On the third day of travel in Chengdu, we again started our morning with a mixed Chinese-western style breakfast at the hotel. After breakfast, we were met by Dr. Zheng Da who served as a main host for the day. Unfortunately, Dr. Xu, who hosted us the previous day, was still feeling a bit under the weather due to the dinner we had all ingested the night before. We piled back into our SUVs, and headed to the first destination of the day.
We stopped first at the town of Yingxiu located within the Longmenshan Mountains. Only a few miles from the earthquake epicenter, Yingxiu was another town that sustained heavy damage from the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. Unlike Old Beichuan, Yingxiu sustained most of its damage either from the earthquake itself or later flooding, not from landslides. Yingxiu has also been partly preserved in its destroyed form and converted into a large memorial and tourist attraction. We could not help but notice how many souvenir shops and restaurants are located there. The conflicting scenery conveyed both a sense of fun to be had, and a sense of mourning. Depending on what direction you were looking in at any given time, you might see a collapsed building or a shopkeeper trying to sell knick-knacks to tourists. Everywhere there were large groups of visitors being led around by tour guides speaking loudly into megaphones.
A middle school in Yingxiu that partially collapsed during the earthquake killing 54 students and teachers. While this figure is tragic, it is still far less than the hundreds killed in the school destructions in Old Beichuan.
The site has now been memorialized with a cracked sculpture marking the date and time that the earthquake occurred: 2:28 PM, May 12, 2008.
Remnants of an old middle school building in Yingxiu.
Viewing the same building at one of the corners, it can be observed where shearing occurred as the building collapsed downward onto its ground floor.
After viewing the ruins, we hiked up above the town to an earthquake museum that details what exactly happened and how the area has since recovered.
A wall carving located in the “Memorial Hall of Wenchuan Earthquake Epicenter” that depicts Chinese soldiers and rescue workers among the ruins of Yingxiu immediately following the earthquake.
Destroyed vehicles recovered from the ruins of Yingxiu.
The Georgia Tech disaster reconnaissance team along with four of Dr. Frost’s former graduate students outside of the Yingxiu memorial museum: From top left: Kieron McCarthy, Ramiro Santana, Fangzhou “Albert” Liu, Raghav Srinath, Donald Smith. From bottom left: Tian Tau, Dr. Zheng Da, Dr. J. David Frost, Wei Wa.
After our exploration of Yingxiu and the memorial museum, we headed out to see a couple of nearby gulleys that had control systems constructed into them. One of the gulley debris flow control systems, Qipan Gulley system, had been designed by Dr. Da. At that particular site, a village and concrete factory had been completely destroyed during a year of heavy rains. The 2008 Wenchuan earthquake did not severely damage the village. However, it did loosen much of the soil deposited in the mountains above it, making the area much more susceptible to debris flows in the future. This along with the earthquake is what prompted the Sichuan Province government to seek out engineers to design systems to mitigate the effects of debris flows in mountainous areas. With the control system in place, a new village and concrete factory were rebuilt in the area.
Dr. Zheng Da, Professor of Geological Engineering Chengdu U.T. with the SKLGP Lab Group and former Georgia Tech doctoral student, standing above the debris flow channel he designed at Qipan village. The system extends far back into the gulley, and only a small portion is visible in the photo.
A view from inside of the flow control channel farther back into the gulley.
An old concrete factory building several stories tall that was completely destroyed by debris flow before the control system was put into place.
A check dam strategically placed high in the gulley to catch large course-grained soil particles while allowing water to continue flowing down the channel. As the space behind the check dams fill to capacity, they must be emptied using heavy equipment. The rocks that are removed from the gulley can then be used in creating concrete. For scale, the GT recon team is standing on the bottom wall, just below the bottom row of drainage holes on the right side.
The group stands atop a check dam viewing a scarred mountainside where soil deposits shaken loose during the earthquake were later washed downhill by heavy rains.
After completing our reconnaissance of the gulley debris flow control systems for the day, the group returned to Chengdu where we were treated to dinner by Dr. Da in a very upscale part of the city. A good comparison of the district where we ate would be the Buckhead area in Atlanta. We even got to eat at a Belgian restaurant. Fortunately, this helped our stomachs to recuperate some from the previous evening’s meal.
The morning of the second day in Chengdu, we ate breakfast provided at the hotel. The breakfast was traditional Chinese with an international influence. It included an assortment of vegetables, rice, dumplings, noodles, fruit, breads, and eggs.
Following breakfast we were met by Dr. Xu as we climbed into three chauffeured SUV’s that were kindly provided by Chengdu U.T. On the way to our destination I noticed that driving on the highways of Sichuan was just as exhilarating as it was in Beijing. We even gave our driver the nickname of “Jason” as in the actor Jason Statham from the movie The Transporter, because of his skills and daring attitude behind the wheel.
Our first destination of reconnaissance was Old Beichuan, a city that was devastated by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, corresponding landslides, and later on by severe flooding during the rainy season. After the initial disaster event, it was decided by the Chinese government that the ruins of Old Beichuan were to be preserved and converted into a memorial for those who had died. The city now stands as a stark reminder of the ability of nature to influence structures built by humans, and the importance of designing those structures to an appropriate factor of safety.
Standing above Old Beichuan, Dr. Xu points out to group members where landslides occurred.
Dr. Xu motions with his hands to demonstrate how parts of the earth along the Longmenshan Fault were thrust diagonally upward during the earthquake. Above Right: Team members standing atop and below a part of earth that was vertically displaced by nine meters.
Collapsed remnants in Old Beichuan next to a photo of what the building looked like prior to the earthquake.
A building in Old Beichuan tilting heavily to one side that performed well structurally, but whose base failed during strong ground motion.
A boulder field deposited by a massive landslide with scarring still visible on the mountainside. Beneath lies one of Old Beichuan’s destroyed middle schools where over 800 teachers and students lost their lives.
A memorial plaque to the victims of the disaster. Approximately half of the citizens of Old Beichuan died due to the earthquake.
PhD student and former Yellow Jacket Fang Zhou (aka Albert) stands next to a boulder that was projected from the mountainside during the earthquake.
The GT recon team stands next to a newly deposited boulder that blocked a small mountain road on the way to the Tianjiangshan quake lake. This made the route impassable for our SUVs, and we had to turn back before the rains created an increased risk for falling rocks.
Following our reconnaissance in Old Beichuan, we were treated to a Sichuan style lunch at the Disaster Prevention Research Center nearby. One particularly tasty dish was sardines cooked with vegetables in mild Sichuan spices.
After viewing the disaster site of Old Beichuan the team travelled to the city of New Beichuan. New Beichuan was constructed in the years after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake to help the survivors from Old Beichuan rebuild their lives. The city site was chosen to be in a much safer area outside of the Longmenshan Mountains on the flat Sichuan Basin. Its construction was paid for using charitable donations and central government funding.
A building in New Beichuan modeled after the watchtower in Old Beichuan.
Our final reconnaissance spot of the day was the Wenjia Gulley debris flow mitigation system. Designed by Dr. Xu, the mitigation system serves dual purposes: to guide rainwater coming off the mountains into a man-made channel away from structures, and to halt the movement of any deposits larger than 1.5 ft in diameter. This system is cleaned of debris at the end of every rainy season in preparation for the next year.
The GT recon team with a local woman employed as gatekeeper of the Wenjia Gulley.
Dr. Frost in front of the water flow control portion of the mitigation system
To end the day, we ate dinner at a local Chinese restaurant out in the country on the side of the road. The food was delicious. However, it lead to some gastrointestinal disturbances for many of our team members over the next several days.
Upon landing in Chengdu, we were received by Dr. Quian Xu, Professor of Geological Engineering at the SKLGP lab of Chengdu University of Technology. On the way to our hotel, I noticed that similar to Beijing, Chengdu is a massive sprawling city. Its population of 10 million is spread over a very large area. In comparison, all of metro Atlanta has a population of approximately six million residents. Unlike Beijing, Chengdu seems to have clean air quality. Whereas in Beijing we began to notice lung discomfort while exploring the city by the third day, we experienced none while in Chengdu. A layer of haze did often cover the city. However, much of it was likely fog due to the hot and humid climate of the Sichuan Basin.
After arriving at our hotel (4-stars and western-style) we headed to lunch with several of Dr. Frost’s international colleagues and former students. Dr. Quian Xu treated us to a large meal that was made up of traditional Sichuan cuisine, which frequently uses chilli peppers in its recipes. Options included Peking roasted duck, sliced green peppers with chicken, dessert sesame buns, tofu with mixed vegetables, etc., and Coke, water, or wine to drink.
Following lunch we traveled to Chengdu University of Technology to hear lectures by Dr. Frost and Dr. Patrick Selvadurai of McGill University in Canada. The topics covered were "Inspiration From Ants: Stability of Geotechnical Structures" (Frost) and "Geomechanics & Environmental Reclamation of Nuclear and Petroleum Projects" (Selvadurai). After the lectures, the GT team was given a demonstration of the drone used for aerial reconnaissance of unstable slope soil deposits.
At the end of the day our group was shown a little bit of the nightlife in Chengdu by a few of the Chinese graduate students. Restaurants downtown remained open late. In the part of the city popular with twenty-somethings, karaoke was a favorite activity after dark. The streets were filled with people, both local and foreign. A pair of monkeys were even available for anyone to pay to hold and take pictures with.
The goal of the day is to board, fly, and arrive in Chengdu, China without complications. We all loved Beijing and the endless tourist and entertainment attractions, but I expect we are all happy to get to Chengdu and get some fresh air. Once again, on the highway Raghav and I aren’t ashamed about not looking at the road in fear of possible accidents, so looking down and pushing the trust button is a necessity as our driver weaves in and out of highway traffic. Driving in China is not an experience easily explained.
On the two hour flight to Chengdu, it occurred to me that all of China operates in the same time zone despite its massive size. Now I realize why it was so light out in the early mornings of Beijing. It made a lot of sense to operate on same time zone and have that time centralized to the middle of the country. As technology and manufacturing drive the Chinese economy, it is hard to rationalize different time zones or even day light savings like the United States uses. One of the more humbling things I witnessed was the boarding of several monks on what appeared to be their first plane ride. I realize the act of boarding is not extravagant, but with the Buddhist monks boarding for the first time ever, I saw how a graceful and positive flight crew embraced them and upgraded them to first class.
37,161 steps. That is how much we walked in Beijing today. My legs have not been this sore since I visited Paris last year while studying abroad in GT Lorraine. We had spent the day before going up countless stairs (over 100 floors) and now we walked about 15 miles total in one day. With that being said, none of us regret it because it is our last day in Beijing (next stop is Chengdu). Our day began at 7 AM with breakfast at the hotel. Our first stop after breakfast was Tiananmen Square, Beijing’s major city square. A current GT student and friend, who spent this summer in the IE Beijing-Singapore Program, suggested that we go to Tiananmen Square anytime between 7 AM and 11 PM because there is a memorial hall that commemorates Chairman Mao Zedong. Anyone could enter the memorial and pay their respects to the former leader of China. We met a Chinese local, who has been teaching English for over 19 years, while we waited in line to enter the memorial building. Though I do not have a recollection of his name, the local was always friendly to us and even lectured us with a brief history of modern China.
Our second stop was the Forbidden City. It lies right next to Tiananmen Square. What was once an imperial palace exclusively for dynasty rulers (those from 1420 to 1912) is now a major tourist attraction with a museum inside. The museum is ranked #1 as the most visited one globally, which surprised me because I thought the Louvre in Paris would attain that rank instead. The palace is large enough that it took us about 30 to 40 minutes to walk from start to finish. It must have taken residents forever to go from one location to another. Nonetheless, the palace is just as impressive as The Great Wall in that it has been a part of our history for many centuries. It is definitely worth visiting, especially if you have seen Disney’s Mulan film. I got to see the real life setting of the final battle scene.
Next, we headed towards Silk Market. The restaurant that Donald wanted to go was on the way. However, the place was closed although their sign with its business hours said otherwise. We ended up eating at the food court on the sixth floor of the Silk Market. Once we were done, we went downstairs to buy stuff (Donald - some sort of souvenir, Raghav - camera lenses and selfie stick, Kieron – sunglasses and GoPro stick, and me - sports jerseys). The Silk Market is like a flea market except that it has recently moved to a commercial building. Everyone but me was able to get most of what they wanted. The jersey store inside did not have any of the ones that my friends or myself wanted.
Once we were done with the Silk Market we went back to our hotel. Our flight the next day is at 7:20 AM. Dr. Frost and Albert are going to pick us up at 5 AM. Next stop is Chengdu, where we will do our recon as well as visit a Panda Sanctuary.
The first item on the agenda was a visit to a site I have been wanting to visit since the sixth grade: The Great Wall of China. Considered as one of several wonders in the world, The Great Wall was a major topic while learning about ancient civilizations in sixth grade. Such fortification has expanded over the course of centuries to achieve many of its purposes, including protecting insiders from foreign invaders. Most of it has been preserved to this day. However, what many do not know (myself included until now) is that several sections have been or will be eroded because they are made out of mud instead of stones and bricks. Other parts are vandalized or taken down for construction reasons.
For some reason, we decided to take the steps all the way up to the section of The Wall we were visiting instead of using the gondola. We were not even halfway through our uphill trip when I started to constantly ask myself why I decided to bring no water, carry a GT bag with non-essential items and wear a polo to this trip. Those were poor life decisions, but I made it to the top with the rest of the group (Dr. Frost split with us and took a different route). The view was spectacular given that it was clear and sunny, unlike in the city where the sky is covered in smog most of the time. It was noon by the time we made it to the top. The sun was cooking us as we walked through the Mutianyu section, built in the early 1400s. Because The Wall stretches for thousands of miles, we were only able to see a small portion. Most of it seems to look the same with a watchtower placed in between walls for every certain number of distance. There was no easy access to make it to the top of the tower, but Kieron and I managed to carry Donald to reach and climb it.
As for our downhill trip, we met with Dr. Frost and rode the toboggan. The toboggan was an exciting yet somewhat dangerous experience. It would not pass US safety standards. Once we reached ground level, I bought a Chinese straw hat in the markets as a souvenir of the trip. Most markets in China are different from those in the US in that the products do not have price tags. You have to bargain for a far lower price because most sellers ask for highly unreasonable prices, especially to foreigners.
It was around 5:30 PM when we got back to Beijing. Dr. Frost and Albert left for their hotel. The four of us (Kieron, Donald, Raghav and I) agreed to shower, get dinner and explore more of the city. Instead, we all fell asleep and did not wake up until about 9 PM. Desperate in our search for local food, we found a small marketplace in Wangfujing. All of us got the Chinese version of kebabs. Donald and I also ate fried scorpions. They tasted a lot like potato chips.
After dinner, we went back to the hotel to continue our sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a long day. We hope to visit Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Silk Market and Bird’s Nest. Donald was recommended to a place called Jianguomen Peking Duck, which we will most likely go to for lunch or dinner.
Note: I finished the day with over 100 floors climbed according to my phone’s health app. I have never gone over 30 floors in one day, until today.
We have finally made it to Beijing, China and after 18 hours of traveling and being awake for over 24 hours we are all in dire need of some rack time. In my opinion, many of the horror stories of the cross pacific flight with our airline provider were put to rest. By no means were we flying first class and I don't think I fell asleep once during the 13 hour flight, but I was pleased with the flight. It got us from point A to point B with graciously poured complimentary drinks and good company.
Language barriers rarely arose and when they did they were quickly broken down. When I don't know the choices for dinner a simple thumbs up to the flight attendant landed me the meal I assume she felt fit my pallet and it did. This also quickly landed me a new friend who was gracious to order my breakfast for me.
In efforts to work on some bartering before we visited Beijing’s Silk Market, my newly acquired friend and I were swapping breakfast items like we were on the grade school play ground. The seeming endless travel did not slow us down as we made a ditch effort to see Beijing’s version of Times Square – and did we ever – as the buildings, crowds, and lights on a Tuesday night did not disappoint."
15 hours of flight time later, we landed in Beijing at approximately 6 PM local time. I had never been on a flight for longer than 8 hours (which was last summer for Georgia Tech Lorraine), but the 13 hour flight from Chicago to Beijing beat the record. The Chinese government’s ban on the usage of electronics during flights made it difficult to find ways to kill time. I should have used the time to get sleep since I had only slept for 3 hours the night before, but instead watched four in-flight movies: Batman vs. Superman, Eye in the Sky (now on my list for top ten films), London Has Fallen, and Bad Grandpa.
Meanwhile, Kieron struggled to get any sleep as he was in the aisle seat next to the restroom and kept getting interrupted by others. Raghav and Donald were able to get some sleep, but also watched movies when awake. Flying with Hainan Airlines was a first for all four of us. The airline experience was good enough for its price, however, I don’t think I will travel with them anytime soon.
Dr. Frost and Albert, a former GT student and current colleague of Dr. Frost, met with us near the entrance of the airport. From there, we went straight to check in at our hotel. Kieron, Donald, Raghav and I decided to explore and become acquainted with the city once we were settled in our rooms.
Dr. Frost and Albert will meet with us tomorrow at 8:15 AM to go visit the Great Wall. We spent most of the night walking through Wangfujing Street, which closely resembles to New York’s Times Square. The area was just as crowded and well lit until about 10:30 PM. There are also several kiosks that sell candies and snacks that can be strange and exotic to American standards (i.e. – fried crickets). We did not try out any of it, but it is highly likely that some of us will taste it at some point.
Our dinner event was held at a McDonald’s because we were hungry and couldn’t decide on a local restaurant to eat at. Before we went to McDonald’s, however, our preferred option was KFC. Raghav has never had KFC and he wanted tonight to be his first time. We all expected the menu to be the same or similar to the ones in USA, but we were wrong. The menu options did not compel any of us. By unanimous decision, we went straight to McDonald’s to have our late night dinner. We returned to the hotel shortly after as tomorrow will be a long day.
Good morning from Atlanta, Georgia, and good evening from Beijing, China! Over the next few days, we'll visit Beijing's famous Bird's Nest, The Great Wall, and The Forbidden City. Before we start exploring, we wanted to share a little about the team.
Donald Smith Major: Civil Engineering Focus: Structures/Fluid Mechanics Year: Undergraduate 4th year Fun Facts: I'm a structural engineering intern with Patrick Marshal & Associates (PM&A). China & Japan will the 15th & 16th countries I’ve visited outside of the U.S.
“I wonder if TSA will let me bring the Cone Penetrometer in my carry on.”
Lieutenant Kieron McCarthy Major: Civil Engineering Year: Current Graduate Student (Bachelor's from United States Coast Guard Academy) Occupation: Officer, United States Coast Guard Hometown: Upper Lake, California Fun facts: My focus at Georgia Tech has been geotechnical engineering in the fields of sustainability and earthquakes. I have been in the Coast Guard for three years in enforcement and port security as team leader and project officer. I love to see new things and take the road less traveled. This will be my first trip to Asia and I'm excited to have the opportunity to learn eastern culture and history.
Raghav Srinath Major: Industrial Engineering Year: GRADUATED UNDERGRAD WOOHOO (finished my 4th year…and a summer). Fun fact: I almost missed my flight for this trip because of 4 gate changes.
Ramiro Santana Major: Civil Engineering Year: Undergraduate 4th year Hometown: Guaynabo, Puerto Rico Fun fact: I did not tell my parents that I went bungee jumping until after I did it.
August 1-13, 2016, four CEEatGT students will travel to China and Japan with Elizabeth and Bill Higginbotham Professor J. David Frost as part of their International Disaster Reconnaissance Studies course. Follow along here and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as the group learns a variety of reconnaissance methods and explores Beijing, Chengdu and Tokyo.
As summer classes wrap up and we prepare for finals, Professor Frost took us down to witness the construction of a wall being built on the Georgia Tech campus. With all the technology, machinery, and options that we have in the 21st century, the construction of a retaining wall could take a year to construct from conception to completion. The magnitude of the Great Wall fortress will not only dwarf this simple retaining wall, but the amount of time, labor, and resources that went into it are hard to even speculate. With this in mind we grabbed a quick photo of the team with the wall. Maybe there will be some similarities in construction between the two walls. However, I don’t foresee a challenge in finding the differences in magnitude and cultural drivers for their purposes.