The twenty students who took part stemmed from a variety of majors including Engineering, Environmental Science, Economics, International Studies, History, Urban Studies, and the Arts They are from Vietnam, India, of Laotian, Jamaican, and Venezuelan backgrounds, as well as from different parts of the United States. Indispensable scholarship aid came from a variety of sources including the China Urban Studies Summer Program Endowment Fund, the O’Neill Asia Cum Laude Endowment, the Charlotte Riggs Scholarship fund, and the Class of ’63 Scholarship.
After nearly a week of preparation on campus and along the Connecticut River, the program arrived in Shanghai as its port of entry. As in the past three years, we started with a visit to the municipal planning hall where Professor Garth Myers joined us (see first photo). We continued our collaboration with Fudan University with programming on their campus and examined some of the ingredients of Shanghai’s dramatic success. For the first time this year, we visited the new Xiaoyangshan container port—now the world’s largest—and a variety of industrial venues—including Pratt & Whitney’s engine repair facility--and historical locales linked to the themes of RCA.
From Shanghai, the group flew to the booming municipality of Chongqing in southwestern China. We toured the vast Zongshen motorcycle factory, a Hewlett Packers computer production facility (see second photo), and a variety of historical sites like the famed ‘Eighteen Steps’ neighborhood. We tested the water of the Jialing and Yangtze Rivers and explored the challenge of building a megacity on the headwaters of the world’s third longest river.
Our next stop was the beautiful city of Kunming in Yunnan Province where Professor Beth Notar of the Anthropology Department joined us. Professor Beth Notar planned lectures and activities related to Kunming’s history and contemporary situation that were an excellent point of departure for the experiences that followed in Southeast Asia. Leaving Kunming, we made a wonderful side excursion to Lijiang where the group visited the best-preserved ancient city in China and experienced first hand the diversity of China’s minority cultures.
From Lijiang we traveled to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, and began to focus on development issues along the banks of the Mekong. With a far smaller population and territory than China and a tangled historical heritage, Laos is developing along different than its northern neighbor, but we saw signs of emerging plans undertaken with China and Thailand that may bring good results. We visited the Nam Ngum hydroelectric plan of a Mekong tributary and were briefed by staffers of the Mekong River Commission on plans for the development of the river. We also visited with monks of the Buddhist Development Project at Wat Pha That Luang golden pagoda who told us about their efforts to build an environmental consciousness in the Lao Peoples’ Democratic Republic and presented Dean Chen with a Buddha for the Center for Urban and Global Studies.
Our next step was Siem Reap in Cambodia where we saw the UNESCO World Heritage site of Angkor Wat. In the Angkor ruins we gained acquaintance with the principles of ancient city design and this was followed up on later in the capital of Phnom Penh by a well-designed architectural survey that identified key aspects of the built space of the city. The pace of development in Cambodia seemed to be picking up with infusions of capital from tourism and joint ventures. In both northern and southern Cambodia, construction sites and city streets hummed with activity.
The trip from Phnom Penh to Vietnam was a twelve-hour motorboat ride on the mighty Mekong that brought us to the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho where we studied food security and environmental issues prior to a last stop in Ho Chi Minh City where, among other activities, we visited the Phu My Hung New Town project built on a wetland and discussed the pros and cons of such development.
This interdisciplinary program afforded background material on the sites visited in the field and ways in which to view and consider these places. Each city, whether ancient or modern, large or small, presented us with elements of history, context (geography, population, government focus, social issues), and environment. Being embedded in these places allowed students to think about the challenges faced in each place whether it comes to environmental sustainability, preservation issues, or finding viable means to support and nourish growing local populations. In the end, all of the students—and the faculty too—engaged the array of issues that interested us in new ways. Discussions between the faculty and students along the trip and feedback received after the trip showed that the twenty lucky students who took part were profoundly affected by our experiences and we are sure that these experiences will give them perspectives that will last for a lifetime.