November 21, 2008.
In the last month and a half I have reached an interesting point in my chinesehood. As I learn more and more about the culture, I simultaneously am more annoyed at the way people here act while becoming more understanding of why they act that way. This has come to be through traveling to different parts of the country, meeting more people, having more in depth conversations as my language improves and hanging out with expats and hearing their point of view.
More than most countries because of its size, China has vastly different peoples and traditions spread across its territory. My mother and grandmother came over for two weeks, and we traveled for 12 days which could have been a general survey of China course. We spent a few days in Shanghai, China's economic center and then flew to Chongqing where we boarded a boat for a four-day Yangtze river cruise. We moseyed down the river through the three gorges and marveled at the effects of the three gorges dam. Villages that we passed were under water, places that once were a meter deep were now 40 meters deep. New cities were built using old bricks from now submerged villages, and new bridges were built where old ones were submerged. We had an excursion to a temple dedicated to hell which was leftover since before the cultural revolution. It escaped being destroyed by the red guard because they feared that if they destroyed it, the spirits of the demons would haunt them. On the third day we passed through the five chambers of the locks and docked on the other side for the night. The next morning we took a tour of the locks and saw the dam. We disembarked for good and spent the night in Yicheng, a city of a meager 4 million.
Next we went to Guilin, an almost mythical city that figures prominently both in Chinese lore and the western view China. Sheer karst hills shooting straight out of the earth and shrouded in mist added to the perception of mystery and adventure. Water buffalos dotted the riverbanks of the Li river, which we boated down to Yangshuo where we saw fisherman and their cormorants and I rented a bike. I rode into the countryside where rice paddies peasants met with water buffalos and plows, and even had a conversation with an old farmer taking his water buffalo down to the river to drink.
We ended our trip on a whirlwind three day stop in Beijing. We managed to hit most of the major tourist sights and were blessed with crystal blue skies the entire time. Travel weary but open-eyed, I returned to Shanghai unprepared for the start of a new semester.
The very next weekend my class went on a trip to local factories. Our teachers and all seven of us students visited a coal cogeneration power plant, a bike factory that supplies Wal-Mart, the second biggest linen producing factory in the world, and a plant that makes solar panels. We were able to tour each factory and talk with a manager. In the bike plant, the people were hand-winding the copper wires in the motors at a speed that is unseen in an American workplace. These women were working with bandaged hands while wearing high heels. They work 6 days a week, 10 hours a day, for 300 USD a month which is slightly over average pay, especially since they live at the factory dorms. Many of the people are people from the countryside that are sending money back to their families.
There is a different sense of responsibility here. My roommate's girlfriend works retail, and someone stole 3000 RMB (about 400 USD) on her watch. She is now responsible for returning the money; her last paycheck was withheld and she must work for no pay until they have recuperated this lost pay. People on the street will not think twice about pushing you aside,
We went to the local municipality last week and interviewed some government officials. We were especially interested on their view of the one child policy, since they are the ones that enforce it. How it works is if someone is pregnant with their second child, the local government (what they call street level government) pays the family a visit and the person conveniently opts for an abortion. "What if they want to keep it?" We asked. We were reassured that they never do. Also, how do they know about their pregnancy? They would not tell us.
I had a chance to go see the Masters tournament last weekend, (both semi final matches). 27 kilometers out of the city looms a giant tennis stadium that was built just for the tournament, it will have little use now that the tournament will be in London. We had tickets at will call and (Lucas, a friend in the program, is the son of the CEO of the company that does all of the electronics.) the amount of scalpers was ridiculous, but nothing can be done about them as they give the local police kickbacks. Example: as we signed the tickets to pick them up, a man was standing next to us, leaning on the glass of the ticket office, asking if we wanted to buy any from him. The other hilarious part of the competition was the challenge system. Every time a played challenged a call, the crowd would cheer IN! or OUT! in a crescendo until the ruling was heard and the crowd let out a sigh. It was as if they were deciding the fate of a gladiator in ancient Rome.
I went to go see the newest Bond film, Quantum Solace. Unfortunately the plot dealt with trying to overthrow a government, which is upsetting the communist party, and the movie was censored. The very first scene stated "The content of this film complies with the PRCC guidelines for foreign films." A good half hour of the movie was directly cut, A few of the scenes right in the middle of dialogue. We left the theater scratching our heads and promising ourselves we would see the movie again in America to figure out what happened.
I also started a new internship at a company called Praxis Language which puts out Podcasts for Spanish, French, Italian, and Chinese learners. I have been helping them with marketing analysis and troubleshooting, as well as making their site easier to navigate. They have even let me appear in a couple of Podcasts: I even explained some Spanish grammar points on the air yesterday! The people that I work with are incredible. They come from all over the world and give me the opportunity to speak in many languages. If I could only keep them all straight…
I am going to Hangzhou this weekend with my roommate, which is a few hours southwest of Shanghai and is home to 6.5 million people. Next weekend I am going to fulfill my quest to eat cat and am going to Canton to do so. I hear they eat everything down there.
Shanghai is cooling off, most of the recent days have barely broken 45, and buildings rarely have heat. I can live without snow though, and I can always go south.
Abbreviated and belated,
吴杰 (Wú Jié)