Concluding Sentiments

I call these my concluding sentiments as opposed to ‘conclusions’ or ‘concluding thoughts’ because sentiments are less logical, less detached. Sentiments contain nostalgia, an unexpected discovery of another place to call home. A re-embracing of a culture I had long neglected, suppressed. Of sentiments that have changed me . Of sentiments that sustain me still.

After spending a month in Bei Jing  with IARU students from all of the world who traveled to study in China I have come to not only embrace my Chinese culture but also develop a sincere hope that the future of China and the United States will be one of integration, not competition. Of cooperation, not destruction.

Until recently I had not realized that there was always an unconscious effort on my part to subdue and erase my Chinese heritage. You’d think  the Chinese people would embrace their own heritage. This is not the case. Especially not before the Chinese economic boom. The Chinese has long suffered from a distaste of its own nation. Even when I was still growing up in China, everything made in China was regarded as less valuable. Thus, even when I was in China I had the incentive to depreciate my Chinese values, culture, and heritage. Once I moved to the United States, assimilation became the main issue. Even though I was little, I was human enough to understand that I was a foreigner, that I was different, that I needed to focus on ‘American’ values (whatever those may be) and to assimilate. In other words, there had always been incentives for me to neglect and repress my Chinese culture. And I always have.

At Peking University, I met IARU students who were so passionate about their Chinese heritage – were so excited to learn about the Chinese culture as opposed to criticizing it. All my life, all I’ve heard about China was criticism. This time was different. Their respect, knowledge and willingness to learn about China and to withhold judgment was not something I had seen before in regards to my heritage. (I’d like to take this moment to acknowledge the inspiration they have all offered me). In my experience, though, they are the outliers whether in China or in the United States. And I am sorry to say that I have been contributing to their marginality. I have always avoided my Chinese heritage. Spending a month with them and seeing their eagerness to learn and love the Chinese culture was the first time I have really embraced my own heritage. Once I started, it was hard to stop. It is such a fundamental part of me and the culture is so intriguing, so rich, so deep that you cannot help but fall in love with it. So from the generic tendency to  judge and deride the Chinese, I emerge a new ren (person) with a recognized and respected heritage that I proudly embrace.

With the US pressurizing China to push up its RMB currency, trends to neglect Chinese culture, values, and sentiments are still present. The fact that the general public views China as a economic and power threat to the U.S is a complete misunderstanding of what China is about. The Chinese culture, much based on Confucianism, seeks the acceptance and approval of the U.S. It believes in deference, integration, optimizing relationships. China does not want to compete with the U.S’s hegemony over the world. It perceives itself incompetent to do so – ask any of its citizens.

To perceive China as a threat to the US taints its deferential labor to the world and mars the very efforts it has contributed to win the world’s acceptance. To not only deprive the Chinese of the respect and approval that it has worked hard to earn but also demonize it as the next threat to all that is free, just and humane will have cheated the Chinese of their chances at happiness. They too, are seeking for ways to attain peace, prosperity, stability. If the world continues to pursue its own economic and political agendas with ignorance and disregard of Chinese values and perception, happiness will not only be out of reach for the Chinese, but also for all those that are now connected to the Chinese economy.

Comparative Philosophy

This is my first philosophy course ever and at first, I was really confused by what was going on, but then the professor was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable that I really came to love this course. Professor Ames from the University of Hawaii and has visited China for 10 years annually. He worked with one of the legends of Chinese Philosophy translators (D.C Lau) and has translated over 30 books of his own. I really enjoyed going to his class.

Professor Roger Ames

The class workload is more on the rigorous side as he quizzed us on each of the readings that he assigned and expected a 2000 word essay every Monday during the four weeks that we were there. So yes, it was quite a lot of work, but I suppose it is expected in the summer.

The class was also very rewarding and gave a clear and insightful overview of both Chinese and western philosophy. In the beginning, the class went over Plato as the foundation of western philosophy and talked about how it was significant even today.It also inserted serveral aspects of Chinese philosophy for contrast.

Later, the class discussed Confucianism (The Analects), then the Daodejing and finally the ZhongYong and the books were all free and written by the professor himself. It was quite a delight to receive all those books where we had to pay 70 RMB (still cheap – about $10) for the econ reader.

By the end of the course, you will be able to discuss the different aspects of western and Chinese philosophy and how they have different social impacts. Definitely worthwhile if you want a deeper understanding of Chinese culture and customs.

Economics

Economics was a very interesting class, although I expected more background coverage on the economic reforms of China before diving into its current problems. The course is designed for students with some economic background, but I have never taken economics in college and was still able to keep up with most of its concepts with some help from the others.

The class was 3 hours long on most days and we usually watched a 1 hour video each class from Stephen Roach who is Chairman of Stanley and Morgan Asia Limited and other important economists.The rest of the class, Professor Li who is a professor at Peking University went over the articles we were supposed to read in the reader.

I’m unsure of the time structure of the course as it jumped straight into data describing the  current Chinese economy as opposed to a economic history of China. After the a overall description of the Chinese economy, it went over the articles we were supposed to read and in turn discussed the current problems that China  facing. Like I said, I think he could have gone over how China got to the economy that it has now before exploring its current problems.

Still it was good that the class delved into detail for each of many Chinese economic problems and provided detailed articles debating both sides of each issue, usually split between China’s POV and foreign POV. In class we mostly discussed China’s POVs.

Research projects were also insightful as students self-conducted those and mad 20 minutes presentations on their assigned/chosen topics. This made up 20% of the class grade, the rest 20% on participation and 60% on the final essay.

Overall, aside from the lack of coverage on economic reforms, the class pushed students to explore the current economic state of China and form their own opinions. By the end of the course, students can expect to enter into economic conversations regarding China. Thus, it is quite rewarding and worthwhile in that way.

Mandarin Class

First, the classes finished. Then, everything else.

So, regretfully, the IARU program has come to an end. Slowly, silently, each one of us left. Put in another way, it died not of a sudden, violent death, but one that was peaceful, heavy, soaked in its everlasting sadness. For when will we meet again?

But before it is all forgotten I’d like to give it its proper endings, and share some of the things I learned in class to help future  IARU PKU students.

For my Mandarin, i has been relatively easy with fun interactive activities provided by the teacher. Most of the time, we just went over the textbook and then the teacher talked about whatever was one his mind. Most of the time, this involved key cultural characteristics such as food, such as historical landmarks, historical figures, books, movies, etc. etc. In addition, he showed us contemporary music that had cultural references such as Hua Tian Cuo by Wong Lee Hom. It was really quite interesting to sit in class and to just listen to the topics that the teacher brought up.

In addition, my Mandarin teacher is really adorable  and likable because he’s so energetic and easygoing. But in Chinese class, we actually talked about some pretty serious stuff . For example, we had short presentations by each of us (3 minute talks) about a more advanced issue in China and these ranged from women’s rights in China to the relationships between Hong Kong and Taiwan to the split identities that many of us feel as Chinese  immigrants.

it seems to me that the teacher actually obtains a lot of his information and stories from the internet. He taught us terms such as “hide-and-seek” and “drinking too much water” that carry heavy political implications but are commmonly used online. Both of these terms refers to when young men were taken by the Public Safety Ministry and mysterious died. When the family members inquired about the reason for their deaths, one family was given the reason of “drinking too much water,” the other “playing hide and seek.” Thus, these terms have become common online to describe the cheekiness of the government and the lies that it is capable of coming up with. In addition to these terms, we also talked about the more entertaining sides of the internet such as the octopus brother who predicted every game of the world cup. From him, I can see that the Chinese people are really looking towards the internet for a less propagated point of view and starting their own discussions relatively free of the government. They also have these internet bars that you can go to because not everyone has PCs in China.

Overall, Chinese class was very enjoyable with its interesting short stories and discussions of the current issues in China. The teacher was very easygoing and eager to interact with the students, which made it a easy and non-stressful class. Mostly, in terms of Chinese, we learned to write more characters although I though I thought we could have had more difficult  reading materials. The class was hard to coordinate, though, because everyone was on different Chinese levels as people were placed into different classes based on a test but the most advanced were lumped into one class of varying levels. So, one of the most interesting and enjoyable classes I’ve taken. I will end with a picture of our awesome professor.

Mandarin teacher 🙂

Night Life

The night life is quite flamboyant in China. In BeiJing it takes place in the 朝阳 (Chao Yang) District. It’s quite convenient as it’s only one taxi away and there are many taxis waiting for you as you come out of the club.

In many ways, the night life here is much more active than in the States as the clubs open till late into the morning such as 5am and night cuisine follows suit. There are streets of simply night clubs in lots of cities and they are often flooded with youngsters almost every night. KTV is the popular and sometimes preferred alternative in Chinese culture though and many people rent a private room to celebrate.

Back in Chinese clubs the people, I must admit, are a lot less scandalous than back in the States and it provides a relief from the ones back in L.A. People chain-smoke a lot in clubs though and you’d come home with clothes smelling like smoke.

They have all sorts of night clubs. I found a Lady Gaga one especially amusing. Lady Gaga seems to have to take over China as well and there is even a saying of “oh my lady gaga.”

Lady Gaga Club?!

There is also a bit of segregation between foreigner clubs which tend to be higher end and domestic clubs. Either way, they are very nicely decorated and feature skilled drink-makers (bartenders?). I have gone several times with IARU group and enjoy partaking in the night life in China very much. Even if you are not the going out type, checking out the night life and how much the Chinese love to stay out at night is worth the visit. Other than that, the clubs are not that different from the ones in foreign countries but with lots more people, as is the case everywhere in China.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MORGAN 🙂

Things that are Hard to Adapt To (不习惯的东西)

  1. food
  2. water – tap, drinking
  3. public bathrooms..!
  4. mosquitoes !!!

Although I was half-raised in China and many things feel familiar rather than foreign, there still are certain things that I have trouble adapting to here. The sanitation standards are on average, lower. This is especially manifested in the public bathrooms. In addition, the air is noticeably worse.  It’s actually a better in Beijing than it is in Shang Cha (长沙-my hometown), but in Shang Sha, you’d never see the sun and the sky would forever be a hazy yellow. But after it rains (which it did while I was there), you can actually see the clouds and I felt like I was back on earth… I think global warming is much more noticeable in China than in the States although both countries are big contributors to it. Just looking at the Chinese weather, the numerous mosquitoes and the number of natural disasters that occurred this year (I saw this in an art exhibition dedicated to it the other day at 798 – a modern art district in Beijing):

Natural Disasters 2010

1. food: although I love the food in China, my stomach has been reacting quite violently to it. I think it’s because I had surgery last year. But it’s ok, nothing can stop me from eating the dubious goods of China. Although, I try to avoid really fishy things… My stomach reacts almost instantaneously to street vendors. So i would avoid it. Restaurants are much better. PKU canteens are good for stomach too. Overall, it’s not that bad as long as I use common sense.

2. In addition to the food, the water is not comparable to back home. There’s something in the water…Even if we boil the tap water, there’s a lot of limestone leftover and should not be consumed. We usually have to buy a few large bottles of water but they are only about 7 rmb ($1). Walking the 20 minutes to the grocery store and coming back with the water, though, is a bit of a hassle. Also, my towels have been deteriorating faster than ever and they just fall apart. I don’t know if it’s me or if it’s water, but both of the towels I use have been disposed because they’ve basically ripped themselves to shreds with gigantic holes throughout. I don’t know how it’s happened, but it didn’t happen at Berkeley…Luckily, the “dorms” we are living at give us fresh towels everyday.

3. The public bathrooms in China are atrocious. Even though I grew up with them when I was in China and conditions have improved, restrooms in China in general are quite hard to stomach. They are at least giving toilet paper in restaurants/vendors now. But the public ones… just knock you out with the smell.. sometimes they are unavoidable though. And i would suggest bringing scented tissues everywhere you go (luckily, all of China’s tissues are scented and they sell them in small packages everywhere – for good reason).

4. The mosquitoes are horrible. Horrible! If you’re the type that don’t get bitten – you are quite lucky. if you’re like me and they like you, anti-bug spray is a must. I’ve been too busy to find some so I’ve been bitten quite a lot. In Chang Sha, my whole right leg (they liked the right more for some reason) was covered in mosquito bites… and Beijing has been quite fine until yesterday when a nasty bug bit me on the right arm. And it swelled so much that I had to take a picture…

From sitting in front of the computer...

]: “]They heal in about a day or two … and I just deal with it by putting on some of the healing cream that they have for mosquitoes in China but then, they are really quite bad because bugs can carry diseases and they are really dirty… “/ They bite you when you’re sitting still so when I’m in front of the computer now i wear long sleeves and long pants and turn on the AC full blast (they tend not to go towards cold air). But there’s one right now in my room and I’m trying to pinpoint its location to kill it….

I  feel like the sanitation and the global warming climates are giving me a lot of struggle, but other than that, PKU is quite accommodating to us and has given us hotel-status living standards. For their actual students, though, they don’t have AC and share a room with the same four people for all four years…and 200 people share 6 shower stalls etc etc. So, I should feel lucky that all I have to worry about are the bugs…

Food (食品)

What is the one thing that the Chinese love to do? EAT!

The cuisine in China really is one of the most definitive features of its culture. In any major city, you’ll see restaurant upon restaurant. Even in small towns (more like pueblos), restaurants will not be missing. The sight of  people turning their homes into noodle shops and selling their home specialties is not only common but expected.

There are eight Great Flavors  including Sichuan(四菜), Hunan(香菜 - this is where I’m from:), Beijing (北菜), XingJiang(新疆菜), YunNan (云南菜), Canton (粤菜), +2 more. There is also another hierarchy that incorporates all 8 into just 4.

Sichuan dishes are known for their spiciness (condolences to the recent Sichuan earthquake as one of classmates have origins in Sichuan).  To be honest, a lot of dishes are very spicy in China. But in Sichuan, it’s known to be 麻辣 (numb spicy) and carries an numbing aftertaste that stays with the consumer after the spiciness passes (it’s quite pleasant for those who enjoy spicy foods and is often less spicy than simply spicy foods).

Water Boiled Fish (水煮鱼)

Hunan dishes are known as Xiang (香) which doesn’t have a direct translation to English but generally refers to things that smell good and can mean fragrant (which connotes flower and does not apply in this case). I think it best translates into fragrant with spices. I love Xiang dishes because that’s where I’m from and it’s generally very salty with elaborate spices and, most of the time, chili.

An infamous dish of hunan - smells disgusting, tastes surprisingly "fragrant"

Northern (e.g. BeiJing) dishes are known for their staple foods such as noodles, Chinese buns,  and rice foods. They are generally more bland than dishes from the south (e.g. Sichuan, Hunan). Also, Beijing is most famous for its Peking Duck, which are finely sliced and eaten with tortilla like covers with sauce and onions/cucumbers inside – it’s quite fun to eat.

Peking Duck at Quan Ju De (全聚德= all gather well), the most famous restaurant for Peking Duck

Xin Jiang is known for their lambs and kabobs and we had some just last night and the lamb was unbelievably tender considering its usual tautness.

Lambs, Nan, and Kabobs

We also had YunNan food a while back but I’m not too clear on how it’s different aside from the fact that they are very famous for their vermicelli  called 云南过桥米线 which is also quite spicy.

Vermicelli 

Pigs Feet in the Square/Aluminum Dish

MMM it makes me hungry to think of all these foods. Finally, there is Cantonese foods (粤菜) and they are known to have the best soups that they boil in special ceramic pots. They are also infamous for being the most omnivorous in China. Although, China consumes exotic parts everywhere.

Another unique feature in China is the 夜宵 (ye xiao = night cuisine). I suppose it’s the equivalent of a midnight snack at Berkeley or the western in general. But really, the history and culture is much deeper and prevalent in China. Especially during the summer, the people will come out late at night and have another meal involving different types of food than the ones consumed at dinner. I myself enjoyed some by the river in my hometown (which is flooding right now in Hunan). Night cuisine often include lamb kabobs (which are greatly embraced in China), beer, oysters, and scorpions. Nope, nothing for a weak stomach.

Scorpions!

So, when you visit China, make sure you bring a strong stomach because China will bombast you with new worlds of exotic animal parts and flavor. If not (like me) you can always go to McDonalds and KFCs which are present in all the major cities and stick to fried rice.

disclaimer: my 8 Great Flavors are gathered from personal experience and unreliable memory, thus they are quite a different categorization than some others such as: (http://www.china-travel-tour-guide.com/about-china/8-cuisines.shtml).

Shanghai cuisine is generally more bland - they also like (light) soup

Pigeons - quite tender and delicious

Hong Kong is known for their seafood

Traditional Dessert - 糖油粑粑 - boiled sweetcakes :) soo good!

Nowadays, restaurants create their own signature Chinese foods (this is a "dice bread" with pineapple dip) - it literally melted in my mouth, mmmm