I am back from china, and it is hard to describe what it is like to come home and see this...
I left Beijing at 5:25pm on wednesday December 26th and landed in Chicago on Wednesday December 26th at 3:45pm.. yes the wonders of time zones meant i travelled back into time. This sort of flight can and did take its toll on my internal body clock.. especially when the flight homoe was populated by crying babies.
My last day in Beijing i ran around the city trying to shop and explore outside of the tourist sites. A friend of mine also arranged for her cousin to meet me and i got to see the nightlife of the city a bit more. Aside from burning my mouth and stomach with Hunan food, we saw a group of chinese couples gathered to dance outside in the park (in sub freezing temps). They all obviously knew how to swing dance... however the music was country.
here is a picture..
Anyhow, since this is my last post i wanted to share some of my observations and insights on my trip.
1) Ice water is unhealthy for you... at least according to the Chinese. I found it impossible to ever order ice water, even when a waiter or waitress gave in and said they would give me ice water... they just played a game of attrition, pretended not understand me, and protected my health even if i didn't know better.
2) Chinese people don't all lookalike. that may sound like a strange thing to say, but i honestly couldn't see all the variation and differences in chineseness until i went to china. It took a few days before my asian radar was hopelessly broken.. you know what i mean, the radar that kicks in when you walk into a room and try and find your brethren in a sea of white people. However.. there was some comfort in knowing this.. i never saw anyone that looked like me.. so i now declare that i am at least one in a billion.. yes, not one in a million, but one in a billion. Thank you. And the fact that i look young.. is not just an asian thing. Most of the chinese thought i was at least 8-10 years younger than i am. (oh yeah....)
3)The Chicago Transit Authority sucks when compared to the world. Hong Kong is extremely impressive and even Beijing's subways and buses were clearly more efficient and technologically advanced. Most of the buses had tvs and it was impossible to wait more than 3 minutes for a train in either city. FIX THE CTA!
4) People don't care about whether or not you are an american... unless they think they can get more money from you. When i first planned for the trip, i was wary of calling myself an american, it was a strange mixture of worry about being deemed the "imperialist" and being looked at as a source of easy cash. However, my dress took care of the concerns about being seen as a cash cow (everyone thought i was a student at best.. who said that the "shabby look" doesn't have advantages?). Most people were more fascinated that i looked chinese but ocouldn't speak chinese rather than the fact that i was american. People didn't give a damn.
5) Pollution is scarey. I already wrote about air quality.. so instead i'll show you. This is a picture of the sun.
mind you this wasn't dawn or dusk.. but 1:00pm... doesn't the sun make you want to go and pet it and soothe it?
6)The world is quickly starting to look like a giant template... you know how everyone gets mad at how the new parts of the city look like they all came out of cookie cutters? Well, i think the world is starting to look like it.
would you be able to tell that this was Beijing and not a view of Chicago, Boston, or New York if i didn't tell you?
don't misunderstand, it isn't all bad.. i mean the tourbook may call hutongs "charming" but i think the more accurate term is rundown, shabby, and shocking.
The fact that the world is shrinking has brought unbelievable progress, but there is no doubt that something is lost.
7) My stereotypes of the Big Brother Chinese government were certainly challenged. I expected people to be afraid to decry their government, yet taxi drivers on the first day in beijing were telling us that the Party hasn't done any good since 1949.. i thought internet control would prevent me from reading newspapers.. and yet aside from the strange obstacles from me being able to read my own blog i couldn't find many websites barred. And then, i found my biggest shock when i went to a bookstore..
Yes.. that is George Orwell's Animal Farm, i never thought i would see a copy of Animal Farm in communist china.
8) My dad asked me on the first day of my arrival to Beijing whether this trip made me feel more chinese or less. I didn't know how to answer him then, i hadn't been able to absorb much of what i had seen. I had just come back from Xian, saw the cultural history of the chinese that reached back more than 6,000 years, saw sights and wonders that made me reel.
I have thought about that question a great deal since my dad asked me that question and i think i have my answer.
I feel less chinese. Chinese culture was something that i held on here in the States as i grew up, in a way it was not just a form of my identity, but also a shield i used against racial slurs, and stupid prejudices that were directed at me. When people called me chink, made fun of my slant eyes, or mocked my "small penis" (please notice the quotes... thanks eddie murphy, really thanks a bunch...) i could always think of the accomplishments of my ancestors as a source of pride. We invented paper, we made fireworks, we were the mightiest nation in the world for a long time.
And yet, when i saw upclose what China has become, and realized that my view on china doesn't exist and probably never did, i realized that i am more american than i had ever before acknowledged. I say this as a person who cringes at nationalism, and hates seeing the stupid mindless patriotic blither that people use as a rationalization for the horrors inflicted on the world. But nevertheless, i do feel american, mostly the best parts i think. The newness of it all, a culture that is not devoid of history, but rather has had the blessing of cultures and histories of the entire world. A country that is also more free of the lessons and scars of history than most. I don't think people in this country realize what a rarity it is that our country is composed of such a wide range of nationalities and ethnicities. It really isn't just an empty catch phrase, even if it sounds like it could be a PSA announcment from the 1980s.
At the same time i feel less chinese, i also feel like it matter much less than i thought. The links and ties of humanity really are much stronger than the shades of culture, ethnicity and nationality. That is a comforting thought to me. I came home as the news of Bhutto's assassination hit the airwaves. This is a scary period, a time where strife, suffering and fear will spread. I can only hope that our shared humanity will be enough.
9) I am going to leave you now with some fun images..
tell me this wouldn't make a great album cover..
This is the roller coaster on top of hte great wall.. yes a roller coaster.
This crown is made of gold... gold woven so thin that it looked like pure thread.