For the Microcampus trip, a group of 16 students came to Xizhou to explore and learn. We left the metropolis of Shanghai, which the long and vengeful urban sprawl, to immerse ourselves into a village of 2000 or so people, and where time slowly crawled like an ant in a pot of honey.
For the main project here, the Inquiry Project, where we learned about a topic that was of high interest to us. For my topic, I decided to create my own topic. My topic was the Change and Development of Xizhou, which was about projecting the future by understanding the past and present. As someone who is interested in predicting the future and understanding the past, my topic naturally morphed into what it is now. I love my topic and am still passionate about my topic, and am glad I chose this topic.
For sources, I chose from a motley collection of scholarly articles, news, books, locals, professionals, and other miscellaneous sources. The key of my project is diverse and balanced viewpoints, and I think a variety of different forms of sources is helpful. The most helpful sources were Mr. Zhang Rui, the tourism center employee, and Mr. Peter Tsouras, who wrote an article about China's conflict with Vietnam. My other sources were less relevant, but still provided welcome context for the information.
I think that projecting the future is a job that is better left to experts rather than the locals. Even though the locals have valuable insight, it is the experts that have the big-picture macro view.
In Phase 1, when I came up with my list of questions, I decided to center the questions around change over time. They talked about different government regimes and major problems. Even though they did not make it into the final product, it was still interesting to have a lot of good information.
Thesis: In order to predict the future of Xizhou, one must understand the arguments and reasons that predicts a future where tourism overruns local culture and environment, a future where initiatives to protect culture and environment drives out large businesses and the tourism industry, and a future where the tourism industry thrives and supports local culture and environment.
Sharing My Learning
If you cannot watch the video, here is the link to the Youtube video.
My takeaway from the Inquiry Project was that the different perspectives can play different roles and provide different conclusions in an interview. For example, my favorite source, Mr. Zhang Rui, the tourism center employee, was very knowledgeable with regards to his topic. He played a critical role in helping to shape my 3 perspectives in my final jproduct, because he knew vast swaths that the normal layman would not know. For example, he felt that the tourism industry was struggling, and pointed out the various challenges it faces. For example, he was fully aware of the lack of infrastructure and the lack of guesthouses. The normal person would not be able to realize this: they would only know if the number of tourists were increasing or decreasing. So in the future, the best way to ensure success is to access a variety of different sources, like I did with my collection of theses, books, local contacts, government archives, professionals, experts... Then it would be more than likely that one of those sources would be a gold mine.
My topic also changed significantly over the course of my Inquiry Project. Before the project, I had been naive enough to include Big Questions such as "What is the general plan for economic development?", beforer realizing that knowledge was not accessible to the layman (They do not go around studying government documents). So I was forced to change my topic to only include the past and the present, and left the task of predicting the future to myself.
The most difficult part of my research stemmed from the fact that I had a very broad topic. But having a broad topic also gave me more options, and was truly a double-edged sword. When it came time to do my final product, I found myself struggling to find a way to present the large volume of information. It was only until Mr. T gave me an interesting idea (projecting the future), that I finally found a way to present.
My biggest a-ha moment was when I had a conversation with Mr. Zhao. I had lived under the assumption that people would at least care marginally about politics and the big picture, because things too often trickle down from big picture to personal impact. At least, that was how I lived my life, and why I spend 20 min a day to spend reading the news. But the locals held a different perspective, that things did not matter until they did matter. When the big problem trickled down, they dealt with it. That marked a major turning point in my project, where I decided to change the course of my project.
I realized that I had learned a vast amount from the Inquiry Project, and my Phase 3 soon became a long compilation of memorandums. But I did not learn so much about the change factor. My Inquiry Project has soon became a stop motion of many short clips, and I was left with the task of compiling the clips. But the short clips still proved very helpful in providing me with some intuition about what was changing and why it was changing.
This inquiry project has really allowed me to interact with the community and locals that live here. This has proved vastly more helpful than the Service Learning Project, because when I actually knocked on the door or entered the shop of some person, I actually had a purpose and a goal in mind, and actually had a list of questions. I feel that I have made many friends in the village, some of which happened to be my Inquiry contacts, and some of which happened to be the Inquiry contacts of others, which is really cool.
I have understood myself better as a person in my degree of formality I usually operate on. For some people, the conversation meanders, and more or less covers the ground that they were hoping to cover. I have taken a much more surgical approach to things, jumping right in and steering the conversation carefully. But one of the down sides of this approach is that people would feel slightly uncomfortable talking with me, a point Mr. T had made.
I surprised myself with regards to the amount of information and the depth of my conversation. I think my Inquiry work has shown more depth than most of my other projects, and I was pleasantly surprised by the richness of information. This was all gained through a long journey of observation and a fair amount of interpretation. Only then did I manage to pull off my very-hypothetical Inquiry Project.
Some advice I would give to others would be to make sure to plan the final project and take sufficient photos. Being stuck into the words and the conversations, I did not take as many pictures. When it came time to make my final product, I found myself stuck with a dearth of photos. To make things even worse, because my project is very hypothetical and also very abstract, I could not take as many photos than if my project was something concrete, like antiques. But I put the photos that I had to good use, and my final product turned out fine (hopefully).
If I had more time to spend on my inquiry project, I surely would have investigated the cultural aspect of change, and would have dove into the question: "What was culture like then? How did it change?" But my final product was already full and stuffed with information, so I do not know how that would have fit into the grand scheme of my Inquiry Project.
And finally, a big thanks to everyone who have supported me, from the teachers (Mr. Tafel, Mr. Chen, Ms. B, and Ms. Mai) and my fellow peers (Notably Anders L., Sunny Q.), and most of all my contacts. They were really friendly and candidly answered all of my questions. Thanks again to everyone who shaped my Inquiry Project and made it a view-worthy piece of work.
This concludes my Inquiry Project, which has spanned 3+ months and multiple steps. The Inquiry Project has made me view change in a different way, and see the value of everything we lose when we chase after the elusive profits. I would remember the life lesson of my Inquiry Project for a long time to come.