It has been awhile. I have been incredibly busy. My Chinese handler returned and we have been working until 12-1am every night. I have not had much time to think let alone to write a blog. I am back with many topics to write about. This week has been the week of learning about Chinese culture as well. I always enjoy working in the field. “In the field” means going to the rural areas and speaking to farmers. I do not know Chinese (clearly), but I enjoy hearing the stories from my colleagues who graciously translate them for me. What I enjoy the most about economics and research is our attempt at solving “mysteries”. I hve always enjoyed science and the idea of finding solutions to problems. I think it is very frustrating, but I think it is incredibly rewarding personally and to society. For example, in middle school, I was the kid who absolutely loved the science fair. I loved the thrill of thinking of a scientific problem and seeing what results are and then applying them to the real world. I won regional awards both years, and I wanted to do it in 8th grade, but my teacher said we couldn’t do it unless we “really” wanted to. This really means she wasn’t going to do it which is really unfortunate because why would you ever discourage a student from doing anything that interests them academically? Oh well.
I have been in the field as I said before. It has been so tiring. We travel minimum 3-4 hours every day in the car. I cannot wait until the day I can sleep in… which is probably never. It has been so exhausting, but I am grateful I am with such fun people. The students I work with are 22-23 years old so we are the same age. Many of them do not know English very well, but they speak it well enough that we can have basic conversations. They are silly and love selfies and very weird photos. Example A is the photo below. In this place, we visited a dam. China is well-known for their many dams and use of hydroelectricity. We then walked along the river. China is absolutely stunning when it comes to the mountainous area. Mind you, I have really only been in the mountains. I think it is so ironic that whenever I do anything I somehow end up in the mountains. In Ecuador and Honduras, I was in the mountains. I also ended up in the mountains at school. But the mountains are so beautiful here, because you can see the millions of years the rivers have carved through the stone. The cliffs are steep and you can visibly see the wear of a river alongside the mountainsides. Field work is also great because I get to see many people and places that almost no one ever sees. While I have not doing anything touristy in China, I think these experiences are far more important in giving insight into this complex and interesting culture.
So in the next few days I will be working with my handler to interview potato chip processors, potato starch processors, potato wholesalers, and potato seed companies/breeders. I get to attend a Chinese Potato Seed Exhibition this weekend. I think it is will be a really interesting experience! I am actually kind of excited to see what it is like. We are one step closer to solving the Great Potato Mystery! And during this time, I have completed 1 annex of my thesis. In the scheme of things this is small, but hey, it is one step closer to being able to sleep!
So in this next section, I will describe some of the information I have gathered about the Chinese culture and way of life. It is just a description!
Education: The education system here is very interesting and somewhat similar to other developing countries. You can attend primary and middle school for free, but you must pay for high school. This discourages people from continuing their education since many poor families in the villages cannot afford to pay even a few yuans for books. I think college is the most interesting. When students apply to schools, they rank their top 5 universities. Students must be accepted into the major they ask for and if they are not accepted into the major, they can allow the school to choose their major. When students get accepted, they only get accepted into 1 school and do not have a choice in which one. So basically, they get an acceptance letter from 1 school and they go there and have to major in what they say. Students are not allowed to change majors. I think this is better for efficiently, but I know this would be difficult for many students, because how many 18 year olds know exactly what they want to do? I even changed my major!
I was supposed to post this yesterday… but here is more from today!
Today I visited a potato starch processor and a potato chip processor. It was great! I found it so interesting! We first visited the potato chip processor. The manager of the company graciously answered all of my questions (which took about an hour) and then took us on a tour of the processing plant. The company uses a few really interesting “tricks”. For example, the process releases a lot of excess water that cannot be drank or returned to a water source. Instead, they have a pipe that runs from the plant to the grass surrounding their property and they use the water to irrigate the grass! I think that is really neat. They were also very kind and gave us this entire box of chips… don’t mind if I do! The best part was this company prefers the variety I am studying! I got a lot of very interesting information for my thesis.
Then I visited a potato starch factory. I had no clue what cooking starch was until this visit. It was also very interesting. The man was so excited that I came. He took a ton of photos. He says I will be on their website… this story to be continued if I am on their website.
Something I do not think I have written about is about being a “foreigner”. I had read about this phenomenon many times when studying for China, but I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. In non-city areas, people rarely see foreigners. In fact, many times, they never have. This means I receive a lot of stares. People stare intently for up to a minute. It can be very uncomfortable, but I am OK with it. I realize that I have probably stared at someone before when they looked very different from anyone I had seen before too. The part I feel most uncomfortable with the yelling. People like to yell, “hello!” at me from long distances. It usually is loud and actually scares me a little. I don’t like having attention drawn to me as a foreigner. It honestly makes me feel a little like an animal in a cage. I am the newest attraction to the town. Come one, come all to see the American. The more it happens though I am beginning to see it as their way of welcoming me and just having fun. These people probably have never and probably will never see a foreigner again. Instead, now I say hello back. The funniest thing is that they love taking pictures of me. Sometimes they are posed and sometimes it is of me just sitting and paying no attention to the camera. I think it is actually kind of weird, but hey, whatever. I think it is fun to take all these pictures.
That is all for now. I have many more stories to tell, but I am exhausted and tomorrow will be the first day I get to sleep in on my entire trip. Praise all that is good in the world!
Stephanie, the potato economics lady