Amazing China!

Monday, November 15th, 2010
Mark Peking 2Hello, my name is Mark, and I am a Finance and CISB major currently studying in Beijing at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management for Fall 2010. The two months has been challenging as well as very fun—getting an apartment settled, deciding on classes, integrating into the culture, and meeting other students from around the world. The classes here are all taught by professors who were educated in Europe or in America, with a lot of the professors being quite young. I’m taking some finance classes, such as difficult Project Finance, as well as an equivalent of OPMGT 301, as well as some interesting classes such as Doing Business in China and Chinese Economy.

Guanghua Main Building -- Peking University

Guanghua Main Building -- Peking University

Beijing is a very vibrant and interesting city with an official population of around 20 million people! However, I just live a bus away from campus near a subway station, so getting around is quite convenient.

These photos are pictures of Beijing, and some from Tibet, where I went for the weeklong National Day Holiday. China is a very spectacular country where you can experience some of the highest mountains in the world, along with 21st century cities. It is also amazing to see how fast it is developing, with buildings appearing almost overnight. Surprising to some people, Beijing becomes very cold in the winter. It already has been dipping as low as 0°C (32°F), which is far cry from the 30°C (87°F) I experience when I first arrived!
Potala Palace -- Lhasa, Tibet

Potala Palace -- Lhasa, Tibet




Tokyo in 2 Days.

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Thankfully Tokyo is only a night bus away from Akita International University and with only 2 days I was wondering if I could get to all the places I wanted to go.  However, with a little bit of organizational help with the group of friends I went with, I was able to see most of the major tourist sites of the many districts in Tokyo. Some of the districts I went to included:

Akita, Diana1Shibuya
Famous for it’s scramble crossing, it’s definitely a site to see when all cars at the interesction stop and people are allowed to populate the interesction going whatever which way to get to their destionation.  One of the busiest Starbucks in the world also overlooks this scramble crossing, so you get a nice view during rush hour as people try to get home. Shibuya is also home of the Hachiko statue (cute story if you want to look it up) and Shibuya 109 a very large shopping mall popular for girls.

Definitely a great place for tourists because of Nakamise-Dori, the long strip of vendors that sells all different types of souvenirs at reasonable prices.  At the end of all these street vendors is the Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple kept in a traditional Japanese style, which is one of Asakusa crowning icons.

It is definitely not what you imagined if your opinion is based off of what Gwen Stefani portrayed, but there are a handful of people who dress in that style, and many other distinct Japanese styles that roam around this district.  Harajuku is definitely one of the fashion centers of Japan and you can find plenty of stores ranging from the luxurious brands to the street vendors who sell clothing at ridiculously low prices, like the 700 en shop.

Known for having the very wealthy Roppongi Hills area I could sadly only visit Mori Tower.  However, I felt like it was the best leg of the trip because of the amazing view of Tokyo you can see from the 52nd floor, the Mori Art Museum, and the fun Doodle 4 Google contest they had going on when I went.  I spent 3 hours just roaming around and trying to find locations in Tokyo from the view, but nonetheless the time was well spent.

Akita, Diana3There are some other sites I went to, but you should definitely see for yourself.  Being at AIU makes the trip to Tokyo so much more exciting and different.  It’s only been a day, but I definitely can’t wait to go back to Tokyo again.

Akita Adventures: From harvesting rice to teaching English!

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Akita, Diana2Konban wa! My name is Diana Nguyen and I’m studying over at Akita International University (AIU) in Akita, Japan.  Here is my little tidbit about my adventures thus far.  Part of the benefits of studying at AIU is being able to participate in their Community Outreach Services program.  The school establishes partnerships with the Akita community and plans small events and activities that range from being conversation partners with highschool students to harvesting persimmons to watching an Akita traditional dance performance.  It takes no effort on your part other than signing and showing up.  To get a taste of what they have been offering, here are some of the events that I have participated in:

Harvesting Rice
It was such a rewarding experience to actually see where the rice I eat everyday comes from and the process in order to get it to our bowls.  It was also extra special because Akita is known for their delicious rice.  Plus, it was really motivating to see that the elementary students that we were harvesting with were just as eager to help do some manual labor.  My favorite part was seeing the yellow fields of rice, and the end result of our couple hours of harvesting.

Teaching English at Elementary Schools
I hadn’t taught English in this type of setting before so I didn’t really know what to expect.  However, the English teachers were really helpful and walked me through the whole process.  The students were also great because they were so intrigued with the idea of having an international student assist in teaching their English lesson.  I loved answering their questions just because they were so excited to take turns and ask questions from an international student.
Akita, Diana4
Just from those descriptions I hope you can tell that if you come to AIU you’ll have plenty of chances to get in touch with the community and do a lot of meaningful events during your stay abroad.

Ooedo Onsen Monogatari

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

I’m kicking myself now for not trying out a Tokyo onsen sooner.  I had gone to one around two years ago at a hotel in Miyazaki and was just not impressed.  I went with my host family, and it felt like nothing more than an expensive bath where old ladies stare at you because they’ve never seen a white person naked before.  My mistake was assuming that all onsens would be that, well, lame.

Erika (2)Even if you’re not that interested in onsens, I still highly recommend checking out Ooedo Onsen Monogatari.
Japanese site English site

This onsen was recently remodeled and has a very clean, new feeling to it.  While it certainly attracts a lot of foreigners, the majority of the patrons are Japanese.  The entrance fee was cheaper because it’s summer now (about ¥2000) and the food/souvenirs/massages weren’t that bad either!  They give you a key bracelet with a barcode that shop workers will scan when you purchase something extra.  They tally it all up when you leave the onsen so you can walk around and not have to worry about storing your wallet in your yukata (but you can still easily carry your digital camera, etc in the sleeves if you want).

I ate sushi, oden, two iced oolong teas and a giant shaved ice and bought two bath salt packets for omiyage and my total ended up being just short of ¥3000.  The food was very good too, not typical tourist trap food.  That made my total about ¥5000, which is not bad considering it was an all-day affair!  I believe you’d pay considerably more on a trip to Tokyo Disney Land.

There are multiple natural hot spring pools (including outdoor ones) and saunas.  The main baths/saunas and the outdoor footbath are free.  For other things like the sand bath and massages you’ll have to pay extra.  If you’re so inclined, they also have a bath where tiny fish eat the dead skin cells off your feet.  As much as I like trying out “quirky Japan” things, it was one of the more expensive services so I passed.Erika (1)

The nice thing about Tokyo is that they’re much more used to foreigners so there’s no awkward staring (at least to my knowledge) when you’re bathing.  Soap and shampoo is included as are brushes, hair serums and blow dryers afterwards.  I don’t know about the men’s side however, because this is not a mixed-gender onsen. (more…)

Last week at NCCU

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

MorgannaIt’s my last week at NCCU and Taipei, and I’m currently scrambling to get all of my papers, projects, and exams done early this week.  I’ll still have to write a 5-page term paper when I get home (since my professor hasn’t assigned the prompt yet), but other than that, everything’s almost done.

These past 4.5 months abroad has been an amazing eye-opening experience.  As my second time studying abroad, my experience in East Asia has really solidified some of the epiphanies I had during my abroad year in Spain, while also opening my eyes to brand new perspectives on myself, my priorities, and the world surrounding me.

Unlike my first experience, which gave me sights into a future I hadn’t really considered, my exchange at National Chengchi University gave me the opportunity to delve back into my past and take the much-need time to reflect on myself and the path I’ve taken.   I’ve reunited with old friends and made lasting relationships with new ones.  I’ve surpassed all of the expectations I had in coming here and have also ended up with more questions.

With everything I’ve learned, what will I do now and who will I become?

It doesn’t take much to realize that only time will answer these questions. However, with everything I’ve experienced here, at least I know I’ll have the heart and state-of-mind to accept whatever answers life decides to give me.

I’ll miss my friends and the little life I’ve built here, but it’s safe to say that…

I’m ready to go home.

Visiting a Japanese Onsen

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

A trip to Japan is not complete without a visit to a Japanese Onsen (hotspring). I had wanted to go to one, and I knew that I would kick myself if I didn’t have a chance to go. When I heard that a group of students were planning on going to Tazawako (Lake Tazawa), the deepest lake in Japan, I jumped on the opportunity. Due to Japan’s extensive rail system, it was even possible to get there by train. If you are planning on visiting anywhere in Japan, I suggest getting familiar with the train system, and buying a JR Rail-Pass for Golden or Silver Week.

It took 2 and a half hours to get to the lake. We took a bus for the last lag of the journey, and accidentally missed the stop for Tezawako. We decided to just head straight to the Onsen, as it was getting late anyways. No one was sure where the Onsens were, and we didn’t have any Japanese students with us. Someone asked the bus driver where to find the hot springs, and he pointed at a non-descript bus. We hesitantly got onto the bus, and joked about them taking us into the woods and abandoning us.

After a short drive on some of the narrowest roads I have seen, we came to an old looking Japanese building. It was an Onsen, and it only cost 700yen to use. The bus was complimentary. We all relaxed for about an hour, and the water was a nice milky color and smelled like sulfur…it was the real thing. This was a very traditional Onsen, as we got out we saw a woman getting in (she was wearing a towel). We didn’t realize that we were in the non-gender segregated Onsen, so if you think that would be a problem for you, make sure you are going in the right one!

We were going to stop by the lake afterwards, but it had started to rain and it was almost 4pm, so it was getting dark outside. We were all hungry, and Akita is famous for a dish called Kiritanpo, and we had 2 hours to kill before the train would take us back. We figured we could find a good restaurant in the city, and prepared to hike around looking for a restaurant. The search didn’t last long as there was a restaurant 40 yards from the bus stop. The food was delicious, and I got to try horse sashimi (raw horse meat) for the first time, knocking another “things-to-do” item off of my mental list. If only I could stay longer and make it to Hokaido for the snow festival.

While returning, we saw some other exchange students at the train station. We told them about our trip, and they said that they had traveled to a similar Onsen a couple weeks of before. After giving them more details, they were more certain that we had been to the same place. Apparently it was one of Japan’s most traditional, highly rated, and historical Onsens. I did a little research, and confirmed through pictures that the Onsen was called Tsurunoyu Onsen.  It has been around since the 17th century. Considering we didn’t know where we were going, I think we did pretty well.

The trip on a whole was very surreal. I never could have imagined going on such a crazy trip with people from all over the world, who I had just met a couple of months before. It’s one of the great things about studying abroad: getting a chance to meet and spend time with people from all over the world.

China’s 60 Year Anniversary

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Sophia2A month and a half has never flown by so fast in my life, and yet I still feel like I have so much of the city to explore. I would never be bored here. Living in Beijing, I came to realize that even if I went to see ten historical sites a day, I would still not be able to see everything within my semester here in the capital of China. The city is a mixture of the modern and the ancient. Of new-ideals and strong traditions. When talking to the younger generation of China, I noticed that their thinking contrasts so much with that of the older Mao-generation.

Just recently I had the pleasure of witnessing China’s 60 year anniversary. I’ve never been to another country quite like this one. The day before October 1st, the government launched chemicals into the sky so the whole city faced heavy rainfall all day. The next morning I woke up and saw that their plan has worked: Perfect weather. Beautiful blue sky, sunny, cloudless, warm, with a nice breeze. In the month I’ve been in Beijing, I have never seen such nice weather before. This lasted the whole week of the Chinese anniversary. The day of the anniversarySophia (1) the government closed off all of the city center and recommended all families to stay home. My roommate and I tried exploring the city, and it was uncomfortably quite. Not a single car driving past, no street vendors within eye sight, and nobody out on the street. We tried to go to Tiananmen Square where the huge parade was going on, but everywhere security guards stood across the street to block every intersection into city center. Later that day I heard that the Chinese government also canceled all flights in and out of Beijing’s capital airport. That was crazy to imagine. In total, they spent over 60 billion rmb on the parades, which equals to about 9 billion usd. On TV I watched the parades that lasted all day- from when I woke up 9am until midnight. Every public transportation I took, they were playing songs about the “great Motherland” and “I love China”. I couldn’t but help wonder how much of this was just for show.

Anyhow, it was a great experience to see this all take place, since it’s so different from what I’m used to seeing in the States.


Shanghai in Construction

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

BAD NEWS: My trip to Tibet was canceled.

GOOD NEWS: I went to Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing for ½ the cost of the Tibet trip.

Shanghai in Construction #2During the Mid-Autumn Festival, the first week of October, I was supposed to go to Tibet. However, for security reasons, the Government decided to have a quota on how many foreigners can enter Tibet during the national holiday. Unfortunately, we did make it in to the list. I was very disappointed because I’ve always wanted to go to Tibet, to walk around the Potala Palace, to see Mt. Everest’s with my bare eyes.

Since there is no other option, I decided to take a trip to Shanghai and the surrounding cities of Suzhou, Hangzhou and Nanjing with couple of friends from the exchange program. We boarded the train from Beijing the day after my last class. After 14 hours of lying down on the hard-sleeper bunk, we arrived in Nanjing. Nanjing used to be theShanghai in Construction #3 Capital city of China, so it is rich with cultural relics. The following days we visited Hangzhou and Suzhou, which are known for their beautiful lake and river.

Finally, we spent the last three days in Shanghai. I really enjoyed Shanghai. There is a very long shopping street called: Nanjing jie, which is filled with designer’s stores but there are still affordable shops. However, with the upcoming World Expo, there is a lot of Construction to be done. You are able to see construction sites throughout the City. Even though I was in the middle of the construction, I really enjoyed Shanghai scenery, shopping, and Shanghai’s world-famous-dumplings.

Shanghai in Construction

Thinking Back, Looking Forward

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Alan (1)Now that we have already returned back home to Seattle, I’ve been able to gather all of my thoughts about our trip in Beijing. I can honestly say that it was one of the best experiences of my life. I was able to connect with my cultural heritage and see the land of my ancestors with my own eyes. We were able to visit all the former palaces and royal buildings which allowed me to bring those images of all the landmarks to life.  Not only were we able to see historical landmarks but we were able to catch a glimpse of China’s rapid modernization by visiting sites such as the Olympic Park. However magnificent the Watercube and Bird’s Nest looked on television, they were magnified by a Alan100 in person. Not only are the Watercube and Bird’s Nest amazing pieces of architecture, but I really believe that the Olympic Park along with the 2008 Olympics were symbolic of China’s progress as a nation. Especially as a business student, it was great being in China and seeing first-hand what type of advancements the Chinese economy is making. China is already quickly playing a bigger part in the global economy, and this experience in Beijing will most definitely benefit me in the future.

The most valuable thing I left Beijing with however, were all the friendships and connections that I made. Throughout my time in Beijing, I was able to build close friendships with a few local Tsinghua students which are something I will always treasure. With my fellow classmates in the program we were all able to create memories that will last a lifetime. So far since we’ve been back home I’ve stayed in touch with those friends in Beijing through Skype and Facebook, and I have become closer with many of my classmates from the trip. Going into this program, I did not know what to expect and to be honest one of my major concerns were Alan (2)how I was going to get along with everyone. China far exceeded any of the expectations I had and provided me with so many great memories and experiences. As I think about my future career goals, I know that my knowledge of Chinese culture and language will help me no matter what I end up doing. My experiences and time in this program reinforced to me that as business continues to become more and more global, it will be imperative to know multiple languages and be comfortable in international surroundings. For every Foster student I would recommend studying abroad and especially exploration seminars because they have such a short time commitment. I personally guarantee that no matter where the location is, it will provide an unforgettable and worthwhile experience. Thanks and see you again soon Beijing!

“Monolingualism can be cured” – Anonymous

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Interesting quote I found today.  I don’t think monolingualism is a disease, but I do think everyone should try to learn at least one other language in his or her lifetime.


This coming weekend is the Moon Cake Festival, or “Mid-Autumn Festival”.  I’ve already bought my speed rail/bullet train tickets to Taichung and will be spending this weekend with my grandparents and cousins to celebrate the festivities.

An afternoon at Danshui, Taipei, Taiwan

An afternoon at Danshui, Taipei, Taiwan

This will be my first time (that I can remember) being in Taiwan with relatives to celebrate this holiday; I’ve been told there will be a lot of Chinese barbecuing involved?

I’m excited!  I hope to take lots of photos to share with you guys later.

In the last two weeks or so, I’ve had a really great time in Taipei.  I’ve only ever come back to visit family, so I never really made any local friends or really immersed myself into the daily life that is living in Taiwan.  Since moving here and starting school, I’m experiencing a part of Taiwan and Taipei I never got to before; I love it!  Last weekend, I went on a trip to Danshui (the northern part of Taipei) and spent the evening hanging out with some new Taiwanese girl friends: snacking at the Night Market, chatting and joking around, and sitting by the bay enjoying the sunset.  The girls were so sweet and so funny!  I’m really happy to be here, I feel like I’m starting to get reacquainted with a small part of me that I had long forgotten.