Wednesday, June 6, 2007

second China post - May 18

Ni Hao!!! (that is how you say hello/how are you/good day in Chinese. I'm really working on the mandarin here. and, did you know, well i bet you didn't since I didn't know and I am the one here in China so how could you know? okay well the point is they have to type on English keyboards in Pinyin, which is the romanization of the language, and then a translator software types it into characters? it's just crazy to me that they know two languages almost, pinyin and then their characters. let me tell you we americans, meaning me who only knows 1.5 languages are lacking in the skills department.)

So, this is my actual hello. You may think that I am writing a lot on the internet and that I can't seem to get away from western luxuries but really i just can't wait to tell everybody everything that I am experiencing, and to hear from YOU! It's fabulous to read emails from you all it really is, telling me about your life halfway across the world because while China is fabulous i miss everyone and I want to share my experiences with you and to experience yours too. :) So short story is, you can email me back if you were afraid to, but you don't have to if you have not much to say that's fine too.

SO - I think last time I wrote we went to Tiananmen and the Forbidden city. Yesterday we had classes in the morning, which are very very interesting, so unlike ordinary classes. and actually, across the window from us is a building that is being reconstructed and it's funny to watch the workers either spit or throw huge pieces of plywood probably 20 stories to the ground. and the lit class i am taking, while it has been a lot of reading that i am struggling to get done here in China even though the books are seriously fabulous (Wild Swans - even if you don't like to read at all, please read it. It's banned in China (exotic, eh?) and it is very, very, very good.)... i lost my sentence, but anyways the lit class is very thought provoking and we have had some really good discussions, especially trying to understand China and its political situation today and the impact of the events of the previous centuries on the Chinese people. Xiao Xiao, who was born and raised in Sichuan province in Chengdu (SW of Beijing), adds a lot of insight to the conversation and I have really thoroughly enjoyed all of my conversations with her. So classes are going well in that regard, even if it takes a lot of energy to write journal entries and to do the reading it is a good way to synthesize what I am learning and I really enjoy making the connections.

Yesterday in the afternoon a bunch of us went to the "Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution." It was a very, very interesting experience. It was kind of eerie because the first thing we did when we got there was take a picture of a group of Chinese college students holding a communist flag in front of the main banner. I forget that this is a communist country at times, being mainly in the tourist areas and things. Then things like this happen, or we go see Mao's picture, or they hawk Mao's Little Red Book of Quotations everywhere, or sell Mao bags (Jon, yours are everywhere) or tshirts with a heart and Mao's face inside. It's equivalent to tshirts that say I heart NY being everywhere in NY. Actually I bought one of the Quotations books and it's really quite fascinating. (Don't think anything of it... Don't be worried... it's just a historical artifact.) So the museum had the most interesting slant. And I know that our museums are slanted towards America and the valor of the people and the great things we have accomplished and all of that, and I probably do not even realize the extent to which I am unaware of the bias, but this museum was very obviously biased. And it was fascinating. I have never been more interested in a military museum in my life. (Sorry, Daddy.) The section on the military since the formation of the communist party was the most interesting, as everything was centered around Mao. Walking in, there was a huge marble statue of Mao (huge..) with his traditional stoic, watchful semi-grin, like he was daring you to challenge the opinions stated in his museum (or at least I took it this way but obviously i have my own bias). It was as if there were no other leaders in the CCP, which is not true since Mao did not consolidate his power for a while. Also interesting were the pointed references to the US support for the Kuomintang after WWII, with artifacts being shells made in the US. it just struck me as so interesting... and obviously i noticed this being an american. the descriptions were just very carefully phrased to always show the correctness of the communist party, and if anything failed it was because someone strayed from Mao's teachings. The section on the opium war was fascinating too, with foreign powers criticized often for the unequal treaties and "carving up" china for their own capitalist gains. (not that all of this is false, it's just so much a different take on the situation than would be in an american museum or a western-focused textbook.) i learned a lot at this museum about the policies of the party and the "official" take on these particular historial events.

actually, the most interesting thing at the museum was not about the military. before we went in we met this girl named Fan Yan (fahn yen) and she invited us to see the exhibit by her professor on Han dynasty tomb rubbings (Sara Beth I wished you were there it was INCREDIBLE.) she spoke very good english although she thought it was poor, and was surprised that we were in china and did not speak any chinese. (more and more i am not liking this situation but what can i do.) so she took us up to her professor's exhibit and it was just beautiful. hundreds of han dynasty tomb rubbings in this hall. they do it by placing a paper against the stone and rubbing an ink block against it. to the chinese, they consider this art in itself. as fan yan said it is very precious to them, just as any original painting might be. her professor is famous within china, and she studies at the national academy for fine arts. i talked a lot with her about the art in china and she expressed frustration that many chinese did not respect the ancient chinese art and she briefly mentioned the cultural revolution, but she just seemed puzzled. she said that she chose her professor because he cherished the ancient chinese culture. tang dynasty (~600-907) is her favorite period (considered the golden age of China). she told me that at the Chinese Fine Arts Museum they only allow modern chinese artists and european and american artists to exhibit there, and that she was frustrated by that. it is really encouraging to me to see that she cared so much about the ancient chinese art, because it shows that it is still thriving within china when it seems often that they have forgotten their rich cultural heritage after the CR. we talked with her for a while, and i plan to meet her for tea or something (i'm not sure what they do around here for that kind of thing) and talk to her more. i am very very excited about meeting her and being able to talk to her (she is a graduate student so in her early/mid 20s and just married) about life in china... it is an answer to prayer to be able to get to know somebody even though i can't speak chinese. i'll let you know how it goes.

So i know this email is long already but today we went to see the great wall. it was indescribable, really. i took lots of pictures, don't worry (i took 200 today), but even those will not be able to depict the fabulousness of today. it was beautiful. and let me tell you, when they say that we climb the great wall, it is a CLIMB. it was so steep, and very much a workout. and the view is breathtaking, but so is the hike up (haha...). honestly, i think some of it was at a 85 degree angle. very intense. but, very worth it. it's a beautiful view. the mountains in china are unlike any mountain i have seen before (okay, no i have not seen the western mountains of america but i've seen pictures and we can compare but i'm sure that they are not similar in the least. not that the rockies aren't pretty. okay.) it just makes me feel so tiny and insignificant. and i feel sorry for the guards that had to do watch on this section. you think that you have to walk along this nice pathway. no, it's stairs. like 2000 stairs or something. but just incredibly beautiful, and the weather was fabulous. we climbed two sections, one at badaling and one at this pass on the way to badaling. the second place, the pass in the mountains, was beautiful. it was less steep but just beautiful nonetheless. we walked on this smaller path and saw some daoist temples and they are so fascinating. they were closed so i had to take pictures through the window but it is just so intriguing. inside one a woman was breeding silkworms. (they are not very attractive, for the silk that they produce, let me tell you.) it was just peaceful being in the countryside and walking around the green mountains of China. something i want everyone to experience once in their life. i am this close to becoming a hermit on the great wall. (not really i would get quiet lonely, but you know what i mean.) the great wall was beautiful, you know, but now that we're done i feel sort of disappointed. it's like i can check it off my list of things i've done. (which is a HUGE check, i admit.) it was pretty much the most beautiful thing i have ever seen in my life.

today we also saw the ming tombs, which were kind of cool but really nothing compares to the great wall today. i am very tired from walking around and basically hiking around all day. and in shock that today i saw the great wall. tomorrow margaret, our chinese student friend, is taking us to downtown beijing and to her school (she goes to a different university) and to show was what a normal beijinger does. she is a really sweet girl and i love talking to her about her love of the english language (boggles my mind) and just living in China and so on and so forth.
the food is still good but i miss american food some, especially our meat and dairy and fruit. there's really not that much dairy besides powdered milk (does that count) and our "OJ" is powdered orange juice. either way i still enjoy the chinese food and i am eating dumplings for every meal (at like 50 cents... i am going to be so spoiled when i come home) and i try to order something but i never get what i ordered so who knows what i am eating but it tastes great so i'll just keep eating. that's how it goes - i just grab something and eat it and if it's good then i continue and if not well then i don't.

it has been WINDY the past two days... more intense than chicago wind, i'm quite serious. but beautiful nonetheless. well, i think i have pretty much run out of things to say right now, that and i am pretty exhausted from our travels. oh, one good thing about today was haggling. oh boy am i getting good at it let me tell you. it's kind of fun really, and the best tactic is to walk away.
right now it's incredible for me to own a tshirt that says I have climbed the great wall and have it be true. i hope everyone is doing well and you guys are having good summers so far, those of you who are on summer vacation now. i know these emails are long and i apologize but i just want everyone to be able to experience these things with me!! thanks for reading, again! i'll write again soon, don't worry...

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