The more immersed I become in my new life in Beijing, the deeper my appreciation and love for the situation grows. Things are far from perfect and even when the situation seems to get worse, I’ve been learning to adapt quickly and find out how I can take advantage of the new limits and benefits of the new situation. I think I’ve been decent at that process in the past, but this time I don’t have any kind of base comfort to fall back upon. I’m just here suspended in my situations and when something changes, it affects everything. It’s been fertile ground to really analyze my habits and continue to understand myself. Exactly what I was looking for when I made the decision to drop comforts and support to come to China.
I met a young freshman girl in the cafeteria one day and she caught my attention because her English skills are legendary. I’m able to speak with her at normal native speed, which hasn’t been the case for any of my local friends from Ghana, Laos, or here in China. Recently I accompanied her on a school project in the downtown area. She was going to interview an old man who makes fancy pens… Sounds like an adventure to me. Well, he didn’t want to interview, so somehow I ended up becoming her interview subject. The subject started as my ability to adapt to new cultures and turned into me trying to verbalize my purpose in life. It got really deep and it was interesting to hear a little bit of her perspective through her continued probing and clarification for her class project. It was certainly a nice reminder of why I’m here and got me to think of some things in a new perspective.
I was talking with one of the PhD students on the research team, whose name is Kevin. He’s my main contact to the professor and is the main guy who stayed in contact from our first meeting at the farm. He has learned a lot about traditional Chinese culture and he can see the hunger in my eyes when he starts to open up about his perspective. That combination has lead to some really long conversations. Unfortunately, a common theme of our discussions has been that he can’t really explain the essence what he’s trying to say in English. He says it doesn’t really capture the meaning, but he certainly tries hard, at the very least, to introduce it to me. He gave me advice for learning the language and culture as a whole and repeated many times that the heart or soul of what I’m after lies in the understanding of the calligraphy. It goes past communication and approaches the realm of an art masterpiece. Even though he said the next part didn’t represent what he was trying to say, he said that each character in the calligraphy has it’s own gravity that gives each character its own identity, even separate from the same character written in a different way. He also told me that you can look back through the calligraphy in the past and understand ancient culture in that way. I guess I could try to make some comparisons with ancient European art, but I think I’ll try to keep the comparisons to a minimum, so I can keep myself open to learning something completely new. This will be something that I might not understand until I’ve mastered everything else about the everyday Chinese culture, but for now it’s something interesting to ponder and put in the backseat of my awareness.
Some other random things I’ve picked up on about the culture: It is considered very rude to reach to the food in the middle of the table and carry it all the way back to your bowl in front of you. The proper way to do it is to take your bowl with you so there’s no chance you’ll drop and waste food. Also, it’s very rude to reach into the common plate of food with rice stuck to your chopsticks.
The education system is very similar to our elementary, junior/senior high school, except they use the British terms here. It’s been a common theme to hear that students from elementary through high school will go to school at six in the morning and stay at school until about ten at night. Sometimes they have to stay after school to do their “homework” with the teachers, so the teachers can make sure its done. Then students will get home to eat at ten and continuing to study until between midnight and two in the morning. Through that crazy schedule, the curriculum teaches the students to study, memorize, and regurgitate. There is almost nothing to do with creativity. Creativity is seen as something that is just too slow to wait for; the idea is that if you can copy and start producing now, you can make money and be successful.
The majority of Chinese people, especially young people, love America. I heard the opposite before coming and everywhere I’ve been has proven that the love is strong and I’ve certainly benefited from my blond mop and blue eyes.
Ping Pong is actually a Chinese word and is pronounced more like Ping Pang. Yes, I can hear you saying “uhh, duh”, but I wasn’t sure, okay!
I met with that attractive young woman who shamed me at ping pong. This time we met for badminton. I got to practice with my lab team just a few days before and I found my strength in the game. I don’t quite understand the finesse shots yet, but when the ball goes above my head I can smash it down like it’s as natural as breathing. It’s almost literally the same motion as throwing a pitch in baseball, combined a little bit with the angle of the racket from tennis. It took me about three hits to start smashing it twice as hard as anyone we were playing with.
Anyway, back to this attractive woman. I warned her that I wouldn’t be going easy when we played, mostly as a joke because from the Ping Pang, she was the only one going easy. Just like the Ping Pang, she was able to pick me apart. She made the mistake of leaving the ball up too high a few times, but she was masterful at avoiding my strengths. Just like in our Ping Pang games, I was able to communicate with her through our playing that didn’t require any words and ended up in us both giggling uncontrollably. It’s an amazing feeling to connect with people at that level and find a good sports friend. Especially since she’s a dainty little thing, but can still kick my butt!
She also blew me away when she said that she defied her parents wishes (as you already know, that’s extremely uncommon in China) to come to Beijing to study Industrial Design. Her passion is to find a field within the study of design where she can create new things and explore her creative side. She also has a very traditional family, so she has the perfect balance of knowledge of her own culture, but the courage to challenge other’s expectations and follow her dreams. She’s also one of the only people who isn’t overly aggressive about speaking everything in English to me. She actually takes the time to repeat things in Chinese to make sure I understood well. I still can’t believe how quickly I’m finding such great people.
My Chinese is progressing much better now, but still not at the phase I would like to see. I’m figuring out how to approach people here and make friends, so soon I might have the issue of having too many. I think having Chinese people around me all the time is really the key to what I’m after. It’s just uncommon and not seen as something foreigners want to do. I’ll change that pretty quickly.
The campus is looking really beautiful as the last leaves are falling from the passing few weeks of fall.
One of my favorite parts of walking around the city is to see how people manage waiting at a crosswalk….meaning they don’t. They slowly walk into the road, blocking off lane by lane as they can’t bare to wait the last twenty seconds before the light changes. Some people, like the one in this picture, even cross diagonally
The professor of our research group took us to a private lunch when one of his old friends came to visit. It was so fancy we had a bottle of red wine and were served by the manager of the restaurant up in a private room on the top floor.
They have vending machines here that actually squeeze fresh orange juice into a cup for you!