Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Final Blog Post

Some pictures from the last leg of my trip:

in front of our boat at Chaoyang Park

a model of the oldest preserved pagoda in china, the academy of engineering


us pretending to deliberate over important matters..
six nation korean disarmament talks in 2008...
diaoyutai, the state guesthouse, where secretaries of state, presidents,
dignitaries from China live/dine at when visiting China

final performance night for HBA

apple is taking over the world

beihai park

wudaokou shaoshumingzu

Concluding thoughts:
This summer has exceeded my expectations; I don't know of a better way to spend my summer. Honestly, I feel as if the stars aligned and everything I could have hoped for was found in Beijing this summer. First off, without the generosity of the Light Fellowship foundation, I don't know if I would have even ended up in Beijing in the first place. It's incredible to have the resources from Yale to participate in global exchange programs. Secondly, HBA was such a well organized and well structured program that it perfectly fit my needs. Sure people will point out that the amount of new vocabulary per night is excessive and torturous or that daily quizzes and weekly tests take away your entire summer from you, but 我却不以为然. I think the program is designed to be an overwhelming experience where you are learning beyond your capacity. I think this kind of exposure to Chinese helps to set a solid foundation because as I take more Chinese classes in the future, I will have already been exposed to certain phrases and words that it will be easier to learn. There's no way I expected to be fully fluent after a summer in Beijing, but I do think that I learned as much as I humanly could within these past two months. 

Aside from just learning Chinese language alone, I learned so much about Chinese society. I usually am not the kind of person who likes to exaggerate their experience (吹的天花乱坠) and whatnot, but I really think this time around, being in China was a self-reflective experience that also helped me view China with a different and updated perspective. It allowed me to be independent for a long enough period to feel like I was truly self sufficient and able to survive in a large city on my own. It also allowed me to have my own thoughts and be able to decipher news articles written about US-China relations in both American and Chinese media.

First, I'm going to reflect upon some of the issues which I think are the biggest social issues in contemporary Chinese society.

Social gap. Okay, before this term just raises huge red flags and 引起强烈的反响,I want to create a disclaimer that I'm not talking about the Chinese citizens in sweat shops or those who participate in anti-government regimes and get suppressed. Yes, those are problems as well. However, what I think is a huge problem is just the general respect for a human life in general in China. At least in America, the legal system is independent, and the constitution supports the idea of equality. At least on a superficial level, my life is technically worth the same as that of the President, and no one is above the law. However, in China, it is quite different. Without power and relationships (关系), then you really can't get anything done. It is very difficult to move up the social ladder. People have this impression that China's economy is very capitalistic, and in a way it is, but it also depends a lot on personal relationships and hookups. Without these things, you will have a very difficult time starting an enterprise and surviving in China. A government official will not always get in trouble for breaking certain laws. Corruption, 腐败, is somewhat common, and has existed in Chinese society. Even so, corruption has only been exacerbated in modern China after the cultural revolution. In modern China, where the government emphasizes economic growth at all costs, many peoples' lives are forever changed for the worse, or even lost. In many building projects, the government actually authorizes a certain number of people who are allowed to die as a result of the construction processes--this could be farmers or residents who live in an area and refuse to move and relocate. The way the government treats its people affects how people treat one another and view each other.

The poverty-wealth gap, and the inability for people to move social classes. The top five percent richest people in China are so wealthy that I think most people in the US have no idea how luxurious their lifestyles are. However, Most of China, over a majority is still in poverty. What kind of poverty? To draw an example, let's look at college students. After going through the infamous college entrance exam, a few lucky and talented students will enter the gates of schools such as Peking University and Tsinghua University. But did you know, that the average starting salary for someone coming out of a college like this might be around 3000 to 5000 RMB per month? In China, name brand clothing is actually at times double the price of those in America due to heavy taxes. A meal at a casual restaurant will have dishes that cost roughly 30 RMB per dish. Fast food restaurants cost almost exactly the same in China as they do in America--making each meal cost about 30 RMB. We haven't even mentioned housing yet. In many parts over China, especially cities like Beijing, housing prices have gone off the charts. A tiny, two-bedroom apartment in Beijing on the 4th ring may cost ~5 million RMB. That's almost 1 million USD. At that price, it would take a college graduate from a top university a lifetime to buy an apartment. Houses in China have increased roughly five fold or so in five years. No ordinary person can even dream of buying an apartment now, and guess what, there are plenty of 40 story apartment buildings that are completely vacant in Beijing because some rich businessmen literally buy buildings in Beijing as a form of investment and leave them vacant. The number of examples are countless...

Some deep-rooted cultural beliefs and their negative effects. China's tradition of wanting to have male children is a belief that is 根深蒂固. It's not just founded on the idea that men are superior to women, but also because China has a strong custom of the children generation supporting the elder generation. In traditional Chinese society, children would take their parents in to live with their family once the parents get old. The idea of "social security" is practically nonexistent, and being sent off to a retirement home nowadays carries a strong negative connotation-you don't have children who are 孝顺 (or children who are noble and honorable and respect/revere their parents). When a daughter gets married, she becomes part of the groom's family and is no longer a part of your family. Therefore, Chinese always want boys as children because that means in the future, their children can support them. Chinese parents believe in 望子成龙, an idea that basically reflects how Chinese parents are willing to sacrifice their own ambitions and desires, 吃苦, just so that their children can have better living opportunities in the future. Okay, what am I getting at? This belief is so deeply rooted, however, it has huge conflicts with some problems that exist in reality. As mentioned above, most people can't even afford an apartment nowadays. With the one child policy, most children who are getting married these days are single children. Because of this fact, even daughters are expected to help support their family. The Chinese gov't allows single children who are married to have two children. This creates a situation where two people have to support 4 grandparents and 2 children. 8 people are dependent upon 2 peoples' salary. I didn't even mention yet that most parents are reluctant to let their children marry if they do not have the financial means to buy a house first. They value "stability". I guess no one's getting married in our generation...

Positive aspects of Chinese society that western societies (US) can learn from

This list is not as long-winded, I'll just list some things that are benefits:

High efficiency. With a noticeable amount of costs, the government's central planning policy ensures that projects are funded and will be completed. Beijing and Shanghai's skyline completely changes every 5 years or so...Beijing's highway (rings) is now on the 7th ring, which will apparently take way over an hour to just make a circle around Beijing.

Simplicity in getting things done. Of course, with a developed legal system, the US follows procedures very strictly. In China, many things are done more logically when the law is not necessarily efficient. Of course, I'm not advocating lawlessness, but some laws are just inefficient and should be changed/adjusted. And because many laws don't really need to be followed in China, people can adapt and change their behavior to increase efficiency in general.

Food is cheap and good.

Subway is clean and efficient, makes New York look like it's pretty underdeveloped.

A huge market for 3rd party applications and companies--so much paraphernalia.

Bargaining is fun, and follows supply and demand.

I hope this blog was interesting or useful for future Light Fellows/ visitors of China.

Signing off. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Longest Post of All Time

An Experience with Busking:
One day, as I got off bus 307 at 清华园 station, I saw a guy singing next to a bus stop and he not only was getting paid, but had a circle of fans around him. He was my inspiration. As a result, I decided to take my talents with my side kick, Charles Stone (AKA Chris Bosh) to Wudaokou. Our first attempt was at the Hualian Plaza where we were promptly kicked out by security guards. But before we were kicked out, there was this one young couple that had previously studied in Australia for a few years who came and talked to us. They offered to help us with Chinese and said that most students in China would be more than willing to help Yale students learn Chinese for free. I felt really bad about their generosity because I realized that they did not understand our sarcasm... The most disappointing thing in life is unappreciated sarcasm...

wudaokou subway station
translation in broken english:
(because this was written in broken, terribly written chinese)
we go yale university
no money study china language
please help us
(if you take a pic, you have to pay. thank you for your cooperation)
However, this experience was a success, it was a lot of fun. In the end, we sang at a bus stop for a whole hour, alternating between Chinese and English songs. The most popular song was Sunday Morning. We got a total of 58RMB however the cost was 140 because I bought one of those really annoying tour guide speaker things. Still need to go back out onto the streets and sing...makin' a living is hard.

Pronunciation Problems:

  1. One day we were eating "Chinese Table" and there's been a new policy going around where students have to start ordering dishes that they want to eat. A certain student, when it came to be his turn, wanted spicy chicken. In Chinese, it is called "辣鸡" pronounced "la (4), ji (1)". However, with a slight pronunciation hiccup, he asked the waiter for "垃圾" pronounced "la (1), ji (1)", which means trash.
  2. At the train station in Hangzhou coming home from Huangshan, everyone was extremely tired and hungry. Before getting on the train, people tried to get some food so they don't have to eat on the train. Word got around that there was a place that sold tea eggs, which are essentially hard boiled eggs that are boiled in liquid containing certain spices including tea leaves. In Chinese, this is pronounced, "茶蛋", which is "cha (2), dan (4)". A hungry HBA (Harvard) student screamed out loud repetitively because he couldn't find the tea egg stall, "我要买炸弹" when he should have said "我要买茶蛋". He pronounced "zha (4), dan (4)" which means bomb. So literally, he ran around telling everyone that he wanted to buy a bomb. Luckily, most people knew this poor Harvard student was just having some trouble with his pronunciation, and was not a terrorist
Interesting Pictures From Huizhou, Anhui:
on a tourist street in huizhou, maybe he's carrying potatoes?

at a factory that makes tea cups from bamboo
no safety regulations for workers, no one bothers to wear goggles, shoes...etc

"love our country's flag, sing the national anthem, speak mandarin"
this was at a school in 汤口 where most people spoke their local dialect

the tiny little village/town that we stayed at during our trip to huangshan

my new friends were teaching me 唐诗


tea factory in huizhou
Tourist Locations at/around Huangshan:
Huangshan was easily the most impressive natural scenery location I've ever seen in my life. It was breathtaking, AWEsome and inspiring. It really made me feel minuscule and powerless. The mountains look exactly like the ones in Avatar and when there were clouds it was as if I was floating in the clouds. This region is China is particularly fertile and has a lot of rainfall. There's lots of soil trapped within the cracks of the mountain/stones and therefore there are trees growing out of nearly every crack. The trees have incredibly strong roots and many trees grow horizontally. In addition, we visited an old city in Huizhou called 呈坎. The city was surprisingly very scientific. There was a very sophisticated water system which ran through the city and the city ordinance said that the water was potable anytime after 8am til sunset and that after sunset or before 8am, people could use the water to wash their clothes, vegetables...etc. The waterway ran next to each street and the building had very tall walls in order to keep thieves outside of their buildings. A very fascinating architectural design was the ceilings of many buildings. According to the tour guide, there once was a competition all over China to create the best architectural design to prevent fire damage. Apparently, this place hailed the winner of this competition. The houses were all made out of wood, and what he did was he separated the ceiling into multiple layers and in between each layer of wood, he would fill it with sand. That way, when one layer caught on fire, of if the building caught on fire and the ceiling was burnt, an entire ceiling full of sand would drop and extinguish the fire. Very clever. Many people use Huizhou as a location for film: Avatar, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and other less known movies...etc


coolest invention ever. it's a 'self-heating' meal and there's a
bag of chemicals that you put in the container and then fill it with water
that was provided in the pouch and THEN, it gets REALLY hot and the food
heats within 15 minutes. yum

a lot of the bridges have locks on them with people's names, pretty sure
they have this in france and all over europe as well


it would've been a long fall

many of the old cities that are now tourist sites are still inhabited

i love the natural coloring of the wall

the man is traditionally supposed to sit on the left, there's a very specific
cultural norm about the setup of this living room. the vase behind the male
has a pun that means peace and the artwork behind the woman also means
peace in a different way. and when combined, it means peace! and there's
a clock in the middle so it means there's ALWAYS peace.

we went to a mountain next to huangshan that has a specific breed of
"huangshan monkeys"

national geographic submission?

film spot of crouching tiger hidden dragon


no one knows...

cable slide!

Exchange Program with Southeast University: WuJianXiong College
So luckily, a friend of mine at Yale that's from China helped me get connected with this college and in addition to IvyCouncil, an organization that I'm a part of at Yale, we formed a conference at this university. It was a real treat to go and to take the high speed train which tops at 300km/hour. The trip from Beijing to Nanjing was a mere 4 hours and it was an incredibly comfortable ride with these cool seats that can actually be rotated 360 degrees! There were also plugs in front of the seats so you could easily pass time by going on the computer. A scary thing that happened though was the day before we went back to Beijing, there was the huge train accident in ZheJiang, which is right next to Nanjing. Two high speed trains (DongChe) collided and lots of people were killed. I'm pretty sure the government is still looking into how that's even possible and what the problem was. From what I'm hearing from friends the Chinese government is probably hiding facts about the real incident, in terms of death toll and reasoning. 

For the conference, our delegation of five people spoke about America's Education System and America's Viewpoint on China. I spoke about applying for colleges in America, and other spoke about studying abroad, financial aid...etc. They also spoke about interesting topics however their's wasn't as specific to a single topic. For example, they spoke about a specific major that's offered at their college. This one presentation talked about how there was a groundbreaking experiment which allowed two frogs, one in Nanjing and one in Beijing, to interact with one another via sensory technology. It was pretty eye opening that they also were conducting research on creating an invisible cloak that would currently is undetectable by various sonar methods. Exchanging with the students was an incredible experience and they were very open about their thoughts and ideas about US China relations, and various sensitive topics. I spoke to them about their view on the Chinese government's role and what they thought the most crucial societal problems in China were. It helped open my eyes to different problems that I had never known before, and it also helped me not just see the problem, but understand its existence. This was something that I could have only gotten from going to this program, where they created a very open environment for exchanging ideas and eliminated many barriers that would have arisen if I had tried to talk about the same problems with a random Chinese college student or civilian.

Lastly, we were able to visit a lot of cool Nanjing tourist attractions. It was an overall great experience, it was nice to get out of Beijing for a weekend and also the scenery was nice. All expenses were paid for which made it that much better, and we stayed at a hotel that was directly across from where apparently Kobe Bryant and Jay Chou stayed about a week before we came in order to do Sprite commercials.

talking about application timeline made my head hurt

asia's largest train station: nanjing

tourist attraction in front of confucius temple

a huge drum in the confucius temple

our delegation and their students in front of their newly constructed library

so, prior to coming to southeast university, i had no idea who wujianxiong was. but she was
probably one of the most, if not the most influential female figures of the 20th century. this is just her
list of degrees. look her up on wikipedia. had a hell of a life.


tomb of the founding father of "modern china". there's a statue on the top of him sitting in a chair that
reminds me of the lincoln memorial

Terrible Experience with Chinese Immigration Dept
I have time to write this blog right now only because I'm not in Hong Kong. I should have landed about an hour ago actually... So originally, I had planned to go to Hong Kong for a weekend. The tickets were ordered and everything and it would have been an amazing weekend getaway from Beijing, however the entire plan kind of just collapsed as I went to the Chinese Immigration Dept. First off, I want to clarify that I'm still technically a Chinese citizen. I moved to the states when I was 5 and never applied for citizenship; I actually just finished the process before coming to China and will take the oath when I get back. Oh, how the Chinese passport has been a 负担 in my life... It's a burden. Honestly, I can't think of a single time when having a Chinese passport has given me any 优势. Forgive me for using Chinese, but I can't think of the english term off the top of my head. They say a man is born free but everywhere he is in chains, and I feel like a lot of the chains that are on me are from my citizenship. I'm not going to go into details but for this instance, I'll let you decide how absurd it is. I (first off) had to get a visa for HK because I had a Chinese passport. US Citizens: You do NOT need a visa to enter this "special rights district" that BELONGS to the P.R.C. Okay, so I'm still okay with that. I went, filled out all my forms, took my picture, waited in line, and then was deeply disappointed. I was told that I needed to go to my hometown, in Lanzhou, China to get my visa. Seriously? Am I not in the capitol of China? Nope, that doesn't matter. PRC policy says that going to HK would require me to go IN PERSON to my birthplace to go to HK. Now, because it's a 3 hour flight, I decided not to go. But it just amazes me how going to HK is so difficult, especially as a Chinese citizen, and even when I told them I don't even live in that city, and haven't lived there for the past 14 years of my life, they didn't care. No HK for me...

HBA Student Life Updates
Last week, we participated in a singing competition and Charles and I won first place along with another student. We sang 安静 and 童话, and messed up a little but still luckily got first. As a reward, we got a box of music videos of Communist "Red" Songs. Interesting. This past week was another incredibly busy week, we had 7 hours of testing today alone. 4 hours of our weekly friday test along with 3 hours of HSK, which is the Chinese Proficiency test (equivalent of the TOFEL or GRE I think). I took the high level and it was definitely beyond my ability. Many people just completely gave up. I don't think I had a chance, every section was incredibly hard and even the audio portion, which should have been my strength, was very difficult. Two weekends ago we got to go to a Beijing Acrobat showcase which was stunning. Some of the performances seriously looked like they were humanly impossible.

look closely at how they are supporting themselves..

not an optical illusion

the most under-appreciated girl: the one who has to act as the tank on the bottom

Anyways, that's all I can think of for now.
Goodbye blog.