Posted by: Mara Kimmel | May 25, 2010

May 18, 2010 – Beijing on our last day

By Kyla Byers, Environment and Society Major, UAA

Kyla sketching on the Great Wall

Today, May 18th, is our last day in China. In the morning we went to visit the Temple of Heaven. Built in 1420, it consists of  expansive grounds containing gardens, pavilions and temples, all painted with the common red walls and intricate green, gold and blue ceilings depicting dragons and other Chinese designs. We visited the Temple of Good Harvest and the Circular Altar where the emperors would give their speeches. The altar is constructed of three marble tiers, at the center of which the emperor would stand. It was designed to amplify his voice to make it seem as if God were speaking. As we wandered through the park we also came across some interesting public group dancing reminiscent of country line dancing but without a partner as well as old men playing single stringed instruments competing with each other to be heard in a small park.

In the afternoon we went shopping to get last-minute gifts and trinkets. Our first stop was an indoor market where the vendors competed voraciously for our business. In one encounter, I was grabbed when I tried to walk away from a bargaining session as the vendor demanded I make another offer. Being a laid back shopper intimidated by this sort of tactic I quickly moved away. Down the next aisle I was quoted a quarter of the price for the same thing from a woman who had overheard the “bargaining” and bought it from her instead. Shopping in an outdoor market later that afternoon was less stressful although we were caught in an unexpected downpour. Without raincoats or umbrellas we attempted to stay dry by “awning hopping.” Eventually we gave up and embraced our fate, walking down the middle of the flooding street in search of our comrades and a dry place to sit. We found them warm and dry in a café where we waited together. Once the short-lived downpour subsided we did a few last minutes of power shopping before hurrying back to the bus. It took us back to the hotel where we were confined for the evening to pack and get some rest before our too early morning start on the long journey back to Alaska.

The UAA Study Tour at the Temple of Heaven

Posted by: Mara Kimmel | May 25, 2010

May 14, 2010 – The Great Wall and Chengde City

The Great Wall at Jinshanling

China, An Intertwined Wall

By Dayana Hankins, International Studies Major, UAA

Dayana Hankins listening to a presentation

As we were riding to Chengde City, our destination for today, Teacher Song explained to us a brief history of China and the Great Wall.  China is certainly a country full of history, tradition, and culture; but most of all, a country built with a great amount of manpower and vision.

When we arrived to Jinshangling Great Wall, we were given two hours to climb the wall as far as we could get.  As I was walking I realized that the wall has two sides: the original old one made at the beginning of the Qin dynasty, and the new one that is constantly being reconstructed.  Certainly, China’s definition could be simply represented in this amazing wall; a long deep history that has endured thousands of years of history and war, and a new China that thrives to keep up with modernity and reconstruction.  China a great legacy to the world was built with an incredible amount of manpower, a common vision and a consistent sense of efficiency in the past as it is today.  Just as the wall is a combination of the old and the modern, the rural and the urban, the past and the present, so is China.  These two sides are mixed and form one China, one country that is booming and becoming an empire as it was in the beginning of the time.

The Wall seems to have no ending, from a mountain I could see the shape of the dragon as teacher Song told us; a symbol of power. We had to go because we needed to follow our itinerary.  Thirty minutes before arriving to the Hotel, we had a flat tire and we had to wait for approximately an hour and could not make it to the Royal Summer palace.  Nevertheless, we had extra time to walk around the city and go to get a foot massage with the girls, and we were treated with a delicious dinner that consisted in different kinds of dumplings.  Today I experienced a sacred adventure.

Posted by: Mara Kimmel | May 25, 2010

May 13, 2010 – Yuexi

The Vegetable and Meat Market of Yuexi

By Nathan Welker, Environment and Society Major, UAA

Nathan sharing a small gift with a new friend

The day started with a neat adventure to the city market. We got breakfast from street venders on a road that collected the aromas of noodles and fried bread. The street was immensely busy, full of all kinds of traffic and street performers. Then just a few minutes’ walk farther we experienced a very different market.  In a cramped sheltered area of Yuexi we walked along vast amount of produce. All were handpicked, hand raised, hand grown, hand carried products. These people were selling the fruits of their labor, and were laboring to sell, it was a sight to see. The quantity of food was jaw dropping. Hundreds of farmers were selling their goods, attempting to make a better life for their families. Some were very well off with hundreds of dollars in goods, other were struggling and had only a few goods. The most interesting of which were a bags of live hedgehogs, bowls of live eels, and traditional hard tofu. In all the villages we’ve seen and projects we’ve visited there’s an abundance of agriculture. Learning about the hard work that is put into the farms at least 10 hours a day 7 days a week was impressive enough. What we were seeing was people living hard lives to stay above the poverty line, and an economy that was being carried on the back of these labors. People are now being allowed more control of their land and what they produce. These agricultural reforms have increased the standard of living for farming communities and increased food security.

Acrobatics at the Market

Comparison of Major Cities to Small Cities
Our experience not only included rural villages, but also larger Chinese cities. We were submerged in the culture and were able to take an objective view on the impact of foreign influences. Shanghai, a
modern, internationally famous city was impressive to see. This incorporation of modern technology allowed for more business opportunities, a larger upper and middle class, big job markets, and
lower unemployment. An interesting observation I had was that the people in Shanghai seemed to be moving at a faster pace. There was a huge pop culture in this city and tradition was no longer a way of life, but a novel product which business capitalized on. It seemed that, throughout other large cities, Chinese culture was like a religion to the citizens. However, in Shanghai, this religion of sorts was
acknowledged, yet had very little relevance to their fast-paced city life. Production and economic growth were the main focus of all of the large cities, working towards becoming one of the largest
international powers of the new millennia. Because of this incredible goal, people are encouraged by the governments and central party to forget the past and look towards the future, despite being surrounded
by art, tradition, monuments and other historical memorabilia. In the city of Beijing, development was overwhelming – streets stacked on streets, miles of apartment complexes, little sense of community. Historical monuments were often torn down to accommodate expansion. However, outside of these concrete jungles, we experienced life in smaller cities and towns that were more secluded from international influences and foreign business markets. Where we were, people had pride for China. They promoted China’s greatness with slogans on buildings, paired with government propaganda such as, “Order is the tutelary God of City.” The government, as aforementioned, encouraged production, and its proud citizens were committed to their diligent work.

In Yuexi and Chegde, two cities of approximately half a million people, people began their fast-paced days at 7 in the morning. The streets were noisy and the citizens focused on making a living. While
materialism was apparent with an abundance of hair salons and clothing stores, the market was mostly driven by local farmers commuting to sell goods, businessmen working in stores and factories, and young people looking for work. When night fell, the city would shut down. Very few stores would remain open and only taxis were seen on the roads. Young people would walk and friends would relax and socialize in closed stores or at home.

Posted by: Mara Kimmel | May 25, 2010

May 12, 2010 – Jintang and Laibang Villages

Walking up the road in Laibang

Ed. Note: The following information on Yuexi Projects is provided by Heifer International China

Yuexi County, a state-designated county of poverty, is located in the southwest part of Anhui province and is a typically mountainous area with only 5% arable land. The arable land is mostly terraced or sloping fields with separate small pieces and sandy soil that can hardly hold water, soil and fertilizer. Frequent floods and droughts cause tough conditions for farmers. The total farming population is 398,000, with only 0.6 mu (0.09 acre) per capita. The farmers’ net income is US $202 per capita, on average. There is a population of 97,000 living with incomes under US $105 per capita. There are 8,423 people and 2,300 households in three target villages, with a population of 2,505 living under US $105 per capita annually.


By Lang Van Dommelen, Political Science Major, UAA

Putting the experiences we had in China into words is a difficult thing. So much of what we witnessed runs so deep words seem to defy them. However, here is an attempt to describe one event of one day in China. On May 12th, we visited a small community that had never had foreign visitors before, there we were able to take part in one of the most important tenets of Heifers projects, a passing on the gift ceremony.

Passing on the Gift in Jintang Village

The ceremony was not long, but was incredibly moving. The farmers who were passing the gift, brought squealing piglets decked in red ribbon to the receiving families. There was so much pride in these farmers eyes and speeches, they were able to pass the means to a better life to families who needed it. It was an amazing thing to see. Words really cannot do it justice, these men and women were coming together to share, to help each other. Seeing a community was so strong and tight knit, gave me hope for humanity, these people took pride in helping others.

Lang and Diana testing out their piglet savvy

While the ceremony here was just an amazing thing to witness, I never once imagined that I would get the opportunity to be a part of it as more than a witness, I was wrong. Three of us, myself, James and Diana, were given the chance to pass a pig to a villager. This pig was symbolic of our relationship to the people we were meeting, and a symbol of friendly relations between the United States and China. The feelings that accompanied this are like everything else hard to describe. All I know is that what I experienced that day, and all of the other days in the villages, opened my eyes, and gave me hope for humanity.

Dabie Mountains

Ed. Note – the following information is provided by Heifer China:

Dabie Mountain area is located on the border of Hubei province, Henan province and Anhui province. It was divided by Yangzi River and Huai River. Its geographical position is between the north latitude 30°10’~32°30′, east longitude 112°40’~117°10′, average elevation 500~800 meters. Dabie Mountain is a remote area in Anhui. Because of its hard traffic, sparse population and bad infrastructure construction, it’s difficult to communicate with people outside, and chances to improve economic development is rare. Dabie mountain is one of the poorest areas in Anhui province. More than 37% of poor people in Anhui province live in this area. The project sites of Yuexi, Huoshan and Taihu counties are all in this area; these three counties are also considered State Poverty-Stricken Counties.


By Diana Deausen, International Studies: Northeast Asia Track, and History Major at the University of Alaska Anchorage

Terracing and Tea

Today is the first project we visited.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was very excited to meet the villagers and see how Heifer has changed their lives.  After a long and bumpy drive up the mountain, we found ourselves in a beautiful village met by very excited farmers.  We were escorted into one of the family’s house, where we exchanged greetings and introductions and learned how Heifer has changed their lives by incorporating a new system of pig penning which ultimately cleaned up their village.  Soon after the greetings, we were in for a treat: tea leave plucking.  As a tea lover, I was very excited to work side by side with the villagers and learn about where the tea I buy comes from.  The village women sang songs while we were tea leave plucking and I truly felt honored to be in the company of such amazing people.  For lunch, the villagers prepared for us a lavish Chinese village feast.  It was a banquet consisting of local vegetables and pork raised by the village; this was not your standard Chinese-American food.

Lunch at Dabie Mtn.

After lunch, we met with families to ask about how Heifer changed their lives and what they have accomplished.  The Heifer projects in the village focuses on pig penning and self-help groups and after meeting with Mr. Lee and Mr. Zeng, both pig farmers, you could tell how proud they were of what they have accomplished: a cleaner village and increased income.  Mr. Zeng’s wife is a member of the women’s self help group which includes activities such as animal management and women’s only training.  She is grateful for the self-help group now that the women in the village have become empowered and can now make decisions within the village.  In the future, Mr. Lee and Mr. Zeng are hoping to build a new house and helping the village build a permanent bridge.  Soon after the interviews, we departed Dabie Mountain with new friendships and a once in a lifetime experience.

Posted by: Mara Kimmel | May 24, 2010

May 15, 2010 – Shi Cao Gou Village

Shi Cao Gou Village Welcomes UAA students

Ed. note: the following excerpt is provided by Heifer Int’l. China:

Shi Cao Gou Village is in the southwest part of Chengde Municipality, 120 km away from the city. About 167 acres of arable land and 933 acres of grassland and forest has, for a long time, sustained its 547 people in 146 households, 95% of whom are Han nationality and five percent are Man nationality. Villagers mainly grow corn and beans, but are also engaged in animal husbandry. Frequent droughts and poor animal breeds have long affected their income and made them dependent on government relief. In 2005, the annual average income of the village was RMB 596 (US$74) per capita. Most families have trouble paying for their children’s tuition fees and their parents’ medical bills.


Blog Entry May 15, 2010

Meneka Thiru gives thanks while Teacher Song interprets

My name is Meneka Thiru and I am an International Studies and Spanish major. Today, on our ninth day in China, we drove from Chengde to the village of Shicagou to visit our last project site of the trip. As we drove into the village, we were greeted by the town’s women who were wearing traditional costumes in green and red. Bearing colorful fans, they escorted us into the village to a sort of town square, which sat in front of the community center the village had put together since Heifer’s arrival. We were seated behind a table and the ladies then performed a traditional dance. Performed might be the wrong word; we were quickly encouraged to join in and it was more participatory rather than spectator-based. After the dance (which was incredibly fun once one got the hang of it) we were welcomed by the community leaders and project partners. Dorn and Mara asked me to speak on behalf of the group to give thanks and to introduce ourselves. Such a generous and beautiful welcome was rather overwhelming. I do not think I was able to capture how touching it was that this village had opened themselves to us and had taken the time to give us an opportunity to learn from them, but I tried and I will be luck if I captured even a tenth of what we were all feeling at that moment.

The visit to this village was significant for us, and not just because of the grand welcome. The story of one man moved the entire group in a way I cannot adequately describe. Mr. Zhang Xiu lives with his wife, who cannot speak, in a small two-room house. His house was one of the smallest we, as a group, had seen so far on our trip. Standing outside their home, a translator explained to us that with the extra money Heifer’s project had enabled the family to earn, Mr. Zhang Xiu and his wife had purchased a window, which allowed sunlight into the home. One the other side of the house, instead of a window, there was a plastic bag covering a large hole in the wall. It is the hope of the couple to buy a second window some day.

We then entered the small, but cozy and clean, home. Standing in the bedroom, where the entire family would often sit on the heated bed for warmth in the window, we noticed a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. That light bulb goes unused by Mr. Zhang Xiu. Electricity is too costly for him; it costs 5 Chinese yuan (about 70 cents USD) per year. The family chooses to go without electricity in order to save money to help improve their living conditions. Despite the importance of every penny to Mr. Zhang Xiu, when the devastating earthquake occurred in China 2 years ago, he donated (along with other members of the village) his 5 yuan, the cost of electricity for 1 year, to relief efforts.

Mr. Zhang Xiu’s situation, generosity, and perseverance to make a better life for himself and his wife was inspiring. We were struck by the lives of this man and his wife. As we were preparing to leave the village, we knew we couldn’t really leave without doing something to help this family. We presented Mr. Zhang Xiu with a gift of pooled money. We hope that he will be able to use it to buy a new window and let a little more light into his life; for he truly shone an extraordinary light into ours.

Posted by: Mara Kimmel | May 11, 2010

May 9 & 10, 2010 – An Intro to Heifer China

By Kim Pitney, International Studies, UAA.

I have been involved as a volunteer with Heifer International for 3 years.  Heifer International is an organization whose mission is to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth.  Heifer International has twelve cornerstone principles by which they guide their work around their world, but a main core value is to pass on the gift.  Myself and the other students have come to China to learn more about Heifer so that we can pass on the gift back in Anchorage.

Pu Yan and Kim at dinner

Our trip started in Anchorage, and after a long day, or two since we crossed the international date line, we arrived in Shanghai.  We spent Sunday at the World Expo, which is a huge interpretation of each country in the world.  Each country has their own pavilion, which is a free-standing building of some interesting architecture.  Inside each building you are supposed to get a sense of the country, many had more of a green message than a cultural exposition, but it was still interesting.

Fan Bo and Teacher Song - two of our amazing trip leaders!

Monday we traveled by train and bus to Huoshan.  While on the train Fan Bo, one of  our program coordinators, gave us a brief intro into Heifer International in China, which has been in China for 25 years.  In China, Heifer helps to identify problems that a village might be experiencing, and then actualize the values of the twelve cornerstones. In order to do this there must be a project partner who is committed to Heifers cornerstones. A project partner allows the community in need to have someone nearer the community to assist them when needed. Through the combined effort of Heifer and the Project partner the communities are given the support and assistance needed to prosper.

Dorn Van Dommelen, and his son Lang on the first day of the trip

UAA Professor of Geography, Dorn Van Dommelen, writes:

It would be easy to think of this blog entry as a beginning! In less than a week Mara, nine excellent students and I will be setting off on a great adventure. But for me, the trip (and the blog describing it) is a way point on what has already been a three year adventure. Let me explain:

A little over three years ago I was thinking of new ways to teach GEOG/INTL 101 at UAA. I hadn’t taught it for a few years and it was my turn. Teaching this course, which is really a broad introduction to global issues, can be a bit of a downer. We take students on a whirlwind tour through the world describing grave issues as we go (e.g. “this week we’re in Sub-Saharan Africa, let’s talk about HIV/AIDS, Darfur, and kleptocracy!”). It’s always disturbed me to teach the course like this. In addition, one feels a bit like a disingenuous expert pontificating on every region and every issue as if anyone can really understand everything about the world. So, what to do?

The solution that gradually took shape in the months before I re-immersed myself in teaching GEOG/INTL  101 went something like this: “I will teach about the world through case studies and family profiles so that the people who live in the far flung parts of the world can do the teaching, not me. I will show students that there are solutions to the world’s grave problems so that they won’t lose hope and I won’t feel too depressed.”

Naively I took on these tasks by contacting an NGO I knew and liked and that addressed the sorts of issues I think are important and that the “course content guide” demands I teach about: Heifer International ( Today I know that it’s rare to even have an e-mail returned by NGOs, presumably because they are understaffed and too busy. But Heifer wrote back right away, and even invited me to participate in a forum with likeminded professors. The gentleman (the term is used on purpose!) who contacted me and has since supported everything I’ve done was Dr. Rex Enoch.

When I first offered a Heifer-inspired course in the Fall of 2007, the Heifer content was modest: Students completed a service project about Heifer and we discussed it in class. Rex provided my students with information about case studies from around the world. By the next semester I had started to write my own case studies and began the process of building a Heifer-based curriculum. At the same time, I asked a group of really wonderful students who had taken the course in the fall to help me to mentor students in my current semester.

By the next fall, the development of Heifer curriculum had progressed to the point that I was regularly using case studies in class so that Heifer project participants could ‘help me to teach’. I also had a larger group of student mentors and they started to teach me. They helped me to improve the service project, they made curricular suggestions, and by the spring they had organized themselves into a club that began to take on a life of its own.

Over the second summer I plunged into curriculum development and created a companion website for my students that became their de facto text, along with the popular Hungry Planet: What the World Eats that I had been using throughout the course development. I also asked Katherine Lu at Heifer Study Tours if I could lead a group of students somewhere. She foolishly accepted and helped me to set up a trip to China, along with Doni Williams and Leslie Tuovinen at UAA.

I asked for a trip that would focus on the role that the Chinese economic ‘miracle’ has played in rural China. I think that most people who know just a bit about China know that rural areas have largely been bypassed, if not actually exploited by China’s recent growth. I, admittedly, don’t know a great deal about China, but I wanted to understand this issue more fully and I thought that students would benefit from understanding it a bit, too.

From the start of the field trip course development process, I involved Mara Kimmel in Political Sciences at UAA. Mara had been doing some similar service-learning development in PS 102 and had been using my materials and a few of my student mentors. Mara brings a depth of knowledge about international development that I could never hope to bring. But, more importantly, she is fun and competent, an often elusive combination! Already, Mara has proven herself and more than paid her way and I haven’t even abandoned her in rural China with the problem students!

So, soon we are off to China. We will be first travelling to Shanghai and then Hefei. From there we will go on to a project that directly deals with the very issues I identified as being important! But, I’m not going to show our hand early on. I’d rather that you read about what we are learning as we are learning it and not prejudice you with my expectations. And, I expect that my students will do a far better job than I will and be much less pedantic!

Thanks for reading.


Posted by: Mara Kimmel | April 29, 2010

China here we come!

We are in the process of all getting ready for our trip to China!  Our trip dates are from May 7 – May 19.  We’ll be arriving in Shanghai on May 8, and then the trip begins.  We’ll be visiting at least three HI sites while in China:  the Ying and Quan River Watershed Self-Help Project, the Dabie Mountain Area Community Development Project, and the Chenge Community Development and Poverty Alleviation Project.  Along the way we’ll have many opportunities to see so many amazing places. 

Before we can even think about leaving, though, lots of things to do.  Our student travelers are completing finals and faculty are grading.  We’re  learning all we can about China, and coordinating our packing too.   Stay tuned and we’ll keep you all updated!



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