Tai Gui Le!

In the US, when you see a price tag, end of story. In China, price tags can be just the beginning…

Wouldn’t it be great if you could BARGAIN for everything you wanted? Really, everything – from breakfast to lunch, T-shirts, umbrella’s, and…classes? In China, unless it’s a retail store, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to bargain for what you want. In fact, I was able to talk down the price of a Chinese Language Course, taught through a school, from 120 RMB to 80RMB per hour!

Bargaining is a part of life here in China. Most Chinese people expect to haggle over outrageous prices at the market, but foreigners can often get lost in the shuffle. When the US Dollar to Chinese Yuan is 1:6.6, all of a sudden that 50 Yuan shirt is seen as “so cheap! It’s barely $8!” All of a sudden, Westerners are buying souvenirs at triple the price Chinese tourists are paying. Many Chinese merchants know that their Western counterparts are ignorant of the rules of bargaining, and they use that to their advantage. So for those of you who may be travelling to the Middle Kingdom soon, here are my 5 best tips on how to score the biggest deals…

First, Foremost, Most Important and so on…NEVER start bargaining for something you don’t intend to buy. This is considered rude, and you could end up insulting the shop owner and making yourself look bad. If you don’t want it, a simple No Thanks or “bu yao” (I don’t want) will suffice. Sometimes you have to employ the old Cold Shoulder technique, but if you don’t want it, don’t act like you’re going to buy it. There’s something called “saving face” that works into this, but that’s an entirely different story that I’ll get to later on in the week. But I digress…

1. Never act excited. I’ve always found that the less you appear to want something, the lower the price goes. Even if you found that ONE perfect item you’ve been looking for, appear disinterested. A lot of times the price will drop just so the shop keeper can hope to inspire a sale.

2. Cut the price in half, then half it again. At many markets, especially markets with a large number of tourists, prices can sky rocket. A good rule of thumb is to half the price twice. So when a T-shirt costs 100 RMB, start bargaining at 25 RMB. You’ll likely to meet the shop keeper somewhere in the middle, which is probably closer to the price the shirt was worth in the first place.

3. You’re not stealing their money. Bargaining is a game. When the shop keeper sees you eyeing that T-shirt, they’ll ask you if you like it. (Remember – act disinterested!) Reply with an “I dunno…how much is it?” You’ll most likely get an answer close to “120 Yuan, but I’ll give you a special price – 100 Yuan!” This is where you looked outraged, and say “100 Yuan?? Tai gui le!” (Too expensive!) The shop keeper will then ask you how much you’ll pay for it, and I always start out around 15 or 20 Yuan. So say “I’m not sure, I already have something similar…I guess…15 RMB?” Then they’ll look outraged and say “15? No! I lose money!” You’ll get loads of different answers – I’m losing money, I have to feed my family, that’s too little, I need to pay for my (insert a phone, electric or other bill payment here). The bottom line is – no one will sell you anything if they weren’t making money off it. If you really think that that T-shirt is only worth 30 Yuan, and the shop keeper won’t go lower than 45, don’t be afraid to…

4. Walk Away. Walking away can often lead to the price of something being lowered. I’ve gotten all the way to another street when a vendor came chasing after me, waving my would-be purchase in her hands agreeing to my price. Walking away suggests that you’ll look to make another purchase somewhere else, and often a seller would rather sell you something of THEIRS for a lower price than lose a sale to their competitors.

5. Shop Around. In the Yu Garden, shop keepers are all selling the same things, so often you can find that same, “one of a kind” item at another stall for a cheaper price. In fact, if you’re at the Yu Garden, there are many shops outside the Yu Market itself that sell the same items as the market does – and those are even cheaper. Don’t limit yourself to one shop unless it’s really something you haven’t seen anywhere else.

Follow those tips, and you’re sure to score some great deals on your gifts! Also, it doesn’t help to bring a pad and paper with you to shop. Most times vendors will have a calculator with them, and you’ll haggle over prices by taking turns on punching prices into the calculator. For those times where calculators are nowhere to be found though, the pen and paper will come in handy! Also, learning numbers in Chinese helps!

Did you know that you can count to ten on one hand? That’s right! To help further your haggling career, check back later this week for a mini-lesson in numbers, prices and counting! I’ll give you a quick and dirty guide to shopping in China, complete with a short list of phrases to never go shopping without!

And as always, send your questions, comments and concerns to TheLastMangoinParis12@gmail.com or leave a comment!

Until next time – Zaijian!

-Kristen Mankosa

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–> Art Wuz Here <–

Graffiti Culture is growing in China.  Graffiti culture started gaining popularity with Mao Zedong.  Granted, Mao wasn’t tagging “Zedong wuz here” on public property – instead he was moving his New China goals forward with propaganda using graffiti.  During the Cultural Revolution and the years of Deng Xiaoping, China has seen a rise in street art.

 Even in old and seemingly forgotten towns of China, I have seen the forms of propaganda written on sides of buildings using paint to broadcast on a large scale.  These areas have things like “follow the teachings of Mao Zedong” are written over old Mind Dynasty buildings and are faded after years of weather and age. Though I’m sure the message is still as bold today as it was then.

The point is, graffiti is more than an act of vandalism – it’s an appreciated art form that’s growing in popularity. 

This past weekend, Shanghai hosted the Wall Lords 2010 Asian Finals, a competition that showcased and appreciated the modern art. Crews from around Asia travelled with their spray paint in hand to create large artworks that were begging to be transferred to the sides of buildings. 

 One of the crews rough starts to an otherwise epic mural

Intrigued at how someone could decide to move from paper and canvas to a brick wall, I asked one of the exhibitioners from Germany who was showcasing at the competition.  He told me that he grew up in the 80’s where American culture was flooding through his TV set.  He saw the art form develop as he watched American TV, and slowly began to pick it up.  He did more than “pick it up,” he had one of the best designs at the competition.  It was a good thing he wasn’t competing, or he would have made some teams nervous…

 From Germany to New York to China, Graffiti is growing in popularity as artists develop style and skill

The Wall Lords event lasted all day, with the PSP Philippines crew claiming victory after numerous hours and dozens of spray cans later.  You can check out some of their work on their blog HERE.

And China’s graffiti scene, like all other scenes from all over the world, is looking for its next big thing.  And China’s graffiti crews are looking to aims big, or rather, looking to aim great.  Rumor has it that many crews are looking at the Great Wall as hundreds of miles of blank canvas.  Though the wall has been vandalized and efforts have been made to protect the wall, many graffiti artists are looking to tag the wall with their signature art, as a way to leave their mark in China.

Our German friend isn’t the only person to claim the US inspired his artistic dreams – it turns out that many articles point their fingers at the western world, claiming that graffiti crews are leaving their own marks thanks to a trendy fad that’s flaring up.  Some people even sound disappointed – graffiti used to hold political and social messages, and grew because artists were escaping from the commercialism and industrialization of the traditional art scene.  Now it’s the beginning of a fad that won’t last as long as the spray paint does.

Attention to details...

So, here’s the part where you get to write in – what do you think of graffiti?  Is graffiti a fancy way to say vandalism, or is it the next big art movement?  Leave a comment or send a message to TheLastMangoinParis12@gmail.com


-Kristen Mankosa

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Happy…Valentine’s Day?!?

Qi Xi Jie Kuaile! (chi (like tai-chi) she gee-ay kwhy la)

– or-

Happy Chinese Valentine’s Day!

Every Year on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Lunar Calendar, the Chinese celebrate the “Seventh Evening” festival!

This festival is to celebrate the reunion of two lovers.  There are many versions of this story, but a more popular version is…

 Long ago, the seven daughters of the Emperor of Heaven were bathing in a river when an orphaned cowherd chanced upon them.  The youngest daughter, a weaver, was an immortal, and the cowherd was mortal.  Though the union of an immortal to a mortal was forbidden, the daughter and the cowherd fell deeply in love upon meeting, and married.  They lived together for many happy years until the girl’s grandmother, the Queen, found out.  As punishment, two were separated, the daughter being forced to return to heaven.  As the Queen took her granddaughter back into the sky, the cowherd, ever faithful, flew to his true love’s side with the help of a magic ox.  The grandmother noticed the cowherd trailing them, and she created the Milky Way, to forever separate the two.  The girl was sent to the star Vega, and the cowherd to Altair.  But once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, all the magpies in the world fly to heaven to create a bridge so the two lovers can meet for one day.

Every year on this day, the girls of China would pray for wisdom and sewing skills, to make them better wives and mothers for their families.  In Beijing, women would even parade their new clothes they had sewn!  Though this tradition has taken a bit of a step back and replaced with perhaps, dinner and a movie, it doesn’t make this day any less romantic.  Also, for anyone with a starry view, it’s tradition to locate the lovers in the sky and stargaze for a little while with your own lover.

China actually has not one, not two, but three Valentine’s Days!  Of course there’s QI Xi Jie, and February 14th, but there’s also a white Valentine’s Day. On February 14th, the women of China receive presents from adoring men, the twist? A month later, on White Valentine’s Day, if the woman has accepted the man as her Valentine, she returns the gesture with a gift for him!

If you’d like to read more, there’s another version of Qi Xi Jie HERE.  And make sure you grab that someone special and ask them to “Be Mine”!  I’ve already got my Valentine! Who’s yours?

And finally, because today was a culture post, Wednesday’s post will be all about the Yu Yuan Garden!  It has decades of history, hundreds of merchants, thousands of visitors and two Starbucks!  So check back to read all about it!

And remember to look into the skies tonight to wish the daughter and cowherd a Happy Valentine’s Day.  Look for the brightest star in the sky.

-Kristen Mankosa

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A Censor-tive Topic

One of the places where the US enjoys exercising our First Amendment is our news stations.  Broadcasting the latest of political scandal and corruption, natural and manmade disasters, and (of course) gossip and trends, the American news system broadcasts the disappointments of our government and country straight to our living rooms.  CNN, Fox, NBC and the rest of the alphabet soup news stations twist the news to gain a conservative or liberal edge over a story.

In the US, and many other countries around the world, we assume that the freedom of speech is a fundamental right that the people should be allowed.  This belief doesn’t exist in China to the full extent that it does in the US, and many people view China as an oppressive communist government (China is actually an Authoritarian Capitalism, but more on that some other time).  And while we may view China’s lack of freedoms as a tool of control for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), many of the Chinese news networks have simply learned their way around the system.

I had only been in China for a few hours, but that’s all it took to come face to face with the power of the Propaganda Laws.  The propaganda guidelines are posted in every TV station and newspaper publisher in China.  These laws can be seen in any mass media distribution building (but after an hour spent on Google are still impossible to find).  These guidelines specify what can and cannot be reported on, and how to shed as certain light on the CCP.

Keep in mind; the US’s definition of propaganda and China’s definition don’t match up.  Propaganda isn’t a bad thing in China; it’s almost like simple advertisement.

So, after only a few hours after landing in Beijing, I was already on another flight to Guilin.  We were handed a newspaper as we boarded, and the headline was featuring guards stationed at schools.  In Beijing, there had been a series of shootings around schools, and students were the targets.  This headline though, focused not on the violence, but more on what the government is doing to correct the situation.  Any US paper would have been rehashing the crimes and death stories, hoping to strike a chord of sympathy with the reader.  The CCP’s theory is to keep things quiet so there’s no panic, no uprisings, and no copy cat murderers.

News programs themselves are very rigid in what should be reported.  Most news broadcasts follow the same line up.  The first ten minutes are devoted to how busy officials are, the second ten goes to how great China is, and the last ten to how chaotic the world is.  The main thing to remember is to always try to keep the news more positive.

Sensitive topics are tricky as well. How do you report on the taboo without over stepping boundaries?  Well, lucky for us, the propaganda laws come into play again.  Every story has to be submitted through a chain of people, whose sole job is to make sure the stories fit within the propaganda guidelines.  Most writers and reporters know the rules so well now, that the level of self censorship is outstanding.  Writers have to be creative to get their points across or any other agendas, while still keeping their story in line with the rules.  So in order to get their work to the public, writers push the limits of the propaganda laws.  Writers and reporters have to be careful though, stories and news that doesn’t fit within the guidelines get scrapped. Most TV stations only have to throw out or edit 3-4 stories a year though. 

With such a tight control on the media, how does a reporter…report?  While on the study abroad trip with Virginia Tech’s Communication program, we were able to sit down and talk to staff members from Guilin TV, the news channel for Guilin, China.   Though I wrote down most of what was said, this isn’t a perfectly quoted interview.  But, with names omitted, here are some of the most interesting things we learned at GTV:

Q: Why are the propaganda laws in place?
A: Speaking for myself, the US and China has different traditions.  In China, the emperor controlled everything.  The government controls are so that the state can be stable.  Once rumors start, it would spread to the country side and cause issues.  Every coin has two sides.

Q: Are the Chinese people and the Chinese government scared of chaos?
A: Thing escalate, such as the kindergarten killings.  Should those have been broadcasted or not? Probably not. The Chinese react differently than westerners do to the news. Without the first kindergarten killer broadcast, would there have been a second?  Broadcasting must be done responsibly.

Q: What do you think has more “openness” – the internet or broadcasting?
A: The internet has more openness, but much that goes up is taken down.

Our speaker also reminded us that, while the Chinese government does censor its’ information and media, the US does as well.  During the Bush administration, images of dead and wounded soldiers were banned from US television for fear of losing support for the war.  Every coin has two sides.

That’s all I have for today!  If you want to read more about China’s propaganda laws, there’s an interesting article written by the NY Times.  Click here to read it.

And as always, if you have any questions, feel free to email me at thelastmangoinparis12@gmail.com or post your comments below!  Check back on Monday to see some of the sights of Shanghai as I give the low down on some of the best tourist spots, as well as some of the well kept secrets!

-Kristen Mankosa

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A Censor-tive Topic – Part One

 For those of you who have been reading for a while, you might notice that every once in a while I have no new posts or news. Facebook updates come to a halt and all twittering ceases. Why the occasional breaks? It’s because my Virtual Private Network (VPN) won’t work.

A VPN allows an internet user to fool a computer system. When I don’t have my VPN on, my computer thinks it’s in China, so all the sites blocked by the Chinese government (Facebook, Twitter, most social networking sites, google on occasion, blogs, and so on…) remain inaccessible. With a VPN though, I can trick my computer into thinking that it’s located in the US still, so my internet portals are rerouted to somewhere in Texas, and now I’m able to gain access to most websites that are normally available in the US.

 Facebook though, is the hardest page to access. China really has it out for Facebook. In fact, next time you log onto FB, look at the world map on the LogIn page. Notice that the FB logo is in almost every country – except in China. Even FB recognizes that it has no chance in China. Not yet at least.

So, how does a 21-year-old student survive the life a college kid? Well, besides getting more homework done because there’s no Facebook to distract them, they simply manage. With VPN’s and other proxies, it’s not a difficult task. To an average American, we see the censorship in China as a restriction against our rights, but many Chinese aren’t bothered by the limits. In fact, one student told our study abroad group that she didn’t mind, because in the end, “my government takes care of me.”

Censorship is a touchy topic in China. In fact, if I Google “freedom,” my Google search engine shuts down temporarily. Bloggers are constantly shut down and are forced to relocate their pages, some bloggers have left China altogether. Many remain, because though the government tries to quell the rebels, if these writers simply “disappeared” then the people would cry foul. Censorship is also a very broad topic. Different sorts of censors are placed on different TV shows, News programs, newspapers, internet sites and magazines. TV shows and movies tend to edit out steamy romance scenes; in fact, many foreign movies get anything past kissing cut out.

The best way for me to describe censorship to you, is by giving you the account of someone from China. Check back on Friday to read all about the world of a Chinese News Station. A tour through Guilin TV Station helped to clear up a lot of questions I had – and now that you’ve been briefed on censorship, you’ll be able to read more about it this Friday! Keep leaving comments and sending emails to thelastmangoinparis12@gmail.com

Xingqiwu Jian! See you Friday!

-Kristen Mankosa

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Sustainable Development – Moving Beyond Theory

This summer I participated in a short study abroad trip to Nicaragua with Dr. Richard Rich.  The purpose of the trip was learn about and participate in the installation of some innovative renewable energy technologies that are appropriately engineered and scaled for the developing world.  For such a short trip (10 days), I cannot believe how much I experienced and learned there and how close the people on the trip became.

For starters, I feel like I really began to grasp how vulnerable the developing world is to environmental degradation.  Although Nicaragua has a near embarrassment of riches in soil and water resources – due to its highly volcanic landscape – evidence of water pollution and soil degradation are visible everywhere due to agricultural practices and development patterns that do not protect them.  Even in areas where more sustainable practices were taking hold, I still saw steep, forested mountainsides clearcut – leaving the soils terribly vulnerable to erosion.  The organization we were partnered with (AsoFenix, short for the Phoenix Association) was clearly making some headway in convincing rural landowners to grow crops (coffee, passion fruit, corn) in ways that coexisted more sustainably with the local ecosystems.  Two of the farmers we talked to clearly saw the benefits of growing coffee utilizing agro-forestry practices, mainly in the decreased dependency on pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation and had totally changed they way they grew their coffee plants.

I would describe this trip as an ideal introduction to issues related to sustainable development.  Our various experiences in Nicaragua made it easy to contrast the negative environmental, social, and economic consequences of large-scale, top-down “development” that seeks to mirror the industrial and economic development of the U.S. with the place-based, community-enacted development we saw in the two rural communities we visited in Nicaragua.  In a nutshell, I saw AsoFenix working collaboratively and respectfully with these communities; finding ways to utilize natural resources to improve the health, well-being, and economic opportunities for rural families without degrading the natural resource base upon which their lives and livelihoods depend.  The list of project undertaken by AsoFenix is impressive.  We saw animal waste biodigesters (turning animal waste into cooking fuel),

This picture shows Maria demonstrating how her animal waste biodigestor works. Seth of AsoFenix helps translate for our group.


This picture shows the methane gas produced by the biodigestor being used in Maria's kitchen.

improved cook stoves to reduce the need for fuelwood, a solar-powered community well, passion fruit orchards, organic shade-grown coffee projects, a micro-hydro electric turbine (truly impressive!), improved latrines that could easily be converted to composting toilets, and the beginnings of household-scaled tilapia ponds.

We're listening to a bilingual presentation on the tilapia ponds we're going to begin constructing the next day. My host "dad" Cruz is seated on the far right of the photograph.

As a caveat, I would not say this is a trip for everyone.  The living conditions are, let’s say “rustic” and the work is physically hard.  That said, if you are adventurous, open-minded and easy-going person I promise you will have an amazing, life-changing experience!

– Carol Davis

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Nicaragua 2010

Traveling to Nicaragua through Virginia Tech’s study abroad was an experience of a lifetime. Being apart of such a remarkably different culture, even if it was only for a short amount of time, was incredible. Dr. Rich invited us on a trip that required willing hands an and open mind.

Upon arrival to Nicaragua, our group was given an article to prepare us somewhat on Nicaraguan issues, particularly environmental. This article talked of Nicaragua’s problem with deforestation and how it causes the elimination of rich volcanic soils, the loss of water sources, and change in climate. The article’s greatest emphasis was that Nicaragua’s environmental problems are made worse by external forces including politics and government. The article was right. One problem Nicaragua faces is their means of energy. Electricity is not easy to come by in Nicaragua, known for being the country with the lowest electricity generation throughout Central America. Not only is its generation low, but Nicaragua also depends heavily on fossil fuels that are all imported since Nicaragua has no oil production. In recent past, Nicaragua has seen many blackouts and overall energy insecurity due to its irrational dependence on oil and its inability to fully promote investment in the high potential for renewable energy. Over the years, Nicaragua’s electricity production has become highly privatized as well resulting in little or worse generation. The other problem is seen through distribution, where most of what electricity is generated is seen mostly in urban areas, leaving many of Nicaragua’s rural areas without any electricity. Our group was given a presentation at a Ministry of Energy office where it was said Nicaragua currently depends on imported oil derivatives to generate 75% of its electricity. It was also said Nicaragua hopes to reverse this by 2014 and depend on renewable energy for 75% of its electricity instead.

Our Virginia Tech study abroad group traveled alongside AsoFenix, an NGO based in the capital city of Managua that focuses on renewable energy and community development, and its cohort Green Empowerment. We were brought to two of the many villages AsoFenix works with and saw the impact renewable energy projects have on these villages, which otherwise may be incapable of accessing electricity (Malacatoya) or a valid water supply (Candelaria). Below is a picture of the AsoFenix central office in Managua (the place we stayed in a couple of nights before traveling to the villages):

Other pictures of the city of Managua:

Our group traveled to Malacatoya first to see and learn about one of the renewable energy projects AsoFenix has put in place. By using Malacatoya’s wet climate to their advantage, AsoFenix installed a micro turbine system that powers 32 of the 50 village homes. Below is a picture of the micro turbine system:

Green Empowerment had our group build fish ponds at four of the village homes within Malacatoya for holding tilapia, a very sustainable source of protein compared to the cow. Below are a few pictures of my group, which included Dr. Rich, Carol, Julie, and myself, and some of the Cruz family working on the fish pond at the Cruz family’s house.

Below are pictures of Malacatoya’s landscape and Cruz’s house (where my group had our home-stay):

The next place we traveled to was Candelaria, a village located in the more arid region of Nicaragua. AsoFenix installed a solar-powered water pump station that distributes clean water throughout the village. Before the pump, villagers would travel long distances to retrieve water that could be infected: there were many cases of cholera before the pump was installed. Now the village has clean water as well as community support with maintenance related issues concerning the soloar-powered water pump. Green Empowerment had Virginia Tech expand on this project by building sand filters at many of the homes so water, once used for washing clothes, could be filtrated and recycled into water for families’ gardens. Preserving water is a necessity, especially in such an arid region.

Below are pictures of the house Noor and I stayed in as well as Candelaria’s landscape:

Here is a picture of Davis, my house father as well as the technician for the solar-water pump, teaching the group about the project:

Lastly, here is a picture of the Virginia Tech study abroad group in Nicaragua

~Heather Poole

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