Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Whole New Experience (Last Entry)

Day 16 (January 15. Lasted longer than 24 hours because we crossed back over the International Date Line)

Instead of driving to the airport, we were able to take a Magnet Train, the fastest train in the world that travels about 420 km/hour. Our flight back to San Francisco was a few hours shorter that on the way because of a strong tail wind. As we boarded the plane, I couldn’t help but think of how quickly the trip had flown by. In the short amount of time I have been in China, I had done and seen many amazing things. Of the many opportunities I had in China, I was most thankful for the opportunity to try new things and for the opportunity to make new friends from all across the United States.
The man who sat beside me during the flight home was from Shanghai and worked for Intel. As we discussed the reemergence of China onto the global scene, I realized my understandings of the Chinese people had been wrong. I believed they would be oppressed and scared to voice their opinions, but that wasn’t the case at all. More than anything, they were just thankful. They were thankful for the food and jobs that the government had provided them with. The man on the plane said that he believes China and the U.S. will be the two most powerful countries in 20-30 years. I agree. As an American, I want to make sure we stay the most powerful country in the world. The only question is how do we do this? It is a never-ending debate, but I do know that in the future we will have to work closely with many countries. By doing this, we can all make the world a better and stronger place.
My trip to China was amazing! I will never forget all the things I was able to see and all the friends I was able to make. Most importantly, I will never forget the lessons I learned from the experience. These lessons include:

1.Appreciate the blessings of the United States
a. Right of ownership
b. Freedom of speech
c. Right to vote
2.Recognize the importance of governmental agencies such as the FDA, APHIS, USDA, and AMS
3.Importance of working with other countries
4.Think globally
5.Be thankful for clean air and great food
6.Never take for granted Southern Sweet Tea

A Whole New Experience (Entry 15)

Day 15 (January 14, My last day in China)

Even though my journey in China was fast approaching an end, I still had one more jam packed day in Shanghai. First, I was able to visit the Yu Gardens. The Yu Gardens were built by an emperor long ago for his mother. (This makes me laugh since the emperor lived on the other side of the country in Beijing.) Nevertheless, the gardens were an extravagant combination of ingenious architecture and the beautiful sights of nature. They also provided the perfect setting to take pictures. After the Yu Gardens, the rest of the day was full of shopping opportunities. We were able to shop both at the bazaar and on Nanjing Road. Bargaining and negotiating prices were so much fun! If you like chaos and talking, you would love bargaining for things. At times it was intense, but the language barrier was never a set-back in purchasing many items for very low prices. I definitely bought more than I should have because the challenge of seeing how cheap you could get things was irresistible. While negotiating, it was important to stay in groups because some of the backrooms could be dangerous. Thankfully, FFA is full of chivalrous boys and they kept an eye on us. To wrap up our incredible time in China, we had a farewell dinner followed by a Chinese acrobat show. The acrobats were both graceful and talented. Their stellar performance provided the perfect end to what had been a memorable, exciting, educating, and unforgettable trip to a land most people only read about in books.

Day 14 (January 13)
Before heading back to Suzhou, we had a full day planned in Suzhou. The first stop was a large duck farm that sold approximately 150,000 ducks each year. The room where the baby ducks were housed was heated by pipes with hot water throughout the room. The farm was located along the water, which made it especially cold, yet there was still no electric heat at the facility. Next up, we visited a tea farm where all the tea leaves were picked by hand. When talking to the owner, we mentioned the use of large machinery to pick help with the work. This seemed like a foreign concept because labor in China is cheaper than purchasing equipment. Additionally, the bushes were not planted in rows or any sensible order which would make the use of large equipment virtually impossible. To wrap up our time in Suzhou, we visited the Suzhou Silk Institute. Here I witnessed the process of making silk from silk worm cocoons. The silk worms spin a cocoon, and the cocoon are then spun back out. It takes eight cocoons to make one thread of silk. These eight cocoons are woven together and then dyed to make into clothing, purses, jewelry, and blankets. Thankfully, there was a large store full of silk products for purchase, and I was able to collect many things to remember this part of my trip to China. After finishing our journey in Suzhou, we drove back to Shanghai. Although it was a pretty long bus ride, you can always count on FFA members to find a way to occupy the time with some stand-up comedy and karaoke. After arriving in Shanghai, it was time to catch a boat for a night tour of the city on the Yangtze River. It was once again cold outside, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying the beautiful sights of Shanghai. As can be expected from a city with a population of 19 million, there were skyscrapers as far as the eye could see. Thanks to the many large buildings and the Chinese people’s love for neon lights, the city was absolutely gorgeous at night!

A Whole New Experience (Entry 13)

Day 13 (January 12)

One of my favorite parts of flying within the US is being able to look out and see the clouds in the blue sky. Flying out of Xian, it is difficult to see anything but a thick layer of smog covering the city. It reminded me of the smoke that is in the kitchen when I accidentally drop cheese in the bottom of the oven. The only difference is the smog stays much longer. Nevertheless, we flew safely through the smog to Shanghai. Shanghai is home to over 19 million people and until recently was home to the tallest building in the world. (Dubai now has the title.) Although we would eventually return to Shanghai, we didn’t stay long. Instead, we traveled, by bus, to Suzhou. Suzhou is often called Little Venice or Venice of the East because it is built along a system of canals. The city of Suzhou is dependent on the canals for the prosperity of the city. Our first stop in Suzhou was one of Asia’s largest dry noodle and beverage manufacturers. There I was able to see the process of manufacturing and distributing large quantities of food. Output at the facility was so huge that for every second production was stopped, the company would lose thousands of dollars. After visiting the noodle factory, we went on a boat cruise down the canals of Suzhou. The term cruise brings to mind many things, but our “boat cruise” was not one of them. I should preface my description by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the tour of Suzhou. It was fascinating to see the architecture and history of an ancient Chinese city. It was also enlightening to see the way the people of Suzhou live. The water in the canals was brown with absolutely no transparency and despite the condition of the water; people still bathe in the canals. As we slowly rode through Suzhou, we also saw some of the markets where fish and vegetables were sold. In America, we obviously have the safest food supply in the world, but it is hard to realize how unsafe it is in other countries until you see it for yourself. Seeing the markets made me thankful, once again, for government agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Agricultural Marketing Service. It was with a feeling of gratitude for American agriculture that I ended the day.

A Whole New Experience (Entry 12)

Day 12 (January 11)
On our last day in Xian, our plans had to change slightly as a result of the H1N1 virus. We had planned to visit Northwestern A&F University to discuss global agriculture with the students, but because there was a case of the virus at the school, we were unable to visit. Instead we went to Xinfandi Corporation, an agricultural facility with the most innovative and advanced technology in the Chinese agriculture industry in China. Sounds impressive! (Or so we thought) When we arrived, our buses had to park about a mile away from the facility because the roads were not suitable to drive on. As we walked up, all I could see were greenhouses, not stainless steel greenhouses with advanced computer technology, just basic tarp-covered greenhouses. They were literally mounds of dirt built up just enough to walk into. The most innovative technology at this farm was rolls of plastic that rolled down automatically from the top of the greenhouse when the weather got cold.
The FFA Creed says the words “I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life…” I believe that one of the best traditions in American agriculture is progress. Each and every day we make advances in agricultural technology. We invent bigger and better equipment and crops that have larger and safer yields. This is what makes American agriculture so strong. In China, the agriculture industry is content with the technology that has been around for 20-30 years. Only recently did the Chinese people realize the need for progress. Because they are home to nearly 20% of the world’s population, it is essential that Chinese agriculture begin to make advancements. America also has much better living conditions than China. We had the opportunity to visit the home of one of the owners of Xinfandi Corporation. His home was much nicer than others in the area yet it still had no heating, cooling, or indoor plumbing. We also noticed that the homes did not seem to be built practically either. There was very little insulation in the home and all floors were tile. The owner said that this was because comfort was at the bottom of the list of priorities for the Chinese people. He said that honoring his country and providing for his family came first. Because we rarely have to work about our basic needs in America, we often put too much emphasis on being comfortable. I feel very blessed to have food, clothing, and shelter, but by seeing the lifestyle of others, I can now appreciate the other luxuries I have been blessed with. Before wrapping up our time in Xian, we had to make one more stop, The Wild Goose Pagoda. The Wild Goose Pagoda is a famous Buddhist monastery. On our tour of the monastery, we were able to see the artwork of the monks and climb to the top of the 7 story pagoda. I was puzzled to see a swastika symbol on many of the Buddha statues. This is because long before Nazi Germany used the symbol, it meant luck and prosperity in the Buddhist religion. My favorite part of the Wild Goose Pagoda was its close proximity to a Dairy Queen. Thankfully, we had time to stop by Dairy Queen and satisfy my sweet tooth before heading back to the hotel.

Day 11 (January 10)

After a night on the not so soft-sleeper train, we arrived in the fascinating city of Xian. Xian, like most cities in China, is very old and has a rich history. The entire city is enclosed in a rectangular shaped city wall that was built for protection from invaders. Another reason for Xian’s fame is the discovery of Emperor Qin Shi’s tomb. In 1974, farmers outside of Xian were digging a well and came across a terracotta warrior army. Soon the Chinese government funded a project to unearth the army and the late Emperor’s tomb. Although government funding ceased after only 1/3 of the estimated army had been discovered, it is still a fascinating tourist destination. After visiting the museum of terracotta warriors, we were able to ride bikes around Xian’s city wall. It was here that I first noticed the thick smog that is a result of many years of air pollution. The smog hanging over the city was so think that it was difficult to take deep breaths. Many of the city’s residents wore face masks to protect their lungs from the harmful pollution. Even though it was difficult to breathe in the city, it is not difficult to eat. Xian is home to a famous dumpling restaurant where we tasted 18 different kinds of Chinese dumplings. While tasting the flavors ranged from pork and seafood to walnut and cabbage we also enjoyed a traditional Chinese dancing performance. The interpretive dance and explanations provided me with the opportunity to see just how much pride the Chinese people had in their history and culture.

Day 10 (January 9. My favorite day of the trip.)

Our last day in Beijing was unforgettable. We began the day with a visit to the Cloisonné Factory. Cloisonné is a type of Chinese artwork that is made from different types of metal that is heated and then shaped and painted by hand into exquisite pieces. I was fascinated by the intricacy of each piece of art. Thankfully, the factory had an extensive collection available for purchase in their gift shop so I was able to pick up a few gifts for my mom and sisters. Next on the agenda, was the part of the trip I had been waiting for (insert drum roll)… climbing the Great Wall of China. In history class, I had read about the Great Wall, but as I stood on the last remaining wonder of the ancient world, I was speechless. Spanning over 3600 miles, the Great Wall is the only man made structure that can be seen from space. It was built to keep out invaders from Mongolia and other barbaric countries of ancient times. Now it stands as a testament to the rich history of one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Several members of our group decided to climb to the top of the section of the wall, but I was content climbing only halfway up so that I had plenty of time to take pictures to document this once in a lifetime experience. After saying farewell to the Great Wall of China, we headed to a place where I could easily spend a week and a few years’ salary, The Pearl and Jade Factory. Thanks to a strong American dollar (in China at least) I did not leave either place empty handed. {If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, pearls are a very close second!} During the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the world watched in awe as the Beijing transformed with the additions of the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. Although the buildings are rarely used now, they are brilliant works of art. Before leaving Beijing, I was privileged enough to see both buildings. No Chinese experience would be complete without tasting the various tea flavors. At a tea-tasting ceremony, I was able to taste many flavors of hot tea. The tea flavors ranged from bitter to sweet to mint and everything in between, and each tea would supposedly cure various ailments. Our last stop in the capital city of China was a shoppers dream. Although the market had no name, it was another place where I could easily spend a week without getting bored. The first floor of the market was full of purses. Coach, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Gucchi were a few of the brands represented. The second floor was an array of Ralph Lauren, North Face, True Religion, and other brands of shirts, jackets, coats, and jeans. I hear that the fourth and fifth floors were full of shoes and sunglasses, but I didn’t have time to make it that far. (I should clarify by saying that all of these items were fake, but they were really good fakes.) It was with a lighter wallet and a happy heart that I left Beijing on a soft sleeper train headed for Xi-an, in the Shaanxi province of China. Even though a room for 4 on the train was smaller than one of my closets at home, and the beds were harder than a piece of plywood, 50 FFA members can have a blast anywhere!

Day 9 (January 8)
I have never loved American breakfasts so much in my life. It provided another great start to my second full day in the People’s Republic of China. Today was full of agricultural related visits. It started with visits to the largest fruit, vegetable, and meat market in Beijing. These markets provide food for most of the large hotels and restaurants in the area. This was not something I enjoyed hearing since the markets were absolutely disgusting. Since there are very few regulations in China, the quality of the food supply is much lower than in America. Also, the poverty level in China made fruit, vegetables, and meat a luxury to most people. In the meat market, I noticed there was very little beef. Most of the meat was poultry, swine, or fish. This is because beef is more expensive than other meats. After visiting the markets, we went to Beijing beautiful botanical gardens. The gardens were a gorgeous showcase of native plants. Also at the gardens, scientists worked on developing better plant technology. They were discovering grafting, cutting, and other ways to increase plant and crop production. In America, we developed this technology years ago, but the Chinese are beginning to make significant progress in the plant industry. After another genuine Chinese lunch, (mostly rice for me) we went to tour a dairy farm on the outskirts of Beijing. I noticed that once again there were very few regulations, and even fewer regulations were enforced. Our last agriculture related stop of the day was to a soybean research facility. Although the language barrier was hard to overcome, it was nice to see the first clean and sanitary food production facility of the trip. For dinner, we experienced one of Beijing’s most famous cuisines, Peking duck. Peking duck seemed to me like an uncooked fajita. It is duck and cucumber wrapped in a tortilla shell and dipped in a peculiar sauce. Apart from the sauce, I believe it would have been a tasty meal, but the sauce was difficult to forget. Nevertheless, white rice was sufficient.

Day 8 (January 7)
Jet lag has nothing on me because I had no problem sleeping through the night (which would be day time in the States). First up on the day’s agenda … breakfast, American style! We had cereal, orange juice, doughnuts, and even an omelet chef. Then we left to face the bitter cold. North Florida may be the coldest part of the state, but below zero weather is way out of my comfort zone. My fingers and toes lost all feeling after about five minutes, and everything else soon followed. Nonetheless, Beijing has too much to see to be hindered by the cold. We started off at the Temple of Heaven. This is a place where the ancient Emperors could come to pray or offer sacrifices to Buddha. Next, we went to Tiananmen Square. I was absolutely in awe as I stood in the place where about 3,000 people lost their lives in anti-communist protests. Although the rest of the world calls it the Tiananmen Square Massacre, in China, it is referred to as the June Fourth Incident. On the edge of the square, a picture is hanging of China’s Chairman Mao, the first Chairman of the Communist Party in China. Even though most of the world views Mao Zedong as a tyrant, our tour guides explained that the Chinese people had great respect for him and the things he had done for the country. His body remains frozen in a museum to the edge of the square. From there we walked to the Forbidden City where the most important building in Chinese history is located. The entire area was covered with the most intricate artwork. Even the trees were planted to create unique and beautiful designs. Every detail on the buildings is significant to Chinese history in some way. The Forbidden City, I learned, was home to Chinese Emperors for over five centuries and remains to be the largest collection of preserved ancient structures in the world. Each building had up to 10 ceramic animals on the corners of the roof. The number of animals represented the importance of the building. In the center of the city was the building where the Emperor would sit to make decisions, and this is the only building with 10 animals.
After another interesting lunch, we visited the U.S. embassy for a briefing from the USDA attaché. We learned a great deal about the reemergence of China into the global scene, the growing yet still under-developed Chinese agriculture, and changing Chinese education system. The day wrapped up with a visit to a large (by Chinese standards) cattle farm with about 2,000 head of beef cattle. Seeing the cattle, I was reminded of pictures I had seen of American cattle about 50 years ago. These cattle were short and stocky because of the lack of modern genetic technology. The owners of the farm also ran a beef Hot Pot Restaurant. It reminded me of the Melting Pot, only you cooked your meat and vegetables in boiling water not cheese or other flavorful sauce. After a nice dinner, I learned one distinct stereotype of Americans. The Chinese think that Americans love to sing and dance. This is definitely true with a group of FFA members, even if the music is in another language. Before we knew it, a disco ball had dropped from the ceiling and all of our waitresses and cooks began passing out microphones and dancing around the room. Dancing with Chinese people to Chinese techno in China…a perfect end to a great day, and an experience I will never forget!

A Whole New Experience (Entry 7)

Day 7 (January 5 whichs becomes January 6 after crossing the International Date Line)

I used to think that a 4 hour plane ride was long. Not anymore. A 12 hour plane ride across the Pacific Ocean seems to drag for quite some time, but thanks to John Grisham and some Tylenol P.M., I arrived in Beijing partially well rested. Driving through the city, I was amazed at the size of the city. The larger Beijing area has a population of over 17 million, and if it wasn’t for the Chinese symbols, the city could have passed for Los Angeles or New York. I also noticed that the air quality was much better than I expected, but this was because Beijing had done a great deal of work to decrease the amount of smog in the air before the 2008 Summer Olympics. Our hotel in Beijing was considered 4-Star, and was without a doubt the nicest hotel I had ever stayed in. Before time for bed, the hotel staff turned down the sheets and set out slippers and robes. Also, there were light switches located beside the bed. What an ingenious idea?! After a few minutes spent freshening up, it was time for my first authentic Chinese dinner. First came the tea, and let’s just say it wasn’t like my mama’s Southern Sweet Tea. (Southern Sweet Tea is a proper noun and should be capitalized. If you don’t think so, try hot tea with no sugar.) The rest of the meal consisted of cuddle fish, which was literally whole baby fish in a strange jelly substance. Also included was an attempt at American spaghetti, and very bland wheat bread. (Good thing I brought plenty of Slim Jims and peanut butter crackers with me! )

A Whole New Experience (Entry 6)

Day 6 (January 4)
Our last day in the United States was filled with training. Growing up in the small town of Chipley may have exposed me to many things, but foreign culture is not one of them. This is why it was so important to learn more about Chinese culture and Chinese agriculture before setting out across the Pacific. During our orientation, we studied the basics of table and conversational manners and of course, how to use chopsticks. Some things I was fascinated to learn were:

1.Squat Toilets (That’s right! Western style toilets are rare in China. These are literally a hole in the ground.)
2.Cigarette Usage (80% of the men in China smoke.)
3.Water quality (Because the nutrients in the water are drastically different than in the US, we could not drink the water. This also meant that we needed to brush our teeth with bottled water and stay away from ice in our drinks.)

Day 5 (January 3)
I had one more full day in San Francisco, and thanks to the BART (public transportation system), I was able to see a few more things around the city. First up was Lombard Street, which is the curviest street in America. No trip to San Francisco would be complete without a ride on the cable cars, so we rode down to Fisherman’s Wharf to rent bikes. After renting tandem bikes, we rode from Fisherman’s Wharf and to the Golden Gate Bridge. We even rode over the Golden Gate Bridge which is a beautiful site. I was surprised to see how massive the bridge actually was. Because we had to ride back to the wharf to return our rented bikes, our trip totaled about 10 miles! On our way back to eat dinner at Pier 39, we witnessed a live “street break dance show”. (Interesting yet still quite impressive)! All in all, I was glad I had gotten to see so many things in the beautiful city of San Francisco.

A Whole New Experience (Entry 4)

Day 4 (January 2)

Fortunately, my next trip to the airport went far better than the last. Of course, it is pretty difficult to mess up the short flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco. After successfully landing in San Francisco, I went with the State Presidents from New York, Tennessee, Illinois, and Nebraska to do some sightseeing around the city. San Francisco has more sights than anyone could see in a day. Thankfully, we had two, but even that would be pushing it. On our first day, we were able to eat clam chowder at the famous Pier 39 and get some great pictures of Alcatraz Island.

Day 3 (January 1, 2010)

The day of the Tournament of Roses Parade had finally arrived! Only a few short hours after ringing in the New Year, it was time to eat breakfast and line up with the other parade participants. Because we were near the end of the line of floats, we waited for quite some time even after the parade began, but before I knew it, the parade was underway. Literally, thousands of people lined the streets. Each of them cheered and shouted words of admiration for the float and all of the representatives. The first four miles went by very quickly. We walked, smiled, and waved as we enjoyed seeing all of the spectators and other parade entries. The fifth mile became more difficult as the heat, lack of sleep, and blisters on my feet began to catch up to me. Thankfully, the crowd was excited enough to keep us pumped up throughout the last two miles. Even hours after the parade had ended, I was still smiling. Not only did I have a great time walking in the Rose Parade, but the RFD/FFA float helped the entire country to see the importance of agriculture and the National FFA Organization. Then, as if RFD-TV was not already generous enough, they also bought tickets for all of us to attend the Rose Bowl game. What an exciting experience?! Although I am fairly neutral when it comes to Ohio State and the University of Oregon, I decided to cheer on the Buckeyes. It turned out to be the right decision as the Ohio State Buckeyes as they claimed the Rose Bowl Trophy. Walking in a parade viewed by millions and attending one of the most widely recognized football games certainly made for an eventful day that I will never forget.
Day 2 (December 31, 2009)

2009 went by very fast, and New Year’s Eve, my first full day in Pasadena, was no different. After waking up early, we headed to the parade grounds where all the floats were housed. The artistry on each float was amazing. Floats had everything on them from blowfish to combines and everything in between. Each one was intricately designed to represent the organization or group of people who it was for. The larger part of the day was spent staying around the RFD-TV/ FFA float answering questions for observers and posing for pictures. The successful day (and the entire year of 2009) wrapped up with a New Year’s Eve bash planned by the National Officers.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Whole New Experience (Entry 1)

Hello Readers,

On December 30, 2009, I began a journey that would take me across the United States and eventually across the world. During this time, I was able to experience new food, new cultures, new political views, and make many new friends! During the time I was traveling, I kept a journal so I could share my experiences with you upon my return. I had the time of my life and will never forget this incredible experience! I hope you enjoy reading!

Day 1
Off to a great start… well, sort of.
1:30 (CST) am – Wake up.
2:30 (CST) am – Leave for the Tallahassee Regional Airport.
5:00 (EST) am – Arrive at the airport for a 6:20 flight that has been delayed until 7:42.
7:42 – Find that my flight has been delayed yet again.
9:17 – Find that my flight, with no plane and no crew, has been delayed indefinitely.

Because my flight has been delayed indefinitely, I am forced to rearrange my flight schedule for the day, and unfortunately for me, all flights into the two airports nearest to Pasadena are full. By this point I have to resort to plan… M. Plan M, thanks to an incredibly helpful Delta employee named Robert, includes me flying from Tallahassee to Atlanta, Atlanta to Salt Lake City, and from Salt Lake City to Ontario. (Not Canada. Apparently there is an Ontario, California.)From there I would take a bus into Pasadena. For a while, this plan seemed to be working out well. I was even upgraded to First-Class for my flight from Atlanta to Salt Lake City. (I must say that I quite enjoy flying First-Class. Better food. Better service. And much better seats.) Unfortunately, my luck ran out when I arrived at the snow covered airport in Utah. You see, my flight to Ontario had been delayed because of weather which meant I would then miss my bus to the hotel in Pasadena. Thankfully, I met another helpful Delta employee who was able to squeeze me onto a flight to Los Angeles. Upon my arrival in LA, I was informed that somewhere in the conundrum of my day, Delta Airlines had misplaced my luggage, but they would be happy to bring it to my hotel when it was located. It was certainly a hectic day, but I decided that instead of being sour, I would consider myself lucky to have been in new airports, met new people, and have a hands-on lesson in making the most of my resources. And the day was just getting started…

After arriving safely (yet still luggage-less) in Pasadena, I was able to meet up with the other 50 state representatives to put the final touches on the FFA/RFD-TV float. The float was absolutely amazing! Every inch of the float surface had to be covered with natural organic products. There were flowers, plants, and produce in every size, shape, and color (including Florida oranges). Seeing the float and the excitement of everyone involved definitely made my stressful day worthwhile. By the way… my luggage finally arrived but not until 1:00 a.m.