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07 December 2007 @ 06:48 pm
Final thoughts  
Alright, after a few days back in the US, I should make another post summing up my thoughts about China, and I guess the whole abroad experience in general.

Looking back on China, I think I ended up learning a lot more than I initially thought I would. I was so sure that living in a dorm without a homestay family was going to impede my learning ability, but then on my way home I picked up a newspaper in the Beijing airport and was actually able to read and understand several articles even without looking up a bunch of characters on my electronic dictionary、and just now I was watching this show in Chinese on the Asian channel I get on my cable, and I was able to understand a fair portion of what was being said (even when I wasn't looking at the English subtitles). Come to think about it, we did spend a lot more time in class than we did in Japan, and we also had Chinese table, so they definitely programmed in a lot of practice time to compensate for lack of a homestay family. I definitely crammed in a lot of characters, and did pick up on a good deal of other ones just from pure exposure.

I guess that's one thing that both programs really showed me was how important immersion really is to how much you learn. Even if you're not necessarily USING the language 24/7, just by seeing and hearing it all the time gives one no choice but to absorb and learn at least a little bit.

I do feel like, as I said before, I didn't get enough of a chance to interact with actual Chinese people. If Denise hadn't introduced me to her cousin and his girlfriend, I don't think I would have been on a regular contact level with anybody actually living in China beyond my teachers, which was kind of sad, since I did make a few student friends in Japan. Oh well. I mean, placing us in a dorm only filled with other foreigners didn't help, which is why I ended up making two more Japanese friends instead of Chinese friends. None of the other Dartmouth students used the student cafeteria, and I would have felt more comfortable trying to make random cafeteria friends if I wasn't the only foreigner there. The intensity of the study level I suppose did hinder our ability to explore the city on our own, and I guess that's where the scheduled cultural activities were supposed to fill in, but frankly I wish we'd have had more activities that let us interact with Chinese people instead of just watch cheesy kung fu shows tailored to tourists. We did do a bit of an excess of tourist-y activities, however, Fei laoshi, being the "nightlife specialist" did supplement that with some good-old fashioned partying and mingling.

Seeing all the historical sites definitely had their merit, though, I won't take away from any of that. Not everyone can say they've hiked the Great Wall or visited the first Chinese emperor's tomb. It was a privilege.

Spending a lot more time with the fellow Dartmouth students was pretty rewarding, though, that definitely had its advantages, considering that those are the people I'd actually see after the study abroad program was finished. I got to know some of my previous Chinese classmates a LOT better than I would have otherwise, changing my opinion of a few people completely. I got introduced to the fun of ultimate frisbee, and had some really fun weekend hanging out clubbing with people and doing other things.

I already miss the food a lot. Chinese food is so colorful and tasty, I definitely need to find some good-quality Chinese food restaurants here in Miami, as I can never associate TRUE Chinese food with American take-out Chinese food in my mind ever again. And it was all so CHEAP, too! Adjusting to the US dollar from the RMB will not be the most fun of transitions, but oh well. It was so much easier and cheaper to get something that could ostensibly be considered healthy, like a spicy bowl of noodles with all sorts of herbs and veggies thrown in, a plate of spicy tofu, stuff like that. I could get a really awesome bowl of tofu for 10 kuai, which is barely more than one dollar US, and a bowl of white rice for 1 kuai, which, of course, even more ridiculously cheap when translated to dollars. Within walking distance of my house there's...Subway, as far as cheap and fast food, which I guess isn't bad (wait, what am I talking about, I LOVE Subway!).

There were plenty of things I didn't like about Beijing, though, that's for sure. The city in general was pretty filthy. There would be a few blue sky days, but a lot of the time there was just this haze hanging down over everything that was pretty gloomy. Luckily it didn't give me any big respiratory problems, but I don't think it helped recuperation from colds and other sicknesses any. Having a good physical constitution helped guard against the generally low standard of hygiene. Shanghai was a lot nicer in that respect, though, it's a beautiful city I would not mind living in, I think. Beijing is nice for a visit, but not to live in.

The other thing was the presence of the government. It really was felt everywhere, from the television to the bulletin board outside the building where our classes were that said "love the country, love the party." I was really surprised how open some people were to talking about the government and communism, but in general people were paranoid, and that paranoia carried over into their interactions with people in general, my example being when we had to interview people for our group project, and some people had no idea what was going on with these three foreigners carrying a camera and asking questions. People are afraid of the government finding out what they're doing and construing it as treasonous. The cultural indoctrination in TV programs is really apparent, to, although not blatant. Almost every television show I'd see on TV would be a serial drama that was either set in imperial China, or in the 40's during the Japanese occupation. I know right now the Japanese and Chinese are trying to strengthen relations, but it really doesn't help when a Chinese person turns on the TV and can see representation of the Japanese as villains every single day.

I guess I should comment on that some more, the whole Japan/China deal, since I have the perspective from the other side. Basically it seems to be that the Japanese want to forget the whole thing happened and move on, whereas the Chinese won't let go until the Japanese own up to the atrocities committed during the occupation. The Japanese accuse China of exaggerating the numbers killed during the Rape of Nanjing, the Chinese accuse Japan of revering war criminals because of the continued existence of Yasukuni shrine, and it's all really heated. However, I did see Chinese students in Japan interacting freely with the natives with no ill will, and Japanese student in China doing the same, although, understandably, the actual HATRED seems to be more from the Chinese towards the Japanese and not vice-versa, whereas the Japanese seem to be just throwing up their hands in innocence. Marcus told me that when he was conversing with the Chinese girl who worked at the cash register in the convenience store at our dorm, she said she didn't like Japanese people because of "history. There is indoctrination from the government going on on both sides, China with the aforementioned TV and Japan with textbooks that downplay the effects Japanese occupation had on Korea and China.

What do I think about it? Frankly, both countries are ones with really long histories, where at some point they were both great and powerful empires. Naturally, both are going to be really proud of themselves and their history, and thus will both be too proud to come up with a mutually beneficial solution to help their relationship, especially if it's one that includes compromises, concessions, or admitting mistakes. Think about how in Japan the politician who said that the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima "could not be helped" was almost immediately forced to resign. I'd imagine it would be somewhere around that hard for someone to get up on a national podium and be like "Okay...our bad. Sorry." I think both countries just need to get over themselves and try to work towards the future, but that would also mean Japan having to deal with some of China's present issues like the whole, you know, violating people's human rights deal. That kind of explains why China's ties with the U.S. aren't 100% sparkly, either.

Man, I can't believe the past 6 months have already elapsed. It seemed like from this point last year all the anticipation was building towards it, and it's already passed. It's been really rewarding, though, I've learned and experienced so much, more than I really thought I would before even finishing my sophomore year of college. I feel really privileged to have been through it all, and I really want to go back abroad as soon as I can. Studying other cultures is really an endlessly fascinating thing, and these past months have only been the beginning.

Where from here? Well, it's back to Dartmouth in the Spring and continuing my studies there. But if I do go abroad in the next future, I think Taiwan has placed itself in my mind as the next target. Only time will tell where I can and will end up.

I think this is it for this blog, at least until my next adventure. I will keep this here as a record of a real highlight of my life for myself and others.
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