Freedom of speech is taken as a given in the United States. The ability to speak ones mind and truth is taken for granted. While talking to our Chinese ambassadors I recognized that this truly is not a luxury afforded to them. As we take away freedom of expression and speech we take away freedom of thought. Like in 1984, to even question the state is to be against it. When asking if there are people in China who believe that Tibet and Taiwan are separate from the People’s Republic, we are met with the response that the only people who think that are terrorists. It is this black and white mentality that promotes the state and keeps those in power who wish to be. Further, it also prevents intellectual dialogue surrounding the topics of state sovereignty. Moreover, if that is the definition of a terrorist, then I proudly am one.
The first goodbye was a difficult one. Waving to our Chinese hosts and friends was heartbreaking. My closest friend from China, Ennis, could only blow us a kiss and look away, hiding the tears streaming down his face. At the airport, it soon became time to wish our friends from U of I off. As I hugged them I remembered the circumstances that brought us together. As fellows of the Wanxiang program we came to learn and do as much as we could and that we did. Thus it was time for us to bid each other adieu and while I believed myself ready, I was not. The tears were streaming down my face without the consent of my mind but with the need of my heart. Never again will this group of people be together, never again will one step into the same stream twice. This fact, however, does not keep me from wishing that the stream come together once more. I am horrible at goodbyes, often preferring them of the Irish variety. So for now, I will wallow in my palpable denial and pretend that when I arrive in China next, everyone I left will be waiting there for me.
Upon arrival in Shanghai, the best surprise was waiting for me. After almost six weeks of being away from everything and everyone I know, I was met by some of the nicest people in the world. They also, happen to be, my family. They picked me up from the bus and had a fantastic day planned for me. Upon arrival I was immediately whisked away for a much needed Starbucks. We then perused shops and drank fresh watermelon (it was delicious). After dinner at a Chinese/Japanese fusion restaurant we spent the evening on a boat tour. The cruise took us through Shanghai and provided us with a fantastic view of the city at night, even though it was a little windy and rainy, we still had a beautiful time. It was within those few hours that I really caught a glimpse at what life could be like for me in China. I recognized how blessed I am to not only be in a culture and place so different than my own, but also blessed to share the ties of family with people who are so different and yet so similar to myself.
Every summer since I was 9, I spent at least a week in the Shawnee National Forest. At the age of 16, I started spending at least half of a summer there. Thus, I am no stranger to mosquitos. I spend most summers raking my legs with whatever I can find, the edge of an I-card, so I have found, works well.
After I applied to spend a summer in a Chinese city, I assumed that I would have a summer free of mosquito bites. I cannot believe that I was so naïve. The mosquitos in Hangzhou are feverish devils that can smell me from a mile away. Sitting outside at night proves difficult and walking to the wetland, a nightmare. They have even infiltrated my fortress, having unwelcome overnight stays in my hotel room. They bite whatever poor part of my body I have left exposed. This has even led to my eyelid falling victim to their parasitic scheme.
I am unsure if I will ever experience a summer with fewer than 50 bites, but Ill be damned if I don’t try.
Another poem, from our series
Throughout the day
And especially the night
I heave and heave to no avail
I crave fresh air to fill my lungs,
But for that I shall fail
A dragon on my chest
Squeezes the life from my breast,
Polluted air, I beg you to rest
But perhaps it’s just the cigarettes.
The following will be a list of all of the horrible things that have happened to my clothes, in no particular order.
- Butter Broccoli poured on pants…solution-salt soak
- Unknown foreign object in washer (highlighter??) making clothes pink in an unorganized pattern…solution-detergent scrub with hotel toothbrush
- Lip stick stain on shirt…solution-new shirt
- Ketchup explosion on new Adidas Jersey…solution- detergent scrub with hotel toothbrush
- Gum on pants…solution-tbd
On Tuesday I ventured with 4 other students to a massage parlor. While looking online we sifted through many places of suspect and while the name “Love Story” seemed worrisome, we discovered that it was about as nice as they come this side of Hangzhou. As we journeyed through the city we discovered that our cab driver was uninterested in taking cash. After a thorough argument and many WeChat translates, he reluctantly took our crisp 30 RMB.
As we emerged from the elevator, of a very nice hotel, we entered a serene room. I realized that my gross, water logged Birkenstocks were inappropriate for the occasion. I followed the only other woman in the group to the locker room where an elderly woman was waiting for us. She motioned for us to strip off our clothes and to enter a shower. Post rinse we laid on tables to be exfoliated by even older women. Their gloved hands scrubbed our skin until it glowed red like the outside of a pomegranate. We were then left to make our way through a dark maze to the massage room.
Realizing that were lost, or stupid, a kind bartender found us and led us to the room in which we belonged. After a quick *knock*knock*knock* the door was pushed open to reveal 3 white asses and 3 Chinese women working diligently on our male companions. After finding our tables, us women folk sat down to enjoy snacks set for us. The watermelon grazed my lips and reminded me of my thirst. As I raised the mug to my mouth I realized that the contents inside were not tea but hot oil, luckily it only grazed my upper lip.
During the massage I recognized that the masseuse was using heavy pressure but I did not understand the extent. As I peered over at my friends I noticed that their masseuses were literally straddling them as they worked into their shoulders. That fate was mine next. I groaned as she pinched and pushed into my deep muscles. Nearing the end, hot stones were brought and raked into my skin like dull knives. Flipping over to reveal my stomach, she began to push on my abdomen. I had to use every muscle in my lower half to prevent peeing all over the table. And for only 350RMB this experience can be yours too.
P.S. My body still aches from this massage, 3 days later
Taxi rides in the city are cheap and easy to find. Simply ask the front desk to call you a cab, or flag one in the street. For less than 5 American dollars one can travel across town or to the local Korean BBQ place for a birthday dinner of a colleague. It was in this pursuit that three of our heroes embarked on a journey they would not forget.
The last taxi to arrive was driven by a middle aged woman, the first taxi driver I have encountered that was not a man. As we entered the vehicle she was having a heated conversation with our concierge, I assumed that they were clarifying the location in which we had hoped to journey. The car was a small Honda and we noticed immediately that shock absorption was not a comfort afforded to us on this trip. As we left the parking lot of the hotel a small speed bump set off a chain reaction… a loud crack was heard an immediately ignored as our driver peeled out of the driveway and entered traffic.
The two of us in the back seat observed an odd sound as the taxi continued to drive. As the sound grew worrisome the driver pulled the emergency brake and stopped dead in the fast lane. As traffic passed on the right, she left the car to investigate a bumper that had obviously been repaired on more than one occasion. Fashioned with only rusty screws, the bumper held on by the grace of god. One of the adventurers suggested that we rip the bumper off as a sacrifice to the traffic Gods and abandon it in a bush. However, our fearless driver surmised that she could fix this bumper. While scavenging for tools she lifted the trunk to reveal a very large tank of gasoline that sits behind the rear passengers, a horrifying surprise. Armed with only a lanyard and an old phone charger she fashioned the bumper back to the vehicle. A police officer watched the ordeal with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, seemingly unconcerned. As she motioned us to get back in the car we finally sat down and proceeded to crawl at a nauseatingly slow place to the restaurant where our friends anticipated our arrival. As we sat in the vehicle a fellow (who is to remain anonymous) exclaimed, ” I just realized that I am going to sh*t my pants!”
The 4th reminded me of how much I am truly missing home. Being away from Illinois, and even America, is not new for me. Yet I still miss my culture in profound ways. While the world is much smaller than it once was, I am becoming more aware of how truly far I am away from everything I know. The cultural exchange is enlightening, I would not trade this time for the world, however something about passing the fourth abroad is difficult. Last night we played a fun game of pong and sang the national anthem at the top of our lungs, still I miss celebrating with millions of Americans what we have to be proud of. I miss the fireworks and ice cold Stags. I miss children dancing around with fire sticks we call sparklers. Most of all, I miss being surrounded by the people that I love and hold dear. I am thankful, however, that our Chinese friends came to celebrate with us. We even hung up a flag.
The best part of any travel experience is the people you meet along the way. While places, infrastructure, and natural features are amazing, the people are even more so. It is from all of my traveling experience, but especially this one, that I have realized how truly similar we all are. Tonight a game of Bad Mitton demonstrated that games cross cultural boundaries and no one had to speak in order for us to all understand the activity.
A simple smile is a way to show people in the States that we recognize their existence. Here, however, a smile is often met with a greeting and demonstration of one’s English level. For our new friend Mumu, however, a smile is an indication of a joke or prank. Often stopping to bark at any dog he sees, or attempting to hold a stranger’s baby, a smile for Mumu means an adventure will soon begin. Never afraid to give a new foreign friend a lift, Mumu is quick to offer a go around on his scooter, he is even quick to offer up his keys. He told me that if I can ride a bicycle I can drive a scooter, and hell, for only 2000 RMB a pop, I might have to get one.
The United States is young, as we all know. So while standing on the Great Wall of China I contemplated the life of the person who stood in the same spot hundreds of years ago. Staring out from The Wall I can see the ivory gate where Genghis Kan entered China with his soldiers. Knowing that a man so powerful once stood where I now stand is humbling.
The Wall was built as protection against forgein invaders, posing an even more formidable opponent than the neighboring mountains. Many have tried to conquer the wall, but few ever did. Even the Huns who invaded and dominated China could not overcome the obstacle. Instead they were let into the nation. This demonstrated to me the role that loyalty has in protecting a nation. Without soldiers or citizens that are invested in their country, the nation is weak.
In the city there does not seem to be many bars nor clubs. However, the town is littered with small children playing late into the night. Some of them will even permit you a small test ride of their skateboard, our friend Lee can attest. The ability to have a beer on the street at 10pm was almost as fun as watching the 5 year olds play on their toy scooters, not quite old enough for metal ones yet.
The people on the street were selling things ranging from clothes to fruit, sometimes in the same small store front. Elton John and Queen rings through the passage as I press play on the only downloaded music I have. Some how Fat Bottom Girls makes a Wild Goose Chase for a Bar all the merrier. Tired and worn out from our futile quest, us adventurers traveled home; now we are ready to strike out again tomorrow with the same cause. Perhaps we should wear the lucky color red.