I have been on the other side of the world for about three weeks now and I’ve taken away a few things: Chinese squat toilets almost never have toilet paper, don’t eat street food if you can’t read the Chinese characters, and that you should avoid getting caught in the crossfire of Chinese spit.
Honestly, it took coming to China to accurately frame my perception of the country. Beijing is like a city caught between two worlds, symbolizing both the rise of China, and the weight of the enormous internal struggles China still faces. Think of it as a developing country’s New York City. It does not have the polish of an American city, but you can still see a thriving domestic market everywhere you turn. You can buy smart phones at every corner, but you still can’t drink the tap water even in one of the most developed portions of the country. This has brought me to the conclusion that there is still a tremendous amount of growing pains China will have to undertake if it aspires to become a great power (something I only considered in the abstract previously). I still think China is poised to be among the most influential countries in the world in the coming decades, but my experience here has more than tempered my expectations for China’s “rise.”
On a more personal note, last weekend the clan at PiB (Princeton in Beijing) went to the Great Wall, as is required of all American and foreign tourists in China. It is impossible to describe how incredible it truly is unless you actually have visited. You have to let it sink in how amazing it is – it stretches on, seemingly into infinity (or what seemed like it after 3 hours in Beijing heat hiking up and down the wall).
Along the wall, there are all kinds of “entrepreneurs” that sell everything from soda to “hand crafted ancient figurines.” One of the women who was trying to sell a classmate an umbrella followed us up the Great Wall hoping we would change our mind and buy it. These people really wanted to make the sale: one woman, after she failed in selling us a picture book, gave it to one of her associates to try again as she watched from behind a bush. It, er, didn’t work. I was able to get three t-shirts for $10, so I’m pretty satisfied.
Last Friday I did the final focus group interview for my research. My immediate takeaway from these interviews is that some of my initial assumptions were flawed about how exactly Chinese students view the role of China. We’ll see where the next phase of the research takes me. I am working with a graduate student here to decide the best method to widely distribute a survey, and will be working with Dr. Zhang to possibly send the survey to other locations in China.
I won’t bore you with too many specifics of my class work, but for those who are wondering here are a few stats: we learned about 1000 vocab this week, around 50 grammar patterns, wrote two essays, completed five quizzes and one two hour test on all of it. Also, for those of you curious about what some of that vocab is, we have focused on homicide and sex this week. So class discussions have been… interesting.