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Archive for October, 2010

Yesterday was the halfway mark for my fall semester, and today marks two full months of living in the Middle Kingdom. It’s been quite an adventure thus far.

Let me update you about the last few weeks. Over national holiday I went to the Summer Palace, which was a great day trip. The picture of the Buddhist relic is from the palace. A few nights later we went to the night market at wangfujing to try some deep fried scorpions. They were interesting, to say the least. It tasted a bit like a stale potato chip. The vendor I purchased mine from told me that they would make me very strong – as he grabbed his crotch… The sculpture following it was at the market, a man pulling a rickshaw, it reminded me of the face many people make when they first see the scorpions moving in the stick.
I also went to Fragrant Park, and hiked for two hours to the top of a mountain, on one side you could see the start of the Tibetan Mountain Range, the other was Beijing. It was a bit horrifying seeing the sky darken as you looked at the city – going from a polluted haze to crystal blue.
A friend came in from the states for a weekend, she was here on work. It was such a change for me to be the person who spoke the most Mandarin. It really made me think about how much I’ve learned in the past two months, and how much I have to learn to hold even a basic conversation. Revisiting the Forbidden City (the picture of the large walls) with a friend from New Jersey was great. She was really surprised by the enormity of the entire complex. I was really struck by the sign ‘a single act of carelessness leads to the eternal loss of beauty’. I feel that the current government really needs to consider this bit of wisdom; Beijing can be such a beautiful city – when it isn’t covered in smog.

Reflecting back on the last two months is a bit of a challenge. I can’t believe it’s the year is going by this quickly. I’ve been to many parts of the Middle Kingdom, lived in pollution four times the legal limit of America (at 25% of the legal limit NYC issues health warnings), enjoyed exotic cuisines, and made some great friends. Living here has forced me to reconsider my views on the world, especially when considering America’s policy towards China or the Nobel Prize.
In retrospect I’m still not sure what drew me to this country, but I have the next five months to try and figure that one out. I didn’t know what to expect when I was coming here. Many of my friends joked with me that you won’t be able to google freedom (you really can’t), or that you’ll be eating cat and dog (to my knowledge I haven’t… yet). Coming here has been a challenge, but its also been one of the most exciting times of my life.

Living here has really made me appreciate just how good we have it in the States. I miss the little things that I never even thought of; like being able to drink tap water, unlimited internet access, to name a few. But I have come to really appreciate so much that this culture has to offer; the food and drink, historic sites, ancient values, and their viewpoint on the world. It’s been a real learning experience, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else in the world.

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While many applaud the decision of the Nobel Committee to award the Peace Prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo, the news wasn’t received with warmth by the Middle Kingdom this week. The announcement came on the final day of the National Holiday, a week long festival similar to a cross between Thanksgiving and July 4th; this year marked the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC.

There has been a great deal of chatter from the Chinese about this matter, both in public and on the web. The Great Firewall has been shutting down sites where the traffic is most frequent, but access to the NY Times, Economist, and other western news sources is still widely available.

While Liu is technically not the first Chinese to win a Nobel Prize, he is the first Chinese citizen educated in China to win the award. It is a hot issue here. In conversation someone compared his award to that of the Dali Lama in 1990, following the Tienanmen Square protests. He told me that this prize has less meaning since it was awarded in 1990, as it is supposed to unify countries – not ostracize them. He also told me that especially after President Obama was awarded the prize last year it has lost meaning, because Obama has yet to truly earn it. Our conversation continued as I was told that Liu is a criminal who will not be able to accept the award until he is freed from prison in several years. Additionally, Hillary Clinton came here right after his most recent imprisonment and didn’t raise the issue – China is advancing and cannot be told by the world what to do or how to act.

It was an interesting conversation, definitely a perspective I would not have thought of had I not been living in Beijing. The local paper had an interesting editorial about the matter:
http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-10/09/content_11387687.htm

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