Change Yourself…Change The World.

Impressions of China
May 24, 2010, 10:17 am
Filed under: China

Dear friends,

Sorry I haven’t written in awhile… first off, the past few days have been so intense and exhausting that I haven’t even had the time to write a decent post… I am even nodding off right now while trying to write this. Second, the internet in China is so slow (especially going through a proxy server, which I have to do in order to write this post), that I haven’t been able to find enough space in this schedule to take a long time to write a post. But it is now 11 PM here and I passed up going to a KTV bar tonight with the others (KTV stands for a karaoke bar… very famous in China), and so here I write.

WOW. These past few days have been so intense. I have never had such an exhausting schedule. With Global College, we take breaks at least. Here, no way- it is one straight thing after the other. But while we’ve been going through an array of crazy events, I wanted to take the time to write a general post about my first impressions of China.

This is filtered through what this trip has been geared towards, of course, and that is: tourism. I have never been on such a tourist-laden experience while traveling before. Our days consist of traveling around in a bus to various tourist sites. We then stop at a tourist restaurant and eat, surrounded by tourists. Then we are taken to a huge shopping center to buy things. Then we run off to another tourist site, and then we come back to our tourist hotel. So all of my impressions are painted by the tourism industry in China. And because I’ve traveled all over the world and have seen sites not just from the tourist-tinted lens, I know that this may not be the ‘truest’ form of what China is about: a grand history, beautiful sights, dumplings, peking duck, and little to no integration with the culture.

So while I know that my feelings about China are biased, it makes me wonder: What IS really China? Are we really SEEING China? Or are we seeing what China wants us (foreigners to see)?

The only way I can adequately explain this is from an example. A few days ago (yes, I know I am super backlogged), after our trip to the Great Wall, we went to visit a local high school. I wondered why we were going, but thought that it would be a fun experience based on my past encounters with local high schools with Global College (note: these were all rural schools, and most of them elementary). Well, this high school was the nicest school I have EVER seen. There were grand and detailed buildings, and the teachers proudly walked us around the campus, showcasing all of their best assets while a school photographer snapped pictures of us every 10 seconds. A high schooler casually showed up ‘by accident,’ and it turns out he spoke English fluently (a rarity in China). He took us all around the campus and attended a special tea ceremony set up for us followed by a student playing the koto (an Asian instrument sort of similar to a harpsichord).

This was an incredibly strange experience for me. Obviously we were being shown the best of the best of the high schools in Beijing. When the bell rang, parents came to pick up their children in BMWs. One of the high school students bragged to someone in our group about how their family got to skip the ‘one child policy’ (in China, parents are only allowed to have one child due to overpopulation) and had three instead, because their dad worked in the government and they were rich. And I had the distinct feeling that we were not the only tourist group that had attended the school before.

This made me question ‘why are we really here? Who decided that we were going to go visit a school? Why are we visiting THIS school? For the ‘cultural experience?’ This was not a cultural experience. This school trip will leave an impression on foreigners who come to visit China- that every high school could look like this, that everything is rosy and perfect. Is this really the case? I don’t know.

I’m not trying to say that what we are being shown is totally biased and wrong, or that China is wholly poor, or terrible, or keeping up some sort of pretense- I’m merely saying that I’ve never traveled from this side before that’s purely from a tourist’s perspective, and it makes me wonder what pure tourists take away from this country when they leave, and what they bring back to the outside world. Is it honest? Is it unbiased? I don’t know.

While this trip to China is AMAZING and I am incredibly appreciative, and while I have the opportunity to spend time with my brother and sister and cousins, the whole tourist attraction thing is getting a bit old for me. I am starting to get frustrated with the lack of real cultural experiences, and with a lot of the fluff we’ve been getting instead. I just suppose that I wish I could spend some more time hanging out with locals and going on some more cultural experiences and interactions! That’s where I feel most in my element.

However, I know that this trip has been amazing nonetheless and that I am incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, so I’ll stop my complaining here. There is my little ramble about my perspective from the tourist angle in China. I am exhausted, and it is bed time. More updates soon.

Much love,

1 Comment so far
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Wow, what a wonderful post. I love the insights and commentary and envy the experience. Have fun.

Comment by Uncle Doon

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