What you have to learn about outside of it
02.08.2010 98 °F
Yesterday's scavenger hunt was fun. We didn't learn many characters (the instructions were written in Chinese, but they were explained to us in English) but we had a blast. I was my team's captain, and I had Luke, Chloe, and three Koreans whose names I don't know. We came in third (of four, so we didn't lose). It was a lot of fun despite the weather (a hundred degrees, with about 45% humidity, which is what it is again today). We were all sweaty, since we ran a lot, but I felt so good after running! I really need to start doing that again when I get home. This morning in class, we had another character test. I got a 94, which was really impressive since I only missed six out of forty-four words and when I started studying yesterday I knew ten of them. I've got fifty more to learn for tomorrow. I see a long night in my future.
Grampy posted a comment that made me remember a conversation that Julie Ann and I had with Shu over the weekend. Shu is one of our volunteers. He's 19 and he spent a year in the U.S. during high school and now attends college there. He's a lot of fun, and he has a very interesting perspective. He's Chinese, but he's very Americanized (I sometimes forget that he isn't really American) so he has the perspective on China of both an insider and an outsider. As Julie Ann pointed out to me, his age also factors in. He is also willing to talk about things that probably make a lot of Chinese people uncomfortable (subjects that I haven't been brave enough to broach with my host family). The conversation started at lunch. Shu mentioned a trip that he had taken to Japan, and since Julie Ann spent a summer there a couple of years ago, they started comparing experiences. Shu said something about the policemen in white gloves and Julie Ann commented on how important cleanliness and respect are there. Shu nodded and said, "Yeah, that's ancient Chinese culture. It's sad that we lost it." When I heard that, I joined in and we talked for a while about how the Communists had destroyed thousands of years of history in just a decade, and how Shu's generation was the first since that to prize education. It was a fascinating conversation, and I feel like I learned a lot and saw a really unique perspective. I doubt that many people get the opportunity to talk to who sees things from that particular angle.
As for the specific questions that you asked, Grampy: I'm not quite sure whether or not the one child restriction is working, but I know that there are a lot of issues around it. A lot of kids grow up lonely because they don't really have time to hang out with their friends and they don't have a sibling at home. There are also a lot of kids who suffer from that "one child syndrome" that people talk about. They're whiny and selfish and don't like sharing and aren't used to not getting their way. Like my dad said, they're Little Emperors. I know that this isn't true for all of them, and I don't think it's even a majority. Most of the kids I've interacted with have been great. Our volunteers are great, and so is my sister, but a few students are having a hard time dealing with their siblings. I know that they get lonely. As far as the "reverence for old age" goes, it's still sort of there. I mean, people give up seats for the elderly on the bus and things (they get really excited if a foreigner does it) but I haven't noticed a lot of what I expected. They don't use "nin" (the polite form of "you") as often as I anticipated. I guess I'll say that it exists more strongly here than in the States, but it doesn't exist here as strongly as I thought it would.
Another conversation that I've had with both Julie Ann and Mikaela is about China's development. Since it's considered a world superpower, I had sort of expected that it would be in the same place as America, but it isn't. I'm not quite sure if I can explain it, but it feels like I'm visiting a different decade. Anyways, China, or at least the parts that I've seen, is much more industrial than the U.S. I'm not sure why I was surprised, or if I should have been or not, but I was. There are a lot of little things. Maybe it's because I'm not used to living in a big city (instead of the suburbs) but on some streets there are garbage piles (which, in 100 degree heat are smell pretty bad). The air quality is bad. As I said, we don't see the sky a whole lot, there's always a haze or something. Everything is really cheap. I feel like this is what it would be like in the United States if I could take a time machine back to the industrial revolution or something. Maybe that isn't accurate. I'm not too good at history, and I don't feel like I have a complete understanding of everything. I definitely don't comprehend enough for that to be entirely accurate, but it's different. I'm quite sure that it isn't just the difference between living in the city and living in the suburbs, but I'm not entirely sure of what it is. Maybe I'll be able to describe it better in person and someone can help me figure out what I'm trying to say. I realized suddenly that this description sounds negative. It's not. It's just different. I'm observing and reporting.
Well, I hope you all enjoyed that. Maybe it's given you something to ponder.
Now I'd like to comment on going abroad. There are a lot of people (from everywhere, I'm not picking on anyone) who are happy to stay in their own little corner of the world. I know that I can't change anyone's mind about that, and I'm not going to try to tell anyone what to do, but I'd like to give my opinion on this topic. There is so much that you don't know you don't know. Trust me. I considered myself pretty worldly and well-travelled. I had been to Europe, I had stayed with a family in a country that doesn't speak English. I'm pretty bright. I've learned a lot, I've read a lot. I thought I had a good understanding of most things. I was so wrong. I think it was Sophocles who said, "All that I know is that I know nothing" or something to that effect. I used to think that I knew what he meant. Again, I was wrong. I've learned so much here about myself, about America, about China, about people in general, about the world, and I've realized that I don't know a thing. I can't really explain it to anyone who doesn't know about it from their own experience. It isn't something that you can be taught about. You have to learn it yourself, because it's different for everybody, I'm sure. But I think that going abroad is the only way that you can learn it. I mean really abroad. Way outside of your comfort zone (which will expand, I'm sure). You can go abroad however you want. You can study, volunteer, work, be an exchange student. Being a tourist doesn't cut it. In a perfect world, I think that everyone would spend at least a year of their life living in another country. That's the only way that we're going to have peace. But I know that that can't happen. Not everyone can go. Some don't have the means financially, and some people don't have the right mindset. If they aren't open to it, they won't gain anything from it. All I can say is, when you go abroad, be ready. Open your mind to everything. Accept everything. Observe. And be prepared to come out of it a different person. In a good way.