Monday, July 21, 2014

Brennan Murray: Summer in Shanghai (I)

It’s 85 degrees in Shanghai tonight and someone somewhere just shut off the power in my dorm room. It appears I still haven’t mastered the pay-as-you-go utilities system here. Luckily I still have this first blog post to write - just not in the company of A/C, lights, or Internet.

My name is Brennan Murray, and I’m back in the Mainland this summer after receiving the Zhou Qiuguang language fellowship from the Sigur Center. My base here is Jiao Tong University (上海交通大学), a small but well-known urban campus tucked into central Shanghai’s busy Xuhui District. Here I’ll be taking intensive Mandarin classes through the end of August.

At GW, I’m a rising Elliott senior double majoring in International Affairs and Chinese, with a concentration in East Asia. Last fall I studied abroad in Beijing with ACC, an intensive Mandarin immersion program administered by Hamilton College at Minzu University (中央民族大学). I’ve been studying Chinese for about three and a half years now, and a fear of losing my language skills coupled with a genuine interest in all things China has led me back. Mandarin is a hard language to retain, and if I’m going to use it in work after I graduate next spring, I need to stay sharp.

The decorative gate at an entrance to Jiao Tong University.
My on-campus dormitory, the Lianxing Building. 

Some readers may wonder why I chose Shanghai this time around. It’s a fair question. After all, it’s expensive, incredibly hot in the summer, and its locals speak their own language that's much different than Mandarin. I’ve found though that only the incredibly hot part is 100 percent true. Surely many aspects of Shanghai like eating Western food and clubbing regularly on the Bund can add up for foreign students. For me though, the cost of living has been pretty reasonable. One reason is that I directly enrolled at Jiao Tong instead of registering for a program administered by a Western university or company. Enrolling directly is a lot cheaper, and although these summer classes don’t come with the same level of personal attention (or convenient airport pickup) that many programs offer, I really am saving thousands of dollars this way.

In terms of the language environment here, while almost all locals do speak Shanghainese (a Wu dialect, mutually unintelligible with Mandarin), many also speak Mandarin fluently. So far I haven’t met anyone with whom I haven’t been able to communicate. Shanghai draws students from all over the country, so especially on university campuses, Mandarin is the language I'll hear nine times out of ten.

I’ve been taking classes for two weeks now, and I’m finding my daily schedule to be extremely manageable. Classes run between 8:30 and 12:00 on Monday through Friday, and except for the additional time I set aside everyday to study, I’m free from noon onwards to explore the city. I live in a single room at the foreign students dormitory, just a two-minute walk from my academic building. My classmates are from all over the world, including dozens from Europe and Korea and only a few from the States. Our campus is one of two Jiao Tong has in Shanghai, and fortunately it’s the more centrally located one. At least four of the city’s 16 or so Metro (MTR) lines are easily accessible.

The slow pace of my classes here has been the biggest shock. At ACC last fall I studied more in one week than I usually do in three in the US. Besides rigorous classes, we had a strict language pledge, daily dictations, weekly tests, a term paper, and three to four hours of homework on an easy night. ACC is a special beast. So far, Jiao Tong’s summer classes have been quite different. My professor has yet to assign any homework, and she's also informed us our only test this semester will be a three to five-minute oral exam during the final week. Despite being placed into “G class,” one down from the highest level, the work is not as stressful as I expected. I’ve been told the pace will speed up soon, so I’m sure harder work will come. The book we use is comprised of news articles and commentaries on topics in contemporary Chinese society. Every day I learn something that surprises me, like how Xi Jinping's effort to eradicate corrupt spending within the CCP led to a drastic price drop in China's fiery liquor, baijiu

I try to speak Mandarin constantly. Between the close Chinese friends I have here and the ones I meet every day, I don't foresee running out of people to practice with. 


By population, Shanghai is China’s largest city. Over 24 million people call it home. But it’s not even so much the waves of people on every street, or the relentless honking from cabs, buses and scooters that leave a unique impression. For me, Shanghai’s skyline is what makes it enormous. While down at the Bund skyscrapers battle to distinguish themselves via ultra-modern architecture and nightly light shows, beyond the riverside thoroughfare office buildings and high-rise apartments blend together naturally in all directions. The result is an overwhelming landscape in which you can only see as far as the closest tower blocking your view.

The iconic Bund skyline.
Some people can name every building in the area. I'm not one of them yet. 
European architecture dominates the opposite side of the Bund. The Chinese flags reminded me where I was. 
Quintessential Shanghai. I didn't realize how many people were looking at the camera when I took this. 

The Yuyuan Garden market is a favorite destination for sharpening my bargaining skills.

I still don’t have a great feel for Shanghai, but that’s not to say I’m not thoroughly enjoying living here. Although I’ve had some time to explore the Bund, nearby restaurants and shopping centers in Xujiahui, as well as the famous Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai’s Old City, I realize I haven’t even scratched the surface of this city yet.

After living in Beijing for three and a half months last year, it'd be easy to say that my preference still lies there. It’s the city in China I know best, and where I feel the majority of my so-called “only in China” moments have happened. I’ve also pledged my allegiance to Beijing’s professional soccer team (北京国安), which doesn’t amuse my new Shanghai friends. Before long though, I know I’ll find Shanghai’s match for Beijing Duck, Erguotou (二锅头), and the winding hutongs of Houhai. A lot of only in China moments are sure to come.

This week I’ll try to get a better grasp of Shanghai’s post-1949 history by visiting the Propaganda Art Museum and Jing’an Temple, two recommendations from classmates who’ve been here longer than me. I’ll post again next week with updates and more impressions of Shanghai and my studies at Jiao Tong.

For now, I still have my lack of air conditioning to deal with.

Thanks for reading, 

Brennan Murray, B.A. International Affairs, Chinese 2015
Sigur Center 2014 Zhou Qiuguang Language Fellow 
Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China 

P.S. Below are pictures I took while on a two-week tour of China led by GW’s Confucius Institute from 6/21-7/4. Everything was free of charge in country (flights not included), including sightseeing and cultural activities in these five cities, respectively: Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Wuxi and Shanghai. If anyone has any questions about this tour or my study experiences in China, feel free to shoot me an email anytime at!

Great to be reacquainted with Beijing and finally have a proper tour of the Tiananmen area.

At Nanjing University, the seven of us took language and culture classes daily. I failed to make a proper dumpling.

The Qinhuai river cruise in Nanjing was a highlight of the CI Tour. 

Suzhou & Wuxi are full of quiet outdoor parks. Here we're at the Liu Yuan Garden in Suzhou.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A.J. in Taiwan

When I first arrived in Taiwan, there were a number of things I had to get used to.  There was jet lag, the public transportation system, the weather, and a few other things.  I’ve now been in the country for about a month and a half, and feel like I’m really beginning to get the hang of it around here.  However, there is one blaring exception to this situation: traditional characters.

Nearly all of my previous language study had taken place in Mainland China, where simplified characters are used in most everything except calligraphy paintings and possibly baijiu commercials. When initially studying the language, I remember thinking to myself, “There’s absolutely no reason that I’ll need to know traditional characters!  Besides, they can’t be that different from simplified, I’m sure I can pick them up fairly quickly if I really try.”  Oh, how wrong was I…

The CCP’s main motivation for creating a standardized set of simplified characters was originally to increase the literacy rate throughout the country.  In 1950, China’s literacy rate was about 20%.  Thinking that the complexity and lack of uniformity in many Chinese characters was inhibiting learning, the government set out a project to simplify a significant number of these characters in order to better facilitate the literacy process amongst the people.  Currently, China’s literacy rate hovers just above 95%, so one could consider the program a success.

However, there are a number of detractors to the simplification of the language. Many people say that using simplified characters takes away much of the essence of the language, and that given the better educational infrastructure throughout China, the use of simplified characters has become obsolete.  Furthermore, now that everyone types instead of handwrites, the added convenience of less character strokes has been negated.

I’d heard all of these discussions before and didn’t really have much of an opinion on the matter.  I suppose that I appreciated the added aesthetic value of traditional characters, but honestly didn’t think much about it.  Since starting classes here, my position has changed drastically.

At the beginning of the summer term, I was excited about being given the opportunity to learn traditional characters and figured that it might be hard, but I could probably get used to it within a few weeks.  I mean, how hard could it be, right?  Well, it turns out that the answer to that question is, “It’s actually kind of hard.”

When the PRC government went about converting the written language into simplified characters, they set about a number of methods to do so.  One of the main ones was to take certain components that make up many characters and just make them easier to write.  For example, (jian-to see) becomes , ma-horsebecomes 马,and (men-door) becomes .  Since most Chinese characters are just a combination of many of these components, all I would need to do is study a few dozen of the components and I’d be fine! (Example: the word for news-新聞 just becomes 新闻 )  Easy peasy! I should be an expert in no time!  Not the case.

It turns out that there’s quite a few characters that have been changed drastically.  The character (sui) becomes 岁, (ji) becomes ,   (le) becomes ,   (huan) just turns into , and the list goes on. My personal favorite is the complex (liao) being magically transformed into .  For me, this last one has been particularly vexing.  While studying in Mainland China, it took me all of a minute to memorize the two strokes required to write out the character .  In traditional form, this same character requires a whopping 17 strokes!   

Which brings me to my next headache: time.  I’d heard people complain about how time consuming it is to write out traditional Chinese characters before, but I figured it didn’t matter because nowadays, everyone types everything anyways.

This is indeed true, unless you have a strict Chinese language teacher that insists you handwrite every essay you write.  At first I didn’t think that this was too big of a deal, until I found myself bleary eyed, with a sore wrist, frantically trying to finish writing my essays before midnight so I could get some sleep.  It turns out, all those extra strokes tend to add up, leading to many a late night hunched over my desk, consulting two or three dictionaries, and scribbling out those cursed little traditional characters as fast as I possibly can so that I can get some sleep.

Needless to say, learning traditional characters has proven itself to be a touch more difficult of a task than I initially expected.  And though I might get grouchy every once in a while (okay, more than just once in a while), about having to re-learn an entire set of characters, I still find the process of learning them intriguing.  Furthermore, even though I’ve realized I’m not going to master traditional characters any time soon, the classes here in Taiwan have been an excellent opportunity for me to better understand the Chinese language in its many varied complexities and gain a deeper appreciation for it at the same time.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Maggie in Taiwan: Part Two

Hello again Asia on E Street Blog Readers,

I have just completed my third week of school here in Taipei and I am just over halfway done with my stay, so I thought it would be a good idea to write all of you about the various sights I have had the chance to see in and around Taipei as well as how classes have been going at ICLP.

First I’d like to tell you about two day trips I have had the chance to take over the last two weekends to smaller cities in the region around Taipei. The first trip I took was to Wulai and the second was to Yingge and Sanxia.

After an exhausting week and school, it can often be tempting to lounge around on the weekend taking it easy and staying cool inside. However, after our first weekend my roommate (who is conveniently attending Georgetown to get her Masters) and I were determined to go out and explore our beautiful surroundings. We decided to make the trek to Wulai. Deciding to go to Wulai was easy as it is famous for its riverside hot springs and clear, meandering river, as well as Taiwan aboriginal culture. We travelled to Wulai by first taking the metro to the end of the line and catching a bus from the metro station that took us directly to the little town, all in all it cost us just over 1$USD. After grabbing some street food on the touristy street, we hiked up to the Wulai waterfall. While the journey to the waterfall was incredibly hot and humid, it was completely worth it as the waterfall was gorgeous, plus, I am always taken aback by the luscious greenery of Taiwan.

Beautiful Wulai with a full river from all the rain!

Wulai waterfall
After seeing the waterfall we took a rickety train back down to the town and made our way to the hot springs and river! Its hard to convey the pure bliss the soak in the cool river brought us – after constantly being hot and doused in ones own sweat there is really nothing that can match the shock of cool water. After two weeks of tiresome school work, floating in the river surrounded by the amazing scenery was the most relaxed I have been since arriving in Taiwan. After cooling down in the river for a while, we decided to test out the hot springs, which turned out to be quite scorching. The best part about the hot springs, however, was probably the company of the older Taiwanese bathers and their determination to instruct us on how one should go about the hot spring experience. As I was slowly easing my way in I was informed that I could NOT sit on the side with just my legs in as that would not benefit my entire body – one must fully submerge their body in order to fully benefit from the spring, as they would say “its so good for the skin!” They also warned us (after swimming in the river) not to wiggle around too much in the river because fish would more likely bite you! After chatting a while with the other bathers about where we were from and where in Taipei we were studying, we decided to get out and head back to the town center to grab some food and begin our journey back to Taipei. Overall I would give this day trip a 10 out of 10 – it has hands down been my favorite excursion as it was not only interesting to see natural beauty and aboriginal culture, but it was incredibly relaxing.
The disneyland ride-eqsue train we took down the mountain from the waterfall -
it may or may not have been a death trap (though only moving about 10 miles an hour)
The friendly and informative Taiwanese bathers at the hot spring we soaked in
Today, we ventured to the towns of Yingge and Sanxia for our second day trip. We took the train from Taipei Main Station to Yingge, and again the fare did not even amount to 1US$! Yingge is famous for its ceramics production. Though ceramics have been produced in this city since the early 1800s, it was only until the Japanese occupation of Taiwan and WWII that the city became a large hub for all types of ceramic production. Now supposedly Yingge is the third largest ceramic production center in the world! Our first stop in Yingge was to the most AMAZING baozi shop. For those who don’t know, baozi are steamed buns stuff with meat, vegetables, or both. While I have had my fair share of baozi in Taiwan and the Mainland, I might be willing to say that those were the best pork baozi I have ever had (potentially good enough to warrant a second trip back). They were juicy and well flavored, simply delicious. We then went to the Yingge Ceramics Museum. This museum was free and was very well put together. Having spent more time on the Mainland, I am used to going to smaller towns with museums that are put together poorly with inadequately conserved artifacts. However, this museum was a) free, and b) well put together with really interesting new and old ceramic pieces. After the museum we headed to the “old street,” but because it was around 104°F and we were struggling to find a place to eat lunch we taxied over to the neighboring town of Sanxia.
The best baozi
One of the ceramic museum gems.
What this photo doesn't capture, though, is the classical music coming out of the center toilet. 
In Sanxia we visited the famous ‘Qingshui’ temple – a beautiful temple with intricately crafted designs both inside and out. One part about this temple I really appreciated was that you could go up stairs and get a close look at all the decorations and figures on the roof, which often you must strain to see from the ground. After the temple we found an air-conditioned place to eat some lunch on the “old street” and then strolled about with cool limeade. Over all Yingge and Sanxia were both enjoyable, however the heat really wore on me throughout the day and made it hard to appreciate all that we were seeing. Perhaps if it cools down as we near August (ha!) I will have to try to go back!

Me reppin' my GW hat at the Qingshui Temple in Sanxia
The scenery from the train - Taiwan is so lush!

So now that I have told you all the extracurricular activities I have had the opportunity to participate in, back to the main reason I am in Taiwan: learning Chinese! Despite perpetual issues with textbooks, classes have been going well and my Chinese is slowly improving (or so my teachers say). One of the parts of class that I have enjoyed the most in the past two weeks is that the lessons in the textbooks pertain to subjects I have had the chance to study in classes at GWU. For example, recently in my class “Talks on Chinese Culture” (TOCC for short – a staple of the ICLP program), lessons have discussed the impact of the West on Chinese culture and society in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which I studied in Dr. Shambaugh’s class “Politics and Foreign Policy of China;” while other lessons have pertained to Chinese Linguistics and the incredibly diversity of languages that can be considered “Chinese,” which I had the chance to explore last semester in Prof. Dong’s class “Chinese Linguistics.” I have really enjoyed reviewing topics that I have already studied in GW classrooms because it makes me feel as though I am making strides in my Chinese – I can, bit by bit, talk about significant, academic topics pertaining to China in Chinese! That being said – today my classmates and I accidentally ordered chicken’s feet at a restaurant despite thinking we were reading “cucumber.” So while I maybe making progress in my ability to discuss topics of societal and historical significance, I still experience some trouble completing everyday tasks in Chinese.

And with that, I sign off this post! Next weekend some of my friends/fellow ICLP students and I will be making a trip to the Peng Hu Islands (also knows as the Pescadores Islands) in the Taiwan Strait, so stay tune for updates on this upcoming adventure!

Maggie Wedeman

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Living in Shanghai

I’m writing this from my first class cabin on the T110, Shanghai to Beijing overnight train, 15 hours of the low rumbling bliss typical of trains here. I’ve taken dozens of trains in China in the past; I’ve never taken first class before. A special treat as a result of poor, last minute planning. I’m here with my girlfriend, we’ve got a couple cups of noodles and some playing cards. The cabin is cozy: four beds, two bunks on either side of a small dining table under the window and a door for privacy. Our cabin mates are a young Chinese woman from Shanghai, a Fudan scholar as it turns out, on her way to Beijing to collect materials from the National Library in preparation for her visiting scholar trip to Oxford University next month, fluent in English, and her mother accompanying her. I’m going to heat up my bowl of extra spicy instant noodles soon, and mix some instant coffee into kaishui (开水), water from the samovar.

My name is Stephen Dutton. I am a graduate student in the Asian Studies program at the Elliott School. I have been in Shanghai since February, studying as an exchange student in the Chinese Politics and Diplomacy program at Fudan University. I’m staying in Shanghai for the summer however to enroll in the university’s intensive language program. I’ll be refocusing my efforts here from English language masters classes and an English language internship, to full time Chinese. I intend to study, live, breathe Chinese until I get back to DC in the fall (these blog posts are an exception).

My classes start soon, just after this mini vacation to Beijing, so I wanted to offer an overview of my time so far in this incredible city and to introduce the program a bit. Shanghai is unlike any other city I have seen thus far in China. I lived and studied in Beijing in 2007 as an undergraduate student. That city is dominated by politics, the government, CCTV, Tiananmen. Old Beijing and the hutong offer insight to local Mandarin culture. The English speaking expats there are mostly students and diplomats. And I was also studying and living in Chengdu, in China’s western Sichuan province, in 2012. That city resembles the older, slower pace of Chinese culture, ancient even, tea houses along the river banks, pandas, and mahjong. Foreigners are few and far between.

Shanghai is a completely different city entirely. It is an ultra modern, financially driven, economic powerhouse of a city, socially forward leaning, and there are English speaking foreigners everywhere (as well as loads of other languages, particularly French which dominates certain neighborhoods). A walk through parts of the French Concession makes you feel like you’ve almost left China completely, and the foreigner and local communities have blended so thoroughly that it’s truly unique for a city here on the mainland, something more similar to Hong Kong or Taipei perhaps. The city is a sort of east meets west microcosm, it’s livable and pleasant. The smog is mostly a non-issue, nothing at all as serious as it is in Beijing.

Since I’ve been here starting in February, I have had the pleasure of traveling around the city and around the neighboring cities and I think I have a reasonable impression of the city so far. One thing I have noticed though is that it would take a much longer time for me to really understand the subtlety of the local Shanghainese culture. The local dialect is a challenge to understand—actually I think it’s nearly an entirely different language. Locals switch between Mandarin and Shanghainese, depending on who they are talking to. And they are used to accommodating foreigners with at least Mandarin if not some English.

Fudan University is a bit outside the city center in the northern Yangpu district, fairly local, meaning there aren’t many foreigners apart from the foreign exchange students at Fudan and Tongji, another large university nearby. Apart from Fudan, Yangpu is well known in the city for the Hongkou soccer stadium, hosting one of the city’s Chinese Super League soccer teams, and Wujiaochang, a large shopping center with some interesting architectural points of interest. The recent Spike Jonze film, Her, was filmed in around Wujiaochang’s Wanda Plaza (as well as Shanghai’s Lujiazui financial zone in Pudong, and Taipei and LA). The university is ringed by streets of local shops and residential buildings and are bustling with activity: street food stalls, pedestrians intermingling with a chaotic blend of electric scooters and bicycles that ignore traffic rules, and buses and taxis that play chicken with pedestrians and that honk incessantly, delicious and cheap noodle shops, a few foreign student-accommodating cafes, and some cheap bars.

I’ve finally finished my long spring semester of Chinese politics classes and will begin my Chinese language program this week. I’ll be taking full time Mandarin language classes for the summer. Classes are 8-12am each day and cultural classes are offered in the afternoons. They’ll be teaching mahjong and how to cook Chinese dishes (if someone could teach me how to make proper yuxiang qiezi, (鱼香茄子) fish-flavored egg plant, I’d be very grateful, I’m truly obsessed), tai chi and calligraphy, etc. And I think we are taking a weekend trip to the beautiful neighboring city of Hangzhou.

I’m really excited to get started and to improve my Chinese. Knowing some Chinese really helps unlock some of the more subtle cultural points of interest that often go unnoticed to those that have to rely on English. A little Chinese goes a long way and the more I learn the more I want to continue.

I’ll be posting periodically through the program (including some video blog posts which will be new for me) and I will be letting you know about my progress as well as any trips I take. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of my time in Shanghai so far. Enjoy and see you next time…


An old building on the Fudan University campus
Local printing shops on campus
An ever-watchful Mao stands guard by Fudan's main entrance gate

Fudan students relaxing in front of Fudan's famous Guanghua Tower (an early spring-time photo)

A smoggy view of downtown Shanghai from my balcony on the 20th floor of the foreign student dormitory

Chinese gondolas along the main canal in Zhujiajiao, a canal village near Shanghai

A meal of eggplant, cucumber, and chicken dishes in a local restaurant

Locals worshiping in a temple

Typical Chinese lanterns hanging from the eaves of a temple

A view of the canal in Zhujiajiao

Regional delicacies

Another meal

A panoramic view of the Bund (more Bund photos to come...)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Jackie in Japan

Hello again to all the readers of Asia on E Street!

It's been a while since my last update and I've done quite a bit of adventuring now that we've settled into the summer, so I'll give you a peek at all the highlights.

One of the most exciting events of the last few months was the weekend trip to Kyoto and Nara organized by CIEE, the exchange program handling my semester abroad, for all of the exchange students. We spent two days in Kyoto, which was the former imperial capital for over one thousand years before the capital was moved to Tokyo. As a result, the city is extremely rich with historic, traditional, and cultural treasures, especially with its 2,000+ Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

With a couple friends of mine, we were able to have an action-packed day full of sightseeing around the city to see as much as possible. First we visited the Arashiyama bamboo forest, where we took plenty of pictures perfect for computer desktops.

Then after getting lost for a couple of hours in one of the rural rice paddy towns surrounding the city, we eventually found our way back to the action and visited Kinkaku-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple that is gilded with gold leaf and is one of the most popular attractions in all of Kyoto.

Following that, we visited the equally famous location of Fushimi Inari, a rather lengthy complex of Shinto shrines leading up a mountain. The shrine worships the Shinto god Inari, the god of business and commerce, and thus all of the iconic orange torii gates are each donated by various Japanese businesses and labeled as such. Aside from this, most of the shrines along the way are decorated with fox imagery and statues, which are seen to be the messengers of the gods. 

Pictured below are small wooden plaques called ema, on which worshippers write down their wishes and prayers with hopes that the shinto gods will answer them. As you can see, the ones at this particular shrine are fox-shaped and many people decorate them accordingly.

Finally, after exploring Kyoto, we traveled to the city of Nara which is about an hour away by bus, and also a former imperial capital during the 8th century's appropriately named Nara Period. There we were able to visit Todai-ji, a World Heritage Site and the home of Japan's biggest Daibutsu (bronze Buddha statue), even bigger than the one I previously visited in Kamakura. Not only were the grounds beautiful, but the sheer size of the temple and the masterpieces inside of it made all of us feel absolutely dwarfed and astounded considering they were constructed over one thousand years ago. 

However, the coolest thing about Todai-ji is probably the countless deer that roam the grounds and call it their home, thanks to their sacred status and generous tourists who feed them special "deer crackers" that you can buy from any vendor in the area. You're perfectly free to approach and pet the deer, although with caution because there's a good chance they'll go nosing into your bag and try to take the crackers by themselves. They're friendly enough to pose for photos, though.

The trip wouldn't be complete without a deer selfie.

After returning to Tokyo, my daily life has mostly consisted of going to classes and keeping up with classwork, attending circle and club events, hanging out with both Japanese and international friends, and spending time with my homestay parents. Altogether these activities keep me very busy, I have also had the time to partake in some traditional cultural activities as well. For example, I was able to attend my first sumo wrestling match and it was much more thrilling than I expected! The final match of the tournament featured a mid-ranking wrestler with a record of 5 wins and 5 losses versus a top-ranking wrester with not a single loss. It seemed like the results would be obvious but the underdog actually won, leading all of the audience members sitting in the front to throw their cushions into the ring, a gesture of respect shown when a wrestler beats a rival of a higher rank. I unfortunately wasn't able to catch this on camera, but I did take a picture of the precession of wrestlers lining up at the beginning of the tournament.

I was also able to try my hand at making traditional Japanese sweets, wagashi, which are made of sweet bean paste and molded into various shapes like flowers. The one I made can be seen below, and is supposed to replicate the appearance of a chrysanthemum, the Japanese imperial flower. It's definitely more challenging than it looks, so it's understandable why the craft and its stores are passed down within families for generations.

This ties up most of the cultural events I've been taking part in here in Tokyo, and with only about a month left before I return to the States, I'll be trying to fit in plenty more!

Wish me luck, and until next time, またね!