• My Day as a Teacher

    Posted by Sonja Poe on 5/16/2018

    This past Monday, our exchange group had the opportunity to visit the Chaoyang branch of the Jingshan school. Together, we created a lesson plan in which we each taught to a different class of first and second graders. Having never taught English to anyone, let alone a class of 40 children, I learned a number of new things.

    First of all, being a teacher certainly has it’s set of challenges. Teaching is all about balance. Faced with a group of incredibly sweet, enthusiastic, and energetic students I had to find a way to keep them in order, but also let them have fun. Jumping out of their seats to answer questions gave them some opportunity to actively participate, yet I had to make sure to attend to enough students to maintain control while still keeping the flow of the lesson for the whole class. Another important tactic that I learned was to communicate that mistakes are okay and nothing to worry about. One student didn't understand a question I asked. He stood next to his seat quite flustered and unsure what to do. I told him that it's okay and that he can take a seat, but he kept standing. Students around him giggled and made jokes. I felt really bad and quickly came up with a plan to change the situation. Drawing attention away from the question I asked the boy to turn to a friend behind him and complete a different task together. When they were done, I congratulated the two kids each with a bag of skittles. All fluster gone from his face, the little boy sat down with a big smile. A small, seemingly insignificant situation as this reminded me how much more there is to teaching than just communicating facts.

    Another lesson I leaned was that things never go quite as planned. My classmates and I had carefully constructed a lesson plan that would keep the students engaged while teaching them new vocabulary. The problem was, we significantly underestimated the level of the student’s English. After about a minute of being in the classroom, I realized zoo animals, school lunch, and summer vacation would not make the cut. A new plan had to be devised on the spot. I had each student go around, introduce themselves, and tell me something about their weekend, their hobbies, or what they were excited about in general. Afterwards, we delved into a long discussion about various American holidays such as Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and New Years. Together the students and I also drew holiday related pictures on the blackboard, my favorite of which were the giant pumpkin and the slightly deformed snowman. In the second class I taught, after each student introduced themselves, we played an incredibly entertaining game of hangman. Letting the students pick their own hangman words and whisper them to my friend and I, they had a chance to use more level appropriate vocabulary.

    Overall, the experience was incredibly fun and rewarding. I had a wonderful time time playing with the children, teaching them, and getting to know each of their very unique personalities.

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  • The Chorus Competition

    Posted by Sofia Hrycyszyn on 5/16/2018

                Jingshan school has a yearly cultural festival where students compete in and perform things like calligraphy, dance routines, and English skits. One such competition was the choral one, where each class sang a required song and one of their choice. The groups were student organized and run. It took a lot of preparation, planning, and practice to make sure the class sounded great and looked professional.

    I was lucky enough to be a part of my class’s chorus so I got to see not only the competition itself, but a look behind the scenes on all the work that went into it. A few girls in my class took over and chose songs, conducted, played instruments, and lead practice. Even after seeing how much effort those girls put into the songs, I was still super impressed by how good we sounded and that everybody could sing. I know that if I had to sing a song with one of my classes in America, it wouldn’t go nearly as well.

    In China, music class is required, so kids learn how to read music and sing as part of a chorus, among other things. The students in my class were literally given sheets of music and were expected to learn the songs by themselves. The Americans in my class were given sheet music too, but we struggled to learn it by ourselves so some students spent a lot of time teaching us.

    I really enjoyed performing during the concert. I hadn’t sung on stage or with a group in years and climbing onto the risers felt the same as it did back in middle school. The conductor conducted the same way. The stage lights were just as hot. The room just as large. I felt the same rush of excitement and nervousness stepping in front of so many faces. I think participating in the chorus competition brought me closer to my classmates and while singing I felt a similar connection to them as I have with chorus groups in the past. I had forgotten how much fun it is to show so many attentive people something you enjoy and something you’ve worked hard on.

    Performing in the chorus competition was a total throwback, but there were also some big differences. In middle school we performed concerts every once in a while on songs we had been working on for months. My class in Jingshan performs once a year and worked on the songs for a few weeks. In Newton, we were never judged or critiqued, but during the competition my class’s score was made public. While occasionally students conducted or arranged music in middle school, we had a teacher do pretty much all of the instruction and organization, whereas at Jingshan everything was student run.

    I loved participating in and watching the chorus competition. I was blown away by the results and the amount of effort the students put in was obvious. It was also really nice to be back on stage, especially in a slightly different environment.

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  • Being a Part of the Cultural Festival

    Posted by Min Park on 5/16/2018

    Tuesday marked the end of Jingshan School’s cultural festival, a school wide event with dance, music, lip-syncing performances from Jingshan School’s own students. As the Newton bounders, we were also able to participate in the Cultural Festival by performing an original dance and being the judges and MCs for the English competition.

    Firstly, we were a part of the English competition which we acted as judges for the lip-syncing competition. The Jingshan students lip synced to movies in English and it was incredibly impressive and so clear that the students put massive amounts of work into it preparing for it. I was also one of the MCs of the competition, which was a cool experience as I got to introduce each group. For me, one of the groups that performed a scene from Zootopia with the sloth was the most impressive of the English competition. It was hilarious as the sloth talks really slowly, and the sound effects were really impressive as well. Many of the students’ pronunciation were incredible and for some, I couldn’t even notice that they were lip-syncing.

    All of us were really excited about performing the dance. The Jingshan School invited us to perform a dance in which we choreographed and picked the music out to. We picked the music with a theme of “through the ages” in which we compiled parts of pop music that was, in our opinions, iconic of that time. For example, we chose “Girls just wanna have fun”, “Baby”, “You’re the One that I want” because we thought all of these melodies would be familiar to everyone, maybe even for the Jingshan students. Michelle and I choreographed the dance and then everyone practiced it after school almost everyday for a month. Everyone put lots of work into it, and practiced at school, home, and even during lunches. Although our dance was so much easier and simpler than all of the technique-requiring and impressive dances that were also being performed that day, we still had a lot of fun performing it.

    Before we went on stage, we were all nervous and it reminded me of the ballet performances that I have done in Newton. I felt like our Newton bounders really came together by doing this dance together as we rehearsed together everyday, pushed our way through different group arguments and conflicts, and thus felt like a coherent group as we all stood on stage and performed something that caused a lot of stress and conflicts for us, as easy as the dance looked.

    Most importantly, I felt that the cultural festival was very similar but unique to South’s talent show, Tertulia. Some differences that I noticed was that the Cultural Festival was a lot more formal as the MCs wore long dresses and suits, and everyone dressed up during the singing competition while Tertulia is more casual. We even mentioned that this event is like Newton South’s Prom as everyone dressed up and took pictures. Also, I felt that the whole Jingshan school was more involved in the Cultural Festival than South students were in Tertulia. I felt that Jingshan school had more spirit, in which our school struggles with. All in all, I thought it was an incredibly fun and cool experience by seeing and participating in a big event of the school.

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  • Scouts

    Posted by Michelle Lee on 5/16/2018

     

                One of the many restrictions students in China are required to follow is wearing uniforms. The Jingshan School in specific has their main uniforms, which consists of a blue, red, white, and black jacket and all blue sweatpants. This makes it especially easy for them to pick out their outfits in the mornings. It also makes it super easy to spot fellow Jingshan students around Beijing. This isn’t just true to the Jingshan school though, almost every school in China requires their students to wear a uniform. Therefore, you’re bound to see many different uniforms when walking around the city. Each school's uniforms are specific to their school, it’s what makes them different from other schools and sets them apart from one another.

    America is different. There’s no way to distinguish students from different schools just by their clothes. Although some private schools have uniforms most public schools allow their students to wear whatever they want with very few regulations. The only time students in America wear uniforms is for sport related activities like games. Unless you’re like my brothers and I and do Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. These after school activities are some of the few that require their participants to wear designated clothes. Similar to the Jingshan school, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have different uniforms for different age groups. The different levels make it easy to guess the age of the child wearing the certain color. I’ve realized this is a lot like students in China.

    The Jingshan School has eight different branches, all in various parts of China. The one factor that ties them all together is their uniforms. Our group recently took a trip to one of the branch schools where we taught first and second grade classes. We decided to teach them some English vocabulary and afterwards we played some games incorporating the new words. At first I was scared, but by the end of the day I had so much fun. Also during our visit we were even given the chance to participate in a group panel. Students were able to ask us any questions they had about America and our stay. I was able to learn so much from the students and they were able to lean a lot from us as well.

    A huge connection I’ve made by visiting a branch school of the Jingshan School was how similar it is to Girl Scouts for me. The whole experience of teaching little kids and playing games, while they’re all in uniforms has really taken me back to America. Since I’m a cadette now in Girl Scouts, that means I’m a role model to all the younger girls. We also hold a lot of activities where all the older girls lead stations and inform the younger girls all about science and many other things. I’ve learned through this that in order for younger kids to pay attention to what you're saying you need to have them partake in hands on activities. I’ve been doing Girl Scouts since I was little, and although most people stop doing it after a while, I’ve stayed with it. I’ve watched other Girls teach me, until eventually I was the one doing the teaching. My leadership skills definitely came in handy when teaching the younger students here in China. It has also created a parallel from teaching in America and teaching in China, and shown me just how similar they actually are.

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  • Home Sweet Hutong

    Posted by Jenny Huang on 5/16/2018

                It is without a question that China is full of rich history and culture. There are hundreds of temples and traditional buildings to visit, but Beijing prides itself in having lots of hutongs. A hutong is a traditional street or alley that is common in northern China, especially Beijing. Hutongs are created by the sides of the siheyuan, which are the traditional style courtyard houses. With the rapid and constant growth of Beijing, it is easy for people to overlook the hutongs, especially because they are quite narrow and humble looking. If you take a walk down one, however, you will be engulfed by the rich culture that has been preserved.

                A couple weekends ago I was invited to the Shiijia Hutong Museum by my friend who was giving tours there. The museum, which was located right in the hutong itself, was small but gave the detailed history of the hutong village, the life of the people who used to live there, and the school that was home to great scholars, diplomats, and more. I learned a lot about hustings and hutong culture that afternoon.

                The little hutong neighborhoods are very quaint and relaxing, which is quite different than the other bustling streets of Beijing. The branches of many trees in bloom sway over the tops of the courtyard walls, vendors sell various items from their small bikes, people play chess outdoors on little tables, and happy dogs roam about the alleyway. The way that the city was built around the hustings reminded me a lot of Manhattan. The grid-like organization of buildings and streets make it easy to navigate. The courtyard of the hutong, which is the 24th hutong neighborhood in the city, used to be home to a famous Chinese painter and writer named Ling Shuhua, and another writer, Chen Xiying. The hutong was also home to several other famous people, including a popular theater group, military officers, Communist Party members, and diplomats! One interesting thing about the Shijia Hutong is that it has a north facing courtyard entrance, rather than the typical south facing entrance, which blocks the cold winds and allows better lighting inside the homes.

                The most unique experience that I had when learning about the hutongs was the “Sounds of the Hutong.” We entered a room that played audio of what one would hear if they were to be standing in a hutong in the past. Sounds of birds tweeting, street vendors calling out the goods they had to offer, and the tune of traditional songs all overlap. It really brings you to the hutong neighborhoods, and you can easily imagine yourself in that environment. Other sounds included someone calling out the time of day. It was explained that the time would be called out every two hours back then, which was very intriguing.

                Hutongs are an essential key to understanding Beijing culture and lifestyle. Many of them contain special memories, and are even linked to historical events. Hutongs really give us a glimpse of what life was like for people during China’s past. With the growth of Beijing, however, many hutong neighborhoods are being changed into high-rise buildings and apartments. It is important to protect hutongs to preserve the important historical significance of these areas.

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  • Differences in Education

    Posted by Alex Kelsey-Ramos on 5/16/2018

     

                As my American classmates and I approach our final weeks as students at the Jingshan School, the weather is now consistently warmer and everybody is spending more time outdoors. Recently, what students seem to be most excited about is the upcoming basketball tournament. Although, the Jingshan students always seemed excited to play basketball during our hour and a half lunch break, I now notice that everybody is more competitive and serious when playing than before. Unlike Newton North, where students can enjoy an endless amount of different sports and activities, The Jingshan School seems to be obsessed with basketball. It’s the main activity that brings (mainly middle and high school) students together; and is enjoyed to varying degrees by almost everybody at the school.

                A pattern that I have noticed from Jingshan students is a kinship that they all feel towards each other. This is probably due to students staying in the same class throughout the entire day, while their teachers are the ones who rotate between classes. Although, some students may jump or fall in the level of their class when advancing to the next grade, and others may transfer into the Jingshan School from other schools and vice versa, the makeup of each class seems to stay relatively consistent through kindergarten to twelfth grade. The Jingshan school also utilizes other strategies to bring students together. One way that they do this is by mandating students to wear a school uniform. This helps students feel more equal and comfortable with their classmates. Students all wearing the same uniform do not have to worry about issues such as income inequality and other social divisions affecting their clothing and how they’re treated by their peers. This all encourages students to feel more safe and comfortable at school, so they can focus more on academics.

                This attitude of unity that is encouraged by the Jingshan School seems to be more heavily emphasized than at Newton North. Back in Newton, students are encouraged to be more individualistic and school life is less regulated. This allows students to take more classes about the particular things that interests them such as art, music, cooking...etc. They can also participate in a larger array of clubs and sports that a more conformist school might not offer. However, it can leave students overwhelmed without the feeling of structure and order that the Jingshan School offers. This overwhelming feeling could negatively affect students who are not encouraged to work hard academically outside of school the most. Since, without being pushed by the school and their classmates to follow a certain path, these students could continue to fall behind their classmates until they cannot even understand the subject that they are learning about. However, having a less structures environment can lead to students who are individually motivated and goal orientated to succeed and prosper.

                This difference in the attitude of the Jingshan School and that of Newton North displays a difference in what each culture values. The Jingshan School encourages students to conform to certain behavioral and academic expectations. While, Newton North allows students to create their own path. Directing and controlling the path and behavior of students may lead to those who feel that they are the odd one out having a much harder time getting along with their peers. However, too much freedom may lead to a feeling of overwhelmingness and allow some students to fall behind their peers. Both of these systems have their advantages and disadvantages, but mainly draw attention to the differences in what Chinese and American culture value.

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  • Chorus Competition

    Posted by Ariella Hatch-Tuchman on 5/16/2018

    Every year the Jingshan school has an annual music and cultural festival. There's all kinds of competitions for students, singing, dancing, acting, etc. One of the events is when the classes in the school compete in a choir competition. My class asked me and the other exchange kids in my class to perform with them. And, to say the least it was a good experience.

    This was a really fun event for me, but in the beginning of was also really stressful. When I first found out I would be competing in the signing competition I was really nervous, during our practicing I was even too scared to sing if I was asked to sing alone. But, after practicing a bit with just one other girl I realized that after all that practicing I did, I could effectively sing the high notes without my voice cracking. I got really excited after a while because I was less scared to sing the solo that the Americans were asked to sing.

    The competition was definitely different from a US competition. Unlike the US where these kinds of things are optional for each individual person in China the entire class does it together. Sometimes this got to be an issue, especially for the people like me who were uncomfortable singing, and when we were deciding what our outfits would be (we just wore the uniform because some girls didn't want to wear a dress). But, these kinds of problems were easily resolved, they made sure everyone in their class had a say in their decisions, and overall worked really well together.

     

    On the day of the competition everyone gathered in the auditorium, all the classes going had one song the school chose and one song of their choice. After they went they received their feedback right away from the judges, and then they got their score after the next song. At first I found this a little odd. It just seems weird to me that they would have a singing competition and the tell the kids what their singing. But I actually find it clever. To me it makes sense that they would have one song that everyone sings because then it makes it easier to score them. All in all I found this competition very unifying, it brings people together when they all commit so much time and effort to something they all really care about. I definitely think all that practicing was really rewarding in the end!

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  • The Cultural Festival

    Posted by Sonja Poe on 5/16/2018

                Within my first two months at Beijing Jingshan School, I thought I had developed a pretty good understanding of the school. Academics were priority and classes were fascinating but demanding. Watching my classmates study for hours and hours on end, it began to seem to me as if the whole basis of school life here was studying. While I certainly did not overestimate the importance of academic achievement, I did miss out on another huge part of Jingshan. This I discovered during a very specific Friday afternoon assembly called the opening ceremony of the cultural festival. This festival showcases the talents of Jingshan students and allows them an opportunity to explore various traditional Chinese and international arts. I had the opportunity to learn just how much more there is to Jingshan than I thought.

                In this showcase, I got to see a variety of performances from singing, martial arts, to dialogue. Contrasting my classmate’s beautiful performance of a Chinese song, I was very entertained to see a of couple boys singing American country music with guitars in hand.

    One performance of the showcase that particularly impressed me was the traditional Chinese opera performed by elementary schoolers. I was incredibly impressed how smoothly the young students executed complex traditional dialogue. Learning these skills as a young child really allows them to conquer stage fright, prepare for public speaking, and explore an important aspect of their culture to which they may not have been otherwise exposed.

                The part of the showcase that took me most by surprise was the fashion show. The lights were dimmed, music turned on, and colorful lights moved about on the middle aisle leading up to the stage. Students walked through the catwalk and up to the stage full of confidence and energy, striking a pose of their liking at the end. The purpose of the show was to introduce contesting uniforms for future school events. Besides the clear practical purpose of the fashion show, I thought the event was uplifting, entertaining, and overall just really fun.

                One of my favorite events of the cultural festival is the English movie competition. As a judge for this event, I have the chance to watch about 20 classes perform the dialogue to different hollywood films while the scene plays in the background. Some of the films included the Imitation games, Kung Fu panda, Coco, and Sherlock Holmes. Just imagining how difficult it would be for me to follow a movie dialogue in chinese I was really impressed how accurately the students were able to keep up with the fast pace of the scenes.

                The cultural festival not only builds school spirit and showcases these student talents, but it also gives students a break from regular school life, allowing them to focus on other highly regarded cultural skills. My American classmates and I were so impressed to see how the same students we sit in class with every day, the same students who put so much effort into academics, also possess these incredible talents, which they are willing to share with the school community.

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  • The Way We Treat Foreigners

    Posted by Sofia Hrycyszyn on 5/16/2018

    During my time in China, I have noticed differences in the way Chinese and American people treat foreigners. In China the word foreigner is frequently used to describe anyone who is not ethnically Chinese, while in America it’s common to see people from all sorts of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, so it’s hard to identify someone as a foreigner. From what I have seen in China, foreigners are treated with respect and people are patient with our language skills. Sometimes I feel as if Chinese people treat me as a strange object, almost like a mythological creature, and they tend to be extremely careful and quiet around me. (I’m white so I’m writing based off of what I have seen and experienced. I am aware that I probably have a slightly skewed perspective and I’m not sure what other bounders of color have experienced.) Especially outside of larger cities, foreigners are a rare occurrence and I have gotten lots of stares and have had lots of photos taken with, or sometimes without, my consent. However in America, foreigners, people that might look like foreigners, or people who speak with an accent are not always treated with respect, especially if they have minimum wage jobs or work in the service industry. While many Americans are respectful no matter what someone looks or talks like, I have friends who, born and raised in America, are occasionally asked “where are you really from?”

    A few weeks ago, some of the other bounders and I went to Qingdao. There was one Chinese bounder on the trip, and whenever someone had a question for us they automatically approached her and assumed she was fluent in Chinese. These people were pleasantly surprised, and sometimes shocked, that the rest of the group had at least some Chinese language ability and were extremely patient with us. However, many people told the Chinese bounder that she was Chinese, that she couldn’t be American, that her Chinese wasn’t good enough.

    In America, foreigners are treated differently than in China. It is automatically assumed that everyone speaks English, no matter what they look like. I’ve never thought to speak Chinese instead of English with someone Chinese I met in America. In contrast to what I’ve observed in China, when people can’t speak English or can only speak a little bit, some Americans can get rude and even hostile and impatient. Whenever you see a tourist or someone who’s a different race than you on the street you don’t give them a second look, you might not even notice. I’ve never asked to take a picture with someone just because they’re a different race than me.

    In China, foreigners are seen as exactly that. Foreign. There are regional differences and people in big cities are less likely to ask for a photo, but for the most part foreigners aren’t expected to know the language and blend in. In America foreigners can be seen as just regular members of society demanding the same amount of respect as anyone else, but they can also be seen as people on a lower level that need to learn the language and how to fit in; it really depends on the person and where and how they were brought up.

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  • Popcorn and 3D Glasses

    Posted by Min Park on 5/16/2018

                In Newton, I watched a movie in the theaters every other week. One reason for this was that my film studies class that I took at Newton South required us to watch newly released films, and the other reason was that I absolutely love watching movies. Because of this, film studies was my favorite class Senior year as I was able to watch movies and have it count as homework. When coming to Beijing, I really wanted to be able to go watch movies as I did in Newton. I didn’t want to miss out on good films, but I was also very curious to see if Beijing cinemas were any different than those in Newton, or if there was any type of movie culture that was prevalent here.

    I believe that watching movies at the movie theaters instead of at home is an experience in itself. Movie theater screens, unlike laptops or televisions, are able to provide an experience instead of simply sitting on one’s couch and renting an old movie and having the option to pause it. Being at the theater allows for the best experience of movie watching as one can be as sucked into the movie as they like and watch a movie that is still relevant. For example, in Boston my friends and I had our tradition of stopping by a CVS to buy our candies and drinks (as movie theaters are overpriced) and then buying our popcorn at the theaters.

    Here in Beijing, I watched three movies so far at the theaters at the APM on Wangfujing as well as the UTown Mall in Chaoyangmen. I have watched Maze Runner 3, Ready Player One, and Black Panther. Although I was half blind watching these movies because of my broken glasses, I thankfully did not need to read subtitles as I can, obviously, read English.

    Frankly, I was disappointed but not surprised that movie theaters as well as cinema culture in China and in the US are basically the same. When I think about it, of course, it makes sense. How special or different could movie theaters get? However, the one thing that I was surprised to see was the number of English movies showing in Beijing cinemas. I knew that Hollywood was the biggest and most successful film industry in the world, however, I truly realized its influence over the world as I saw that half of the movies shown were in English.

    It was also interesting to see that so many people went to the theaters here in Beijing. My host family, for example, loves going to the movie theater and never watches movies at home. I also met many friends at Jingshan that enjoyed watching movies and regularly go to the theaters. On wechat memories, I see many Jingshan friends posting about the latest movie. Many students, when having free time, would go to malls and movie theaters to spend their time. With this, I realized that Jingshan students and myself are pretty similar and enjoy doing similar activities.

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  • Stereotypes

    Posted by Alastair Poole on 4/24/2017

    I am just five days away from the halfway mark of this trip in China, and am currently experiencing a stretch of time focused on academics, rather than sightseeing and traveling.  On the weekends I still partake in as much as I can; I just visited Bei Da and Qing Hua (Chinese Universities), the Olympic Park, and spent a day with Chinese friend I made at school.

    On the subject of academics, there is a strong assumption in the U.S. that all Asians (especially Chinese) are extremely studious and do not wish to partake in any activities that don’t involve math and learning.  This stereotype is not anything that I’ve seen since I’ve arrived.  From what I’ve seen, students in China behave generally the same way as American students.  They talk during class, and fool around just like any other teenager.  When my host sibling, James, comes home from school he complains about the classes he found boring, the teachers he didn’t like, and how much homework he has.  It is almost identical behavior to what I did back in America.  

    Additionally in their free time, Chinese students pursue their extracurricular hobbies, they do not just study.  For instance James and I play basketball, other students do art, and some would rather watch their favorite T.V. series.  These habits apply in home too.  I will hear James tell his parents that he’s going to his room to study, and then when his mom checks on him, she tells him to stop playing on his phone.  James sleeps in when he can, hangs out with his friends, and watches T.V. at home.  None of this is meant to criticize his behavior, but rather to showcase that teenagers in China act the same way Americans do.  

    It is true that there are some Chinese students who probably will spend their time studying and learning math, but can the same not be said of any Americans?  Likewise there are some American students who spend absolutely no time or energy on their schoolwork, but I know that there are students in China who fit into that category as well.  In conclusion, the Chinese youth and the American youth essentially act the same.  A person’s race does not determine their interests or work ethic.  People are different, but teenagers across the globe have behavioral patterns that are consistent among all humans, and Chinese teenagers are no more or less studious than teenagers elsewhere.

    Stereotypes aside, I have noticed that China has very little nightlife, even in a city as large and populous as Beijing.  People are in home early in the evening, and shops and restaurants quickly become deserted by 8:30 p.m., even on Friday and Saturday nights.  I was at a restaurant Saturday night, around 9:00, and the place was almost empty except for us.  I know that in Boston and other big cities, not just in the U.S., that people spend time out in the city at night, and many attractions stay open well into the next day’s morning.  Being out too late seems very taboo China, though I’m not sure why.

    There is one last thing that happened to me at dinner this evening that I would like to take note of.  I asked for a glass of water to drink, and my host mom laughed, telling me I would use the water after dinner to wash the dishes.  I repeated myself, making clear my intention of wanting a drink.  Both of my host parents gasped, and were stunned that I would want something to drink such a late hour (we were having dinner at 7:45 by the way).  I then said a phrase I had grown accustomed to repeating, something along the lines of “in America I usually have a drink with every meal.”  When I then added the adjective ‘iced’ (which I knew by now was taken to mean ‘room temperature’ in China), both my host parents were impressed by how brave I was.  This doesn’t usually happen, my host family has become used to how I drink, and so this happening tonight really took me by surprise.

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  • Stereotypes

    Posted by Andrew Gundal on 4/24/2017

    It’s been almost two months living in China, and I’ve noticed that there have been many stereotypes about China that have actually turned out to be untrue. Living in America, you can hear lots of things about other parts of the world. Most of which are exaggerations, leaving a negative display of a certain culture or ethnic group, persay. But as the Chinese put it, “seeing is believing”. In America, a common stereotype about Asian students is that they are all really smart and academics is the only thing they care about. Being at one of the best public schools in the country, this doesn’t really help. However, as you start to get to know your classmates and get an understanding of their schedule and workload, you start to understand how incorrect and general this stereotype is. Basketball is one of the students’ favorite activities during their break in the middle of the day as well as after school. The students practice everyday, and this break in the middle of the day allows the students to talk with other kids outside of their class. Despite school ending at a much later time than it does in Newton, Newton does not have this break in the middle of the day, which acts as a recess for many. Believe it or not, it seems like Jingshan has an equal amount or less homework than South does. Excluding their extra classes that is. And despite the ban on certain social media websites such as facebook, snapchat, and instagram, China has wechat and weibo, which is like China’s version of facebook and twitter. Many Americans have an imprinted picture of Chinese students as those that go to school all day long, have hours on hours of homework and then just go to bed and don’t have time for anything else. Yes, many students from Jingshan have classes on the weekend, and therefore have extra study time, but many spend their time doing certain hobbies they have or hanging out with some friends. Many students wouldn’t want to live somewhere else even if they had the choice. Studying is just a bigger part of the culture here than it is in America. It doesn’t mean that the students don’t enjoy their lives, or that they don’t have friends or hobbies. This stereotype is really engrained in the minds of Americans that many view Chinese students as robots, and that they all are there to do the same thing. Just study all day long and please their parents by their hard work. I have already met numerous parents that do not care what their child will do for a living, as long as he/she is happy. Of course most parents want to give their child the best opportunity possible to be successful, but many do not actually care what their child does, as long as they enjoy what they are doing. Not every student is obedient to all the rules. You will see kids show up late to class because they were buying a drink or playing basketball. More or less, Newton students are pretty similar to Jingshan students. Some like sports, some like computer games, some like anime, and some don’t like any of these things.

       Another stereotype about the Chinese is that they are unathletic. However, I play basketball with Chinese students everyday and everyday, I am usually one of the worst playing. At both basketball and ping pong, which are the only two sports I have witnessed so far, I have been outclassed time after time by my Chinese classmates. I’d say this stereotype was created as a result of the idea that the Chinese only study all day. Dont’t forget that the average Chinese person is in much better shape than the average American. China has only a 6% obesity rate compared to a whopping 32% coming from Americans. So why to we look at the Chinese with such a negative connotation?

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  • Halfway There

    Posted by Courtney Chang on 4/24/2017

    As I stared at the calendar and counted all the days we’ve been here, I realized that we have already stayed in Beijing for almost 2 months! 

    My family planned to visit me in Beijing for my 19th birthday. They arrived at the Beijing Airport on March 10th, Friday. Beginning of that week, I didn’t have much thought about them coming. On the day that they were arriving, I did not go to school and got ready to go pick them up at the airport. As I was packing and getting ready to meet them, my heart started pounding. I could not focus, and I was all excited. Carrying my backpack and a huge bouquet of flowers, I dragged my gray suitcase that was bigger than my entire body all the way from my house to the airport. I roamed around the airport, looking for my family. When I spotted my dad’s blue jacket, I dropped everything and ran to him to hug him tightly. As he let me go, I took one look at my mom’s face, and I just started crying. I guess I missed her way more than I thought I did.

    After refreshing up at the hotel, I led my family the same way that I walk everyday. I showed them my school, the streets I walk, and the steps that I take. It felt both weird and good to have them with me in China. We made our way to APM on Wangfujing to have dinner with my host mom and host sister. I was worried that since my host mom does not speak English and my parents don’t speak Chinese that we wouldn’t be able to communicate. I was afraid that my inability to translate would make dinner awkward; however, we all had a great time. My parents were thrilled to meet and thank my host mom for taking such good care of me. I was able to understand almost everything my host mom was saying, so I was able to translate to Korean/English to my parents. We talked about anything and everything. Our conversation started with me living in Beijing and how thankful my family is, and it somehow ended with famous Chinese stars and how good they look. My host mom explained a lot about Beijing, and my family was fascinated. The language barrier that I worried about was broken down in a heartbeat. I was extremely happy that my family and my host family were able to meet and enjoy themselves.

    While we were touring, I was responsible for getting tickets, buying stuff, asking for information and way more. My parents were very impressed with my Chinese skills, and so was I. Being with my family who does not speak any Chinese, it forced me to be more responsible. Thankfully and surprisingly, I was able to communicate in Chinese correctly during their stay. When we were buying tickets at Badaliang, part of the Great Wall, there were so many people screaming, talking though microphones, and everything was chaotic. Despite all the noises, I was able to get information, buy the right number of tickets, buy the right tickets, and get special discounted prices without asking the lady to repeat what she said or speak English and use body language.

    It felt like a dream, spending my days in Beijing with my family. When I had to leave them at the airport to go back to my host family’s house, I left with a heavy heart. I already missed the comfort of being with my family. As I slowly made my way into my host family’s house, my host mom sees me and says “我在等你!” (I was waiting for you) and runs to the kitchen to bring me food and a really pretty cake. Upon seeing her beaming face, I realized, I don’t have just one family now; I have two.

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  • Air in Beijing

    Posted by Lucas Pratt on 4/24/2017

    It has been over two months since I first started my four month long journey.  Now that I have spent a substantial time in China, I am able to think about stereotypes I had about China and its people, witness how those stereotypes may have came to be, and then experience first hand on why they are wrong.  While there are many students who wanted to talk about common stereotypes relating to people, I want to talk about a stereotype that concerns the city as a whole.  

    In America, whenever you think about China, you think about pollution.  The idea of a bustling city with a sheet of dark ash hangs over your thought of China like… a sheet of dark ash.  Even among my Chinese friends, who have been to China multiple times, like to joke about the absurd pollution levels in China.  And, this is not an unfair assumption to make.  Due to the rapid industrialization of China, whenever another factory is made, it has more and more harmful effects on the environment around them.  The smog has gotten so bad it is drifting over seas into San Francisco.  In the winter, “pollution days,” days where the level of pollution has gotten so bad, it is not safe to go outside, so students take online courses from their homes.  In the very beginning of the exchange, it was very clear that we needed to find a mask to wear in China, so that we could safely go outside on days when the pollution was very bad,  So, it is clear that the pollution is a problem.

    However, after two or three weeks of living in China, I almost forgot there was a pollution problem at all in the city.  I had actually forgotten to pack the mask I was planning on wearing for the trip.  And, although my host parents had an extra one for me, I was apprehensive on how living for a couple of months with this new mask could impact my life.  It turns out, it didn’t impact me at all.  It turns out, like most stereotypes, the pollution problem in Beijing is completely overblown.  There is no cloud of ash hanging over the city.  In fact, the only indication of any sort of pollution is a slight haze in the air if you look at the sky at the right angle.  And yes, I have had to wear my mask.  But I’ve only worn it three or four days, and those were days I absolutely had to wear it.  Most of the time, it is simply more convenient to go out without one.  

    This stereotype at first glance seems to mostly be about a slight adjustment of the scenery of Beijing.  However, I think there are a lot of additional assumptions that get made with this smog assumptions, like people who live here are dirtier, or are not as healthy.  It’s important to realize that while, yes their lives are a little less clean, they are certainly more similar to our own then they are different.  Just like all humans around the world, most of Beijing’s citizens had little to no choice being here, and are simply adapting to the life they have here.  I think this just proves that despite on how much we think we know about our global neighbors, we still have cloudy vision about the things that are most important.

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  • Stereotypes DRIVE Me Crazy!

    Posted by Grace Honig on 4/24/2017

    Chinese people are terrible drivers. We've all heard this at least once in our lives, however now that I live in China and have to weather an hour drive to school every morning, I can confirm that this statement is far from the truth. 

    Having lived in America my whole life up until now, and having grown up with Newton's clearly painted lanes, relatively small amount of pedestrian/bike traffic, and peaceful car rides rarely tainted with blaring car horns, the streets of Beijing were a bit of a slap in the face. "You're in the big city now." The tired stripes of previously white, now stained-grey lane paint serve as mere embellishment to Beijing drivers, and to be perfectly honest I've yet to find a speed limit sign. There's no stopping for pedestrians, bikers are pretty much just speed bumps, and a firm hand never wavering from the car's horn is a must. Swerving around an accident and performing risky maneuvers towards oncoming traffic that would make any 外国人(wai guo ren -  foreigner) audibly gasp is an every day affair. Throw in a disapproving shake of the head accompanied by a muttered swear, and you're a true Beijinger ruling the road. Now I know what you're thinking. It sounds like the stereotype is true with all this recklessness and chaos! Well let me put it this way: Beijing driving is controlled chaos, and with the amount of drivers on the road, and subpar road conditions, the fact that I've only gotten into (mum, dad, don't freak out) 1 very, very, very small car accident is beyond me. I've decided it's because Chinese drivers simply just know what they're doing. They know they need to get from point A to point B, and they know that they want to get there now. It's a very simple mindset and one that's shared among what seems to be every driver in the city. Chinese drivers are fantastic because they can see three moves ahead. They know what car is going to try to switch lanes, and when, so of course the obvious thing to do it speed up so that they can't. I never said they weren't aggressive drivers. And yes though I pass an accident about once a morning, I feel as though the total number of cars on the road have to be taken into consideration. At red lights cars are already packed so closely together due to the sheer amount of them, even the most careful driver could move an inch too far and bump the back of the car in front of it. Most of the accidents that I've seen have been caused by exactly that. Small slip ups that I don't believe translate into those people being bad drivers, though I'm sure insurance companies would disagree with me. And by no means am I saying that there are no bad drivers in China. Actually, the driver that caused the accident I was in (mum, dad, again I promise it was really small there wasn't even any damage on the cars), decided to start driving in reverse on the highway and backed right into us. I still don't understand why she felt that was a good idea, but that's beside the point.

    Thought it's the unpopular belief in America, I'm here to say that Chinese drivers are fantastic. The stereotype of them being anything but top notch should be dropped because in all honesty it's just making American drivers look worse. The skill of an American driver pales in comparison to that of a Chinese driver. If the amount of people on the road and the road conditions were duplicated in America, there would be a nationwide pileup no doubt. Chinese drivers are the kings and queens of the road. They know it, and it's time we realized it too. Make way for China. 

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  • Thoughts on Governmental Control of the Internet

    Posted by Jacob Kingsley on 4/24/2017

     

                After living in Beijing for two months now, I want to talk about the assumptions and stereotypes that I came into China with, specifically the idea of censorship surrounding the government. Recently, specifically with the changes made by the Xi Jinping administration, it has become a pretty commonplace idea that the Chinese government controls the internet, what is accessible (and what is not), and has a firm grip on anti-governmental thoughts. I had heard that speaking ill of the government in China could land you in prison, an idea which probably arose around the time of the Hong Kong protests. I’d like to share my experiences of what this is really like from inside China and try and bring some clarity to the situation.

                No, you cannot use Google, YouTube, or Facebook in China. Technically. Before addressing the ways around this, its important to acknowledge that Baidu is pretty much just a Chinese Google in the way that we primarily use Google – to look up facts and find websites conveniently. Where America has Facebook, China has WeChat. Features and usage are similar enough that it appears to me that the lack of access to some American websites is made up for nicely by Chinese equivalents to them. I would argue that even with access to some American websites, China would pretty quickly revert back to their equivalents for familiarity and a program designed around their native language.

                But you must be saying, ‘but choice is important! Chinese people have the right to know about events their government covers up!’ I completely agree. So for the group who obviously would want to use their search engine for something other than a quick fact check, I wondered what was flat out accessible through the Chinese firewall. So I checked, and the Wikipedia page for the 1989 Tiananmen protests is not only not blocked here, it’s not even edited. So I checked again to make sure that wasn’t a fluke. And sure enough, I was able to view CNN.com. So if the all-powerful Chinese government isn’t cracking down on these news sites, what are they cracking down on? Not VPNs I’ll tell you that. VPNs, for those that don’t know, are handy little applications which help your devices completely bypass the Chinese firewall. Whether you want to find New York Times articles on Chinese corruption or just want to use Facebook, you can do some for just a few bucks a month. But not only do us visiting Americans have them, my host sibling has one on his computer. Additionally, I am friends with several other Chinese kids on Instagram, another banned site here. And so far, none of us have gotten house calls from your friendly government police.

                Lastly, free speech is on the rise here. I’ve had open discussions with some of the exchange students about Chinese government, and it seems like the country is moving closer and closer towards free speech. Of course, there are still no pundits on TV berating the president as is now commonplace in the Trump administration. There are no protests in the capitol, like, oh I don’t, the massive one in America a month or two ago. But on the other hand, there are no mass jailings. There is no anti-American or anti-democracy propaganda, at least not aggressively or notable enough that I, as an American, was left with any lasting impression. China is not America, but it is certainly not the authoritarian government we often make it out to be, and it is definitely becoming a more free country. This of course, is just my take as one foreigner living in the middle of Beijing. I am sure that there are censorship problems that I cannot see from my position right now (probably in Hong Kong and Taiwan), but this is how I wanted to address these stereotypes and I do believe that they are misinformed.

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  • Are you an ABC?

    Posted by Marianne Yu on 4/24/2017

    “Are you an ABC?”

                “If you are from America, why do you look like me?”

     

                While the other exchange students were asked questions about their life in America or asked if they had time to correct their English essay, I was questioned about my ethnicity. After experiencing about a month of school, I am definitely able to point out the difference between being an American Born Chinese in China, and being an American Born Chinese in America.

       In America, there are five distinctive stereotypes that I can think of that are associated with Chinese people: 1) We’re unable to properly dress ourselves, 2) We’re only good at one thing — math, 3) We have no social skills, 4) We have thick-Chinese accents, and 5) We all have stupid names.

                I have been told countless times that I don’t dress like a Chinese person. The reaction is always the same — startled because I don’t wear jeans with Puma sneakers. They are even more surprised when I tell them that I hate math. Additionally, I love talking! I could talk about anything with anyone without a strong Chinese accent. Finally, my full name is Marianne Stacie Yu. I don’t have my Chinese name as my middle name which is something I pride myself in. My parents believe that if I was going to be raised in America, my name should be only in English. Because I defy these stereotypes, I’m always either asked if I’m actually adopted or if one of my parents is American. It’s always a constant struggle when meeting new people because they automatically point out how I don’t fit the common stereotypes given to Chinese people in America.

                On the other hand, being a Chinese person born in America is a blessing in China. I’m not judged as much. In fact, students in Jingshan School acts as if I have hit the jackpot and won the lottery. I have realized that Chinese people perceive ABCs as the lucky ones — the ones whose parents or grandparents were privileged to move to America, and who is living the “American dream”. After talking to the Jingshan students at English Corner, I have learned that the American dream to them is being accepted into a college in America. As a result, we talk about what it’s like to be Chinese in America, and mostly about colleges since I’m a senior. They love hearing about how I balance American values and traditional Chinese culture.

                However, there are moments where because I’m American, I do face some unpleasant stereotypes. One of them being that Americans don’t take school seriously and just party on the weekends. To be honest, I was upset that that was their first impression of us. I want to become a pediatrician when I grow up, and work very hard in school. That stereotype definitely felt like a slap in the face. I told the students that academic life and social life depended on the student. Not every student is the same; some do well academically, while others do well socially.

                Overall, talking to the students at English Corner has taught me that you can’t escape stereotypes. It doesn't matter where you are in the world, people will have an opinion of you before actually meeting you. I’m going to have to accept that I will be treated differently in America, but also China, due to where I live and due to who my parents are. But, one good thing that comes out from this conflict is that I can educate others about what it truly means to be a Chinese girl living in America.

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  • Vegan

    Posted by Greg Brumberg on 4/24/2017

    Back home I was vegan. I ate not meat, nor any animal products. I cooked for myself and did my own grocery shopping. I tried my best to make it easy for my parents. However, 6300 miles away, it’s a little different.

     

    I knew it wouldn’t be feasible to be vegan while in China. I did not want to be a bother to my host family. I didn’t want to inconvenience them, and I also didn’t want to completely shut out many dishes.

     

    I was forthright with my host family about my diet. I told them over WeChat before I came that I am vegetarian, and I told them again when I first arrived. At first, they weren’t sure what is meant. I got questions like can you eat eggs? What about fish? And of course, the age old questions: why are you vegetarian and where do you get your protein from? I simply answered their questions and explained to them my diet.

     

    However, their response was equally valid: “but you won’t be able to try Peking roast duck.” There question speaks to the larger issue of being vegetarian or purposely limiting your diet while abroad. It’s not necessary to try all the dishes to be full immersed, but trying famous and celebrate dishes does give you a better sense of the culture and society. For example, Chinese people eat fish on the New Years because it is good omen. I had to make a choice. Do I want to participate in this celebration or do I want to uphold my values and not eat meat.

     

    Ultimately, I struck a middle ground. I knew I was going to be flexible vegetarian before I came. I wouldn’t complain if my tofu was cooked with animal fat or cooked in a dish with meat. I would just give the meat to a friend. I also wasn’t going to fret meat broths. I knew there was nothing I could do about it.

     

    For the first three weeks that I was here, I was paraded around China. I met various parts of the family and ate numerous large celebratory meals in the center of Beijing, the suburbs, and He Bei Province. For each one the meals, I would have a chopstick full of eat meat dish and then return to my tofu, rice, and vegetables. I ate meat. I tried dishes, and I pleased my host family. The majority of the food that I was eating was vegetarian, but I still tried some meat dishes.

     

    After the honeymoon period of arriving in Beijing, I settled in for the day-to-day life of living in China. That meant no more fancy dinners. We had dinner at home every night. I do not mean for that to sound like a complaint, I love the dinners my host family cooks. From what I gather, Chinese parts show affecting my placing lots of food in their child’s plates. The parents will use their chopsticks to take food from the shared dishes and plop it down in front of the child without even asking. This is just an assumed part of the culture. I am fairly use to this sort of overfeeding and nourishment. I am Jewish. I love it when my grandmother places another large helping of mash potatoes on my plate. Still, this was more than I was expecting. I quickly got use to it and started to enjoy it. I wouldn’t have to take my own food, and my host family was showing their affection for me. This also meant that they would put meat on my plate. I would tell them that I would only want to try a little, but whole chicken legs would still end up on my plate.

     

    Through tasting the meat dishes during the New Years celebrations and my host family giving me other meat during dinner, I feel that I have tried all the main meat dishes, and I can now focus on resuming a vegetarian diet.

    For future vegetarian bounders, I have some advice. Learn the names of many different vegetables and meats, and know them well. Do not make the mistake I made of mistaking avocado (niu you guo) with bullfrog (niu wa). They may look very different, but when you first get here, people are speaking so fast and everything is a blur.

     

    I believe you’ll be missing out if you remain vegetarian or vegan while in China. You will not be able to sample the local delicacies, and to some extend you will be inconveniencing your host family. I encourage you to try meat. To step outside your comfort zone. You may not like it, I definitely didn’t, but you will at least be immersing into the culture and trying something new. You can plan to be vegetarian, but know and expect to try some meat, and to be polite about your dietary restriction. The last thing we want is to give China a bad impression of the vegetarian/vegan community. We come in peace!

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  • Getting Schooled in Chinese Culture

    Posted by Grace Honig on 4/24/2017

    During my first week and a half attending school in China I've noticed that the cultural differences I'd previously noticed during Spring Festival Break have carried over to the classroom, and greatly shaped the way classes operate and students interact with their teachers, and with other students. Some of these things I've really enjoyed being immersed in. Others, I've been through a small period of shock at, and prefer the culture at Newton South comparatively much more. 

    To get them out of the way, I'll begin with the things I haven't liked about Jingshan. First, though I'm sure this is on everyone else's list as well, the school day is just way too long. Most days it's scheduled to be 10 hours long, but Andrew, Alastair, Jacob, and my homeroom teacher has a running streak of keeping us past the end of the day (4:50) every single day so far, the current length record being 50 extra minutes. I have an hour commute to school each way, which leaves me at a total of 13 hours a day completely filled. 

    Many other students face the same challenge of having a long commute on top of a brutally long school day, so it doesn't surprise me in the slightest to see kids in my class struggling to keep their eyes open, and often falling asleep. Second, and this one I don't completely dislike, is that we're in the same room with the same people for the whole day. In my opinion this limits potential friendships as students in different classes aren't given the opportunity to mingle. The reason I'm not entirely against this is that it encourages a smaller circle of very close friends which lines up exactly to a cultural norm described in one of our required reading books "The Geography of Thought". The book compared the Western culture of having a weaker boundary between close friends and acquaintances as well as being more "removed" from the close friend circle we have, to the Chinese culture of having a huge gap between close friend and acquaintance, and being fully immersed in one's close friend circle. I believe that the Western idea of changing up who's in each class with you so you meet many different people and China's idea of establishing close connections with one group of kids, are the building blocks to fulfilling those cultural norms. 

    Another thing I've noticed is that the class sizes are extremely big. My class has about 50 kids in it, only about six of whom are girls. With only one teacher in the class it's very hard for students that are having trouble understanding what's being taught to receive the help they need. Students also ask very few questions in class so as not to disrupt, but also to a certain degree, I feel that students are afraid that if they ask a question the teacher and their classmates will think less of them for not understanding or needing clarification. 

    This takes me to my next dislike. Classes are all lectures. Even art and music! We don't actually do any art or make any music, we just sit and get lectured about it. I've found class participation to be extraordinarily low as well. Often not even a single student shares an idea or asks/answers a question for an entire class. I think this is because of the stress China puts on face. Similarly to my last point, a fear of getting an answer wrong and broadcasting a weakness in academic ability to their peers and teachers holds many of my classmates back. I found this shocking because back in America mistakes are often forgiven with ease and sometimes praised as it shows the effort being put in and willingness to learn. 

    The divide between boys and girls also troubles me here. Boys and girls rarely interact with each other, and in my gym class, were even forced to stand on opposite sides of the room while the teacher explained how to hold a ping pong paddle. Back in America boys and girls speak to each other all the time, so Marianne, Courtney, and I haven't hesitated to speak to the boys in our classes and in English Corner. Though we've become friends with some who are extremely friendly and go out of their ways to say hi in the hallways or stop by to the room we're working out in after school to talk, most have been very shy and embarrassed to talk to us. As we continue to work to warm them up to us, I've found the contrast between the boys and girls in terms of outgoingness very interesting. While the boys shy away and have to be prompted to talk to us, the girls are taking pictures with the American boys, and talking to Marianne, Courtney, and I about the other boys in their school. They aren't shy about anything and were immediately ready to have conversations with us that lasted all of English Corner. I think that they boys are more hesitant to talk to Marianne, Courtney, and I because our genders are different, and for me, our ethnicities are different. I've found there to be a huge lack of diversity in China which I believe has led to the boys having reservations about talking to us because of our differences. The girls behavior, however, contradicts my theory so I'm not certain what the real reason behind the boys being shy and embarrassed is. Maybe as I observe them more, the answer will become clearer. 

    All of the things I've said up to this point have been minor things. They haven't hindered my ability to enjoy the school day, but my last dislike is one that has kept me thinking since I first noticed it. It's politics class. I've found it extremely hard to sit in the back of the room listening to someone slander my country and preach false generalizations about the American people to impressionable youth. I want to tell them that Americans aren't all racist, and that what our president says doesn't reflect the whole country's beliefs, contrary to what they're being taught. I hope that by us Americans being here, spreading our love and interest for people of all ethnicities, religions, etc. we can expose our classmates to the good of America that they likely wouldn't get exposed to otherwise. 

    Now on to the things I have like about Jingshan. First, the people. My classmates have been so nice, welcoming, and helpful, and the teachers that lead our special classes have been equally as nice. The people that come to English Corner have been so interesting to talk to and get to know, and I've become fast friends with so many of them. It's a great feeling to be waking in relatively unfamiliar halls and have people come up to you to say hi making you feel right at home again. 

    I also LOVE the uniform. Yup, I know I can't believe I'm saying it either. It's so comfortable, and although the pants aren't the most fashionable things I've ever seen, the jacket is actually really cute! 

    The school’s facilities are great as well. I've gone to the gym everyday after school with some of the other Americans, and the equipment and amount of space we have to workout has been fantastic. 

    Overall I'm having a great time attending school. Though the school day is long, and most of the courses I shadow go way over my head, on Sunday nights I always look forward to going back the next morning. 

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  • School

    Posted by Lucas Pratt on 4/24/2017

    It has been more than a month since I first arrived in China, making this the longest time I've ever been away from home.  For me, this passing of time has marked a change from just enjoying China in the way that I might enjoy a vacation, to focus more on adapting to the Chinese lifestyle and culture around me.  And, the most recent example of this is the beginning of the second semester of JIngshan High school, my primary center for education in the next three months.  

                As one might expect, school in China is much different than the schooling style we are used to in the States.  As exchange students, we had ideas on how the schooling was going to differ from America's, but had yet to experience it for ourselves.  So, when the first day of school came around the corner last week, we were standing in the main lobby wearing our vibrant red, white, and blue uniforms with wary eyes, looking around suspiciously and unsure on what was about to come.  Needless to say, we learned the rules pretty quickly.  For the first week, we were to "shadow" our host student by sitting in the back of their classes, trying our best to follow along.  We had to wear our uniforms at all times, stay in the classroom until the class was over, and the use of any technology whatsoever was strictly prohibited.  Uniforms were weird for all of the exchange students, sans me, because I used to have to wear a uniform for a previous school.  But most of us weren't fluent in Chinese, meaning following the class was next to impossible.  We couldn't get up to leave the room until class was done, so the bathroom breaks that American students were used to were off the list.  And finally, the ban on technology everywhere, no matter what its purpose was, was annoying at least.  With all of these restrictions, we were left to either, read, write, or color silently in the back of the classroom, and as you might imagine, nine classes of this got boring really fast.  

                That's not to say there wasn't an upside.  There were ten minute breaks in between classes instead of five, and since students didn't physically move classrooms, there was no time lost in commute between classes.  There are two breaks each day where students do eye exercises to prepare themselves for the classes ahead.  And, a hour and a half lunch in combination with the privilege of eating the faculty lunches made for an amazing midday experience.  There were also more broad changes in the styles of learning.  In America, we focused on deep thinking, cooperative learning, and the growth of character and personal improvement through the use of extra curriculars after school.  China, by stark contrast, seems to focus more on memorization, focuses on self studying, and more dedicated extracurriculars like sports and theatre are traded out for longer school days and small clubs.  

                Obviously the differences between the two styles of education exist for a reason.  After a few days thinking about this, I believe I have some idea on how  these differences came to be.  In ancient China, the class system was fairly rigid.  The only way to move up was through the civil-service exams, where a student could gain higher status from the education he earned.  This strictly education focused style of schooling is very clearly echoed in schools today.  Memorization was critical to passing the civil service exams, and the memorization of hard facts is emphasized in today's Chinese schools.  This is further supported by the students taking more hard science classes (physics and chemistry instead of one or the other.), rather than taking more classes that require creative thinking.  These facts take time to memorize, hence the longer class times.  Even the longer lunches and breaks are built in to specifically help students learn through maximum efficiency.  While it can be argued that extracurriculars are important, they seem to be viewed as a fun activity, and is nowhere as important as school.  This idea of the stereotype of an Asian “tiger mom” may also come from the fact that Asian families put a much bigger emphasis on education than what we Americans feel is acceptable.  Because, in ancient China, you had to push to do well, as it was your only chance to make a better life for yourself.  And while this idea of extreme push for education is considered unhealthy, there is no denying it is producing results in today’s world.  Which education system is better is almost impossible to judge, and the education systems can only truly be tested with the passing of time.

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Outbound Student Journals

  • Journals Spring 2016 

    Claire Mendelsohn Journal Entry #8

    In the last journal entry I talked about the relationship between parents and children, specifically fathers and daughters. For this week I will be talking about Chinese sons and their relationships with their mothers. As a [DISCLAIMER], I am no expert on a Chinese son’s relationship with his parents because I do not have a male host sibling. I am merely passing on the stories I have been told by other exchange students. The same as before, in the interest of privacy I will not be mentioning names; instead I will give each person fake names and genders.

    One polluted morning at the Beijing Jingshan School an American student mentioned seeing [Cheryl]’s exchange student host sibling on the subway ride to school. [Cheryl] started to explain the reason behind this occurrence. Now, [Cheryl] is always driven to school in a car, along with [her] host sibling. [Cheryl]’s host mother was nagging the host sibling when suddenly he opened the car door and left. (Don’t worry the car was stopped due to the massive amounts of traffic) [Jimmy] enter through classroom door and jumps into the conversation. [Jimmy] adds into the conversation that [his] host sibling did the same thing, but on a different occasion and day. [Jimmy] said it was because his host mother kept making fun of his host sibling’s singing. Eventually [Jimmy]’s host sibling opened the car door and just walked away. From then on [Cheryl] and [Jimmy] shared more stories of their host siblings and situations that Americans might consider rude. These other stories consisted ignoring one’s parents, throwing temper tantrums, etc. [Cheryl] said that if [her] host mom asks [her] host sibling if he had a nice day and in response [Cheryl]’s host sibling would rudely say, “Stop talking/shut up,” or just blatantly ignore the question. When [Jimmy]’s host mother jokingly teases [his] host sibling, he will yell and storm to his room, and will not come out for a while. 

    Just hearing about these instances is bad, but think about the mother’s perspective; that is even worse. I was never told about how the mothers had reacted to how their sons were acting, but I can imagine it being worry, sadness, and anger. Concerning the situation of one’s child just up and exiting the car would most usually cause a mix of the emotions worry and anger. Worrying because the parent would probably want to know if their child was safe and sound, and anger because their child has done something potentially dangerous. In the scenario of a mother being told to ‘stop talking’ or be ignored by her son would arouse the emotion of anger. Speaking for my own case, if my mother asks me questions about my day and I only give her one word answers she gets angry, so if a mother is getting straight up ignored when she asks her son a question I assume she would be furious. Lastly, if my child threw temper tantrums and locked himself in his room I would probably feel sad. I would reminisce of when my son was still a baby and let me take care of him and all the cute memories. That is if I were in the mother’s position.

    Involving punishments for these rude actions I don’t know if any were given since I was only told about the son’s behavior.  If I had to guess, I don’t think many consequences were given, and if so they weren’t too harsh. I think this ia because China has a strong cultural background of mothers spoiling their kids, especially their sons.  Due to that sons grow with little respect for their moms.

    Emily Hogan May 6, 2016
     
    Journal Entry #8: Cultural Misunderstanding

     

    As expected when traveling halfway across the globe, many things did not go as expected. Over time, I have learned that some things I perceived did not end up happening in the way I expected, and some ideas I thought would carry over the Pacific Ocean never found their way. One of the biggest examples of a cultural misunderstanding is my misunderstanding of the gender separation that exists in China.

    This aspect of social life, for whatever reason, I did not expect to be any different in China than America. My first experience of gender separation in Beijing started on one of my first days of school at Jingshan in February. Everyone in the class was going out into the hallway and getting into two lines in preparation for the weekly flag ceremony. Nobody had told me what to do, so I tried my best to follow what everyone else was doing. I ended up following by host brother Kevin and stood behind him in line. Almost at once he turned around and told me, “Emily, you might want to go in that line.”  It was not until this point that I realized there was a boys line and a girls line. After fixing my positioning, the class proceeded in walking to the ceremony.

    Just the next day, my class was getting ready to go outside and run before school like my class does every Tuesday through Friday. I was surprised when the homeroom teacher announced that the boys will be running eight laps as a group, and directly behind the boys, the girls would only be running six. What surprised me more was that everyone was okay with it. In America I would imagine someone would say something, but here nobody said anything; this was completely normal. I would probably say this is the the event where I realized how incorrect my preconception of social life in China was. I was so used to the similar ways boys and girls were treated in America that I automatically assumed China would be the same. I felt myself yearning to run the two extra laps as I sit with the rest of the girls on the side of track while the boys continued their running. I wanted them to know that the other girls and I were just as capable of running eight laps as any of the boys.

    During gym class, I found the capability of girls being questioned a second time. First of all, the girls were on the other side of the track from the boys, and we had a different teacher. (I later learned this separation starts around seventh grade.) Besides that, we even did different activities; when the boys worked on their strength by throwing medicine balls, and doing push ups and tricep dips, the girls merely did sit ups for 60 seconds. To say the least, I honestly think some of our push ups would be better than the boys’ anyway. Of course this would only be possible if we were given the chance to try in the first place.

    Thinking it over, my misunderstanding of gender separation came from the ideas I was raised by in the United States, and it was wrong of me to assume these ideas would be just as relevant in China. It shows how ingrained the ideas of gender equality are in me that I did not expect it to be different anywhere else in the world. If I did not go to China for four months, I might never have completely realized the separation of boys and girls in Chinese society, and on the other hand I might not have understood the many cases where they are not separated in America. This just goes to show that new global experiences do not just teach you new things about the culture of another people, but it also teaches you about your own.  

     

     

    Michael Lee 5/5/16

    Discovering something about myself

            Over the course of this exchange trip, I have learned a tremendous amount about myself.  By simply taking part in this program, I have already stretched myself out of my comfort-zone.  I came over with a group of people that greatly differ from me, and that has allowed me to push my comfort-zone even further.  It has challenged me at times, and I could have never imagined some of the things that have unfolded during our time in China.  However, when it comes to learning something about myself, there is something bigger for me than just trying new things.  One of the motivators for my interest in this exchange was a desire to experience the culture that I was originally born into.  Given that I am adopted from China, this trip has provided a valuable insight into the culture that could've raised me.  With that in mind, on this trip, I was able to truly discover the difference between Chinese culture and myself.
            The difference between Chinese culture and myself has always been something I thought I understood, but upon living in China, it has become even clearer for me.  In short, I discovered how "American-ized" I am.  Not in a bad way, but in the sense that I could never imagine myself living in China, despite it being my birthplace.  There have been many aspects of China that have helped me realize this underlying difference.  For starters, the censorship here is something that I can't tolerate.  Growing up in America, I never had to worry about certain materials being censored by the government.  Being in China, nearly everything I normally use in my life is blocked.  YouTube, Google, Snapchat, Instagram, and so much of the internet is censored.  Chinese television is maintained by the government.  I rarely see any criticism of the government, which goes to show how censored the media is.  On YouKu, despite having American programming, shows are edited for any content that could stir controversy.  House of Cards even ended up being banned while I was in the middle of watching it.  To sum up, the censorship is a part of China that I am not acclimated to, because I have been raised in an open-media culture.  This helps support the difference between myself and Chinese culture.
            Some of the things people say and do have also helped me to notice the difference between Chinese culture and myself.  First, the ignorance in some of the things they say is quite shocking.  For instance, weight and body image is something that I know a lot of people struggle with.  I don't mind talking about it, but I understand that there are different ways to address it when it comes up.  However, I have noticed that people here in China are very abrupt with comments regarding these sensitive topics.  I once witnessed a situation in China, where a girl mentioned she felt fat.  Her family then told her, with no sympathy, that she should just eat less.  There was no comfort in their words, but rather, just a blunt answer.  I have noticed this a lot throughout China, where a lot of people are much less considerate on how the other person feels.  It seems to me that they feel that these issues are more cut-and-dry than they actually are.  Secondly, some of the beliefs that people hold are very discriminatory.  I remember telling a relative of my host student's family that my mother was retired.  Although I know they didn't mean it harshly, they responded by saying that that is where she should be.  Upon further inquiry, I realized that this person, who was male, believed that women are only good in the house and have no purpose elsewhere.  I found this to be absurd, and I have noticed that comments like this tend to be common.  Many people here still hold traditional values in many areas.  This mindset is something that truly shocked me, and I could never imagine thinking that way.  It further supports the difference between Chinese culture and myself. 
            I knew that coming on this exchange would allow me to see the culture that I was born into.  I understood that this could have been my life today.  However, I also understood that what I would experience in China would be different from what I am used to.  Over three months have gone by, and I am even more knowledgeable in my "American-ized" lifestyle.  Among the many things that I have learned, that is the biggest one.  Even though I understood the differences between myself and Chinese culture, even before coming on this exchange, I have truly discovered the difference between myself and the culture I was born in.

     

    Natalie Bohm  Journal Entry 8

     

    Hello and welcome back to Mythbusters: China Edition! It’s our eighth installment today, so keep an eye out in the next two weeks for the season finale! Let’s get started.

     

    13. Tourist Areas Are Modern and Mechanized in China: MYTH. From April 23-29, our group traveled around the Shanghai area, including the Yellow Mountain and Suzhou in addition to the city itself. I was most excited for the Yellow Mountain: I love hiking, and after so many weeks in a city, I was really ready for the peace and quiet of the wilderness. In truth, I was actually a little worried that the popularity of the mountain as a tourist destination would mean lots of fancy gondolas, luxury hotels, and chrome railings. That is not what the Yellow Mountain is like, let me tell you. There are only a handful of cable cars on the whole mountain, and the one we were in was this little old box whose doors didn’t shut until we were 30 feet in the air. At the top, there were almost no people. There were no paved roads and no cars. Some hotels were nearby, but ours was an hour’s hike away. I was ecstatic.

    Less fun were the prices of goods at the top of the mountain. In Beijing, a bottle of Nongfu Springs (cheapest bottled water) costs about 3 yuan. In our hotel, it cost almost three times that (which, by the way, is still less than what a bottle of Poland Springs costs in America). Why was everything so expensive, you may ask? It’s not to wring every last cent out of tourists. Rather, it’s because everything, every single object used and sold in the hotel, has to be carried by porters all the way up the mountain. We ran into some of these unsung heroes on our hike down, which in itself took two and a half hours and was steep and far enough to make your legs hurt at the bottom. It must take them six or so hours for a porter to get to the top of the Yellow Mountain, following the trail we did. They come equipped with two half-pipe bamboo rods, held over the shoulders with the rounded side down and two parcels hanging from either end, the other with a metal tip for sticking into the ground while being used as a walking stick, but which also doubles as a support the porters can use as a lever on their shoulders to shift the stress from their backs to their arms. Our guide told us these guys carry about 80 kilograms of materials up the mountain on one trip, which means they walk carefully and very, very slowly, and if you see one coming in the opposite direction as you, you’d better get out of the way for the safety of everybody on this stretch of trail. I don’t want to think about what 80 kilos of cucumbers could do to you if all unleashed at once from 10 feet up. Anyways, part of me couldn’t really believe that the Yellow Mountain still sustained itself using porters. They have a cable car, after all. But apparently the revenue generated by the ported goods doesn’t make up for the cable car’s expenses, so to this day, the great Yellow Mountain still runs on old-fashioned, backbreaking labor.

     

     

    Sally Journal #8

     

                It took me time to articulate the most important cultural difference between America and China. However, as I am closing in on the last couple weeks here I feel the need to give it a best shot and really get a hold on the most imperceptible yet most impactful cultural differences.  To the naked eye, China and America appear to be polar opposites, but while that is easy to spot, it is hard to prove.  The simple, “Its just different” doesn't even scratch the surface, and the truth has proved to be much more complicated.

                Living with a host family for the past three months it is obviously the home life where I see the most differences. Here, the bond between parent and child is one formed out of respect and obedience.  When a parent says something, the child listens and abides, that's the end of it. But. in america, the idea of teenage rebellion has been so deeply sown into our culture that it is almost the exact opposite.  Americans hold the idea that teenagers become adults by separating from their parents while chinese teenagers look to their parents for advice to transition to adulthood.

                This is closely related to the schism between how Americans and Chinese view ageing. Regardless of how we like to put it, in America, the elderly become a burden. We put them into elderly homes and the idea of a radical and crazy grandparent has wormed itself into almost everyone's life.  However,  In Chinese, age is a badge of honour.  The older you are, the more you have experienced, and therefore, the more respect you deserved.  This is something I have experienced first hand, witnessed the reverence in which Rebecca and her mother refer to their “nainai”, a figure of power and strength. While my parents think of their parents as lovely and incredible people but a worry all the same.

                Another huge difference I have had my fair share of encounter with is the “chinese no”. I am  someone who has been brought up on the concept that if you want something you need to go out and get it. Which unfortunately, has proven to be the opposite of how things operate in China. Recently, I met a lawyer who came to China from the United states and he said the most difficult thing is the diplomacy, the fact that nobody will tell you what they are thinking, or even argue with you, until the last second.  There have been one too many time when I have realised that, even though I ended up going out to dinner with my friends, the phrase “but it is a long subways ride” and “but I don't want you to be tired in the morning” were simple no’s.

                While there have been so many moments where, in the aftermath, I have thought to myself “DUH, how could you have been so dumb?!” It comes down to the face that China and America are not only physically on opposite sides of the world, they are literally opposites. I have realised how American I am in my time here and, while I have a deep admiration and appreciation for this country and its culture, I wouldn't want o be anything but American.  Even if that makes me an “ugly american”, I am still inexplicably proud.

     

     

    Sheil Mehta Parallel to another Experience

                Coming to China was new in hundreds of ways. I have never been away from home this long before, I have never eaten pigs feet; I have never lived with a host brother. But one thing I noticed was that in some ways it was similar to an experience I have had before. That being the hospitality I was greeted and constantly treated to. The host family I live with is never happy until they know for sure that I am. They are constantly concerned with my wellbeing and making sure I like the food.  They are compassionate and always trying to make sure I am comfortable. This seems to be a trend among the Chinese people; they love to make you feel at home

                It made me think about another time I felt this way. And it was when I visited India. Because I am part of a huge Indian family, I get to see another brand of Asian culture. When I visited I was treated to the same mannerisms. Everyone wants you to eat MORE. Here I dare not skimp on a meal or they will assume I am sick and dying. Every plate finished is followed by a request to get more from the parents. The same happened in India, you would have to throw yourself over your empty plate in attempt to prevent the next serving from coming to you. Both cultures show a high level of caring for not only your wellbeing but also the fact that you are fed and happy with it. I learned pretty fast that in both cultures it is better to have a little left over on your plate when you finish, as a sign that you ate all you possibly could. Seeing that an empty plate simply meant room for more.

                Both cultures go out of their way to make you comfortable. The experiences I have here cement the differences between eastern and western cultures. Yes you can obviously have very gracious hosts anywhere in the world. But there is something different here, how everyone will do anything to make you feel welcome. Apart from food I’ve had my host family put together whole vacations, buy specific items for the house, monitor the temperature and even fully inquire about my every day and how it went. All without prompting or suggestion that I needed it. The consideration shown is one I would not even expect from family members. And initially I would never have expected these things from a host family. Maybe just a place to stay and some meals to eat. But the way they try everything in their power to keep you happy makes me feel lucky. As if I’m with an extension of my real family.

     
    Ying Ying Rossi 5/5/16
    Journal Entry #8

                Was the period of industrialization good or bad? Back in Newton, I had this as one of my essay prompts. Having someone pose a question like this made me really stop to think. Industrialism brought forth more job opportunities, new medical techniques, and an abundance of resources. Although, contrary to this, industrialization was paired with an increase in unfair labor and a decrease in the health of many people no matter what class. Plus, not to mention all the nasty chemicals that are now being released into the air every second. This essay I had wrote was targeted towards the industrialization of Europe specifically. However, being in the cities in China forced me to realize that the negative effects of factories as a result of materialism are global and follow you almost everywhere.

                For those of you who haven't heard, we took a short trip to the Yellow Mountains, Shanghai, and Suzhou the other week. I had this pre-notion that Shanghai would be the best part. I was excited for the big city, skyscrapers, shopping, and the famous Bund. However, it was not quite all I had hoped for. Sure, the hotel we stayed in was super clean and everything, but it was all for a price. With the industrialization comes factories, and factories bring forth pollution, and lots of it. When we were at the Bund, the water was this unsettling murky shade of green-brown. Also, similar to Beijing, the air had a thin sheet of smog surrounding the city. In Beijing, and most other populous cities in China, the pollution reaches just over 100 on a good day. Although, it has been known to get up to the 300's every now and then. These are the days where the teachers cancel the morning run so we don't ruin our lungs. Now, take Boston for example. Our air stays at about 10-20, and we consider 50 to be horrible. To be perfectly honest, I love materialistic goods as much as the next person. I have my Apple products, Ugg boots, and LuluLemon leggings, and love them all very much. But when you stop to think about it, by buying novelty items and luxuries we don't need, we are all just encouraging the destruction of the planet. The products we see on the shelves of Target all have to come from somewhere, and factories in China are the most common origin.
                Before going to Shanghai, we were at the Yellow Mountain for two days. The amenities were a bit rough. We had really bad wifi, rock hard beds, thin walls, and rooms that were not the cleanest. But I feel that the Yellow Mountains were definitely my favorite part of the trip. Everything was so serene and peaceful. Trees, plants, and wildlife were everywhere (my goal was to see a monkey). Furthermore, the hike down the mountain was the best thing in the whole world. It looked like one of those scenes that you only see in paintings, too perfect to be real. However, it was completely real. I was with only one other person for most of it, so we had some nice quiet bonding. We would walk and see not a single soul for hours. It was just us secluded in nature for almost a full two hours. We ate bananas and sat on a huge rock in the middle of a river. Also, the tour guide from the Yellow Mountains was far more chill than the one from Xi'an oh so long ago. We speculated that the business side of the big city caused our Xi'an friend to be rushing around all the time. Whereas we were able to take our time in the mountains because their goal was to be more one with nature.
                Looking back on my contrasting experiences with Yellow Mountain and Shanghai, I realize that I much preferred the one where we just got to blend into the scenery, where we saw nature how it truly was, where the smog was replaced with actual fog. It's amazing to think, that at one point, the whole world was like this. Everything was just one big ecosystem without cars, buildings, or technology. Today, if you want to see animals, you go to the zoo. If you want nature, you take an hour hike over at Blue Hills or whatever it's called. We have no reasons to be in the wilderness because everything is completely modernized. All over the world, cities are modified to include all the new technology and gadgets that take away from truly experiencing the world around you. I went to Italy in 2011 and everywhere we went was urbanized. We started in Milan and worked our way around almost the whole country. Not one of these cities were ever anything even close to rural. Grape vineyards, olive groves, and panoramic mountain views were as close to nature as we got. Anywhere you went would be adapted to the current world, shiny new appliances and buildings everywhere. The pollution wasn’t really an issue, but the materialism was just as bad as it is in the US. Between our need for frivolous goods and the factories required to satisfy our desires, we are breaking down our environment bit by bit. I find it a shame that the world was so absolutely stunning, but we went and ruined it and are still currently wreaking even more havoc on the planet.

     

    Claire Mendelsohn Journal Entry #7

    Hello, and good morning/night. In this week’s journal entry I will be talking about the relationship between parents and children. Now of course not everything I say will be applicable to every single family. I can only speak of my own observations or the stories of other students. I also won’t be mentioning any names in the interest of privacy of personal life.

                So something that I have noticed is that fathers and daughters are extremely close. When I first came to China I had noticed this, but I didn’t know if it was the absence of a father figure in my life that made it weird for me. So I asked a fellow exchange student to see what her thoughts were. She told me that she also found it a little strange, despite the fact that she was close with her father as well. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing alarming or in need of reporting going on. Fathers and daughters are simply close to each other. An example would be going to the movies every other weekend, or sharing inside jokes, or the father cleaning up the daughter’s mess, literally.

                I think this might been seen as strange from a foreign perspective because in the United States, teenagers are given more freedom (at least in my case) and more chances to be independent. Also, generally, as teenagers we would rather spend more time with our friends rather than our family; although, that also ties into school structure. In China the majority of the day is spent it school classes, then right after students will go home to work on the enormous amounts of work given. In retrospect Chinese students are never really given the opportunity to be independent.

     
    Emily Hogan Journal Entry #7
     
    Learning Something About Yourself

     

     Before going to China one of the things I was worried about was the food. In America I would not call myself a picky eater, but there are some common foods I do not particularly enjoy. This includes tomatoes, pickles, ketchup and even BBQ sauce. At the time my thought process was if I do not like these basic American foods how in the world will I be able to survive in China? Thankfully, despite my worries, not only was I able to find lots of food I liked in China, but I also learned that I’m an adventurous eater.

                During my first week or so half way across the world, I was introduced to two new (and you could say interesting) foods. The first one being cow stomach. Now, I don’t know about you, but personally I found this both intimidating and somewhat alarming. Among all of the ingredients to my first Beijing hot pot meal was a plate of (pardon my description) thin floppy strips of meat; all were a cloudy grey, and some where (can I dare say) fuzzy. Thankfully, I took my first bite before I entirely knew what I was consuming. The result was unexpected. Despite the classic you should try new foods because you might end up liking it story, I did try it and actually liked it. My second exotic taste of food was a dish called Hong Shao Rou. Believe it or not, I knew about this famous dish before coming to China.  Unlike most meat in the United States, I’ve learned meat in China is often cooked with lots of fat still on it, and this is the case for Hong Shao Rou. I know that you’re thinking; this girl is totally a picky eater. She’s complaining about fat on her meat. Honestly, just give me a break here. In case you were unaware,  in this particular dish, the fat is just as thick if not thicker than the meat. (Now what do you say? Huh?)  Personally I don’t find this particularly appetizing, so for that reason Hong Shao Rou truthfully is not one of my favorite dishes. However, it did taste different than other fatty meat; this almost melted in my mouth.

                One of my later exotic foods was a popular Beijing soup called Chao Gan. I am warning you now because this was not a tasty one. My first exposure to Chao Gan was when the Newton and Jingshan exchange students went out to lunch together. My host brother got a bowl himself and a few of the other Jingshan students did too. The soup had a gelatin texture to it, but was gloppier than Jello, more sticky. Worse than the old rusted orange color was the duck innards. Never have I ever eaten that again. Nope, sorry. Once was enough for me.

    All silliness and cliches aside, I am glad I tried these strange and foreign foods. As parents always tell their kids, you need to try new food because you just might like it. Opening yourself up to trying one new thing can go a long way. I firmly believe if I didn’t end up trying that cow stomach on one of my first days in Beijing, there is no way I would have tried so many others. It’s a chain reaction. Worst case scenario, you say, “ew! I don’t like that.” That’s it. At least you tried. Let’s face it; unless you try these sometimes disgusting foods you haven’t fully immersed yourself into the culture. But most importantly, it leaves you with a good story to tell.

     

     

    Michael Lee Journal Entry #7

    Comparing and Contrasting Cultures

            Cultures vary around the world.  Some are more similar than others, but each country has a culture that is unique to it.  When it comes to America and China, they are both physically and sometimes metaphorically, on opposite sides of the world.  After spending three months in China, I have noticed many similarities and differences between the two countries.
            Similarities between the two countries were harder to find than differences, but that doesn't mean there weren't any between China and America.  One of the things I noticed was the similarities around family.  My host family is not too different from my real family.  In fact, I tend to see similar dynamics in how families function here.  Everyone sits together for dinner, we talk with each other, sometimes there are arguments, but in the end it all works out.  Occasionally, we'll all go out together and visit a park or do other activities.  For holidays, the whole family will often celebrate together.  I remember during Spring Festival, when I was with my host student's relatives, the general atmosphere resembled that of a Thanksgiving day with my own relatives.  In short, how the family operates has qualities that can also be found in American families.        
            One other similarity I noticed was in regards to teen culture.  The daily lives of teens here are not too different from those of America.  During school, kids play basketball or other sports, they talk, relax, read, do homework, or other things.  After school, kids can be found doing a variety of activities.  They have homework just like any American student and stress about it like any other student.  They enjoy watching movies, television shows, and going out on weekends.  They have their own pop culture that they keep updated on, and of course, there is a large interest in video games.  They are experimenting with themselves and trying to figure out who they are.  They get involved with romance, and they have their own gossip.  They live their lives and enjoy them like any other kid in the world.  Overall, teens in China are quite similar to teens in America.
            Differences were much easier to find than similarities, because Chinese culture is quite contrasting from American culture.  One of the immediate things I noticed was how pushy Chinese people can be.  Especially in regards to food, where even if you say that you are full, they will still persist and put more food on your plate.  The same also applies with helping someone.  In China, you have to be relentless in trying to provide someone assistance.  While this persistence  is a major part of Chinese culture, in America, people tend to be more direct.  Although people do tend to be a bit stubborn when offered help, from my experience, it is not to the degree that Chinese people are.  In America, I don't have to be as pushy as I do here in China, because, normally, the person is direct in their response, and I can take their word for it.     Another difference I have noticed is the difference in parenting.  Although parenting always varies between families, I feel that families here in China are much more lenient with their kids than American parents.  There was an incident where my host student wouldn't put away his computer for dinner.  His parents kept asking, but he refused to stop his game.  So, his parents actually began hand-feeding him until he eventually finished his game.  Most parents in America would have forcefully taken the computer away, or punished the child.  I know that my mother would be extremely angry with me if I were to do what my host student did.  However, there was no anger from the parents, and they let their argument fall so easily.  This isn't just one incident either, because some of my friends have told me that their host parents tend to be submissive also.  Overall, parenting in China seems to be quite passive, while American parents tend to be more assertive. 
            One final, but large, difference is the amount of mixed culture that exists in each country.  America is often called a melting pot of cultures, and for good reason too.  Upon coming to Beijing, it became clear to me that China is nowhere near a mixed-culture country.  People in China are very quick to assume that I was raised in China, which would mean I could speak the language, and that I would know most aspects of their culture.  This is not true, but Chinese people have a hard time believing it, even when I explain it to them.  There are some that even deny the fact that I am American.  In addition to this, Chinese people love to take photographs with visibly foreign people.  This would mean someone who is white or black, and doesn't look Chinese.  For comparison, people in America are not stopping Chinese people to take pictures with them.  This is because America is home to many different cultures.  There are people of many races, nationalities, and backgrounds, and we all interact with each other on a daily basis.  Generally, people in China only interact with people of their own nationality and race.  China is such a homogeneous country that it's easy for them to assume that I am just another Chinese person like they are.  It's also why they are so enthusiastic about foreigners, because they rarely are around people of a different race, ethnicity, or culture.  In conclusion, the lack of cultural diversity in China is extremely different from the wide-range of cultures in America. 
            These two countries have their similarities and differences, just like any other two countries would.  Neither culture is right or wrong, and they both have their ups and downs.  However, being able to understand the differences and similarities in another country's culture is really important.  It shows that while we are all separate from each other, we are also all connected.

     

    Natalie Bohm Journal Entry 7

    Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to Mythbusters: China Edition! We’re coming up on the end of the season here, with only two more episodes left. But we’re not there yet, so let’s get straight to Myth(?) #12!

    12. China’s Culture is very Westernized: MYTH. China is westernized. China’s culture, not so much. The times I feel this most aren’t even when I talk with Chinese people about the differences between China and America. No, it’s when people here look at me and don’t say anything.

                When I was 14, I went to Switzerland for a month, a week of which was spent at a youth climbing camp in the mountains. My younger sister was the only American with me. We lived in a hut with 12 or so other Swiss kids, often in very close quarters. I remember at the time wishing that I could speak Swiss-German, but even more just wishing that the other kids would talk to me more, even if I couldn’t understand it. Not that that was a likely scenario; their English was all very good, but they didn’t use it frequently enough to make me feel like I was totally a part of the group. They did talk to me and my sister occasionally, maybe a few times per day, mostly to ask us whether or not we had [blank] in America. I remember feeling very isolated.

                Whatever loneliness I dealt with in Switzerland, it’s got nothing on how I feel now. Switzerland, like America, has a culture that is generally accepting of foreigners. In fact, I realize now that Switzerland was so accepting of foreigners that the concept of being foreign was not a very important one in my life. In China, being foreign makes all the difference in the world. China is the Middle Kingdom, the center of the Asian universe for 4000 years, and that self-image gave Chinese culture a very special emphasis on the trait of being Chinese. The truth is, in ancient Chinese culture, at least the parts of it that have been passed down for thousands of years, if you’re not Chinese, then you don’t belong in China. At least, that is what I gather from the way I am treated by the general public here. Not even my classmates engage me in conversation; there is nothing I could have to say to interest them. I’ve stopped wearing my uniform on the subway home because the sight of a white person in a Chinese school uniform draws so many stares. Sometimes, adults come up to me and ask what I’m doing in China and other questions about my life, usually using a slightly condescending tone that I never picked up on in Switzerland. Now, of course there are exceptions, but the fact of the matter is that in many ways, China still holds onto its old, traditional worldview, and that worldview can be overtly racist at times. I have been screamed and swore at on the street. Never have I been so aware of my race; in America, I don’t have to worry about the color of my skin. In China, the shape of my eyes is an invitation to stare at me unashamedly, comment on my mastery of basic chopstick use, and otherwise hide no surprise that a wai guo ren, a foreigner, is capable of living in China and adapting to the culture of the Middle Kingdom.

     

     

    Sally Jenks Journal #7

                What I have realized is that there is a lot of confusion and ambiguity around both Chinese and American culture. This has led to some pretty uncomfortable  miscommunications and conversations. I am used to the comfort of privacy; conversationally, some things are just off limits. Since I have been in China I have had a rude awakening pertaining to the sense that very few topics are truly private; and there is no such thing as TMI.

                When I arrived, the first questions were straight to the point: what do you like to do for fun? What do you like to eat? What is your family like? However, within a few days the conversation turned more intimate than I'm used to with even my closest friends. Casually, after having a huge dinner I said “I’m SO full!” apparently this was viewed as an invitation to dig in.  They responded with “well you better be careful, or you will get fat.”

                Now, body image and weight are generally a topic adults steer clear of in America, especially around teenage girls. But I quickly learned that when it comes to eating habits or appearance China does not tiptoe around the subject.  While this appears to be a simple cultural difference, it quickly became a large misunderstanding. After many conversations with my host sibling, I now know I have been misinterpreting my host parents exclamations of “WOW you ate so much! You must be so full!”. To them, they are saying “I'm so glad you liked the food I have prepared for you”, but to me it was “you should feel ashamed for raiding my kitchen”. 

                The blunt and offensive air is partially due to my own interpretation; but I have learned the way Chinese and Americans view body image is undeniably polarized.  In America, the body positivity movement has gained nationwide attention, and “fat shaming” is just as abhorrent as racism. However, in China, everyone is allowed to have an opinion on everyone else's body, and it is unapologetic and factual.

                Originally, I just believed I was being oversensitive, but after multiple other hushed confessions of what other students believed to be incredibly offensive remarks towards their respective eating habits or bodies, I know it is truly, a huge cultural misunderstanding. It also seems to be occurring on both ends of the spectrum, while one of my classmates complained her host family called her too skinny, another said she was told to eat less.

                Regardless, the culture surrounding body image has been prevalent in almost every aspect of my time here. I will never forget the TV program in which the host went around an office and vertically held a 8.5x11 lined paper to various women’s waists to see if they passed this twisted test of being thinner than this piece of paper. While my jaw dropped to the ground my host family laughed as it was nothing. The effects of this program seemed clear as day when my host mother so casually discussed the things she thought had room for improvement on my host sister's body.   The lack of inhibitions around weight became specifically pronounced when I became vegan, due to the passing of one of my closest friends. While I understand the shock this can have on some people, especially pertaining to the perceived heath repercussions, I made a point to explain exactly what I was doing and why I was doing it. Still, I overheard my host mother talking about the condition of my health on the phone with another mother and was then brought a loaf of bread the next day, compliments of the other concerned host mother.  Even though she has been exceptionally accommodating with meals, I still hear about how I am getting too thin, or I am not going to get enough vitamins, and how all the other mothers are also concerned. While I know she just wants the best for me, the line between compassion and body shaming has become too blurred for my liking, and has proven to the the largest and most detrimental cultural understanding.

     

     

    Sheil Mehta Journal Entry #7

     A Myth

                There are many stereotypes that go hand in hand with America’s view on China. And the Chinese people seem to get grouped into these everywhere, from film and TV to everyday conversation. The one I will address here is a broad one. But it is one that stems from the vision of all Chinese kids having the same personalities. That they are the submissive studious math-loving clones that goes with their image in the US. But this myth of uniformity is, needless to say, far from the truth. How could it possibly be? In a population of 1.4 billion, even saying MOST Chinese are the same is impossible.

     I've spent months in a school with people from all over Beijing. Beijing being one of the leading cities throughout China, I was exposed to the best of the best. Jingshan is a school in Beijing where the smartest and brightest are sent to study. Yet in no way are any two kids in this class the same. The stereotype wants to pin one personality onto the Chinese people. It is an unattractive one, consisting of un-athletic, small, awkward and quiet traits. This is wrong on many levels. From being with so many Chinese students you see the broad spectrum of people and personalities that make up any given class. The Chinese people are people like any other, so why is this myth of uniformity still around?

                There are rules that are in place, placed both by the school and by the government in an attempt to fill this image. They require similar haircuts and they demand uniforms to keep the students focused on studying and away from the distractions that make us who we are. But if anything this is only further evidence that the Chinese are diverse. Because regardless of the barriers in place you can still find students expressing themselves in every way they can.  Obviously there are kids that are good at math, or kids that focus on studying rather than socializing. But that is in no way a representation of the class as a whole. We have musicians and artists, who sit desks away from basketball players and soccer stars. The class has its fair share of romantics and relationship drama and every personality from my loud and outgoing host sibling Isaac to the right of me, to the quiet reserved nature of the girl who sits in front of me. 

                This myth seems like it should never even need to be addressed. What it implies seems so obviously untrue that I would hope that no one takes it seriously. This problem comes with almost all cultures; each one comes with its stereotypes and myths. But with China it seems to not be addressed or simply just accepted in the U.S. To say that Chinese people are all the same, or that they fit one character type, is to deny over a billion people their individuality and the possibility of really getting to know any one of them. 

    Ying Ying Rossi Journal Entry #7

                America is commonly known as the melting pot of cultures; whereas China is extremely isolated in comparison. Newton, for example has a variety of different cultures and heritages. We are home to Nonantum, an area known for its Italian influence. We also have more people who are Jewish than many other places. Furthermore, if you'd like to immerse yourself in Chinese culture, you can head over to Chinatown and grab some authentic food. However, here in China, the situation is far different and there is much less intermingling of cultures. This dates back to the mid 1800's when McCarthy came from Britain to modernize and industrialize the East. China resisted change for as long as physically possible and eventually was worn down by force. The culture here is so closed off that seeing someone who is American, African, European, or anything else that isn't Chinese, is pretty surprising. As a result of an isolated culture, the distinctions between people are much finer and the locals are more aware of small facial details than most Americans are. It is also the reason why there was far more immersion with the Beijing students in Newton than vice versa.

                Since I was born in Southern China, I am not actually Han which is the majority group of the nation. To any American, I look just as Chinese as any other Chinese person. However, if someone here takes a second to really look at my face, they start to believe that I'm not fully Chinese. Just the other night at a martial arts class, a man was telling me how I looked more like his Malaysian wife than a Chinese girl. Also, when the 7 of us Americans are together, the people working in restaurants and shops rarely look to me for translation, but instead to the other adoptee in the group who almost definitely is Han. In China, people can detect all the small differences between everyone because they all have many shared features, such as black hair, dark brown eyes, tanned skin, and small frames. That is why they notice that I am from a minority group. I have the hair, eyes, skin, and body type, but I have facial features that don’t match the look of the majority, the Han. Whereas on the other hand, to an American, I'm simply just Chinese because we see so much diversity, we group people based off of the obvious differences when it comes to personal appearance. So when someone in America sees me, they notice the dark hair and eyes, tanned skin, and my shortness and come to the conclusion that I am simply just another Chinese...nothing more, nothing less.

                Furthermore, the gap between my host sister’s experience in Newton North and me at Jingshan is very wide. In Newton, there is so much diversity that Melody was able to blend in seamlessly. There were countless students who spoke fluent Chinese, some even who spoke it as their first language and English as their second, thus making her feel even more at home. It also assures that the Chinese exchange students become one of us instead of their own separate breed. Both the shared language between her and her peers and the fact that Newton North holds a variety of different races, prevented her and the rest of the Jingshan students from sticking out like a sore thumb. On the total opposite end of the spectrum are us Americans here in Beijing. Since every single person besides us are Chinese, we become alienated. Unpurposely I’m sure, but alienated nonetheless. Regardless to the fact that we don’t act in the same manner due to the environment we were raised in, our appearances are so different from what people here are used to, so they feel less comfortable to strike up a conversation with us.

    What I find most interesting about that is the fact that this is not exclusively a China dilemma. There is isolation of heritages all over the world. Besides South Africa, you seldom hear of white people living anywhere else in Africa. In fact, America is one of the few places that people of African descent will live side-by-side with Caucasians. Plus, many European regions have their own distinct group of physical features as well. When the Austrians came to Jingshan from their school, they all had the same look. Each of them were tall, blonde, skinny, and sporty. Furthermore, Italians are known to have a large nose, and countries further north have much fairer skin, hair, and eyes. In American, we have no distinct look. The people are a mix of anything and everything. Often, people in America cannot even describe their race with only one ethnic group. It simply proves how multicultural America is compared to the other places in the world, which is China in this instance.

    Claire Mendelsohn Journal Entry #6

    For this week’s journal entry, I’m going to talk about females in Chinese and American society. So we’d like to think that females have come a long way since the past, which we have. We have gained rights which some in history would never believe or dream for women to have. Women have helped progress and advance in many professional fields that society thought was only for men, such as math, science, technology, etc. Despite our great step towards the future, we still have a long way to go.

     It is in my personal opinion that China has a bigger step to take, regarding the treatment of females. I say this because, one night while talking with Emma (my host sibling), she told me about recent news of attacks against females. She told me that the videos are about the best men of the groom ‘challenging’ the bridesmaids. Emma told me that this was part of the Chinese custom. The best men would perform some prank on the bridesmaid. Originally this custom was for laughs, but unfortunately people took it far, as shown in the video. In the video, it displays four or five men lifting a bridesmaid and trying to throw her into the pool. Now, if everyone was consensual to this it would be okay, but the bridesmaid was clearly distressed and screaming for the men to stop. Right before throwing her in, another bridesmaid stepped in and defended her. Everyone else simply watched it happen or took pictures and videos. The worst ‘prank’ that Emma heard news of was the best man raping the bridesmaid. I was disgusted and angry that someone could actually twist a custom meant for fun into something so horrible. 

    Emma then showed me a video in which two actors, one female one male, pretended to be in an abusive relationship. They were in a highly populated place for eight hours; yet out of the hundreds people that walked by, only one person, stepped in to help. In America, there are similar videos to the one mentioned before. The responses of the passer byers were usually negative, and many people stopped to help. Comparing to the Chinese version, where everyone looked away, or took pictures or maybe even laughed. Now I am not saying that America has the perfected idea of feminism, we as well have quite a distance to go. There was a video that I had watched a long time ago with the same scenario, though this time there were two couples, and one couple was white and other was black. When the white woman was being abused many people raced to help her, yet when it was the black woman only one person stopped. So, as said before, America has yet to perfect the treatment of women. Though China is a step behind. Ignoring the situation is one thing (not a good thing), but taking videos and laughing? That is something that definitely needs to change. Not only in China, but the whole world.

    People need to learn how to respect women, because we are fantastic and essential. 

    Emily Hogan  April 7, 2016
     
    Journal Entry #6: Disproving a Myth
     

    Before coming to China, I was told by many different people what I should expect. I heard about the pollution; there is so much you have to wear a mask every day, and lots of times you can’t go outside. People also said all the kids do is study; that’s why they’re not good at sports. All the moms are “tiger moms”; extremely strict mothers who rarely let their kids socialize with friends, and are constantly watching over their child’s shoulder as they do homework. Sometimes they even give them extra work not assigned by the teacher.  Also, another thing I heard was that China is all-modern. Now, all these are just things that people said. Some even come from bits of truth, but most if not all of them are stereotypes. The sad thing is, many people believe all of these without a second thought. After living in China for more than two months, I am here to clear some things up and disprove some common misconceptions.  

    First of all, there is no doubt that the pollution in China is bad. Yes, there have been days where the school doesn’t let kids outside for morning warm-ups, or to play basketball during recess, but days like that aren’t every day; wearing a mask helps. Secondly, not all mothers are “tiger moms”. In fact I would say my host mother is not one. Yes, she wants her son to succeed and to do well in school, but she doesn’t give him extra work or make him routinely practice a musical instrument. On the contrary, she has told me many times about all the homework my host brother has to do and how she feels sorry for him. Lastly, unfortunately, because all the homework kids get and weekend classes most take, little time is left for many extracurriculars like sports. This does not mean Chinese students are bad at sports. In fact during recess there are always groups of kids playing basketball and kicking the soccer ball around.

    Lastly, I have heard from a few people that all of China - if not most of it - is an extremely modern place. Living in Beijing, I see tall buildings and skyscrapers almost every day. From subway rides multiple times a week, I can say that the train system is larger, safer and by far cleaner than in Boston. However, last weekend, I had an experience that did not follow suit of an “all modern China.” As part of a community service club, all of the Newton students went to visit an underprivileged school to make presentations about America. I was thinking this school was going to be at least an hour drive out of Beijing, but to my surprise, it was just on the end of subway line five. I didn’t even have to switch trains to get there. After only walking about ten minutes, we reached the school after going through a series of side streets. We encountered piles of trash a few feet high and thrown into a corner; there were people and small dogs searching through it. People rode bikes without seats. A man was burning garbage in an alley. Clothing of all sorts was hanging out to dry on the outside of one room houses. When we were walking down the street, I was surprised when I  looked into what I thought was going to be a shop, but it turns out there was a woman sleeping in there on her bed with a small TV on and door wide open. This kind of poverty I witnessed is not something I would think to be in a modern city. Remember, this place was still reachable by the subway not even that far away from my own home.

    People everywhere are exposed to myths about all different types of people and places. But when the truth isn’t found, myths can be isolating. They keep us from creating new experiences, making new friends, and learning new things. However, when the truths of these myths are found, we can learn and finally start to understand each other better.

     

     

    Michael Lee 4/7/16

    Reaction to an Event

            A couple weekends ago, a Jingshan student brought our group to a school for children of migrant workers.  Located in the more rural area of Beijing, it was an intriguing visit.  I had never been to an area like this, and I surely didn't expect it on this trip.  However, I genuinely gained valuable insight from this visit.  My reactions to this excursion can be described as a feeling of shock and gratefulness.
            My feeling of shock came in two different ways.  First,  it came in the physical conditions which we saw.  The living conditions in this area were poor.  As we walked to the school, we had to navigate through old, worn-down alleys.  Enormous piles of trash were found in the nooks of the alleys, and people lived in more compact apartments.  Most only had one or two small rooms for their apartment.  It was clear that this was a more underdeveloped area of Beijing.  It was eye-opening to see that these were conditions that people actually lived in.  I have seen photos and videos that depict similar situations, but to actually see it is quite different.  So, it was shocking to see that this is a reality for so many people.
            My second reaction of shock is related to the students at the school.  We had known, prior to this visit, that this school is a fairly poor school.  Upon arrival, it was even clearer.  The school was a small campus with a ring of classrooms and, barely, a second floor.  The classrooms were about half the size of Jingshan's classrooms, and the materials in it were limited.  The most modern technology the school seemed to have was a portable, home projector that was shared throughout the school.  A couple of students seemed to have a uniform, but not every kid did.  I did not see a track or basketball court, or any other large facilities.  In short, it was clear that this school was underpriviliged.  Despite this disadvantage, the kids at the school were absolutely amazing.  During our lessons, all the kids were attentive and engaged with what we were teaching.  I will admit that this was quite surprising to me. They all had a drive to learn, which I found to be truly outstanding.  When we visited the school, it appeared that we had arrived in the middle of a school festival.  All around us, children were running around, laughing, and simply being a kid.  They had good attitudes and an excitement for learning.  These kids are at a disadvantage, yet, like any other kid in the world, they still manage to enjoy themselves and are driven to learn.  It truly amazed and shocked me. 
            Finally, I had a reactionary feeling of gratefulness after this visit.  It should be noted that I don't mean this in a selfish way, but as a reflection of myself.  Given my status of being adopted from China, it occurred to me that this could have been my life.  I was discussing this with another classmate, since we shared a similar situation.  My biological family information was held confidential, so I don't know how or where I would have been raised.  Despite that, it is possible that I could be living in a poverty-stricken area like the one we saw.   In short, this visit made me react in an extremely appreciative way.  I took time to really reflect on my life, and to really be thankful for what I have.
            Overall, my reaction to this visit, a mix of shock and gratefulness, is both similar and different from what I expected.  I was expecting to have some sort of appreciative reaction, and I also expected that I would be surprised by something.  What I was not expecting was that I would feel as strong of a reaction as I did. 

     

     

     

    Natalie Bohm 4/7/16

    Journal Entry 6: A Reaction

    Aaaand welcome back to Mythbusters: China Edition! We’ve got Myth(?) #11 for you tonight, so let’s get right to it!

    11. The Majesty of the Great Wall: FACT. However, that’s not all there is to it. Allow me to explain with a little story. At 7:00 am on Friday, March 25, I was on a bus with a whole bunch of other American tourists bound for the Great Wall. The reason we’d been granted special permission to miss school to go is that today marks the beginning of some trade deal/cultural exchange America and China has going called the Year of Tourism. Why the Year didn’t begin in January, like the international year, or even in February, with the Chinese New Year, I don’t know. I guess March 25 was just a convenient time to kick things off, and the event they chose to start with is today, complete with the self-explanatory name: One Thousand Americans on the Great Wall. That’s right, folks. For the first time since coming here, I spoke more English than Chinese today, because nearly everybody I interacted with was from the US. Considering that day was also spent at a grand Chinese cultural landmark, that language distribution is kind of ironic.

             The section of the Great Wall that we went to is called Jinshan, and it’s one of the most beautiful sections of wall within driving distance from Beijing. It’s been well preserved, and the views from the top are rarely spoiled by office buildings or other marks of industry, something that cannot be said for many of the famous places I’ve been to in the city. The surrounding mountains are spectacular, rising so steeply from thin ribbons of valleys that they look like crinkled tissue paper that someone didn’t even bother trying to flatten out again. It was a great day for travel too; cloudless days are fairly common in Beijing, but only because I don’t count pollution as clouds. Today the sky was flat and almost as blue as it is in Boston (it never quite gets as blue as home, though, because even on the best days, there’s enough pollution to lighten the shade).

             As much as I enjoyed climbing the massively uneven steps of the Great Wall, one of the most interesting parts of the day was the attention I received from the press. CCTV crews were all over the place, looking for Americans to interview, as well as reporters from smaller outlets and radio shows. I guess I got lucky and bumped into the right official-looking woman, because 20 minutes later I was answering questions in front of a TV camera in Chinese. I’d learn later that my interview was edited and broadcast later that day on national Chinese television. Woohoo! I’m famous!

             In that interview, as well as the live radio one I did later, I said that I was honored and humbled by the scale of the Great Wall, and to an extent, that’s true. But what really got to me wasn’t how big the Wall is, nor how long ago it was built, but the amount of human suffering that went into its construction. Workers in the Qing Dynasty who died during its construction were mixed in with its filling and buried literally inside the structure. One of the defining aspects of modern society is how much more empathy humans have now. We don’t torture each other as much. We don’t force each other to labor until they die of exhaustion or hunger. That’s a big step, but what comes to mind is a Louis C. K. segment called “Of course… but maybe,” where he drew attention to the fact that most of what we consider to be humanity’s greatest achievements rely on slavery or deliberate exploitation of a group of people. The Great Wall wouldn’t be what it is without all the pain and suffering that went into its construction. And somehow, something feels wrong about attributing unmitigated glory the product of slave labor.

     

     

     

    Sally Jenks Journal #6

                I have been raised on the philosophy that being sedentary is unacceptable. I thought that to be content I always had to be doing something, and that the more energy it required the better it was.  However, I now know that I need to chill. The concept that “slowing down” is really important always struck me as something for retired, boring, or lethargic people. I can safely say I was wrong.  I have learned that the ability to recuperate and relax is a skill I will need at every stage in my life.

                At home I spent a lot of time around very loud and outgoing people, which was exciting, but I never realised how exhausted it made me.  I would spend weekdays and weekend night with my friends, who are all equally as loud and frenetic as I am. I would spend the rest of my time with my family, In which I am, frighteningly, not the source of most of the commotion. This always resulted in an inherent stream of noise and chaos, and I thought that was what it was like for everybody. I was very wrong.

                Since coming to china, my life has simplified. There is a set group, comprised of people mostly different from those who I socialise with at home. I have found that it is so incredibly refreshing to have people who don’t come from an environment where they need to shout everything just to be heard. Given, there are a few who do, but it is still a much healthier balance than I am used to. While quiet does not always mean calm, the two have proven to be interchangeable as all the noise was one of the most predominant indication of the insanity of my life. It is completely impossible to take a step back when you are constantly engaged in continual shouting matches.

                Due to the laid-back attitude here, there have been many more instances of “chill”, when things are not only more quiet, but slower paced.  While we do tons of activities, the group always leans toward taking a “recovery” day after a specifically exhausting activity. This is also a completely foreign and surprisingly wonderful solution.  I now appreciate the ability to hit reset by just taking a day to do nothing and just be alone. 

                This is made even sweeter by the fact that my host family is the most peaceful and functional family I have ever been in the presence of, and the time difference, which guarantees my separation from the ruckus continually going on at home. I can even plan my FaceTime calls at home to give myself time to mentally prepare for the insanity, and whether it is a call from my friends or my family I am totally depleted by the end. Which is ok because I am immediately reintroduced to the blissful silence of the apartment.

                I am painfully aware that I will soon be reintroduced to the noise and activity of my life at home, If I make balance and peace a priority in my life, I will be able to find it.

     

    Sheil Mehta 4/7

    Reaction to a Scene

    Isaac’s family and I woke early this Saturday. We ate a quick breakfast and then pulled on our biking clothes. Special fabric and padding made for the hours we were going to spend on the bikes. I stretched as we wheeled the bikes out of the parking lot and then we were off. As we reached our destination I rolled down the window and stuck my head out. Gazing around me I saw mountains. All around me were massive blue tinted mountains. And dotting the mountains sat little ancient architectural huts. Each one adding a little dot of color to the otherwise smoggy scene.  In front of them were hundreds of kites, in reality it may have been dozens, but the amount felt like far too many. They came in all shapes and sizes, dragons flying through the air and giant streamers flapping in the wind. It was beautiful.

                While on this ride through the outer ring of Beijing I was constantly reminded of the state China is in.  As I rode I saw beautiful skyscrapers that seemed to disappear into the fog, next to street performers playing the Erhu and singing traditional songs. China is in a constant state of push and pull. While on one hand I am surrounded by the modern and powerful ‘new china’, all around me are hints to thousands of years of tradition. When my legs started to hurt from all the biking we were doing I requested we stop to eat. We pulled off into a little stonewall restaurant.  The restaurant looked like someone had thrown tables into a cave and the ambiance was that of a motel. It seemed to have fallen out of a time before electricity. This struck me as odd seeing as we had just biked past a bank with an all glass exterior and what appeared to be a chandelier in the front lobby. How could two places be so close in distance yet so far in all other respects? I believe China still holds tightly to its culture. Despite extreme westernization and influence, China still shows its old temples and its traditional food. This is an important part of any culture. By both innovating and holding on to parts of your culture you can both advance while staying unique and individual. When in the big cities of U.S you rarely see evidence of the way things were hundreds of years ago because progress sweeps them away. It was fascinating to arrive into China and see the even split between its traditional style roofs, some still baring the tiles used in the age of dynasties, and its concrete jungle city scape.

                And as I mounted the bike and began the trek back to the car I took a last long look at the mountain scape. Taking in the rows of apartments in the foreground. Behind them the kites blowing in the breeze and the temple dotted mountains that seemed to touch the sky. And I appreciated all the parts of this picture that made China the whole it is. Both the ‘old china’ mixed with the constantly growing ‘new china’.

     

    Ying Ying Rossi 4/7/16

    Discover Something About Yourself

    It was a little over a year ago when I decided that I wanted to come to Beijing on the exchange program. As a freshman, I entered this program under the impression that my Chinese language would improve and that I would understand more of the traditions indigenous to China. Both of which did come true. However, on the other hand, I feel like I've gained so much more than that. Apart from the more cultural aspect of it, the people I’m here with have taught me so much about putting yourself out there without ever realizing it.

                It's funny, really. I never thought very hard on it before I came to China. The American students I came here with are the people I spend almost all of my time with, all day everyday, whether it be talking, shopping, or just simply hanging around. These close connections I've made with six other students brought me out of my comfort circle that I've clung to. Originally, two of my best friends and I were going to all apply together with the hope that we would all get to experience it side-by-side. However, one ended up going to a private school and the other didn't get accepted. This news was definitely disappointing to me, but I now realize that this may have been for the best. I came onto the program only vaguely knowing the majority of the students who were heading to China in January with me. If I were to have had one of my close friends with me, I know that I wouldn't have branched out as much. I probably wouldn’t have invited Claire to my host family's house, shared a room with Emily in Xi'an, spent an afternoon with Michael at Wangfujing, go to Pizza Hut to work on a presentation with Sally, spar Sheil by the basketball court after P.E. class, or discuss quantum physics with Natalie on our way to Counter Strike. Without an old friend for my to cling to, it forced me to rely on people that I might not necessarily talk to if I were back in Newton. Surrounding myself in a new group of people showed me that being around a different crowd of people is more beneficial than daunting. Plus, the bonds that I’ve made with everyone are so strong and unbreakable. 10 years from now, I’ll look back on my sophomore year, remembering all my fond memories with everyone in Beijing.
                Furthermore, everyone on this exchange have personalities that are a stark contrast from the people I surround myself with back at home. What I mean by this is that my friends tend to be pretty calm and chill, just loud enough to be heard. Now, without over stating, if you were to hear all of us exchange students when we are all in one room together, you will need a pair of earplugs...maybe even some noise canceling headphones. I am not kidding. Everyone can get very loud and opinionated, but in the best way of course. There have been many heated debates, even over as insignificant things like "the sun vs. 1,000 lions" and whether the original karate kid was better than the new one with Jayden Smith and Jackie Chan. This has given me the opportunity to raise my own opinion and put my own two cents in instead of sitting back and listening to everything unfold like I have gotten accustomed to. They have taught me the importance of communicating your view even if it doesn’t directly impact your near future.

                Adding onto the idea of speaking up has become even further stressed by being in China. If you speak a second language, you would understand the difficulties of not knowing the right word for the message you’re trying to convey. It takes both determination and confidence to be able to stick with it and keep floundering until you figure out how to describe what you mean. Before arriving in Beijing, my first instinct to a situation where the language barrier becomes an issue, I would most likely have just convinced myself that it really wasn’t worth it and then walk away. However, now, I see the importance of the tenacity it takes to not run away when the situation gets more complex. Instead of letting it go and moving on, I would continue to take the challenge head on, whether it be bartering, shopping, or just a regular conversation.

                It is findings like these, about stepping out of your comfort range, that I feel are equally as significant as discoveries about culture. However, the thing with more social situations is that it is universal, not applying to one specific region. Wherever I go in the world, voicing my opinion and learning how to adapt to new people in new areas are lessons that will stick with me no matter what.

    Claire Mendelsohn Journal Entry #5

    It was just until recently, in fact today, that I discovered the most shocking difference between Chinese and American culture. This surprising difference was, the news. Yes, the news; where we learn about current events or the weather. One might think, what could be so different about news channels? Well, technically speaking there is not a whole ton that is different between American and Chinese news channels. The basic frame is just about the same; it is just the filming and content style that is vastly different. In America, when reporting about tragic incidents, it will show pictures of said victim and/or the scene of the incident. The reporter will then elaborate about the victim’s life and then the actual happening of the incident. So blatantly put, us Americans use words to explain to the public about the situation. For China, it is quite the opposite. Instead of using words, they use footage. Film taken from a nearby security camera; they will air the incident, gory details and all. One can imagine how shocked I was when I was eating dinner and noticed the TV was showing footage of horrible accidents. I was completely taken aback on how graphic the content was, specifically an accident involving blood being shown. In America, news channels do not normally show blood (at least I’ve never seen it being shown) or a person getting hurt. Considering the tremendous amount of censorship China has, (Google, YouTube, Facebook, etc.) why is blood and injury airing on national television? Someone else might understand this, but I myself do not. Although, looking from another perspective, I might. With only words it is difficult to imagine how serious and tragic an incident might be, while if you see it actually happen it becomes ‘realistic’ in a way. Only hearing the said incident talked about, it becomes ‘fake’ and ‘unrealistic’. We become desensitized to the actual tragedy and emotion of the situation, even if it’s only a little bit. If one sees it happen with their own eyes, they cannot be ignorant to the intense and horrible emotion that comes along with these incidents. Part of me wants to remain ignorant to the gut-wrenching feeling one gets when horrible things happen, but another part of me thinks I should understand the feelings of the victims. Even if it makes me horribly uncomfortable, I feel I should watch the incident play out, gory details and all, so I am not deprived of the sadness of the tragedies. 

    Emily Hogan March 24, 2016
     
    Journal Entry #5: Comparing and Contrasting Cultures

     

     There is no better way to fully understand a culture than to live it. Frankly, that is what I’ve been doing for almost two months now. Everywhere you go in China you are shown Chinese culture. From taking the bus to school in the morning to eating dinner with your family in the evenings. In fact, one of the biggest cultural differences I’ve noticed in China is around food. Both what you eat and how.

     Whenever you go out to eat in the US, everyone sits at a rectangular table, gets a menu and everyone picks what they want to eat. Each person gets their own individual plate. However, in China it’s not quite the same. For starters, most of the time you are sitting at a round table. This makes it easier to converse and share food, but we’ll get to that later. In most cases, the middle of the table is a lazy susan where the tea pot and food are placed. Now, this is where sharing food comes in. When ordering at a restaurant in China, you order multiple small dishes to share. This way you can either pick and choose what you eat, or have a little bit of everything. With a lazy susan in the center of the table, sharing becomes a lot easier; dishes don’t have to be picked up and passed to people around the table. This same style of communal eating also happens at home. Each day, my host parents make about four or five small dishes. The four of us each have our own plate, and we use our chopsticks to take what we want and put it on our plates.

     As expected, there is also a difference in the food we eat. From my experiences eating fish in China, there have always been bones in it. This means it is your job during the meal, to pick out the spiky bones before you dig in. This isn’t commonly the case for me when I eat fish in America. This is also the same for other meats. Now, I know there are many meats commonly eaten with bones in America like chicken wings and ribs, but in both the school lunches and home cooked meals, I find meat on the bone more common in China than in America. Additionally, I find that meat is rarely considered the main dish in China. For me, in America when I ask my parents what we will be having for dinner, they will say chicken, or beef or some other kind of meat, but in China, I’m commonly told we are having noodles, or rice for example. Additionally, when served rice, during dinner, for example, all of the other smaller dishes on the table are meant to complement the rice; where will be bean sprouts to put on it or bok choy or Chinese cabbage and chicken. However, in the States, each person is given some sort of meat and the smaller dishes like rice or vegetables are meant to go with the meat.  

     However, despite these difference, I have seen some similarities between the way my family eats dinner in America and the way my host family eats here in China. Although I know this isn’t common for many people in the US, every day, my whole family sits down and we all eat dinner together. The same thing happens to me in China. Each night my host brother and I clear the table with our homework and we all sit and eat dinner together. Despite our differences in the types of food and the way we eat it, at the end of the day we are all still a family.

     

    Michael Lee 3/24/16

    Parallel

            Despite the many differences between China and America, there are still parallels that can be made.  Whether it's trying something new, or finding something in China that resembles an experience in America, there are many ways that parallels between the two countries can be made.  For example, during Spring Festival, I helped my host family make dumplings.  It reminded me of a time in second grade,  when my class visited a Chinese culture center.  We all got the opportunity to try making some dumplings, similar to how I made dumplings during Spring Festival.  That was just one of the many parallels I have had while in China.  However, one of the more notable parallels was between the Lama Temple and an experience with my grandmother. 
            At the Lama Temple, one of the ways visitors could engage with the culture was by burning incense sticks for prayer.  Every visitor was given a small, complimentary box of incense sticks at the beginning of the temple.  In specific areas of the temple, there were large, metal basins for the burning of the incense.  Visitors would burn a couple of incense sticks, proceed to bow in front of the basin, then place the sticks inside the basin.  From what I remember, this ritual was used as a way to pray for good fortune for family, friends, and life.  Therefore, people often bowed three times, once for each category.  There were many places to practice this custom, which allowed people to try it more than once. 
            My time at the Lama Temple reminded me of a correlation to an experience involving my grandmother.  When I was younger, my siblings and I, for Chinese New Year, would visit our grandmother.  Our grandmother, who is Cantonese, would lead us in a short ritual that she would do when she was younger.  She would give my siblings and I three incense sticks each.  In the pantry there would be a small table set up with candles, fruit, Chinese decorations, and an assortment of other items.  There were incense already burning, and the whole room was covered in an array of red Chinese characters and pictures.  We would all take turns bowing four times in front of the display, and then place our incense sticks in a vase on the table.  My mother would even participate in this practice.  This was always followed by a nice brunch.        Similar to that of the Lama Temple, my grandmother explained that this custom was a way to wish for good fortune for all in the new year.  Each bow represented a wish towards one of your siblings or parents.  The idea of wishing good luck for your family falls in line with the bowing at the Lama Temple.  Both want to hope for the well-being of people in your life.  The burning of incense is also a shared trait among both experiences.  I can't recall the significance of the incense at the Lama Temple, but I remember my grandmother saying how the incense smoke would rise up to our ancestors, who would then bring good fortune to us. 
            The parallel between the Lama Temple and my experience with my grandmother stood out as a prime example of correlations between America and China.  Although it does carry a nostalgic feeling, I think this parallel also is a display of the culture mobility.  It is amazing to observe how another country's traditions can be carried over to a different country, even if they are not completely identical.  The way cultures mix and move around is quite fascinating, and finding parallels between countries is a great example of that.

     

     

    Natalie Bohm 3/24/16

    Journal Entry 5: Cultural Misunderstanding 

    Welcome back to Mythbusters: China Edition! This is it! As of this installment, we’ve officially debunked ten Myth(s)! Watch this space for more fact-digging and soul-searching in Beijing, China. And without further ado…

    10. Chinese Culture Seems Super Polite to Americans: MYTH. I want to tell you all a story about cultural misunderstandings. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m very grateful for everything my host family does for me. On the whole, they have been very kind. But lately my host mother’s tone when speaking to me has been very cold, and I sensed some passive aggression on her part. At the time, I was not quite sure what I did to deserve this. I thought, should I wash my dishes? Every time I try she makes me leave them for her to do. Or maybe, I thought, I need to hurry up in the morning. We always get out the door on time, but I cut it close most days. I just knew that Aren’t you going to do X? look she kept giving me, and that it could come at totally random times. Maybe I’m not showering when she wants me to. Maybe I don’t keep my room clean enough. I did my best not to focus too much on the possibility that my host mother simply didn’t like me as a person, as that would be a much harder problem to fix that simply waking up earlier or cleaning my room. But as time went on, I became more and more convinced of this theory. I finally brought it up with my host sibling one day, and, quoting the way my host mother had looked at me and told me to hurry up in such a harsh tone that morning, asked her whether her mother really didn’t like me. I wish I had asked my sibling earlier, because I learned one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned here from that experience. The truth is, Chinese is not a language that lends its everyday use to politeness very well. In America, we’d say to our family: “Could you please pass the bread?” In China, a direct translation of that sentence, used at the dinner table, would seem awkwardly formal. From what my host sibling told me, I understood that I needed to stop translating directly into English in my head, because tone of voice does not translate well between English and Chinese. What may sound perfectly normal in Chinese can come off as rude in English, and in the case of my relationship with my host mother, I had nothing to worry about. And, my host sibling added, that’s a good thing. “That’s how she treats me,” my sibling said. Anyway, the moral of the story is: don’t expect to get preferential treatment in China, and though you may run into some cultural misunderstandings, it’s better if you get treated just like your Chinese siblings. That way you know the China you’re seeing is real.

     

     

    Sally  Jenks 4/24/16 Journal #5

                If you had asked me two months ago how I would be feeling right now I would have told you a plethora of jumbled and conflicting emotions. I would have said homesick, anxious, out of place; but I would have also said excited, enlightened, and confident. I would have been wrong.

                Its not that I don't get nervous when I get intrusive stares from strangers on the subway, or that I'm not excited by climbing the great wall; It is the overwhelming feeling of normalcy sedates these bolder emotions.

                This sense of almost jaded calamity is brought on by many factors, a consistent routine, a well balanced group of students, and an exceptionally accommodating host family. But what I have discovered the largest force behind my potentially-misplaced sense of assimilation is my unlikely connection to home: ping pong.

                I have just realised what a staple ping pong has been in my life.  I had a ping pong table in my basement for most of my life and while it has began collecting dust in recent years, but there was a time when ping pong was a huge part of my day to day life.  From the ages of nine to 13 the sound of ping pong balls constantly echoed through my house.  My brother, who is four years younger than me, has always been extremely energetic; so to give him an outlet for all of his aggression and movement my mom would make him play ping pong. They played in the mornings before school, the afternoons, and many times right before bed.  The sounds of my brother slamming the ball, as if it just personally offended him, rang though the house, followed by his anguished squeals as my mother would calmly return the ball until he whiffed, and it missed the table.

                For a long time I was annoyed by this constant source of white noise, and I was over the moon when his schedule grew too full to support hours of ping pong.  After the annoyance stopped, these memories fled my mind, and the table was folded up and pushed into a corner to be forgotten.  I think it was because this memory was forgotten for so long that when I entered the Jingshan gym, and was greeted by the familiar sound of angry, speeding, ping pong balls, I was abruptly taken back to that untouched scene.

                I think the more insignificant a memory seems, the more vibrant it can become.  If it is something that has been folded up and pushed to the corners of your mind, when it returns to you, it is guaranteed to be authentic, untouched, because your brain has not thought to tamper with it. So this memory has become, in a sense something that has been able to anchor me to home more successfully than any length of FaceTime with my mom, or texting conversation with my best friend. This memory not only provides a crystal clear sensation of home, but also reminds me how much I, and everyone around my has grown and will continue to grow, (shown by the fact that my brother doesn't need to whack balls at people to be able to go to sleep or school anymore) an important thing to remember when I am feeling out of place or uninspired by my current position. It is incredible to me that such a small and specific thing can hold such power, but I choose not to question it because I never want that to change.

     

    Sheil Journal Entry 5 

    Have you ever heard 50 kids chanting in unison? Everyone is reading the same text in a monotone. No one slips, and they are all at exactly the same pace. This is how most morning classes begin in Jingshan. In the beginning this was scary, almost dystopian. But I’ve come to get used to it. This and many other differences I’ve noticed about the two school systems. One being Newton North and the other is Beijing Jingshan.

    In class behavior being one of the major differences. The teachers here have different expectations, paired with different behaviors that they deem inappropriate or acceptable for class. The strangest one was sleeping in class. I cannot begin to count the amount of times I have seen a sleeping kid, head down with no effort to hide it, in the middle of class. Even through whole 4o minute periods. Now classes are bigger granted. But not big enough that the teacher does not notice, It seems they don’t care. The teacher’s goal is simply to teach, so as long as the kid is not snoring, or distracting anyone else trying to learn. No one will be woken. This is a strange new concept to me. In North participation is usually up to 15% of the grade I receive. So seeing students take a 40-minute break seems crazy. I believe this reflects China’s general view towards knowledge and learning. It is your job to learn and everyone is responsible for his or her own success. Or in some cases, their failure. In the U.S the teacher has more of a responsibility to address individual students progress. And can be held responsible for a low grade or unresponsive classroom. Whereas at any given class in Jingshan, save for P.E, you can find at least two or three kids passed out. Head on the desk and arms folded into small makeshift pillows.

    After the class ends, a bell will sound. Or rather the cascading little jingle that sounds throughout the school. To call it a bell doesn’t do it justice.  A huge difference I notice is between classes. Not only do we not actually move from class to class. But we also have a solid 10 minutes while we wait for the next teacher to come in. I usually spend a portion of these remembering the mad rush to get to each class, and the two minutes given to do it back in North. The only downside to this system is that the time accumulates and ends up making the school day 2 hours longer than it would be in Newton. But unless you have a time consuming after school sport or theatre production, I prefer this sort of schedule. It gives students time to collect themselves and loosen up before their class. It means that students don’t have to be counting the minutes till lunch for their first break. I find I am more able to concentrate fully on classes when they are dispersed between breaks. 

    Overall, the school experience of Jingshan has its pros and its cons. Its strengths lay in its time management and understanding of students needs for air. While its faults lay in the disregard for the individual student and its factory approach to learning.  

    Ying Ying Rossi 3/24/16

    Cultural Misunderstanding

                It's no secret that China has some drastically different customs and habits as we do at home. Back in America, we were all warned by multiple people of their passive-aggressive tendencies. In multiple situations, I had anticipated actions from my host family that would go along with this idea. However, I misinterpreted many of their actions as hints to do, or not do, something. While, in reality, they had no secret motives behind what they were doing.

                Passive-aggressiveness can often come in the form of the famous “Chinese No”. Which is where someone would subtly suggest that an activity might not be the best idea, but then agrees to let you go by the end of the discussion. However, right before you need to leave, he or she would try to make up some excuse to make you stay. There was this one instance where I had thought that I was receiving a “Chinese No” from my host mom. It was about fifteen minutes before I was about to leave to hang out with my friends and she just starting to cook lunch. I began to worry about what was happening, whether or not I was about to be blind sided. However, with ten minutes left, my host mom called me over to the kitchen. She told me how she was super sorry that she lost track of time and how if I ate some food by myself quickly, I'd still be able to make it on time. So that is exactly what I did. I even made it to where my friends and I were meeting right on time. I had honestly, right there in that moment, thought that I was being "China-ed", and that I was getting a passive-aggressive message to stay at home. Although, the truth of the matter is that my host mom genuinely forgot that I had to leave early to go out. We're all only human and mess up every once in a while. Regardless of the track record in China for getting your way through a bit of manipulation, sometimes it is simply an honest mistake.
                Furthermore, there was an experience where I thought they were trying to get me to eat, and enjoy, shrimp even though they know I don't like seafood. Just a day or two before, my friend was explaining me how her host parents were telling her that the Kungpow fish was really Kungpow chicken because she doesn't like eating fish much either. After taking a large crunch into a fish bone, it turns out that her host family was trying to convince her that she actually did like fish by having her eat it. So when I was assisting my host family in preparing dumplings and noticed that there was shrimp inside, I automatically jumped to the conclusion that they were probably attempting something similar with me. Like with the other experience, it turns out that my host family just forgot that I didn't like seafood. Thus leading them to give me a large bun when they realized what happened to make up for what I didn’t eat. I, again, had made assumptions according to the notion that Chinese people use passive-aggressive cues to make sure things go their way, and was ultimately incorrect in my predictions.

                Through the almost “Chinese No” and shrimp incident both lead me to better understand no to look too much into the actions of those around me. I now realize that there are times where things happen differently from what is expected; however, this doesn’t mean that they are necessarily trying to send you a message. Sometimes things get mixed up and muddled around, but the original intent stays the same. I suppose that what I’m also trying to say here is that generalizations about a culture may only be helpful to a certain degree. With any group of people, background knowledge can be used as a crutch to guide those who are less informed. However, nothing and no one is perfect, so you cannot base everything you do on these facts since you will find many aberrations and inconsistencies wherever you may go.

     

     Emily Hogan Journal Entry #4

    Learning Something New
     

                One of the things my parents told me to do while I was in China was learn how to cook Chinese food. I’ll admit, it wasn’t completely serious, but at this point, I know how to make three things thanks to the help of my host mom. Back in America, I guess I could say I like to cook. I like making cookies (peanut butter in particular), and I like helping my mom or dad with dinner when I get the chance. Anyways, the food always tastes better when you make it yourself.  

               

    The first thing I learned how to make in China was dumplings when my whole family made them together on Chinese New Year. Let me tell you, these dumplings were completely from scratch. Starting early in the afternoon, my host mom was busy kneading dough and making the filling for our dumplings. When everything was prepared, I was taught the correct way to fold and fill dumplings. It’s an art, and not an easy one, mind you. First of all, you have to get the proper amount of filling. If you get too much it will break apart when cooked, but if you put too little, it will be one ugly dumpling with a lot of dough. Once your filling is accurate, you have to fold the dumpling in half. Then, with one gracious move you have to curve the dumpling (so the edges span the length of your thumb and pointer finger,) and squeeze to make sure no filling will ever come out. It’s not easy, but if you get it right that’s one good looking dumpling.

     

     One of my favorite things my host mom makes is called Rou Bing. She calls them meat pies, but I would consider them a quesadilla without the cheese. The next time I knew she was making them, I asked her to teach me. Similar to the dumplings we made on New Years you need dough along with vegetable and meat filling to make Rou Bing. The first step is to roll out a big circle of dough and cut the radius. Then you fill up a quarter of the circle with filling. Next, you fold that quarter over so you have three quarters of a circle. After you fold that same piece over with another layer of filling, you should have a half circle. Then you flip it over a final time and get a thick yummy meat pie. (After you cook it that is.) Once it is done frying, you have Rou Bing with layers of dough with meat and vegetable filling. It doesn’t get better than that.  

     

    The final dish my host mom taught me how to make was Hu Ta Zi. This was the easiest one and the one I will be most likely to replicate back in America. This is partly because there are only three ingredients. When I started eating my breakfast in the morning, my host mom told be she was making a special lunch of Hu Ta Zi and wanted me to help her so I can learn how to make it for my family in Boston. We started off by shredding vegetables. We shredded multiple carrots and zucchini into a large metal bowl. Step two was to mix in four or so eggs. At this point it was too runny and flour needed to be added until it was the consistency of pancake mix. Then we poured it into a frying pan and cooked them pancake style. They come out delicious.

     

     Learning how to make foods from a different culture doesn’t always sound important, but I think it is. I know many family friends that don’t cook a variety of foods from different cultures, and they’re missing out. Not only are they missing out on delicious foods that they never will have tried, but they aren’t taking an extra step to understand how people around the globe live their daily lives in a different or similar way than they do. Food is a big part of everyone’s life, and learning how to make different foods is a great way to learn about different people.  

     

     

    Michael Lee 3/10/16


    Cultural Misunderstanding

            When living in a different country, misunderstandings are bound to happen.  Adjusting to a new culture is not an easy task.  It takes time and, sometimes, a little trial and error.  Before departing for China, we talked about some cultural aspects that we should be aware of.  Topics, such as compliments and general manners, were included in the talk.  The Chinese way of declining permission, often called the Chinese-no, is another subject that was talked about.  In Chinese culture, people often don't explicitly say what they actually feel.  We learned that they'll often try indirectly hinting at what their true thoughts are.  It was nice to know this information ahead of time, but telling and experiencing are two very different things.  While in China, one of the notable misunderstandings I had involved receiving a Chinese-no. 
            On one of the weekends, our exchange group had planned to go out in the early afternoon.  The night before, my host family granted me permission to go with the group.  Accounting for my commute, my host family had reccommended that I leave the house at noon.  The next day, about a minute before noon, I was finishing preparing to go out. I was about to put my shoes on, but my host mother came over and told me that my host father was about to start cooking lunch.  She then proceeded to sit me down at the table.  Now, being on-time is an important thing for me.  I don't enjoy being late, so I try my best to get to places a bit early.  In America, I would normally politely decline and explain that there is a planned time.  That would normally work for me back in Newton.  However, in China, it's not that simple. I tried politely explaining my time constraints to my host family.  They insisted that I sit down and eat lunch.  However, I kept saying that I was going to be late.  My host dad had started cooking and was getting some plates and bowls ready.  At this point, it was already fifteen minutes past noon.  I kept insisting that I needed to leave, or else I would be late.  They would say that I still have time, and that it will be okay if you're a bit late.  They told me to WeChat the group and let them know I would meet them a bit later.  I persisted in saying that I needed to go.  I even mentioned that we had had a late breakfast, and I was still full from that. Eventually, after a bit more talk,  they allowed me to leave without having lunch. 
            Later, my host sibling told me that I had come off as a bit rude.  Of course, now that I am putting it into words, it seems obvious.  However, in the moment, I had misunderstood the signs that my host parents were giving me.  In turn, I was unintentionally impolite to my host family.  Since they had already given me permission the night before, I had assumed that I had gotten past the Chinese-no.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  My host sibling explained to me that they had just wanted to make sure that I wouldn't go hungry. That is why they wanted me to leave a bit later.  They were not declining me from going, but they were against the fact that I was leaving without lunch.  From this misunderstanding, I learned to be more aware of the signs of a Chinese-no.  In America, people tend to be more straightforward when declining permission to someone.  If my mother doesn't want me going out, she'll explicitly tell me that I can't go out.  However,  in China, you often have to piece together how the person actually feels.  My host parents were not direct in telling me what they had on their mind, and I misinterpreted the signs they were giving me.  In short, the etiquette of declining someone permission is different between China and America. 
            Misunderstandings happen all the time between cultures.  It would be unusual for a person to come to another country and act perfectly within the culture.  Even in American culture, the culture I was raised in, I still make mistakes.  Many people perceive misunderstandings as purely negative, and they fail to gain anything from it.  It should be noted that misunderstandings should try to be avoided.  However, when they do happen, misunderstandings provide valuable learning experiences and allow us to better understand a country's culture.

     

     

    Natalie Bohm  4/8/16

    And, as promised, we’re back with Mythbusters: China Edition! Remember: we go live from Beijing every two weeks, so stay tuned for more exciting mythbusting! I believe we’re on Myth(?) #9, so let’s get right to it.

    9. Morning and Eye Exercises: FACT… mostly. The first class of the day at Jingshan school starts at 8:00 am, but most students arrive before 7:10 because, before attending that class, they have to do morning exercises. The only exception is Mondays, on which the whole school lines up in the “Multi-Function Hall” (a strange cross between an indoor volleyball court and a theatre) for the Flag Raising Ceremony. During this ceremony, which usually lasts a little over half an hour, younger students salute and older students watch on as the Chinese flag is raised to the ceiling, and then they all sing the Chinese national anthem and the Jingshan School Anthem. Some announcements are usually made by a few students and teachers, and then everyone deals with the logistical problem of getting the entire school out of that one room fast enough to get to class on time.

    But back to the myth at hand: the morning exercises. Tuesday through Friday, we do file out of our classrooms and divide into two lines based on gender. In truth, the only morning exercises I’ve experienced have been the running of laps around the school, although I’m told that the stereotypical Zumba workout that Americans think Chinese schools do are also practiced at Jingshan. Now, that’s not to say that everyone enjoys or participates. Girls are required to run three laps around the school, as opposed to the four that boys run, and members of both genders frequently slow to a walk or drop out of line for a lap. As a wise Chinese host student once said, “You simply can’t make people run.” As far as I and anyone I’ve talked to is aware, there are no severe ramifications for not running. If you say that you’re hurt, there’s usually no demand for proof or encouragement to continue through the injury on the part of your homeroom teacher. I have to say, it’s kind of funny to me that of all school-related things, students show disrespect for morning exercises.

    To be clear, eye exercises don’t get a lot of attention either. It is true that twice a day, once before lunch and once after, five minutes are devoted to the massaging of various parts of your face and head. You memorize the procedure pretty quickly: four counts of eight massaging first your earlobes (don’t ask me why – I don’t know), then your temples, then cheekbones, then the back of your neck, and finishing along the top of your head, all the while listening to calming, if slightly eerie, Chinese music. I have to say, it does little for your focus and can even give you a headache. I don’t know what the secret key to success that Chinese students have, but it isn’t eye exercises. Some students simply use the exercises as study time. Most others sort of halfheartedly put their hands in the vicinity that they should be for a given exercise, but don’t actually do any massaging.

    In short, it is true that Chinese school do put their students through morning and eye exercises that look very funny to Americans. What those rumors don’t tell you, though, is that all the Chinese students think they’re just as useless as Americans do. In that sense, I think American and Chinese teenagers have something very important in common: skepticism. It’s a universal trait of young people to look critically at things they are made to do, and to decide – whether it’s true or not – that they are ridiculous.

     

     

     Sally Jenks  3/10/15 Journal #4

    Dispelling a stereotype

                I was having a hard time deciding what to write about this week; so I was bouncing ideas off my host sister, Rebecca.  We quickly gravitated to the topic of stereotypes and began to brainstorm a list: hardworking, super smart, not super tidy. However, from my experience all of these seem pretty accurate and Rebecca agreed as well.  Just as we were going to move on from this discussion we both realized, in unison, we had forgotten potentially the largest stereotype: Chinese are bad drivers.

                Initially this stereotype also felt spot on, but after giving it greater thought, I realized the opposite is true.  Chinese people are not bad drivers at all.  This statement appears incredibly counter intuitive to anyone who has gotten in a car in China because that car ride was probably enough to make even the most reckless american driver close their eyes, buckle their seatbelt, and pray their departure is quick and painless.  Regardless of how many brushes with death I have experienced on the circuitous and tumultuous roads of Beijing, I am still here, with all my limbs.  It is the skill of avoiding imminent head on collisions that make it clear that chinese drivers are not bad at all, they are supremely skilled.

                Unfortunately, they use this skill for evil rather than good, turning the historic roads into a racetrack of anarchy. Each driver seems to view their skill as superior, and therefore, the thought of yielding or using a turning signal is preposterous.  The goal is to get from point A to point B as fast as possible; so running a traffic light, cutting off anyone and anything,  or making a U-turn on a one way road is inconsequential.

                The mentality behind driving in China is the antithesis to that of America.  While so many young and bright-eyed Americans are lectured on the importance of “defensive driving”, in drivers ed, it seems that chinese drivers are trained in the art of “offensive driving”.  The concept behind this is simple, do not back down. As an observer I will list a multitude of situations of “offensive driving” in practice:

    1.When merging, be sure never to yield, inch up next to your opponent and whoever values their bumper less will earn the five second head start on the highway. 

    2. When yielding, evaluate your opponent, is it a pedestrian, bike, rickshaw, smart car? Doesn't matter, if it is smaller than your vehicle the answer is accelerate, this is survival of the fittest, the inferior of the two will retreat, or be crushed.

    3. When encountering tight spaces (including traffic jams and any tight squeeze in which you find yourself), keep going until your parking sensor has become one continuous beep/ shriek, use this jam to your advantage by cutting off any other cars you can squeeze by, accept that you will be honked at, embrace it, everyone else is just jealous they don’t have the same disregard for  financial assets as you do. rejoice as you inch your way up an endless traffic jam, perpetuated by individuals trying to pull the same dirty trick as you.

                Through this detailed guide to driving in China, it is clear that this is not a feat attempted by the faint of heart, or those lacking in skill.  As someone constantly berated for “reckless driving”, I am quick to contest the general misconception that “bad” and “reckless” are the same. The more recklessly and selfishly one drives, then the more skill and awareness required to avoid an accident, which is a reckless driver’s worst nightmare because dealing with insurance and drama is more painful than actually waiting at red lights. Therefore It is clear that Chinese people are, in fact, far superior drivers. Ultimately, American’s have assigned this stereotype because they are simply afraid.  Afraid to admit their inferiority, and afraid of the deathly and innate harmony between  Chinese and car.

     

     

    Sheil Mehta 3/7 Journal Entry #4

    Discovering Something About Yourself

                Being here was like a new start. Suddenly everything was different. From the air I breathed in, to the fish that looked up at me on my cafeteria tray. Suddenly people I didn’t know surrounded me and I was the new kid. I’ve never switched schools or had to move away from my friends, so the change was a new one. What I discovered, though, was this new blank canvas presented me with what exactly what I needed.  I took my brush and promptly started to rearrange my life. While here I decided that I would work out every day, that I would eat healthier, and make an effort to change for the better. This was a task I had told myself I would conquer many times in the states, yet each fizzled out with distractions and lack of motivation.  But something is different here. The Chinese students and their lifestyle were much healthier than that of American students. They are presented with almost an hour every day at lunch to just run and play sports on the wide courtyard. And every meal was cooked with less oil and more vegetables, rarely have I seen fried food at lunch or dinner and the amount of junk food served at lunch is close to none.

    The other exchange students and I scouted out Jingshan’s massive gym facilities. They provided us with bikes, weights, mats, rowing machines and anything we needed. Immediately, we began our daily workouts. I found it much easier to commit with a group of friends all sharing the same goal, each one just as determined to leave the Middle Kingdom better than they arrived. I discovered that this trip was not only a place to learn, but also a place to change.  I forced myself to eat healthier as well. I’m thankful for the massive shift, because I think without it I would never have taken the initiative.

    Not only physical care but also linguistic. While here we took the chance to speak as much Chinese as possible, and the changes were evident. Forcing myself to use as much of the language as I could is slowly shaping my understanding of conversational mandarin. When everyone around you can speak and is willing to speak to you, your motivation is immediately boosted.  The way the Chinese students take foreigners helps a lot. They love talking to us and are always happy to hear and correct our Chinese. The Environment is too supportive to not grow in.  

    But the people who help me the most are my host parents. They use little if any English and always try an engage me in as much conversation as possible. This new circumstance pushes me to work harder on everything from my vocabulary to my grammar. I am positive that if not for the situation I were in, I would never use or hear the amount of Chinese I do. I learned that it is easier to change when the environment around you supports you. By being in the new country I am wiling to make changes I never would have at home, and keep them sustained because everyday I am reminded that this new place is my chance. 

    Claire Mendelsohn Journal Entry #4

    Hello to anyone who is reading this! I hope you have had a wonderful day, and if it hasn’t officially started yet I sincerely wish that it is great. Another day has come for me to tell about the differences I have discovered between American and Chinese culture. In this journal entry I will talk about family structures and dynamics.

    To start things off I would like to say that pinpointing and defining an average American family is very hard. Due to the massive variety of races and cultures the melting pot is in fact large, bringing all of these traditions and family values together in this one country. The pot is so large that and so flavorful that one cannot simply answer what the average American family is like without giving it a second thought.

    So, now in perspective, what exactly is the average family like? If thinking in only stereotypes, it is the loud, obese, white family who eats barbequed meat for every meal with the side of something fried. They eat this meal with the help of cola and beer, and talk about the spirit of America and how good it is to be ‘free’. But that is thinking stereotypically. If you were to be thinking more modernly and open mindedly, throw in the new acceptance of gay marriage and the LGBTQ community, and now not only do we have race and culture but sexual orientation and gender identity; like said before, it might take a little more time before answering.

     As for China, in my own opinion, I can’t say it’s the same. Since China is such a homogenous country, family dynamics tend to be very similar and easier to define and describe. To my knowledge, the Chinese feel very strongly about tradition and passing it on generation from generation. Of course not every single family is like this; I’m sure there are many families, including mine, which could prove my thoughts wrong.  It would be wrong to assume that every single family was exactly the same without hard evidence. Though, something I have seen very often is that a young child will spend a lot of time with, not their parents, but their grandparents. I know that in China that it isn’t unusual for grandparents to live in the same house as their grandchildren. I think it might be due to how expensive it is to buy or rent apartments because of the limited space. Also, on a news program that my host mother likes, they were talking about how China did not have enough doctors to take care of the elderly so it was left in the children’s hands. Factoring familial piety and financial cost, it isn’t out of the normal for the grandparents to be living in the house. As in American, the norm is for the grandparents living in an enclosed community, assisted living, or just on their own. I see it that Americans are used to their independence, so when we grown old and lose the ability to live independently we become stubborn and insist on living separately, one way or another. In China, the grandparents are in a way glad. They see it as their child repaying them for raising and nurturing them, so they can finally relax a little.

    I could go on and on about this topic but this journal entry has already gotten a little long for my liking, so until next time.

    Claire Mendelsohn  Journal Entry #3

     

    Now that I have officially started school I have come to the realization that Chinese and American schools are more different that I originally thought them to be. There are so many differences that if I were to try and write about all of them in depth, this journal entry would turn into, at the very least, a six page essay. Since this is only a journal entry, I will only talk about three.

     

    The first difference I will talk about is morning routine. Oh boy. So, Jingshan doesn’t start until 7:15, which isn’t so bad. That’s only fifteen or thirty minutes earlier when compared the Newton North High School. That isn’t the actual problem; it’s getting to school. What could possibly be so bad? The traffic. Beijing traffic is absolutely horrible. It can turn a ten or fifteen minute drive into thirty or forty. It takes me forty-five to fifty minutes to get to school. So, doing the math I have to wake up at six in the morning, but don’t forget breakfast. So subtracting another twenty minutes from my sleep schedule, I am up at 5:40 AM, and my most favorite thing in the whole world is starting my day when it’s still completely dark outside (sarcasm). In America I could wake up five minutes before leaving the house and be at school in another five. I never realized how blessed I was.

     

    I am not a fan of gym class. Not in America, and not in China. In America, you run around the track once and play games, pretty laid back. Besides the standard boundaries of, “include everyone” and “play fair and safe”, there aren’t a ton of rules or restrictions.  In China, the boys and girls are separated by gender, and slowly jog laps around the track. The ladies jog three laps, and the guys run four. After running or jogging, the students have to line up, by gender, and learn how to march.  So, it wasn’t as laid back as American gym classes, due to the strong gender separation and uniform marching, but it was a lot less physical effort. At least during the games played in American gym classes, I am constantly running around to avoid getting hit in the face by said ball. The point is that I think American and Chinese gym classes are two ends of a spectrum and can’t really be compared. Both, in perspective, are extreme and there should be an in-between. A class where there is structure and rules, so the students aren’t completely left on their own to decide, but they can still enjoy a game with friends and classmates.

     

    The third difference that I will talk about is school lunch. There isn’t a whole lot to say really. American school lunches look putrid, but they taste better than Chinese lunches. I don’t think Chinese lunches are bad; they are just- disappointing. They look and smell absolutely wonderful and delicious. Generally when it reaches lunchtime I am starving. So when I smell all of this amazing looking Chinese food I get excited, very excited. Then all of my excitement is shattered by the first bite. It’s not bad, just bland. For something that looks and smells great, the taste is disappointingly bland. It’s the opposite for American school lunch, which looks disgusting and lowers your expectations. So when you take a bite of it, you are surprised by an acceptable flavor. These are a few of the many differences I found between Chinese and American Schools.

     

    Natalie Bohm 2/24/16

     

                Welcome back to Mythbusters: China Edition! We hope you’ve had a good Spring Festival. Let’s get right to it! We’ve got two new stereotypes for you today to address (this still sounds awkward), starting with Myth(?) #7.

     

    7. Nobody in China Talks About China’s Political Ideology: MYTH. If you’re like me and are interested in different forms of government, China isn’t the most hospitable place to pursue your interests: no First Amendment rights are guaranteed here. However, there certainly are people around willing to talk about communism and China’s policies – imprisonment of journalists and lack of public involvement in the political process – that may seem questionable to Westerners. For instance, a student (who shall remain unnamed) had an extensive conversation with me about Tibet and whether or not China should grant it autonomy. I think these are conversations worth having, and they are a large part of why I wanted to come to China in the first place. Now don’t get me wrong: be careful. Freedom of speech is not guaranteed in China. But if you want to talk politics and you test the waters carefully enough, there’s nothing stopping you from an interesting conversation. Some Chinese young people even want to have these conversations with you, as I learned recently. A student came up to me today and asked me (in perfect English) what I thought about Chinese collectivism, with some follow-ups on my thoughts about the highly structured Chinese school day and content. To be honest, I don’t quite know what to think of that; it’s a question I didn’t think I would get asked in China. Next time - if there is a next time - I won’t get caught off guard like that. This particular encounter reminded me that censorship can? only extends so far, and even if the press is controlled by the CCP, no government can stop every political discussion from happening. Furthermore, it also reminded me that just because I can’t always say what I think about the ideological differences between the US and China, for fear of causing an international crisis, it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be thinking hard about them.

     

    8. Chinese School is Soul-Crushing: FACT. I mean, it’s not so terrible in the grand scheme of things; Beijing Jingshan School certainly provides a top-notch education. I’m just saying it’s a little stricter… a lot stricter than the Newton Public Schools. First of all, you’re expected to be there before 7:15, which for me means I have to wake up at 5:50 a.m. every day. If you’d asked me in America what a really rough school experience would be like, I would have told you “an extremely early start time” and stopped right there. But no, I’m in China now, which means it’s not just the bleary-eyed mornings (that you have to get use to); you also get to go out in the freezing cold for morning exercises, then come back in and take class after class in unchanging lecture style. Here your break for lunch is an hour long, which seems like a redeeming factor. Then you realize that not only can you not leave campus, but you are also required by school rules to purchase the school lunch and not bring your own from home unless you have a medical dietary restriction. The earliest school ends is 3:00; the latest is around 5:00. The American exchange students get to split the difference and get out at 4:00 every day. Oh, and by the way, you have to wear the same uniform every day (which you also have to purchase), and any embellishments - high heels, jewelry, makeup, hats, etc. - are forbidden. Boys must all get the same haircut, which happens to be a military-style buzz, and girls must either have short hair or tie it back. Intended or not, if that’s not systematic suppression of individual expression, then I don’t know what is.

     

    That does it for us tonight, folks. We’ll be back two weeks from now with more exciting mythbusting!

     

     

    Sally Jenks 2/25/16 Journal #3

     

    After being in China for an entire month, I feel as though isolating one thing I have learned would be insufficient; so instead, I would like to make a list of the 5 things I have learned? that truly caught me off guard. The following list is entitled: 5 answers to questions I never even thought to ask. (These are the answers, not the questions.)

     

    1.    Fur is not a global hot commodity

    Before coming to China I lived by the casual assumption that fur was either worn by the elderly Manhattan elite or mob wives. I believed that this display of opulence was globally recognized, but I could not have been more wrong.  In China, everyone and their 6 month old daughter is adorned in some type of fur. Whether it is lining the hood of a parka or a full length mink, fur is inescapable. While this was an initial shock, I quickly remembered that China and America have polarizing approaches to environmental protection, and I highly doubt China has any organization parallel to PETA. This is a microcosm for the lack of awareness and impassivity, which explains the basis of China’s environmental crisis.

    2.    90% of Chinese reality TV is dominated by the same five people.

    The lack of diversity in Hollywood has become a hot topic in recent years, but it is nothing compared to Chinese primetime TV. Obviously, China is a much more homogenous nation, but with a billion people one would think it would be possible to create a different cast for each reality show.  But no, every night at around 6 when my host family flips through the channels the shows change, yet the same 5 or 6 actors appear.  They are all men, in their late 20’s and mid 30’s. on CCTV 4 they might be doing a game show, on CCTV 5 they could be judging a game show, and on CCTV 6 they are hosting a talk show. These men are everywhere, and they have taught me there is no upper limit to job security.  China is not world renown for its entertainment industry; so, in this case, it seems like they have found an equation that works and stuck to it, rather than taking any creative risks. 

    3.    Turn signals are a useless invention

    Even though Boston drivers are notorious for forgetting this helpful device, Beijing drivers prove that giving any indication of direction is simply way too much information. Because of this I now know that every moment is precious, and life can be taken away a the blink of an eye. Also, nobody wears a seatbelt so every time a person enters a vehicle they put their lives in the hands of fate.  Putting that much faith in the universe is truly a unique and beautiful ability and one I have not yet achieved. 

    4.    There are a million ways to serve peanuts and disregard the “butter”

    In America, I was prefaced on the lack of peanut butter in China, so I came prepared with a jar of Skippy.  What I later found out was there is definitely no shortage of peanuts. In almost every dish peanuts make an appearance.  They are the flaky center of a candy, they add some sweetness to Kung Pao Chicken, they congregate in a bowl as an appetizer, and I've even had them tossed in with cabbage. The lesson I learned from this is that one person’s way of doing something is usually not the only way, or even the best way, despite what that person may think.  This shocking experience has taught me to become more open and experimental, and not alway hire the same 5 actors when I am directing a reality CCTV show.

    5.    The debate “which is stronger: a million lions or the sun” is inexhaustible

    It seems like a silly question because everyone knows the sun is huge, but then again, you could be underestimating a million lions. This was a question my friend heard two boys ruminating over during the summer. I initially took it as a joke that two people could actually argue seriously over something as absurd as this question, but when I introduced it to the group on our recent trip to Xi’an, it turned into a heated argument that has still not fully been resolved.

                **5B. Case in point: “No. This has never been a debate. It is the sun. Mass of a Lion = 190 kg, therefore the mass of 1,000,000 lions is 1.9 kg x 10^8.  Mass of Sun = 2.0 kg x 10^30. This is a blowout by historic proportions.”- Matt

    “But what if these lions are running? The high velocity and the lion’s exertion would generate more energy, mass isn't the only factor”-Sally

     

    Ying Ying Rossi 2/25/16  Debunking a Myth


    “Aw...Did you over­achiever­fail or did you Chinese­fail?” Back in 7th grade, my friends and I would use these two terms to refer to how bad we scored on a test or essay. However, we never genuinely did poorly on exams. We simply used these terms to indicate what kind of grade we got. Naturally, according to the stereotype of the Smart Asian, Chinese­failing meant you got an A­, which is actually a pretty decent grade. Whereas over­achiever­failing included a B of some sort, so it was worse than a Chinese­fail. Ranking the intellect (intellect or academic success as measured by scores?) of a Chinese student over that of an over­achiever follows the notion that: all Chinese people are super studious, caring only about academics. On the contrary, since I’ve started attending Jingshan, I’ve seen multiple people that are as far from this stereotype as possible.

    On my first day of school in China, I was surprised to learn that there were many students who were not very attentive during class. From my seat in the back row, there’s a fantastic view of all the students. I can see practically everyone. I watched as the guy in front of me streamed movies on his phone that was hidden in his desk. Minutes later, my gaze landed on a student who had fallen asleep against a window while the teacher was lecturing. Following that, I witnessed two girls having a conversation during a powerpoint. On the walk home, I questioned Melody on this subject. She informed me that if a student wasn’t pulling good grades, or simply found the lesson boring, they might read a book, zone out, or take a nap. I knew, even back in America, that not all Chinese students strived to attain knowledge. Regardless of this, I felt that at such a prestigious, government run school, the amount of slackers would be slim to none. On the contrary, the truth of the matter is that with any racial group, including Chinese, there will be both kids who love to learn, and kids who take it far less seriously.

    Furthermore, the smart Chinese stereotype extends to adults as well. Most would assume that the vast majority of teachers in China center their focus solely on education and testing. However, in addition to having students for whom learning may not have necessarily been their first priority, there were also some teachers who put a larger focus on the students themselves. Just the other day, Melody introduced me to one of her teachers and his daughter. He was genuinely happy to see Melody, laughing with her when we noticed that his daughter, who was in elementary school, was taller than us. Another teacher from a class that I shadowed, went  out of her way to talk to me when the rest of the class was busy. She commented on my braids, and then struck up a conversation about my Chinese appearance. In both of these experiences, I found the teachers to be more personable than expected. If one were to think about a teacher in China, he or she would most likely envision a strict old woman, yelling out commands and passing out tests. Meanwhile, this “push your academic boundaries until you break” attitude is just as frequent as here as it is in American schools. Here there are teachers, just like in any other school, that are very education oriented. – what do you mean by education based? Tests? However, there were also many who put sociability over, or at least on an even plane to, academics.

    Education is a virtue that is relished by people of all cultures. China is no exception. There are countless people in this country who deeply value this privilege. Contrasting this, there are also many people who do not see learning the same in the same light. Awkward. These are the people who value social interactions more. These are the people who watch videos when they should be paying attention. These are the people who take a power nap when they feel don’t feel like being attentive. There are an array of different outlooks on academics; and therefore, it is not right to choose one to assign to a group of people since there is no one opinion that makes up the  population.

    Emily Hogan February 25, 2016

    Journal Entry #3: Reaction to an Event

     

                So far I’ve only spent a few days at the Jingshan School, but I still think the Flag Raising ceremony on my first day of school will be one of my biggest memories from school. This event was not just a first for me; it was the first flag raising ceremony of the new term welcoming students back to school after a well-deserved vacation (if you ask me). When we first entered the auditorium, we were standing against the wall closest to the doors, waiting curiously; ready to observe. In front of me were lines of students. As far as I could tell, there were two lines of students for each class and one “head student” representing the class. (I later learned this student is chosen by a collective decision of the whole class.) The “head student” was facing their classmates, while the two lines of students were facing the stage. Everyone was respectfully silent as later classes walked in through the door following suit. It was a very interesting sight to see over a hundred people standing in straight lines, hands to their sides and chin held up proud. However, next thing I knew I was stepping away from the radiators and forming my own line with my fellow American students. I never realized how fidgety and clumsy I was until I was forced to stand still and silent. This was especially difficult because I was trying my best to do what the other Jingshan students were doing. I must have looked weird twisting my head around trying to see what to do as everyone around me was standing still.

    I was able to manage the formation well, but in the next part of the ceremony I was completely lost. After a short speech from a Jingshan high school student, we were all conducted in singing the Chinese National Anthem and the song for Jingshan school. Hopefully by the end of my stay I will be able to know a little bit of one of the songs from our future flag raising ceremonies, but I can’t make any promises. However, until that day, I have no idea how to sing either, so instead I was left staying in formation looking ahead. When everyone was singing, I could occasionally hear individual loud voices of some of the Jingshan teachers to my right. Let’s just say they weren’t always in tune. 

    I think this flag ceremony displayed one of the biggest differences between schools in China and schools in America. For example, although I’m a little sad to admit it, I don’t think Newton North High School would be able to pull this off. Even when we are sitting in chairs in the theater listening to a guest speaker or having a meeting with our housemaster, there are a good amount of students playing on their phones, listening to music or just plain not paying attention (Why does that happen at NNHS but not Jingshan?) Being used to this sort of situation back at home, during the flag raising ceremony I was pretty much in awe. For me this really drove home that people need to be the most respectful they can be when put in a new situation, especially when they’re not quite sure how to act. Follow the people around you. Stay calm and go with the flow.

     

    Michael Lee 2/25/15  Stereotypes 

         Stereotypes have always been a large and unfortunate part of humanity.  It is impossible to avoid them in our daily life.  Everyone has experiences with stereotypes, whether it's promoting one or being the subject of one.  China and Chinese people have numerous stereotypes that are put upon them.  One of the most common stereotypes is that Chinese students are extremely studious.  In multiple media forms, Chinese students are always shown to only be focusing on their schoolwork.  It gives the image that a Chinese student's life revolves around their academic performance, and that every minute of their life is devoted to doing educational work.  After spending a couple days in the Jingshan school, I have noticed that this stereotype is completely false.  The students' work ethic at home and in the classroom prove that the stereotype of a Chinese student is simply wrong.

         An obvious side effect of living with my host student is noticing his work habits at home.  During their Spring Festival vacation, my host student was assigned a ton of homework in almost all of his classes.  Now, already this appears to fit the stereotype of a constantly working student.  However, my host student procrastinated on his homework nearly everyday.  Back in Newton, I procrastinate constantly, and I know a lot of my friends do also. Everybody in the world has probably had experience with procrastination. However, many people assume that, in China, students are always working on their academics and never procrastinate or make time for enjoyment.  On the contrary, my host student was constantly playing computer games, instead of working on his homework.  Almost everyday during the Spring Festival, he would start his homework at around 8 pm and continue late into the night.  There were a couple times when his friends came over to do homework as a group, but they spent more time playing games or chatting.  The day before all this homework was due, my host student and his friends were out almost the whole day playing a tag game.  He then came home and spent the rest of the night rushing to finish his homework. He didn't even finish and was still rushing to complete his homework in class. I noticed a large handful of kids were also finishing their homework in class, something seen in American students as well.  This late night work habit also carried on into the regular school week.  The work routine displayed by my host student at home shows that the stereotype of Chinese students only focusing on academics is completely absurd.

         After spending just three days at Jingshan, I noticed even more activity in the classroom that further disproves the Chinese student stereotype.  While I sat in on my host student's classes, I observed multiple students simply doodling or doing other work.  It should be noted that all this activity was happening while the teacher was teaching. In America, these actions would result in some discontentment from the teacher.  However, these Jingshan students constantly did it without any consequences.  Some were also chatting with each other during the teacher's lesson. It was clear that the chat was for entertainment and not for educational clarification. However, I think the biggest shock was seeing how many students slept during the class. Based on the stereotype, these students should be giving complete attention to their teacher.  They should be actively focused and participating in the class. In no way does a sleeping student promote the stereotype.  In nearly every class, I could point out at least one, different student who was sleeping.  These students were also met with no direct consequences.  In America, teachers do not accept sleeping in their class, and many would be quick to hand out a punishment.  However, that doesn't prevent American students from still dozing-off in class, similar to some of the Jingshan students.  With these observations, it's clear that the in-class, work habits of the Jingshan students do not correlate with the Chinese student stereotype.

         In conclusion, the stereotype that Chinese students are perfect, studious scholars is completely false.  I have observed behavior in the Jingshan students that is seen in students all across the world.  I have witnessed many students at Newton North who exhibit similar conduct and work habits.  A lot of Chinese students have almost identical behavior as any other student in the world.  I am not trying to demote the success or hard work of any students.  My point is that the stereotype of Chinese students giving up their lives to academics is a wrong belief to have. 

     

    Sheil Mehta – 2/25/16

                      I’ve always taken it upon myself to defend the millennial generation when it came to the use of technology. People like to jump on and say we are absent minded, and that our phones obstruct our social ability.  The older generations like to say that modern society has become detached, in the sense that we no longer talk to one another. In the U.S., it would have taken me all of three seconds to shoot this argument down. I would confidently proclaim that we are not using our phones as substitutes for social interaction, but instead to communicate more. That we use it to talk to loved ones in situations where it was never possible before. We hold conversations over texts that are just as meaningful as ones we speak. Simply adding another tool on the belt of social interaction. 

                      But after spending a month in Beijing I started to notice something shockingly different. I was no longer able to defend or represent the same demographic. I remember vividly sitting at a dinner table lined with Isaac and his friends. I distinctly recall looking around, each person absent-mindedly eating while their phones were held up to their faces. Each one was playing some game, or texting another friend with pictures of the food that was fossilizing into the plates. I truly felt compelled to shout or wave my hands. Once in a while they would compare high scores or take a break to drink some water, but otherwise they seemed lost. It’s common here, and it seems almost dystopian at times, in the sense that meals can be silent and distant one-worded responses can constitute a conversation.

                      This is not to say that everyone is like this, or that it has ruined my experience in anyway. It is mainly a comment on the students my age. The kids my age are the ones who I notice this trait in most. I have a theory about this. To begin with, the culture of the school they go to. Because Jingshan takes in students from all over the large Beijing district, students are not as close to each other and in turn have less group social activities. This is contradictory to my social life in Newton where I can send a text and show up to a friend’s house within an hour any weekend. Because of this, I believe they have needed to find a way to entertain themselves, and without siblings that can be hard. I feel it is used as a crutch here, a way to be with people without the stress of actually finding the words to say to them. The theory was proved in my mind whilst waiting on the subway and finding almost everyone around me in his or her own bubble. They were secluded into the worlds their respective apps provided.

                      I believe this trip gave me an insight into what people fear the worst outcome to the technological boom is. And I also believe that from it I have begun to be more self aware of how I spend my time with others. Through seeing the collective introversion, I now stop myself when I feel the urge to check Instagram while someone is talking. Our ability to hold conversation is a part of what makes us human, and I’m glad that I was able to come to this realization before it was too late. 

     
    Claire Mendelsohn      Journal Entry #2

    During the short time that I have lived here in China I have noticed quite a few cultural differences between the Chinese and Americans. Despite there being a numerous amount of differences, there are a specific three that really stand out to me. The first one is, toilets. It is a little difficult to not notice the difference between Chinese and American public restrooms. American public restrooms have your average (or at least what we westerners consider to be the average) sitting toilets. Each bathroom stall will have its own roll of toilet paper and each sink has its own soap dispenser. This is usually not the case for China. Chinese public bathrooms have toilets that are, in a way, just holes in the ground. It is not like China does not have sitting toilets, they do, but they are just uncommon. The stalls do not have toilet paper in them; or at least I have never seen it. On occasion there will be a roll of toilet paper when you first enter the bathroom, you'll just take the amount you need.* Although to be safe, rather than sorry, one should have a small pack of tissues handy. The same thing applies for hand soap. The bathroom doesn't always have hand soap, and if it does there are only one or two dispensers, one on each end of the line of sinks. It is suggested that you carry hand sanitizer unless you are okay with just water. 

    Another major cultural difference that I noticed while staying in China is when ordering food when eating out at a restaurant with a group of people.* In China, the norm is to order a bunch of food for the whole group to share. Generally, once the food is ordered, it will come out quickly; with not much wait time between dishes. Dish after dish will come out and be placed on the lazy Susan at center of the table. Once placed in the center, everyone can at least try each food. As for ordering food in America, it is a bit different. When going to eat out with a group of people in America, everyone usually orders a dish that they like and will probably eat on their own. They might share a bite with one another if they are feeling generous, or if they don't like it. In China, if the group is big enough, everyone will split the tab. At least that is what happens when I go out to eat with the other students. I am not sure about what the adults do. In America, after eating, usually one person will pick up the tab.

    The third difference that stuck out to me was how adults dressed. In America, people in their thirties and forties are (expected?) to dress more sophisticatedly and more maturely than people who are in their teens and twenties. An unsaid fashion rule in America is that once you pass the age of ten or twelve you shouldn't wear 'cutesy' or 'childish' clothing. Here in China that rule is completely disregarded. I have seen women well into their late forties that wear pink flowers and bows in their hair; women who wear fluffy jackets with animal ears on the hood. There are elderly men that are wearing flat-rimmed hats with graphic tees. In China, age doesn't really matter; people just wear what they want. These were the most 'eye-catching' differences that I have noticed while living in China.

    Ying Ying Rossi 2/11/16 

    Parallels to Experiences


    You can’t judge a book by its cover. I have heard this statement countless times before, and I’m sure you have as well. The reason why it is so necessary to say again for you right now is because it is highly applicable to people and societies. From at first glance, you notice all the differences between our lives and theirs. For example, how they have different customs and habits, alternate ways of life. However, if you were to take a closer look, you would also notice how remarkably similar everyone is. We all share innate characteristics when presented in social situations, no matter where we live.

    Anywhere you go, children all have the same image as a carefree package of happiness. The day of New Year’s Eve, Liu Chenyu, the little girl from across the hall, came to visit. She was a nine­year­old endless supply of energy, bouncing off the walls as soon as she stepped foot into the house. As Melody, her father, and I stuck various decorations on walls and doors, she would burst into random rooms like she owned the place, inspecting everything in reach. It was not that she was rude or nosy. She was simply, like all other children, curious. When the decorating was complete, she took Melody and me by the hand and dragged us over to her apartment. She gave us a tour of her house, showing us her room and desk, her drawings of fairies and princesses, and her basket of toys. Then, she pulled us to a separate room where we were to play various games with her. Her eagerness to both interact and make new friends is something I can say for children I know back in America, and is not limited to China.

    I actually was shocked at the games we had played with her; they were all games that I already knew how to play from America. Being around Liu Chenyu made me feel as if I were still nine years old myself, back in Newton, having a playdate with a friend. Besides hide and go seek and rock paper scissors shoot, the childhood classics, there were two other games familiar to me. The one that I found most surprising was one that I had just recently learned over Christmas break. My cousins from New Jersey were playing it after dinner one night and taught it to us. I found it amazing that this little girl, and the rest of her generation, were playing the same games as my cousins back at home. Especially the fact that they know how to play a game that I had just recently learned, myself. I suppose that’s just how it works. Someone brings it from one country to another and starts playing it at their school. Then someone from that school teaches it to a friend who doesn’t know it; the cycle just keeps going around. Who knows where it really originated: China, America, or even some other country? Although, in a way, it doesn’t really matter. What’s really significant is that no matter where you are, socializing through games is a form of stimulation that everyone can relate to, and how through this, the games you play are passed all around the world.

    Furthermore, the other night, Melody’s family took me to a section of Beijing where they used to live called Huai Rou. There, we had dinner at Melody’s old friend’s house. Just as if we were in America, when dinner was finished, the little kids sat on the couch to watch TV, the adults drank wine and laughed, and the three of us, Melody, her friend, and I, went to another room to hang out by ourselves. Although much of the conversation went soaring over my head, the bits and pieces that I picked up on, in addition to what Melody had translated for me, were similar to what I might sit down and talk to my friends about. They covered topics like schools, annoying teachers, cute boys, and good music. They got grossed out together about the sub­par bathroom situation at Melody’s friend’s school, discussed TF Boys, a popular boy band here in China, and rocked out to Avril Lavigne. Additionally, I’m pretty sure I heard them ogling over some cute tall guy who plays basketball. In a way, it kind of made me miss being around my friends at home, where I could talk to them for hours about trivial things. In the end, no matter where we or what we look like, we are all similar, connected simply by our shared instincts when put in social situations.

    Sheil - Journal Entry #2 - Comparing/contrasting cultures

    I slipped out of bed with the jet lag still hiding in the bags under my eyes. Five hours of sleep was decent but I could’ve done with more. As I walked into the sitting area, I was met with the sights and sounds of my host family. Around me were the sounds of laughing and the clicking of chopsticks on bowls. The next sound I heard was an exclamation of fear, “Ni de touxie zai na er?” my host mother called. It Took me a second, but I realized she was asking about my slippers, the little brown and black flip-flops that were presented to me upon arrival, and why I wasn’t wearing them. What I had yet to understand was that she was genuinely worried. She truly believed that if I walked around on their floors barefoot I would catch a fever from exposure to the cold wood. Back home my family never wears shoes in the house, so this took a while to stick, but eventually I got into the habit. I noticed one by one that all around me were little cultural differences that I needed to adapt to.

    The slippers weren’t the only things that came as a surprise to me. Along with them, I was draped in multiple coats daily to protect me from the cold whenever I ventured outside. I observed among not only my family, but others also, a distinct over-protection. It took me a while to get used to all the new precautions, but I accepted them knowing they were coming from a place of concern and care. Along with the clothing, water was a huge change. The very idea of what constitutes a refreshing beverage is challenged when you come back from a day of touring the city on foot in the sun and are given boiling water. Cold or iced water is not the drink of choice here, and within days I was craving it. There’s a distinct cultural difference in the way they could swear on the medicinal value and everyday necessity of boiling water.

                I’ve since taken to accepting the ways and requests of my host family. I understand it must be a vital part of the exchange experience. What good is it living in China if I don’t live like the Chinese? Although I have yet to succumb to putting ketchup on my pizza, I feel I have almost completely embraced the lifestyle. I start each morning with dropping dumplings and glancing around to see if anyone saw me before I attempt to shovel it back in, and end it with a similar routine but with noodles. Yet, I never ask for a fork or knife, always stumbling around with my chopsticks in an effort to fully take part in their lifestyle.  I think it’s important to learn about a culture’s nuances and differences, especially in our current state of affairs. Everywhere you look there is hate and racism, systemic aggression and lack of understanding life styles that don’t mirror their own. But by truly living and experiencing it I think we gain an understanding and empathy for other ways of life. Even the smallest things like the hot water have their place in a culture and by experiencing all the small changes you can learn to be more accepting of it as a whole. And that’s why I drank the strange tasting liquid presented to me when I was caught coughing, why I ate the traditional cow stomach despite my stomach’s request (it did end up tasting great), and its why every morning I stumble out of bed and slip on those black and brown slippers. 

    Michael Lee– Reflection #2      

    The first two weeks in China have proven to already be a valuable learning experience.  We arrived as preparations began for the Spring Festival, 春节. The Spring Festival marks the beginning of the new lunar year and is a major part of Chinese culture.  Although I have learned a bit about the Spring Festival in school, there is no better way to learn than to experience it yourself.  Over the past week, I have learned many things in regards to the Spring Festival.
                   First, food has a major role in the Spring Festival.  Some foods in American can often be associated with American holidays, and the same can be said for the Spring Festival.  It would seem that a large staple in the Spring Festival are the dumplings.  For about four days leading up to Spring Festival, my host family and I would prepare dumplings and bean paste buns.  The night before Spring Festival, we spent a lot of time cooking multiple pans of dumplings.  However, these dumplings were different, because inside three of them was a piece of candy.  My host mother, who had placed the three candies, explained to me that it was part of the tradition.  It is believed that people who find a candy are granted with good luck in the upcoming new year.  So, not only did I learn how to prepare food, but I also learned about a cool Spring Festival tradition that resides in the food.
                   Secondly, I learned that fireworks and firecrackers have just as big of a role in the Spring Festival as the food.  For about a week leading up to the Spring Festival, firecrackers and fireworks could be heard often.  As Spring Festival got closer, they became more frequent.  I got the chance to try out some of the firecrackers.  I was safe of course and it became a lot of fun.  There was such a wide variety of firecrackers and sparklers as well.  Both children and adults were playing with and using them.  Everywhere I would go, people would be setting off some sort of firecracker.  The night before the Spring Festival, the streets were alive with the noise and lights of fireworks and firecrackers dancing in the dark.  It was truly an awe-inspiring sight to watch and participate in another culture's celebration of such an important event.  From it, I learned that these fireworks and firecrackers really are a large part of the Spring Festival culture.
                   Finally, I learned about the role of the family during the Spring Festival.  I was lucky enough to spend the week and a half leading up to the Spring Festival in my host sibling's hometown, Baotou (包头).  We stayed in his grandparents' apartment and his aunt and uncle would visit everyday.  Everyone in the family would pitch in to help and were very sincere and kind to each other as well.  Everyone would be cleaning, and nobody complained about it either.  Everyday, almost everybody would be in the kitchen helping prepare the meals.  When it came to decorations, there was no shortage on help there either.  I  got to help decorate the apartment and the scenery outside along with them.  In the last few dinners leading up to the Spring Festival, everyone would go around and say a couple words of gratitude to everyone else at the table.  Mine was a bit short, but I worked my best to still convey the same message. The rest of the family had much more to say, and it would seem like they had written pages of this and memorized  it.  It was endearing to see all this affection people had for each other.  They were all cooperative and supportive of each other.  Obviously, this isn't an abnormal thing, but it seemed to be magnified under the scope of the Spring Festival.  Overall, I learned that the family is the driving force behind the Spring Festival.  Many things would not have happened during the Spring Festival if it were not for family.
                   These were just a few things I learned from the Spring Festival.  I look forward to learning more about Chinese culture as I continue my time here. 

     

    Sally Jenks - Journal 2

                This week my host family took me on a mini road trip to see various historic chinese sights.  I initially thought this would be insignificant. In America my family has taken many road trips and while they are my favorite kind of vacation, i’m not easily impressed. So I was prepared to have a good time, but not for the culture shock that greeted me.

                I was not affected by each destination, although I saw beautiful historic and preserved towns and temples, which gave a unique view into the mystical China depicted in Kung Fu Panda or Sagwa: the Chinese Siamese Cat, but rather what I saw in between.

                As we left Beijing, I was immediately struck by the emptiness that replaced the high rise apartments and endless shops. The barren landscape scattered sparsely with naked trees clouded by heavy fog seemed almost apocalyptic. For four hours this eerie backdrop was interrupted only by crumbling stone villages and dirt roads. Then, just as quickly as we entered this no man’s land, we were through the gates of another city almost as bustling as Beijing.

                I took this polarizing drive as an anomaly, not thinking much of it the first day. However, the moment we left the city in the opposite direction the next day, all signs of life disappeared again, replaced now by vast mountain ranges. And on the next day, the dirt roads went all the way into the center of the city, only to be replaced by a Nike store and about ten Pizza Huts. 

                The long drives gave me a lot of time to think about my contrasting surroundings and soon I realized that this contrast was not strange but fitting. China has made an astonishingly quick emergence as one of the most industrialized nations, but if 9th grade history taught me anything, it was that before the period of exponential growth, China’s isolationism resulted in recycling a way of life that was thousands of years old. This almost unnatural growth following almost unnatural stagnancy is naturally reflected in the landscape of China, showing both the incredibly advanced cities, and the untouched countryside. 

                My shock came from the misconception that so much of America has. We see China as such force, that we forget it is still a third world country.  My understanding of China encapsulated only the part that concerned me and those around me, so it wasn't until this week that I was even aware of how much of the country remains untouched by even the twentieth century. 

                This road trip made me realize that it is not China incredible growth that makes it such a special place, but the fact that it is able to sustain two opposing and completely separate lifestyles.  It is a true example of two extremes, as I sit in an modern apartment in a community of 300,000, and only two nights ago was I sleeping in a room in a traditional chinese village, which, with a few exceptions, remained virtually untouched for hundreds of years.

     Emily Hogan - Journal Entry #2

      Every Fourth of July, my family and I meet our friends at Dorchester Heights and watch the fireworks pop into color from a distance while all the kids run around the park playing “Man Hunt”. The fireworks are loud for sure, but not in the ear-splitting sort of way. They wheeze, whine, spit and sparkle before our eyes. To me, these are what fireworks are, so when I was told about all the fireworks I was going to see on Chinese New Year I thought I knew what I was getting into. But no.

     I’ve recently become aware that I’ve never quite experienced fireworks until February 7, 2016. I’m guessing this is mainly because I’ve never been as close to a colorful ball of fire shooting into the air as I was on Lunar New Year’s Eve night. My host  family lives within the second ring of Beijing in between tight hutongs, so we didn’t buy any fireworks or sparklers for ourselves. Starting hours before midnight, I could hear fireworks shooting up from the ground like gunshots. The sound echoed through the walls of our ground level house and shocked me; I jumped in my chair becoming wide-eyed and alert. After I realized this was a sound I was going to be hearing regularly for the next three or four day, I got used to it. The constant popping became a background noise to the TV showing a New Year’s special. Together my family and I watched skits, comedy acts and songs. All featuring famous Chinese and Korean stars. It almost felt like I was back in America watching the live viewing from Times Square on the last day of December. But not quite. I have to admit the Chinese New Year’s special is put together much better than than Times square. The audience is warm for one thing. They’re sitting indoors in red theater seats. Besides the comfort level difference, there was also more of a variety of performances. There were comedy acts, Beijing opera performances and of course famous singers and music artists.

     Later on, at nine minutes until midnight my family took me outside so we could see the fireworks when the clock struck twelve. Even when I was outside the building, I think I heard more fireworks than I actually saw. We were standing in the courtyard around which the apartment buildings stand. In between the cracks of buildings I saw fireworks erupting into the air; they shouted and spit fire towards my face like fuming dragons. When I wasn’t busy taking a video I stuffed my fingers in my ears. To my right, directly in front of the gate and in the middle of the hutong was a firecracker going off like one I’d never seen before. It was shooting bullets of light into the sky. They didn’t even bud when they reached the sky. They were just there to make noise; to celebrate. Each time a bullet was released there was a flash of light that lit up the whole courtyard. It was so big you would have thought it was 12:00 in the afternoon not 12:00 at night. It was like the sky was taking a picture of us; wanting to save the moment until next year.

     Natalie Bohm - Journal Entry 2/9/16 

    Aaaaand we’re back with Mythbusters: China Edition, live from Beijing! We got a busy program tonight folks, so let’s get right to it. We left off last week with Myth(?) #4, so let’s start today with Myth(?) #5.

    5. All Laws in China are Strictly Enforced: MYTH. In public places, as far as I have seen, it is pretty hard to break a law, but private businesses are entirely different. Allow me to demonstrate. I attended a banquet in honor of the friendship of several printer companies, one of which my host father works at. All 30 of us – that is, some business executives and a few tag-alongs – got our own ballroom at a nice restaurant, and the first half an hour of it was pretty cool! There were weird candies on each table as appetizers, and even though my host sister, Lulu, and I were not involved in this event at all, we were given the gifts that everyone in the ballroom got. It was going great at first. But everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. It started as just one guy on the other side of our table. He was about three feet from a no-smoking sign, and I watched him glance at it, then pull out a box of cigarettes, and light one. No one else seemed to notice, not even Lulu, until I pointed it out to her. I could barely believe it. The sign says no smoking! That means you don’t smoke! What is wrong with this guy?! But as the meal went on, it became more and more evident to me that this was just how China works. I could see one of the waitresses watching the smoker, and despite by pleading glances at her, she did not even approach him. No one else around him seemed to be bothered. I, meanwhile, was starting to get a headache from the smoke. Five or so minutes after finishing a cigarette, he would light another. Thankfully, he stopped when the majority of the food came, but that was but brief respite. For two hours after everybody had finished eating, nearly every person at the table Lulu and I were sitting at was puffing on a cigarette. I get that this took place in a private party that somebody, no doubt, had paid a small fortune for, but all the same, I somehow feel that in America, the waitress whom I tried to nonverbally complain to would have intercepted the problem before it became too widespread. Turns out, this is a trend in China, even at restaurants where you aren’t paying an arm and a leg to get your own private room. People smoke where they want, regardless of any no-smoking signs, and nobody says anything about it.

    6. The Squatty Potty: FACT. This one takes some getting used to, especially, I think, for girls. I’m going to be honest: it can look very unsanitary, and it probably is. In Chinese restrooms, that mystery liquid on the floor often really is pee, and you really do have to grit your teeth and let it touch the soles of your shoes. It’s been two weeks, and I’m fairly well acclimated at this point. If you’re reading this and wondering whether or not you should go to China, don’t let any squeamishness about this part of Chinese life factor into your decision. I say this for a few reasons: (1) Your house will have Western toilets; it’s only public bathrooms that have porcelain holes in the ground. (2) I think it’s fair to say that over half of the world’s population uses this kind of toilet. You can too. (3) Before coming to China, there were a lot of things I was squeamish about: bugs, eating strange things, unsanitary conditions, etc. Here, I’ve learned that a lot of those things are part of life outside the comfortable bubble of Newton, which is, after all, inside the still-pretty-decent bubble of America. I guess what I’m trying to say is, “expanding your horizons” isn’t just about sightseeing. It’s also about getting up close and personal with what the world looks like without the things didn’t even know you took for granted.

    That does it for us tonight, but tune in two weeks from now for more myth debunking on Mythbusters: China!

    Natalie Bohm 1/28/16

    Before coming to China, I heard a lot about what China would be like, what I would have to live with, what I would have to live without, etc. Really, I had no way of confirming these rumors while in America. I have decided, therefore, to by run own personal Mythbusters segment. Installment 1: January 24-28 2016.

    1. You Can’t Drink Tap Water in China: FACT (but it’s not as inconvenient as it seems). I thought, before coming here, that this would be very hard to get around, but really, everyone in Beijing is perfectly used to it. The thing is, they drink a lot of tea, which is made with boiled water. Cool water comes from bottles that my family keeps on the kitchen table. I’ve been brushing my teeth with bottled water, but my family uses tap water – it’s fine as long as you don’t swallow it. I suppose if you grow up with something like that, it’s not weird at all.

    2. All Families Will Force-Feed Their Exchange Students: MYTH. “chi bao le” are the magic words to ending every meal. After saying them, I haven’t had anyone (except for my host grandmother, once) tell me to eat more.

    3. Chinese Roads are Dangerous: FACT. I almost want to call this a myth because, simply put, it’s an understatement. Beijing’s roads are anarchy. The turn signal is almost universally ignored. People pull out in front of each other all the time. Red light? No problem. Just go straight through. And they don’t wear seat belts in the back! Before now, I’ve never appreciated the safety precautions taken in vehicles so much.

    It’s interesting, though, to look at the cultural implications of this. Roads are entirely every-man-for-himself, and if you want to change lanes, you just stick the nose of your car into that lane as far as you can until someone slows down to let you in, usually to stop from crashing into you. Either Chinese drivers don’t find this behavior dangerous, or they simply value getting where they’re going over safety. This definitely seems to be the case with bicycles and rickshaws. They act as if they are cars themselves, as if a collision with a Nissan minivan is going to inflict the same amount of damage on the car as their tiny bike. Yet, unlike cars, they can also pretend to be pedestrians and ride on the sidewalk and down hutongs. Actually, scratch that. Cars pretend to be pedestrians here too. In the past few days I’ve seen maybe 25 cars parked on the sidewalk itself. Not on the curb. On the sidewalk. How they got there is beyond me, but hey, it proves one thing: the rules of the road in Beijing aren’t the laws set down by the government. They’re the laws of physics, dictating whether you can actually fit your vehicle into whatever crazy place you want to put it.

    4. Moo Shu Pork: FACT(ish). My first dinner here my family took me out to eat chunbing, (lit. “spring pancakes”), which I think are the nugget of truth in the lie that is moo shu pork. And actually, it’s really good, and much more interesting than that crappy knock-off Chinese food. Chunbing is an event. You go a restaurant and order these very thin pancakes, and then order a bunch of dishes that you want to put in the pancakes. We got pork elbow (way more yum than I thought it would be), string beans with beef things (also yum), stir-fried bean sprouts (excellent), fresh cucumber and leek slivers with exactly the same sauce you get with moo shu pork (now I know that part’s authentic, at least), and scrambled eggs (so glad they ordered them so I could break the news that I don’t like eggs without being rude). All in all, first class meal.

    That’s all for today, folks. Tune in later for the second installment of Mythbusters: China!

    Nat out.

     

    Emily Hogan Journal Entry #1

     This is definitely not news to you, but that was one long plane ride. Honestly. Fourteen hours is a long time, but on top of that we were all very enthusiastic to see everyone. Two weeks has been long enough. When the JingShan students arrived at Logan they were greeted by posters, gifts and cheers. Along with all the parents taking videos and pictures. The same went for us when we arrived. I couldn’t help but smile.

     When I got to my house, I met my host father. Unlike my host mother and brother, he doesn’t speak English. I thought this would make communicating difficult, and it does, but I need the extra motivation to practice using my Chinese. Also waiting to welcome me at the door, was a bowl of noodles fresh and steaming. My host mother told me that it was traditional for people to eat noodles on their first day arriving in China and to eat dumplings on their last day. This idea was new to me; back at home, we like to offer guests a nice, warm home cooked meal, but there isn’t anything special about what food should be their first and last.

     What striked me the most at the beginning was the hospitality. Starting with my arrival at the airport, I was offered to sit in the front seat. Before coming to China I have been told many times about the hospitality and generosity of the hosts, but even at home an adult would never ask me to sit in the front seat and have them sit in the back. I would have expected this from someone around my age, but not from an adult. This hospitality furthered when I arrived at the home. My room was to be my host parents room. They were to sleep in my host brother’s room, and he was to sleep in a bed in the living room. I almost felt guilty; these people who barely knew me were willing to not only welcome me into their home, but also change up their normal lives to make sure I felt like I was a part of their family. The following day, my family tried to make me feel even more welcomed by cooking me “American food.” Alongside our chinese style noodles and vegetables my family cooked some french fries and chicken nuggets. They even went out their way to find ketchup. Unfortunately, I am one of those abnormal Americans who don’t like ketchup, so they now have an extra bottle in their cupboard.

     My house is very close to downtown Beijing. In fact, my family doesn’t have a car because they rarely need to use one; there is a bus stop just a block away. Since I’ve been touring Beijing on foot, I’ve come to realize one major difference between the way people drive in Boston and Beijing. In Boston the cars stop for people, but in Beijing the people stop for cars. If you are trying to cross the street you need to look both ways multiple times. Cars and motorcycles won’t necessarily run you over, but they will honk at you until you move. Even if there are large groups of people, especially in a hutong, motorcycles will go at a slowish speed (depending on how crowded it is) and honking at people to get out of the way. I guess this is one reason why my host mother is always telling me to be safe when walking around Beijing.

    Sally Jenks     

                When I signed up to be a part of this exchange it felt like something too tremendous to be real.  As the months of preparation flew by, followed by the months with Rebecca, I remained in a state of denial.  Not denial in a bad sense, but rather, the thought of actually living in china was so huge that my brain pushed it out.  Even in the days leading up to the trip, when my friends asked incessantly when I was leaving and my mom de, I was unaffected. When it came time to actually leave, I felt more numb than anything because I was unsure what to expect.

                It wasn't until we actually go off the plane that I processed the fact that I was actually in China and my uncertainty was replaced with excitement.  As I met my host parents and drove home from the airport, I asked “那什么“ maybe a million times, overwhelmed by how different Beijing was from anything I've ever seen. However, my astonishment was curbed by the several near death experienced that occurred in the 30 minute drive from the airport to the apartment. I am currently up for nomination for the superlative “pedestrians worst nightmare”, so the fact that I felt unsafe on the Beijing streets is a clear indication of the level of frenzy.

                As I walked into their apartment, I was greeted by a high level of organization, my own room, and, best of all, a toilet seat with 6 settings for “oscillating rear/front spray”.  For me, as a real estate agent, the home is everything, so I was overjoyed to know I had accommodations almost superior to what I'm used to. The next largest thing for me was the food, so when I found that, with a few exceptions, salty veggies and carbs are basically a constant I knew everything would be ok.

                I slept through almost the entire second day, and when I woke up we faced the task of getting both a sim card and registering at the police station.  Both of these tasks were unexciting and the jet lag I still feel while writing this was ten times stronger. I don't even remember what happened the rest of that day, so clearly I wasn't that important anyway.

                Because Ive never had jet lag, I was determined to believe it had a 24 hour expiration date.  So when I ensued on my long day of walking and activities the day after, I had no concerns about making it though the day. However, after taking the subway for around 40 minutes, spending 2 hours walking around wangfujing street, and 30 minutes into skating around in, what Rebecca called, an iceboat,  I could hear my bed beaconing to me.

                But even though I spent my first couple days asleep or wanting to be, they gave me a newfound excitement for the next couple months.  Everything I have done here has only made me want to explore and experience more.

     

    Michael Lee

    My experience in China so far has been amazing. Arriving in a new country is never easy, and it is even harder to dive into a different culture. However, my transition into a new country has been smooth.  I have had no issues so far and there have been many things that I expected and didn't expect. One of the first things that was not as expected was the air. In all honesty, I was expecting the air to be a lot more polluted than it has appeared in the past few days that I have been here.  The sky has been blue and it has been sunny out everyday. This greatly contrasts between the impression I had of gray and musty weather in China. I don't know whether it will get worse further in our stay, however, as of now, the general, physical atmosphere has been different than I expected. The culture, on the other hand, is similar to what I was expecting. My host family is hospitable and cooperative with me. They are extremely nice and not a high stress family, which I greatly appreciate.  I had known before to be careful with what I say I like and dislike. Even within the first few days, I clearly see the effects of this. Food items I say I like appear much more often in meals, and my host family tries their best to not include the foods I don't enjoy into every meal.  So, the culture of trying to be hospitable and suiting the guest's liking is something that I have been quite impressed with. Regarding food, my initial impression is that it is not as different as I thought it would be. Of course, there are still many food items I am still trying, but there were a few food items I was quite familiar with. I am enjoying nearly all the food my host family is serving.  Now, the driving culture of China is vastly different from American culture (or at least Massachusetts driving culture).  My first impression of Chinese driving culture is that it is almost as if every person is on their own. People will cross the street when they want to, and drivers will often not bother to stop for pedestrians. By that, I mean if the driver sees you waiting to cross, they will most likely not stop. It is up to the pedestrian to be assertive in their crossing. Also, cars will often turn when they want to and sometimes even stop on the road. Even getting out of the airport, I saw many people on bikes and in cars who were simply "parked" in the middle of the road. Due to this, I also realized how often drivers honk their horn and why they do it so often.  One last thing I noticed is the spaces that people live in. I'm not sure if it varies between families, but I know that in my host family's house many items are condensed together to conserve space. The largest way I noticed this was through the bathroom. In my host family's bathroom, there is the toilet, but then an open shower head above it and a bit to the right.  There is no closed shower or tub. There is simply a small drain in the floor and you shower just out in the open of the bathroom. It is not a bad thing, but rather an interesting way of utilizing as much space as possible. These are just some of the larger impressions I had within my first few days of being in China. It is a new perspective for me, and I greatly appreciate and enjoy it.  

    Sheil Journal Entry #1

    It seems like yesterday when I applied to be a part of the Jingshan Exchange. I remember clearly staring down the head of the interview table with a little cup of water, and around me eight people staring back. Then it was the news that I had been accepted and suddenly Isaac was here. The four months with Isaac flew by, filled with basketball games, trips to New York, and hearing him sing loudly from the shower. Finally it was time to get on the plane, and make the leap into China. It didn’t hit me till maybe six hours into the flight when I turned to Nathalie and said, “Wait... we’re going to china!” She responded with the same level of unbelieving excitement. The plane ride was not my favorite part of the trip, granted it was made much easier by surrounding friends who were willing to be interim mattresses aboard the fourteen hours in the sky. As we touched down I saw the Beijing cityscape unfold through the tinted plane windows, it was like someone had splatter painted a black canvas with a neon tipped brush. I remember seeing the small jumping sparks of what presumably was a firework show. I don’t know what they were celebrating but for us it was a welcome party into this new adventure.

    Speaking of welcome parties, we were very much outdone when it came to the airport reception. Masses of parents and students all chanting in unison. I was immediately swept with gifts, pictures, hugs, hellos, and a speech by a Jingshan official. I recognized my host family almost immediately; they looked like Isaac, and made my way towards them. They were ecstatic to meet me; I didn’t realize anyone could be this happy to have some eat their food for four months. They took me to a Dim Sum place for dinner and the food was amazing. Each dish tasted exotic and new to me even though I had obviously eaten Chinese before. It was also there that I started to see the distinguishing differences between the U.S and China. The smell of the air was different; the sound of the traffic and even the toilets seemed new. Granted I had never had to squat over a toilet before.

    At their home I set up camp in a spacious room provided to me and began to unpack the next day. I tried to fully integrate with them, wearing slippers around the house all the time and eating dinner around a circular table with a lazy Susan. And the hardest one of all was of course the language. Both parents were equipped with decent English, but as per my request little to none was used. This proved to be a challenge resulting in many miscommunications and exasperated returns to English. Though I have yet to give up, I constantly ask what words mean and try my best to convey my feelings through my broken but slowly advancing mandarin. It’s been an amazing four days so far. All filled with travel and fun paired with good food. 

     

    Claire Mendelsohn

    When I first stepped out of customs, the very first thing I heard was a loud,"什)么(shenme-what) the heck!" The immediate emtion that I felt was embarassment, I couldn't even lift my head to look at those who had screamed at the top of their lungs. I was then showered with hugs and greetings with familiar faces, as well as new. Exhausted and dazed from the thirteen hour flight, the first night seemed to fly by. Honestly, I barely even rememeber driving home or unpacking, but when the sun came up I was in an unknown bed with everything organized and put into place. One thing that I thought would be horrible was the traffic. I'm not saying that it isn't slow, but it's not as back as I expected it to be. I was expecting to be sitting in place for five to ten minutes but we move fairly faster than my expectation. There is a stereotype in which 'asians are bad drivers'. I don't remember who or when, but someone once told me, "I don't think they are bad drivers, they just have different road rules than we do." That is what pops into my head whenever we are in a scenario in which a person might consider Chinese or other asians 'bad drivers'. Something that I thought I would not get used to was the Chinese subways and the crowds of people traveling in it. Once again I was wrong. After a few times of traveling by subway I became used to the crowd. Trains that I once considered to be packed, I now see as busy-but-with-space. A lot of my previous views and expectations have changed since I have arrived in China and I have learned so many things. Although I have not been here for very long, so it might not mean much, everything so far has been absolutely fantastic. My host family has been super accommodating towards me. They always makes sure I have enough to eat, and cook and buy me delicious food. They will teach me new Chinese words and phrases, along with the differences in Chinese and American culture. The students have taken us out to popular streets where we can buy gifts and interesting snacks. The shops along the streets are very diverse. They could range from books stores to a shop with cheap trinkets to a store to make custom qipaos (traditional Chinese dresses. There are food vendors that are selling cotton candy the bigger than ones head, starfish on a stick, sugar shaped in animals, and so many other tasty and delectable things. The past two days I, myself, have gone on a shopping spree. During this shopping spree I have bought three books that are completely in Chinese(If I want to better my Chinese, how else will I do it), two shirts that were very reasonably priced, a fan, and a travelers notebook. Although I enjoyed the shopped part, what I enjoyed the most was the people who were with me and the memories we have created. Anyways, this whole experience has been great so far.

     

    Ying Ying Rossi 1/28/16

    When you think of China, you think of its massive distance from America. As a kid playing at the beach, in the sand, I would hear kids say they were going to “dig to China”. Eventhough it is physically impossible to do so, it still demonstrates how the country is on theopposite side of the world and how far it is from us. Regardless, upon my arrival in Beijing, I realized that it actually isn’t so far from home. My first impression of the big city is that it was more Western than I had originally thought. The airport looked as if it could have been anywherein the U.S., and even on the plane, the skyscrapers and bright lights matched the ones of major cities, like Boston. In addition, as we walked off the plane, the welcome that the Chinese students gave us was almost identical to the one we gave them less than five months ago. Bothincluded cameras, presents, introductions, and lots and lots of laughter and smiles. It felt reassuring to me to have some many aspects of home around me, even though Newton is over 7,000 miles from Beijing.

    On the other hand, there was an array of things that were extremely different from what I predicted. When I took a shower at my host family’s house, I was surprised to see that there wasno wall dividing the bathing area from the rest of the bathroom. It was simply a standing showerwith a drain on the ground without any glass to prevent the rest of the room from getting wet.The whole time I was in the bathroom, I felt like I was doing something wrong, like I was getting too much water everywhere, even though it was fine. Furthermore, the towels here are very smallcompared to the towels at my home. I remember that there was one year I had decided to get my mom the biggest, fluffiest towel I could find. But the towels in my host family’s house would be roughly the size of hand towels in America. Maybe it has to do with people in China being more conservative than Americans...or maybe not. Maybe my host family is different from otherChinese families and just prefer small towels. Either way, it was aberration from my typicalthoughts on towels (not that I usually ponder over towels).

    On the second day of being in Beijing, the exchange students, both American andChinese, went to the innermost ring of the city for hot pot and ice skating. To get there, Melodyand I took the subway. People have warned me before of the crowds during rush­hour, but it feltso different to actually experience it. The train would get to the next stop and you would literallybe pushed away from whoever you were with, thrown against random people. I was alsosurprised about how inexpensive things are compared to America. I had bought cotton candy on the way home for only ¥10, which was incredible because the candy was massive. It was larger than my head and was about $1.66. I was in awe at how much you can get for so little.

     
    FIRST IMPRESSIONS 2013


    Josh

    The first thing I did when I got off the plane was hugging my former host sister. It was nice to see her back home safely. After that, I met my host family in person. I had Skyped my host brother before, but it was much better to see him and my host parents in person. I have not been able to see any family beyond my immediate family, but I am sure they will be a pleasure to be with. When I arrived at Beijing, I first felt overwhelmed. There where a lot people who were speaking a language I could barely understand very quickly. I was also afraid of whether or not I could survive in this country with only the knowledge I learned from school. These feelings were gone by the end of the car ride. My family was so engaging, and anything that l did not understand, my host brother helped translate. My family was definitely a great environment for me to expand my Chinese learning. Another fun experience was when my host father tried to teach me mahjong when he could only say safety and easy. That being said, I did learn the game and I actually won some money (fake gambling of course). Over all it has been a great experience so far.

    Aidan
    My first impressions of Beijing developed mostly in the airport and during the ride to my host families' home. To me, everything seemed so large and vast. My host parents and Abby have also been very helpful, especially when is comes to helping me learn to speak Chinese. Their extended family was very welcoming as well. The first meal I ate in Beijing was dinner with Abby’s family, her uncle, and her maternal and paternal grandparents. Everyone was very warm towards me, especially Abby’s grandmother, who helped me learn the Chinese names of the foods we were eating. After this great first impression of Beijing, I am sure these will be a great four months!

    STEREOTYPES

    Miles
    A major view that many Americans share is the prevalence of the tiger mother. She is only concerned with how her child does and makes him or her study long and hard. I've discovered that there is some basis to this. The parents here do generally concern themselves with their kids more than those in America. I think that this is an unavoidable outcome of the environment. This parenting style has two main causes: the one child policy and the GaoKao. The one child policy means that you only have one chance to see your child able to reach success. This causes parents to focus all their attention on one child, rather than spreading it out amongst siblings. The GaoKao is the ominous test at the end of a child's education. It essentially is an all or nothing test that will determine the rest of your life. You need to do well on the GaoKao. This pushes parents even harder to get their kids to study because they only have one chance to get it right. So while the stereotype may exist to an extent, there are clear and obvious environmental causes for it.

    Aidan
    Before I applied to the exchange program, I had developed some stereotypes about Chinese students. I thought all students in China studied constantly and strictly followed all school rules. In my mind, to be a Chinese student was to be the ideal student.This notion was quickly destroyed as I got older, and even more so after I began school in China. While Chinese students certainly have a lot of schoolwork, it doesn’t prevent them from spending time doing other things, like watching TV, playing basketball, or talking with friends online. While many students do also take extra classes over the weekend, they also find time for other interests and activities. For example, my host sister, Abby, has an SAT class every weekend; however, she also plays basketball and goes shopping with her mother. I also no longer think that every single Chinese student is a model student either. Despite rules stating that students are not to leave the campus while school is in session, I see countless students leave through the front gate to buy food from the nearby shops. During class, one of the students sitting next to me is often messing around with his phone or eating something while the teacher is talking. One of the misconceptions I had that changed only after I began school in China was the classroom environment would be incredibly strict. While the classroom environment tends to be stricter than it is in the United States, it is a bit more relaxed than I expected. I think the most relaxed class I have seen so far in the English class. The teacher is very friendly with the students, and he often interacts with the students, asking them questions about the material during class and letting them speak up more than they do in their other classes.

    PUBLIC ETIQUETTE

    Josh
    Every day I take the subway to and from school. In the morning, I go to school at five forty-five, so the subway is never really crowded. However, when I return home, there is so little room that I cannot even wear my backpack because it will not fit. I discovered something interesting about modern Chinese culture: there is very little spacial awareness. I have seen many actions that would seem “rude” in the United States. After time, however, I realized that these are just a causation of people not being conscious of their surroundings. While waiting in line for our train back to Beijing from Shanghai, the three “lines” to get our tickets checked merged into a mob of people when there was enough space. We had to force ourselves through the crowd in order to get to the check. Overall, I think that this is an inherent consequence of any big city. I was just so shocked by this because I have never lived in a city as big as Beijing. It is not as much a problem as simply a way of life. All of these actions seemed strange at first, but as the months go by, I find myself doing it too.

    HOST FAMILY/CULTURE

    Miles
    I had always assumed there would be some sort of cultural misunderstanding upon my arrival to China. I viewed it as an inevitable event, and one I would just have to get through when I came to it…The earliest I saw this was when I had just come back from my trip across China. Exhausted from travel, I had woken up late so lunch was my breakfast. They had prepared spicy beef, which tasted great, but also had the effect of causing my nose to run. After a couple of sniffles, and a grab for a tissue, my grandma got to inquisitions. "Miles, you have a cold!" "No, no" I stammered as I tried to explain "My nose is hot, this is hot." This of course did nothing but cause my grandma more grief. "Hot nose! You have a fever! Sheng Qi, Miles is sick!" I had no chance to counter such claims and I was whisked off to the bathroom and given a pill to make me feel better. The next thing I knew, I was in my room with strict orders to go back to sleep. I left a couple of times, mainly out of boredom, but I quickly saw myself back in bed. The next morning I was eager to emphasize that the pill and the sleep had done wonders, and that I felt great. They seemed content with this and I kept blowing my nose a secret from then on.

    Aidan
    My host family has been great to me. They have done a wonderful job of keeping me safe and well fed. Sometimes, however, they do this job a little too well. At first I thought this was because they see me as a guest in their home, and as some one who isn’t used to being in Beijing. I soon found out that they often treat my host sister, Abby, the same way. I have never had a problem with it, but sometimes I find it interesting.
    This started only a few days after I arrived in Beijing. While I was in my room organizing my things, Abby’s father came to my room and presented me with a down jacket. Later, I found out my host family actually bought the jacket for me as a gift. When I wore the Jacket I had brought from the US, my host father would pinch the jacket to test its thickness, and occasionally insisted that I wear even more layers.
    Another thing they paid more attention to towards the beginning of my stay in China was my eating habits. I ate slightly more quickly than the rest of my host family, so when I stopped eating before they did, they assumed I hadn’t eaten as much. They would urge me to eat more, and whenever I told them I was full, they would tell I was too skinny and that I needed to eat more. After I started eating a little more slowly, they stopped saying anything about how much I ate altogether.
    Despite how overprotective my host family was at first, it did not bother me in the slightest. I appreciate how kind they have been to me, and how much they have done to make me feel welcome in their home.

    Josh
    The biggest difference between my life in China and my life back home is how my parents treat me. Here in China, my parents do not give as much freedom as I would get back home. One of the first things my host family said to me was “chuan yi fu” (wear more clothes) because they thought it was too cold to be going outside in just a t-shirt and fleece. This initially took me by surprise because my parents back home would let me go out without wearing three layers of clothes, and if I was cold, I would learn to put on more clothes. Chinese parents teach by telling their kids what to do and what not to do, while most American parents tend to use consequences to teach their children. My parents in the U.S. give me a lot of freedom so it was a major culture shock when my host parents told me to wear more clothes.
    There is another side to this coin: my host parents do a lot more for my host brother and me than they do at home. After our first meal home, I went with my host parents into the kitchen and started to clean, but they quick stopped my and told me not that they would do it. I tried many times to help them, but the most I could do was bring my plates to the kitchen. Another example is if my host brother or I want something that is not a necessity, they buy us it. Back in the U.S. my parents have me buy things with my own money that I earn from working. I know parents also buy thing for their kids in America, but having their kids earn their own money is a lot more common than in China. I think it contrasts with me so much because my parents brought me up to be independent, but I think in general American kids do a lot more work outside of school that the Chinese kids do.
    I think that this could be because the schoolwork load is so great that the students cannot do too much else but work, and, therefore, the parents need to do a lot of the housework for them. The parents also need to stay on top of their children so they get the work done. In my opinion, these factors and the fact that the One Child Policy focuses all of the parents attention on their one kid, led to helicopter parenting.

    Reconstruction, Renovation, and Rebuilding

    Miles
    There seems to be a habit amongst the Chinese to have all of their historic sites constantly under some sort of repair. Walking up to an area of certain significance, one is certain to find it guarded by green scaffolding and groups of cigarette-wielding laborers. The most famous Chinese sights like the Great Wall or the Forbidden City have been rebuilt or renovated countless times.
    In a Western mind, rebuilding the Great Pyramids, or the Parthenon, or even Stonehenge seems odd. Why would we alter what has survived to us for thousands of years. The remains offer us a true glimpse into the past. But to an eastern mind, this view makes no sense. Why would we allow our famous temples and palaces to crumble and go to ruin when we can make them look as they did? What’s the point of looking at a bunch of rocks? The Westerner sees value in preserving the original substance, while the Easterner sees value in preserving the original look. Both views have their own way of honoring history.The Westerner finds worth in landmarks because they had the ability to survive until today. They believe rebuilding, or reconstructing, them would be a slight to their longevity and originality. The Chinese have a different point of view. They see their history does not last forever, and so they decide to keep everything new. They don’t see a point in having the original walls to the Forbidden City. They take worth in preservation of the original idea, the original material is less of an issue.
    So is there a better way of doing things? Both viewpoints have their own merits, though I would’ve liked to get more pictures without the construction.

    CONCLUSION
    Josh
    In most of the other journals, I have written about the differences I noticed between Beijing and Newton. Now that I look back, the things that struck me before seem much less significant. The subways do not seem so bad. I am starting to accept my parents’ wishes, no matter how unjustified. I watch what I do or say so I do not cause any misunderstandings. As I reread my journals, I learned that these three months have made me adapt to their culture, and all of the differences that I noticed earlier are not so prevalent anymore.
    Whenever I ride the subway home from school, it is crowded. But now, I do not notice the people pushing or the packed cars. It just seems as if it is the normal part of my routine. Not only have I gotten used to the crowded subways, but I have started to enjoy it as well. The act of riding a subway has become positive: I become ecstatic when I get a seat, or I start to talk to the people around me. I also see a lot of interesting people in the subway. Once, even in a crowded subway train, people made room for a guitarist, who played music inside the car until his stop came. When I was able to overcome my initial culture shock about the crowds in the subway, I was able to truly experience what it was like to live in Beijing.
    When I first arrived here, I was taken aback by how caring my host parents were. Back then I tried to negotiate the rules, for example wearing two layers instead of the three they wanted me to wear. As I read my journal and remembered that time, I realized that it just did not happen anymore. The arguments we had had changed into jokes or regular conversation. Now, instead of “you are wearing too little” or “your not eating enough,” it is “how was your day” or “what did you do today”. This made my time with my host parent a lot more enjoyable, and helped me improve my Chinese comprehension even more.
    I feel lucky to be able to participate in this exchange program because it is one of the few programs where you get to stay long enough to break through the culture barriers and truly live the Beijing experience. At first I was preoccupied with what I was eating or the crowded subways to really just enjoy living in China and take in the culture. Now after three months, I feel as if I have finally immersed myself in the Chinese culture.
     
    grouppart

Student Diaries

  • Spring 2007

    Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 12/16/2014
    Spring 2007

    (Carolyn Mack, teacher)

    We had a wonderful trip on the May holiday. The students, John, Emily, Clara, Del, and I traveled to the Yellow Mts. where we saw spectacular views in the rain and sun. Truly the weather changed drastically in the day we were there. We saw incredible sights including men carrying several kilos up the mountain to the restaurants. They get paid a few yuan per kilo so they carry as much weight as possibly. I could hardly get myself up let alone several food items and propane gas tanks.

    We then traveled to Hangzhou and on the way saw the ancient city of Xidi. The streets were narrow and very unusual architecture. On to Hangzhou where we took a boat ride on West Lake. We spent one night here and then traveled to Suzhou. Here we saw a rock garden and a water canal city.

    Next Shanghai. In Shanghai we visited the Bund area and the French Quarters of the city. We spent one night here and flew to Xian. In Xian we saw the Terra Cotta Warriors and took a bike ride around the old city wall of the city. We also visited a hot spring and the stone writing museum then flew back to Beijing. Truly a wonderful experience.

    (Kiernan Folz-Donahue, student)

    America has almost no history. It has been a short 225 years since independance, and a mere 400 since the founding of Jamestown. Because we have, more or less, no history, we also have no great philosophers: We have no Shakespeares or Confucius'. And this, explained one Jingshan middleschooler to me one day (sans statistics), is why there are so many bad people in America. A very Chinese perspective, I suppose, reinforced by the observation that many Americans don't seem to care much for history. We do have barely any, at least compared to China, famed for the longest continuous history of any civilization. Of course, this view fails to recognize that American society has largely been an offshoot of Western European society, and that our great philosophers are largely imported. I don't think people in China think that Americans are, really, bad people. After the Virginia Tech shootings, the Chinese Daily ran an article condemning the US Gun Culture, and many students at Jingshan have expressed their dislike of our current president and the current war, but I don't think that Chinese people really have anything against Americans.

    However, there is another idea that Chinese people have about Americans, and Westerners in general. One that is far more apparent and aggravating. One that the poor Westerner notices as soon as he walks into shopping area -- the assumption that Westerners are 1) Rich, 2) Easy with money. You don't even have to be a Westerner, you just have to look like a Westerner. I.E., you have to be white. As a member of the middle class, I do have quite a bit of money (times 7.6, the exchange rate). However, I'm not easy with money, and I've been in China long enough to have heard that almost desperate "Low price for you" just one too many times. I cannot stand the Pearl Market or the Silk Market or similar malls in which many vendors set up small shops in rows, (with the same products, using the same storeroom, but this is irrelevant,) and try to get the most money out of you by haggling. Foreigners are easy pickings, and I have long grown tired of having my shirt pulled on by the vendors as I walk down the aisle, as they call "Nice boy!", "Shoes for you", "Lookilooki","Hello, you buy", or whatever else they might say to the same effect. "Hello" is the worst. I don't mind that they'd try to overcharge me so much as I mind that they annoy me.
     
    Nevertheless, I recall one time I was coming home late. I was sitting in a subway stop, waiting for a train. A man approched me, and sat down. He told me, as we chatted in English, to tell people when I get home that Chinese people are friends. And, he's right. I have very much enjoyed my stay in China. A great many people have been very good to me, despite the Pearl and the Silk and the Whatever Else markets. Our two countries and peoples are and should be friends. Even if we have no Confucious.

    (Jessica Chin, student)

    For our May vacation trip, we ended up taking a whirlwind tour around China; we visited Huangshan, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Shanghai, and lastly, Xi'an. Although we weren't able to stay very long at any place, although we were able to spend a couple of days in Xi'an, there were several things during the trip that left an impression on me. First of all, Huangshan was gorgeous, although it was misty in the morning, when we walked down, it was clear, so we got to experience the scenery shrouded in mist, as well as see the mountain in bathed in sunlight. Hangzhou and Suzhou both had a lot of tourist sites based around Chinese culture and history, the West lake and Xidi as some examples, respectively. Hangzhou is known for it's villages built along waterways, and at Xidi, there was housing still in use that was open to visitors, and reminded me of the hutongs in Beijing because there were so many side pathways. It was a lot different from what we saw in Shanghai. Shanghai, being a big city, although it was very foggy the day we went, has a lot of international ties in its past. The architecture ranges from Chinese style, to European, and from traditional to modern skyscrapers. In Xi'an we were able to see the terra cotta warriors, and bike around on top of the city wall. We were also able to visit part of the city where most of the Hui, a minority, lived. One thing that the tour guide in Xi'an said that really struck me was how different cities represent different aspects of China. Guilin, which we visited earlier, is known for it's beauty and the nature that China is built in and around. Xi'an is supposed to symbolize China's past and history. Beijing is symbolic of China's current state, and is the city and heart of things. Shanghai, as a big city, stands for China's future, and increasing industrialization. Having been able to see so many different areas around China, it was interesting to see how similar and different the different areas are. One thing that always strikes me is how you can always see a slightly more depressed part of any area, but also see all of the constantly on-going construction that seems to be going on everywhere. The evidence of China's industrialization is definitely clear, as well as the importance of Beijing hosting the Olympics, which seems to be something that shows up everywhere.

    (William Ho, student)

    May 10th came around the corner and it was time to meet as well as teach the students at the Jingshan branch school. I felt excited and nervous at the same time.

    When we arrived at the school, I was very impressed by how magnificent the school was. The school was large and looked very welcoming. After some brief introductions we were ready to start teaching. For today I was assigned to teach fourth and seventh grade. My first class of fourth graders were very amusing and eager to learn. I had taught them cursive and read them a story, which they all enjoyed. At the end of class I was asked by the students to give them autographs, which I found a bit amusing.

    Next I was arranged to make some traditional face masks by the school. I was accompanied by some elementary students who taught me how I would paint these kinds of masks. All the masks had different and unique designs on them. Some were very complicated while others were pretty plain and simple. After forty minutes, I had successfully made myself a traditional face mask.

    Following my activity I was arranged to teach the seventh graders. Before I came to the branch school, I was informed that the students level of English was below that of the students at the main branch. But this info was proven wrong when I came to their class. Their English was surprisingly very good. All the students were very curious about student life in America and what high school students usually do. It was an excellent class where I felt that I had achieved my goal of having the students improve their speech and listening comprehension.
    I felt that the students here at the branch school seemed more independent and well behaved compared to that of the main school. It probably must be that the students here live on-campus and have to do everything for themselves. It was very interesting to see this difference.

    Coming to the branch school and meeting the students was very worthwhile.

    (William Ho, student)

    Beijing is wonderful! Yesterday I went with my host brother to "hong qiao" market for the first time. It was very interesting seeing how many different kinds of items people were selling. My host brother showed me how to bargain with the sellers. It was pretty fun watching him try different methods to persuade the seller to drop the price of the item he wanted. He also gave me some tips on how to drop the price so that I would be ready to buy stuff the next time we come back. I'm very excited to learn more about the Chinese culture as we explore Beijing.

    (Kiernan Folz-Donahue, student)

    I was sitting on a couch this past Sunday afternoon, attempting to draw the scene out the window. It was a hopeless affair, really, colored pencils aren't exactly my forte. But there was something intensely alluring about that cityscape out that window on that Sunday. It's quiet eleven stories above the city. You're removed from the hustle and bustle of the streets, and you can look down upon the people below (from your perspective) silently going about their business. They line up along the street, probably waiting for a bus. Of course, this is a city. You hear the car horns from the streets below, and you hear the construction workers banging nails into wood somewhere in the building. You don't know where, and really, it does not matter. Somehow it's oddly relaxing. Really, though this is all a backdrop, just like the music you're listening to on headphones – Hopefully it's quiet, laid-back symphonic music. It'd be more mood-setting.

    But it's the haze that strikes you. You may realize that fifteen million people are breathing that air, but for the moment, it's just beautiful. The sun, high and bright, turns buildings into silhouettes. The smokestack is prominent and dark in your view. So too is the great crane with a fluttering red flag. The flag is barely visible, however, lost in the wash of buildings that looks for all the world like a watercolor. The painter has decided to use atmospheric effects to indicate distance, but being a tad hasty has exaggerated the differences, such that buildings in the distance just barely manage not to lose themselves against the sky. Even mid-ground buildings are pronouncedly covered in the yellow-brown haze, at times more orange, and times more rosy. But always pale, like the sky behind it, except for the few foreground buildings -- The smokestack and that giant crane -- stark shadows in the midday sun. And all this scene is unmoving and unchanging, save for that little flag lost in the grandeur of it all.

    (Erica Horowitz, student)

    My my little China story happened before we went to Guilin. I went with Shuaiqing's cousin to the Lama Temple (Yonghe Gong). We bought some incense on the way there, so at the temple Shauiqing's cousin showed me how to burn the incense and pray.

    The temple consisted of many smaller buildings, all of which where beautifully decorated and had different alters inside. We were in one of the buildings, surrounded by the smoke of incense and hoards of people kowtowing in front of the alters, when all of a sudden...the Nokia ringtone goes off.

    That pretty much sums up China: modern culture is mixed with ancient culture.

    (Jessica Chin, student)

    When we went on our group trip to Guilin, one of the first thoughts that I had was, it's beautiful, just like the tourbooks said. Right after that, I thought that Guilin really is as tourist-y as the books say too. Guilin is known for its gorgeous landscapes and sceneries, and in some places, hills just seem to protrude in the middle of a mass of buildings. We visited two of its four caves, Silver Cave and Reed Flute Cave, and got a different perspective of all of the hills on a boat ride along the Li River. Even at night, when walking on the streets, the hills loom in the darkness. In the morning, the mist gives the surroundings a mysterious feeling. But admist all of the breathtaking sights, the thing that struck me the most was how much the city caters to tourists. The tour guide mentioned how the city spent lots of money on lights to support the city's nightlife, which is amazing; however, at the same time, it seemed like some of the local people face hardship. While we were on the boat, there were people who were on small rafts who would try to sell things to people on the boat, as well as younger kids along the shore holding nets trying to get money. People selling things on the streets were also extremely persistent, although it could have also been because our was targeted as foreigners. That is not to say that people in Guilin have poor living standards, but I personally feel that instead of using money on city lights, as well as creating one of the, if not the largest, man-made waterfalls in front of a hotel, the money could have been used on building up the city, rather than building its dependency on tourism.

    (Tim Te, student)

    I have to say that when I arived in China, the two things that i instantly felt were different were the traffic and the currency. There are a lot more cars in Beijing than in Newton, actually a lot more people in general. Besides the cars they have all the pedestrians and cyclist. The heavy traffic seems really chaotic to me. Cars are not afraid to cut off busses and trucks, and the lane lines do not seem to maintain much functionality. Other conveniences aren't used; almost no one uses seatbelts. in the back seat of all cars there are seatbelts but no buckles. I don't know why. but one thing that i love is the exchange rate. everything is so cheap if you convert it to US dollars. The McDonald's "dollar" menu is 6 kuai, less than a dollar. instead of apple pie they sell Ubi and Red Bean. Those are really good. the only problem is that i overestimate the cost of things. when it says 30 yuan i think, "whoa, that's expensive," but it really isn't that's around $4. In Guilin we were bickering with the vendors over 5 yuan, which is pretty bad because we were treating it like $5.

    (William Ho, student)

    Recently these past few weeks have been very interesting. I've gone to teach with Mrs. Mack and Mr. Callahan for their classes. Students ranged from 4th graders to 11th graders. It was fun getting to know the students. With the
    4th graders we taught them some songs as well as teaching them new games. For the older students we had discussions about what they were curious about and differences between American and Chinese holidays. All of the students seemed very eager to learn about American culture and wanting to get to know us better. What I found very entertaining with the older students was that they had pretty much the same questions such as, "Do students drive to school?" With each new class I teach, with the Newton teachers, I make many new friends.
    Comments (-1)
  • Spring 2005

    Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 11/4/2014
    Spring 2005

    (Rebecca Razulis, student)

    This past week the whole group has had a chance to explore China more through independent travel experiences with host families and wandering around the endless hutongs and side roads of Beijing. I have been busy with both kinds of exploration during the Spring Festival. The Spring Festival started February 8 and is a constant time of fireworks and banquet dinners with extended family in celebration of the new year.

    The Chinese New Year is a holiday celebrated passionately here in the capital. It is a time for families to get together to eat and (naturally) do karaoke. My family spent New Year's Eve driving between apartments where relatives were waiting for us. During allthe driving,we circled Tiananmen Square, beautifully lit for photos.

    The following day my family and I left Beijing and drove two hours to a small village in the countryside.We stopped in a field and visited the graveof my host father's great grandfather before going into the village and meeting my hostfather's distant relatives for the first time. We bought fireworks and set them off and sat down for a lunchof freshly grown vegetables and an assortment of meats. The Chinese countryside is exactly as it sounds: barren land with small brick homes built on top. Most of these homes lacked doors and were shielded from the heavy wind by a thin piece of cloth . People live in close contact with the livestock they raise and, needless to say, indoor plumbing is non existant. Despite all these adjustments, my family and I were greeted with such kindness that made out trip to the countryside unforgettable.

    The next day we drove to the outskirts of Beijing where we stayed at a resort with my host father's co-workers and their families to celebrate the New Year.We ate at a traditional Chinese banquet and then went to a karaoke bar.I have learned that even when the list of songs forthe karaoke clubs do not include English language songs,there are always two songs that can be requested: the theme from Titanic and Edelweiss(bothof which arealways requested on my behalf and I am forced to sing). After (what felt like) hours, we went outside the gates of the resort and set off pounds and poundsof explosives. The fireworks we set off were more impressive than those on the fourth of july. The next morning the whole party drove to a ski resort and hit the slope (the resort had one chairlifeand thousands of eager chinese skiiers). We got in two runs beforeheading home for Beijing.

    The chaos of New Years has not yet ceased. I still go to sleep to the ring of fireworks bursting mid air and wake up periodically through the night to the same snap crackle pop.School begins on monday and each american student will have to recite (from memory) an introductory speechto the student body and faculty of the Jingshan School.With all the traveling it has been easy to long for some form of consistancy here and the start of school should prove to be just that, even though i might make a fool of myself during my brief speech.

    Feb 6

    (Martha Moyer, teacher)

    Why I love my location

    I love it here so much primarily because my district has not been "Americanized." Where my friends are staying they are surrounded by Department stores, the Gap, McDonalds, KFC, Star-bucks...Bill-boards, kind of like Time-Square. And the class-ism is more apparent.

    Where I am everyone seems more what I would expect from the traditional Chinese setting. My host Mother has worn the same wool brown sweater everyday this week. My host sister wears her school uniform every day.

    The children in the neighbor hood wear the quilted traditional warm clothes. The old men wear the baggy pants and long down jackets and pull heavy carts attached to one-speed bikes. Food is sold on the street (I never buy it)

    Another reason I love it where I am staying is because my host Mama and host sister and I laugh a lot and connect well. Host Mama¡¯s father was an Actor, and her husband is an Actor, so she is pretty animated and funny and I feel relaxed and animated and we all have belly laughs every day.

    And there is something enjoyable for me to live where you can only run one water faucet at a time. We have to juggle around shower schedules. And God forbid someone flushes the toilet before someone wants to take a shower, because that means it will be about 15 minutes at least before the shower will be the warm (scalding hot actually) The plumbing is something they are very proud of, but I gotta tell you there is a lot of duct tape in this dwellingAlso, my family are starving artists, so they think and constantly study practice and read and draw and paint and they don¡¯t waste time sitting around beautifying themselves and watching t.v.


    Tap dancing

    Yesterday Host Mama said I looked like I needed a nap, but I said, "I need exercise" and I went outside with Jane to the park where Kids were playing basket-ball and out-door pin-pong (with bricks lined up for a net) she jumped rope while I tap-danced. Thank goodness I could find a place where the surface was smooth. Jane jumped for 30 minutes like it was as easy as sleeping. It was a huff and puff for me, since it has been a while. According to Jane I attracted a lot of attention, but the Chinese have a way of staring at you and you NOT knowing it. I felt much more awake after my work out.

    When we came inside Mama wanted to teach me how to use the keys and take a walk to the gorcery store. The three of us walked A FREEZING cold walk.

    You'd think tap would have warmed me up. But no!

    At the super- market

    all the doors have rubber strips you pass through, like at a meat market. I suppose that helps keep out the wind. The first floor of the grocery store is a restaurant. Host Mama ordered lots of vegetables. and Bean porridge. During lunch Mama wanted to know how My Baba was. And I said that he wants me to learn to speak Chinese. (Whether that is true or not makes no difference, if they think MY DAD wants me to learn, I figured they'd start to help me more.) I continued to explain, "He thinks that it is an extremely important language to know and he wants me to learn as much as possible while I am here." Jane argued, "No! English is the most important language!"

    I said, "Well in America some people believe that things are changing politically and economically so many Americans believe that we need to know Chinese just as much." She translated all of that to her Mama. Her Mama said a lot in Chinese. Jane's translation was, "Mama says First your speech, first write your name, then she will be your Mama teacher."

    The grocery store has three maybe four levels. Mama took me all over and pointed, just so that I would know where to get supplies, and have independence I suppose. I even saw where I could get fire-crackers!!!!

    Wow! Everything was Cheap and if it wasn't cheap enough Host Mama complained loudly "Tai quaile!" Even in regular super-markets one can bargain. She went up and down EVERLY isle, shops much like my brother Tom does. Looking thinking shaking her head putting it back...

    Baba's play

    The theatre is the most famous in Beijing, "The Beijing Peoples Arts Theatre." The play was a controversial drama. it took place in a garden, several generations through the cultural revolution to present and since I could only pick up a few words I marveled at the set and how there were homes in the back ground of the main scene with curtains in the windows candles and shadows of people moving, like a real neighborhood. And I also noticed the details of the scrim and how at the beginning of the play the sky was blue and the plants looked healthy, and by the end the sky was smoggy and every thing looked like it was dying. I think that was one of the points to the drama. There were reporters and camera crew taking video clips. And the actors were interviewed.

    I suppose this Theatre would compare to The American Repertoire theatre, but I think MUCH more talent and more money goes into it. It seats 1500 with lots of leg room.

    Baba phoned today, and since they saw my garden pictures and he knows I like flowers, he wanted me to know that he got lots of flowers last night and he is going to give them to me. How kind.

    What I don't understand, is why he doesn't live here when he is in a play. The show will run 90 days, then he will come home for a bit and go off and do other work.

    I wish I could write shorter notes, but that takes editing, which I don't have the time for.

    Much love to ALL


    P.S.

    You know one can actually pick up a lot of words quickly without help when you just listen. We were going up and down an elevator, and I chuckled, jeeesh, all one would have to do is ride the elevator for a bit and then you know how to count. I've struggled so much with the number seven and nine. The nuances are similar. And it is easier to figure out your way around and directions too when your in a foreign country because you are looking at everything and you see the landmarks.

    Feb 3

    (Renata DeLellis, teacher)

    yesterday was a big day because it was the first time since i arrived that i ventured out on my own. my first trip was a walk to the bank to get chinese money, called yuan, in exchange for my american traveler's checks. you get about 8 yuan for 1 american dollar. i entered the bank and went right to the teller's window, which i soon learned was not the correct proceedure. one of the tellers directed me back to the front door of the bank to take a numbered ticket and wait until my number was called. i was a little confused because 8 tellers were standing behind the counter helping 2 or 3 people! eventually my turn came around and i got the money.

    i left the bank searching for a phone card that would call the united states. i stopped by a hotel and asked if they sold phone cards. they didn't, but directed me to a local supermarket. i used as much chinese as i knew to explain that i needed to buy a phone card that could call the united states (meiguo). about three different women tried to help me figure it all out. i finally bought the phone card and headed out to use it. unfortunately, i coudn't figure out how to use it as the recording on the phone was mostly in very fast chinese. so, i went back to the hotel and asked for some more help. about three more people tried to help me, but to no avail. i was feeling a little frustrated at this point. this situation reminded me of how much more chinese i need to learn in order to communicate effectively with people!

    i wanted to stop back home, to make sure i could find my home. turn left at the red lanterns, i thought to myself. however, red lanters, i learned, are not a very distinctive landmark to use during chinese new year, because there are so many of them everywhere! i finally found my way back home and tried to use my set of keys to open the front door.

    after a few tries, i finally got it!

    next, i took a walk to wanfujing street, where i had visited with my sister a few days ago. this time i was doing it by myself, so i paid very close attention to where i was going. i met many chinese (english speaking) art students along the way who wanted to chat in english and show me their art work. i chatted a bit, declined on the art work offers, and walked on. i finally arrived at a gigantic mall where i bought some things i needed (like kleenex!). some of the stores in the mall were familiar to me, but many weren't. i walked by many tables of people selling bright red chinese new year decorations, chinese candy, nuts, and other items. after my mall excursion, i returned home. and guess who was barking at me?!

    back to the phone situation. my homestay dad knew i was having trouble with the phone and insisted (he even dialed!) that i call my parents number on his cell phone. after a few unsuccessful attempts, i finally reached my parents and asked them to call me back here in beijing. it was great to finally talk to them in person. as i spoke to them, i learned that my homestay parents have a pot full of large, bright orange goldfish next to their bed. i watched the fish swim around as i shared my chinese experiences with my parents on the other side of the world.

    we had another great dinner at home last night (a whole chicken, a whole fish, pork and pepers, cabbage, rice, and tofu soup), followed buy a dessert of fruit (starfruit and green apples cut up into small pieces and skewered with toothpicks). some relatives came over to visit us after we ate dinner. my sister and i visited their home for a few hours. we ate delicious pieces of papaya and dragon fruit at there. dragon friut is red on the outside and white with black seeds on the inside. eating it reminds me a little of what it would be like to eat a white kiwi fruit. i liked it.

    when we returned, i found a green, frog-shaped humidifier spewing moist, cool air into my bedroom sitting on my floor. my homestay mom is worried that i am coughing (there is quite a bit of air pollution here) and thinks this will help. i think i like having a big, plastic frog on my bedroom floor! anyway, i was very tired by the time we got home and went right to...sleep.

    my homestay dad has told me that he wants to take me to a hot spring and to go skiing this weekend, so you may not hear from me for a few days.

    know that i'll be having many adventures that i'll share with you when i get back from my trip.

    Feb 1

    (Jared Zeizel, student)

    Day #2, Journal #1

    Wow a lot of Chinese people. Though it doesn't feel that weird. It kind of reminds of a mix between my Grandma's house and Chinatown. I live right next to this street that is similar to Times Square. It's a filled with huge malls, giant billboards, various banks, Americanized stores, and other places of interest.

    Note: I saw a store called Hoso. It was filled with clothes for the kids who are into retro 80's, post 90's pop-punk, Seth Cohen, Bandwagon jumping, and other rebelling in a sensitive-way styles. If that doesn't make any sense, then it is a shop for the coffee-drinking kids of SoHo, NY, NY. This all brings me to the question, did the creators of the store Hoso, get the name SoHo mixed-up?

    Today (Monday, Feb. 1st) me and Shane (Shane and I if you want to be proper) explored this central shopping area. We did the following things in no particular order: ate, exchange money at the bank, looked around. What I found interesting was the amount of art students trying to sell us art. For some particular reason they were only going after Westerners. Well, they only got us once. As we were leaving a mall, some "dude" started talking to us. He asked us our names, where we were from, if we were on holiday, etc.

    At first we just thought he wanted to practice English. He then invited us to an art gallery. Thats when I started to ponder if he was going to sell us something. We had nothing better to do so we decided to go. As we were walking he said that he was going to write our Chinese names in calligraphy.

    Bam! That sealed the deal. He was going to sell us something. But I didn't fret, like they said in D.A.R.E., "just say no." So after about 15 min. of looking at some really nice art, our new-found "friend" started to ask us which piece of art we liked the best. We told him a couple and he "suggested" that we buy it. Shane was smart, he said that he had no money.

    I said that all I had was American money. He told that they accept that...Damn. I continued with the excuse in a dialogue similar to this:
    Me: But I only have a small amount.

    Him: That's ok, we make bargain.

    Me: How much? (Not that I was going to buy any, but I needed to procrastinate.)

    Him: 60

    Me: In Yuan?

    Him: Yes, but it's $8 in U.S.

    Me: Oooo...not bad (once again, procrastinating) (Side Note: If it was $8 U.S., then it should have been 64 yuan. What happened to the 4 yuan in the currency exchange. Those 4 yuan are my 50 cents and I don't wanna lose that.)

    Me: I can come back in a couple of days, with more money. (Not that I was going to, I just wanted to get out of there) Him: We will be closed in three days.

    Me: Ooo...well i'll have to return before then.

    Him: You come back to day, ok?

    Me: Sure.

    Him: Ok, see you in two hours.

    Me: Sounds good, see you in two hours. (See you ... never)

    After that me and Shane had our laugh, of how we kind of got conned. We promised that we would never get ourselves into that rut again. Through next 45 min. we ran into two more Art Students. We politely said that we were not interested. Though they kept nagging at us. We finally told them that we had to go meet some people. (A day full of white lies.) We discussed the rudeness and decided to make it interesting. First plan of attack say we are form a different country. A non-english speaking country. For what ever reason we chose Germany. (Ironically German, based on word structure and grammar, is the closest to English.) Sure enough, no more then 20 min later, we are approached by another Art Student. Like all of the other Art Students, he starts by asking where we are form. I say, in a really bad, Gov. of California-inspired German accent: we are from Germany. He says excellent, then says something in German. Shoot. This kid knows German.

    Then he switches back to English. Whew. Keeping up the crappy German accent, I once again explain that we have to go somewhere. After attack number one failed we brain stormed on what language no one in Beijing knew. Our end result: American Sign Language. "What country are you from?" Show-time. I turn to Shane and Shane turns to me, and for about 5 seconds we put our make-shift signing to use. The guy continues to ask, "Where are you from?" Repeat. A couple more rounds of this and he starts to ask us if we need help. Crap. This guy doesn't think we are deaf, he thinks we're in need of some sort of medical assistance. Trying not to break character, I mouth "We can't speak." Of course he ask us once again, "Do you need help?" I don't blame the guy, we probably look ridicules, but this guy just doesn't get. So I just say "good-bye" and walk away.

    The rest the day was fairly uneventful. A police officer told us not to go down some run-down alley; we went home; I set-up my computer; I realized things I forgot at home, I realized things that I should have left at home; I started writing this journal entry.
    Comments (-1)
  • Spring 2004

    Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 10/14/2014
     
     
     
    March 15

    (Maggie Chan)

    I would like to start by saying that this trip has been so amazing. I can't believe I ever had doubts about coming here. My host family is wonderful. My host mom has some sort of heating/contracting company and my host dad is a tax guy in charge of one of the 8 zones of Beijing. My host sister, Theresa, is turning 16 tomorrow. She is VERY friendly. She is turning out to be a great companion here.

    Life here is extremely busy; I don't know where the time goes. It seems like I just got out of school and grabbed a bite and it's already 6:30pm. Sometimes I feel like I don't know where my weekends went...I'm either travelling with the group or just over-sleeping and eating all weekend.

    I also didn't realize how much $$ I would be spending here. I admit that I am a big spender but I didn't even expect this much spending considering I haven't REALLY started shopping yet. I can only imagine how much I will spend when I start BUYING. I'm looking forward to it *wink wink*

    I don't think 4 months is enough of a cultural exchange (that comes from me not wanting to leave). 4 months seem only enough for a little taste of the other culture but definitely not enough. With that said...can I stay longer?? *angel smile* I can't believe this experience is already half over...I've gotten so used to this and I love it.

    (Sarah Allen)

    Life here is still going strong. The city grows on me daily and is finally getting warmer (it was 68 degrees today!), the group is having a whole lot of fun, and, of course, the food still doesn't fail to please. My newest obsession is Jianbing, an inside-out omlette/tortilla with sauce, onion, and a mysterious crunchy thing in the middle. It's a bit hard to explain, but it's absolutely delicious and only costs 2 yuan (25 cents!). It's just one of the many things I'll desperately miss when we leave in June.

    The weekly schedule for our group has been full of all sorts of excursions. Every other weekend the school takes us on trips around Beijing, such as to the Forbidden City and to the Llama Temple, all of which have been pretty cool to see (but some of which I'd already seen. Of course, no harm in seeing them again!) During the free weekends, the group (or at least a few of us) has been going outside of Beijing. So far I've been to Xi'an, Pingyao, and Shanghai with people from the group. All were really amazing experiences, each in their own different way. Xi'an was amazing for the obvious reasons of the Terracotta Soldiers, which make you remember that this is pretty important stuff here, the peaceful Winter Palace, and a modern city with an even longer history than that of Beijing. Aaron and I later went to Pingyao, and, due to the mysteriousness of the train system in China (can't buy return tickets until you get to the destination) we had a much shorter time there than we had planned. Pingyao is a very old walled city with a more countryside feel than some of the other cities I've visited here, from the gutted dirt roads to the food (the first place I've seen dog on the menu!). A lot of it seemed pretty touristy, but we were unable many of the "must-see" sights, many of which are a short drive away from the walled city, due to a lack of time. We both agreed that it was worth going, including for the travelling experiences (overnight trains, drives with 35 people crammed into a 20-person bus...)

    Some of us spent this past weekend in Shanghai, which we all loved. It is an incredibly modern city, accentuated by a scattering of skyscrapers that belong in the 23rd century. In terms of size and modernity, Shanghai can be compared to New York. There were many refreshing things there; green plants everywhere (including palm trees), rain, a river, and amazingly delicious thick honest-to-god hamburgers (really cheap too, none of this Hard Rock Cafe Beijing stuff). I love Beijing to death, but it was pretty nice to experience all of these after a period of two months without much of any of these.

    Although the school days are much longer than we're used to, they seem to fly by. Part of the reason is that every day the American group has a private creative class geared towards our level of inexperience, which splits up the day. Fine arts, calligraphy, and kung fu are the favorites, and there's also history and Chinese. We have good times seeing who painted the best gold fish and pretending to be kung fu masters. Afternoons and evenings are spent chilling with the family, exploring new areas of the city, or attending events such as the weekly Wednesday night free showings of really good movies at the Mexican embassy.

    Yesterday, Jon and I decided that we haven't seen enough of Beijing so we hopped a cab over to Haidian, the university area. Getting out of the cab we were amazed that we have lived in Beijing for 2 months and we didn't recognize the area at all. We said we might as well be in some other city. We explored and grabbed a bite to eat, and after getting back into the cab I was equally amazed to find that the area was a short 5 minute cab ride from Yayuncun, the area that I live in. I have a lot to learn about this city.

    (John Chow)

    China has been an awesome experience so far. Last week, a few of us went to Ji'nan, a province that is about a 4 1/2 hour train ride outside of Beijing. We took hard seats, which I found out were pretty uncomfortable considering 3 people have to pack themselves together on a row of seats that are very hard. There were also no dividers, which made it hard to fall asleep because it was so easy to hit the person next to you.

    We arrived in Ji'nan at around 11:30 p.m. and were hassled by taxi drivers outside of the Ji'nan Railway Station. Apparently according to guidebooks, Ji'nan's cab drivers are the most aggressive in Ji'nan, but what I noticed is that they are the most friendly and much cheaper in Beijing considering fare's cost 6 yuan and it's 1.20 yuan - 1.30 yuan instead of the 10 yuan starter and 1.20- 2.00 yuan in Beijing. We arrived at the hotel at 12:00 and it was cool to talk down the price of the hotel room. They started off at a ridiculous offer at 500 yuan, but after several minutes of bargaining, the lady agreed to 380 yuan for a room for 2 nights. We pretty much went to sleep after we got our rooms.

    The next morning, we got up leisurely, which was a nice thing to be able to do, because we hardly ever have a chance to sleep in. So then we took a cab to The Hot Springs and I saw a Wal-Mart!! This sounds dumb, but it was really cool to see an American store in China, it was especially weird because I expected they have Wal-Mart in Beijing, but in Ji'nan??? Ji'nan is like a province in the middle of nowhere and it is much less developed than Beijing. After the Hot Springs, we went to lunch at a restaurant in a hotel and it was pretty cool because there were no menus in this restaurant. You went up to this room and looked at plastic food and ordered it based on which dish appealed to you the most.

    After lunch, we took another cab to a famous Pagoda in Ji'nan. Well actually we took a cab to the bus stop and road a long bus ride to the top of the mountain, where the pagoda rested on. The Pagoda was quite amazing. We climbed the mountains around it and at the top of the mountain, a bought a very nice looking sword/dagger. I bargained for it too! The lady told me 40, but I got it down to 25 yuan. Anyways after the pagoda, we took the same bus back to the place where we got on the bus to get to the Pagoda. After this we went back to the hotel to rest and then went out to the nightmarkets. The nightmarkets were awesome too. We had pancakes with scallions on the streets and we had a type of hot pot where we had those vegetables and meats on a stick. My mom said it was unsafe to eat, but we did it anyway. Then I called my parents and friends at a little phone stand on the streets. It was quite expensive, but we did it anyway. After that we just went back to the hotel and slept until 6:00 am. We took the hard seat train back and arrived in Beijing at 12:00 p.m.

    This whole Ji'nan experience was quite interesting. It made me see that even within China, there is a lot of diversity. People are more hospitable towards foreigners and I figured out that every province has its own dialect, which is a neat yet annoying thing to deal with. They keep trying to tell me stuff but their accents are so strong that I can't understand them. Also I was annoyed that there were no DVD vendors, which is something I really look to see. Anyways, Aaron and Bevin have to go running, so I'm going to leave too. Talk to you soon!

    (Max Fraden)

    Xi'an was a nice weekend trip. I got to get away from the bustle of Beijing and get a glimpse of rural China when we traveled to and from sites in Shaanxi. In Beijing, school has become routine and my Chinese is slowly improving. I continue to go to dinner with my father's colleagues at the Zhong nanhai and his friends in business. My host family has made me feel like I am at home here. Next week, I will meet up with a Time Magazine correspondent who did a college interview with me near the YongheGong.

    Our extracurricular classes have started. The class taught by Bevin and Aaron is going well. We spend half the time talking about weekend trips and our plans in May. Today we choose the top three locations we want to visit in May: Yunan, Tibet or XinJiang. The other half of class is spent discussing the Chinese lit packet. Today we discussed religion and the Cultural Revolution. I feel that the Cultural Revolution is as distant here as the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war are to Americans (though like the cultural revolution both occurred within the last 50 years).

    This weekend the whole group will visit the YongheGong and on Sunday Dave, Maggie, Jake and I will go to Hebei province. Next weekend, Dave and I will go to Ningxia Province with Bai Haotian.

    (Jacob Albertson)

    I just returned from Xi'an which is very exciting. We visiting the Terra-cotta warriors which was very exciting but not as exciting as I expected. However the day was very nice and we were of course hawk by vendors trying to sell us everything. The next day we went to the Big Goose Pagoda and everyone was flying kites outside it was very interesting. The pagoda itself was very peaceful and relaxing. They had very nice gardens and the view from the top was amazing. Then we traveled to a museum which was really a museum but rather a collections of the largest stone tablets in the world. They contained all sorts of book and stories from ancient China. If only I could read the Chinese. Finally we traveled to the Muslim Quarter and visiting a big mosque. That was interesting because it was funny to see Chinese Muslims although I suppose now that I think about it they must have existed.

    Hope all is well in America.

    (Jonathan Crowder)

    China is awesome! Beijing is starting to seem more like home than some far flung exotic city and life is working its way into a routine. School is fine. During our 1 1/2 hour lunch break we always go out and eat at some interesting restaurant and I love to eat. I have also started to commute on bicycle to school (it takes 30 minutes).

    What has really made this trip amazing is the fact that we travel every other weekend. Our school plans trips within the city every other weekend so on the weekends we don't have plans we go places. This past weekend I went to Xi'an and saw the terracotta warriors and the city which has a large Muslim population. It was a ton of fun. Next weekend were going to Shanghai!

    March 26

    (David Machinist)

    I had a really fun weekend here in Beijing. It is one of the best of I have had here. Saturday the whole American group joined the communist Youth League from Jingshan School to go to the countryside of Beijing and plant trees and hike this mountain. It was really nice weather so I had no problem taking part in it. It was really strange planting the trees, cause they were all so close to each other, so they really didn't have any room to grow I think. The main reason why they want people planting trees is so that a forest will build up, blocking the sands from the Gobi desert. The hike was really nice and a good workout I thought. In May the American group is taking a trip to Yunan in the south of China, where we will do a three day hike in the jungle pretty much, sleeping at local villages and soaking in the jungle. Its going to be awesome I can't wait. Today I took a bike trip with some of the other exchange students. We took a bus about an hour outside of Beijing to a town called Nanshan and started are bike trip there. It was really a great 25-mile bike ride in the countryside. Beautiful setting and weather. Huge mountains in sight all over the place with the Great Wall scaling the tops, we actually biked up and down some hilly terrain. We biked past dry farm land and the curious faces of farmers and other locals. We biked through small rural sleepy towns, with all the little kids coming out to smile and laugh while looking at us bike past them. One place we stopped was a ledge overlooking a huge reservoir, which was nothing but extremely beautiful. Also some of us found a small dirt path that led down to a huge farm field, the earth was to dry to grow anything encircled by mountains and a rushing river running beside the farm plain. I saw some really beautiful scenery as you can read today. We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant where we ate outside, overlooking more beautiful mountains and fields. The food was really good and authentic countryside food. Everything was fresh and home grown, it was so good. After lunch we went for a 3-hour hike in the Black Dragon Pool, which was this natural park with really beautiful mountains and waterfalls. This again was breathtaking. It was weird though cause there was ice everywhere in the water and parts of the water that was still iced over, even though it was sunny and hot out. It was a real full day, but one I am glad I did. Hope all is well with you and I'll talk to you later.

    April 12

    (Sarah)

    We seemed to have skipped right over spring and on to summer. Today was a wonderful 80 degrees. First I went with my host family to the cemetery to clean the tomb of my host mother's father as there is a special day for this. The cemetery we went to is a special cemetery for people who devoted their lives to the revolution. My host mother's brothers and sisters met us there, and we all went into a small building, of which there were many, where small glass doors lined the walls. each door opened to a small shelf where urns were stored, and colorful fake flowers and pictures of the deceased when they were younger, all in revolutionary Communist clothing, were placed in front of the urns. The family took out the urn and the decorations, wiped down the shelf area and the urn, put everything back in its place, and bowed together three times as a sign of respect for their father.

    Afterwards, the entire family took me to the western hills of Beijing to Badaqu, an area that has 8 temples in nestled in the hillside. There we had a picnic, where our conversations became quite confusing linguistically; one uncle and his wife were, for 40 years, diplomats in many a Spanish-speaking country and were quite excited to hear that I know Spanish, and I was quite excited to know that I could understand them. The other uncles and aunts spoke quite quickly to me in Chinese, which I had trouble understanding, so the Spanish-speaking couple would translate it into Spanish for me. I would often try to reply to the couple in Spanish but I think I successfully made up Chinnish; after trying to train yourself to think in one language for two months it's quite hard to switch to another foreign language that you haven't spoken since saying goodbye to your Spanish teacher two months before, especially when people on the other side of you are also talking to you in a language that you have to work quite hard at to understand. They were all quite amused with my attempts, however, and finally I got the hang of it.

    (Jonathan)

    Tonight I saw one of the worst accidents I've seen while living in Beijing. I was biking back home after seeing a movie with Bevin and Sarah. The night was warm and I had taken my school uniform and baseball cap off. It was ten o'clock at night.

    I first noticed that something was awry when I saw two large crowds of Chinese on either side of the road. They were all staring at a taxi in the middle of the street. I stopped my bike and examined the scene. The taxi, it seemed, had ran into a biker who had then hit the windshield of the car bowing the glass deep into the cars compartment. The bike lay ten feet away only slightly beat up. Policemen were taking pictures and cataloguing evidence. After a couple minutes I got back onto my bike and continued on home in the dark letting my unprotected head rush through the night air. I never felt so Chinese.

    China often seems most understandable when I examine my indvidual experiences. These "vignettes" of Chinese life are what I will remember from this trip when I journey back to the states and they are what stand out in my perceptions of China.

    Some experiences that I can remember off the top of my head:

    The view from my bedroom window early in the morning when the pollution is low and the hazy outline of the Western hills that lies behind the acres and acres of sprawling urban Beijing.

    My morning commute to school as I ride with hundreds of other Chinese on their way to their day jobs.

    The mob of students in varying uniforms that mob Deng Shi Kou Lu every morning bringing all traffic to a standstill.

    The unfolding landscape of China's countryside viewed from a train window.

    The simple art of someone making a jian bing (a Chinese style sandwich which is really a crepe with a scrambled egg, spices, a fried piece of dough and scallions) at the local supermarket.

    The smells of street food vendors that I've come across all over China. From the lamb barbacue of Xi'An's Muslim quarter to the sweet candied crab apples sold all over Beijing.

    Biking alongside the crumbling great wall and the Trans-Siberian railroad north of Beijing.
    Comments (-1)
  • Spring 2003

    Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 9/1/2014

    February 3

    (George Swift)

    This is my first chance to email anyone. My family (wonderfully for me) is considerably less privileged than the other host families -- no email, no cell phone, and no car. We are having a beyond my imagination wonderful time sharing everything. I keep reminding myself that this is New Years and vacation (eating, drinking, visiting, playing cards and majiang, laughing, talking, relaxing, walking, visiting); pretty soon I will have to return to the wake to an alarm clock world of teaching.

    Michael Kozuch and I and five of the students (Nate Brevard has flown to Hunan with his family) got together for the first time yesterday and we enthusiastically babbled about the joys of being here. We went to Jingshan Park to hike up the hill and get an overlook of the city. We talked with families and held babies and wandered and asked directions and (like our entire time here) felt very welcome and like we had made a profound gesture by traveling here. Jingshan folks were very organized in printing us out names, addresses and phone numbers and giving us a schedule, so we are easily in contact with each other and organized. I realize (in the back of my mind somewhere) that you are all working and that my enthusiastic babbling might be selfishly inconsiderate. I just wanted you all to know that we are beyond safe and happy.

    Until then, George

    (Nathan Randall)

    Everything I do here, from going to the bathroom with the dog to going out to eat with my family brings a story. I will do my best to share them all, but whether they appear in a coherent, organized letter or in a jumble of nutty anecdotes is beyond my control. I apologize for the latter.

    My family lives in an apartment building designed for foreigners, so the TV contains a variety of shows. There are the expected Chinese stations, a few American stations with Chinese subtitles, a Korean channel, a few Japanese shows, and some other stations that vary in their nationality.

    The station on which I watched See Spot Run in English my first night here was playing soccer highlights in Chinese yesterday, and a Japanese cooking show today. My favorite so far though was the Everybody Loves Raymond, dubbed into Japanese, with Chinese subtitles. Quite entertaining at late hours, I'll admit.

    Yesterday was a big day for me in many ways. First, I told my host brother that I wanted to go to the bank. We headed out and I brought with me both my traveler's checks and my ATM card, which I was told would work. The first machine I went to only allowed me to take out 100 yuan (about $12.50), but then we went into the official Bank of China and I was able to take out much more. Using the machine the first time was slightly intimidating due to its being in Chinese, but the combination of my host brother and the little button in the corner that switched the language into English helped a great deal. It feels good to have some money, and with that a small amount of independence.

    After going to the bank I had all this money and nothing to spend it on so I decided to try to buy a calling card. There are phone shops everywhere selling mobile phones and phone cards but finding the right one was by far the most frustrating experience so far for me in China (besides, perhaps, the midnight encounters in the bathroom with Dodo, Satan's puppy). I told my brother that I wanted a calling card so that I could call my parents and the next thing I knew we were in a cell phone shop and he was saying something about giving me a mobile phone. I said that I didn't want a mobile phone; I just wanted to be able to use, say, the phone's on the street. He seemed to understand, and 90 yuan later I had a package of three phone cards that could be used at any payphone in Beijing, and would give me some ridiculous amount of minutes unattainable anywhere in America for such good value.

    My host brother called his mother just to make sure we had done the right thing, and she told him that he was right the first time and should have gotten me the mobile phone card. I was confused beyond belief, and came pretty close to sitting down in the middle of the street to have a good cry when my host brother explained what was going on. He and his mother wanted me to buy a mobile phone card, which is how people in Beijing pay for cell phone usage. Instead of buying a plan all you need to do is buy a card, plug the number on the card into the phone, and use the phone until the card runs out. My family had an extra phone at their house, so they wanted me to buy the card and be able to make calls in Beijing to them and to my other American acquaintances. This had nothing to do with the international phone card, which we successfully bought later. Feeling much better I went back to the shop, returned the payphone cards, bought a mobile phone card for fifty yuan, and now have a sweet Sony cellphone at my disposal, courtesy of my host parents.

    After the exhausting financial adventures we went back to the house and I lay down to take a brief nap. Four hours later (I'm still not quite used to this whole time difference) my host brother woke me up and we headed out to celebrate the Chinese New Year. We first went to his grandmother's apartment, which was the penthouse of her apartment building and was massive, by Chinese living standards. After some ourderves (definitely don't take French) we went to this beautiful restaurant, once a Qing Dynasty royal palace, now between one hundred and four hundred years old, depending on whom I asked. The food was incredible. There were literally about twenty courses, all of which were delicious. The food here puts all American Chinese food to shame. To call chicken fingers and scallion pancakes Chinese food is a travesty.

    Tomorrow morning I am meeting up with my fellow exchange students and teachers for the first time since we left the airport. I'm excited to see them, not only because I want to know how their experiences are going but because it will be nice to have a real conversation in English. It's amazing what we take for granted. I never really considered conversation a luxury but here I can rarely express exactly what it is on my mind and have it be understood. Tommorrow that should change, at least for a few hours.

    (Michael Kozuch)

    I started this trip on Tuesday 8 am. We arrived in Beijing, nervous because we had no idea who our host families were. The whole group seemed to be feeling the disorientation and anxiety. We quickly got over it when a huge group of Jingshan folks greeted us with flowers and smiles. We have some real friends at this school. My host brother immediately came up to me to welcome me with a big batch of tulips (my favorite) and then introduced me to his parents who don't speak English, which will be helpful for learning Chinese. I found out later that the father studied German in Germany, so it will be a tri-lingual household. We had a fun time speaking in German as he was explaining the shower to me. BTW- the shower is just the beginning. It is one of those ones that you see in the magazine that has jets coming from all directions. It has a CD player and a lot of other buttons that I don't know what they are for. This is my private bath. You can image that I will be very comfortable in this condo.

    February 7

    (Susie Dyen)

    Hello World! I was so excited to hear from so many of you. I know I've only been gone a couple days but it feels like a century. It is nice to hear from you guys because it makes me not feel so far away.

    Okay New Years was amazing. I wore my new clothes and my mother had me blow dry my hair. Actually she did it for me. She seems to think I am unable to do anything by myself. When she is not close enough to help me do something she gets someone else to help me. She did my hair with just a hairclip covered in rinstones. I was very relieved to not have to wear a scrunchy. Then we went to my paternal grandparents home. I met my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and two cousins. The boy is twenty-one and the girl is seventeen. They are all very nice and invited me to there homes. Then we drove to the ''cityside." I'm not really sure what that is but it seemed like a suburb.

    We went to my male cousin's friend's house. Yes a house. I didn't think there were houses in Beijing. It was very big with an enormous chandelier. It reminded me of the nouveau riche in America except it was really sparcely decorated. So then we lit fireworks for two hours. I have a new appreciation for fireworks. They are awesome. Then at twelve everyone in the whole neighborhood lit their fireworks. The sky was lite up for like twenty minutes start. I was freezing. My mother had lent me her police uniform winter coat. I felt a little silly but now am in love with this coat and want one for myself. Then we ate dumplings and came home.

    Today I went back to my paternal grandparents and ate more. Everyone in my family wants me to eat six times more than I want to eat. I pretend I'm full before I'm actually full so that when they keep pushing food I can eat some without brusting. This system only works for a little while before I'm actually full. Then we went to this huge Tibetan Buddhist Temple called Yonghegong. It was amazing. There was a 18 meter high Buddha made out of one tree trunk. There were many many people there. There was so much insense lite that it was very foggy/smoking. I coughed a lot. It was the first time my host sister had been there.

    Anyway, what else? Oh yeah. Today because I was cold yesterday my mother made me wear two pairs of long underwear under my pants. I do NOT recommend doing this. While one remains warmer, one finds one's movement very hindered. But whatever I do what I'm told. Also she just cut me a half of a melon and I had the huge lunch about two hours ago. I'm not that hungry. When I return y'all (yes I'm still from the South) won't recognize me because I'll be so fat. Just joking. Anyway, miss you much. Hope life is treating you well.

    (Susie)

    Hello Everybody. How are you? Sorry about the long time no write but I was busy. It is so nice hearing from all of you. Really all the boring details are so interesting here because they remind me of home. This is going to be a long one so get comfortable.

    First I'll answer some of the most common questions asked in the emails I received.

    Food: the food is good. The way that they eat is there are like a thousand dishes all put on the table. There is no rice, to my surprise, at any meal (unless its in porridge). Each person gets a little bowl and chopsticks. People reach across the table and take whatever piece of food they want. There is always fish because fish is the traditional food of New Years. Here are a list of some common dishes: red cabbage, beef slices, sausage, peapods, fish, dumplings (also traditional New Years Food), some meat in jellylike stuff that I don't know what it is, etc It is all really good. Pretty much everything is cooked, which I guess is good because I'm not suppose to eat raw fruits and vegetables. But I do... hope that's okay. Also I'm so glad that I practiced eating meat because my family LOVES it when I try some. Guess what I tried on Monday night. No guess. Nope. Chicken Feet! Yep. Chicken Feet! It wasn't very good. The meat was tough and the skin was really chewy. I wish I! had taken a picture. Also they don't really drink with dinner but I get water because I'm American so its okay. Um a lot of it is very spicy. Oh my new favorite thing is mantou, which is steamed bread. It's like the inside of challah but the whole thing. Also the manners aren't the same as in America... there are less of them. People talk with their mouths open, spit bones out (little bones in the fish), reach, don't use napkins, slurp soup, etc. It takes a little while to get used to. I think I'm too well trained to ever get used to. (Thanks Mom and Dad) So that's food.

    Chinese: Um, my Chinese is okay but is not very good. I spend a lot of time speaking English while my host sister. I've been meeting a lot of my parents' friends in large groups and all of them talk very quickly so I have no shot of understanding. The other problem is my sister tells me new words like every other minute and I don't remember them so my starting a list. My father speaks very fast and puts is words together so I can't understand anything he says. My sister is my translator sometimes she just repeats it in slower Chinese and I understand I think its funny. I still think my accent is bad so I get embrassed easily. But the funnniest thing is how much French is coming back to me. All my forgotten French has resurfaced in exactly the place I need it the least. But there are French exchange students coming in April to my school so I'm excited to practice but I think by then I'll have forgotten it all again. (Thanks quiet a run-on sentence) Oh something funny that happened: One night my mother wanted to put on some English TV for me to watch and she put on French. I was listening and I couldn't really understand but it sounded familar. When I figured it out I started laughing and I said all westerners look the same (it was really funny in Chinese). So that's language.

    Ummm.... I'll tell you about the stuff I did now because I don't remember what else people asked me to write about. Oh I got my mother to let me blow dry my own hair. Except having never mastered the art in America I wear my in a half pony tail everyday. If anyone has helpful hints I'd a preciate it because I don't like wearing my hair pulled back.

    Okay, so my first meeting the American Group was on Sunday. It was so nice. I hadn't realized how much I missed people who spoke English. We all had so many stories. We went to Jingshan Hill, which is a man made hill in the center of Beijing and the only skyline view in the city. It over looks the Forbidden City.

    Later that day I got sick. I had an 100.5 F temperature (I did the conversion from celcius in my head thank you very much). I got pumped full of Chinese medicine, which tasted really bitter. Then took a long nap. I was so lonely then because when I'm sick at home I get lots of hugs and kisses from my parents but Chinese people don't do that as much. (I think hugs are definately the thing I miss most. As everyone knows I am the hugging queen and I don't really give or get hugs here. It's the worst part so far) Then I took more Chinese medicine and went back to sleep. The next day I felt fine and have been feeling fine ever since. I think I got chilled on Spring Festival Eve doing all the fireworks. Now I have to wear two fleeces, my jacket (with fleece lining), two pairs of spandex, and regular jeans and shirt out. Oh and a bright baby pink scarf with little embrodered flowers on it. It is quick a sight.

    On Monday I went to my Great Aunt and Uncle's apartment who are both supervisors at CCTV (China's big TV station). We ate lunch. Then I learned majing, which I am amazing at. It took me most of the afternoon to figure it out and I still don't really understand how to pay the winner but I always win so its not a problem. It is so fun. I played with my cousin, great cousin and sister most of the afternoon. It reminded me of playing Hearts all day with my Reisen cousins in NJ. I want to play all the time. Um... what else?

    Yesterday I had another meeting with the Americans. We went to the mianhua (open air market) that I'd gone on the first day. It was so fun. Appartently three of my friend's brothers are best friends so they see each other all the time. I'm kinda jealous but I don't care that much. There were so many more people there than when I'd gone before. In the food area it was person to person so it was really warm. I saw three of the Chinese students who had come to Newton and one teacher, but no Googie. I think it might have been too much walking. I've been waiting to call her so as not to offend my family. I think I've waited long enough. I'm calling later today. It was so funny when I saw them. Emily (one of the Chinese students) was standing there and I was so excited to see her I ran up and gave her a big hug. Then I asked Michael (one of my teachers) was that okay, he said he had almost given her one too but stopped himself. Chinese people don't display affection very openly ! so its bad to give hugs. Then I saw Gan Quan (another Chinese student) and raised my arms to hug but stopped myself. I asked Michael if he saw it and he congradulated me on myself control. Just trust me: it was so funny.

    So my friends have already started to call me 'mom'. Yep Mommy Susie shows her familar head. As most of you will know I'm everyone's mother and am trying (and failing aparently) to not be. Oh well. But with my host sister since she's only fifteen I feel like her older sister so I should take care of her. But at the same time I don't know what I'm doing so she needs to take care of me. It's hard to figure out the right combo of who's protecting who. Anyway, my hands hurt from writing for so long. Their keyboard is smaller than mine at home, which makes typing harder. Oh well I'll get used to it.

    I miss all of you very much. I hope to hear from you soon.

    (Susie)

    Hello. How are you all? I hope Newton is treating you well. I'm doing great. Okay so I emailed two days ago so I think this one will be shorter... might not be.

    So there have been some questions about what my host sister is like. She's really nice. Her name is WangZi, which took me a little while to figure out. The first time all the Americans met we all quickly confessed that we weren't quiet sure what our host siblings names were. But I think we've all figured it out. At least I have. Her English is pretty good ... She seems to spend most of her time studying ...

    Yes I heard about the space shuttle. The way I did was kind of funny. So WangZi says, "A plane crashed, sounds like alcomba" I answered "Al Queda?" so I'm really freaked out right, another plane crashed. She repeats the word until I figure out it is Columbia. She says, "plane to sky". "A spaceship" "Yeah, oh okay." It was the biggest drop in fear ever. I was so worried but thankfully it was just the translation. Um... yeah Bush sucks. I don't want to go to war. My family doesn't either. We talk about how bad war is all the time. So if any of you could work on stopping it, I'd appreciate it. I don't really know how the Chinese are reporting about the war, because it's in Chinese so I don't understand and WangZi doesn't know most of the words in English. Oh speaking of reporting: I was watching TV recently and the news was reporting on Spring Festival travel/consumption/stuff. The reporter said and I quote, "The increase in living standard as given way to more spending on leisure, more than just necessities." For some reason this program was in English. I thought, wow that's straight from the government. I forget that the government is Communist most of the time. Beijing is so modern and there are all these stores, restaurants, movie theaters, etc., it doesn't feel Communist... It feels capitalist. Thanks to the government's new reforms it pretty much is. But I am not running the world, so I can't really tell them that they are taking the worst parts of capitalism and combining them with the worst parts of communism. Anyway, got to go. This turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would be.

    (Nate Randall)

    I have made some great advances in the last few days, so let me take you through them one by one.

    First, and most important, there is my food situation. Most of the meals here are exquisite, usually consisting of many of the items that one can find on a menu at an American Chinese food restaurant, only indescribably better. However most meals, especially at the restaurants here, have a few items that make me, to say the least, a bit squeamish. Yet my host mother makes sure that I try every last one of them, and when I ask my host brother his opinion he always responds with "it is very delicious." What he leaves out is that the food is very delicious "to him." Let me give a few examples.

    Today we celebrated my host grandmother's 80th birtday at this fancy hotel restaurent with the entire extended family. The way meals work at virtually all Chinese restaurants is that the waitors put food on the "lazy susan" in the middle of the table, and as the plates empty they bring new, more exotic courses. A typical meal will go through as many as fifteen different foods. Some of these are the expected bowls of dumplings, shrimp, rice, stirfried vegetables, noodles, pork and beef. There are also, however, the oysters, the squid, the octapus, the fish that I saw swimming in the tank at the front of the restaurant ten minutes before, completely whole with head, tail, eye balls, skeleton, and a little actual meat, and eels.

    The meal at the hotel today had all of these specialties, and I tried the majority of them, only a few of which by choice. However when my host mother asks me to eat something and twelve other heads turn to see my reaction (always forced into politeness), what am I supposed to do? Eat, smile, and keep eating. That is all I can do. It appeases the crowds, but one of these days I'm gonna get sick from eating too many pork balls. (True story: That's what it said on the menu in the English under the Chinese characters... pork balls. I don't know what it meant, but it makes me wonder.)

    Last night I explained to my host mother that Americans don't always like to eat so much food. I claimed that it's good to "watch what you eat" sometimes, because if you don't you can become unhealthy. She and my host brother explained that Chinese people love eating food, and that Chinese cuisine is very healthy, so I should not worry about it. She then handed me another stick of pork teriyaki. I ate it, but then firmly told her that I was full and would not eat any more (in Chinese). And for the first time she listened to me. It felt great. I finally made some progress.

    Today, after the meal at the hotel, the whole family went to a kareoke establishment. Apparrently kareoke (KTV) is becoming extremely popular in Beijing. It was fun to listen to for a while, though all the lyrics were in Chinese, but after about an hour of hearing my host family take turns singing and dancing (my host father and host uncle actually waltzed together during one song) my host brother, his cousin, who is our age, and I decided to go for a walk. We soon found a pool hall and entered, relieved to have some sort of refuge for a while.

    This is the second time in the last two days that the three of us have gone to a pool hall. The first time I did alright, probably going about three wins and two losses on the day, but today I was unbeatable. I won four straight games before we had to leave, but more importantly I finally did something to impress my host brother. Basing my skill as a person solely on my skills in speaking Chinese my host brother has thought that I am about as incapable as a person could be. Today I finally proved to him that I'm not completely worthless, which was yet another good feeling.

    After playing pool we went to an athletic store where I made my first real purchase of the trip not including phone-cards and food. Yesterday I saw these shoes that I wanted, but we didn't have the time to stop and try them on. I asked if we could go back today, my family complied, and I grabbed my money and we headed out. They're these sort of old-fashioned-looking, navy blue, Reebok running shoes, that were listed at 299 yuan (about 38 dollars), and were "on sale," according to my host brother, meaning that they could be bargained. I tried them on, they fit well, and only 209 yuan (25 dollars) later I had some great sneakers. 25 dollars. Great sneakers. You never hear those phrases together in the U.S.. Ever. Everything here is so cheap, I love it. Cab rides across the city cost 20 yuan ($2.50). A full meal at the mall food court: 16 yuan ($2.00). It's remarkable.

    The only major flaw in Chinese society that I have been able to detect so far is the driving. At least in Beijing, drivers are horrendous. Every time we get in a car, be it a cab, my uncle's car, or one of my parents' cars, we almost hit something, get hit, or cause someone else to almost hit something or get hit. Yet I seem to be the only one who flinches. It is common for cars to swerve out of the way, for bicyclists to almost run into cars, or for buses to nearly run cars and bicyclists over. And not a sound from anyone. I'm the only one in my family who ever wears a seatbelt in the back seat of the car, and most people don't even wear them in the front, though my mother is the exception. And cabs don't even have seatbelts in the back seats; every time I get into a taxi I instinctively reach for the seatbelt but find nothing. What I have learned to do is just close my eyes and sing in my head, as it is the only real way for me to relax in any car here. So far it has worked well, and I have been oblivio us to all of the chaos. As they say, ignorance is bliss.

    I'm writing this from my fathers's office, and in a few minutes I will have to drive the family car back to our apartment building, about a block away. We came here by foot, but brought a computer to try to fix here on the back of a bicycle, which we rolled here. I didn't really understand what was said but for some reason my father wanted to take the bike home and leave us with the car. As I'm the only one with a license (one must be 18 in Beijing to drive), and the drive is about 150 yards down a deserted street, my father asked me if I would do it. Well, he asked my host brother in Chinese to ask me in English if I would do it. Naturally, seeking any approval I can get from both my host brother and host father, I agreed. I'm a little nervous, but if all goes well I might be able to gain a little more respect from my host family. And if all doesn't go well...

    You can read about it next time.

    For now, I'm gonna go get myself mentally prepared for the journey home.

    February 21

    (Nate Brevard)

    The Knife

    Andrew, Kevin and I were walking through an alley near my house filled with street vendors, we were browsing, stopping here and there, and checking out some cheap street merchandise. I spotted a butterfly knife on a table near by and began playing around with it, flipping it open and closed etc. A young vendor lady approached me aggressively. "Hey hey, hello. I give you, 100 kuai! Ok?" I laughed at this outrageous price and kept playing with the knife. "Ok, Ok! 50 kuai! Ok?" I didnt even want the knife so I began to walk away...She grabbed my arm.

    "Ok, 40" she said. - "Wo bu yao" (I dont want it) said I.

    "30" - "Wo bu yao le" (I don't want it, with authority)

    "Ok! 20" - "Wo bu yao le"

    "Ok, ok.Hello! 10 kuai! Ey, ey! 10 kuai" (About $1.25) This didn't change the fact I didn't want it, so i continued on my way. "Hey Hey hello 10 kuai!" At this point I was about 5 feet away from the stand, my movement was constricted by the fact that she was latched on to my right arm. After six feet she got the idea I actually didnt want it, In a huff, she let go of my arm and hit my arm with the knife. It was closed, so it didnt cut me or anything, but still. Andrew laughed, who witnessed the entire thing and so did I. So did kevin when we told him. Even walking home is an adventure...

    Since this encounter I have seen the saleslady numerous times and every time she offers up the knife again.

    House and Hutong

    I live in a 100 to 200 year old house in a hutong. A hutong is a small community of one level buildings connected by very small roads or alleys, walking down one of these small stone roads transports you out of the city, and into a small town. My hutong is complete with shops, stands and street vendors, all of miniature size. It is never quiet on the street and they are usually packed with people on foot, riding bicycles and motorcycles, and although they have trouble fitting, some people drive thier cars through the narrow streets beeping every few feet. The hutong is located directly off of Wangfujing street, a huge commecial strip. Wangfujing, along with The Forbidden City and Tianamen Square, is directly in the center of Beijing. It's unbelievable. The vast majority of the 11 million people who reside in Beijing live in apartments, condos etc. so living in a real house, in a hutong, on Wangfujing is about as ideal a living environm nt you can have in Beijing.

    From Wangfujing to the outer door of my house is a two minute walk. My house begins with a large, wooden, red double door with a human sized door build into it, that faces the street. As I step through this I come into a sort of half courtyard/walkway and the inner door is close by. The house has 8 rooms, 2 bathrooms plus a wing of the house I have never been in, in which the housekeeper and my host Aunt, Uncle and cousin live. Across the house from the inner door is a sort of porch that leads to a courtyard and garden. I believe my family lives in approximately half of the entire house and the rest is rented out to other people, who I hardly see and live across the courtyard. Our two chickens that enjoy waking me up live in the courtyard, feeding them in genuinely exciting. I love this place already.

    The Family

    ~ = lives with me

    ~Zeng: My host brother. He is a good guy and we get along we get along well. He loves history and went crazy when we visited 2000 year old or so tombs in Zhengzhou. English: Almost proficient. Common sayings: "Not at all" and "Did you have a good...(sleep, dinner, time etc.)

    ~Baba/Ba: My host Father. He laughes at almost everything I say and do, and he loves Internet Bridge. English: Slight. Common sayings: Laughter.

    ~Mama/Ma: My host Mother. She pays very close attention to me and talks to me in chinese when ever she thinks I'll be able to understand, which is great. English:Slight. Common sayings: "Chi guo le?"(Have you eaten?) and "Shizao ma?"(Have you bathed/showered?).

    ~My host Grandmother: She speaks english almnost as well as Zeng and is very concerned with my well being. However she has been in southern China since a few days after I arrived and will be there untill the beginning of march, so I do not know much about her.

    ~My Host Aunt: She is a very good cook and laughes almost as much as my host dad. English: Only the word chocolate so far. Common sayings: "Chi fan!" (Food!) and "Chi bao le ma" (Are you full?)

    ~My host Uncle(above's husband): We have never really talked. Although smiles have been exchanged.

    ~My host cousin(of the above parents): I think she is about 9 or 10 years old and she is full of energy. English: Basic. Common saying: "Hello!"

    Dada: My fathers eldest brother. He is very nice and informative, he is a history nut like Zeng. He also smokes heavily . English: The best in the family, fluent. Memorable saying: "You like cold food, we like hot food" (comparing Americans to Chinese.)

    My fathers younger brother: He is rather short but walks suprisingly fast, he finds me very amusing. English: None. Common or memorable sayings: Nothing I can comprehend.

    My mothers elder brother: Enthusiastic. English: Slight. Comon saying: "Delicious!"

    I have quite a few other Family members who I am not in regular contact with and do not know very well, including another Grandmother, a Grandfather and a few cousins.

    New Years

    The Spring Festival/Chinese New Year are a huge deal here. The festivities started by meeting up with the extended family at a hotel for a huge dinner. My Uncle(Fathers younger bro) picked us up to go to the hotel (In an S class...word). Dinner was great, in a private dining room waitresses would bring out dishes every few minutes and place them on lazy susans. There must hae been more than 20 different dishes, one of each brought to both tables. Both of my grandmothers who I sat close to paid special attention to me and admidst constant laughter, yelling and toasts, managed to get me to try every food that came out.

    Then came the fireworks, since its illegal to use them within city limits we carpooled out to a suburb to a family friends place. in their house we relaxed and drank tea for a while, untill just before midnight. Then, it was time. We unloaded a couple of trunkloads of large brown boxes packed with a very wide variety or fireworks and brought them out to the middle of the street. These boxes provided about 1 hour of constant, explosions of light and sound directly over head. We had everything from long strings of small red crackers to giant cubes that housed about 40 foot long rockets. When their fuses were lit, these boxes kept spitting out light, fire and sound for minutes. My host father made sure I had set off my share. After one adrenaline pumping hour of this we finally used up everything the boxes had to offer. We went back inside to relax, I thought we were done. However, Dada soon said to me "Now we get some big fireworks, somethin like a canon, I think." I found it hard to believe that we actually had more fireworks and that he didn't classify those other ones as "big". The "big" ones were absolutely huge, brown spheres a little bigger than grapefruit were lit and dropped into tall sturdy carboard tubes. This created huge explosions that were just like fireworks you would see at 4th of July shows over Boston Harbor, except directly overhead. Eventually the top half of the tube blew up and we almost had a slight brushfire problem. But my cousins kept droppin em' in. After another hour or so it was all over and we went back inside for tea. This was possibly the most amazing night of my life.

    Henen Province

    A few days of exploring Beijing later, My family went on "holiday". We flew to the capital of Henan Province, Zhengzhou. It is a one hour flight south of Beijing and the "Motherland of China" as Dada put it. It was a great, we stayed in a 5 Star hotel in the middle of Zhengzhou and toured Henan's historical sites, of which it has no end of, for four days. I saw many very, very old things, the 2 oldest of which were a 4500 year old tree in a 2000 year old Confucian academy and a 3000 year old stone gate that was all that was left of a very old temple. I also went to the first Buddhist temple ever built it China, and the first Shaolin temple. These places were all extremely beautiful and would be just as peaceful and serene, but they were packed full with touring Chinese, all of them burning incesnce, yelling, taking pictures of their family and friends, and staring at my hair. Every day in Henan lunch and dinner were like our New Years Dinne , it was unbelievable. I made friends with the daughter of a family friend in Zhengzhou, named Tian Tian, who happened to be spending this year at Penn State as an exchange student. She was home for Spring festival. Her english was very good, so talking with her about American stuff and her college was great. On my birthday after a special dinner at the Hotel, Tian Tian took me to a dance club nearby the Hotel. They played techno, and the DJ's were nothing special, but the dancefloor shook up and down and I had a good time. My host father got worried though, and called at 10:30 and had us come back to the hotel. Henan was an amazing experience, and one that not many westerners get to have. I'm glad I got to see so much of China's history up close.

    Beijing

    Since I got back from Henan, about a week and a half ago, I have been spending evey day exploring Beijing by foot and by taxi. China is amazing. Every day I experience things that are totally new to me. There is so much it's impossible to write it all down. I have fully explored Wangfujing and Xingshijie, another big commercial strip. I have been to the Forbidden City and to uncountable indoor and outdoor markets. I am constantly experiencing new sights, tastes, sounds, people and methods of transportation.

    Wednesday was my first time in the Jingshan school, the group had a tour and introduction to principle Fan and the a few staffmembers that will be vital to us in the coming months. Friday was my first actually in class, I am in Andrews class. The teacher introduced us and wrote our english and chinese names on the board. (By the way my Chinese name is Wu Tao, Tao is the closest to Nate we could get.) It wasn't a true school day, our American group was dismissed at 9:30am and the rest of the school got their textbooks and was then allowed to leave as well.

    Various

    The day before yesterday was Lantern Festival, which meant another big dinner and more fireworks, this time we had the huge boxes filles with misc. fireworks, plus the big canons all at once...crazy. By the end all we had left were very many of the long strings of those small red crackers, which we threw onto small fires that had sprung up, it was nuts.

    I have an arsenal of different ways to expressing to my family that I do not want any more food, and that I am full. They are: "I'm full", "Wo chi bao le" (I'm full), Wo bu xing le (I can't eat another bite), shaking my head, "Bu, bu, bu" (No, no, no), and "Bao le" (Full). None of them, in any combination, work.

    Today was my first real day of school. The first half of the day was uneventful, I sat in my seat during lectures on chem, computers, physics and english. I paid attention during the english lesson due to the fact it was the only one I could understand, the rest of the time I looked up words in a Chinese/English dictionary. The second half was much more fun. We had lunch in the cafeteria, the food wasn't great but in was better that Newton South's. After lunch Kevin and I took a walk throught a large concrete athletic area near the caf, with a track and basketball courts. We were mobbed my the youngest of the primary school students who wear little purple uniforms. They engulfed us yelling things like "Hello! How are you?" and with out us responding, "I'm fine! Thank you." They also latched on to our clothing and jumped up trying to grab my hair and Kevins headband. Later we had a meeting with the American group and talked about our day.

    Right now it is nighttime here, I'm sitting at the computer in the main living room of the house. If it were day I could look to my right and view the courtyard through the large windows about ten feet away. My host aunt just brought me a plate of peeled apple slices and strawberries, which I saw for sale earlier today down the street. Right now she is in the other living room watching TV with my host mother.

    Miscellaneous

    DVD count: 33

    Highest taxi fare paid: 27 Kuai (approx. $3.40)

    Pieces of raw meat eaten (On purpose. Not fish) : 1

    Favorite TV show: Modern English. It boasts a hilarious cast of actors and actresses who are bad at acting, and speak in either fluent chinese and broken english or fluent english and broken chinese. They try to teach english to whoever is watching through acting out a scene on a special topic of the day(the last one I saw was "cheating in relationships"). I have seen this show one and a half times. GET MODERN ENGLISH!

    The Baby and The Cigarette

    In Zhengzhou I saw a baby smoke a cigarette...

    I assure you all parts of this story are true and I am in no way exaggerating. Seriously. We were visiting a very old Pagoda, or ba-guo-ta. Very close by to it an amazing scene unfolded as we walked by. A baby, no more than three was wrapped up in a ball of winter clothing, playing next to It's mother, who was sitting in a chair against a wall, smoking. The Mother proceeded to give the baby her cigarette. The baby then put the cigarette in its mouth. Soon enough the baby took the out of its mouth and connected the burning end with something in its other hand which it then through on the ground. It happend to be a small firecracker that made several small explosions. The Baby then began to scream at the top of its lungs for a few seconds and then break into hysterical laughter. This happened again except this time the baby threw the cracker under his mothers chair and got yelled at while she ran away, before the explosion, and the screaming and laughing happened agai . I was shocked and amazed...

    February 23

    (Nate Randall)

    Hey,

    On Monday I attended my first day of school in over three weeks. As expected it was in Chinese. The day was uneventful, except for some minor excitement at the all-school assembly in the very beginning of the day.

    I arrived to school by car, as I hadn't received my bike yet, and followed my host brother into our class. Once all the students arrived we walked to the gym/auditorium where there was to be an assembly. We sat down, and soon the entire school, both students and teachers, filed into the massive room. I think the school has about 2000 students, though I'm not positive, but it is at least as large as South, if not noticeably larger.

    For a while there were no abnormalities in the assembly, which consisted of a speech by the principal, the presentation of awards to students who had done well in a certain academic contest, some other remarks by administrators, and the raising of the Chinese Flag and the singing of the national anthem. Everything was going as expected until our American teachers appeared on the stage and beckoned us to come down from our seats. I had no idea that we would be appearing on stage, let alone speaking in Chinese to the entire student and faculty body. Right before they handed us a microphone one of our teachers whispered to us that we should introduce ourselves and say "a little something" about ourselves. In Chinese. The teachers had also just found out; they weren't to blame for the late notice. This lack of communication is typical with us in China. When my host family tells me to grab my jacket, sometimes it means that I'm giong to walk the dog right outside our aparrment building, while other times it me anst we're headed off to the Great Wall for the day. If I don't ask before we leave the only way I'll figure out what we're doing is by arriving at the destination. It keeps me alert, and ready for anything.

    Anyway, I think I was the fifth of eight people to speak, and as my fellow Americans before me passed the microphone down the line I still had no idea what I would say. Others were saying things like "I'm looking forward to studying with you" or "I'm glad I have such an opportunity to attend this school." My Chinese, however, doesn't extend quite that far. Four speakers later the microphone was in my hand and my mind remained blank. I tend to be comfortable enough public speaking, and I wasn't uncomfortably nervous, but I didn't want to humiliate myself. Before I knew it words were coming from my mouth.

    I introduced my name in Chinese, and then the English "Nasan." I still had to say something else, though, so I concluded with one of the few things I know how to say well: "I like watching movies." Sheepishly I handed the microphone down the line and stood there, wishing I could hide behind the group of teachers sitting in chairs behind us while 2000 kids lauged without abandon (the response they made to virtually all of our introductions, not just mine). I couldn't hide, though, and instead just waited the two or three minutes until we were done and then returned to my seat in the audience. It was traumatic, but hopefully my classmates will take the hint and invite me to some of the various cinemas in Beijing. I really do enjoy watching movies, so perhaps it wasn't such a horrible thing to say. I just don't think that anyone, including myself, was expecting me to say that.

    After the assembly and a few classes in Chinese (I just sat and studied Chinese characters and vocab, as I cannot understand the teachers' lectures at all) we had P.E. (physical education). It was beyone horrendous. For two hours (it was the double P.E. block) I listened the the Chinese barks of the teacher who led us in marching (literally, army-style marching) running laps, stretches, and more. It certainly isn't stress management, which is what my gym class as school left off doing. I only have P.E. once a week, every Monday morning, but I dread it more than any other class.

    The only thing almost as bad as P.E. are the morning exercises. The entire school lines up in flawlessly-straight rows and columns organized by class and follows the orders of my P.E. tecaher. We march in place, stretch, rotate, and freeze in the cold, morning Beijing air. My homeroom teacher loves to make sure that I'm doing all of the streches perfectly, and never hesitates to hold my arms where they're supposed to be, or push my feet so that they're completely together and aligned with those of the rest of the school. It's intense.

    Besides P.E. and morning exercises school is relaxing and a great time to study and read books about China, and learn in ways totally different from those to which I'm accustomed in Newton. To make it even better the English teacher has been out due to surgery, so Susie, the only other American in my class, and I have gotten to teach the English class two days in a row. Initially we did as our homeroom teacher had asked and read the vocab in the Enlgish textbook to the class and had them repeat it, but that soon became boring. The second day the teacher left at the beginning of class so we ended the vocab lessons immediately and began a competitive game of hangman. The student who solved the puzzle got to choose the word for the next puzzle, and lead the game. The class seemed to enjoy it, and it was great to feel knowledgable again and actually be able to answer questions and help out the Chinese students.

    After school Monday I tracked down my bike. My host mother came to pick us up at scool and instead of having my host brother ride the bike home with me in the car we shoved the bike into the trunk of the car and tied the hood shut with a little piece of string that my host mother had brought. The bike stuck out about three feet from the back of the car, and every time we accelerated it almost fell out onto the road. My host mother and brother weren's worried at all but I sat there staring out the back of the car watching the hood bounce up and down on top of the bike. We made it home safely but it was the most terrifying ride home we've had yet.

    On Tuesday morning we planned to bike to school until my host mother said that it was "too dark" and that she would drive us. I politely told her that I was confident it would be similarly dark the next day, and I guess this made sense to her because we ended up biking to school. The traffic in Beijing is so awful it took us five minutes less by bike to arrive to school than it had taken us to drive the day before. We drove the rest of the week because one day it was "too cold" and then my brother's bike was broken, but we are supposed to bike to school every day from now on.

    As an American, it is impossible to walk down the streets of a market and not here people yell "hello, hello, looka looka, very cheap, very beautuful." That is all they say, and no matter how politely or rudely I decline their offers they persist. The more agressive vendors grab me, or thrust merchandise in front of me, while others look offended that I do not buy their products. I've learned to just walk quickly with my head down until I'm through the shops, but if for an instant I lift my head up a "hello, looka looka" always pops up.

    I'm off to lunch with my host brother, and then off to the theatre to see a performance with a few Americans and my teacher's Belgian friend. Then, another week of school.

    February 24

    (George Swift)

    It is only fitting that my first alarm-awakened official school day comes on my American colleagues' first anxiety free Sunday night of vaction.

    Feeling poetic on my half hour bike ride to Jingshan:

    Swarming in the dusk of red and green traffic lights,
    headlights, some raw fluorescents in an occasional restaurant,
    naked incandescents here and there,
    but none of last night's neon.
    Schooling as fish around ancient buses and sleek new autos,
    much like ships and barges moored at intersections.
    Pushing, struggling upstream through bike lane channels
    beyond boulevard dams


    March 04

    (Susie's pictures)

    Lhama Temple

    Yong He Gong (Lhama Temple)

    Fancy House

    A fancy house

    (George Swift)

    The Haircut

    Within the one block east of my house there are six choices for haircuts. On the first floor of my 18 story concrete building (much like a public housing project in America) there is one. A second is the man in white jacket, pants, and hat who sets up right outside my window or in the park across the street. There are also three very narrow storefronts that Xiao Fang and I walk past on our way to the salon at the end of the block. We arrive about 10:05.
    A young woman washed my hair while I sit vertically far from any sink. She adds a bit of soap and just enough water from separate bottles starting at the top of my head and then in increasingly larger circles generously lathering, massaging, kneading, finding pressure points, deeply cleansing through several layers of scalp. If I lose all my hair in the process it might still be worth it. She then gathers up and removes excess lather with her hands before beginning again focusing even more on meridians and pressure points. Finally she leads me to a sink for a warm water rinse. My only clue of time going by is that four songs have played on the stereo.

    Next I return to the original chair while she rubs lotion on her hands. I'm then treated to an unexplainable head, scalp, neck, ear, shoulder, arm, hand, finger, back massage, pressure point, joint jiggling, nerve tingling, hand clapping, finger snapping, therapeutic forty minutes of magic before my haircut.

    The half dozen employees are young, hip dressed in black, with red tinged shaggy hair. My grey hairs fall conspicuously on the dark sheet covering me and on the hair stylist's sharp black sport coat. Using hands, fingers, and scissors first, then comb and scissors, he proceeds to give me the haircut I want. Several interim blow-dries and quality control resnippings before he uses an electric clipper to layer the edges, trim around ears and neck, and catch the incidental odd hair still standing up higher. With a dry safety razor he shaves the hairs on the back of my neck.

    Throughout this process I'm vaguely aware that signs about the store suggest prices up to 180 yuan (more than $20). I would be embarrassed if Xiao Fang insists on paying. The haircut takes forty minutes (after one more rinse and back to the chair for a spray of something). Back home for a great lunch by 11:45. The entire hour and thirty five minute experience cost 12 yuan ($1.50).

    April 10

    (Nick)

    Today I went to a suburban branch of the school I'm going to now (mine is in the middle of the city) which was interesting. The school administration ( though we've known we would be going on this trip for months) told us last night that while on our tour each of us had to teach two classes of Chinese children so we had an interesting time. I taught one class of fourth graders and one class of third graders, all of whom were extremely cute and sweet. I read a book to them, while showing it on an over head projector, very very slowly and then went over the vocabulary and the concept of sharing (interesting to teach that to them in Chinese). I thought it would be a very strange and uncomfortable (since I made up the lesson on the spot) but it turned out to be a lot of fun; they were all so adorable. One class put on a play (three little pigs) which they had memorized in English for me and the next sang me a really long song (none of which I could understand but was supposedly in English). All the children were extremely excited to see foreigners, especially Americans (plus we have African American and Indian American students in our group which completely shocked them) and wherever we w nt they would scream out all the English phrases they could think of ( "the weather is very nice today", "I like your pants"....). It was a nice experience. Afterwards they took us to a private dining room (probably usually used for like government diginitaries (our school is apparentlyy really famous in China)) where a huge lunch had been spead out. All the food was extremely good and beautiful (it tasted like the kind of food you'd have in an American Chinese restaurant because everything was very sweet (they had prepared according to how they hear foreigners like Chinese food) but it was really good too).There were two kinds of Dumplings, two chicken dishes (one in like a curry sauce and the other in a sweet sauce with aubergines), a big platter of exotic fruit, a pyramid of chinese steamed buns, a huge bowl of rice, a cake shaped like a chinese chess board with the pieces included (all of which was encased in different kinds of chocolate), fried sweet potato and sesame cakes in a pyramid, plain broccoli (kind of out of place amongst everything else :) ), chicken fried coated in sesame seeds and then cut uo into long thin strips, deep-fried chicken drumsticks, huge shrimp in hawthorne sauce, a whole fried fish in fruit sauce (like strawberries and oranges and grapes and cherries and other things I didn't recognize (it was amazing) (they call this squirrel fish because somehow it looks like a squirrel, though I have no idea how, it had its tail and head flipped up into the air wish its mouth open and all the meat organized into little cubes on top and then topped in the sauce and diced fresh fruit and oither garnishes)) and boat-shaped glutinous rice dumplings filled with fruit and something which tasted like cheesecake (this was served on a plate surrounded by some sort of multi- colored, edible marzapan-ish type garnish which was carved into the shape of a double bodied dragon with foliage and roses and other flowers). It was quite a lunch (there were two identical tables set up like this, one for the the teachers and one for the students).

    (George Swift)

    Several friends have suggested that they have not heard from me in a while. Perhaps you have become adjusted to the play by play of March Madness or around the clock continuing war coverage or the need to listen to weather reports about impending storms. While I am in the middle of trying to compose pieces on teaching in China compared with teaching in the U.S. and a similar piece on the difference between riding a bicycle here and there (or there and here for most of you) I have no witty thoughts today. In an attempt to satisfy you need for news from China, here are some poetic thoughts from my vault:

    I stride in my orange dashiki through South Boston streets
    From Broadway to L Street and back to the McCormick Projects.
    My Yoruba features burnished by my native equatorial sun.
    Yet I lie it is still my pasty white self in blue and black EMS garb
    Navigating a sea of curious faces,
    All distinct, just not as different as mine.
    Peeking, staring, smiling, glaring,
    Ignoring and at times exchanging with me our share of common language
    Before communicating in unknown tongues.

    This poem is dedicated to Cyndi Dailey-Smith who always gets a kick when I
    call myself "pasty white" and to everyone who is looking for some
    different news.

    April 22

    (Nathan)

    Hello from the other side of the world, for the last time.

    I write this email from my room, now empty of all of my belongings. The closet is empty, the floor carries nothing but my chair, the window sill no longer holds my DVDs. I've assembled all of my bags by the door of our apartment, so that I have room to walk around in my room, and every time I see them piled up next to the door, containing all of the belongings with which I've lived for the last 12 weeks, I stop and realize that tomorrow I'll leave China.

    I feel exactly as I felt the night before I came here; I can't believe that I'm about to cross the globe. After all, Beijing is my home. What could possibly possess me to leave it? I want to see my family and friends back in America, sure, and I miss them all, but I have family and friends in China too. Why leave them?

    Today is my host brother's birthday, so yesterday I got him some presents: a basketball (the most fitting gift I could think of), and a birthday cake. When I came home my host mother saw the gifts and immediately, after chastising me for getting him too much, went out for a while. When she came back she had a present for each member of my family, numerous items for me, and a promise to send me gifts in the mail for my birthday, which was supposed to happen in China but now will happen back in the States. Never again will I give a Chinese person a present with more than one day left in China. It is impossible to avoid receiving bigger and better presents than what you give.

    Yesterday, right before I left Jingshan for the last time, Susie came running into my classroom and told me I had to go outside. She practically dragged me out there to meet the entirety of one of the other classes in my grade. There, seven or eight of the class' boys grabbed my arms and legs, lifted me up in the air, and threw me as high as they could, about five or six feet above their heads, repeatedly, until I begged for them to stop. They had just performed this procedure on Nick, and would perform it on Kevin in about five minutes. Nate, Andrew and Susie weren't so unlucky to have experienced it first hand, but they got to watch from a safe distance. It was both terrifying and exhilarating, and I'll never forget it.

    When I got to China, the first major issue that arose involved whooping cough. I had been exposed to it shortly before I came here, so it became essential that I find the necessary antibiotics and take them, so that I wouldn't infect anybody in China, if I actually did have Pertussis. I ended up not even needing to go to a hospital to get the medicine; one of the students who came to America this past fall had the exact antibiotics I needed at his house, because his mother is a doctor. I got the meds the day I was informed about my possible danger, and nothing ever came of the catastrophe that could have been. Now, I am on my way home solely due to a respiratory disease, somewhat similar to whooping cough. I should have taken that intitial occurrence as a warning for what was to come less than three months later. The first issue to face me during this exchange in China is almost the exact same one that will bring it to an end. Irony? Coincidence? Bad luck? You can tell me what you think tomorrow, I should be home.

    I spent most of today with my favorite classmate. Because of SARS the students didn't have to go to school, so a bunch of my (and my host brother's) closest friends came over to our house, partly because today is his birthday, and partly because today is my last day in Beijing. At first there were four other kids over here, but most of them left after lunch, leaving only the girl who sits three seats in front of me. In the last four weeks or so, since she began teaching me Japanese and since I began teaching her Spanish, we've become close. There have always been a lot of kids around, though, so we haven't been able to really have any sort of unique friendship; my relationship with her has been virtually identical to the relationship I have with all of the classmates who've made an effort to be my friend. Today we got to spend a lot of time together, though, and it was amazing having a real friendship wit h a Chinese kid, besides my host brother.

    She left about twenty minutes ago, and I know that I'll never see her again.

    Tonight I'll stay up twiddling my thumbs and watching movies, so that I can fall asleep on the plane tomorrow and ease my inevitable American Airlines discomfort. The Nyquil I have in the outside pocket of my backpack should help just as much. At this point, I want to be home, so that I can begin dealing with the fact that I'm no longer in China. This exchange has been, and will continue to be, the most impacting experience I've ever had in my life. Everybody said that I would be a different person when it ended, and though I didn't believe them at the time, I can finally see that it's true. It was, using my favorite word to describe everything in and about China, phenomenal. I wish that it didn't have to end, but it does, so I'm going home.

    If the flight goes as expected I'll see you, or talk to you all soon.
    Comments (-1)
  • Spring 2002

    Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 8/14/2014
    This diary chronicles the experiences and reflections of Newton's Spring 2002 Jingshan Exchange group, which was in Beijing from February 4th until June 1, 2002.

    Leaving Logan
    Spring 2002 Jingshan Group leaving Boston's Logan Airport
    (Left-to-right: Andrew Yousef, Richard Shum, Nate DeLong, Another NNHS student, Steve Ford, and Laura Mayer)

    Monday, February 4, 2002

    (Steve/Mr. Ford)

    It’s my first morning in China, 6:30 am. I can hear members of my family up and about preparing for their day. It’s still dark outside but I can already hear some cars on the roads and when I look out my bedroom window I can see a few people walking along the street and even more riding bicycles. I wonder what this day will be like for me. I’m looking forward to walking around my neighborhood to get a feel for where I’m living.

    Tuesday, February 5

    (Steve)

    Went to fax an important document at the post office. No problems. Went to the police station to get my residency card. Problems. Apparently, even though my host family has been living in their apartment for a year now, the police still have it registered to the family that lived there before they did. I can’t legally stay here until my host father’s hospital writes a letter stating that this is where they live. Who knows how long this may take.

    Found the electrical outlet to recharge my camera batteries. No problems. Plugged it in. Problems! (How many times will this theme repeat itself?!) Just blew out a fuse and apparently this whole floor of apartments, from the commotion I hear in the hallway. I also fried the electrical component to my recharger. Guess that voltage converter I got on sale was worth every penny! Now the battery on my computer is running low. No way I’m plugging it in until I figure out this electricity debacle.
    Just got back from walking to the bank down the street to exchange money. Bank of China is very close by. Had my passport, driver’s license, etc. No problem. My pen ran out of ink while I was signing my traveler’s check. Problem. They had to have 3 people check all my I.D., look at me for long periods of time, then talk quietly among themselves before someone decided I could have my money. Stopped at a small market (a wedge in a wall, really, with a sliding glass window in it). Wanted a bottle of water. No problem. Paid 2 Yuan for it. Problem. I don’t know if I paid 50 cents for this water or 50 dollars! I’ve got to get this money thing straight before I pay 100 dollars for a chocolate bar. OK…got it now. It is about 8 Yuan to the dollar. That means this one liter bottle of water costs only 25 cents. Got to go back for more water at that price!

    Wednesday, February 6

    (Steve)

    Walked around the outer ring of the Forbidden City yesterday afternoon as the sun was setting. I was filled with very strong emotions at being here. A military group was drilling and practicing for the taking down of the flag at sunset. My host brother said that the raising and lowering of the flag are things I must see. He also said that at sunset the emperor in the Forbidden City would cry because he knew that one day his reign must end but that in the morning he would be happy because he was given a new day to reign. There is a large deep blue rectangular painting that hangs high over the entrance to the inner walls of the city. It is there to invoke a sense of awe among the common people just as looking out at the horizon on the ocean makes it difficult sometimes to tell where the ocean ends and the sky begins. This represents that the emperor is the center of all things sky and earth ­ and that both come to meet him here.

    We could not find a good spot to watch the lowering of the flag so we walked around the Forbidden City by way of the moats. We had a very long walk along narrow streets with all kinds of shops and alleyways leading into hutongs. The spirit of the Spring Festival is really building in the city and it is exciting to walk the streets and “feel” the anticipation!

    Thursday, February 7

    (Steve)

    I just got hooked up to the internet (Ed.: This was actually Steve's first e-mail) and wanted to let you know personally that I'm alive and well here in Beijing as are all members of our group. We will be meeting together today at Ditan Park to check in with each other. I'm sending along the first picture I took in China. This little girl was helping hang lanterns outside a police station on a narrow alley. The second picture is my view from my bedroom window of the North Gate of the Forbidden City with the mountains in the background that harbor the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. This is an amazing experience. I can't believe I'm here. More later ...

    Monday, February 11 and Tuesday, February 12

    (Steve Ford)

    New Year's Eve in China. Welcoming the year of the horse. The fireworks have been going off since sundown. Now it is midnight and the city of Beijing is trembling with the concussions of fireworks. Everywhere I look from this 7th floor balcony overlooking the Temple of Heaven, the night sky is filled with bright flashes of light. In the distance it looks like an entire summer’s worth of heat lightning is erupting, reflecting off the clouds and buildings. These are not little bottle rockets and sparklers but the real thing that you see over the Charles River on the 4th of July. They are being set off from rooftops and courtyards, street corners and hutongs. The blasts are so loud nearby that car alarms are going off, adding to the din that is made to drive demons away. At times the sound drowns out conversations that we are having with one another on the balcony. On the streets below people are streaming out of their homes and apartments with steaming platters of dumplings to bring to neighbors.

    Forty-five minutes later. This city-wide display has been going on so long now that I no longer jump when a blast goes off right outside my window. The sound is like a gigantic clap of thunder that refuses to relinquish its power. More people are joining in the celebration in the streets and while I can’t believe it is possible the noise is continuing to grow. Do they have a cannon next door? If this is what happens on New Year’s Eve in a city with a ban on fireworks then I can’t imagine what the sights and sounds would be like with an official sanction.

    1:30 am and I am still so excited from the evening that I can’t fall asleep. The sky is still erupting with fireworks. There aren’t as many people on our street now and the car alarms have stopped going off. There is a constant rumble in the background with staccato bursts of gunpowder (that ancient concoction first made here many hundreds of years ago) erupting in the foreground. It is like a symphony for drums. I will keep my bedroom curtains open and watch the reflecting light of the fireworks dance off the ceiling walls as I try and fall asleep.

    6:00 am. Can it be? Yes. Fireworks are still going off. What a day this will be!!

    (Pictures: Here are a few more pictures of the New Year's/Spring Festival, taken on the first day of the Festival. The first is of the temple gate at the Taoist temple called Baiyunguan Si (White Cloud Temple). Part of the festivities include eating dumplings and dressing in fine traditional clothing like this little child has on. Red lanterns hang from almost anything that will support them: shop windows, doorways, rear view mirrors, and trees.)

    (Laura Mayer)

    Last night was New Year's Eve/ Spring Festival Eve. During the day we shared our meals, with Emily, my host daughter/sister, being the conduit and reason for our conversations being as fluid as they are. I cannot mention enough, how warm, generous, gracious and fun this family is. We enjoyed some traditional rice cakes for breakfast which we shopped for at 10 the night before. One cake, which is really a sticky flat orange colored rectangle, is made from peas but has a taste reminiscent of yam. Another cake name translates into donkey roll, because its rolled pinwheel design is reminiscent of a donkey rolling on the ground.

    There seems to be a related aspect of their written and oral languages, as well as these traditional cakes they all share the common element of having a lot going on within a small, constrained space. Written: a lot is going on within the confines of the space allotted for a calligraphic character. Auditory: the tones add subtle variations to pronunciation within the confined space of an utterance. For my unpracticed eye and ear I have to concentrate to distinguish the subtleties contained in these limited spaces. Also, with these traditional cakes, the gustatory differences are subtle. As I improve in distinguishing each taste from the other, there seems to be an entire little gustatory world within each cake.

    After a lunch of warm winter melon soup, a tofu dish and a savory carrot vinegar dish, the dad and I returned to the flower market to buy two perfect pots of 4 orchid plants each. I could be quite happy waking up some morning in that market, surrounded by such beauty. Although there are a few plants that are new to my eye, for the most part we have the same plants available in the United States — Holland bulbs, etc. (by the way, I’ve also enjoyed gala apples, granny smiths, and grape tomatoes here).

    After returning home, we napped a little and then drove to grandmother’s (mother's side) apartment for New Year's dinner. Grandma, a retired surgeon (grandpa passed 2 years ago), had prepared the fillings for the dumplings. A round table was set up within the small living room area and we all gathered around making dumplings, my early attempts being defective (I volunteered to eat them later). Eventually I got the hang of it. The edge has to be just the right thickness and the finished shape has a specific requirement as well. It was very interesting to watch the mom prepare the small perfect circles of dough for the dumplings, maybe 200 of them, each individually hand rolled in rhythm: the left hand turning the flattened dough ball, the right hand pressing and rolling with a small rolling pin…the hundreds of dumpling skins made uniform in size and thickness in a steady rhythm, while chatting ...

    Friday, February 15

    (Steve)

    Just went to the post office by myself and sent mail back to the States. Used Chinese to do it too! Then I had a nice walk down an alley of shops that opened into an large market square. I had fun looking around at what I guess was a flea market. On my way back I stopped in a camera store and bought another batter re-charger for my camera, one that will work on 220 volts. I had been shopping around for one and new that this was the best price so I bought one, again using Chinese to do it. I have to work on a few phrases at a time and practice them on my walks to the shops, restaurants, taxi stands, etc. and although my intonation is very poor I am making myself understood and that is a good feeling.

    On the way back home I saw my first bike accident. Two men in suits were riding together talking when a car hit the outside bike. The man went flying head over heels. The driver got out, saw that the man riding the bike had a cut on his head and gave him a handkerchief. The bicyclist’s companion didn’t even do anything. Neither did two police officers that were standing and watching the whole thing. Bikes and taxis swerved around the scene. The two men involved looked first at the bike, then at the front bumper of the car, then the driver got back in his car and drove off. A nearby bike repairman had walked over by this time and helped the man walk his bike a few feet away where the mangled back tire was replaced in a matter of minutes. By this time the cyclist had stopped bleeding, his suit had been brushed off, his back tire was replaced and he and his companion rode off down a side street laughing and talking as they had been before the accident. No shouting. No punching. No police. No lawyers. No multi-million dollar lawsuits. It was all very civil and over faster than I’ve seen lunch ordered for 4 people.

    I’m fascinated with the culture of bikes here in Beijing. A great deal of thought and effort has been made to continue to accommodate bikes in the city. Bike lanes are found on major streets, smooth ramps are available on highway over and underpasses to allow for bikes to be walked smoothly on stairways, and people will sit and attend to bike parking lots for just a few cents. Bikes are used not just for transportation, but also to sell food, deliver pizza (notice group member Richard Shum contemplating a career as a Domino’s Pizza bicycle delivery boy!), and to collect compost material. (Pictures of bikes 1, 2, 3)

    (Laura)

    A brief note to mention that yesterday's original plan was to go shopping with the mom's brother, but about 30 min before we were going to depart I learned that we were going to the Lamasary (Tibetan Buddhist) which was just fine with me, although I had been there on my first trip. It was still very wonderful to be in the numerous courtyards and see the various Budda sculptures...including one that stands 18 meters high plus 9 meters(?) below ground, and is carved out of a single piece of sandalwood! the building was built around the statue.

    Also in the Lamasary is a small building dedicated to butter flowers and other sculpture depicting historical scenes all constructed of butter. At first I thought it was a misspelling...Butter Flowers for Butterflies...but no..there were indeed flowers made of dyed butter(!) with sculptural foundations made of straw. Can't imagine how it lasts through the summer heat!

    From the Lamasary, we headed over to the oldest mosque in Beijing, dating back to 966, and still a functioning mosque for the Hui people (Moslems). To get there, we travelled on a 21st-century-type road, parked the car and entered by foot through a dilapidated fence. All was suddenly quiet and we were on a dirt road, seeing vendors selling fruits and vegetables from their mule drawn carts. ..a sudden and striking time warp.

    Feeling a little culturally fractured, the mom had a delicious pigs' feet soup waiting for us when we arrived home. I was told that many Chinese do not actually eat the feet, although some do, so I felt I was off the hook. A classmate of Emily's joined us for dinner and he gave us a demonstration of his shadow boxing practice...which is a form of chi gong...very powerful and beautiful to watch.

    Steve and his host brother, Jimmy, came to this home after dinner and we all sat around the table enjoying lively conversation, snacks and a little Bailey's Irish Cream....definite wrong move for Jimmy.

    Today, in keeping with the heavy family visit schedule of the holiday celebration, we joined the dad's elder brother, his family and the grandparents for lunch at a restaurant. Check out this lunch: spare ribs, a barbequed beef dish with sunny side egg on top, a delicious beef soup, cowerie meat with wasabi, a squid, shrimp, tofu and peanut dish, shredded pickled tofu dish, some small sesame breads filled with sesame paste, and finally...some fresh lettuce, cucumber and turnips. Finally... or so I thought. Then came out the roast Peking duck with requisite pancakes, sauce etc. Then a large round bread cut into large wedges, served with a very sweet vanilla sauce for dipping. Finished? Not quite. Out came a dish of fried pancakes filled lightly, with green onion. Then truly, finally, out came pork dumplings. I thought, for sure, they were serving all this food to the wrong room! But not so.
    A portion of the family, including myself, drove to the Beijing Botanical Gardens, where, although quite large, many of the plants can also be found either in my very own Needham home or the Wellesley College greenhouse. One strange exception, though, was seeing the largest Suguaro cactus in China, from Arizona, right in front of me in the desert room.

    One of the mom's co-workers is visiting right now, so I'll end this Diary portion for now, to participate in the visit.

    Tuesday, February 26

    (Steve)

    The Peking Opera was an experience that I knew I should have but went to it with the same enthusiasm as I do going to get a root canal. What I expected was an evening of screeching voices, loud cymbals, and no action from the performers. What I got was an experience I can’t wait to repeat. Prior to the 3 operas performed, I was able to view the performers preparing their makeup (pictures 1 and 2). The shapes on the faces and the color of the makeup tell something about the character they play. It became clear to me that the people who perform in Peking Opera not only have to be established actors and singers, but superb athletes as well. The dancing and acrobatics that are required for a fine performance are beyond belief. Rather than sit and have an experience that I had to suffer through, it was one I applauded through in-between sips of Jasmine tea and bites of fresh fruit and light sesame cookies. It was one of my best evenings yet in Beijing. This type of opera is so much a part of the identity of Beijing that the faces of Peking Opera characters can be found on large balloons outside of temple fairs to the exhibitions put on by common street performers.

    Monday, March 6

    (Nate DeLong)

    "China the Country vs. China the Town"

    hey, guys.

    you've probable been wondering what happened to me since i haven't written in a while, so here's the deal. the internet over here is not like it is in america, especially when dealing with american websites. if it's traveling overseas, it takes a while, and if it's really busy, the pipeline gets jammed. anyways, it's been taking me over an hour to get to the first page of my mail box, and i don't have the patience to try and go any further.

    that aside, here's what i'm up to. Hip Hop has officially arrived in beijing. rich and i have formed a breaking crew that practices 2 times a day (watch out break-fast!) and along with the and1 mixtape that is circulating around school like a virus, i just bought a boombox so we can have music while we try crazy and1 moves in basketball games.

    bargaining for everything here is awesome. really fun. i went back to the night market where i ate all those crazy foods, only this time i was wearing my school uniform and i bargained down every price. it turns out i had been paying 3 times as much as i should have been. the reason i didn't know was because it still seemed cheap to me. imagine, 3 whole scorpions for 2.50?!!! outrageous. i won't pay anything less than 1.20.

    there is a market near temple of heaven park that is famous for its pirated merchandise. everything from stolen dvd and md and vcr players to leather jackets and brush paintings and electric razors and timberland boots, north face and nike and adidas and pearls and jade and swords and silk and pretty much anything you want to buy, all for negotiable prices (it didn't cost them anything). the police overlook it because it brings a lot of money into the city. it's funny to watch all these chump french people get suckered out of their money. not me though. the trick is not to think in terms of american dollars but to think in terms of chinese yuan. it's not hard if you're living here. 30 yuan is about 3.50, which seems like nothing for a box of 16 d batteries, but considering that the same amount of money will buy a friend and me lunch (2 number 1 value meals at mcdonalds) then it's worth it to bargain for.

    i went to a couple cool places. first was xiang shan, or fragrant mountain. its a beautiful mountain 40 minutes north of beijing, and rises above the smog so the air is really clean. a lot of people go there to exercise, and it's beautiful with ancient temples and stuff. i went with my host mom, and we decided that from now on they aren't going to speak any english at all, ever. whenever they do, i just tell them that i can't understand. it's working out well, and already my chinese is improving.

    later i went to gu gong, or the forbidden city as it's called in english. it's amazing. if you dont know, it's that conglomeration of buildings you always see in movies where the emperor lives, with the 9999 rooms and intricate carvings and roofs and courtyards. it's awesome. it's relatively young (built in the 1400's), but you still get the amazing sense of history. plus, from the high points, you can see the modern beijing around the walls, creating an interesting contrast.

    after it, i went to the free market, and after separating from my teacher, decided to just walk. i started heading north from the south end of the city, and just walked for a few hours. i stopped in a cd store and was looking at some hip hop, and a young dude who worked there asked me about my musical tastes. he was surprised when i answered in chinese, and we got into a discussion of american Hip Hop. he said he really like wu tang, but he hadn't heard of biggie. i conveniently had my cd player, and gave him a sample. i think the big man got another fan.

    i kept walking and every now and then i just started smiling because i realized that i was in the middle of the coolest city ever. Beijing vs China town? Beijing wins!!! a guy tapped me on the shoulder and wanted to practice english. he asked me questions about the "gay problem" as well as questions about public toilet use, etc. after dropping some liberal knowledge on him for 30 minutes, i set off again. eventually i wandered into a part of the city that i knew, and took a bus. the bus apparently wasn't the right bus and i got lost again. i took a cab home and had an awesome conversation with the cab driver.

    today at school we had a kung fu class. i had to translate for the group and i was absolutely overjoyed when i could translate 90 percent of the esoteric dialogue. later though, i encountered a cultural difference that pisses me off to no end: in china, if people want to tell you something, they are either overly blunt or so vague that you have no idea what they're talking about. i was sitting in chemistry class. CHEMISTRY!!! AAAHH F--K!! and i was reading lord of the rings (nerd!) and this kid says, "nate, why do u never study chinese?"

    this made me mad to no end. every day i read the dictionary (nerd!) and write down characters and talk to random people and don't allow people to speak english to me, and here this guy is telling me i'm a slacker. I take notes on my hands for god sakes!! my skin will probably fall off because both palms and both backsides are completely covered in pinyin pen notes. it pisses me off. but i judged their english contest later and took it out on them in the scores. (hehe. now who needs to study? :)

    the day was saved when playing basketball, i put the ball through this dude's legs to rich, who went behind the back to me in the air, and i got it and did a 360 and tossed it off the backboard for the points. it was hot. then i went to buy the stereo. the bargaining was fun. she wanted about 30 dollars for a boombox, which is crazy, so and rich and i got her down to about 20, but she wouldn't go lower. we started to walk away and she dropped the price, but we wanted lower still and walked. the woman at the next booth had heard us bargaining and immediately gave us a good price which we took. it was cool.

    anyways, i'd love to hear news from home, no matter how trivial it is, so what ever you're up to, let me know.

    peace from the far east
    nate

    Tuesday, March 12

    (Andrew Yousef)

    Last Wednesday, I took the group on a tour through the Beijing Ancient Observatory, which I had been to the Saturday before. While a lot of things did occur to me between my first visit and the tour I gave specifically, questions about how the astronomers managed to notice so many celestial phenomena one thing never occurred to me until I came to reflect afterward. That is, I never saw a telescope in that place, nor read about any that the astronomers used. Now, I want whoever is reading this to stop and think for a second. Without any telescopes, these astronomers were able to track comets, with records of Halley's comet going back to the seventh century B.C., comet showers, meteors, supernovae and novae (one record of an important supernova dates back to 1054 A.D.), and many other phenomena.

    That's quite a feat. I remember, when I wanted to see that comet that came a few years ago (Hale-Bopp, or something like that), it was only with a telescope that I could make out the comet; otherwise, I would have thought it was just another star, and searched in vain for some time. So, to think that people were able to make out all sorts of phenomena without any magnifying instruments or anything of the sort is quite amazing. However, the one thing that truly amazed me was the fact that the astronomers were able to detect sunspots. In fact, among other things, China has the oldest records of sunspots, with one dating back to a book written in 28 B.C. This really got me thinking, "How did they make out sunspots?" Obviously, looking at the sun would not only accomplish nothing, but would probably be a stupid idea. A telescope would not have helped even if they had one because it would not have been powerful enough. I imagine that they probably had boards with circular holes in them, so that the sunlight could pass through the hole onto some surface, much like a camera box. Then, by looking at that surface, they would essentially be looking at an image of the sun, and might be able to make out some sunspots. Right now, I am almost sure that was their method. But it is still pretty amazing that they knew about sunspots because I always thought that the discovery of sunspots was relatively recent and was only possible with satellite telescopes. So, if I stretch my definition of "relatively recent" to about 28 B.C., my original notion would have been partially correct.

    However, to get back to my main point, I really like the observatory, and I recommend it for anybody whether s/he is planning or not to come to Beijing. If you definitely want to come to Beijing, come and see the observatory. If you definitely want to stay away from Beijing, come to Beijing and see the observatory. It's really a wonderful site.

    As for other places I want to see or am planning to, I have quite a few on my list. Apparently, there is an art gallery-cafe, which seems to be pretty interesting. I am interested not only in old Chinese art, but also in modern (yeah, don't ask what's happened to me, for I thought I would never live to see the day that I would say I'm interested in any modern art), and so I hope to see this place. I also am aware that there is a puppet theatre very near where I live, and so that's another place on my list. I do not know quite where it is yet, but I hope that, with a bigger map than the one I have, I can find out, and drop by at one point. It would be the bomb seeing a show with shadow puppets, and, maybe if I am lucky, I will understand it (just to let you know, that possible dilemma did not occur to me until just now, and should add a twist to the experience). I am able to understand much more Mandarin now than when I first arrived, and am pushing hard in strengthening my grasp of the language. And so, those are the places that I want to see.

    On Wednesday, I am going with the group to the Confucian temple. I am looking forward to that, but I hardly have any idea what to expect (so don't tell…I want to find out on my own). While I have learned about Confucius at school, I still don't know much about his philosophy in depth, and so I hope this visit will enlighten me somewhat.

    As for any other places I'm going to, I really have no idea. I just plan to have my hands and feet guide me wherever, or maybe, I'll just pick a random spot on the map and go there, one day, to see what it's like. That's probably the best way to become very familiar with the city, and so I think I'll try that and see what I get out of it. In any case, till next week, yours truly, sincerely, and all the rest. (Andrew wrestling lion trash can; setting watches by sundial)

    (A NNHS Exchange Student)

    The last month has been amazing. I learned so much about Beijing and Chinese culture already. My host sister, Googie, and I get along really well and my host parents are wonderful cooks. I'm getting used to all the people, cars and buses and I'm starting to know my way around. My host sister's English is so good that I think I'm falling into that trap of avoiding Chinese. The group saw the Forbidden City last weekend and we've got another outing planned for next weekend to The Temple of Heaven. I like seeing the land marks, but I like being at school and feeling almost Chinese better than feeling like a tourist.

    Sorry the group hadn't written you sooner, we'll be in touch more often from now on!

    (Nate DeLong)

    "Confucius Versus the Germans: The Ultimate Showdown"

    On Sunday morning, I woke up at 10 and began to figure out my plans for reaching the Confucian Temple, or Kong Miao. I tried calling Steve but his line was busy, so I opted to try and figure it out my self. I checked the map, wrote the directions on the back of my hand, and set off.

    The weather was beautiful, and my bike decided not break its self on the ride, thus making for a very pleasant trip. The first part of the trip was easy. I had arrived on AnDingMen and simply needed to find the road called GuoZiJian. I rode up and back on AnDingMen and couldn't find it. Finally I found a large wooden gate, done up old school style, with the Han zi going from right to left in big gold letters, stating Guo Zi Jian.

    I turned down this street, and rode for a little ways. First I passed an old style structure, but I wasn't sure what it was. I rode past it slowly, acting like I knew exactly where I was going. Then I passed another one. I wasn't sure again, but there was a statue of a man who looked like The Man himself, so I parked my bike and walked back. I asked a soldier near by: "Kong Miao zai nali?" (where's the Temple) and he smiled. Then I looked up and saw the sign in English that said "Confucian Temple."

    It took a few moments but I convinced the woman at the ticket counter that I was, in fact, a student at the JingShan school, and she only charged me 3 instead of 10. I walked in the gates and took in the scene. The first thing that I noticed, which Steve had told me about earlier, was the sense of quiet and peace. The constant rumble of the city is almost completely shut out, and there are even birds singing.

    The second thing that I noticed was the sound of angry Germanic voices probably shouting about leiderhausen, and the stench of bratwurst. There were about 60 German tourists following a man waving a flag, all being loud and dressed in tight pants. They were being so loud that other people who were visiting were staring at them. I was worried that they might mar the experience, but they soon left through the gate and went back into the city to get lost and be overcharged. Suckaaaaahs!!! But I digress.

    The Confucian Temple was originally part of the Imperial College, the first structure that I passed on GuoZiJian street. The Emperors used the temple to perform cermonies, and scholars studied there so that they could pass the Imperial Exam. On either side of the main internal gate, the Gate of Great Acheivment, there are giant stone steles containing 51, 624 names of scholars that passed the Imperial Exam during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasty.
     
    The top part of the steles uses the old style of characters, so I guess that the scholars or artists that carved the steles had a very high literacy level. On the top of the stairs that go to the Gate of Great Achievement, there are stone "drums" on either side of the door. Each one weighs several hundred pounds. I know this because I spent about 3 minutes engaging in sensless macho activities by trying to lift it up.

    The tops of each one have a poem written in old style characters (Keep in mind that "new" characters are still over 2000 years old) describing a hunting tale. Each was built in 1736 and are mimics of Qin Dynasty stone drums. There is a large drum that is elevated on a stand, that I at first thought was a water basin for fighting fire like in the Forbidden City, but in fact it was more of an "Introductory Drum" that was inscribed with the characters that read: "By the Emperor," even though he didn't write any of them.

    Through the gate there are 11 pavillions. During the temple's active period, they were used for study. Now they each house statues. There is a larger building that houses temple and period relics, most of which are writings, but the captions are not in English so I couldn't figure out their meaning.

    There is a very large building with one large room inside with a very high ceiling. It houses more relics but it was interesting to me because it seems to have been unmodified and stands as it did several hundred years ago.
     
    A few of the statues in the pavillions are rather interesting, but to me the most impressive acheivment at the temple is called the "Forest of Steles". To reach it you have to walk to the back of the temple. I was pessimistic, as I assumed that the "forest" would be more like a shrubery, but I should have known. The Ancient Chinese didn't mess around.

    Underneath a large protective hangar, there are 190 giant stone steles arrayed in rows. 189 containing over 600000 chinese characters and forming the 13 classics of Confucius, and one containing the order of their creation by the Emperor. I walked among them and was completely awed by the precision with which the daunting task was undertaken. The characters are each about an inch tall, and there are quite a few of them. Also, I was very impressed by the fact that of all 190 steles, only one had been noticeably repaired. The rest appeared to be in perfect condition.

    I left the steles and went back to the main courtyard. The scene was so peaceful that I decided to sit there for a few minutes and just enjoy it. Eventually, I set back out into the smog and chaos of the city, dodging taxis and buses all the way home.

    Friday, March 15

    (Richard Shum)

    There are times when people realize they need to change. For me, it was on Feb. 4 2002.

    Beijing is fantastic. I gained 10 pounds since I landed here (see Richard after a foot massage and having a taste of "home"), and bought plenty of CDs for a bargain. I love this place. My host family is cool; they treat me like an adult now. But before they were too overprotective and wanted me home "early". I fixed that problem with the help of Steve and Laura, piece of cake. My host bro is a bookworm, but I don't blame him because he has piles of homework everyday. The apartment I'm in is just a simple small one. Nothing fancy. Though, they don’t have a VCR or a DVD player which is a need for me (I'm planning on buying a portable one).

    School is... just school. The classes with the other students aren’t fit for me. There is no way possible I can pay attention in those classes. No translator in sight. I just read a book. The students are super nice. I made many friends, very cool. Break-dancing is such a head-turner. We are now currently teaching some students how to dance. Fun, fun, fun.

    I spend my free time going out...shopping! Beijing is the place for me, definitely (see Richard running over Nate with rickshaw). What would I be doing if I were still in Newton? *shrug* I'm having a blast. I can already tell I’m gonna burst into tears when I step into the airport. Thanx for making this trip happen!


    Monday, March 18

    (Nate DeLong)

    "No Medicine is the Best Medicine... the hacking and sniffling adventures of Steve and Nate"

    It all started when my host mom called from work and asked if I wanted to go to a concert. I seriously needed to consider wheather or not I would go. I mean, it was a school night and everything, and it might mean exposing myself to something I had never seen, and well, I dont know, you know how dangerous it can be to try something new. "Sure" I told her. "Great, i'll be home at 6, we leave at 7," said she.

    We ate a rushed meal of fantastic food at home, and then rode our bikes to the concert. It was right around the corner from our house. I live at the north end of the forbidden city, and the concert was at Zhong Shan park, on the south end. The ride was nice, but the wind this time of year in BeiJing is a little crazy: Fast, and packing sand. A dangerous adversary. Considering I've already been hit by 2 buses, I rode slowly.

    Anyways, we arrived at a beautiful park and went inside the concert hall. Everyone was dressed in tuxedos and stuff, and I fit right in with my backwards hat, dirty hooded sweatshirt, and baggy pants. We found our seats (second row, center) and prepared for the xizang (Tibetan) Chinese orchestra. I asked my host mom how they could be Chinese and Tibetan, and she didn't understand me. Then I remembered that Tibet is technically part of China, so it's all the same to them.

    Looking around the audience, I saw a lot of people dressed in traditional Tibetan gear, as well as several monks, one of whom was speaking on a cell phone and gesticulating wildly. I guess everybody's wired these days.

    The first part of the concert was just standard classical music. It was nice I guess. Didn't have any lyrics though :) The second part was awesome. Tibetan throat singing. Two men and a woman belted out these beautiful melodies from their throats. It sounds sort of like a castrated man yodeling hebrew. Its the bomb. Dont sleep on Tibetan throat singing!!!!

    So I enjoyed the concert thoroughly, but I got sick that night. Ayi decided that I was too sick to go to school the next day (hehe) so I stayed home. All day Friday I watched pirated dvds.

    On saturday morning, I called Steve to see how he was doing. He had missed the entire week of school due to a lung infection from the air here. It involves coughing and hacking blood and what have you. Very nice, and I'm sure he'll tell you about it if you ask him. Anyways, he said he was feeling better, and wanted to go out, but he needed to take it slow. I was still feeling a bit sick, so we decided to go out together. I met him at the east gate of Jing Shan park and we hiked to the top of it. It is a giant hill with a pavillion on the top of it that is in the dead center of the city, overlooking everything. From there we enjoyed the view and the spectacular wheather. I told him about the other park I went to, and how it seemed like it was relatively quiet. We decided to explore it.

    We walked around the Forbidden City, and two men got excited when they heard us speaking English, and invited us to see the fish in the moat. It was nice.

    We reached the back of the palace and were greated by throngs of, you guessed it, Germans, following flags and talking loudly and listening to kraftwerk on super hi tech disc-trons. We cut through their lines like Operation Market Garden and entered the park. It cost 36 cents each, and I decided to be the big man and pay for Steves ticket. Yeah, I'm livin large.

    The park is amazing. one of the coolest places i have been to yet. It is tucked in the back of Gu Gong, between the palace and Tiananmen Square. It's entrance is small, and people think it is just another entrance to Gu Gong, so they don't go there. There were very few people inside, and no tourists at all. It was awesome. so quiet. It had willow trees overlooking a pond, and a walkway lined with ancient cypress trees. It was spectacular. We spent a good deal of time exploring, and then came out on the south side into Tiananmen square. When we looked back at the entrance, we saw that you wouldn't know that there was a great park inside, and that is why everyone misses it.

    So we walked further south and we ended up in a bustling street market with vendors shouting "You like it, okay? So have a buy!" and telling me that I needed to "Looka looka yes?"We declined to by any of their goods, and kept wandering. we got into a old neighborhood and found a small restaurant.

    I can read a little Chinese, but this menu was all hand written and I couldn't understand anything. I ordered the food for us by pointing randomly to a thing on the menu, and saying "Bring one of these" to the waiter. I didn't keep track of how much I was ordering though, and when all was said and done, I had 60 dumplings, a bowl of squid and shrimp soup, pork spine, batter fried shrimp in pepper, and two bowls of beef ventricle soup,to bowls of rice, a coke, and a beer. No problem. We attacked it with tenacious tenacity, leaving a significant dent, at least.

    We paid our 10 dollars (in America this would have been a 60 dollar meal at least) and set off again. we wandered into some hutongs. We were choosing our path by going down increasingly narrower alleys, until we were walking down one that we couldn't have fit through if we walked abreast. it was old school. Very nice.

    Steve eventually had to go home for dinner with his family, although we had just gorged ourselves an hour earlier, so he grabbed a cab and I decided to keep exploring.

    Eventually I made my way north, bought forest gump on DVD and went home. At the end of the day, a good time had been had by all.

    Wednesday, March 20

    (An NNHS Exchange Student)

    Hey guys,

    Another week in China.

    This week, Laura and I have been checking out the Beijing modern art scene. My favorite of the two exhibits we stopped into was one set up at the Crowne Plaza down the street from school. It was a small exhibit featuring three or four Chinese, college educated, female artist's art work. It was interesting to see a break from tradition of Chinese painting. These were not classical chinese brush paintings but very expressive, large oil paintings and surealist sculptures. There were elements of of traditional Chinese sculture in only one of the artist's work. This artist had done several large, bold paintings that incorporated the zodiac signs with western images such as the outlines Venus de Milo and David. My favorite pieces in this exhibit however, were by another artist. Her oil painting were of everyday scenes painted in bright, almost glowing colors. I liked the natural positioning of the figures in them and also that the artist chose to leave some areas of the paintings sketchy and others brilliantly detailed.

    The other exhibit we saw was at The Courtyard Gallery near the Forbidden City. It was a photography exhibit and it didn't interest me nearly as much as the paintings. What was interesting about our visit to The Courtyard Gallery was our eventful little walk though a nearby hutong afterwards. After stopping briefly near a man selling pears, we found ourselves talking to a family that lived near by. I was really surprised to find myself somewhat understood and to be able understand them. It was just another example of how friendly people actually are here. They were very interested in where we were from and what we were up to and the whole time we were talking this little Chinese baby was reaching his little hands out towards Laura from his mother's arms. The mother actually handed the little guy over to her and let her hold him for awhile. It's little experiences like that that make me think I must be seeing more of the real Beijing than the average tourist.

    Take care!

    Thursday, March 21

    (Steve)

    Hello from China!

    I had heard the stories. I had seen the pictures. But nothing prepared me for what a hard hitting and fast moving Beijing sandstorm is truly like.

    Many people said that this was one of the worst ones in recent memory and it was very surreal. It had the feeling of a blizzard without the snow. According to today's paper, visibility was cut to just over 100 feet at times and the particle count in the already thick Beijing air was more than 100 times normal levels. Warnings were issued to stay away from trees, billboards and other items that might be blown down and health officials cautioned people to wear gauze masks and handerchiefs to protect the lungs and eyes.

    At its height the color of the sky was a rusty orange. It was like living on Mars. I could literally smell and taste the sand. At times I could even feel the gritty particles crunch between my teeth. There was even what can best be described as a "sandy" smell in the air. Today there were fresh breezes that actually gave us a rare day of blue sky. It's strange, but I suffered no ill effects from the storm. I think I'm pretty lucky considering the illness that I'm just getting over.

    Words could never capture what yesterday was like, so I took several pictures 23 hours later. I have not retouched any of the pictures and the camera settings were the same. All who have seen the pics have said how remarkably accurate they are, so have a look and enjoy.

    We are almost at the halfway point in our exchange and all is well here in Beijing. Over 1000 digital photographs already reside on my computer and I've got over 2 months to capture some more. Thanks to all for your continued good wishes. It's really nice to get news from home. See you in June.

    Wednesday, March 27

    (A NNHS Exchange Student)

    When you are this far from home, you are bound to have your ups and downs. At least the way I operate. In any case I think I'm in a up place this week. Maybe it's the weather because my mood seems a lot happier since that dusty orange cloud lifted.

    I don't think I can pin point a highlight but this week has had some nice moments. Sunday Nate and I went a-walking for a few hours. It wasn't too eventful but the company was good and it was nice to go exploring. We just walked through an old hutong for awhile and then hopped in a cab over to the Tiananmen area.

    Monday I went to see yet another art exhibit. This one was at the millennium monument which is just this big ugly monument to celebrate how long China's been around. The space was nice, though, and I did manage to get a student discount. Modern art is fairly new thing in China (only about 20 years old, really), and there aren't too many places to find it in Beijing. This exhibt had a whole lot of books on display and because I'm a big nerd, I spent some time crosslegged on the floor of the gallery glancing through them.

    Tuesday night, Nate and I checked out a Chinese slang class that's organized by the Chinese culture club. I'm glad we went, but I don't know if we'd go back. Today was a pretty typical, yet pleasant day. I convinced the group to try a vegetarian place and when we got back we judged the school's Engligh competition.

    So things are going well for me in the land of China and I'm looking forward to another week. :)

    Wednesday, April 3

    (Laura Mayer)

    Sunday night I slept at school in order to be picked up at 5:45 Monday morning and taken to a second grader's home to take pictures all day...a day in the life...

    I am so priviledged to be having this experience. I know I sound like a broken record. But almost daily, I walk down the most famous shopping street in Beijing, just two blocks from school and each time I almost pinch myself, being in this wonderful and diverse culture...now going into two other homes...allowed to take pictures, joining the family with meals...etc. I am touched by the gentle precious regard in which this one particular family holds their daughter..in which many families hold their children. The continued generosity and warmth never ceases to warm me. Part of me doesn't want to leave.

    I know also how unique this arrangement is. The two English teachers who are on contract here, one from the US and one from Canada, to teach English to the primary students, are not having this extreme generous experience. They live at the school. We live with a family. They get their meals from a different place than we do..not as lovely I think. We are taken by faculty on tours to different historic areas of the city, and so far they are not ...etc.

    Last Friday evening, my host father took me, his daughter, and one of the Newton students to the hutong where he grew up. He knew every twist and turn of the alleyways and was able to point out the more recent construction so we could get an idea of how open the space used to be. we saw the school he attended as a boy, the tree he used to climb, writing on the wall from the time of the cultural revolution, etc. I think his is one of the hutongs that is slated for demolition in the not too distant future. And it's sad... the hutongs are such a distinctive part of Beijing. As you walk along the streets here..you see all sorts of smaller businesses and exquisite signature architecture. And if you peel away, sort of roll back, that layer, underneath is revealed the deeper, older beijing...mazes of narrow, complex, networked (to the uninitiated eye) alleyways, of living and marketing streets. If you stick to the main streets, and never turn down an alley way, you would miss this other world. Bit by bit it is disappearing. I hope this is not arrogant of me to say, but that somebody here has wisdom enough to preserve a significant amount of this aspect of cultural heritage.

    Saturday I was feeling a bit frustrated for one reason or another, and decided to go on a dance hunt. I scooted down to Jingshan and Ditan parks and walked around. Every morning and evening thousands of people are out in parks and streets all across the city, doing taichi, ballroom dancing, and all sorts or other exercise. Someone told me people are dancing in Ditan park all day..so I went on a hunt. Turned out not to be true, the all day aspect, but I did encounter some other wanderers for the day and we spent time together wandering and enjoying the parks. later that evening I went to a jazz club called the big easy, new orleans looking place...4 chinese jazz musicians...very good with an African american vocalist. I was quite surprised and also happy to be hearing music that that got my toes tapping and my soul rocking. another example of my ignorance about Beijing. Who would have thought...

    We seem to have reached a turning point...not only the mid point of our visit but also, we're each more self sufficient and finding other people to inhabit our lives here...not just our host families and school cohorts.

    As I'm writing this I'm listening to morning exercises in the school yard. While they want to learn from our teaching methodology, I think there is something for us to gain as well. I love that four students each morning, along with a teacher, greet each arriving person at the gate with a "good morning" or "zhao shang hao". I like the invigorating aspect of morning exercises and eye exercises...although the students probably don't value it. I also see and like that students have fairly extensive room clean up responsibilites, even in the primary school. It's taken in stride.

    That's all for now.

    Thursday, April 25

    (Nate)

    I went to the great wall today. To be honest, it wasn't that great. I mean yeah, it was okay. It's a nice wall and all, and it is pretty big, but something about hundreds of thousands of tourists all wearing matching hats and following the flags of their respective Scandinavian countries robbed me of my "oh shit I'm standing on the great wall" feeling. We're gonna try to go to the wild wall, which is basically anywhere else on the wall that is too remote for a lot of people to go to.

    One highlight of the trip was practicing some important Chinese phrases. As I was walking up i passed a group of kids who were eating lunch. Like all good Chinese citizens, they upheld their responsibility of saying "hello" to anyone that is not of Chinese descent. Instead of saying "hello" in English, I, get this, said it in Chinese. That totally blew their minds. Then, to follow it up, I said (in Chinese) "oh f--k, he speaks Chinese!" and the crowd went wild. Some watching Germans muttered something to themselves about lederhosen and sauerkraut, but I paid them no mind as I leapt nimbly up the thousands of steps humming the Chinese national anthem.

    The view is wicked nice. There is one really nice vantage point from the highest point on the wall that looks on all the surrounding mountains. You can see everything for miles around. I looked both far and wide. And there, at the foot of the mountain, I spied an ostrich, not one actually, but several ostriches at the bottom of the mountain. Now I'm sure you'd be inclined to ask me: "Nate,oh great master of Chinese lore, what are ostriches, and not just one but several ostriches mind you, doing in China?" And in response to your question, after thoughtfully staring in to space, I might reply with something along these lines: "One must make sure not to brandish one's axe in front of lu ban the master carpenter, for when one rides the tiger it is difficult to dismount, and let us remember that even a single monkey in the road can prevent the passing of ten thousand men." And you might be inclined to ask me a follow up question: "Nate, what the hell do you mean by that?"

    And in response to your follow up question, I would be inclined to say: "I have no idea, because I have no idea what the hell an ostrich is doing at the bottom of the great wall in China. I do know, however, that I have also seen a camel in China, and that therefore, the only logical conclusion I can draw, is that ostriches and camels have formed an alliance and are attempting to overthrow the t-shirt and post card monoply at the great wall, BA Da Ling." Clearly this is the only logical explanation."

    In other news: I went to a cd store and talked hip hop with a bunch of guys. One guy saw me and yelled "oh yes! motherf--k!" in English and I thought that was a really cool way of saying hello, so I replied with the Chinese equivalent. We traded slang for a while, and then I bargained for some cd's. Then I ate a yang rou chuar. if you don't know, that's goat on a stick. It costs 12 cents per chuar, and it tastes really good. It's also really fun to say the word "chuar."

    The other day I ate some sheep testicles. A damn fine cut of meat, let me tell you. Talk about tender. Jeez! and the sauce is exquisite. I didn't even get sympathy pains as i attacked it voraciously with my teeth, spraying sauce and juice all over my school unform. (The next day, some kids asked me why my uniform was so nasty, and I told them I had an accident with some sheep nutz. They understood completely, as it's a common occurance in China.)

    I have decided it is almost impossible to buy clothes here if you are over 6 feet tall and more than 120 pounds. That is not to say that there are not enormous Chinese people, because let me assure you that there are. They simply must custom order their clothes. I currently wear a 5xl school uniform, and it fits a little tight. Even 7xl isn't really satisfactory. Some of my friends at school must be rockin's 12 xl's. That's big. Oh well, my quest continues.

    I bought an elephant. It's made out of wood, and I like it. They wanted me to pay 500 yuan for it. I said I wanted to pay 30. Having thoroughly insulted them, we slowly worked towards the final price of 100. Not bad for an elephant.

    I also bought more dvds. Dvd's are like crack to me. It's cheap and it gives me a good fix, but I can't stop buying them. It's a dollar each. That's pretty good vs. the $25 in America.

    Anyways, I'm running out of stuff to say. If you have any idea what ostriches are doing in China, please write me and let me know. Or write me just cuz you like me and want to say hi. Either one is OK.

    Monday, May 13

    (Nate)

    So I got back from my trip around the country. It was so terrible that it was awesome. The weather sucked, the food was terrible, but we had some good times.

    First we flew to Nanjing. In the Beijing airport, I saw some kid just take a piss right on the floor. Some of you might think that that's how we do over here on the far east side, but let me assure you that Beijing airport is one of the most modern buildings/places, and Beijing is a very cosmopolitan city. It's not like this is Brookline. Jeez. But it was good for a laugh.

    We arrived in Nanjing and boarded a bus, and our guide was speaking in Shanghai dialect. I had such a hard time understanding, but it was cool, cuz all the other people from Beijing didn't understand either. We went to some cool sites, like a giant Buddha the size of the Statue of Liberty, and along the 1000 year old grand canal where we watched mile long trains of fishing barges.

    The hotel rooms were terrible: entirely moist, with a new species of animal being discovered by Steve and me which we have dubbed "pubesicus tapewormicus," some sort of hellish fiend spawned from the unholy union of a tapeworm and a white length of body hair.

    Shanghai is the bomb city though: super modern. I bought mad good stuff there. Steve and I found a calligrapher on the street and got our names carved. His chinese name is Wang Pijiu, which means "king of beer." We had a good laugh. I tried to get some [chops] for a few friends, but I couldn't break down all those long Jewish names like Herzbergowiczstein into 3 syllables [for Chinese characters], so I scratched that idea.

    Bargaining is the bomb. I finally got ill at it. It's all about the walk. Example:

    vendor: Hello, friend. Have a look. Buy this singing Chairmain Mao lighter!!

    me: How much? v: 30 kuai, very cheap, very good!!

    m: I'll give you 5.

    v: No no. Very bad. Hello. I'm already giving you very cheap price. Hello. ( I should explain that every Chinese vendor is equiped with a 2-phrase English vernacular: "hello", and "have a look." "Hello" can be used to mean anything from "I disagree with that suggestion," "It's ludicrously too low," or "I find it insulting," to "goodbye.")

    me: Fine. 6.

    v: I'll give you this lighter and I'll throw in this melon for 25.

    m: I'll give you 25 for 2 singing Chairmain Mao lighters, sans melon.

    v. No, no good.

    Now here it comes. the walk. I'll try to describe it:

    me: I won't buy. (slowly turn around and take a step, then another one, and finally one more step.)

    vendor: Okay okay okay. 2 lighters for 26.

    m. Ok.

    vendor: You're a very formidable opponent.

    m. Thank you for letting me pillage your store.

    v: My pleasure. Please come again.

    I bought mad stuff like this. Mad art, and even some authentic Red Guard gear, which is kinda scary.

    Steve and I were chillin' on this old shopping street [liu Li Chang?], and we wanted to get some ice cream. Steve opened the freezer door at a little shop, but the wood broke off. The big ordeal followed, and Steve told me to wait for him at the meeting spot. A few minutes later, I saw Steve briskly walking towards me. "Where do you want to go?" he said. "I want to buy some silk." said I. "O, good. cuz I can't go back that way." said Steve. Apparently it was going to cost 800 kuai to fix it, even though I could have fixed it "macgiver style' with a toothbrush and some vinegar. but when a kid came by and broke it even more, Steve made the smart move and exited stage left.

    Our hotel room in Shanghai was fairly decent. The tapewormicus population was still relatively small, due to the fact that the room was too clean for them to survive in. Outside, the hotel was covered in bamboo scaffolding. I did what every invincible 18-year old male has a responsibility to do. I played on it. It was fun.

    Then we ate a massive meal and Andrew choked on a peace of melon. He didn't die though, and afterwards we had a good laugh.

    That's my scattered summary of my trip. If you want, I could briefly include that most of the trip was spent on a bus rocketing through the most bombed out pot holes in China, while the bus driver drove the bus with one hand and gripped the mike and sang opera with the other.

    Oh, this is pretty cool. When I got back to Beijing at like 1:30 a.m., Steve and I split a cab. Our cab driver was [bad], so I got out at Steve's house and was going to get another cab. By this point, it was 2 a.m. and there weren't that many cabs around. Beijing at night is pretty cool. Already, the rule is that if something has wheels, you can drive it on the road. Late at night, all the farmers and stuff come in from the countryside, so you have a wide assortment of vehicles, from donkey pulled wagons to 3 wheeled trucks to motorcycle pod trons. As I was walking in the direction of my house looking for a cab, a guy on a three-wheeled motorcycle pod saw me and yelled to me. "Hello, friend!!!! Where are you going?" I yelled back "I'm going to Di An Men Street." He said, "I'll take you there for 10 kuai."

    Thinking it over, I weighed my options. I could walk home a few miles carrying my suitcases at 2 in the morning, or I could get in this guy's rickety motorcycle pod whom I don't know and go home quickly and cheaply. By the way, did I mention I'm an invincible 18 year old male? So i got in this guy's pod and he drove me to my house. It was the bomb. A few times I thought we were going to be obliterated by a passing donkey or 3 wheeled truck, but my friend operated his pod very skillfully and got me home safely and soundly. I paid him my 10 kuai and got out. He waved good bye, and I went inside and crashed.

    A good end to the trip.

    Saturday, June 1

    The Spring 2002 Exchange has officially come to an end, with the group returning to Boston today from Beijing!
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  • Spring 2013

    Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 12/29/2014
    FIRST IMPRESSIONS


    Josh

    The first thing I did when I got off the plane was hugging my former host sister. It was nice to see her back home safely. After that, I met my host family in person. I had Skyped my host brother before, but it was much better to see him and my host parents in person. I have not been able to see any family beyond my immediate family, but I am sure they will be a pleasure to be with. When I arrived at Beijing, I first felt overwhelmed. There where a lot people who were speaking a language I could barely understand very quickly. I was also afraid of whether or not I could survive in this country with only the knowledge I learned from school. These feelings were gone by the end of the car ride. My family was so engaging, and anything that l did not understand, my host brother helped translate. My family was definitely a great environment for me to expand my Chinese learning. Another fun experience was when my host father tried to teach me mahjong when he could only say safety and easy. That being said, I did learn the game and I actually won some money (fake gambling of course). Over all it has been a great experience so far.

    Aidan
    My first impressions of Beijing developed mostly in the airport and during the ride to my host families' home. To me, everything seemed so large and vast. My host parents and Abby have also been very helpful, especially when is comes to helping me learn to speak Chinese. Their extended family was very welcoming as well. The first meal I ate in Beijing was dinner with Abby’s family, her uncle, and her maternal and paternal grandparents. Everyone was very warm towards me, especially Abby’s grandmother, who helped me learn the Chinese names of the foods we were eating. After this great first impression of Beijing, I am sure these will be a great four months!

    STEREOTYPES

    Miles
    A major view that many Americans share is the prevalence of the tiger mother. She is only concerned with how her child does and makes him or her study long and hard. I've discovered that there is some basis to this. The parents here do generally concern themselves with their kids more than those in America. I think that this is an unavoidable outcome of the environment. This parenting style has two main causes: the one child policy and the GaoKao. The one child policy means that you only have one chance to see your child able to reach success. This causes parents to focus all their attention on one child, rather than spreading it out amongst siblings. The GaoKao is the ominous test at the end of a child's education. It essentially is an all or nothing test that will determine the rest of your life. You need to do well on the GaoKao. This pushes parents even harder to get their kids to study because they only have one chance to get it right. So while the stereotype may exist to an extent, there are clear and obvious environmental causes for it.

    Aidan
    Before I applied to the exchange program, I had developed some stereotypes about Chinese students. I thought all students in China studied constantly and strictly followed all school rules. In my mind, to be a Chinese student was to be the ideal student.This notion was quickly destroyed as I got older, and even more so after I began school in China. While Chinese students certainly have a lot of schoolwork, it doesn’t prevent them from spending time doing other things, like watching TV, playing basketball, or talking with friends online. While many students do also take extra classes over the weekend, they also find time for other interests and activities. For example, my host sister, Abby, has an SAT class every weekend; however, she also plays basketball and goes shopping with her mother. I also no longer think that every single Chinese student is a model student either. Despite rules stating that students are not to leave the campus while school is in session, I see countless students leave through the front gate to buy food from the nearby shops. During class, one of the students sitting next to me is often messing around with his phone or eating something while the teacher is talking. One of the misconceptions I had that changed only after I began school in China was the classroom environment would be incredibly strict. While the classroom environment tends to be stricter than it is in the United States, it is a bit more relaxed than I expected. I think the most relaxed class I have seen so far in the English class. The teacher is very friendly with the students, and he often interacts with the students, asking them questions about the material during class and letting them speak up more than they do in their other classes.

    PUBLIC ETIQUETTE

    Josh
    Every day I take the subway to and from school. In the morning, I go to school at five forty-five, so the subway is never really crowded. However, when I return home, there is so little room that I cannot even wear my backpack because it will not fit. I discovered something interesting about modern Chinese culture: there is very little spacial awareness. I have seen many actions that would seem “rude” in the United States. After time, however, I realized that these are just a causation of people not being conscious of their surroundings. While waiting in line for our train back to Beijing from Shanghai, the three “lines” to get our tickets checked merged into a mob of people when there was enough space. We had to force ourselves through the crowd in order to get to the check. Overall, I think that this is an inherent consequence of any big city. I was just so shocked by this because I have never lived in a city as big as Beijing. It is not as much a problem as simply a way of life. All of these actions seemed strange at first, but as the months go by, I find myself doing it too.

    HOST FAMILY/CULTURE

    Miles
    I had always assumed there would be some sort of cultural misunderstanding upon my arrival to China. I viewed it as an inevitable event, and one I would just have to get through when I came to it…The earliest I saw this was when I had just come back from my trip across China. Exhausted from travel, I had woken up late so lunch was my breakfast. They had prepared spicy beef, which tasted great, but also had the effect of causing my nose to run. After a couple of sniffles, and a grab for a tissue, my grandma got to inquisitions. "Miles, you have a cold!" "No, no" I stammered as I tried to explain "My nose is hot, this is hot." This of course did nothing but cause my grandma more grief. "Hot nose! You have a fever! Sheng Qi, Miles is sick!" I had no chance to counter such claims and I was whisked off to the bathroom and given a pill to make me feel better. The next thing I knew, I was in my room with strict orders to go back to sleep. I left a couple of times, mainly out of boredom, but I quickly saw myself back in bed. The next morning I was eager to emphasize that the pill and the sleep had done wonders, and that I felt great. They seemed content with this and I kept blowing my nose a secret from then on.

    Aidan
    My host family has been great to me. They have done a wonderful job of keeping me safe and well fed. Sometimes, however, they do this job a little too well. At first I thought this was because they see me as a guest in their home, and as some one who isn’t used to being in Beijing. I soon found out that they often treat my host sister, Abby, the same way. I have never had a problem with it, but sometimes I find it interesting.
    This started only a few days after I arrived in Beijing. While I was in my room organizing my things, Abby’s father came to my room and presented me with a down jacket. Later, I found out my host family actually bought the jacket for me as a gift. When I wore the Jacket I had brought from the US, my host father would pinch the jacket to test its thickness, and occasionally insisted that I wear even more layers.
    Another thing they paid more attention to towards the beginning of my stay in China was my eating habits. I ate slightly more quickly than the rest of my host family, so when I stopped eating before they did, they assumed I hadn’t eaten as much. They would urge me to eat more, and whenever I told them I was full, they would tell I was too skinny and that I needed to eat more. After I started eating a little more slowly, they stopped saying anything about how much I ate altogether.
    Despite how overprotective my host family was at first, it did not bother me in the slightest. I appreciate how kind they have been to me, and how much they have done to make me feel welcome in their home.

    Josh
    The biggest difference between my life in China and my life back home is how my parents treat me. Here in China, my parents do not give as much freedom as I would get back home. One of the first things my host family said to me was “chuan yi fu” (wear more clothes) because they thought it was too cold to be going outside in just a t-shirt and fleece. This initially took me by surprise because my parents back home would let me go out without wearing three layers of clothes, and if I was cold, I would learn to put on more clothes. Chinese parents teach by telling their kids what to do and what not to do, while most American parents tend to use consequences to teach their children. My parents in the U.S. give me a lot of freedom so it was a major culture shock when my host parents told me to wear more clothes.
    There is another side to this coin: my host parents do a lot more for my host brother and me than they do at home. After our first meal home, I went with my host parents into the kitchen and started to clean, but they quick stopped my and told me not that they would do it. I tried many times to help them, but the most I could do was bring my plates to the kitchen. Another example is if my host brother or I want something that is not a necessity, they buy us it. Back in the U.S. my parents have me buy things with my own money that I earn from working. I know parents also buy thing for their kids in America, but having their kids earn their own money is a lot more common than in China. I think it contrasts with me so much because my parents brought me up to be independent, but I think in general American kids do a lot more work outside of school that the Chinese kids do.
    I think that this could be because the schoolwork load is so great that the students cannot do too much else but work, and, therefore, the parents need to do a lot of the housework for them. The parents also need to stay on top of their children so they get the work done. In my opinion, these factors and the fact that the One Child Policy focuses all of the parents attention on their one kid, led to helicopter parenting.

    Reconstruction, Renovation, and Rebuilding

    Miles
    There seems to be a habit amongst the Chinese to have all of their historic sites constantly under some sort of repair. Walking up to an area of certain significance, one is certain to find it guarded by green scaffolding and groups of cigarette-wielding laborers. The most famous Chinese sights like the Great Wall or the Forbidden City have been rebuilt or renovated countless times.
    In a Western mind, rebuilding the Great Pyramids, or the Parthenon, or even Stonehenge seems odd. Why would we alter what has survived to us for thousands of years. The remains offer us a true glimpse into the past. But to an eastern mind, this view makes no sense. Why would we allow our famous temples and palaces to crumble and go to ruin when we can make them look as they did? What’s the point of looking at a bunch of rocks? The Westerner sees value in preserving the original substance, while the Easterner sees value in preserving the original look. Both views have their own way of honoring history.The Westerner finds worth in landmarks because they had the ability to survive until today. They believe rebuilding, or reconstructing, them would be a slight to their longevity and originality. The Chinese have a different point of view. They see their history does not last forever, and so they decide to keep everything new. They don’t see a point in having the original walls to the Forbidden City. They take worth in preservation of the original idea, the original material is less of an issue.
    So is there a better way of doing things? Both viewpoints have their own merits, though I would’ve liked to get more pictures without the construction.

    CONCLUSION
    Josh
    In most of the other journals, I have written about the differences I noticed between Beijing and Newton. Now that I look back, the things that struck me before seem much less significant. The subways do not seem so bad. I am starting to accept my parents’ wishes, no matter how unjustified. I watch what I do or say so I do not cause any misunderstandings. As I reread my journals, I learned that these three months have made me adapt to their culture, and all of the differences that I noticed earlier are not so prevalent anymore.
    Whenever I ride the subway home from school, it is crowded. But now, I do not notice the people pushing or the packed cars. It just seems as if it is the normal part of my routine. Not only have I gotten used to the crowded subways, but I have started to enjoy it as well. The act of riding a subway has become positive: I become ecstatic when I get a seat, or I start to talk to the people around me. I also see a lot of interesting people in the subway. Once, even in a crowded subway train, people made room for a guitarist, who played music inside the car until his stop came. When I was able to overcome my initial culture shock about the crowds in the subway, I was able to truly experience what it was like to live in Beijing.
    When I first arrived here, I was taken aback by how caring my host parents were. Back then I tried to negotiate the rules, for example wearing two layers instead of the three they wanted me to wear. As I read my journal and remembered that time, I realized that it just did not happen anymore. The arguments we had had changed into jokes or regular conversation. Now, instead of “you are wearing too little” or “your not eating enough,” it is “how was your day” or “what did you do today”. This made my time with my host parent a lot more enjoyable, and helped me improve my Chinese comprehension even more.
    I feel lucky to be able to participate in this exchange program because it is one of the few programs where you get to stay long enough to break through the culture barriers and truly live the Beijing experience. At first I was preoccupied with what I was eating or the crowded subways to really just enjoy living in China and take in the culture. Now after three months, I feel as if I have finally immersed myself in the Chinese culture.
     
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  • Spring 2009

    Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 3/1/2011
    Becky

    Journal 4

    Last Friday, after we had Chinese class, I was hanging out in the hallway with the other American kids before we had to split ways and head to our separate classes mixed in with the Chinese kids. Then Shirley, our class' English teacher, joined our circle to ask Hannah and me if we were coming to class. 'Of course,' we said, a little puzzled. She had a funny smile and excitedly told us that we would be having a discussion about simplified vs. traditional Chinese characters. Some of the oddities of this class took a while to sink in. Later we realized that we never have English in the Afternoons, and the lesson she had planned didn't fit in with the lesson we're working on now, the Million Pound Bank Note by Mark Twain. We should have had Physics that block.

    Half way through class we realized why she was doing all of this -- a group of Canadian superintendents came to visit (and with them, in came the Jingshan Principal, a couple other administrators, the head of our exchange, the class master for our class, and two camera men-one with a video camera). 'Op, looks like the lesson is over.' They got a nice introduction in Chinese and some English. One of the Superintendents came over to talk with Hannah and me, which was well photographed by camera man #1. The English translation stopped when the principal instructed our classmates to ask questions. They suddenly took turns raising their hands and asking questions (in English) about the differences between Canadian and Chinese schools. Now, this doesn't sound so out of the ordinary, but I have never seen my class do this. School in China is different in this way. Back home, my mom used to send me off to school with one piece of advice--'ask a lot of questions,' but here kids don't ask questions, and they don't raise their hands.

    When we first started sitting in on their classes I noticed that no one really pays attention in math class, and when I asked my classmates about this I got two different answers. Some thought that the class was too easy, and others said that it was too hard. In any case, the teacher just keeps talking and the students don't bother to say anything (at least not in front of the whole class--afterward it is completely acceptable). It has to do with the culture of embarrassment and 'losing face.' Now, they just aren't used to having to raise their hands -- the teacher picks on students at random. When we made our cultural presentation to the 7th grade, I went over some of the answers to the worksheet we had given them, asking the kids to raise their hand with the answer. Literally every kid in that audience knew the answers ('how do you say cafeteria in Chinese?'), but no hands ever went up. One of the teachers explained it: as they get older they get more shy.

    Anyways, lets get back to the story. My class was asking all sorts of provocative questions about the differences in our education systems (and amount of homework). The Superintendents (who were visiting their first school in Beijing) didn't have many answers. It was video taped as a meaningful discussion. The Jingshan students looked well versed in English (it just happened to be that most of the students who talked just came back from 4 months in the U.S.). In the end the teacher assigned homework, and we all said our polite goodbyes. All in all, I think we put on quite a successful show! They put a lot of effort into making a good impression. Of course, it makes sense that they came to visit our class--the highest level in our grade with 5 Chinese students who studied in America and 2 American students to show off how international the school is.

    Hannah

    Journal Entry #5
    April 9th, 2009

    Debunking a Myth

    I spent this past week in Xishuangbanna, Yunan. While there, I went on a three-day trek through the mountains, home to many minority peoples. Although I have learned about the Chinese minorities, it has been in textbooks, and never through real-life experiences. In fact, the only reference I had heard was when a boy was teased in my class for being dark skinned and therefore called “native”. Seeing the various minorities in their natural environments was an eye-opening experience.

    I have never seen a group of people more content with their lives. They live in huge wood houses, raised on stilts to avoid flooding. Most houses we visited had a small TV, a nice mattress, and a handful of pots and pans for cooking. Each house had a fire in the center for heat, and a hose with running water for showering and cleaning. Although these people lacked the luxuries of most Beijing residents, they were content with their surroundings. They live off what they have, representing Buddhism at its finest. They are not jealous of the luxuries that many Han Chinese possess; the minorities have fulfilled their personal desires. I had always heard that discrimination against minorities has prevented them from assimilating into traditional Chinese society, however, I debunked that myth. Although they have not assimilated, the families with which I spoke did not feel discrimination was an obstacle. They felt no obligation to assimilate into the Han majority. It was really nice to see a lifestyle so different than those that my host parents in Beijing leave.

    Clara

    Feng shui is certainly an ancient practice in Chinese culture; the earliest evidence of feng shui dates back to the Hongshan culture (ca. 3500 - ca. 2500 BCE) (indobase.com). Feng shui thrived for centuries in China.

    Geomancers were called in to assess the land before a house was ever constructed. People even used feng shui to decide the site of a family member’s wedding and funeral. Up until 1949, the rich and poor alike followed the principles of feng shui – to the extent their income would allow.

    With the invasion of European countries and Cultural Revolution, the practice of feng shui was drastically undermined to the point where centuries of history were discredited practically over night. In 1949 Mao Zedong forbid feng shui from the People’s Republic of China, denouncing it as a “feudal superstition.” Although the Chinese government no longer forbids the practice of feng shui, the effect of Mao’s decree is still apparent today. I received a resounding “No!” from my classmates when I asked them if they or their parents believed in feng shui. My host family even laughed when I told them we were learning about it in English class. “But nobody believes that anymore,” Molly said, bewildered. “Why would you study feng shui?”

    Interestingly, in areas where the Cultural Revolution didn’t reach, feng shui continues to thrive as it did in the third century BCE. In Hong Kong, no one would think to build a public or private housing development without first consulting a geomancer to discuss its location and architecture. Failure to consult a geomancer can cause uproar.
    Oftentimes, following a geomancer’s advice proves to be extremely costly, yet, in areas where feng shui is still practiced, architects believe the cost is worth the benefit down the road. The Hopewell Centre in Hong Kong, for example, sports a round swimming pool on the roof. A “pool of water,” actually, would be a more accurate description. No one swims there. The pool was built because the geomancer believed this round, multi-storied building resembled a candle too much for its own good. The building was destined to catch fire, he said, unless a pool of water was placed on top to prevent “the wick” from burning it down. There are so many such cases of feng shui forcing architects to add interesting structures to a building that the Hong Kong Office of Tourism arranges a daily tour of downtown Hong Kong’s many feng shui examples.

    Although feng shui is much less common in Beijing than in Hong Kong, it is not inexistent. Teacher Gao Ying just completed a wooden deck in the south of her apartment. As a finishing touch, Ying and her husband decided to add a fish pound, fitting with feng shui principles. They had some extra money, so why not? But that is about the power feng shui currently holds among citizens of Chinese mainland. It’s interesting to see the more subtle ways the Cultural Revolution has affected China today.

    Marcus

    Journal 4

    One thing I have discovered about Chinese people that is slightly frustrating is that they do not understand sarcasm. In America, we employ sarcasm fairly regularly in daily life. When we are angry, when we are annoyed, basically all the time. It is an accepted and engrained part of American culture to use sarcasm, and we all know when someone’s being sarcastic, although some people are better than others. In China, the situation is entirely different. No one here ever uses sarcasm, and when they hear us use it they become very confused. The only people who understand it are the Jingshan kids who went to America last fall, and I assume that’s because they went to America, not because they knew what sarcasm was naturally. Occasionally I get frustrated when using sarcasm here because no one understands it, so I find myself explaining what I was trying to say.

    Elias

    Guilin and my experiences

    This last weekend I was lucky enough to visit Guilin with my American parents and I must say it was one the most beautiful places I have ever been. Take our national parks like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and this is the kind of scale Guilin is on. We arrived in Guilin on Saturday morning and were driven to our hotel by an over excited tour guide. Like my parents I some what despise tour groups, so we decided we would wing our trip in Guilin and oh did it pay off. After settling into our hotel room, we were soon mobbed by the over excited tour guide and many others. “Do you want cab?” “Do you want tour guide?” “Do you want massage?” Now unlike Beijing where I rarely feel harassed by people, the South is completely different. They will get right up into your face and shout what they want from you. We were rather annoyed and my father actually had to push some of them back. After endless Nos and bu yaos (don’t want), we made our way to the Pagodas of Guilin. The sky was crystal clear and we could see miles in every direction. Now for many of those who don’t know anything about Guilin, its located in an area where giant pillars of rock shoot up from the ground. The land is green and wet and mostly rice country. The weather is moist and the sun beats down on your skin like the sun of the Caribbean. Chinese call Guilin the most beautiful place in China. The government has said Guilin is where Shangri-la is. And Guilin’s famous rock pillars are even on the twenty yuan note.

    Our next day in Guilin, we were treated to a four hour breath-taking boat ride down the Li River. The day was blue bird skies and the weather was hot and awesome. As we traveled down the river and took in the beautiful scenery, I was preparing myself for the bike ride I would later take. When we arrived at our boat’s destination, we quickly found our way to the bike rentals. We paid forty yuan, got our bikes and preceeded to spend the day riding through small villages and beautiful, picture-esque scenery. I even got sunburned.

    Looking back on my trip to the South of China, I have decided that I am a Northerner. As I observed, the people of the South are pushy, loud and annoying. The food of the South is spicy and flavorful, but I prefer the flour noodles of the North. Guilin is a beautiful city and definitely a must see in China and the world.

    Carolyn

    April 5, 2009

    March 23rd, was the official halfway mark of my stay in China. Time has flown by, and it’s weird to think that soon I’ll be back in the states!

    For geography class our teacher brought us to an exhibit about Tibet. The display was set up to mark the 50th anniversary of the PLA’s (People Liberation Army’s) occupation of the region. None of us really knew what we were walking into until we got there. The exhibit was set up by the government and was separated into three halls. The first hall was about Tibet before communist occupation. The displays focused on slavery in pre-communist Tibet, and the region’s under-development. The second hall detailed Tibet during occupation. And the last hall was about how modern and great Tibet is today. Each hall made a great effort to illustrate how the Chinese army “peacefully” liberated Tibet and freed feudal slaves. After we finished viewing the first hall, it was clear that the exhibit was mostly propaganda.

    It was interesting to see the exhibit because we learn a completely different view of history in the states. The exhibit painted the Chinese government as heroic (where as we learn the opposite). The Party illustrated occupation as similar to Abraham Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves. In fact, the anniversary is now a national holiday in China called “Serf’s Liberation Day”.

    Becky

    Journal 5

    The legacy of Chairman Mao is everywhere. At first upon coming here, I was hit over the head with Mao memorabilia everywhere--everything from T-shirts, buttons, and bags to old communist propaganda posters, all plastered with his face. My first simple reaction was that 1) he is still a very important figure in China and 2) he has become one of the main symbols for China and Chinese nationalism.

    But over time it has become more intriguing to me that there is so much of it. They must not see it as a funny exaggeration to see so much of him years later--as many foreigners seem to. After translating one of the posters we found at a shop--warning people not to go against the revolution--our Chinese teacher said very seriously (but most things she says are serious) that it showed just how bad things had been back then.

    People’s stories from that time carry on but are rarely shared. The simple question of where Mao was a good person, a good leader, or good for China always merits the same response: he was 70% good and 30% bad (whether or not people agree with this statement, they know it). Simple and to the point. That’s what Deng Xiao Ping said, and it remains to be the standard party line. I’ve found it comforting to see that this is not the only way people see it now, and they are not restricted to think this way. Still, the idea that Mao did some good and some bad is generally accepted. I still wonder whether they think the good outweighs the bad. Oh right, 7:3, I almost forgot.

    Hearing personal stories from my family about their grandparents and friends has helped me understand how they view and deal with their history. My mom told me about the public humiliation and punishment they had faced for a mistaken hand gesture, for using an old newspaper with an article about Mao to make a pair of shoes, or for being a musician. Living in Beijing, visiting Tiananmen square and other landmarks, Mao seems far in the past, but then I realize that many of the people in my life here have close family stories and experiences from his time, and of course his face is still at Tiananmen, at the gate to the forbidden city.

    On a long train ride I took recently, there was an adorable little boy in my sleeper compartment, whom I quickly befriended. He had a picture book to learn the names of countries and their flags. His dad pointed to one, which he had forgotten. His dad’s clue was “Mao…” The little boy quickly filled in “Mao Zedong!” We all laughed. He couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4. Mao is still probably the most famous man in Chinese history, but I’m still struggling to understand how China relates to him now.

    Jingshan School told our group that we would be performing in a cultural concert, and that we had a week to prepare. We decided to sing the Chinese song “Beijing welcomes you” with the Chinese exchange students. The problem was none of the Americans can sing. Actually, we’re probably the least theatrically talented exchange group to ever come to Jingshan. But the Chinese students could sing well, so we relied mainly on them.

    We auditioned in front of the principle, and we were really awful, but the head of the exchange was able to squeeze us into the show. Finally, last Tuesday we were pulled out of school to perform.
    I’ve learned that you never really know what’s going on here until immediately before things start. I thought we were just performing in front of the school, but instead we were brought to the Forbidden City concert hall. We ended up singing in front of about 1000 people, including diplomats from Austria and Chinese communist party members. I think the audience liked it-mostly because we were Americans singing in Chinese.

    An Austrian choir also performed at the concert. They performed a scene from Macbeth and had three students dress as witches. Half way through the scene they jumped into the audience. Unfortunately for them, the first rows in the concert hall were all elementary-school students. The little kids began to scream and cry, as the three witches ran around the aisles. A group of boys got out of their seats and began hitting the Austrians dressed as witches. It was hilarious.

    This weekend was the qingming festival in China (ancestors Day)-where everybody goes back to their hometown and sweeps graves. My host family didn’t celebrate it because there is only one day off, and they had no time to go back to their hometown. So I went to Xi’an with Rebecca and her dad for the weekend.

    It was an awesome experience. Xi’an is much older than Beijing because it was the first capital of China. Also, Since Xi’an is in central China (near the Silk Road) there are many different ethnic influences on the city. The Uyghur minority lives in the autonomous region Xinjiang to the west of Xi’an. Many restaurants in Xi’an were run by Uyghurs and served Muslim food. Mr. Lo made friends with our driver, so the driver brought us to eat Muslim food. We were given round mounds of bread to rip up and put in a meat soup.

    We also saw Emperor Qin’s terracotta warriors, which was amazing. Many of the soldiers were destroyed when part of the tomb collapsed, but they have been pieced back together by archeologists. The cool part about the tomb is that the brick floor survived almost 2000 years in tact!

    Carolyn

    Last week was midterm exams for the Jingshan students, and the Americans were allowed to miss school for a week. So we hopped on an overnight train and traveled to Inner Mongolia. Our first stop was grasslands about two hours outside of the city Huhehaote. We spent the day horseback riding throughout the harsh landscape and ate snacks with a local herdsman. Although the grass was mostly brown, it was interesting to see a landscape so different from what I’m used to.

    Nighttime in the grasslands was miserable. The weather during the day was cold, but at night the temperature drastically dropped and the winds picked up. The Mongolian yurts that we stayed in had no heat. We slept in all our cloths and cocooned ourselves in blankets-which still didn’t help. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend vacationing in the Mongolian grasslands.

    After the grasslands we returned to Huhehaote and explored the city. Huhehaote has a significant Muslim population, so we visited the oldest mosque in the city’s Muslim district. The mosque was really interesting to see because it was designed with both Middle Eastern influences and traditional Chinese architecture. The different rooms of the mosque formed a courtyard that resembled the hutong residencies of Beijing. The roofs of the building all resembled the pagoda-style ceilings of Buddhist temples. Yet, the building also had typical mosque features, such as a minaret and all the signs were written in Arabic. I found it really interesting that the two cultures combined and created a mesh of both worlds.

    For the last part of our trip we traveled to the Gobi desert. The desert was far from the grasslands so we had to stop in a city called Erdos along the way. We only spent a night in Erdos, but by morning we yearned to leave. Due to a boom in the coal industry, Erdos sprung out of barren land in the middle-of-nowhere Mongolia. None of the buildings in the city were completed, and the air was extremely polluted from the industrial wasteland that surrounded the area. The city has gained an immense amount of wealth from the coal industry. Apparently it’s the wealthiest city in Inner Mongolia, yet the outskirts were crowded with slums and waste. The city was a prime example of the expanding wealth gap throughout China.

    Even though Erdos was far from amazing the Gobi desert made-up for Erdos’s losses. It was amazing to see and it ended the Mongolia trip on a high note.



    Hannah

    Journal Entry #7

    Discovering Something

    My mom visited this past week. Her visits had both its ups and downs. Before she came, I feared that seeing my mother would disrupt the natural flow I have developed here in China. Since it was not a school week, and the other bounders were going to Mongolia, I was going to have nothing with which to distract myself. However, I also missed her greatly and was very excited to see her after our longest time apart. When she arrived, a little of both happened. I was elated to see her and share my favorite restaurants hobbies, and scenic spots with her. Yet, I was also sad because I had to constantly change my schedule or natural plans to accommodate her desires and needs. Leading her around the city, however, and creating and then implementing an itinerary completely independent of anyone gave me great confidence.

    While there are many features of this trip that allow you to be independent, for the most part, I have felt held back. My parents here are rather protective (a huge contrast to my parents back home), and our teachers choose to act as second parents, in addition to teachers. Hence, I have never had more adults paying close attention to me before in my life. So when my Mom came, it was my first chance to be truly independent. I was able to show her all the things about Beijing I had discovered, and had no need of informing people where I was going. Explaining the history and meaning of each monument to Mom made be gleam with pride, and I surprised myself with all the knowledge and Chinese I have accumulated. My mom respected me for the “young woman I had become,” and it felt great to be the one teaching my mom. I have never felt more proud in my life. Showing my Mom around Beijing gave me confidence in my studies here: I have developed as a Chinese speaker and as a patron of Chinese culture. I am now a native capable of explaining the city in great detail. But most importantly, I am truly capable of navigating the city and the Chinese life on my own.

    Marcus

    Journal 7

    So here we are, three weeks from the end. I can’t believe that three weeks from now I’ll be back in America. I’ve been in China for such a long time that I forget all those mundane aspects of my life in America I thought I wouldn’t miss.

    When I think of my time in China so far and think of the time I have left, I realize there’s still a lot that I want to do before I leave. I’ve been to all the tourist sites, for sure, but I still feel like I haven’t even scratchd the surface of traditional Chinese culture. I suppose I never really will.

    As I enter these last few weeks, I am thinking of everything I’ll miss. My host parents, Jimmy, my classmates, all immediately come to mind. As I look deeper, however, I begin to realize that I’m going to miss China in general. Getting ice cream at McDonald’s, riding the hot crowded subway home, seeing people spit on the sidewalk. I know I’ll miss it all. I just love that I’ve been able to live in a foreign country and immerse myself in another culture, especially one as amazing, complicated, and fascinating as China’s. When I think of myself when I first came and look at myself now, I realize just how much I’ve adapted and changed. It’s a cliché, I know, but this experience really has changed my life.

    With the short time I have left, I want to absorb as much as I can and experience as much as possible. I’ll go to the nightmarket on Wangfujing and eat scorpion. I’ll take pictures of everything that seemed strange and amazing when I first got here but now is boring and old, because I want to remember it long after I’ve left. I’ll spend as much time as I can with my host family. I think I’ll definitely miss my host brother Jimmy (Hu Xinyuan/???) the most. I’ve spent almost everyday of the last seven months with him, and he feels like my brother. I love how he smiles at everything I say, how he grunts when his mom tells him to do something. I’m going to miss him so much when I go back to America, though he’ll probably go to college in the US. The other person I’ll miss is my host mom, Hu Yuhong (???). She has been so amazing the entire time I’ve been here. She’s always concerned about me, worrying that I’m not eating enough. Once, when I was home sick, she went out of her way to come home and make me dumplings for lunch. One day she asked me what kind of fruit I like. I told her apples and strawberries. Everyday since then she has come into my room at night, apple in hand, offering me to eat it. I think I’ll miss that the most, her overzealous concern for my well-being. I’m not very close to my host dad Hu Weichun, but he does remind me of my real dad in that he’s a loud snorer. I also love the way he says my name, in a strange sort of hybrid English-Chinese gibberish that somehow sounds like Marcus. I’ll also miss my host aunt. She’s Hu Yuhong’s brother’s wife, and she comes over almost everyday to help cook dinner. Whenever she sees me she greets me with a ni hao and a big smile, which I reply with a smile, giggle, and ni hao back. I love my host family and I know I’ll miss them terribly.

    The other people I’ll miss are all my friends at Jingshan. There are the kids in my class-Victor, Miles, Ricky, Oprah, plus some others whose names I don’t know. Then there are others in everyone else’s classes- Gao Yinghua, Peter, TOEFL Jimmy, the list goes on an on. I’ll also miss all the teachers we’ve had- Kungfu laoshi, knot-tying laoshi, Meng laoshi, calligraphy laoshi, fine arts laoshi, and again it goes on and on. Some of them speak English, some of them don’t. No matter what they taught us, I know I’ll remember it and miss doing it at Jingshan.

    Even though there are certainly parts of my experience here I didn’t enjoy (like being bored in class), I did enjoy the vast majority of my time here and even the bad parts contributed to my overall amazing experience in China.

    Rebecca

    Journal 4: GAO KAO

    The biggest test in a high school student’s life is the gao kao. Like the American SATs and ACTs, the gao kao tests how a student will do in 5 subjects like math, English, science, etc. The gao kao is out of seven hundred and eighty points and unlike the SATs and ACTs where they can be retaken multiple times through the year, an average Chinese student will most likely only take it once during his or her high school career, thus putting even more stress on Chinese students. To make sure the students are adequately learning enough information, some teachers will give students extra classes in certain subjects on the weekends. My host sister, Sheng Nan, normally has physics classes every Saturday from 2 o’clock pm to 5 o’clock, however, the physics teacher still didn’t feel as if the students were learning enough, so last Tuesday, he gave my class two extra physics classes after school. Since my class follows the middle school schedule, where school ends at 3 pm, they ended up staying in school until 5 just to have those extra classes. Naturally, if this were to happen at Newton South, I think students would end up attending but I think that it would be more subject to objection.

    In China, there are only a small handful of good universities one can attend. The two most celebrated universities are Bei Da (Beijing University) and Tsing Hua Da. There are certainly a few other colleges that are good but besides those few, there aren’t a lot of choices to choose from. After talking to a few people, I learned that if your scores can’t get you into one of those acclaimed schools then it’s like you might as well not go to college. Since there’s only one chance to get a good score on the gao kao, the pressure is on to do well.

    There are a few extra ways one can earn extra points on the gao kao. For example, the gao kao awards 5 extra points to minority students. So only if the student was not of Han descent can they get those five extra points added on. My host dad is of Han descent but my host mom is of Meng descent. Originally Sheng Nan followed her fathers’s ethnic background and was of Han descent for a while, but once she began school, she switched over to follow her moms ethnic background now making her of Meng descent. And I know what you’re thinking, but no, you can’t fake your ethnic background because everyone who is a citizen of China has a small identity card and on it lists your ethnic group. There are people who research into your background to ensure that you really are who you say you are, so it makes lying even harder. The other ways to get extra points on the gao kao is by winning a science competition or enter a swimming competition and beat a certain time set. Every little point matters on the gao kao.

    It’s very interesting to find how the gao kao impacts the lives of Chinese students. Sheng Nan’s only in middle school but already for these past few years, teachers have been bringing up the gao kao every once in a while to remind them to study hard. As Sheng Nan once told me, “studying is the way to change one’s future.”

    Becky

    Journal 6

    My trip to Hunan was a little different than I had planned. Rather than teaching with my brother at his middle school in Huaihua, I spent most of the time with him in the hospital (well, multiple hospitals). He had been sick for a couple weeks and wasn’t getting better, but it wasn’t until he went to a hospital in Beijing that we got the confirmed diagnosis of mono.

    First we went to the #1 Hospital in Huaihua, which was slightly less than impressive. My first reaction was that it was so dirty that it didn’t look like it ever could have been clean. Hospitals are crowded, and the patients wait in the hallways. After a few tests they gave us the vague diagnosis of ‘an infected organ.’ Instead of staying there overnight we decided to go back to the capital of Hunan, Changsha.

    The #1 People’s Hospital of Changsha seemed beautiful, sanitary, and knowledgeable compared to where we had been, but that soon got old. The hierarchy of hospitals in China is pretty simple: while the bigger city hospital of Changsha is better than that of small and remote Huaihua, the major cities here (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong) still have much better ones.

    Insurance here is mostly replaced by a pay-as-you-go plan, rather than the way we operate in the States. So after seeing the doctor every day, she would write about the day and his prescriptions for the next in his bi ji ben (notebook). Then, the next morning we would take the notebook to the window to pay for whatever she had prescribed, then to a second window to pick it up. Our first day, this included: Chinese herbal throat medicine, liquid antibiotics and sugar/salt water for an IV.

    After receiving medicine the patient gets a bed (or a chair) and an IV. The ancient view of medicine as poison has penetrated into modern medicine; doctors always believe it is best to take medicine in its diluted form, so literally every patient had an IV. There was also a room of comfy chairs with hooks for your IV, where 30 or so patients could sit, taking medicine and watching TV at the same time. Privacy wasn’t a big concern.

    I also found that the role of a doctor is very different in China. The position does not seem as highly respected, as it is America. However, I think teachers here are much more respected than they are at home. The doctors had one office room they shared, where we would find them, but when we talked with her about what was happening, what he was taking, why he was taking it, it was our responsibility to ask all of these questions. Rather than diagnosing then treating, they treated by the symptoms (which does not work in the case of mono). After researching Chinese medicine for our English class, I think I can better understand this now. Traditional Chinese Medicine takes a more holistic approach, focusing on a balance of energy in the body. Though they use western medicine, the tactic still seemed to be to target a certain area, rather than a particular problem (which explains why it was difficult to get a diagnosis).

    Marcus

    Journal 6

    The Chinese have an interesting approach to their environment. In ancient/imperial China, the land was worshipped for what it gave to the people. Every scrap of land was used, including hillsides, and every part of the animal was extracted for a purpose.

    Modern China contrasts vastly with this world. Millions of factories spew out toxic fumes and greenhouse gasses nonstop. Millions upon millions of automobiles pollute the atmosphere every day, with thousands of new ones hitting the road all the time. The landfills are clogged with the trash of meals unfinished and empty water bottles. All around, the disregard for the environment is astounding, especially considering how important regard for the environment was in ancient China.

    The most astonishing part of this dirtying of the environment is the complacency, even encouragement, on the part of the government. The fact that there are so many factories and automobiles polluting the atmosphere in China is in large part due to the economic reforms enacted by the government 30 years ago. The reforms that opened up the economy and the country encouraged companies to build factories and people to buy cars.

    The government certainly does encourage people to be environmentally conscious, but at the same time they also encourage and give incentives for things that destroy the environment. In the run up to the Olympics, they tried to clean the atmosphere by instituting a mandatory shut-down of nearby factories and instituted rules forbidding millions of cars from driving everyday. This strategy succeeded in cleaning the air for the Olympics, but it has since gone back to the same state is was before. If China really is going to become the next global superpower, it will have to learn that it must prioritize the well-being of the Earth along with its economic development.

    Rebecca

    Journal 5: ZHONG KAO

    After attending class for three months and a half now, I have witnessed many things going on in my grade 9 class 5 classroom. The middle school ranges from grades six through nine while the high school ranges from grades 10 through 12. What sets my class apart from the other middle school classes is that they are currently taking high school courses half a year earlier than the rest of their grade. The students had to take a placement test to see which class they were suitable for and the students in my class scored the highest, placing them in class five.
    Typically, at the end of ninth grade, the middle school students have to take and pass the zhong kao to move on to high school, however, by doing well in school and having enough smarts to be in class 5, my classmates are kind of exempt from the zhong kao. They still have to take it though, but only to signify that they have taken it. The score they get on it doesn’t really matter. Although they are part of the middle school, they can also be considered part of the high school since they are learning high school material.

    Right now, my class is in an awkward transition between the two schools, middle and high school. They wear high school uniforms but they don’t participate in any of the high school activities like the high school singing competition and middle school activities. During the all school spring outing, my class stayed behind at school and didn’t go because they were not considered part of the middle or high school.

    I think the closest Newton South class level equivalent to my 9-5 class is honors. The students in my class are the brightest in their grade and they have a difficult and fast paced curriculum. However, if a student fails to consistently do well, then they can be bumped down a class level.

    How a student does on a test ranges extremely. Since there are fifty students in my class, it’s hard for a teacher to take the time to pin point each student's weakness and help him or her correct it. On a typical test, only a few students will get above an 80% and below a 50%. The majority of the student’s grades will range from 50 to the high 70s. There is a big margin separating the students who do extremely well and the kids who are failing. Typically, in America, grades aren’t that scattered.

    As time is winding down and I’ve only got a couple weeks left here in China, I realize how much I will miss my class.

    Carolyn Gordon

    The day I returned from Mongolia to Beijing I packed my bag again and took a flight back to Anhui to visit Mr. He. On my way to the airport my host mother handed me surgeon’s mask and told me that I needed to wear it. She also informed that she is “very angry with Mexico” because swine flu has penetrated Hong Kong through a Mexican traveler. She advised to put the mask on whenever I see someone who looks like they have “pig disease”. With my mask in hand, I went back to Xiuning to help teach Mr. He’s classes.

    I thought school was intense in Beijing, but in Xiuning school never stops. The school is a boarding school and classes begin around 6:30 a.m. After about six hours of class, students have lunch at 12, and then have four hours to nap or study for night classes. Starting at 4 p.m. night classes begin and eventually end at 9:00 p.m. In addition to this, there are morning classes on weekends!

    On Sunday, I went to two morning classes and talked with the students about America and then took questions from them. They asked me to speak some Spanish, and then they all laughed because it sounded funny. The first class was very intriguing and for the last 20 minutes I wrote basic Spanish phrases on the board and pronounced the words (with a bad accent).

    Most students live on-campus, but there are a few from Xiuning who live at home. The typical dorm room is 10 students per room, but if you pay 100 yuan extra (14 dollars), you can get a room with electricity and only 8 people. For a year, tuition is around 3000 yuan (450 dollars), which seems reasonable for boarding school, but is hard to pay on local wages.

    It was interesting to see a rural school in another region of the country. While the school is one of the best in the Anhui province, the students don’t have any of the same resources as Jingshan students. In Jingshan, all the classes have projector systems and have about 40-50 students. In Xiuning the classes have one chalk board and are overcrowded with about 60-70 students per class.

    Many of my classmates in Beijing plan to either study abroad or attend American colleges. In fact, 5 out of the 7 Chinese exchange students who came to America, plan on returning for college. It’s a different story in Xiuning. Since international students in America must pay full tuition, American schools are completely off the table for the students. Many move on to attend local schools, and few are admitted to the prestigious schools in Beijing and Shanghai.

    It was interesting to see both worlds of education in China. Much like in America, school systems in China vary in resources from region to region.

    Marcus

    Journal 5

    There are some things the Chinese rarely discuss or even talk about. One of these such topics is the Cultural Revolution. The eleven year campaign of destruction and terror is still very taboo. Whenever I bring it up with my host mom, she tells me of how it was such a terrible time for China, when students abandoned their studies to go live in the countryside, some of whom never returned to their old lives.

    I went to the 798 Art District this weekend. There, I bought a booklet of posters from this turbulent time in Chinese history. When I look at them and see the slogans and artwork from that time, I get a very small sense of what life was like during the Cultural Revolution. Everything was about destroying the past, and if you in anyway disagreed with what Mao Zedong said or were in any way considered a rightist, you could be jailed or even killed. To think that someone could be persecuted for simply being a college professor simply boggles my mind.

    Whenever I see a sign advertising Gucci or Prada or Armani, I think of how 35 years ago that would never have made it into China. Wangfujing, one of the oldest shopping areas in China, has advertisements everywhere for these and other expensive, high-class brands, something that didn’t exist during the Cultural Revolution.

    Thinking about the Cultural Revolution and how bad of a time it was for China, I start thinking about the bad times America has had. Events such as Indian Removal, the Civil War, and Vietnam come to mind. I think of how those events are analyzed in America versus how the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward (which is also never talked about) are analyzed here, and I come up with completely different answers. I will definitely keep my eyes and ears open over the next few years to see how China deals with these issues from its past, some of which never went away.

    Hannah

    Journal Entry #4

    Learning Something About Myself

    Last Thursday we went to an exhibit on Tibet that honored the 50-year anniversary of the Chinese "liberation" of Tibet. Since we were the only white people there, we drew lots of attention. In fact, I received many glares from Chinese passerbys. The exhibit followed the history of Tibet, and Chinese influence in the region. The theme was Tibet's movement from "darkness to light, poverty to affluence, dictatorship to democracy and seclusion to opening up," all with the help of the Chinese government and generous Chinese people. Notable sections included the part that criticized Western Media for "distorting" the truth, and the picture of Tibetan serfs marching gleefully with a photoshopped picture of Mao. This month, which is dedicated to honoring this "liberation," has caused much distress among the government. You Tube was recently shut down for showing pictures of Chinese beating Tibetan monks, or according to Chinese officials the site is being fixed.

    This exhibit gave me much more confidence in American media. Previously, I had distrusted American media, as I believed they, too, distorted the truth. I have always believed that the American media has a false reputation of “free press” due to our countries democratic ways. After viewing this exhibit, however, I began to appreciate America’s reporting techniques. Although reporters choose what to report, when to report it, and how to spin it, the information is almost always available. In fact, if a reader is willing to do enough work a reader can always find out all the details of a certain situation.

    Rebecca

    Journal 6: Being an ABC in CHN

    ABC stands for American Born Chinese, which is what I am. I love being an ABC but it’s a little different being one in China. At least once a week, I get asked “Are you Chinese” and I mainly reply “I am American”. Out of the probably hundred times I’ve been asked that, I’ve gotten a mixed responses ranging from “Oh my god, that’s so cool!” to “No, you look Chinese, so you must be from China . Why is it that your parents never taught you Chinese?” However, most of the time I just get smiles from people but once in a while, I get the occasional frown as if it’s incomprehensible to have an American born Chinese person who can’t speak Mandarin.

    People in China mostly think of white people coming from America and some of them fail to realize that not all Americans are white. They haven’t really adjusted to the fact that America is a big melting pot for many different races and cultures, so you can have Asian Americans, African Americans, Canadian Americans, and so on. It’s a little difficult for some people to wrap their minds around the fact that I’m an ABC and that when they ask me what country I’m from, I automatically say America. It would make sense that I would reply with America because after all I was born and raised there. The thing that goes through many Chinese people’s minds is: if she looks Chinese and her parents are Chinese, then why isn’t she from China?

    The thing about being an ABC in China is that the people here expect more from you. Non-Asian foreigners can get away with a simple “Ni hao” and end having people clapping and cheering for them, but as for me, it’s expected that I know how to speak fluent Mandarin.

    At first when people started asking me about my background, whether or not my parents were Chinese, and why I couldn’t speak mandarin, I thought it was really strange. Normally, in America, people don’t normally ask you personal questions two seconds upon meeting you. In America, I don’t get asked whether or not I’m fluent in Chinese and my relatives, some of whom who do not speak English, don’t get asked why they can’t speak English.
    Although those are the cons to being an ABC in China, there are certainly its perks. People don’t jack up prices as much when I’m at a marketplace that people can bargain in and taxi drivers don’t purposely take longer routes or drive around in circles assuming I know my way around China. And it’s not like everyone I meet shows disdain towards my identification as an American, it’s only a few compared to the many more who find it intriguing. The pros always outweigh the cons.

    My advice for future ABC’s who aren’t fluent in Mandarin, is for them not to take it personally. Sure, I’ve been a little annoyed at times with the constant questioning and might have complained, but not once have I taken their questioning personally or held a grudge. People in China are just curious and it’s alright for them to be. Just remember to always be friendly and smile.

    Clara

    Journal 4

    I have been living in Beijing for the last three months, studying and teaching at one of China’s most prestigious high schools during the day, exploring the city in the afternoon, and struggling to communicate with my host mother in the evening. My Chinese vocabulary and pronunciation has skyrocketed – I now feel like a total idiot for not paying attention to tones in Chinese class sophomore through senior year. Living with a host family has provided me unparalleled access to Chinese society. I have traveled throughout the country, and been teased for my “Beijing accent.” I have mastered the art of morning exercises and wear my Chinese school uniform proudly. I have eaten cocoons. In case you were wondering, you eat the crust and spit out the bug.

    Never have I enjoyed day-to-day activities so much: uncovering new dumpling restaurants, chatting with the men and women at newspaper stands while recharging my cell phone, learning to navigate the bus routes, and shocking taxi driver after taxi driver when I catch and correct them – all in Chinese, of course – trying to cheat me of a few yuan by taking a longer route than necessary to the intersection outside my apartment. On the flip side, I have also never been so frustrated: sitting through class after class where not a single student raises his or her hand to ask a question, passing by the new exhibit on “China’s peaceful liberation of Tibetan serfs” where 100 Chinese are lined up to take pictures of panels preaching how Western media are not to be trusted, and being denied access to certain articles on nytimes.com.

    But ups and downs like this were to be expected. Although there was no way for me to know all the specifics, for example, that eggplant would taste 20 times better in China than in America, that I would teach friends in class how to play Knock Out, that hatred for the Dalai Lama would be so immersed into Chinese culture, or that a sixth grader would introduce himself to me with the English name “Busdriver,” I knew I was signing up for the opportunity to live something new, and that’s exactly what I got.

    What I didn’t realize until about a month ago, however, was that along with providing a new lens with which to examine the world, this exchange also provided me with a new family. More specifically, this exchange provided me with a new sister. It never occurred to me that my exchange experience actually began when Molly, my host sister, landed in Boston this September, rocking her emerald green travel pants plastered with a pink and yellow floral print. Looking back on the exchange, the only thing I’m going to regret is not realizing that this program had something to offer me the moment Molly and I met. My mind was so focused on all I would observe and experience in Beijing that I never stopped to think of everything Molly and I could offer each other. Over our sixty or so bus rides to and from school everyday the two of us have become closer than I ever dreamed of. I’m the only one she talks about boys with and that bizarre feeling of having butterflies in your stomach, and she calmed my nerves before I heard back from colleges.

    In 27 days I will be back in Newton. I am ready to go back, but it will take some time for me to call Newton home again. Lucky for me, Molly is going to boarding school in one of Newton’s neighboring cities in September. I expect that is when it will start to feel like home again.

    Hannah

    Journal Six- Drawing a Parallel

    4/26/09

    This past weekend I visited the 798 Art District in Northern Beijing. It was an interesting change from the usual shopping scene in Beijing. The items sold at the Art District were mainly Pro-Mao paraphernalia that ranged from Cultural Revolution playing cards, to Mao propaganda posters, and T-shirts. The students who roamed the Art district also dressed differently than the rest of the Beijing residents. These students wore baggy clothes that resembled the Bohemian attire that many in the Anti-War group at Newton South sport. Many boys and girls also walked around openly, showing their affection quite publicly.
    I found it interesting that even in a country which has less freedom to act and do as they please, a minority faction has arose. These people support the old ways and believe that Chairman Mao has allowed their country to move forward. They flaunt their beliefs through vivid writing on signs, bags, and t-shirts. I frequently wonder what the government would think of a place like this, and if they only reason they allow it to flourish is because of its tourist attraction. It is conveniently located far out of the center city so getting there is a bit of a trek. It is also a place that no one recommends visiting so you must instead learn about from either a guidebook or from a friend. When I mentioned to my host parents that I would be spending Saturday afternoon at the 798 Art district their immediate response was “Why??” They then offered to drive me to a handful of other Art streets closer by, and ones that they thought would interest me more.

    Elias

    Schools (Chinese perspective)

    I sat in my class barely understanding the Chinese and what the students were learning, I have taken the time to reflect on my observations comparing American schools to Chinese Schools. While we are both high school students, the differences between American and Chinese schools are dramatic. I have the privilege of going to Newton North. While NNHS is run down and in need of desperate of repair, I would rather go to school in Newton than China. Jingshan is in need of such dramatic repair that it makes Newton North look like a 5 star hotel. Floors are cracked, windows and doors are broken, chairs and desks falling apart. There are no water fountains and the bathrooms are consisting of nothing more than a wall with a drain. But for all the physical problems of Jingshan, they make up for it in their technology department. In every classroom there is a Lenovo desktop hooked up to smart board projector. They also have access a magnification projector. In the school they are also computer labs, foreign exchange computer labs and much more. What does not makes sense is that Jingshan is a very famous school in China, it has a large amount of money, but they can’t seem to fix their classrooms or even order new desks.

    Now when one thinks of Chinese schools, one thinks of students sitting up straight, not talking and working diligently. In reality that is not far off the ball. Take a classroom where the students sit in rows; there are no tables or semi-circles or open circles. Everyone is quiet and there is no hand-raising or even calling out. People are not called by names, they called by there assigned number. There is no opening discussions or opening thinking. But like stereotypical high schools, the students fall asleep in class, listen to music in class and eat during class. Chinese schools are like a hybrid between the traditional ideas of ancient Chinese Confucianism and modern Western beliefs.

    Don’t get me wrong I love Jingshan, but after sitting and watching countless hours of Chinese classes, I have come to the conclusion that American schooling is amazing. For so many years I have taken the school system in Newton for granted, I have taken the education I had been given for granted. But we learn innovation and individualism in American schools, and here in China they do not. They learn the problem and how to apply it to a question; we on the other hand learn how to think outside the box and how to create our own beliefs and opinions.

    Becky

    Journal 7

    School is definitely a different experience for kids here. It takes a different kind of student. It wasn’t long before I realized that my host sister is really good at being Chinese. As funny as that sounds, she really thrives at Jingshan. She loves physics, and is in a special class that focuses on math and science. She is one of the class monitors (the highest leadership position in the class), a leader in the student organization; she was singled out to work on joining the party before she graduates and can officially; she takes part in physics, chemistry, and math competitions. She also sings and plays the piano outside of school. She is great at everything valued by teachers here, but that isn’t the case for everyone, and that seems to be where their education falls short. There is one expectation, and school doesn’t really account for the kids that don’t fit that mold as easily.

    One of the boys in my class is a computer genius. He always fixes technical problems in class; he takes part in competitions outside of school, and writes his own programs. But he often seems pretty upset and distant from the others. He told us that in China, you are not smart if you are good at computers; you are only smart if you are good at math and science.

    We ran into one of the other boys in my class as we were going out to dinner one night and invited him to come. It’s pretty obvious that he is not the best student. He usually has his cell phone out in class or is sleeping; he barely ever wears his uniform; and that night he told us that he failed at least half of his midterms. The class we’re in is the best in out grade, very prestigious, and used as a model for the school and many visitors. His parents are divorced, living on opposite sides of the earth, so he got stuck coming back to Beijing with neither. His dad’s money got him put in this class as opposed to one of the lower classes in the grade (Chinese guanxi does it again). He told us about going to school in Taiwan, how the teachers would hit the students when they did something wrong or didn’t do well enough, and how his dad encouraged it. Now he really hates school. He’s stuck in a class he can’t handle, with kids he doesn’t get along with, and a bunch of extra rules, so he has to hide his girlfriend. He lived and went to school in America for two years, and seemed to be the only place he was happy.

    It makes sense, in the States he would be at the right level, paid attention to more, rather than ignored as the bad kid in class (that doesn’t mean the same things it does in the US), and he would have the freedom he wants.
    I know the kids who rebel -- who make inappropriate English presentations, have girl friends or boy friends, who want to go to school in America against their parents’ wishes -- they are all good kids; there isn’t an opportunity for them to get into real trouble, it’s just a shame that they don’t have a better way to express themselves.

    My sister isn’t the only one that does well at this school; it’s known for greatness and really is. But I now love our system at home more than ever, where we can pick classes and curriculum levels for ourselves. The students in my class are together for every class, but they are by no means at the same level. One boy just got a 117/120 on the TOEFL, and he’s only in 10th grade, but talking with the boy who sits next to me, I realize that this is pretty much the first time he’s had to speak English. He and Hannah often prepare sentences to say to each other (in their foreign languages). Half the class says that math class is too easy; the other half says it’s too hard.

    I knew coming into this that individualism is not a core value in China, as it is at home, but living here I’ve come to understand that despite this difference, a class here is still made up of individuals, in every sense of that word.

    Hannah Sieber

    February 2009 - Something surprising

    Home here is far different than Newton. We live in an apartment about the size of one floor of my house. There are six of us: my host brother Victor, and his dad (baba), mom (mama), grandmother (laolao), and grandfather (laoye).
    There are two things that really surprise me about the culture here. My family, perhaps the exception, is aware of the government censorship that occurs. During the Spring Festival relatives kept visiting. Victor’s cousin visited us from Peking University, the Harvard of Beijing. He is apparently brilliant, and inline to be the next diplomat of China. We spoke about American diplomacy, Unitarianism, and the intricacies of American life. He wanted to know what I thought on all these subjects because he didn’t have enough information to form his own opinion, he said. He is an official member of the Chinese Communist Party, as is my host dad.

    The morning after, my family showed me their HBO, CNN, and BBC channel’s, of which they are very proud. BBC talked about Barack Obama’a latest recovery plans. My host father said: “Maybe you tell us what you see, since in China we don’t hear everything.”

    In addition to my parents’ views on censorship, I am also surprised by the lack of independence they give. My host-parents do not encourage Victor to explore or do his own thing. They regulate his homework, his eating, his clothes, and his sleep. When I explained in America that children are involved in multiple activities, school, and social obligations at their own discretion, my host father said, “In America the kids can choose what they want. Here the parents choose.” This view on raising children is very different than those to which I am accustomed. In America I tell my parents when I will leave and when I will be back. Here they must know who, what, where, when, why, and how, and even then they sometimes say, “no.”

    Clara Fraden

    Overall, I’m most surprised about the Chinese conception of appearance. My parents, for sure, and I’ve seen it in others as well, feel a need to impress those around them. In some aspects it’s almost like a who’s-the-most-western competition. When my host mom goes out when she knows she’s going to see people she knows, she makes sure to bring her Coach bag. All of the wealthier kids have Nike shoes.

    Cars are also a measure of status, just like in the US. But they receive more attention here than in the States, for sure, and than I believe is safe. It is a law in China that cars have the right of way. Cars drive slowly in pedestrian-filled areas, but it is rare that they ever come to a halt. Larger cars have right of way over smaller cars, as well, although I'm not sure if that's an official law. With larger cars, also comes prestige. My host family owns two cars: an Audi sedan and a Land Cruiser SUV. Apparently each family can only store one car in the apartment's garage. Before going to the duck restaurant yesterday, we drove 20 minutes in the opposite direction from lunch so that my parents could swap cars, just so they could pull up to the restaurant flaunting their big SUV.

    It seems careless and dangerous to give cars right of way over pedestrians. A pedestrian could never damage a car the way a car could damage a person trying to cross the street. Same with large and small cars. A Mini-Cooper has no chance up against a Hummer. I believe these laws are set in place to favor the elite over safety. A person in a car has more money than someone who doesn’t and must walk everywhere. Same with car size: Land Cruisers cost more than Toyota Sedans. It’s backwards to give the vehicles with the most ability to destroy the most protection by law, allowing them to be more careless than if things were switched.

    Elias

    So I have been in China for 3 weeks and I have witnessed/experienced many new and exciting things. As I look back upon my trip so far, I am surprised at how Communist China still is. There are still many things that are completely owned and operated by the government. All the major utilities are controlled by the government (gas, electricity/water, telecommunications, internet, food (supermarkets), postal services, cable, etc). When you watch TV or drive around Beijing, there are three main companies you will see: China Mobile, China Unicom and Sinopec (Oil). These companies dominate the landscape and every building with their logos and ads. Well many things are still government run; there are certain things that are entirely private. For instance clothing and electronics. Everywhere I go I see an Adidas and Nike store, or a Sony and Samsung store. Also cars are privately owned. When you walk the streets of Beijing, Audi, Buick, BMW and Volkswagen are the cars of China. Here a brand new BMW will cost around 180,000 Yuan, which is roughly about $27,000. A brand new BMW in the states costs around $50,000. I found that extremely interesting. Chen called it Market Communism, which is where there are private businesses but ultimately every businesses is watched by the government.

    After returning from vacation where I experienced China from a different perspective, I realized that China is still foreign and completely different from the States. When I watch the TV, I have noticed that there is one company that owns all the TV stations: CCTV or China Central TV. There are around 11 different CCTV channels. But when you watch the different stations, you begin to notice that all of them are relatively the same. They have the same shows and the same ads. Take CCTV 9 (international; and spoken in English), they talk about China's news and it seems like every story is repeated. And every story is about how China is doing something good, it never talks about the world or the bad stories. For the past month, China has been experiencing a major drought in middle China. So on the TV, the news is all about how the government is doing everything to fix it. They are giving money to farmers, creating man-made rain (funniest thing I have ever seen. they shoot rockets into the sky that induces rain) and setting up many new irrigation systems. But what I find interesting is the fact that it praises the government so much. And there is only one news channel. In states we have CNN, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, FOX, etc. Just recently there was a massive fire in Beijing that killed a firefighter. I was in Shanghai so I didn’t see it, but one of my friend's host brother texted us saying "there is a big fire in Beijing, but the government hasn’t told us anything." Now in America, when we have something like that our news channels say they don’t know any further details, but here in China it is "the government hasn’t told us."

    Another cool and interesting thing I saw was when I arrived back in Beijing. Chen's father was driving another car and I questioned why. He told me that every day the government chooses an ending digit of a license plate and that means you can’t drive your car. So when i arrived into Beijing, it was a 4 and 9 day, which meant that any car with an ending digit of 4 or 9 could not drive. I think this is a really smart and innovative idea. It dramatically cuts back on carbon usage and pollution.

    China is still a fully functioning Communist nation, but it is reaching into the Capitalist cookie jar. There is money being made here and no one questions it. The Chinese want money just like the United States and if that means allowing private ownership then they will allow it. The country is modernized and growing at an alarming rate. Last month, China bought the most amount of cars in the world. Good thing someone is still buying cars.

    Rebecca Lo

    Yesterday, Friday, was sort of the first day of school for the American exchange students but it wasn't the official first day. It was kind of like a half day but only school lasted for 2 hours. Yesterdays classes began around 8:00 or 8:30 depending on which class you were in. My class started around 8:00 and ended roughly around 9:30ish. Yesterday, the exchange group got 7 new textbooks (only 1 of which is in English... and i bet you could probably guess which one that is). Yesterday wasn't an official day of school for the Jingshan students either. They just went to school to pass in their homework, pay their lunch money for the new semester, and get their new class schedules. Monday is the official first day of school.

    I got up that morning around 6:30ish and was out the door by 7:00. It took us roughly 50 minutes to get to Jingshan by subway. We arrived just in time for class. Since school officially starts at 7:20, next week I will have to wake up even earlier at maybe 5:30ish and leave the apartment by 6:00ish. Although waking up early is kinda hard to do, I think it's definitely worth it. Going to school at Jingshan is more awesome compared to going to school in America.
    Each grade in the middle school is divided into 5 classes and each grade in the high school is divided into 4 classes. I got assigned to the 9th grade and I'm in the 5th class. The 9th grade in China is considered part of the middle school, but hte class I'm in is comprised of the smartest kids in that grade. So the kids in the 5th class are actually taking high school courses right now. They are taking the courses a semester earlier than the other 9th graders.

    What surprised me the most was how the students all pitched in to help better their class rooms. During the beginning of class, some of the students had specific chores they each had to do. Victor (a Jingshan student going on the exchange to America in September) was cleaning the black board while another student was mopping up the floors. Other students were dusting around the class and rearranging items on the teacher's desk. It's surprising how the kids all came together to pitch in to better their class.

    Next week, I'll follow the same schedule as the other Jingshan students and take all the classes they are taking. But by the second week of school, we (the Americans) will get our own schedules with our own specialized courses like martial arts. One bad thing about school is that the hours are long. The school hours are from 7:20 to 4:00.... doesn't that sound wonderful?? haha. Even though the long hours sound kind of bad, I'm still pumped for school and can't wait for it to begin.

    Becky Crowder

    The idea of hospitality here felt very foreign to me at first. Of course, I’ve read, heard about, and even experienced it before, but having to deal with it so frequently in my first week or so, I found that I wasn’t completely prepared. At first I found their welcoming gestures just very impressive; we always had extra food, lots of presents, pretty much anything I wanted, they would get or usually already had for me. I came home for the first time to lots of family members, a fully stocked desk, an entire table of snacks and candies, which all seemed very nice and accommodating. I had to fight to help carry my own luggage, and after a couple days I really felt like I needed to do something myself: walk (they would insist on driving me) or carry something myself! To our guests in Newton, we say ‘help yourself,’ but here they say ‘I’ll help you.’

    I must have said ‘thank you’ so many times in that first period of time, not understanding their reaction to fend off my thanks. When I went to dinner with Tianran, who I hosted last year, and her family, her grandfather told me that my brother and I should not say thank you because the presents and extravagant meal they gave us were to be expected because of what I had done for them. In the US, any nice gesture is a nice gesture. We have the idea that you should help out friends that have helped you out, but here it seems like they need to prove something with their gestures.

    Also, the way that they show appreciation for a good meal is different than the way I would at home. First of all my host family kept saying that it was really important that I eat well because I am their guest (not just well by American standards--they watch to make sure). I came to China prepared to eat anything, and I told them that, so at meals I would try everything, and just keep making the rounds, unless there was something I really didn’t like (then I would just eat it once). However, they kept saying something like ?????????‘Eat more of what you love.’ They were happier if I found a dish that I really liked and just kept eating that, and then of course it would show up at the next meal.

    One lunch, we were eating some scallion bread pocket thing, and there was one left. To me, it seems like the polite thing to do is to leave it there; I had eaten two, and my mom was going to eat later, but my aunt insisted that I eat it. She told my mom what I had said, and they seemed to get a kick out of it. Now, I’ve learned to understand the phrase, ‘you don’t need to leave anything.’ They assure me that the person not there will eat somewhere else.
    After some confusion, I learned to show my thanks by using and enjoying what they provide for me, conversing with them (I try my best in Chinese), and having a good time. I still say thank you, but I realized that that’s not enough.

    Carolyn Gordon

    A New View of China

    For the past week and a half the American exchange group has been traveling throughout different provinces of China. While the group was in Henan for the first half of the trip, Rebecca Lo and I traveled to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) together. I wanted to visit Huangshan because I know two teachers who live there. The teachers, Mr. He and Mr. Wang, are English teachers at one of the top boarding schools in the Anhui province.

    My first exposure to Chinese history and culture came in sixth grade when I first met Mr. He and Mr. Wang. Mr. He lived in my house and Mr. Wang lived down the street from me. They came to Newton to help construct a traditional Chinese house in the Peabody Essex museum. During their stay they taught me about 20th century China and Chairman Mao. At first I learned about Mao’s rise from poverty to leader of China, and I thought he was one of the greatest heroes in world history. I actually wrote an entire paper about how great Mao was-it was called “Mao Zedong, God of China”. It’s funny to look back on my first impressions of China because now I have a completely different view of Mao.

    My visit to Huangshan further altered my perspective on China. The area we were in was rural, and had a different pace of life than what I’m used too. Huangshan is different from Beijing in not only geography but also culture. Something that surprised me was how tight a community Mr. He’s village was. During breakfast one morning, a neighbor came to Mr. He’s window to greet him, and most people in the area seemed to know each other.

    I realized the importance of this type of community while Rebecca, Ashley (a colleague of Mr. He) and I were walking along the river with Mr. He. We noticed a severely injured man along the roadside. He had a gash along the side of his head and was covered in blood from a motorcycle crash. He was probably intoxicated because he insisted on selling his broken motorcycle to us, and ran away when we tried to help. Mr. He called for an ambulance and tried to contact the man’s family. As the man began to run away, other residents followed him and eventually forced him into an ambulance. It was interesting to witness how people worked together to help him.
    It’s definitely a different pace of life in Beijing. The city is constantly buzzing, and everyone seems to be rushing to work or school. It’s impossible to know everyone in the city, so the community isn’t as tight as Mr. He’s. Personally, I felt more connected to the people of Huangshan because the culture was much more personal.

    A similarity that I noticed between both areas was that both cities seem to be caught between two opposite poles: modern technology and traditional living. For instance, I now live in an apartment in downtown Beijing and technology is everywhere. When I look out the window at night Beijing is lit up with different signs and TV screens. There are televisions even in the elevators! My host family’s high-rise apartment shares the same street with the traditional hutong houses of Beijing. Hutong houses are the oldest residencies in Beijing, and are set up in a traditional courtyard style. Even in a city that has surpassed most of the world in technology, there are still constant reminders of the past.

    This is also the case in Huangshan. Modern houses border traditional style farmhouses. Something that surprised me was that while there is a vast amount of technology in Huangshan, many farmers live like they might have in ancient times. I noticed this while walking through the town. A student of Mr. He explained that the water buffalo in Huangshan are used to plow certain farms.

    Through out the trip, the group spent many hours driving through the countryside, and observing the scene. I noticed that the majority of farmers use their hands or basic wooden tools. It was interesting to see how the two spheres of technology and tradition juxtapose each other, yet do not intersect.

    Marcus

    The most surprising/unexpected part of China so far has to be the contrast between new and old. Everywhere you go and everywhere you look, you see ancient and modern China crashing into each other. You’ll go to a 1000 year old Buddhist temple, with people praying to giant jade Buddhas, and yet right there there’s someone playing on their cell phone. While walking through thousand year old passageways you can see a skyscraper and a crane poking out of the ancient rooftop.

    When we were in Tunxi, we walked through narrow passageways in the old city. In one of these passageways, we watched a woman making traditional Chinese food. As we watched, an old man in a green jacket walked past us. He carried with him a lime green cell phone, blasting Chinese techno. Scenes like this play out all the time in China.

    Even in the most remote of villages, everyone wears modern day clothing that you could buy at Wal-Mart. Cell phones and iPods/MP3s are everywhere. I have seen more cranes just in Beijing in the past few weeks than I’ve seen in my entire life. It all makes you forget that Chinese civilization began thousands of years ago, and that this modern China I see now is a recent development. It’s all very strange
    Comments (-1)
  • Spring 2010

    Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 2/1/2011
    Maia

    I think one of the most unexpected things was how crazy the driving here is. I had been warned about how the cars don't stop, but no warning can prepare you for your first trip across the street. It feels like a game of frogger, but with much higher stakes. Mi Wa explained to me that the cars don't stop because there are so many people here. Stopping would take forever. This made sense upon later reflection, but when I was actually crossing the street for the first time it just felt like chaos. I constantly had to remind myself that I wasn't in Newton and people don't stop for you in Beijing. Any temporary break from this mindset and I would find myself what seemed like inches away from getting hit. The constant honking also took some getting used to. Fortunately, I think I am getting used to the traffic here. The best strategy seems to be following whoever I am with across the street.

    Mike

    Upon my arrival I have learned that school is extremely different. I assume that it wasn’t too different from my own schooling, but I soon found out that that it is extraordinarily different. We wake up early and make sure to not be late; once we rush into the classroom we have our morning announcements from the teacher. Shortly thereafter we are rushed out the door for morning exercises. Now I expected some jumping jack and touching my toes, not military training. We stand in an absolutely perfect grid staring straight forward all standing in the same position. We learned how to march in perfect unity and do everything exactly the same and at exactly the same time as everyone else. I also find it comical and extremely different how the students are enrolled in communist youth. At home my mom will sign me up for little league or soccer when I was at the age of not making my own decisions, but these kids are signed up to be young communists and learn its ideals and how to live a s a good communist. It’s like boy scouts with the little ascots, but could also be interoperated as brainwashing immature children.

    Then we return to class and the teacher of our first class walks in, once again in perfect unity we all stand up abruptly and bow to him and say lao shi hao hello teacher before class begins, although only a small difference it shows true discipline, although the students can be more rowdy and loud than the students at home, they know when it’s time to do work and be serious, even the class clowns are straight A students. Also in P.E. class I find the hints of sexism a little funny, while the boys sprint laps, the girls jog in place, and while we are heaving heavy medicine balls, they are having the girls move only their arms in a circular motion, clearly stating that the Chinese school system believes girls are a weaker sex and should not exert as much energy on exercise.

    At the end of the day it may be time for me to leave, but not for most students, they must stay in more classes and work very late. They have massive amounts of homework and during the week have no time to their selves. Then even on the weekends they must attend classes, it must be a very stressful way to live day to day, but nonetheless they work 3 times as hard as most Americans and complain much less.

    School so far had been a great experience, it is very interesting and different in ways I like a lot and different in ways that I may not like. But I am really enjoying myself in school and have made many Chinese friends.

    Mike

    Life is drastically different from big city to yangshuo countryside, small villages relying on animals for farming and big capitalist buisnessmen making millions in big citys... also everywhere ive been brandnames are plastered across peoples backs and storefromts. in chengdu i never thought id see a walking only street with thousands of people and multiple stores of high end names like gucci louis v armani and more... its come as quite a shock that in a country where a bottle of water costs the us equivalent of 10 cents that your ordinary joe will pay 200 dollars for a jacket to fit in with the style... but on another note china has been shocking but at the same time very similar to us, just a bit harder to understand. in my family there really hasn’t been anything that is so outrageuosly diff to really catch my attention other than food. my host bro plays sports vid games and watched tv, he makes time for fun like my friends and i do. chinas been great and i look 4ward to the next 3 months, sorry the emails a bit messed up but its late and im bout to pass out.....

    Celina Chan

    Discovering Something about myself

    As you already know, I am an Asian American female living in the United States. Participating in this exchange trip, I was hoping to discover something about myself. Perhaps I was looking for a sense of belonging or discovery about who I am as an Asian American. What is my role?

    In the United States, I did not always belong. As a child I would frequently question my ethnicity. What was it about me that sometimes made the other kids stray away? Why did my family not go through the habits and routines my Caucasian friends took part in? Deep inside I believed that going to China would be a way of somehow finding a place where I belonged. Perhaps seeing millions and millions of people who looked like me would ease my mind. I was wrong. I do not belong here either. I found that I would try very hard to associate myself with the Americans when I am at school, or walking with the other members of the group; proudly speaking English as I watched the men and women on the street stare. However, I also found myself siding with the Chinese. Whenever a classmate would talk about a strange Chinese tradition or a strange food they ate, I would often reply “Oh, I eat that at home all the time”, hoping to hear the reply: “Well that’s because you’re Chinese”. This constant tug-of-war that I had within myself caused me to take a step back and analyze myself. What was I? Who was I? Do I side with the Americans or the Asians? After one short month of living here I have come to realize that I am simply both. I am Asian and American. Of course, I knew that all along, but this realization was something different. My eyes where suddenly opened and I saw that I did not need to choose a side. I represent both; A wonderful mixture between two beautiful cultures that are still striving to understand each other. Together, both cultures create me, and without the other I would cease to be who I am today. I needed to be proud of both sides- always careful not to reject one or the other. I am simply the example. I can show Asians a piece of what American culture is like, and I can show Americans a side of the Asian culture. However, there is also a third side. I can also be an example to other Asian Americans that also struggle with this identity problem. There should not be a conflict concerning the sides that create someone when the gift of who they are can be seen right in front of them. I am proud and happy to say that I am an Asian American, and I wouldn’t trade that for all the dollars or Yuan in the world.

    Maia

    This trip has allowed me to grow in many ways. I have already learned so many things in this new culture and am just getting started. I have learned to become a lot more flexible both physically and mentally, respectful of authority, patient, and open-minded.

    Although I was hardly the controlling type at home, after a few weeks in Beijing I have really learned how to go with the flow. At home I would often argue with my parents about many things: meals, allowance, my schedule etc… A typical disagreement about my curfew would often end with me, in the late hours of the night, returning home victoriously from a friend’s house. Here such arguments are unthinkable and so is staying out late. Although I often wish to argue with my parents about my curfew I know that this would be in bad taste and work hard to keep with Chinese tradition. As much as I want to see my friends I know it is important to keep with Chinese customs. The tolerance I have obtained for foods here is something I am proud of. I used to be a picky eater but have managed to eat whatever has been given to me, save for some preserved eggs, which I just could not handle. I have applied the same easygoing attitude to the activities that have been planned for me. I am always willing to try something new and am flexible about sudden changes. I am used to being able to choose some of the things I do but have learned that allowing others to decide often leads to just as much of a good time.

    I have also tried things that I would never do in America. I had no interest in becoming flexible back home and avoided all stretches to increase flexibility at all costs. During our warm ups for our dance practice we do many of these exercises. Instead of shrinking away I do my best to complete them. I have learned that even if something does not interest you it can still be a fun and unique opportunity. This is the same feeling I have for dancing. I rather detest dancing and would never be caught at a dance class in America. In China, I have discovered it to be a great way to meet people and socialize despite the seriousness of the rehearsals. I think I have learned to be even more patient than I previously was, but I am most proud of learning to think positively. Whatever situation gets me down, I am able to remind myself where I am and how lucky I am to be here and nothing can seem terrible anymore. Overall, I would say I have learned some very valuable skills that will help me throughout life.

    Tony La

    Everybody knows that stuff in China is much cheaper than stuff in America, but how cheap is it actually? Well first of all, the current exchange rate is 6.8 yuan per USD. Yesterday morning I found myself really thirst so we went to a supermarket across the street from the hotel. I bought a can of apple soda for 1.9 yuan which is around $0.27. I also saw a 3 pack of water bottles, each containing 1.5 liters of water, for only around $1. Gatorade was only around $0.50 for a bottle.

    Yesterday, after we saw the cute little pandas (more on that later), we headed down to a huge shopping street that had the likeness of Tokyo or any other bustling shopping center. There was neon everywhere and huge billboards that towered over everybody. The size and level activity there was my image of what China would be like before I actually came here. Our tour guide Cindy let us walk around the city for a couple of hours before we ate dinner so there was plenty of time to explore.

    One of the first things I noticed was that there were so many of the same store strewn throughout the streets. There were a few Nike stores, a few Nokia stores, a few Adidas stores and even a couple of Converse stores. Even though everything else is much cheaper in China, shoes are one of the few exceptions. Shoes in China can cost up to $40 more than they do in the US.

    There were 3 highlights/traumas during out short excursion in the city. The first was when I was walking down the street, casually, and I saw this man holding his daughter up. Normal? Yes. Then I noticed that the man was holding the girl over a sewage lid. Then I noticed that the little girl was peeing, literally, in the middle of the street. After the initial shock, I shrugged it off since I noticed that nobody else even raised an eyebrow to a little girl just taking a piss in the middle of a huge and busy road, where cars were trying to pass.

    The second thing was a huge shopping mall. This mall is unlike anything I have ever seen. There were probably ten thousand people in a single building trying to get through the crowds and into the little stores. This was definitely the place where you could get robbed at any moment. The shopkeepers were very aggressive when trying to pull in customers. They would either shout directly at a target or latch on and drag him directly into the store. It was also 12 floors high, one of which was a food court.

    The third thing was this store called Kobron (I’m thinking Kobe + Lebron) that sold a bunch of bootlegged versions of expensive clothing under their own brand. The stuff there looked really good and only cost a few hundred yuan at the most ($30-$50). This was the first time that I noticed something extremely awkward about shopping in China: immediately going into the store, a salesperson will lock on to you and follow you throughout the entire trip. They aren’t just silent either, if you show any sliver of interest in an item, they will list all of its details and urge you to buy it.

    That was also the first day I bargained in China as well. It was after we visited our first monastery and decided to go to the nearby market. All of the vendors were selling essentially the same thing for different prices (a crossbow for $3 in one place and $4 in another). John was wondering if they offered different initial prices for Westerners and Chinese so we put this to the test and found out that either they gave the same price to everyone or I am way to Western. So my first bargaining battle started when Ms. Sargent wanted to buy a small Chinese minority doll. The initial price was 28 yuan, already a good deal at around $4. But of course that lady selling it to us only got it for a couple of yuan so we had to bargain it down. I first offered a low 15 yuan to establish dominance over the negotiation but it was shot down immediately. I worked up to 20 but the lady insisted that 25 was as low as she could go and that her family will starve tonight if I go lower (lies). I got it down to 22 after a minute but I was stuck after. Embarrassingly enough Cindy, the tour guide, had to cut in and use the local dialect to win the merchant over and get it down to 20 yuan. A bit disappointing, but that was my day.

    Antoine

    Something Surprising

    I’ve encountered many strange things since I first landed in China back on the first of February. Now, having been here 35 days out of the 120, I can certainly say that I’ve experienced more culinary strangeness in these 35 days than I have my entire life. Sea Cucumber turned out to be like eating pure seawater, Shark-fin Soup tasted just like egg-drop soup, black-fungus had a weird texture to it and meat tends to be on the dark-brown side of cooked here. However, excluding these extreme exceptions the food in China has been mostly exactly what I had expected when I went into this trip.

    However, I have found that this general rule definitely cannot be applied to everything. In fact, for certain types of foods, namely types of meat, western concepts are challenged in every dish. Looking through the menu, it is easy to notice that certain types of meat that grace the tables of good restaurants in Beijing would most definitely not be found in the United States in any restaurant. Donkey meat, toad meat and frog meat often pop up as you flip through the menus in China. In addition, various types of organs are also popular in China, especially duck hearts and stomachs and goose liver. Granted, the latter is found in high-end French restaurants, but disguised under the protective name of foie gras.

    As I looked at my first plate of meat here in China, I noticed that something was frankly off. From my past experience, and my western preconceptions of what food should look like, I knew that the meat here was different. It is a given in the United States that a steak, for example, should be lean, and various shades pink depending on your taste.

    In China, the idea of a lean, pink steak would most likely strike people as completely ridiculous. A few days ago, we were taken to a restaurant the Miles had told me was the best in Beijing by the school. As an appetizer, we were served a gigantic slab of steak-like substance. It looked like a steak, but the second you broke the outside covering and looked inside it was certainly not a western steak.

    My knife slipped into what looked like a dark-gray abyss. I was at first worried that the steak had been a bit overcooked. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t the end of the surprise for me. As I finished slicing, I noticed that the steak in question had not only been cooked so much it had turned the dull-gray color of sweatshirt, but it also must have consisted of about 50% fat. I immediately abandoned the thought of eating it after having had my first bite.

    Looking back, I should have expected this when I first saw that they were serving us steak. I had previously noticed that meat in China was always accompanied by a slab of fat or thick skin. I had even been served a plate of just fat. However, this surprised me more than anything else in Chinese cuisine. Even though I have now learned that fat shows that someone is wealthy, I have still not gotten over the fact that people would honestly want to eat a plate of fat. Perhaps it is just western preconceptions that keeps me from enjoying a slab of fat.

    Celina

    Well, what I have to say was the highlight/puzzling/incomprehensible/unexpected part of my trip was when we went up to Mt. Emei and Tony was bitten by a monkey and I was scratched by one. We went to the doctor right on the mountain and he gave us a shot right away. After that Tony was carried down the mountain (because his injury was more severe than mine). We went to another clinic that day where we got another shot and had our wounds examined. Then afterwards, we went to another hospital where the doctor there prescribed each of us some medicine. He also cleaned our wounds. I was very shocked to find out that seeing the doctor for a check up costs around .75 cents (US). The next time we went to a hospital we got 7 doses of a direct immunity shot. Those doses where split up into three shots. We got two in the hip area. The last one we got directly in our wound. I would have to say that that shot was the most painful thing I have ever experienced because he pushed the needle in very deep. After much pain and limping we got a taxi back to the hotel. In Guilin, we got another shot (on the arm which was painless). In the next couple weeks Tony and I will need to get 3 more shots. This experience was very interesting and made my trip to Chengdu very memorable. I do not know how I feel about monkeys at this point but I don't plan on encountering another one any time soon.

    Michelle

    Something I learned in China

    So far I have learned more than just one thing in China. To sum up everything, I have found that what Boston has taught me is completely wrong. I cannot trust a single street skill that I have learned before coming to Beijing. Pedestrians do not have the right away, but there are no sidewalks to walk safely on. Cars are allowed to do what they please and seatbelts are not mandatory. Sidewalks act as parking lots or a side street. Although streets are cleaned religiously by people who are paid far below minimum wage, no one throws their trash in trash barrels, everyone litters. Even if tap water does contain certain minerals and fluoride which can improve your teeth, you should always stick to bottled drinks. Cold drinks are the cause of sickness and everything “cold” is lukewarm. Females are incapable of doing anything physical, especially anything that has to do with sports. Males are always dominant and are always right. Sexism is a way of life; this is taught in the school system. Things are cheaper in China, but the quality of most items is poor. What I see and would be known as torture to the people of the United States is seen everywhere and endured by children. I too have suffered. To be perfect, one must always act in line, ready to march in the military. There is no such thing as just a mistake. Once you’re wrong, you’re out of the game.

    Besides all of that useless information that I have conjured up, China has taught me how to live in a city. How to travel by taxi, bus, and subway has become a daily routine in my stay here. I have learned how to bargain and to divide numbers by six and seven while shopping. I continue to be part of the abnormal description of a Chinese female. I play sports, and have slowly to become better at basketball, from not even touching one since I was in the single digits. When Maia, Celina, Emily, and I play we seek other males to play with us because there are barely any females seen on the courts. We act as fools, and do not care about what they were taught, we show the students that females can do something; we have all become feminists in different ways.

    As I continue to learn from people in China I realize how different two countries can be, even if we might have a friendship and connection between two schools that is the only thing that’s similar. The style of learning, culture, and family are all different. Students solely learn how to memorize and practice the same thing over and over, without taking a chance to be imaginative and creating their own thoughts. Within their culture they believe in always studying and respecting and obeying parents at all times, but although those aspects of their culture may seem great students always end up relying on their parents too much. It is only when they find their own job and have their own family is when their parents retire, and then rely on their child to support them. China’s society is formed by military ways, and to watch these children learn to create and stand in straight lines and wearing the same uniform is something that I would never want to have to go through for more than these four months.

    Emily

    Something Surprising

    I've read books about China's development, talked with the Chinese about China's development, and witnessed China's development right before my own eyes. But one aspect of society that is not developing as quickly as the rest is public safety. The other day I had a question stuck in my head that just about sums up my confusion regarding china's public safety . How can a country strive to develop economically without simultaneously improving the public safety situation of it's people? On this topic I will clarify. When I refer to public safety I am referring to three things I know of well: traffic safety, wild animal safety, and water safety. The facts that in China stepping into a street without looking is often a fatal decision, wild monkeys who sometimes ravage human appendages can be seen up close without separating barriers, and drinking water from the tap is hazardous all greatly concern me. I am of the personal opinion that even if China rises economically above the rest of the world, it will not be viewed with the highest amount of potential respect by other nations because of its safety issues.

    Maybe they aren't really public safety issues, but instead cultural differences. I am of course defining safety in a very American way. Maybe because of the absurd airport security, stringent traffic laws, and Purell- obsessed people that define our existence, I am used to an outrageous amount of safety in my life. I don't miss many things about America as much I miss the authority of a walk sign. It means that pedestrians can most likely have the right of way and cross the road safely, without the imminent threat of oncoming traffic. I think that if China were to have a authoritative walk signal,among other (possibly more important...) public safety improvements this country would be headed in the direction of being a western-like super power. I know that the more fastidious Chinese communist leaders claim they don't want to be a western-like super power, but I really don't see any way around it, or adapting to western safety standards if China wants to rise in the eyes of other world powers.
    Comments (-1)
  • Spring 2011

    Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 1/1/2011
    May

    Kelly

    Chinese and American cultures are both similar and yet vastly different. The Chinese are similar in the way that they spend their free time. Movies, shopping, eating out, hanging out, and partying are all common activities that they enjoy doing, much like the American kids. They will play sports and instruments and usually don’t spend all their time doing their homework, contrary to the stereotypes. In fact, many kids procrastinate just like American students. It’s very interesting to see these similar study habits in China.

    However, what is different is the structure of their classes. In Chinese classrooms, the teacher will usually lecture them the whole class, and the students will never raise their hands to interrupt (ask questions). The students remain in the same classroom for the whole school day, with the teachers coming to them. In Newton, both students and teachers will move from class to class. The Jingshan students also have mandatory eye and morning exercises they have to perform daily. Though these mandatory exercises are not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, there are many positive aspects pertaining to them. It’s good for one’s health, it’s a time to relax, it encourages discipline, and it allows for students to feel united.

    I also believe that the way the Chinese approach a certain situation differs from how an American would. For example, the Chinese love to take a roundabout method to answer questions, and they will never say “no” directly. Everything requires reading between the lines, whereas the Americans are more direct and blunt. (Though sometimes this bluntness will offend the other party.) There are however, reasons for these different kinds of behaviors and cultures. To the Chinese, saving ‘face’ is very important and they strongly believe in keeping good relations (guanxi) with others. This kind of culture probably emerged as a result of the influence of Daoism and Confucianism.

    There are so many more examples of how these two cultures compare. You really have to be here to see them for yourself; words can only get you so far. This trip has allowed me to do just that, I have been able to witness the contrast of the two cultures with my own eyes, and to this day, it still amazes me.










    Disproving a stereotype

    Jacob

    In the United States I often heard the crude stereotype that most if not all Chinese share the same haircut style. Throughout my time in Beijing I have come to discover that this is certainly not the case. There are mohawks, dreadlocks, comb-overs and everything in between. Walking down the streets of Beijing I can see the diversity of the Chinese haircut and the places which supply them. I have noticed that most, if not all streets have a barber shop, and they seem more common than any other place that line the streets.
    Getting a haircut in Beijing is an experience in itself, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to understand it firsthand. I was under the impression that It would be a simple task to just trim my hair, yet it seemed to be far more complex. My barber had green highlights and a mohawk. It seemed anything but normal to what I had seen before. Explaining what I wanted my hair to look like was difficult in itself, but my awkward hand motions allowed my barber to understand.
    In America, the style of your haircut is up to you. If you ask to trim shorter they will certainly oblige. Yet in Beijing barbers seem to have they own plans. To them, cutting hair is like painting or creating a piece of art. They chose what they want to do, and I am not happy about what my barber did with my head. Instead of listening to my suggestions, my barber decided what was “hen bang”, or very cool. According to him, my suggestions were not “Hen bang” and they were thoroughly ignored. My hair is now certainly not whatever the stereotypical Chinese haircut should be, nor can it be categorized in any other way.
    However, this stereotype goes beyond just haircuts. I have often heard that Chinese are characterized as “all the same”. Though their society often stresses conformity, it is impossible to ignore the individualistic qualities of the Chinese people. Whether it is their hair, their clothes or their personality, each is different and unique.









    Michelle

    The Parallels of Dance in China and America

    Living in China has been a change for me in many more ways than I expected. Besides the cultural and language aspects, I also had to adjust to a different and sometimes non-existent weekly routine. In America, I danced and played music after school multiple times a week. I requested to do both of those activities at Jingshan, but it took a little while before all the kinks were worked out. Since communications here in general takes longer than expected, I have gotten used to delays and changes in plans. At last, dance was the first to happen.
    After a few weeks of coordinating, I finally was shown the dance room and given times I could use it. On this particular day there was a two-hour class immediately after school. Without anything particularly better to do, I decided to stay and watch. I was curious how a Chinese class would run, and if they students would learn similar things as they do in America. In sixth grade I had taken a few Chinese dance classes, but I had learned from an American born Chinese teacher who, in retrospect, had probably been influenced mostly by western culture. Peering into a room full of young girls wearing black uniforms, I was honestly excited to spend the next two hours sitting and watching the class.
    I immediately felt comfortable as I walked into Jingshan’s dance studio for the first time. Even though I was half way across the globe, everything seemed familiar. No cultural differences were immediately apparent: there was a mirror on one wall, a barre on another, and even costumes draped around the room. If it hadn’t been for the Chinese signs on the walls or the Chinese money on the tables, I could have been back in the United States. For the first time in awhile, I felt completely at home.
    As I took a seat next to the mirror, I was swarmed with 7 year-olds. “What is your name?” and “how old are you?” echoed all around me. Answering in Chinese, I was met with boatloads of giggles and mutterings of “Wai guo ren,” meaning foreigner. Again and again, each girl would ask only these two questions then run away squealing. Since I knew they recited English every day, I guessed these two questions were well rehearsed. Settling into a chair, I was already smiling before the class even started.
    The teacher was very young with the frame of a ballerina. Like in many of the Chinese classes I’ve observed so far, the students noisily bounced around the room until the teacher came in, then they hushed themselves into rows and columns. Although there were about forty elementary school girls running and skipping about, the teacher quickly commanded their attention as she began class. Before they even started moving, she counted to three a few times, an exercise apparently used to silence them. Having taught some rowdy kids in America before, I was impressed. Remembering my teaching days, I felt myself itching to help the teacher adjust students’ posture, fix bent legs, or even call “quiet” when the class got too boisterous.
    As the class unfolded, I realized how some things transcend cultural or language differences. Certain aspects of dance appeared much more universal than I had originally thought. The teacher started with some familiar stretches, moved to a follow-along section, then continued with a combination. The only major difference I observed was the arms. They practiced moving theirs and flapping their arms with wrists bent and hands flat, to me distinctly Asian characteristics of dance. Listening to the lesson, I found out that the corners and walls were numbered in an order slightly different than the one I had been taught. I was also happy to learn a new version of the game tag the students loved that I could use back in America. As I was watching, the sound system even crackled with age midway through the lesson, an amusing similarity.
    Watching the dance class made me reflect upon how much China has rapidly changed. It has become increasingly industrial, more and more cities modern. In Jingshan, when most of the classes I’ve observed were taught quite differently than I was used to, the dance class was almost exactly the same. Perhaps this might just be the nature of dance, how movements enable communication without cultural or language barriers. But it also shows the increasing western influences in China. As the class ended, I wondered to myself what China would look like in twenty years time. Wherever the country was headed, I hoped I would have the opportunity to come back again and see for myself.







    Christopher

    It is Time to Honor the Dead

    Everyone has different ways of honoring their loved ones who passed away. The Chinese have a special way of honoring their loved ones who passed away; they have a time of the year called Qing Ming Jie. This is called the Tomb Sweeping Festival. This is when families go visit the tombs of their loved ones to give food, money, and just to have a nice chat, to catch them up on what they have missed.

    I went to Sun Han Yao’s grandmother’s grave for Qing Ming Jie. I have done this with my family back in America many many times and I thought it would be the same. It started out with an hour and a half long car ride, which was a nice time to get a nap. Though I must say, the seats of a beamer are not designed for sleeping. It was different though. Not that my usual thirty minute car ride to the cemetery went up to an hour and a half. It was different in the fact that their cemeteries was far out on the edges of the city. It just seemed run down, so run down that you thought you were not in Beijing anymore. But then you came to the cemetery. It was truly beautiful. It had a lotus flower fountain and three bridges. It was well maintained, unlike some cemeteries I have been to in America. It was a nice place to walk around, and we walked around until we got to the tomb.

    When we arrived to the tomb, they took out rags and grabbed water. They cleaned the tomb until it would sparkle in the sunshine. They brought new flowers both fake and real. They bowed to the grave three times and put incense in front of the grave. They talked a little to the grandmother and we left walking through the rest of the cemetery. I must add though, it was adorable when my host mom and dad bowed together in front of the tomb.

    In America, when we arrive to the tomb of my grandfather. We put new real flower on the grave. To wash the grave, we just pour water on top. We then put out a huge blanket and put all types of food on the blanket as an offering for my grandfather. There would be roast pig, chicken, fruit, eggs, and pastries. It was whatever my grandfather liked. We would put wine in front of the grave and pour it in front of the tomb, a way to get my grandfather to drink the wine. Then we would bow three times with incense and put it in front of the tomb. We would then burn fake money, clothes, cars, and televisions so my grandfather could have it in his afterlife. After, to not let the food go to waste, we would eat some there and then eventually head back home as a family and finish the feast off there.

    Though both my family and my host family are Chinese, my family is definitely more traditional, while my host family has become less traditional. I was surprised to see how less traditional my host family was, but it did not mean they put less care. My host dad arranged the flowers with love, care, and his utmost concentration. My host dad’s brother and father cleaned the tomb as well as he could. Sun Han Yao sure did his share as well. You could see they cared much for their loved one’s tombstone even though they do not do all the traditional things. I guess it is not about how much you do, but as long as you put care and love into it. I am still very surprised how less traditional they are. I always thought that my host family would be much more traditional than mine.

    This experience in Beijing reminded me of one thing that I totally forgot to do when I get back to America. This was to go see visit the grave of my grandfathers and uncles. I should go visit them as I do every year. This year I did not because I was in China during the time we usually go. When I go back to America, I’ll make sure it is one of the things that I must do.





    April

    Jake


    It is difficult for me to explain how I feel about the Hutong that form the vast expanse outside my window. Each morning I pass through them on the way to my nearby bus station. The alleys are narrow, dark and crowded. Trash lines the streets, and the many imperfections of the buildings are visibly clear. I can see shattered bricks pertruding from most of the walls, and discarded tiles and bricks are strewn about the alleys. I have been told these buildings were once quite beautiful, yet I now even find that hard to believe.
    Each day seems to be the same in the hutong. I often find myself recounting every scene in the hutong as if it were a still painting stuck in time from the previous day. The Neighborhood Community guard sits next to the fruit-stand silently smoking his pipe while a child sits with her small dog. For almost a week now I’ve watched this same scene every day. I am starting to realize that for most, if not all of these people, the hutong is their life, their community and their culture. The China beyond it seems distant and irrelevant to the daily rhythm that endures in the hutong.
    I have been told that many of these buildings will be knocked down in the next few years to make way for high rise apartments. I can’t help but feel relieved and saddened at the same time. On one hand, I feel that nobody should live out their life in the poverty-like conditions of the hutong. However, the shift to apartment buildings will fully destroy the communities which have flourished here for hundreds of years. I, like many others, am torn between the decision between old and new. In a rapidly modernizing china is it possible to preserve these ancient buildings and their communities?
    Regardless of the imperfections, life seems to go on in the narrow streets of my hutong. Old men play chess on the corners, unsupervised children run through the alleys and young women sell fruit in little rickshaws that need to be moved away as cars slowly inch by. Life in the hutong is really unlike anything I have ever seen. It is a microcosm of community. A place almost too small to contain the amount of human energy that passes through it each day. I can only imagine what the future holds for these buildings and their endangered communities contained within them.







    Kelly


    It is often easy to forget the similarities between America and China while you’re in Beijing for 4 months. But today, I’ve had a “parallel” experience. I never would have thought the Chinese students knew about April Fools Day. There was talk about putting toothpaste in my breakfast, or wasabi in my lunch, and among other things. I found this absolutely intriguing. I had thought that April Fools Day was a day reserved for the people in the states. So I went about my day, carefully avoiding potential tricks, traps, and pranks. But I was not about to be a sitting duck, I had formulated my own trick. A fellow bounder and I bought a pack of small sticky notes, and while the Chinese students were at lunch, we attacked their desks with these little notes. We wrote things like “APRIL FOOLS!” “4/1!” “DON’T BE ANGRY!”. We also snuck some of these post-its on their persons. This was very similar to my experience in America during April Fools Day, where instead of post-its, we used clothes pins. In the end, the Chinese students got their revenge. While I was away from the classroom, they removed all the post-it notes from their own desks, and attacked my defenseless jacket that was on my chair. I returned to find it covered in the same post-it notes I’d used to torture them with.

    Today served as an excellent reminder of how similar the two cultures are.




    Max

    Toads in a Well

    Back in the United States I thought myself a pretty worldly and accepting person. I’ve been to Italy, France, England, Mexico, and the coasts of both the US and Canada. Newton can be a very isolated place to grow up, but I thought that my travel had helped me break out of that bubble. Now that I’ve been living in China for two months I’m beginning to question what exactly makes a person racist, sheltered, or naïve.
    I have no problem with homosexuals. It is absolutely their right to be together and as far as those swans in Boston and I are concerned completely natural. Regardless, I find the intimacy between Chinese friends strange. Boys of all ages hold hands when walking and girls spend more time sitting or lying on their friends than a chair. It’s simply a cultural difference, but does finding it strange make me unaccepting or homophobic? How strange can I find this behavior before being labeled as such?
    The ground in China is coated in spit. I’m afraid of tripping and falling on the ground because I imagine how much spit must be there. If someone in a restaurant doesn’t like wants in his or her mouth, they deem the floor a better place for it. Some people in my apartment build