So today I’m going to try something a little different. I’m just going to type. Type anything and everything that pops into my head when I think “Studying in China,” and hopefully it’ll make some sort of sense :)
When I think of China, I think of smog, skyscrappers, temples, mountains, rivers, dragons, and my absolutely inability to master the 3rd tone of the Chinese language. I think of the time I had to go to 5 stores before finding shoes in my size, ordering pork and getting what was definitely NOT pork, volunteering as an English teacher at the Xichen community center, and the many, many, MANY long days studying zhongwen (Chinese). I think of the double-looks people give me, all the pictures random Chinese people take of me and my friends, and the almost constant question, “You look a little Chinese. Oh–your dad is Chinese! Well then why don’t you speak Chinese?!?!?!?!?” But, most of all, I think of the the people I have met and the information I have learned.
When I think of China, I think of my Chinese class. I’ve been in Chinese classes for almost 6 weeks (midterms are in 2 days–yikes!), and these 6 weeks have felt like 30 seconds and an eternity at the same time. And my Chinese progress is due mostly in part to my two amazing teachers, Tang Laoshi and Chen Laoshi. To
day we found out that Tang laoshi (one of my Chinese teachers) doesn’t know how to ride a bike! And here I thought everyone in China knew how to ride bikes (there are definitely enough of them crammed into every spare streetcorner or behind every building on campus). But she said she never learned! Well me and my mischevious classmates couldn’t let that go one for too much longer, so after class we promptly brought over one of my classmate’s bikes and plopped my Chinese teacher on top of it. She laughed nervously and we half pushed/half pulled/half let her peddle (yeah, I know that’s too many “half”s) about two blocks down the road before she almost ran into a tree! It was probably one of the cutest moments yet of my time here in Shanghai.
When I think of China, I think of tradition. Even though I’m in one of the largest cities in the world that is constantly straining to become more and more modern–Chinese tradition is everywhere I go. I study it in my textbook, I learn it as I form my Chinese characters and learn their meanings, I see it in the way my roommate speaks of her parents, when my teachers speak of China’s history, and when I walk around the city and see 1000-year old temples between 21st century skyscrappers. Shanghai is such a blend of modernism and traditionalism. The young are looking ahead, but learning from what is behind. One of my favorite parts of each morning is seeing groups of elderly doing tichi or excercising on what I call “old people play grounds.” They have preserved this part of their culture despite living in a concrete world of buildings, cars, and factories.
When I think of China, I think of disparities. I think of how my Issues in Chinese Society teacher cannot get a grant because the government does not approve of his LGBT reserach. I think of how career women are looked down upon and can’t find husbands, and how my roommate said she thinks men should be superior to women in relationships. I think of how I can’t access facebook or email or my University’s website without having a VPN because the government has blocked it. I think of how the One Child Policy has changed the social landscape of China–for people no longer have aunts, uncles, cousins, or siblings. There are so many things I see in Chinese culture that I would deem as “unfair”–but I have to remind myself that I’m coming from a different background and way of thinking that the Chinese do. While I see things in China as strange, they proabably see similar things and problems with the American way of life. For example, Chinese people don’t think American families are strong and functional because of the lack of support within them. How am I to say that this is fair, but what goes on in China isn’t?
When I think of China, I think of amazement. Constant, constant amazement. Every day is a new challenge and every day is an adventure. It is impossible for me to go 10 minutes without learning something new. I am in a constant state of growing and evolving, soaking up everything that China has to offer.