I am back in Wuhan now, settled back into the world that I call "home" b/c you have to have one (a home--that is) regardless of what country you live in. Our trip to Beijing was lovely and fun and whetted the appetite--now I know exactly how and where I will want to spend my time when I return.
There will be more pictures and probably a video coming soon--I'll try to post it over the weekend. We hit most of the significant sights in the city--Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City, the Llama Temple, the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, etc...
The Great Wall was incredible but difficult to get to, the Forbidden City was neat but underwhelming, Tianammen Square is basically a big concrete parking lot without the cars--not as eerie as I expected considering its history. We hit the Llama Temple on Dec 24--strange to spend Christmas Eve in a Buddhist Temple--watching the devout reverence of the Chinese and asking the hard questions concerning Belief and Tradition and faith and righteousness and salvation that come when you watch others practice their acts of discipleship with solemn ceremony.
But what is Beijing like, you ask? Beijing is like every other metropolis in the world. There are a few distinguishing cites to see that identify the city as different from Pittsburgh or Berlin, and between the streets are dotted with KFC and McDonalds and large office buildings populated by men in Hugo Boss and women with Prada purses. Don't get me wrong, the Forbidden City is great and the Great Wall is astounding...but the rest of the city feels a bit like a gaudy knockoff of Chicago or LA...it doesn't even attempt NYC. It's like the Barberry or Pashminoo scarfs sold on the streets--the silver Rolez watches that turn your arm green if you wear them two days in a row. It looks right--and yet doesn't.
And like the true opportunists that they are--the Beijingwren offer up their few bits of authenticity as tourist traps. Here, you get only glimpses of the Orient that must have gut-punched Marco Polo: the breeze that carries the holy incense through the city near the Temples; the smell of spices at night that cuts through the cold air; the maze of hutongs clumped together in the Old City; the sound of a Chinese flute rising from behind the gates of the Forbidden City; the sight of the Great Wall crawling endlessly along the spine of the mountains.
It's all startling and marvelous and FOREIGN. And while the cites that I paid the ticket price to see were well worth the money--they left me wanting more. MORE of the great Orient--this civilization that spawned the firework, the compass, astronomy, spices, silk, and tantric sex. More of CHINA--this country that for dynasties thrived without a glimpse from Western eyes--that built and created and reasoned all while America lay young and primitive and undiscovered.
But there is precious little of the Orient remaining in Beijing. In fact, Beijing is not really the best place to be looking anyway--the most ancient dynasties chose Xian as their capital--Beijing did not become a city of prominence until later. Since then, the march of Time, the Japanese occupation, the Cultural Revolution and now the spread of globalism have changed the face of the city into more and more of another capitalistic bore. I found myself staring at the bland corporate offices and feeling a frustration bubbling inside of me--wanting to scream at the gray concrete "You are CHINA--not America! Act like it!!" in the same exasperated tone my mother used when she'd say "You're a big girl, Lucy--act like it."
But, in the end, Beijing is now what it is now. It is not ancient Peking, it is not a treasure of the Orient--it is the modern capital of a globalized nation with a bursting economy. The only thing to do is accept it and enjoy what this city has to offer--the shopping, the Russian district that must have emerged during the Cold War--the import grocery and English book store near the street with all the Embassies--TGI Fridays, the Sizzler, 7 Eleven, Starbucks and Subway sandwiches.
And enjoy it we did--believe me, a Subway sandwich has never tasted so good.
This is going to be a rushed post--I am in the middle of getting packed for a 4/5 day Christmas trip to Beijing!!! Justin and Rachel Bronson are going to the great city of the upcoming 2008 Olympics to meet their family for the holidays and graciously invited me to join. So, in a few days time--I will be checking The Great Wall and the Forbidden City off of my "must see" list (funny thing is--I don't have a must see list--these are all just lanyap!!). In the meantime, I thought I'd share a little of life here.
One of the things that I am enjoying most in living here are the teeeny tiny joys that hit you by surprise throughout each day. Here's one example:
I don't tend to be much of a searcher or a fixer when it comes to stuff. I have friends here who are all about going on a scavenger hunt through the city in search of some Western item that they want and that isn't widely available here. Though I admire their drive--I'm just too lazy. I take what I can find of Western junk food and whatnot (there's a store not too far away that has olive oil (many praises were sung on behalf of my arteries when i found that), mustard, Tabasco etc...and my local supermarket has oreos (the arteries are crying again), diet coke, dove body wash and pantene shampoo). There's really nothing that I feel I really need to find--although I am excited about the possibility of a Subway restaurant AND a Taco Bell in Beijing (Hallelujah). SOOOOO--when I come across something that I've done without and find it easily available...it's like a gift! There's this JOY that rushes up and makes me want to dance and jump and sing--sometimesI do too (they all stare at me anyway--I might as well give them a lil sumpin every now and again).
This happened last week. The basic shops in China can be a little disorienting--there are basically rows after rows of open shops that all carry the same items inside--so I try to only go in a few when I'm looking for something. But last week, I was waiting for a friend outside of one shop and noticed the store next door. Going in, I found bins of chinese candy--which is basically dried fruit with sugar on it or sesame bars--so I wasn't very interested. UNTIL--low and behold--a bin of GUMMY BEARS, a bin of GUMMY WORMS, a bin of GUMMY SHARKS and....wait for it....you'll never guess......JELLY BEANS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And the heavens opened and the angels rejoiced.
It isn't even that I necessarily want that candy very often--but now it's an option in my life again. Jelly beans are possible in Lucy's life. This is a gift.
Another wonderful surprise is the fact that Christmas DOES exist in China. Unfortunately--it is primarily in the form of consumeristic marketing driven by western-based companies--but it is Christmas nonetheless. There are Christmas trees in front of stores throughout the city. The campus radio plays Christmas carols! I have a Christmas tree set up in my apartment. The season is there--and it brings wonderful chances to share the Reasons for Joy with students and friends.
We celebrated Christmas in all of my classes this week. I made a cardboard tree and invited the students to make ornaments to decorate it (i'll post pics when I have more time). Then we watched Merry Christmas Charlie Brown (I never realized before that it is Linus's voice that I've always heard in my head as I read Luke) and I got to share some American culture with the whole class. We learned some great new vocabulary..."Jolly," "nativity," "reindeer," "savior," "carols"...and other words associated with our Christmas culture. I got to share the Story too.
I was reading my diary and realized that exactly one year ago (well 1 yr, 2 days now) was my end-of-the-year review with the pr firm I was working in. I wrote about how nervous I had been and my worries about the path that my life was on. I had a great job...a job of most people's dreams, wonderful coworkers, a great apartment with two of the best roommates EVER (Scharli and Kathryn--you'd better be reading this)--but I didn't feel like it was a very good fit for me. I wrote that I was so afraid to walk into my review and hear, "Well, at first we thought you were just a beginner at this whole pr/writing thing...but now we know that you're just plain bad at it." And though I enjoyed the work I got to do, I wondered if it wasn't true.
Of course--nothing of the sort happened. The review went well and I gained useful critiques and plenty of encouragement--but the uneasiness remained. I remember telling a coworker that I was terrified that my boss would ask where I wanted to be in 5 years--b/c I had no answer!
And now I'm here, packing for the night train to Beijing, finishing up grades for my PhD writing class. I cannot think of a better way for the last year to have happened! Of course, losing that PR job was a difficult experience, but I was soooo blessed to leave under the best of terms, with incredible options and support in every direction and with an immediate possibility of CHINA!!! I'm just thankful that my path isn't in my hands (except for those pesky times when I try to take too much control of it). I am filled with JOY for where I am now.
On another note: I taught my final lesson for my PhD Writing students this week. Next week they will only turn in their final papers and be free to go. As I finished the lesson for my first class, I told them briefly how thankful I was to know them and said a few typical goodbyes. The entire class then stood up and applauded me! Hahahaha! I felt for a moment as if I was the star of a made-for-tv "teacher tames the ghetto" or "coach inspires the world" movie! Jokes aside, it really was moving. The second class bought me a Christmas present--a 100% Chinese silk blanket that is made here in Wuhan at a place that we toured together--I actually SAW some of the raw silk that they use!
Speaking of gifts...
I can't express the excitement that I've gotten from the kindness of some of you (Amy and Laurel, Tim, etc) I've recieved 3 packages since I've been here in China and they have been invaluable--not just b/c of the gifts inside but also for how INCREDIBLY ENCOURAGING it is to me! I love you all.
AND FINALLY--I'm going to brag for a minute.
I have to share with some of you the Christmas present that boyfriend Tim got me (yes--he's my boyfriend). When I return to the US for a few months in the summer, I will be going to New Jersey for .....wait for it.....it's better than jelly beans....you'll never guess......
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E STREET BAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
July 28--GIANTS STADIUM--THE MAGIC TOUR!!!!!!!!!!! I mean, we are talking about THE BOSS. IN JERSEY. WITH THE E STREET BAND. PLAYING ONE OF MY FAVORITE ALBUMS OF THE PAST 5 YEARS.
Lemme just say--Tim knows how to give Christmas presents! Bruce has been one of my all-time favorite performers for MY WHOLE LIFE. His music is one of the only things that makes me remember my dad with fondness and joyful memories. His music is one of the only things I want to hear on summer days with the windows down. His music is what I jump around to in my bedroom when I'm having a great day. His music forms the soundtrack for multiple moments in my life! Magic, his new album...IS FABULOUS!!! Plus, old or not--the man is HOT (sorry Tim)! I'm already planning on what I'm going to wear and what I would say if I met him (white t-shirt, blue jean skirt--I gotta be a "girl in my summer clothes"...probably won't meet him BUT want to come up with something that says "I've loved you my whole life but that doesn't mean that you're too old for me..." or somthing like that). ANYWAY--there will probably be an entire blog post devoted to him soon--and probably an entire blog post devoted to the guy who's bringin me there--but for now I just wanted to shout the good news from the rooftops--TIM IS TAKING ME TO SEE BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
There's a quote somewhere from someone that you learn more about a person by the questions that they ask than the questions that they answer. In that vein, I asked my students to write down any questions that they had about me or America in general. I thought I'd share a sampling of what I received:
FROM MY FRESHMEN PRONUNCIATION CLASSES:
"I always feel puzzled about how to be a girl love by many of people. Do you have any advice?"
"Do you like football? I love David Beckham so much that I want to see him in America. Will go to Los Angols to see him when you return home?"
"What do you think of your girlhood? And can you imagine the life in 20 or 50 years later? Do you think the hi-technology will endanger us?"
"What do you usually have for breakfast? Is the life pace faster? What time do you usually have lunch and dinner? What do you have for dinners?"
"If you get married with a chinese what kind of wedding ceremony would you like to take?"
"Whether it is difficult for me to ask a American girl to see a movie with me in the evening? If I fall in love with a American girl What shold I say to her?"
"Dear Lucy, In my mind, all Americans are very rich. Do all Americans live a happy and easy life?"
"What do you think about the traditional Britishes?"
"What kind of people are most despised by American people?"
The most common question: "Have you had Chinese food? What do you think of it?"
FROM MY PhD ENGLISH WRITING STUDENTS:
"What's the main difference between America College Education System and Chinese College Education System?"
"How to write something with all of my words? Because I know many words, but when I write something, I just find a few to use."
"I have received from foreign guests who come from German, Canada, and Russia. The biggest problem is I don't know what are they? How can I go a step further?"
"What kinds of pressures in U.S.A especially the students?"
"Can we takes pictures of you?"
"America is the richest country in the world, is there any poor people there?"
"Do you feel angry that students copy papers from www instead of doing their homeworks?"
"If the American to lose liberalism, what can they do?"
"Did the Americans concern about Chinese people's life?"
"If an person in American is poor, how to he find happness?"
"Are there many pop stars in American? Which one would you like best?"
"You are young and beautiful. We all love you."
"What's the everyday life of an American farmer? Is his living condition the same with the people live in the city?"
"America is the strongest country in the world, but it seems so many American don't know China well, and many policy of American are to restrain China's development. What do you think about this problem?"
"Which college is best in America for studying rapeseeds?"
Pretty interesting stuff...how would you answer some of these?