Posts Tagged ‘china’

Q&A With Lucia Pierce, Study Leader for China

Monday, September 14th, 2009
Traditional fan dance exercise at dawn on the Bund in Shanghai. Photo: Genevieve Bergendahl

Traditional fan dance exercise at dawn on the Bund in Shanghai. Photo: Genevieve Bergendahl

Gloria Baxevanis is one of our intrepid International Program Managers at Smithsonian Journeys. Here, she speaks with Lucia Pierce, Study Leader for our Classic China and the Yangtze River program. Lucia served for 12 years as head of education for the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries of Asian Art, and currently lives in Shanghai, where she works as an educational consultant.

Gloria Baxevanis: The Classic China and the Yangtze River itinerary features sites of extraordinary natural beauty as well as of great historical significance. Which one are you most looking forward to visiting with Smithsonian travelers and why?

Lucia Pierce: Each site is unique and therefore I have no one favorite. However, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Xi’an. Not only is it the site of the Qin dynasty—the dynasty that unified China, but it was also the Chinese terminal point of the Silk Road and the most cosmopolitan city in the world during the 8th century. Today it’s a large 21st-century city but at the sites we will visit one can get a glimpse of its rich legacy.

GB: What do you find especially appealing about this tour? What is your favorite part of the tour?

LP: The tour takes us through the varied Chinese landscape and we experience the breadth of Chinese history—visiting places dating from the 2nd century B.C. up to the new buildings being built in Shanghai for the World Expo. My favorite part of the tour is sharing China with the tour members.

GB: How has China changed in the past years and how has it remained unchanged?

LP: Living in Shanghai I see physical changes every day! China has always been a dynamic country and change has always been woven into Chinese life. China also has a long history in which the importance of family, of a strong central government, and of education has been a constant. I look forward to talking about this during our trip.

GB: Prior to moving to Shanghai you directed the museum education program at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. You have also accompanied numerous groups of Smithsonian travelers to China and other parts of the world. Do you find Smithsonian travelers to be different than other groups you have led and what do you enjoy most about teaching Smithsonian travelers?

LP: Smithsonian travelers have traveled widely, are curious, are independent, and enjoy the serendipitous moments that always occur during trips. I enjoy and am challenged by their questions and enjoy the give-and-take that happens informally every day during our trip.

GB: You have lived in Shanghai for three years. What highlights of this city are you most eager to explore with the Smithsonian group?

LP: Shanghai has the largest concentration of art deco architecture still extant than anywhere else in the world—there are hidden gems all over the city and especially in the French Concession. In contrast, the tallest building in China has just been completed and the city is undergoing major infrastructure construction in preparation for the World Expo opening in May, 2010. It is these juxtapositions that I look forward to sharing!

GB: In Beijing Smithsonian travelers will enter the gates of the fascinating Forbidden City. What should they take away from that experience?

LP: Many people leave the Forbidden City with a greater sense of grandeur and the importance of ritual in the imperial system as well as the ability of this self-contained city to remain quite physically separate from the world outside its walls.

GB: In your experience, what is most rewarding about guiding and lecturing to Smithsonian travelers?

LP: They are eager, interested, and actively involved in looking, listening, and experiencing the tour in all its aspects. They enjoy each other and are wonderfully responsive to what the guides say as well as to my lectures. They ask questions and are open-minded—and they like to have fun!

GB: What is one of the most memorable experiences from all your previous travels as a Smithsonian Study Leader?

LP: Our flight was delayed out of Chongqing which allowed our group to stop at a small noodle shop on the way to the airport. After two weeks of excellent, but lavish, Chinese lunches and dinners we were ready for something simple. The noodle shop prepared bowls of freshly made noodles in a light broth with delicate flavorings. It was a spur of the moment stop and one that brought us much joy and relaxation and made us quite content that the flight was delayed.

What’s your favorite spontaneous travel moment? Share below.

Click here  for more information on traveling to China with Journeys.

Did you know? Smithsonian Journeys now offers summer Study Abroad programs for high schoolers to China, Italy, and Spain. Click  for more.

Faux Pas in China

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Kate Simpson is President of Academic Travel Abroad, where she began her career as a China Program Manager in 1998 after completing a degree in East Asian Studies from Yale and a post-graduate fellowship in Chinese literature. Kate loves to travel to hidden corners of the countries she loves most, like Haute Savoie in alpine France or the Ming villages near Huangshan in China. Click for more on Kate.

The Forbidden City, Beijing. Photo: Jamie Dickinson, Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest

The Forbidden City, Beijing. Photo: Jamie Dickinson, Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest

I always chuckle when I visit the Hall of Clocks and Watches in Beijing’s Forbidden City, which features gifts to Chinese emperors presented by foreign envoys. In Mandarin Chinese, the words “give a clock” (song zhong) can also mean “sending one to one’s end.” For this reason, traditionally, clocks and time pieces are not considered the best choices as gifts for Chinese friends. Diplomacy without language comprehension or an understanding of proper etiquette can pose challenges!

As a student of China, I loved using the Mandarin skills I had to navigate cultural differences with Chinese counterparts. However, language alone doesn’t always help. As with all cultures, body language, actions, and rituals convey more information than words alone. And when it comes to eating and drinking, the Chinese are emperors of protocol! Certainly, formal banquets are different from a casual meal with friends, but generally, here are some tips that help me keep my relations with the Chinese untainted by faux pas:

• At a banquet, hosts and guests have very clearly defined places at the (usually) round table. The host always sits in the seat facing the door. His or her guest of honor sits to his or her left. To the host’s right, the next important guest is seated (or the interpreter if there is a need).

• If toasts begin, make sure to lift your glass so that it touches below the rim of the person’s with whom you are toasting. This is a sign of respect.

• If you have had enough to drink and your hosts are insisting on another “gan bei” (dry your glass: a shot), say the two words “sui yi” (as you wish) and take a modest sip. This is usually something women can get away with more easily than men and it indicates that they respectfully decline to down their glass.

• Always leave something on your plate to indicate you have plenty to eat. Make it clear that you consider the meal very ample. This gives your host “face.”

• If the dinner is not a banquet, when the bill comes, it is customary to fight noisily over it with the other party, and let the party who did not pay for your last meal together pick up the tab eventually. But you need to put on a good show of it! This play-acting takes place regularly in Chinese restaurants across the world. You’ll know it’s your turn after the next mealand fight.

• When your guest leaves the banquet hall or restaurant, the host should walk them out to the door, often repeating “man zou, man zou” (go slowly).

Many of the more traditional protocols are fading with China’s more relaxed approach to relations with foreigners. However, erring on the side of formality is never a problem in a country whose pride in its heritage and traditions runs deep.

Now that you know, try these tips for yourself. Click here for travel to China.

We now offer Study Abroad programs in China for High School Students. Click here for details.

Have you ever made an etiquette blunder in a foreign country? Share below!

Travel Hit List: China

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
The famous Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi'an

The famous Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an

China is one of the world’s most talked-about destinations. Full of wonder, history, and culture, we can’t wait to go back soon. For the first-time travelers (and die-hard fans), here’s a taste of fascinating China:

Read: How some of Xi’an’s famous Terra-Cotta Warriors are leaving China for a while, and discover more about Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s lasting legacy.

Listen: Chinese Classical instrumental music.

Watch: Learn about the secrets to the design of China’s Forbidden City (courtesy of Smithsonian Channel).

Eat and Drink: Bird’s nest soup, anyone? Learn more about this highly prized Chinese delicacy.

Check out: A fascinating timeline of Chinese history, courtesy of the Institution’s Freer and Sackler galleries.

Travel: Now is a great time to book a journey to China.

Join: Smithsonian Journeys is on Facebook. Become a fan today.

Where in China would you most like to visit or revisit?

China: Understanding Etiquette

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Kate Simpson is President of Academic Travel Abroad, where she began her career as a China Program Manager in 1998 after completing a degree in East Asian Studies from Yale and a post-graduate fellowship in Chinese literature. Kate loves to travel to hidden corners of the countries she loves most, like Haute Savoie in alpine France or the Ming villages near Huangshan in China. Click here for more on Kate.

A James Cox gilded birdcage clock in the Forbidden City's Hall of Clocks and Watches, Beijing. Photo: Flickr gruntzooki.

A James Cox gilded birdcage clock in the Forbidden City’s Hall of Clocks and Watches, Beijing. Photo: Flickr user gruntzooki.

I always chuckle when I visit the Hall of Clocks and Watches in Beijing’s Forbidden City, which features gifts to Chinese emperors presented by foreign envoys. In Mandarin Chinese, the words “give a clock” (song zhong) can also mean “sending one to one’s end.” For this reason, traditionally, clocks and time pieces are not considered the best choices as gifts for Chinese friends. Diplomacy without language comprehension or an understanding of proper etiquette can pose challenges!

As a student of China, I loved using the Mandarin skills I had to navigate cultural differences with Chinese counterparts. However, language alone doesn’t always help. As with all cultures, body language, actions, and rituals convey more information than words alone. And when it comes to eating and drinking, the Chinese are emperors of protocol! Certainly, formal banquets are different from a casual meal with friends, but generally, here are some tips that help me keep my relations with the Chinese untainted by faux pas:

• At a banquet, hosts and guests have very clearly defined places at the (usually) round table. The host always sits in the seat facing the door. His or her guest of honor sits to his or her left. To the host’s right, the next important guest is seated (or the interpreter if there is a need).

• If toasts begin, make sure to lift your glass so that it touches below the rim of the person’s with whom you are toasting. This is a sign of respect.

• If you have had enough to drink and your hosts are insisting on another “gan bei” (dry your glass: a shot), say the two words “sui yi” (as you wish) and take a modest sip. This is usually something women can get away with more easily than men and it indicates that they respectfully decline to down their glass.

• Always leave something on your plate to indicate you have plenty to eat. Make it clear that you consider the meal very ample. This gives your host “face.”

• If the dinner is not a banquet, when the bill comes, it is customary to fight noisily over it with the other party, and let the party who did not pay for your last meal together pick up the tab eventually. But you need to put on a good show of it! This play-acting takes place regularly in Chinese restaurants across the world. You’ll know it’s your turn after the next mealand fight.

• When your guest leaves the banquet hall or restaurant, the host should walk them out to the door, often repeating “man zou, man zou” (go slowly).

Many of the more traditional protocols are fading with China’s more relaxed approach to relations with foreigners. However, erring on the side of formality is never a problem in a country whose pride in its heritage and traditions runs deep.

Now that you know, try these tips for yourself. Click here for travel to China.

Have you ever made a faux pas in a foreign country? Share below!

China: The Tour That Keeps On Giving

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Barbara York began her career in educational travel at the Smithsonian Institution in 1985 and headed the international division of Smithsonian Journeys until the end of 2004. She has accompanied Smithsonian travelers to many destinations worldwide. Read more on Barbara here.

A headline in the November 18, 2008 New York Times caught my attention: “The Dead Tell A Tale China Doesn’t Care to Listen To.” Depicted was a mummy known as the “Loulan Beauty” on display at a museum in Urumqi, China. I had seen mummies such as this years ago, and I suspected that the article might reference the work of our past Study Leader.

On September 22, 1988, our group of intrepid Smithsonian travelers were on a tour tracing the ancient Silk Road through the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (then part of the USSR) and across China from west to east. We were deeply enthralled with the legends and lore of the Silk Road when we reached Urumqi in China’s western-most province.

The roads leading west of Urumqui pass through Kazakistan, part of the Ancient Silk Road. Photo: Flickr user Robert Thomson.

The roads leading west of Urumqi pass through Kazakhstan, part of the Ancient Silk Road. Photo: Flickr user Robert Thomson.

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