Tag Archive: China 100 Blog

  1. W. BASKETBALL | Bulldogs outlast Crusaders

    Leave a Comment

    The women’s basketball team (1–0) took a nine-point lead into the half, but had to stave off a second-half surge by Holy Cross (0–1) before the Bulldogs emerged with the 74–71 win at the Hart Center on Friday night. It was the third consecutive year that the Bulldogs started off their season with a close win over the Crusaders. Last year Yale won 66–60 at home.

    Head coach Chris Gobrecht said she was pleased that the team was able to pull out the win, especially since the team had lost two of its starters — forward Michelle Cashen ’12 and forward Janna Graf ’14 — to injuries. Gobrecht said that Cashen was out with a sprained ankle and that Graf has a case of mononucleosis.

    “I thought we did a good job of holding them off down the stretch after they made a run at us,” Chris Gobrecht said. “Considering everything, it was solid. Everyone contributed, everyone helped us win that game, and that’s what we needed.”

    Guard Megan Vasquez ’13 led the way for the Elis, finishing the night with a team-high 17 points, seven assists and one steal. Guard Verena Lehner ’12 tallied 15 points for the Bulldogs, while forward Mady Gobrecht ’11 and guard Allie Messimer ’13 both added 10 points. Mady Gobrecht was also strong on the boards and totaled eight rebounds for Yale.

    Amy Lepley had a double-double for Holy Cross, notching a game-high 18 points and 11 rebounds in the contest. The Crusaders also had three other players who finished the night with double-digit point totals.

    Though Holy Cross had the first four points of the matchup, Yale came back and scored 11 unanswered points to put the Bulldogs up 11–4 at 13:24. Forward Aarica West ’13 scored seven of those points off the bench, after missing most of last season due to injury. Freshman guard Amanda Tyson ’14 also contributed four points in her collegiate debut.

    “They really gave us a lift,” Chris Gobrecht said of the Yale bench. “I thought everybody went in and did a great job. They were the ones who really built that lead for us in the first half.”

    The Elis pushed their lead to as much as 11 points following a Vasquez 3-pointer that put Yale up 22–11. Vasquez went three for three from downtown in the game.

    “I was trying to be really patient,” Vasquez said. “I was just waiting for the open look, and I took advantage of it.”

    Despite being out-rebounded 23 to 11 in the first half by Holy Cross, the Bulldogs took advantage of 16 first half turnovers by the Crusaders to go into halftime with a 40–31 edge.

    Holy Cross came out stronger in the second half, however, and began to chip away at Yale’s lead. The Crusaders outscored the Bulldogs 13-3 in the early minutes of the second half to come back and tie the contest at 43–43 with 14:01 left on the clock.

    But Mady Gobrecht scored six straight points to put Yale up 62–55 with 6:21 left to play. All of her 10 points came in the second half.

    The Crusaders briefly retook the lead following a big basket from Kelly Hamner that put Holy Cross up 63–62 with 4:45 left in regulation. It was first time the Elis had trailed since the opening minutes.

    The two teams traded one-point leads over the next couple of minutes. A basket by Lepley knotted the contest at 69–69 with only 2:08 left to play, but the Bulldogs were able to regain the lead after captain and guard Yoyo Greenfield ’11 knocked down two big free throws to give Yale a 71–69 edge with 1:02 left on the clock. They were Greenfield’s first and only points of the night.

    “I was happy to be there,” Greenfield said. “I like being in those situations. We’ve been shooting a lot of free throws on our own in practice, so it was just two more.”

    Vasquez went on to seal the win for Yale after she converted a 3-point play to put the Bulldogs up 74–69. Though Holy Cross got one last basket from Alex Smith, it was not enough to overcome the Elis, giving Yale its first victory of the 2010-’11 season.

    “We definitely still have a lot to work on, but it’s definitely always nice to start the season off with a win,” Mady Gobrecht said.

    The Bulldogs travel to Boston on Wednesday for another non-conference matchup against Boston University. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.

  2. Yalies discover the sales side of test prep

    Leave a Comment

    When Deepa Chari ’12 took a job tutoring for Ivy Insiders this summer, she anticipated developing teaching skills as she worked to boost high school students’ test scores. But succeeding at the job, Chari quickly learned, hinged on much more than tutoring abilities.

    [ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”1614″ ]

    Ivy Insiders, a franchise that offers standardized test preparation and application consulting to high schoolers, employs undergraduates and graduates from the Ancient Eight and other top colleges. Instructors like Chari — better known as “branch managers” — run classroom courses and tutoring programs.

    But while high schoolers and their parents see the Ivy Leaguers as instructors for classes worth several hundred dollars, the college students have more to worry about. Much of their time is spent as salespeople, interviews with eight Ivy Insiders branch managers showed. Charged with recruiting their own students, renting classroom spaces, and marketing the Ivy Insiders program, branch managers are both teachers and businesspeople.

    “It’s very much an entrepreneurial program — it’s not your typical internship,” Ivy Insiders CEO Nicholas Green said Tuesday. “Never not once at any point in the recruiting process do we tell these undergraduates they will be hired for a purely teaching position… If we were pitching it as a teaching position, I can guarantee that 50 percent of our branch managers wouldn’t be interested.”


    Founded on the premise that college students who scored highly on standardized tests are best equipped to teach high school students how to beat these exams, Ivy Insiders markets itself to prospective branch managers as a “Summer Management Program.” Indeed, the employment page on the Ivy Insiders website lists “Learn how to run your own business” as the first step for becoming involved with the program, with the teaching component numbered second.

    Julia Fisher ’13, a branch manager in Washington, D.C., said she decided to work for Ivy Insiders primarily because she was interested in tutoring students, but she soon learned that management work was a larger component than she had initially expected.

    “I wasn’t excited about that part,” Fisher said of the recruiting work required of branch managers. “But I figured I’d suck it up and do it anyway.”

    Five branch managers interviewed said the largest part of their job was recruiting students. Christine Chen ’12 said she felt overburdened with the task of recruiting students and had disagreements with the organization’s management, and as a result she quit the job in June.

    Under the direction of their regional managers, branch managers issue course discounts, conduct free trial classes and place advertisements in local newspapers. They also call high school students — typically from their own high schools — and send out mailings to high school administrators and students.

    Green, who began Ivy Insiders in 2003 as an education start-up based in Cambridge, Mass., while attending Harvard University, said the curriculum taught by branch managers consists of 18 hours of lectures. Branch managers from Yale attend an eight-hour day of “branch manager boot camp” (held in New Haven at the Omni Hotel) that familiarizes them with the business side of the program, Green said. Branch managers later receive a full day of teacher training, but as these sessions are only held in select cities rather than on college campuses, online instructional video “webinars” corresponding to each classroom lecture are also available for Ivy students to view as an alternative.

    A full-price class with Ivy Insiders costs $600, but Green said branch managers are given authority to price-discriminate based on the relative affluence of an area. The average high school student paid $450 for the course this summer, thanks to discounts given by branch managers, as 85 percent of high school students received a discount or scholarship, Green said.


    For a student like Sophia Gilman ’13, a branch manager in northern California, the management experience of Ivy Insiders was a major draw. She said a summer course on business would cost her $8,000, but instead she was able to get sales and marketing experience while making thousands of dollars. The experience taught her both how to become a better teacher and a better businesswoman, Gilman said.

    “It was a lot of learning on the fly, which was one of my favorite parts about it,” she said.

    Still, Chari and three of seven other branch managers interviewed said they had concerns about the effectiveness of their initial training sessions. A first-time branch manager in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, Chari described her summer with Ivy Insiders as the chance to start a grassroots company branch in her hometown. While Chari said the post “looks really good on a college résumé,” she added that the brief teacher training was not necessarily adequate preparation for instructing a class of high school students.

    “The teacher training really doesn’t come until later, and in my opinion, it’s kind of haphazard,” Chari said. “For somebody who’s really not great shakes at teaching, they will probably not learn to be better.”

    Beyond training, all Ivy Insiders teachers are equipped with a separate curriculum developed by the company, which received positive to mixed reviews from branch managers interviewed. Michael Fraade ’13, a branch manager from Weston, Conn., said the curriculum did a good job laying out the test, but he found some explanations to sample questions unhelpful.


    Aside from business and teaching experience, Ivy Insiders is a paying summer job. Green said branch managers take home, on average, 33 percent of their total revenue. The average revenue brought in by 351 branch managers nationwide this summer was $7,325 while the average profit was $2,526, Green said, adding that this summer was the lowest revenue and profit summer for branch managers on record. Ivy Insiders ran a profit of 10 percent of its revenue in 2009.

    Green attributed the drop in average revenue and profit to increased competition from test preparation companies Kaplan and Princeton Review, along with a tough economic climate. Joanna Cornell ’12, who worked as a branch manager in her suburban Maryland hometown, said she found herself competing for students against other Ivy Insiders tutors.

    Among 20 Yale branch managers, the average revenue in 2010 was slightly higher: about $10,800, Green said.

    Branch manager Gilman said the benefits of working with an established company like Ivy Insiders outweighed the the 60 percent cut of revenue taken for corporate expenses. Gilman said her summer profits totaled around $5,500 — more than she expected to make. The experience was so positive, Gilman said, that she has already applied to work as a regional manager at Ivy Insiders next summer.

    But three branch managers said they were disappointed with their final paycheck at the end of the summer. Cornell, for one, said she went into the summer aiming to make around $5,000. At the end of the summer, when she found she had only tutored enough students to make the minimum profit of $750, Cornell said it was a “huge disappointment.”

    Still, according to a 2010 internal survey, only 9.4 percent of branch managers pursued the position primarily for the money. Green said the company works hard to ensure that branch managers have positive experiences, but acknowledged that the time-consuming post can leave some dissatisfied.

    “I think invariably when you have a position that requires a lot of hard work, there are going to be people that feel like it’s too much or that it’s not worth it,” Green said. “There is some risk in this position, since [branch managers] share in the profit of the business.”

    As for program efficacy, Ivy Insiders undoubtedly gets results. The average SAT score improvement from first to last practice test seen by this summer’s 4,787 participants was 228 points, Green said, down from an average 270 points improvement in the past four years. The average improvement margin in classes taught by Yale students was 34 points less than the average score improvement among Ivy Insiders tutors this summer.

  3. Through the Lens: Be mine

    Leave a Comment

    Yalies across campus felt the love Sunday night as they celebrated Valentine’s Day, or, as some like to call it, “Singles Awareness Day.” Whether you have a special someone or are flying solo, commercialism is for everybody to enjoy. Photographers Jane Long and Grace Patuwo captured the love.

    Created with flickr slideshow.
  4. Day Nine: A belated accounting

    Leave a Comment

    It turns out that getting on the Internet was more difficult in suburban New Jersey than anywhere we traveled in China. Thirty hours of travel and jet lag, combined with the failure of my family’s DSL connection, explain the serious delay of this post.

    On our last day in China, Xu Zheng, a vice president of Fudan University in Shanghai — the day’s primary destination — commended our whirlwind itinerary.

    “If you want to know China as it was 5,000 years ago, come to Xi’an. If you want to know China as it was 500 years ago, come to Beijing, and if you want to know China after the reforms and opening up, and its future, come to Shanghai,” she said.

    I’m not sure that we were really able to imbibe 5,000 years of history in the 10 days we were there, but Shanghai certainly offered us a vision of the future.

    For example, the Shanghai Stock Exchange floor was silent, but Web-based trading allowed the exchange to hit a record high the day before our visit. This mode of trading was unimaginable when the exchange was built — 10 years ago.

    When we visited Fudan on Thursday, we saw the possible future of Chinese education. Enormous growth was obvious, as we were shown a gigantic new campus currently under construction. The new facilities — including a library whose reading room will fit 2,000 students at once — will allow Fudan to add 10,000 students.

    Fudan administrators emphasized the ways in which the university was borrowing from American models. Fudan College, for example, was established two years ago and is China’s only undergraduate model based on a residential college system.

    But American institutions — and Yale in particular — are also calling on China’s educational and research facilities. The Fudan-Yale Biomedical Research Center, founded in 2003, is working on mapping gene functions using research on mice. It is under the direction of Professor Tian Xu, who holds joint appointments at Yale and Fudan. The work requires enormous manpower — the center plans to hire 100 additional technicians next year — which would be prohibitively expensive in the United States. Accordingly, much of the work is done on Fudan’s campus, where there are plans to build a 100,000 square foot facility.

    A visit to the Fudan-Yale research center was a popular choice on Thursday morning, when we were given the chance to tour a number of different schools. We were rewarded with an explanation of how the research is done (as I understood it, an individual gene is disrupted with the insertion of genetic gobbledygook and then any phenotypic changes are observed) — and photos of the various mutants that have been observed. In one particularly memorable example, we got to watch mice in a (failed) sexual encounter.

    Perhaps in acknowledgement of the center’s hybrid American-Chinese nature — or perhaps to prepare us for the impending return to the U.S. — Professor Xu then offered us pizza for lunch. Earlier that morning, at the unveiling of a stone commemorating our visit to Fudan, he had promised to name a gene after each person in the delegation. (We’ve got our fingers crossed that none of us give a name to the gene for some horrible disease.)

    After lunch, we headed to the Oriental Pearl Tower, where we were welcomed with a brass band. The third-tallest tower in the world, and the tallest in Asia, it is 1,535 feet high. After an elevator took us up the tower at a rate of 7 meters per second, we were rewarded with a… dismal view. It was a foggy day in Shanghai, so we couldn’t see much of the fabled skyline.

    We were then released for a couple of hours of shopping before our evening cruise along the river, which turned into a truly hilarious faculty-student karaoke session and roast. Seeing a certain professor (who shall remain nameless) sing “Barbie Girl” was a highlight of the trip.

    At least for me, the next day’s travel from Shanghai to Beijing, and from Beijing back to Newark, came far too soon.

  5. Gone packin

    Leave a Comment

    We’ll be back tomorrow from the U.S. to let you know about the last day of the trip.

  6. Day Eight: Yalies descend on Shanghai

    Leave a Comment

    Wednesday was the much-awaited day of (relative) freedom in Shanghai, without any planned activities after lunch.

    But the day began early with a 7:30 breakfast with Shanghai-based Yale alums, at which a professor and two students discussed their experience on the trip so far.

    History of art professor Sandy Isenstadt mused on the connections that have sprung up between various Yalies on the trip, which he said will enable intercultural connections to continue beyond the end of the trip.

    “When we go to New Haven, we will have China,” he said.

    He also joked about the selection process for the trip, which excluded those who had already visited China. This was the first time he was ever qualified for something by virtue of his failure to do something else, he said.

    “When I think of all the things I haven’t done in my life, I see a great number of opportunities in front of me,” he said.

    After the breakfast event, we split into groups to visit various Shanghai institutions: the Shanghai Stock Exchange, Pudong New District Government, and GM China.

    With visions of the New York Stock Exchange dancing in our heads, many of us expected the Shanghai exchange to be an exciting place to visit and observe live trading. But when we were shown into the large on-site trading room, with hundreds of computer workstations and a vast electronic display, it was eerily silent. We first established that it was in fact a trading day — confirmed by the blinking changes to the market data displayed on the screen — and then learned that although the facility was built in 1997 to accommodate on-site trading, 99 percent of business on the exchange is now conducted remotely. Just a few traders wearing numbered red vests were present in the event of a problem with the network, surrounded by a sea of old and unused computers.


    Most of the workstations at the Shanghai Stock Exchange were empty Wednesday, now that 99 percent of trades on the exchange are done online. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    We then had a meeting with officials of the exchange, who discussed the emergence of a capital market in China and the future of the Chinese economy. 895 companies are now listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, we were told, and the exchange has a market cap of 1.36 trillion RMB.

    The officials fielded questions ranging from the growth of mutual funds and pension plans in China to the access rural investors have to the markets. One Chinese student asked about the rapid increase in the number of investors and the quantity of investment in the Chinese capital market. While the officials said they are not seriously worried about the possibility of a crash, they did acknowledge that the market might be “a little bit overheated.”

    Profs at SSE

    Professors Tian Xu and Alvin Klevorick read literature on the Shanghai Stock Exchange on Wednesday morning. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    The visit was of particular interest because Yale is the only foreign institution allowed to invest directly in A shares of Chinese stocks; other foreign institutions are restricted to purchasing B shares or investing indirectly in the companies.

    After the Stock Exchange visit, we headed to another hotel for lunch and then broke into small groups for the first free time of the trip. While a number of professors and a few students headed to museums and other cultural sites, shopping was the order of the day for many in the group.

    Nine of us — including one incredibly tolerant translator and two prefrosh from Shanghai — headed out in search of luggage to replace someone’s broken bag and another to hold one student’s various purchases and swag acquired during the trip. We had gotten directions to a mall, but we should have realized our mistake when the two prefrosh told us they had never been to this neighborhood before.

    As our cabs pulled up to our destination, more than a dozen men swarmed around us, showing pictures of their wares and even grabbing onto our arms and trying to pull us toward their shops. Whether or not we displayed interest in their offers of “watch, bag,” they continued to surround us, even following us as we went into the mall in search of luggage. It was the closest thing I have felt to a threatening experience in China, although we never seemed in danger so much as seriously annoyed.

    Eventually, when the two students found bags to their satisfaction — and despite the fact that the negotiations were carried out by three Chinese speakers — they couldn’t get a “fair price.” So all of the non-Chinese students headed for the KFC to try to convince the bag vendors that the purchases weren’t for foreigners. An hour and a half later, mission (finally, and uncomfortably) accomplished, we headed away from the neighborhood for a little more shopping.

    Tomorrow is the last day of the trip, and we’ll be returning to serious programming: a visit to Fudan University, a tour of a new Pudong skyscraper and then a final boat cruise.

  7. Day 7: A grain of salt, or a teaspoon of salt?

    Leave a Comment

    The agenda was a visit to a village outside Xi’an, and the question of the day seemed to be: Would this village show us the true quality of life in rural China?

    From the beginning of the trip, it has been obvious that the trip is taking place under the auspices of the Chinese government. We go everywhere with a police escort (which periodically uses its sirens to get us out of sticky traffic situations) and are greeted with large red banners welcoming the “Yale 100.” This has engendered some skepticism about how accurate a portrayal we are receiving of the country, particularly because the packed schedule leaves us little room for exploration on our own. But today’s visit to the village put the question of representativeness on almost everyone’s lips.

    The 1,890-person village of Bai Cun was about a 90 minute drive from our hotel in Xi’an, and the ride took us through a series of suburban and rural communities. As we left the limits of Xi’an, the persistent traffic of the city subsided and small markets selling food and clothes cropped up on the sides of the roads. We could literally feel the move from urban to rural areas, as the roads became worse and the ride got bumpier. For the first time that I noticed, people were stopped along the side of the road to stare at our buses.

    On the bus, our guide — a representative of the All-China Youth Federation who has been with us for the entire trip — described Bai Cun as a “typical” village for this part of China.

    “Chinese villagers are very different from Western villagers,” he said. “They tend to be very content.”

    It was comments like these that made me wary of how accurately this village would represent rural life in China. Earlier on the trip, we had heard about how China was trying to deal with a mass migration to the cities in pursuit of better job opportunities.


    The village of Bai Cun, about an hour away from Xi’an. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    When we pulled into Bai Cun, we were greeted by a troupe of traditional drummers and cymbalists. Villagers were standing around the courtyard we drove into and watched as we got off the bus.

    We had been randomly divided into 10 groups while we were on the buses, and we quickly headed in different directions around the village.

    My group first went to a primary school, which we were told was built in 2003. It has 254 students and 14 teachers, nine of whom have a college degree. We were first taken to an English class for 10 and 11 year olds. When we walked in, they were learning how to say, “go skateboarding, go bike riding, go hiking, go rollerskating.” We were encouraged to talk to the students, but most were too shy to say much more than their names.

    We also saw a 6th grade Chinese lesson — where the classroom was decorated with signs encouraging them to study and improve themselves — and the school library. which offered books on environmental protection, how to watch opera, and biographies of Bill Gates, Mikhail Gorbachev and Isadora Duncan.

    Our guides then led us down the main street of the village, with stops in a China Telecom Internet café and a “scientific reading room” with books about farming. In response to a question, another guide from the ACYF gave a slightly different assessment of the village, which he called “a little bit better than the middle.”

    “There are man of the rural areas that have shabby houses [made of] clay,” he said. “This is built up by bricks, with paintings.”


    Villagers look on at the Yale delegation from the side of the road. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    He also acknowledged that in western China — including the Xi’an area — young people do prefer to go to the city for construction or engineering jobs, where they can earn more than they would in agriculture. This differs from the more prosperous eastern regions of China, he said, where villages have shared in the country’s overall economic growth.

    He then led us to see the home of one village family. It belonged to an elderly man, who was a retired teacher, and his wife. We learned that their annual income is about 7,000 yuan, or $1,000. The couple’s two adult children had left the village to take government jobs in Xi’an, close enough to bring occasional gifts back home, he said. (Other groups visited multigenerational households, where elderly couples lived with a child and his or her family.)

    The house’s large living room — compared by one student to a “barn” — was sparsely decorated, with a bare concrete floor, three posters, six full-size chairs and several more stools. The small bedroom contained two beds and a dresser, as well as a television and stereo that were somewhat incongruous compared to the general lack of furnishings.

    But the most interesting part of the home tour was the small kitchen. There is running water in the village for four hours a day, so they fill a water cistern in the kitchen for use throughout the day. They use a wood-fired stove to cook, and had one wooden cabinet for storage. Some staples were stored on the floor, including bags of grain and about three dozen eggs. The man was most proud of his electric rice cooker, which like the TV was a surprising addition to a decidedly un-modern home.

    The Yale delegation then reunited and walked out of the village to nearby orchards, where we attempted to tie bags around young apples, a technique to protect them from bugs. The village switched from growing wheat and other grains to apples and pears as part of the government’s attempt to give each village a “key product” around which to structure their economy, our guide told us.


    A Chinese farmer shows Kevin Olusula ’10 how to wrap young apples to protect them from bugs. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    We were then taken to a textile factory, which was little more than nine hand looms in a very large room. The availability of a gift shop and a rest area, as well as large photos of Westerners wearing scarves produced by the factory, suggested that the facility was at least partially a tourist destination. In fact, we were told, textile production for this company is a kind of cottage industry through which looms are distributed to individual workers to keep in their homes.

    The visit to the textile factory sparked much of the debate about the authenticity of the village visit, with one student terming it a “Potemkin village.” Others defended it as an innocuous example of China putting its best foot forward, akin to cleaning up one’s apartment before having guests (just as Yale-sponsored tours of New Haven focus on more middle-class neighborhoods).


    Rachel Friedman MED ’08 tries out a loom at a textile factory in Bai Cun. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    To my eyes, it seemed clear that Bai Cun had received substantial improvements compared to other villages that we drove past. The homes boasted more attractive exteriors than the relatively worn-down tan brick structures we could see from the bus windows. And one guide’s assertion that the villagers had never seen Beijingers, much less foreigners, before was just implausible, given the photos on display at the textile factory. But on the other hand, the village as we saw it was not Disneyland China (several other women told me that the public bathroom was just a series of holes in the ground, without dividers or doors), and its inhabitants still lived in much worse conditions than we saw in Chinese cities or in much of the U.S. It was not necessarily a false picture of rural Chinese life, but an incomplete one.

    On the bus from the village to the airport for our flight to Xi’an, someone raised an interesting question: Why were we all so eager to see China’s poverty, as opposed to its development?

    “I do think we want to see that everything’s not peachy,” Elissa Berwick ’09 said.

  8. Day 6: Terracotta Soldiers (!!!)

    Leave a Comment

    So you’ll have to forgive me if I gush a bit in this post — our main activity today was a visit to the Terracotta Soldiers, which I’ve wanted to ever since I first read about them in about the fifth grade. An estimated 8,000 clay horses and warriors — each of which has a unique face — were buried near the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang around 210 B.C., and they were intended to protect the emperor in the afterlife. But the project was not mentioned in historical records and was only discovered in March 1974 by farmers attempting to dig a well on the site.

    The excavation site is about an hour’s drive outside Xi’an, and the three pits are in various states of completion. In total, about 2,000 figures have been uncovered so far. The largest, Pit One, has ranks of reconstructed soldiers in place, while Pit Two has little more than shards of soldiers and their accoutrements. Pit Three is the smallest, but it contains a partially reconstructed terracotta chariot with accompanying steeds and rider.

    Terracotta 1

    (Michael Blank/YDN)


    (Michael Blank/YDN)


    (Michael Blank/YDN)

    The visit to the Terracotta Soldiers was the high point of the day, which had just one official event — a dinner banquet with provincial leaders — after a slew of tourist activities.

    We began the day with a visit to the History Museum of Shaanxi Province, which proved to contain a surprisingly interesting array of archeological finds from millennia of Chinese history.


    Before visiting the Terracotta Soldiers, trip participants enjoyed a guided tour at the History Museum of Shaanxi Province (Michael Blank/YDN)

    Its collections included the earliest paper fragments discovered in China, which date to 140-87 B.C. Made of hemp fiber, they were actually used as packing material, not for writing. Later in our tour of the museum exhibits, we also saw an early example of block printing. Paper and printing are considered to be two of China’s great inventions, along with compasses and gunpowder.

    Among the more surprising items on display at the museum were pottery figures of polo players dating to 618-907 A.D. We were told that the game was brought to China from Persia (now Iran) around this time.

    “Emperors liked polo … because it was a leisure activity that also improved riding skills,” our tour guide told us.

    After the museum, we made a short drive to the Big Goose Pagoda, an ancient Buddhist temple in Xi’an.

    Pagoda Small

    Students burn incense as an offering at the Big Goose Pagoda, an ancient Buddhist temple in Xi’an. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    And then before setting off for the Terracotta Soldiers, we were treated to a feast of dumplings for lunch. The meal featured 14 different kinds of dumplings;

    • panfrield pork with scallion
    • pork with onions (a better version of the potstickers of my childhood)
    • pork with pumpkin
    • shrimp
    • tomato and egg
    • fish
    • chicken
    • spicy chicken
    • pork (again, this time in green and white wrappers)
    • spicy pork
    • pork and mushroom
    • ham
    • ham and vegetables
    • dumpling soup
    • Lunch

      Students are served a soup that determines how lucky they will be by the number of dumplings in the bowl. (Michael Blank/YDN)

      The general consensus among the students was that this was one of the best meals we have had all trip. After a few days of heavy, formal food, it was refreshing to taste something a little more ordinary.

      This was especially desirable in Xi’an, as the street food on offer everywhere — but especially in the Islamic night market — was sorely tempting. But instead of opening our wallets for meat skewers and flatbread cooked outside, most of us bought souvenirs: miniature warriors, jewelry, various Mao-related paraphernalia.

      The night market, which was still humming at 11 and 12 each night, was one of my favorite parts of our stay in Xi’an, and probably of the entire trip so far. One of the few downsides of the trip is that the tightly programmed schedule leaves us with few opportunities to strike out on our own. It is discoveries like the night market that make me sure that I will want to come back to China — not necessarily as a student, as Yale is heavily pushing us, but certainly as a visitor.

  9. Day 5: A glimpse of “real life”?

    Leave a Comment

    If we were ever going to have a chance to see what “real life” might be like in Xi’an, it seemed that Sunday was our best shot.

    During our time in Beijing, we were confined mainly to the highly developed, highly touristed downtown area, or else the bus as it drove from destination to destination on the city’s highways. In contrast, Friday started out with a drive through the streets of Xi’an from our hotel to Xi’an Jiaotong University.

    From the bus window, we could observe ordinary people going to and from their homes, and even catch a glimpse of the insides of a few small shops, restaurants and hair salons.

    Earlier in the trip, I had been startled by the similarity between downtown Beijing and other cosmpolitan, international metropolises. The ancient capital of Xi’an, on the other hand, feels significantly more foreign.

    While we had seen a lot of bicycles in Beijing, especially on the college campuses, they seem to be the predominant mode of transportation in Xi’an. Despite the apparent perils of the heavy traffic — which several times made our bus nearly miss getting in an accident — everyone from teenagers to elderly women could be seen on bikes, and almost none of them wore helmets.

    While most of the bikes seemed fairly standard-issue, a few stood out, such as an adolescent girl’s bright pink bike with an oddly low frame, or a young woman’s bike with a colorful umbrella tied to the handlebars to shade her face. There were also several colorful motor scooters to be seen, both on the streets and parked on the sidewalks. (Most scooter-riders did wear helmets.)

    The pollution in Xi’an was also more like what we had been told to expect from Beijing, where we actually saw relatively clear days. A number of Yalies complained of sore throats, itchy eyes and difficulty breathing, and a haze lingered in the air all day.

    When we reached the university, we went through what is now an established routine: welcome address by a Chinese university official, reply by a Yale official (in President Levin’s absence, Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander delivered today’s speech), exchange of gifts, and large group photo.


    Vice President for New haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander, filling in for President Levin, shakes hands with and receives a gift at Xi’an Jiaotong University. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    We then divided into small groups, and I headed off with those interested in medicine and the life sciences. While previous breakout sessions have involved presentations on branches of the various universities, today’s was particularly enjoyable because we were told to form pairs or trios of American and Chinese students and just have a conversation.

    I ended up chatting for an hour with a Yale Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering and a Jiaotong medical student in the fourth year of his seven-year program.

    Our conversation ranged from comparing the medical school programs at Jiaotong and Yale to the costs of college.

    We tried to explain how it was that a college education in the U.S. costs $160,000, while it costs less than 36,000 RMB — or between four and five thousand dollars — in China. Student loans may be required in China, he told us, but they are interest-free, in stark contrast to American student loans.

    But our conversation also illuminated certain similarities between the American and Chinese college systems. As a debater myself, I was especially interested to learn that he participates in a public speaking association that sends a few students every year to compete in American debating competitions, as well as to Model United Nations programs in China. Debate topics for an upcoming competition include global warming, clean water policy, intellectual property laws in China, arts education, and university enrollment policies, he said. Perhaps more than anything else, that shared extracurricular experience underscored the way in which college students are similar, no matter their original home.

    Xi’an Jiaotong University SOM

    A Yale Law student interacts with a Xi’an Jiaotong University School of Management student. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    After the meetings, we broke for lunch, which was supposed to be followed by family visits. Unfortunately, I got sick (see previous entry), and was advised not to participate. The report so far is decidedly mixed: Some Yalies had fabulous experiences with their families, but a few were utter disasters. Hopefully I will have more on this in coming days.

    Family Meeting

    Many of the trip participants were shown photo albums during the family visits. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    City Wall

    During the family visits, the small groups often visited historical city sites, including the Xi’an city wall, shown above. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    I plan to be being back on the bus tomorrow for the visit to the Terracotta Warriors, and then it’s on to Shanghai on Tuesday.

  10. Day 4: From Beijing to Xi’an

    Leave a Comment

    We spent most of Saturday in transit, first from our Beijing hotel to the Great Wall at Badaling, then to the Beijing Olympics construction, and finally to the airport and our flight to Xi’an.

    On the way to the Great Wall, we stopped at a museum honoring Zhan Tianyou, a class of 1881 Yale graduate who is considered to be the “father of Chinese railroads.” For those already homesick for the Elm City, the exhibit offered early photographs of Old Campus from the 19th century, when it was strikingly similar its appearance today. But a photograph of the stained-glass windows in LC 102 showed that the room used to be a library, not a lecture hall. The exhibit also contained Zhan’s senior essay on engineering for the Sheffield Scientific School, which housed Yale’s science departments before its merger with Yale College.


    Trip participants were treated to a guided tour of a museum honoring Zhan Tianyou, a class of 1881 Yale graduate and the “father of Chinese railroads.” (Michael Blank/YDN)

    From the railroad museum, we walked up to the Badaling entrance to the Great Wall, where we had about 2 hours to climb and enjoy the views. The sides of the wall were lined with vendors selling T-shirts, hats, postcards and various other tchotchkes, offering the Yale 100 its first major souvenir-buying opportunities.

    Great Wall 2

    The Great Wall at Badaling, which is over seven meters high and five meters wide, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. (Michael Blank/YDN)


    After climbing the Great Wall, a majority of the trip participants gathered for a photo op. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    After the Great Wall, we piled back on the buses and headed to a restaurant, where we had the first health scare of the trip. Excited at the first sight of fresh greens this trip, many of us — including myself — eagerly piled our plates with salad. In our eagerness, we had forgotten the warning we received several weeks ago not to eat salad in China because of the possibility of bacteria or pesticides. We were reminded of the guideline only once we’d gotten back on the buses, so it’s now a waiting game — will we get sick, and when?

    After lunch, the buses continued on to the construction sites for the 2008 Olympic stadiums. We were able to drive onto the site to get a closer look at both the Bird’s Nest — the primary venue for the Olympics and the site of the Opening Ceremonies — and the oddly bubbly Aquatics Center.

    Olympic Site

    The group got to make a rare closeup visit to the construction sites for the 2008 Olympic stadiums. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    The deputy general manager for the Bird’s Nest construction outlined the estimated costs of the project — $400 million USD — and explained that the stadium is the first public-private partnership in China. To recoup the investment, he said, planners are considering prospects for commercial development at the site, including athletics, a supermarket, restaurants and a hotel.

    The visit to the Olympics site was also a photo opportunity for every possible permutation of the Yale 100: students, faculty, administrators, undergraduates, the Medical School, and so on.


    Students, faculty, administrators, etc, used the Olympic stadium as the background for group photos. The undergraduate students on the trip are pictured above. (Courtesy Helaine Klasky)

    Then it was on to the Beijing airport for a flight to Xi’an, where we will be until Tuesday. But President and Mrs. Levin will be leaving the delegation tomorrow to go to Hong Kong, where President Levin will speak at the Asia Society on Wednesday. The invitation to speak came from Ronnie Chan, who sponsored last night’s visit to the garden in the Forbidden City.


    Students sit on the airport floor while they wait for their luggage to be checked for their flight to Xi’an. (Michael Blank/YDN)

  11. Day 3: Examining Chinese education reform

    Leave a Comment

    Friday brought the Yale 100 delegates face-to-face with ongoing reforms to the Chinese education system, which are beginning to transform Chinese universities along American lines.

    At a speech to the Yale delegation Friday morning, Vice Minister of Education Zhang Xinsheng outlined the “great change” underway in Chinese higher education.

    Education Guy

    Vice Minister of Education Zhang Xinsheng, center, gave a speech to the Yale 100 on Chinese education reform Friday morning. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    Since 1998, Zhang said, the proportion of college-aged students enrolled in degree programs increased from 9.8 percent to 22 percent. At the moment, supply cannot meet demand for higher education, which he said is driven by economic growth and the parental pressure for success.

    Beyond the massive expansion in postsecondary students, Zhang said, the government has made structural reforms to decentralize the education sector from the national to the provincial level and to promote private colleges and universities. China is now focused on building new colleges and raising a few of its universities to world-class status, he said.

    “The competition mechanism has been introduced to the higher education system,” Zhang said.

    As part of this strategy, Zhang said, Chinese universities are focusing more on research, in a move from European to American models of higher education.

    The Yuanpei Honors Program at Peking University is a recent experiment in a more American style of college education, offering a liberal arts education rather than early specialization to a select group of Chinese students. We saw the program firsthand during our visit to PKU on Friday.

    In his welcome address, PKU President Xu Zhihong said programs that require students to declare their specialty early — still common outside the Yuanpei program — are problematic.

    “[Chinese students] have been deprived of the free space and the time needed to find their own interests and sense of self,” Xu said.

    Levin and PKU Prez

    Yale President Richard Levin and Peking University President Xu Zhihong at the Welcome Reception for the Yale 100. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    And Yuanpei students appear to be taking advantage of the added time to explore their options. PKU students told me that now, about 10 percent of students change their majors after entering college.

    I had lunch with Lenna Chen, a Yuanpei junior, who came into college having completed the “classics” track in high school (as opposed to the science track). She had been involved in an intensive Russian program in high school, so she did not speak English, which was required of other top academic programs. With two years of college before she had to declare her major, she used the time to learn English and to take an intensive math course. This period of additional preparation allowed her to finally declare a major in PKU’s popular School of Economics.

    Chen said she did not think her high school preparation would have allowed her to get into the economics program straight out of high school, so one attraction of Yuanpei was the option to defer selecting a major.

    For Zhang Sihui, a Yuanpei sophomore who is currently enrolled in the Yale-PKU joint program, the first two years of college convinced her to pursue an interest in linguistics. She also took classes in business, but her choice — which she said she finalized only last week — was mainly between literature and linguistics.

    “It seems like a paradox,” Zhang said. “At first I think I was interested in both [linguistics and business], but I think liberal arts is where we should go deep, not superficial.”

    Of course, some Yuanpei students still make up their minds right away, as sophomore Huang Chenyi did when she chose to major in Chinese language and literature.

    And Chen was quick to point out that Yuanpei is “still a pilot program,” so students in other schools of the university still select their majors at the beginning of college. One downside of the late choice of major is that completing the requirements in two years can be overwhelming, she said.

    But overall, Chen said, China’s education reform should continue to add flexibility for students. In high schools, she suggested, students should not necessarily be rigidly grouped in the science or classics tracks.

    “If there’s some student who wants to do both, you have to let them,” she said.

    Tsinghua University, which we visited in the afternoon, is embarked on its own path of changes to offer students more options. Tsinghua, the alma mater of Chinese President Hu Jintao, is referred to as the “MIT of China.” In 1949, after the Communist Party took power in China, the University was transformed from a comprehensive university to just an engineering school. Now, it is adding back non-engineering departments to offer students more choice.

    “Today, Tsinghua has a full portfolio of programs and schools,” Yale President Richard Levin said at the welcome ceremony.

    These efforts to remake Chinese education along more American lines are accompanied by a greater focus on study abroad and joint education programs. The visit to PKU offered delegates a glimpse of the Yale-PKU Joint Undergraduate Program, which was launched last fall. The program offers Yale students the chance to live in dorms with students from Yuanpei and to take classes taught by Yale professors with the Chinese students.

    Kate Aitken ’09, a staff reporter for the News, delivered a speech about her experience in Beijing at the welcome ceremonies at PKU. The full text is available here. Zhang Xinyue, a Peking University student who participated in a Yale Summer Session, spoke about her experiences at Yale. The full text is available here.

    At a panel discussion about cross-cultural education and the first year of the Yale-PKU program, professors from both universities discussed the value and challenges of teaching American and Chinese students in the same classroom.

    “We’re trying to get students to look at the world from the perspective of Beijing and China, rather than separating China from the rest of the world,” said Charles Laughlin, the resident director of the joint program.

    The Chinese and American students may have widely different levels of background knowledge about the course material, professors said, and some Chinese students have expressed discomfort with some of the assumptions made in humanities classes.

    Laughlin said in his course on contemporary Beijing culture, some of the PKU students thought the subjects covered in the course reflected a Western conception of culture rather than the experience of Beijing residents. This discomfort did not become clear until late in the semester when he first taught the course, he said, so he has since tried to tease out those concerns and keep them on the table from the very beginning.

    Even the way courses are taught exposes differences between the Chinese and American students, professors said. Almost all classes at PKU are lectures, Laughlin said, and the PKU facilities were not even configured for seminar-style teaching when the program began.

    But art history professor Ann Dunlop, who taught in the program this semester, said she was impressed by the Chinese students’ quick adaptation to participating in seminars.

    “They have absolutely run with it,” she said.

    The day ended on a lighter note for the Yale 100, with a visit to the Garden of the Palace of Established Happiness in the Forbidden City. Recently restored by the China Heritage Fund, the garden is not open to the public but was made available to the Yalies by Ronnie Chan, who led the restoration effort. Chan, a Hong Kong-based real estate developer, sits on Levin’s Council on International Activities.

    Chan gave the students a tour of the garden, originally built in 1740 by the emperor Qianlong for his personal use. The garden was destroyed by a fire in 1923, and it was unearthed in 1994. After 12 years of renovation, it has been fully restored both inside and out.

    Garden View

    The Garden of the Palace of Established Happiness. (Michael Blank/YDN)