UC tour group sees the old and new Chinas
Forbidden City and the Colonel’s Crispy Strips were both on the itinerary

By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs


Student Services Coordinator La Dawn Duvall (right) and Berkeley junior Alfredo Garcia pose atop the Great Wall of China, a breathtaking stop on the Legends of China tour.

28 August 2002 | Nothing she'd ever heard about China’s Great Wall had prepared Student Services Coordinator La Dawn Duvall for her first glimpse of that wonder of the world, as her animated recollection suggests.

“The friggin’ Great Wall of China! You can see it from space, and it’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years old. It takes your breath away!” she says.

For Maria Padilla, too, only superlatives suffice: “A high point of my life,” she calls her walk on the 2,000-year-old barricade.

The two visited China earlier this month on a tour for UC students and employees — 485 in all, 77 from Berkeley — organized by Legends of China, a California-based non-profit that promotes understanding between the people of China and the United States.

For Jerlena Griffin, director of the Office of Residential and Family Living, as for many other trip participants, the experience hit its mark: “I left China with a deep respect for Chinese culture and Chinese people.”

This week Helen Johnson, director of the Centers for Transfer, Re-Entry, and Student Parents, read a New York Times article about a Chinese village decimated by AIDS. “Before the trip, I would have responded with horror and sadness,” she says. “But now I want to do something; it’s a direct result of my new feeling of connectedness to the Chinese people. This was certainly a life-altering trip for me.”

Chinese workers process green tea at one of the stops on UC visitors’ itinerary, a tea-farm in Hong Zhou. Jerlena Griffin photo

Berkeley students and staff spent a week visiting sights in and near Beijing — including Tienamen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the Great Wall; some added a four-day side trip to cities in the south. The itinerary included a stop at a tea farm and a visit to a silk factory, tracing the labor-intensive task of transforming silkworm threads into a silk blouse.

Legends of China, headed by UCLA alum Yu Lee, plans to offer the “Silk Road to the Future” tour to UC faculty, staff, students, grads, and friends for the next six years, leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Fostering American students’ understanding of China’s educational system is among the goals. And because UC Berkeley is well known and respected in China, the company agreed to revise the trip schedule in order to make sure that Berkeley students could participate.

‘A very eclectic group’
At less than $1,000, including airfare, for a week in Beijing, the trip was affordable both to staff and students. Even low-income, first-generation college students, were able to take advantage of the international educational opportunity. The Berkeley contingent also included a large number of transfer and re-entry students, among them a 72-year-old undergraduate. “We had a very different profile,” notes Padilla, associate director of Academic Achievement Programs , who served as coordinator of the Berkeley group. “We were a very eclectic group.”

Thirty-three Berkeley staff participated, a good number of them from student housing and programming, and for many the connections forged with students, and with each other, were a great, surprising “plus.”

“I met some awesome students,” says Duvall. “I can’t wait until school starts and they come to visit me.”

Chinese students joined the UC group for several ceremonies and events in Beijing, and Johnson enjoyed “wonderful conversations” with some of them as well.

KFC in the PRC
Questions about China’s human-rights record, its occupation of Tibet, the impact of its one-child law , and its burgeoning economic development were on many participants’ minds as they visited Tienamen Square or heard speeches by government officials. If they asked their tour guides these questions, they sometimes got a lengthy answer, sometimes a cursory, guarded reply.

Berkeley junior George Chao paints his winning silk panel, on the theme of world peace. The silk squares created by students will be sewn together into a banner, eventually stretching 10,000 meters, that will be carried in the opening ceremonies of China's 2008 Olympics. George Chao photo

“There may have been a lot of desire to talk to us,” speculates Duvall, “but also a sense that ‘we have to be very cautious.”

Communist Party officials led a ceremony to honor art that UC students had created on white silk squares provided to them for that purpose in advance of the trip. (Berkeley junior George Chao took first place.) When Berkeley Vice Chancellor Genaro Padilla, the ranking UC official on the tour, was mistakenly introduced as “General Padila,” the Chinese students applauded, recalls Maria Padilla, his wife. They thought they were meeting a high-ranking military official, not an academic, she says.

Construction and development, brand names and corporate logos, Starbucks and McDonald’s outlets were visible everywhere they went.

“There were more Kentucky Fried Chickens per square block in Beijing than I’ve ever seen here at home,” notes Griffin. The McDonald’s in Beijing’s city center is said to be the busiest in the world.

Padilla hopes to invite all Bay Area participants —- including those from Office of the President and the Berkeley, Davis, and San Francisco campuses — to a reunion event in October, and to incorporate their feedback into the planning for next year. For the 2003 tour, she wants to enrich the educational component, with pre-trip sessions on political issues, Chinese culture and food, and China and world trade.

The Legends of China website is located at Details on the 2003 UC “Silk Road” tour to China will be available after November, when the campus is invited to contact Maria Padilla, at, for information.


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