Wednesday, June 30, 2010
I didnt know what to expect prior to arriving at Beijing all I knew was that China is a dynamic country with a constantly evolving culture. I knew that China was one of the five permenant members of the Security Council and that its economic growth, measured by GDP, is kicking every other countries ass. I knew a little bit about the influcence of Chairman Mao on modern Chinese history and a little bit about the human rights controversies that China is often criticized for. Besides, when will I have another oppurtunity to go vist one of the largest countries in the world with the second largest population. If i can make it through China and India, I thought, I can make it anywhere.
Before deciding to go to China I originally wanted to go to Egypt to study Arabic, but the academic program I was interested in that allowed students to study in Egypt for the summer never came into fruition. Besides Chinese was on my list of languages I wanted to learn which included Russian, Arabic, Spanish, Hindi and French. Sure i could learn Chinese in the states but I wanted to be immersed in the language and culture. I honestly did not know what to expect. I figured if I could handle India especially one of India's most densely populated states I should be able to handle Beijing. I didnt do any research before going--I wanted the experience to be completely spontaneous. In hindsight though I wish i would have done a little more research before I went I think it would have made the experience richer. The dorms we were staying in were the foreign dorms at CUEB (Capital University of Economic and Buisness). CSU was representing America.
China has a rich history. Yes everyone knows about the Great Wall but there is also the Forbidden City (Which blows away anything you might have seen on Yo MTV Cribs) numerous palaces, and temples. The temples and palaces that permeate Beijing create a perfect balance between the chaotic life of rapid urbanization and development and the harmony of nature emphasized in the Chinese concept of yingyang. Traditional archieturally designed buildings were constant reminders of China's 5,000 year old history.
No where was that more true than the Terrocotta Warrior Museum in Xian. The figures were created under the adminsitration of the first Emperor. During that time in history, it was believed that the possesions the emeperor had would pass on to the next world. Filled with hubris, the emperor decided to use the CHinese labor force to construct an army of warriors that the titular leader could bring with him to the hereafter.
TRAIN RIDE TO XI'AN
Perhaps more interesting then the Terrocotta Museum was the train ride to Xian province. The train ride was fourteen hours long but luckily were able to sleep on bunk beds. As the train ride took off I immediately tried to practice my CHinese a middle age gentlmen with stained corroded teeth and a constant grin helped me with my pronounciation. Later that night I came across a group of young girls who told me I was cute, and the rest of the other guys on the trip. The curriculum was a mixture of both history and modernity. One day we were visited the Great Wall the next day we would visit a company like Lenov or Yanjin Beer Factory.
TEMPLE OF HEAVEN
Although I visited many sites one of the most memorable sites was the Temple of Heaven. After spending an ungodly amount of time walking with an unmerciful sun beating its rays of heat on my skin, I finally found the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is large. Essentially the Temple is large one giant park. Not only are there temples and fortresses but there are people salsa dancing, singing in Hindi, but Tai_Chi and playing Haki Sack as well. This isnt just a place to go site seeing this is a place were locals get together to hang out.
Shopping was different experience in Beijing. When I went to the Silk Road Market with a couple other students I was suprised to see how many merchants there were and how large the building was. Pearls, Chopsticks, Antiques, T-shirts, electronics, Watches everything was for sell. It was interesting to see how the merchants were more than ready to cut the price in half once costumers began to loose interest. Everything was open there was one small shop after another with shopowners eager and sometimes desperate for customers. Shopowners dished out compliments to customers like candy. "O your so pretty" "O your so Handsome" and in some cases grabbed the prospective buyer by the arm and brought them into their tiny shop.
Another interesting shopping experience was at Wangfujin. The streets were packed overfilling with both natives and foreigners. Although I never been to New York I suspect this is what it might feel like to shop at Public Square. located in the Dongcheng District, the shopping street is now home to around 280 famous Beijing brands. As night over takes day all the stores signs light, it almost feels as if I were transported to Vegas. To make the experience more unique, Most of the side walk is marked by unique artwork. One reason why I liked going to Wanfujing is because of its large bookstores.
On my last week in Beijing I went with Minna, a foreign student from Kazakhstan back to the bookstores. We spent a couple of hours purusing the massive bookstore. She was torn between two books, one famously titled "Men are from Mars..." and the other a book on Emotional Intelligence while i was searching for a book on Chinese culture from local authors. Recgonizing I needed more practice with my Chinese, Minnah persuaded me to ask random strangers where the bookstore was. I had a fun time hanging out with Minnah.I could tell she had a hard time expressing herself in English. Minnah was only one of many students I met in Beijing. Even though I loved hanging out with students from CSU I tried as much as I could to get to know the local students. Besides it gave me a great oppurtunity to practice my Chinese.
Another interesting person I met was Brandon. Brandon a lengthy twentysomething with an emo-styled cropped hair-cut and glasses with thick dark frames, was into Hip Hop, which was ironic because I am the president of the CSU Hip Hop student Association. He helped me with my CHinese and I helped him with his English.One night we went to a Hip Hop club called Mix with a mostly Chinese audience. It was fun but I could tell that this was his first time at a nightclub. "i liked the way the girls danced" Brandon told me with a look of enthusiasm on his face. During our last week I went with Brandon to nan luo gu xiang, on our way there he had me listen to some Hip Hop artist from China. He told me that it is hard to rap in Chinese because of the tones but that he wants to learn how to rap.At hou hai, another magnet for tourism, Brandon told me how he wants a change of scenery and how he is tired of living in Beijing because it is too crowded. For this reason Brandon said he would love to come to America. And told me how it was easier for me to study in Beijing then for him to study in America. (I was reminded of Beijing's large population when I went to take the subway back from Wangfujin with Minnah and we had to way for five subways to pass before we were able to push through and get on one) He was not the only one to feel like this.
Another person I met who had similar feelings and who I also felt I had a close connection with was Summer. A young buisness grad who is hoping to leave China temporarily to pursue a MBA in the states. I met her at a local starbucks coffeeshop.Summer and a westerner from California were working on a marketing proposal to get three-wheel bicycles in the United States. Summer's innocent countenance was warm and inviting. It was a pleasure giving her advice on how to navigate american academics over a warm tasty but overpriced,cup of steamed Latte with grounded white sugar. The resteraunt were we met up at had a high rising celling and a dining room with plush bright blue velvet couches for seating overlooking the city. I went to the coffeshop more than once because it was a good change of scenery and because this cute CHinese twenty something wanted me to help her learn English until she decided she wanted to do it on her own.
One thing I noticed about China compared to India was how salient the Buddha is in China. Everytime I saw a photo of Krishna in a local shop or social organization in Kerala, the same was true for the Buddha in China. Resteraunts, temples and even Massage spas often furnished their lobbies and waiting areas with religious figure. During our trip towards Xian to see the Terrocotta Warriors we went to see one of the largest Buddhist temples in China,besides its massive size (think of Legacy village multiplied by ten)I was impressed by the large giant golden Boddhivistas that were lined up parrallel to one another, inside the main courtyard, which eventually lead to the main temple. In addition I was also fascinated when I learn that the Large temple complex contained some of the remains of the Buddha.
One of the hardest aspects of Chinese language is the writing. Hanzi, or Chinese Caligraphy, is not only a form of writing but it is also considered a form of art. During my visit to the Confucious temple I noticed the intriciacies of Traditional Chinese characters and how each character was rich in detail and contained numerous strokes.
In addition to shopping and exploring different historical and religious sites, I went to see some live performances. One of those performances was at the Laoshe Tea house where men dressed in what looked like silky chinese pijams swung large golden tea kettles with elongated spouts gracefully to pour tea in small cups. While walking around the teahouse I learned that numerous foreign dignitaries had visited the teahouse. Customers come in and sip exotic tea, snack on dates and nuts while being entertained by a dance or a puppet show. Another live performance that I enjoyed was the live Acrobatics show at the local beijing theater. where both men and woman display remarkle skills of agility and atheleticism. For example in the bicycle scene, A girl of women rode around on the stage on bicycles. The scene reached its pinnacle when more than twenty of the female performers climbed on the same bike and circled the stage a couple of times. Another moment that captivated me and most the audience was in the beggining when a juggler performed. Dressed in a retro leather jacket with jaggedly spiked hair and posh sunglasses the juggler successfully juggled more than 8 balls at one time while infectiously hypnotic techno music was playing as his theme music.
One Question I get asked routinely when I returned was how is the food? The food is nothing like the food I'm used to in the States. No duck sauce, Chicken Terriyaki. There is not even a fortune cookie in sight. Instead most the food was slightly different than what I had expected. One of my favorite dishes was fried tofu with gravy and rice. Most resteraunts had "a lazy suzy" a large clear spinning disk on the middle of the table. Various dishes are placed on the circular tray and spun around, while each diner chooses which dish they want to try. Food was not expensive especially eating in the Shitang (dining hall) You can eat for less than three dollars a day I was able to eat all three meals. For breakfast I usually ate a couple fried eggs with rice and mountaou balls. This steam buns were succlint and soft and usually contained a sweet paste in the middle. Another favorite food was the dragon fruit. Although I enjoyed most the food there were times were I was a little hesitant on drinking or eating some food especially from random shops. On occassion i would ask the resteraunt servers how the food or drink is prepared so far I dont think I caught anything, (though my throat has been bothering me a little).
Overall my experience in China was positive. If the future is generous and if I become somewhat proficient in CHinese I would like to go back and possibly get a job tutoring or teaching English. I think the experience in China has definately inspired me to travel more and has made me more curious about the world, I just hope that the next country i visit (hopefully through the Peace Corp) will be as equally rewarding and rich an experience as China or India.