12 June 2010

Reading maps of China

I've been using Google Maps to examine the locales on our nine-day itinerary, particularly those places we'll be visiting in Yunnan province.  I noticed an odd thing when trying to zoom in on the places--the cities--we'll be visiting. If one looks at an overview of the area of Yunnan P. on our itinerary, one can see the names of the cities we'll be visiting: Kunming, Baoshan, Dali. When one zooms in, though, the names of the cities disappear.  Huh.

Take Baoshan, for example. When one looks at the region surrounding Baoshan, one sees "Baoshan" on the map. Zoom in any further, though, and the city seems to disappear. It suddenly becomes Longyang. Zoom in some more and one can see the Baoshan airport, but there is no obvious city of Baoshan.  What gives?

Well, it turns out that it has to do with the regional and local levels of government, and the way those administrative divisions are displayed on the map. Baoshan and Kunming are what are called "prefecture-level cities." Think of a prefecture-level city as what would be the county surrounding a major city in the U.S. For example, Chicago is in Cook County. If it were a prefecture-level city in China, Cook County would be what is called Chicago. Within the prefecture-level city would be urban centers and possibly rural surroundings, but all of it would be called "Chicago."

The librarian in me wants to know how Baoshan compares to other metropolitan areas in the U.S.  Baoshan prefecture-level city covers an area of nearly 20,000 square km (~7,700 sq. miles) and has a population of about 2.5 million, about the same as the Denver-Aurora-Broomfield metropolitan area. The Longyang district of Baoshan, the urban center of the prefecture-level city, has a population of 850,000, or about the same population as the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metropolitan area or the city of San Francisco.  Kunming prefecture-level city has a population of 6.8 million with an urban population of over three million--the 23rd largest in China--which would make it the third largest city in the U.S.

07 June 2010

Dreams and plans

Had my first dream about China last night. In it, we were driving either to or from Baoshan. The roads were narrow--can't remember if they were asphalt or dirt. The van was a VW bus... and yet, in the way it happens in dreams, it was also my Dodge Caravan.  At one point, I was driving over the top of a dam, a narrow way that made me nervous that I was going to drive off the edge. Then the road began to climb into the mountains. The road disappeared--that is, there were no shoulders or pavement, or even dirt, only rock. The road went up and up into towering mountains and the old bus climbed and climbed. The rock "road" had ruts and raised veins of rocks that made me think the bus/van was going to lose a wheel or get hung up, yet it kept climbing. I wasn't sure I was going the right way at times, but at one point I had to pull over to let a yellow school bus go by. There were a few pickups and cars behind the schoolbus, so I figured I was still on the road. I don't know where it was leading, but we were on the road.

With apologies to my uncle for not heeding his advice to do this sooner, I finally purchased trip insurance yesterday for both me and my brother. The party is now up to eight, which I hear will please Jasmine, our tour guide, because eight is considered a very lucky number in China. (Remember the 2008 Olympics? They started on 8/8/08 for a reason.)  It's now my aunt and uncle, two cousins, my dad and my stepmother, and my brother Chris and I who are going. People are excited when they hear I'm going to China, and I'm excited to tell everyone.

I've been wondering how I'm going to keep in touch with home.  Will my phone work?  Will I be able to write blog posts either with my iPod Touch over the Internet or by SMS message from my phone. Something to look into.

03 June 2010

Some background

My grandfather, Chang Kan Chien, designed and built bridges on the Burma Road during China's war with Japan (known to Western history as the Second Sino-Japanese War and in China as the Anti-Japanese War) in the 1930s and 40s. After Japan overran the Chinese seaports in 1937, China had no way to receive allied supplies for its war efforts. The Burma Road was built to connect the Chinese railhead at Kunming with the railhead at Lashio in Burma, then a British colony. The road crossed over 700 miles of rugged Yunnan landscape, including three major rivers, ridges rising thousands of feet, and miles of mosquito-infested jungle. Two hundred thousand Chinese men, women and even children carved the road out of the imposing terrain using not much more than their bare hands. My grandfather helped to direct part of that effort.

Known as CK to his American descendants, my grandfather was born in 1904 at Chongming, Shanghai, China. After graduating from college in Beijing in 1920, he came to the U.S. for advanced training in engineering. He graduated in 1925 from RPI with a degree in civil engineering, and was awarded that college's prestigious MacDonald Prize. Before returning to China in 1927, he worked in the U.S., helping to design and build the Peace Bridge between Buffalo, NY and Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada, along the way. He married my grandmother, Alice Ryder (whom he met while a student at RPI) in 1929, and founded the Eastern Asia Foundation Company, Ltd., in China in 1933. In 1937, when the Japanese invaded China at the onset of the Anti-Japanese War, CK sent my grandmother and their three sons, Alan (my Dad), Philip and George, back to the U.S. for safety while he remained in China to assist with the war effort. His work included designing and constructing bridges on the Burma Road, including a notable bridge across the Mekong River. In 1940, after this bridge was bombed by the Japanese, the story goes that CK was returning by plane from Chungking to Kunming to assist with the rebuilding of the bridge when his plane was shot down by the Japanese.

On the trip to Yunnan province, a major goal will be to visit sites where my grandfather left his mark, particularly the bridge across the Mekong River (or Lancang River as it is called in China) and hopefully his burial site, which has proven to be elusive, but which we hope is in the vicinity of Kunming.