Chi.na is a very interesting place.
The Newsweek covers, Dateline coverage, and various other American media do not show a true depiction of this vast, changing, and self-contradicting society. How could they? There's no way to do this place justice in a news article/blog/documentary/special report.
I sometimes like to think of myself as an eyewitness. Often when I'm in class I chuckle to myself that I have this chance to go to school in Chi.na alongside Chi.nese people - to live in their world, do what they do, and speak their language. I think that CNN would be brilliant to send someone to do this and follow them around - Eat, Pray, Love style.
In America when a foreign student comes to study, they are not given any special treatment. Your English has to be TOEFL standard and we have laws against discrimination based on race, gender, handicap, etc. etc. (not to say people don't discriminate...but universities are lawfully required to protect the sanctity of a multi-cultural environment within the student body.)
Here, where the borders of the country have only been open for ~60 years, foreigners and native student are still kept seperate for the most part. There are "foreigner" dorms, classroom buildings, and cafeterias. A few friends made a joke the other day that they wish there was a "foreigner" bathroom so that it would be clean. (awful, I know...) I can't walk down the street for 5 minutes without someone pointing at me and yelling, "foreigner!" Or at least talking about me behind my back. (sometimes I chime in, sometimes not.)
I once saw a grandma physically fighting her teenage grand-daughter in the grocery store because she wanted to buy instant coffee packets. The grandma was yelling, "that foreign stuff is unhealthy!" The government just passed a law defending, "cultural invasion" of American music artists including Lady Gaga, the Backstreet Boys, and Beyonce. I can no longer download them off of Chin.ese websites. There is also a new law against reality tv shows because audience participation is too similiar to democracy.
I knew the mindset of this society against foreigners when I set out to do a PhD in Chi.nese philosophy, but I guess in my often idealistic mind, I didn't think I would encounter too many obstacles of this nature because I was in their territory - not pushing my culture against theirs, but trying to adapt as much as possible to their world.
Well I had a special little awakening in class yesterday.
My teacher for Chi.nese Philosophy Readings is super precious. He has a permanent smile and you can tell he is passionate about what he teaches. He loves Ch.ina and philosophy and he is a genius, from what I can tell. He talks for 3 hours straight on Thursday afternoons and I try my darndest to try to understand what is going on, but mostly just read my kindle and look up every once in awhile to smile at him so he thinks I know what is going on.
At the beginning of class yesterday he tried a little teaching tactic to include me. He really likes me and likes having an American in class. He opened class with, "American girl do you understand the "blah blah ancient Chine.se book"? Me: "Not fully." (actually never heard of it, but that is the Chine.se way to respond...saving face by not saying, "Nope, dude.")
He then told the class that we were going to spend awhile "teaching the American foreigner about "blah blah blah" and asked for volunteers. I just nodded my head and smiled as dozens of curious faces turned around to look at the awkward foreigner in the back corner where I hide and read my kindle.
An earnest girl in the front stood up and went, "blah blah blah," at me for a few minutes. "谢谢, thank you," I replied and nodded, hoping this would end soon since I had no idea what they were talking about and just wanted to blend in with the wall.
The teacher was obviously loving this, "share with the foreigner" time and I tried to be thankful for it, until the next dude sitting two rows in front of my stood up.
I could tell something was wrong as soon as he stood because his face and ears became red. And then he opened his mouth. I didn't catch 100% of what he said because he was talking very fast, this wa the gist, "Why are we wasting our time teaching the foreigner? They should not be allowed in our philosophy classes because our minds are too different and it is dangerous to study with them. It is dangerous to speak with them." Then he sat.
I stared at him with my mouth open. Then looked around at the 40 faces staring at me waiting to see my reaction and pulled it together. I could feel my head filling with water wanting to spurt out my eyes in tears but I wouldn't let them. This was a chance to show kindess, grace, understanding, and patience. I didn't want to blow it. (like I often do...).
I just nodded my head. My teacher's eyes were big. He asked me if I had anything to say. I swallowed and said, "My major is Chi.nese philosophy. Your major is Chi.nese philosophy. This is a required class. We are the same."
My teacher then spent a long time defending the necesity of cross-cultural communication and the virtue of studying Western philosophy. But I was not really paying attention. I was reading. ha.
In those moments, I longed for heaven. One day there will be no more borders. No more nationalistic junk. No more this land/that land/your land/my land. I wait for that day. And I press on.
You can't find this stuff in the magazines, man. True life.
Here's the "Chi.nese cafeteria" haha....
I take pictures of my notes to have my sweet Chi.nese friends explain them later...
the bathroom in the Chi.nese buildings, I get to crap in a trough!...
and then I found a duck head in my $1 take-out dinner from Walmart after I specifically asked for, "no meat," ...