Lingyin Temple

View from the outside of the Lingyin Temple

Being raised a Catholic, I knew little to nothing about Buddhism until I learned about the religion’s beginnings and basic principles in world history my sophomore year of high school. However, I knew from studying Chinese that Buddhism is a major religion in China, with many temples all across the country and millions of devote members. It was my hope when I decided to travel to China for the summer program that I would be able to experience Chinese Buddhism first hand, and that is exactly what our group did when we visited the Buddhist Academy of Hangzhou.

     It was evident from the moment

Inside a classroom at the Buddhist Academy

Inside a classroom at the Buddhist Academy

we stepped onto the grounds of the academy, and even before that, how different the lives of the monks that live there really are. Even before we arrived at the academy, we visited the Lingyin Temple and the surrounding area and it was interesting to see how different it was from anything I had ever seen. We observed carvings in the rock and ponds with fish and turtles that created a very peaceful environment, even with the temple being such a large tourist attraction nowadays. Once we had left the temple, we proceeded to have lunch at a local eatery that was on the way to the academy. Even at this restaurant, which I don’t believe was actually on the grounds of the temple, the food was vegetarian, which I was quite surprised by. This just goes to show how dedicated the people in this area are towards their religious beliefs.

View of one side of the campus

View of one side of the campus

When we arrived at the Buddhist Academy, we were greeted by one of the head monks along with maybe 10 students of the academy. They were all extremely friendly and eager to practice their English language skills. I was really surprised at how young they were! Most of the girls seemed like they were 14 to 16 years old. We were given a very nice tour of the campus, which was absolutely beautiful, and then led to a room for meditation. The meditation was very relaxing. The monks helped us to properly position ourselves to partake in meditation and we sat in silence for about 15 minutes. The meditation was unlike anything I have ever done before! It was actually a lot harder than one would think. First, to be able to cross your legs and sit as they do can be quite uncomfortable even for a short time. Second, it is also difficult to keep your mind from wondering. Overall, the meditation was a great experience that really opened my eyes to the power that total relaxation can have on the body and mind.

     Next we proceeded to have dinner. The meal is very structured

Inside the Buddhist Academy

Inside the Buddhist Academy

and done in a very specific manner. I was thoroughly impressed with the fashion the meal was carried out in and the overall taste of the food. For a vegetarian meal, the food was very good and diverse, as well as being filling. I only had one serving of everything and when I was finished I was actually pretty full. The monks make sure to give an amount of food that you can finish so nothing is wasted. It was also interesting how fast the monks eat their food and the servers came around to give seconds. I was not even half way done with my food by the time they came around again, so I could not get more even if I wanted to!

Valpo students with the monks of the academy

Valpo students with the monks of the academy

When the time had come for the two groups to part ways, many pictures were taken and Wechat IDs were exchanged so that we could keep in contact with the monks of the academy. It surprised me that most, or maybe even all of the monks had smartphones. I’m not sure why, but I have always been under the impression that monks do not possess such objects having to do with technology because it may become a distraction from their focus. The life of a monk is so different from that of a normal westerner’s that it is hard to comprehend. From their outfits, to the strict schedule of their daily life, and the constant focus that must be maintained, it is hard to imagine myself being able to take on the life of a monk. However, after visiting the academy in Hangzhou, I feel as though I have a much deeper understanding of the like of a monk and also a much higher level of respect for what they do. Getting to spend the afternoon with a group of Buddhist monks is definitely one of the most unforgettable things I will ever be able to do in my lifetime.

Tom Abbott

Shanghai

This blog post was written by Tom Abbott, studying abroad in China for the summer. 

Shanghai buildings lit up at night

Shanghai buildings lit up at night

For our second weekend in China, we traveled to Shanghai as a group on Saturday, spent the night, and returned to Hangzhou on Sunday. We took a small bus that we booked through our travel agent. The driving in China is really quite hilarious. The drivers are all so impatient and taxi and bus drivers are always honking. This trip was no different, as our bus driver probably honked anywhere from 150 to 200 times throughout the 3 hour journey. Also, when on the road in the city anything goes. I have seen people drive on the wrong side of the road to make a turn and even drive right at oncoming traffic! It’s a lot different from driving in the states, even in big cities like Chicago.

image5
Shanghai actually reminded me a lot of Chicago, which is where I am from. There is the big city part with all the tall buildings, the skyline on the water, and all of the expensive shops on the street. We walked Nanjing Road, which is similar to Michigan Ave. with regard to the expensive shops. Later that night, we walked around the town and back to the downtown area to see the city lit up at night. The city is very majestic and it looks awesome with lights on all the buildings.
The next day we visited a famous Buddhist temple and saw the

Statue from the Shanghai Museum

Statue from the Shanghai Museum

largest jade Buddha in the world! My favorite part of the trip was seeing the skyline and especially the Pearl Tower. Shanghai is definitely a westernized city, with restaurants like McDonalds and Starbucks appearing on the street quite frequently. However, it is still a very Chinese city. It does not take much at all to find an authentic Chinese restaurant on the street to eat at. I would recommend having a plan of what to go and see and do when you arrive in Shanghai because it is easy to get lost and not know what to do in this massive city.

Inside of a temple in Shanghai

Inside of a temple in Shanghai

We stayed in the Swan Hotel, which was very nice and western. However, for being such a bustling city it was quite difficult to get wifi in the hotel and out on the street, which surprised me. I also noticed that the prices in Shanghai for food and souvenirs were much higher than in Hangzhou, which is similar to prices in the U.S. increasing in big cities. Shanghai was very fun and offered a different picture of China than seen in Hangzhou. I would most definitely want to go back and see more of the city!

Tom Abbott

Settling in…maybe??

This blog post was written by Tom Abbott, studying in China this summer.

As a group, we try to take advantage of the time on the weekends as much as possible because the weekdays can be very busy with internships and class, making it difficult to sightsee and experience the city. Saturday afternoon was mostly a relaxing day where people caught up with family and did whatever homework they had. Saturday evening we made our way by bus to one of the night markets in Hangzhou. Taking the bus in China is very easy once you have rode it once or twice. You just have to figure out what bus number you should take and a bus of that number comes to the station every couple of minutes. Its that easy!
Night Market

Night Market

The night market was very interesting. There were dozens of booths selling various items from pearls to watches at very cheap prices. Some referred to the market as the “knock off” market because most items have a brand name on them but are actually fake. The night market was also where I experienced street barbecue for the first time. It was pretty cool and very efficient how they prepared the food that you wished to eat. You selected what you wanted them to cook, gave it to them, and they cooked it! All of the food was on a stick and was grilled on a small griddle off to the side. The food ranged from squid, to chicken, to beef, and some other interesting things that I did not know what they were. Overall, the night market was a very pleasant experience and I plan on going back to buy some gifts for people back home.

The next day was Sunday, and we traveled to the hills

The group hiking near Zhejiang University

The group hiking near Zhejiang University

that are right next to the campus to hike. It is deceiving that these are called hills because we probably climbed some six to eight thousand stairs! It was very tiring but the views from the “hills” were very nice and it was a really enjoyable experience hiking it as a group. We hiked for around 4 or 5 hours as a group of about 10. Along the way many locals stopped and wished to take pictures with the group. We image8visited one of the temples in the mountain which was awesome! Inside the temple was a giant budda statue and they had dozens of candles burning outside the temple area.

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Temple located in the hills near campus

Temple located in the hills near campus

Monday we began our internships and had our first official class period. It was a struggle getting to our internship because we had to take the bus and then walk to get to the office. We ended up getting off at the wrong bus stop and having to call one of the employees to help us arrive. It was no problem though, since it was our first day. My internship seems like it will be beneficial, for I am working in a technology company that makes devices that power electric scooters and motors. I also get to practice my Chinese with the employees. I am starting to finally feel like I am getting into a routine and understanding how the Chinese go about their daily lives.
Tom Abbott

VU Takes on German Engineering

So it’s officially been a week since we started our travels here! Still so beautiful, as you can see from the cover photo! Plus, this week has been super fun.  And that’s not just because we only 3 classes instead of 5 or anything… wink wink. Surprisingly, I ENJOY class. I never thought I would say that. It’s all extremely discussion based where we talk about the different ethical decisions we will have to make and the different dilemmas we will be presented with as engineers.

Anyways, enough talk about class! We were very fortunate to go on two engineering tours this week. We rode the train from Reutlingen to Stuttgart, and got to see the Bahnprojekt. (On a side note, Professor H pointed out to us that the railroad ties were made out of concrete, not wood like in America! Check it out!)railroad ties

To continue, the goal of the project is to create a sort of ‘round-a-bout’ to help the trains go in and out of the Stuttgart train station faster. Also, the whole rail system will be moved underground and additional high-speed trains will be added. In total, the project could cost up to 10 billion euros. Such a HUGE project, all to add additional space to the growing city of Stuttgart. There was a model of what the station would look like and it was really quite an amazing project. There was four main tracks within the station, all underground though. There were many entrances to the underground station from a park surrounding the main station building. They hope to have the project completed by December 2021.

project model                                                     project map

Outside the station, the construction is already started. There was a path and park around the construction, so we walked along it and could see the site. Unfortunately, Monday was a holiday so there was no work being done. The project is quite a process, as they must have pipes and pumps for the ground water, they must put up steel walls while digging, and they must test the dirt. If the dirt is toxic, then they must add bacteria which will take a few years to cleanse the area, which sets the project back a couple of years. I never realized exactly how much work must go into such a project!

construction                                                 statue

After we walked along the paths, we came to some old ruins of an old palace which had been moved to this location. Continuing a little further, we entered a beautiful park. There was a fountain, a pond, and so many flowers! There was a little garden and café. Such a lovely place. This part of the country is so beautiful, I keep going on walks because I can’t get enough of it!

ruins  ruins description IMG_2835

Now onto Tuesday, we had class and then we had free time. Of course us girls went shopping (no dad, I didn’t buy anything! OK.. maybe one thing. I’m a girl. It’s what we do!) while the boys went to a knife shop. After, we all met up and ate dinner and then got one euro gelato! It was delicious!

gelato

On Mittwoch (Wednesday), our lives were changed forever.

Just kidding.

But our views on faucets certainly changed! We visited the small city of Schiltach, Germany, (about 3,000 inhabitants) for a tour of Hansgrohe. This green company produces beautiful, extremely high quality mixers and faucets for tubs, showers, sinks, and kitchen sinks. The company itself was very sharp; around every corner there was a little drink station so if you needed a coffee, water, or cola you could take a break and have one! We took so many coffee breaks during the tour, I definitely felt pampered.

everybody trying out the shower heads

The company is very family oriented, the chances that the current employees are following in their parents footsteps are very high! The pay here is even better in the cities because the town is so small, the company wants to keep their valuable employees there instead of losing them to the city. Everybody we met that was working was so friendly and happy, they really seemed to love their job.

You’re probably wondering what was so amazing. Well, the faucets were incredible! We went through the show room and we saw one of their new products in the making: a clear faucet which has air in it to create a visual vortex. Simply stunning. Also, they had waterfall faucets and rain shower shower heads. I really wanted to take a shower right then and there. Additionally, they have shower heads where you can click between the different shower head effects. My favorite was the one where the water spun as if to give a massage! How nice, I don’t think I would ever leave the shower. Once we had a presentation, we got to test the different shower heads. Hansgrohe has created a shower head with air to help preserve water. With the air effect, it feels as if you are using more water than you actually are. The cool part was when we turned the lights off and shined a light onto the shower heads. You could see the air in between the drops. It looked awesome!

air vortex faucet shower head  air shower head

After we spent awhile messing with the different designs of shower heads, we got a walking tour of the actual factory. There was a huge orange robot to help with different stages such as polishing. We have a similar orange robot in our engineering building! Only much smaller.

Overall, the tour was great. I not only loved seeing the company respect for its employees but I also loved seeing the employees and their families’ loyalty to the company. It’s not something you always see now-a-days. They even gave us a gift for visiting! A towel and flip-flops, so thoughtful.

Since yesterday, we have all been looking at the different types of faucets around the campus. Mostly all of them are Hansgrohe. It’s like a little game, who can find a faucet that is NOT Hansgrohe brand.

It has been a nice relaxing day, reading & writing our papers. Tomorrow is going to be an exciting day! We are going to Munich!!!! I am so excited, but not so excited to wake up at 6 AM. Since high school, I think I forgot how to do that. Oh well, it will well be worth it!

Watch for my next post! Tschüss! (Bye!)

First Impressions

One the many areas for bikes and scooters on campus

One the many areas for bikes and scooters on campus

This blog post was written by Tom Abbott, studying in China for the summer. 

 

The first thing I noticed when I stepped off of the bus was how much commotion there was in the city! There were hundreds of people just on the campus alone that were riding bikes and mopeds. Mopeds are a huge thing here and they even have paths along the road for people to drive them! After we were taken to our rooms and we unpacked, we met up as a group with

Mao Statue on campus

Mao Statue on campus

Professor Jason Hu, who was in charge of setting up our internships, and we went over some logistical stuff with him. After the meeting, I stuck around and practiced some Chinese with him, which really boosted my confidence that I would actually be able to speak and be understood while in China! The first couple nights of sleep were definitely a struggle.

Main entrance to university

Main entrance to university

The first night we arrived, I went to bed around 10:30 pm and woke up at about 2am, thinking it was7am or 8am and was time to get up. I then woke up at about every hour until around 6am when I decided to just get up. The second night my roommate and I returned to our room around 6pm and were just lying around. Ben ended up falling asleep, as did I, for what we intended to be a half hour or hour nap. When we both woke up four hours later at 10pm we both knew that our idea for a short nap had not unfolded as planned… The funniest part about sleeping the first couple nights here was that when our group got together the next morning for breakfast everyone had the exact same thing happen to them as Ben and I did!

Our third day here the group travelled to West Lake and

The group at West Lake.

The group at West Lake.

walked around the entire lake. It was absolutely beautiful, but we underestimated the time it would take to make our way around the lake! It is a big lake… We all agreed that we would pay many more visits to the lake before heading home. All the stories about the locals staring and wanting to take pictures are pretty accurate. One of the guys in the group, Matt Fitzpatrick, was pulled aside by a group of Chinese folks who claimed he looked like a movie star!

West Lake and pagoda.

West Lake and pagoda.

As for the food, everything has been delicious, but it is quite different from the Chinese food in America. Coming from a guy who eats chicken, rice, and veggies for 75% of his meals, I can honestly say that food here is nothing like that in America. The cafeteria in the international dorm provides a wide variety of foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that make it easy to try numerous traditional Chinese dishes. So far my experiences in China have been very good! I have even found a gym where we and some of the other guys who are interested can go and workout for very cheap.

Packing/ Traveling Day

This blog post was written by Tom Abbott, studying in China for the summer. 
image1The thought of being able to travel to China, work in a Chinese company, and take a class at one of the top rated Chinese institutes for a month was more than enough of a reason for me to decide to take part in this awesome summer program through Valpo. Having studied Chinese for more than 7 years, I was overjoyed when I learned of this opportunity and immediately began planning to go on this trip. It did not hit me until the day before I was leaving that I was ACTUALLY going to China! I was very excited, but also a bit anxious because I had never left the country before.
My mom and I began packing probably close to a week image2before I left (she was obsessed with triple checking and making sure I had everything), so when the day came to head to the airport I was definitely not worried about forgetting anything. I met up with the group of Valpo students when I got to the airport and everything up until we boarded went smoothly. There was a mechanical issue when we boarded so our flight got delayed about an hour, which was no big deal. After this, it was time to sit back and relax for the next thirteen hours that we would all be on the plane (yes the plane ride was very long). I ended up sleeping and listening to music for the majority of the flight, which made the time go by somewhat fast.
image3After arriving at the Shanghai Internationalimage4 Airport, we proceeded through customs and met up with Megan, who had taken a separate flight. We then made our way to the bus that was there to transport us to Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. To be honest, I do not remember much of the bus ride, as we were all exhausted at this point in the day and slept for most of the ride. The bus ride turned out to be about another 4 hours and we finally arrived at the university around 8:30pm! Although traveling had completely wiped me and my fellow students out, I was ecstatic to finally be in China and to experience life here!
Tom Abbott

Do we look American? Germany 2015

WOW! Has it already been 5 days since we first started our departure from America?!

Even though we have been here in Reutlingen, Germany, for four days, our sleep schedules are still off. We are tired  and then when it is bedtime.. wide awake! Of course we are not as tired as the first day.. staying up for 30+ hours is much trickier than it sounds. We were lucky enough to have Dean Johnson here the first day we arrived. He gave us a tour of campus and of the town. After, we went downtown for dinner. I do not think any of us expected what we saw. As Professor H and Josh (our “tour guide/translator”) were running ahead of us trying to make our dinner reservations, we were all in awe. Stopping, taking pictures, posing. Sometimes even in the middle of the road! The roads are so small here compared to USA that I didn’t even realize we were in the middle of them (oops!). However, we have been much better with being aware of our surroundings since that first day (don’t worry mom and dad!). The city, for lack of a better word, is so cute! There is a long road which no cars are allowed down. Located along this road are many shops and cafes. The buildings are all different colors, and all the roofs are very triangular and pointy. Such a fun town to walk around.walking downtown

The following day we got a walking tour of the city and downtown. Southern Germany is absolutely beautiful. There are many parks to walk through and within the parks there are darling little cafes to eat at. There is even a golf course at one of the parks but you stand up and play so it’s similar to pool! One of the parks has a life size chess board with pieces; I promise I will play a game of chess on that before I leave. On the walk, we also saw a stunning view of the town. Every building has a red roof, and in the distance we could see Marienkurche (St. Mary’s Church downtown). churchThe church’s oldest parts date back to the 12th century, but unfortunately the interior was destroyed in a fire and has since then been restored. While on our walk through downtown Reutlingen, we got to walk down the narrowest Straße (street) in the world! The street is in the Guiness book of world records, how neat for us to see!narrowest street in the world

While on our walk, we got our first “engineering” tour. We walked by an old mill, and an extremely friendly old man generously welcomed us into his shop and showed us around. It was an old water powered mill from the 1700s, still working today! I really love how the town supports local shops like this one. The man’s English was nearly perfect too, so we really got a good grasp on what was happening and how everything worked. Everybody really enjoyed the little detour.water wheellumber mill

On Sonntag (Sunday), nothing is open except some places to eat. All the grocery stores and clothing stores are closed. Quite different than America. The eight of us went to Penny Mart on Samstag (Saturday) to get food so we could cook dinner Sonntag. When Keith offered to cook us stir fry, we were all quite nervous. The dinner turned out DELICIOUS, much to our surprise. Ha ha, just kidding, we all knew you’d do a great job, Keith! Thank you! It was really a fun time for all of us to gather in the same dorm and eat together. It’s really been a fun few days of bonding and getting to know everyone. I can tell the next few weeks are going to be a blast!

On a side note, all the natives here have been extremely patient and friendly with us. Some speak English, some do not! It is always a fun interaction with everyone because they keep speaking German with us and we keep speaking English with them. Some ask where we are from, and when we say Chicago they get excited. They are all so patient with us too, especially since there are 9 of us who do not speak the language. We all travel in a heard. The ladies in the bakery are especially fun to speak with. We point to what we would like and they get it for us. They laugh, we laugh. We don’t know what we are saying to each other. One thing I’ve learned is that laughter is the same in all languages.

What a beautiful time we are having here.dormsclass

 

Back to the New World

We finally came home after an adventure of a lifetime.  I have made such wonderful and lifelong friends.  There are things about England that I miss, but at the same time there are other things that I appreciate even more about the states.

Land Ho!!! I’ve made it to America.

Double-Decker!

Double-Decker!

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