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William D'Urso

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The Great Wall of China

One of the biggest questions we’ve been asked since we’ve been here is: Why is there such a great communication gap between the United States and China?

When climbing the Great Wall one can understand why there has been such a communication gap. China has a long history of isolationist behavior, and Westerners have not been in Asia for all that long. Greek history and culture have more application in the United States because many Americans are descendants of those countries.

Nevertheless, there is a great sense of history attached to China’s most famous structure.

Traveling to the Great Wall is no easy task. the drive from Beijing was around an hour, and the bus labored up the steep mountain side to reach the ancient structure. The Great Wall is a site to behold, and it snakes across the top of mountainous terrain and has defensive structures on the side to allow for arrows to be fired from safety. The terrain is nearly impassible even without a giant wall sitting there.

The Great wall took several hundred years to build, is thousands of miles long and would take over a year and a half to walk.

Though the path along the wall does make traveling the rugged terrain more convenient,  it is by no means an easy walk. The steps incline so dramatically that great care is required to navigate most of the wall.

As Bill Rodgers once said,  ” The marathon will humble you.”  Obviously he never met the Great Wall.

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Doing a little back-alley shopping in Shanghai

When walking the streets of Shanghai it is impossible to avoid the masses of locals looking to sell Westerners knock offs of luxury brand items.

To follow one of the local guides on a tour of the back alleys of Shanghai is to enter into a different world. Between the modern buildings of Shanghai are crevices that seem to belong in a different time and place.

Shangai Alley

Shanghai alley on a rainy day. Photo by Flickr user edans

During one of our visits to a  section of the city’s downtown, we were approached by a man who called himself Jerry Tours. Tours had business cards and identified himself as a personal  guide, and led us to all the back alley shops.

All the Shanghai guides persistently prod and harangue people to follow them and once they hook a potential customer, they take their quarry to a series of hidden shops located in the bowels of Shanghai. Often these shops have lookouts standing by the door, and many of them can only be opened from the inside.

Counterfeiting luxury goods in China is illegal, but it is either not heavily enforced or very difficult to keep down. A walk down the alleys indicates that much of the counterfeit business continues to exist regardless of regulations.

All of the merchandise appeared very real, making me wonder: Is it stolen or counterfeited? Determining the authenticity of purses is a skill  I don’t happen to posses,  but the question still remains, and either way, these back alley peddlers are very careful.

During my trip into these shops I was forced to cover the lens of my camera, but I was still able to capture some video from the video camera on my smart phone.

The shops sell every type of brand name luxury item: Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton. Purses, shoes, bags, iPods and even underwear were all available.

Negotiating is a major component of back alley shopping, and a persistent buyer can often win items for six times less than the original asking price.

At the end of our excursion Tours handed out his business card and was more than willing to pose for us while we photographed him. The manufacturing of fake items is illegal, and the police even offer rewards for people who identify these outfits.

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A visit to Tiananmen Square

Conducting interviews in China's Tiananmen Square

The vast expanse of Tiananmen Square inspires equally in depth and complex feelings. The protests of 1989 have ripped a hole in the fabric of the Chinese isolationist culture and suppression through which the entire world can see.

On our first day in China, we experienced how sensitive the government is about Tiananmen Square. While walking through the square, ASU students conducted an interview which immediately caught the attention of Chinese authorities. For the next 15 minutes or so, Chinese authorities steadily accumulated around the group and forced students to delete video taken of an interview. The man, 75, a resident of a small town in China had never seen an American before and was curious. Authorities took him aside and reprimanded him; he was told that he should not bother foreigners, and scolded for doing the interview.

This incident opened up a lot of questions within our class about freedom of speech and expression in China. While many Americans find such oppression offensive, China remains very united. Why the country is united is hotly debated, but it is true that government censorship is very thorough. A Google search of Tiananmen Square is totally blocked by the government, and the recent uprisings in Libya and Egypt have been purged from media coverage in China.

While government restrictions and oversight have been greatly diminished in business, there is still very little freedom of the press.

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