It’s been almost two months since I eagerly descended the mouth of that crusty 13-hour flight to Beijing, and I feel as if I am finally beginning to shed the naive skin of tourism and understand the true nature of this over-populated metropolis. In lieu of this accomplishment, I am seeing many ways China struggles to preserve face in the proverbial face of public tension. Depicted and paired here with what I felt was lyrically appropriate accompaniment are some of the scenes of nationalist China my eyes have slowly been opened to. There is Tian’Anmen Square, ripe with propaganda footage and flag-waving natives, the Daoist Temple of the White Cloud, smoky with the incense of ritualistic offerings, and a brief moment at the site of a local dumpling hut recently leveled, the owner limply sitting nearby, distraught and weary.
All of these clips represent the disjointed yet eager spirit which to me signifies China. As of late my classmates and I have begun to approach discussions on the question of how developed China truly is. I believe this footage hints at the inconsistent nature of this country, making this complex question worthy of extended discussion.
Another week has swiftly entered and exited my life. This Tuesday marked a month’s passing of our time here. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aware of this progression of the clock, but I am still taken aback by the sheer size of our collective accomplishments thus far.
Last weekend, our Calvin group took a pleasant, yet sunrise-preempting train ride to Beihaide, a resort town on the edge of the ocean. This experience dabbled in bizarre once we arrived and realized that where we would be staying was actually a Russian resort town, littered with Russian families on the sidewalks and distinctly Russian peaks ascending from every hotel roof, every sign bearing Chinese, Russian, and the occasional English translation. Our excursion for the weekend was to the Great Wall overlooking the ocean. We devoted some time to the beach as well, and it was comforting to realize how universal the idea of a relaxing beach can be. At night, we sat on the shore together, listening to the competing waves and the sound of enamored voices nearby, igniting and releasing lanterns into the sky in honor of the coming Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. We found out a notable piece of information: This year dismissing paper lanterns into the sky is illegal due to pollution concerns and may result in a 5,000 dollar fine. Needless to say, I will not reveal any information on whether we engaged in this activity or not. All and all, I found this to be a refreshing time for our Calvin group to engage in some important bonding together. I am constantly relearning the lesson that people are never quite what you expect them to be. I am becoming thankful for the diverse opinions and personalities represented in our group here in Beijing.
Another exciting excursion this week was my class dinner. Though I am enrolled in three separate Chinese language classes, the same students are with me in every period. In this respect I feel that I am almost reviving some elementary school memories I never quite experienced. Each class has a leader who plans outings for all of us to attend. This week we all went to enjoy pizza as a group. I spent some valuable time communicating with my classmates and learning more about them. Being able to weave together a more complete picture of my classmates purely with the use of broken “changlish” is such a rewarding experience.
This week our Thursday outing brought us to Tian’Anmen Square. Although I anticipated it, the total refusal to acknowledge the tragedy of the past in that location was still jarring. It seems that the generation of Chinese youth comparable to my own may not have even been aware that the incident occurred. The square is a huge concrete expanse with patriotic people flowing all over like a lackadaisical river.
On that subject, since I’ve been here I’ve discovered an interesting piece of information with my inadequate grasp of the Chinese language: The word used for patriotism is “ai guo,” a direct translation being “love country.” This insinuation of a borderline nationalist definition both intrigues and frightens me.
Another interesting story: Often on the weekdays we walk a ways to a paradise filled with street vendors, fixing the most delicious of lunch options. The other day when I was waiting in line to receive fried dumplings that I had already paid for, the lady concocting my sustenance suddenly hopped on the bike which pulls the trailer she cooks her food on, and began to frantically ride away, my food and money gently cooking in the back of her vehicle. Following some mild inquiry, I discovered that the street food I know and love so well is actually illegal! when the vendors as a collective get word of authorities coming their way to infiltrate, they quickly get on their transportation devices and pedal out. This surprised me and brought a lot of stimulating discussion to our group, mainly focused on remedies for this inconvenience.
Not only am I taking 19 credits between the Chinese and history classes, but this week I had my first experience with a free painting class I added to my schedule. Coming into the class I had for some reason not noted the likelihood that the teacher would not speak in my native tongue, nor give adequate directions in the low comprehension level I could grasp. Needless to say, that was an experience in patience and intuition as well.
In summary, I am leaning many unexpected lessons daily. I relish the time I have here, while not neglecting the knowledge that not every day is filled with carefree thoughts and interactions. I have attached a video illustrating our weekend on the ocean and time spent with my precious classmates! Those have been some of the most intimate times I’ve experience since my arrival, almost a MONTH behind me!
Until next time.
Wednesday, September 11th. A chronologically visual retelling of a day in my life here in Beijing, China. Life is never still.
It is Sunday afternoon, and I am sitting atop my white sheet sheathed bed, leaning back against a wall plastered with photos of my loved ones back in America. I have just finished my first week as a Chinese language learning student at Shoudu Shifan Daxue, or Capital Normal University. After we put our week tracing the Silk Road behind us, I and my companions have gained stability in some areas of our lives. I have a blindingly white, simple yet homey dorm room that has a window with which I can gaze out at the city and gauge the smog ratio each day prior to leaving my bed. Today, only a block or so remains visible, while the rest is tucked in to a bed of thick, drab fog. My roommate Sydney and I have gotten into the habit of buying small plants from a woman on the street to bring some color to the room. Last time we went, her companion said that we are “not like other foreigners who don’t really care and walk right past.” Those daily interactions with the people I meet on the street bring me joy in their spontaneity and their ability to diminish the culture gap simply with the shy smile of a cigarette-wielding man or a few stuttered Chinese syllables stumbling out of my hesitant mouth.
We have begun to get into a routine of eating unfathomably cheap street food. I’m never sure what to call what I’m eating, but that does not worry me much as I have consumed as few as three tastes I haven’t enjoyed since we arrived in Beijing. Some of our favorite are some-kind-of bean with a really tasty flavoring, a potato and eggplant dish and some very delicious spinach jiaozi (Chinese dumplings).
My classes are taught entirely in Chinese, which is so thrilling to me as an eager student. I have language classes in the morning from 8:30-10 and 10:20-11:50, and Chinese History from 1-3 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I am sure as the days pass and the night comes quicker, I will be more reluctant to have such a rigorous schedule, but for now I am so enjoying the saturation of Chinese culture and language that is dripping into every area of my life. I find myself constantly translating in my head subconsciously, speaking casual Chinese to my classmates and this week I had my first dream in Chinese! All of these are exciting developments, and I am thankful everyday to be surrounded by a group that is just as entertained by this language as I am.
As for my remaining minutes in the day, each and every one is different. Collectively, our group goes on an outing related to our history class every Thursday. This past week we went to see the Confucian Temple. I was particularly impressed with the beauty of the architecture and the bold colors it is strewn with that have been so delicately preserved to this day. Witnessing such an icon in early Chinese history coupled with our studies directly related to it’s importance is such a memorable practice. On our own we have made a few expeditions to local markets, scenic spots, and experienced some night life, all of which have afforded a variety of new and interesting exposures for our group.
I apologize for the vagueness of this post. Once my timing for posts becomes more regular I will be able to offer a more scrutinized look at our life in China!
Ni hao! So many unique days have passed since I have had time to write a worthwhile commentary on my time here in China. Our first week was spent traveling on the Silk Road, admiring many ancient sites and cultural curiosities. Instead of trying to recount that whole week in an unsatisfying scatter, I have decided to make a video representation of some of the things I found the most memorable, as well as documenting the chemistry of our group. So here it is! Soon I will have a more thought provoking analysis of my first week at the university, but for now, I invite you to participate in my first week in China.
It is Friday, August 6th. I awoke this morning at 5:22 A.M. and wondered why I had woken up at this gloomy, pre-luminous hour. As I lay in bed I suddenly became aware of the small, unimportant fact that I LEAVE FOR CHINA IN 4 DAYS. I was instantly accosted by several accompanying thoughts and worries. Even as I type this, on the floor in my yellow room in my small town, a suitcase sits behind my laptop agape with little slivers of summer, autumn and winter clothing hanging out of its mouth.
I thought an interesting exercise prior to my relocation to Beijing might be to make a list of all the predictions, precautions, and words of advice given to me by people who knew a sister, daughter, brother-in-law, cousin of best friend, coworker of brother’s girlfriend’s older sister who had spent some undefined time in China in the past.
Some of the advice/comments I received:
- After 8pm, they turn off the water and you have to pee in a bucket
- all the clothes in China have sequins and are unappealing
- “Well, it is a Communist country, you know…”
- “Your parents are letting you go over there?!?”
- Everyone wears socks with their sandals because it’s so dirty in Beijing
- “Do they have some sort of buddy system in place?”
- All of the alcohol over there is terrible tasting
- The city is so polluted that you cannot go running
- “You will be so sick of Chinese food when you return!”
- It is beautiful in China
- “My grandson is learning Korean!”….
- The Chinese are constantly celebrating holidays
- “You will be a celebrity over there!”
Some of these little tidbits of information may very well be true, but some may be farther from the truth than others. The point of collecting them is that over the course of the semester I will most likely discover how many of these are rooted in the truth.
Well, that is all I have for now. The next time I return to this blog I should be safely nestled in my dorm room in China! Unbelievable. Wish me luck!