Spring 2009

Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 3/1/2011


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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”.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Journal Six- Drawing a Parallel


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.


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.


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.


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.


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