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. 

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