Tiananmen reflections part two

People watching is one of the best ways to learn about another culture. And hands down one of the best places to people watch in Beijing is in Tiananmen square and you will no doubt see mostly Chinese tourists. If you want to check out another post about my Tiananmen reflections, check here. 

Many of these Chinese people are visiting in hoards of groups, with a majority of them being middle-aged or elderly. They usually are wearing a ball cap of some sort perhaps a yellow hat or red one. Their leader is carrying a Chinese flag and continually reminding them to follow accordingly. Most of the Chinese men are thin and wearing dark clothing that is ten sizes too big for them. Their skin is dark and they enjoy taking breaks to have some sunflower seeds and their wives are unpacking the food they cooked themselves perhaps brought all the way from home wherever that may be. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is how wide-eyed they are looking around like children in a candy shop which is the best way to look around.

I wondered how far these Chinese tourists had traveled to see Tiananmen square. Was this their first time in Beijing? Was this the first time they had left their home town? Did they like Beijing cuisine?  What is their home town like? Did they my shorts were inappropriate? These are the things I think about, y’all.

Right next to Tiananmen square is The National Museum which is fabulous to see. It’s exterior represents Stalinist Russia’s influence on 1950’s China. Its interior has some fabulous exhibitions, especially ancient China’s exhibition. But perhaps the most  striking thing was reading the captions of some of the exhibitions because they clearly had a flair of propaganda infused throughout. For example, This quote comes directly from the entrance to an exhibition:

” The current exhibition is presented in memory of the past and to warn future generations. Let us stand closely around the CPC central leadership with Xi Jinping as the general secretary of CPC and take efforts to build socialism with Chinese characteristics. We should stick to peaceful development and world peace. Let us continue our endeavor to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, to build a strong democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious socialist country and to fulfill the Chinese dream of great renewal of Chinese nation! Let us continue our peace and development for all of human kind. ”

There were many other quotes similar to this and as I was reading it to myself in the museum, another foreigner walked up to me and said ” Don’t you find this all a little strange?” And while I did, after living in China for a year, I felt that I understood it.

I showed this quote to all of my Chinese colleagues and they  too thought  it sounded very propoganda-laden  and over the top but to a different generation, these words still ring so true.  As I was taking a photo of this quote, several elderly Chinese men and women walked up and proudly posed in front of the quote in Chinese and I could see them all smiling and nodding their heads. These were the same people I had seen so wide-eyed outside of Tiananmen.

The amount of change that this generation has experienced, still boggles my mind. Some of them have been alive to see  a country go from one of no centralized government to one of the most powerful nations in the world. They have seen their families quality of life improve more   in the span of one generation than six or seven generations prior. I’m sure some of them have suffered in different ways due to drastic changes in the country, but they still stand so very proud of their country.

And that’s pretty cool to see.

 

The Curious Chinese Way

Chinese people are curious.  Their curiosity isn’t subtle. It is overt and I’ve learned to love it.

This past weekend we headed to the coastal city of Beidaihe which is about a three-hour train ride from Beijing. Even though this was a short train ride, the only tickets left were in the sleeper section. This section is made up of a compartment consisting of six beds with three on each side. So you’re looking at a stack of three beds. As soon as my got on the train, the curious eyes fell upon us. In our compartment were three other people. Two middle-aged Chinese men and one middle-aged Chinese women. They had already made themselves comfortable by taking off their shoes and opening their tea thermos full of tea. They were sharing tea with each other when they noticed we had arrived. We said our hello’s and then sure enough the questions started to rattle off in Chinese.

Woman: “Where are you from?”

Me:“America. ”

Woman: ” You can speak Chinese?!”

Me:” Yes, but my pronunciation is bad.”

Woman: ” No, it’s really good!”

Woman:“Oh, you all look French!”

Woman:” Why are you in China?”

Me: ” We teach English in Beijing.”

Woman:” Really! How much money do you make?”

Woman:” How much is your apartment?”

All of these questions came within the first ten minutes of setting our bags down on our bunks. I was sitting on the bunk with the Chinese woman and Billy was sitting across from me with the middle-aged man. I  took my shoes off and crossed my legs and we all continued chatting. At this point other Chinese people from other bunks had peered their heads into our compartment. Three little Chinese boys were especially curious about Billy. They came over to our bunk and just stared at him and smiled.

While some Westerners might find this invasive, I have grown to love the natural curiosity. It’s refreshing for people to be blunt about their thoughts without withholding any information. In the West, people might whisper to each other and wonder about the whereabouts of a person, but in China the questions are direct and to the point. It isn’t considered rude by any means, it’s just how things are.

We continued talking for another thirty min or so and with each coming question, my level of speaking was challenged. However, I tried my best at some of the more difficult vocabulary and continued speaking. I don’t know what it was about this whole scene, but it was a very reflective moment for my time here in China. Our of my whole beach weekend, this train ride was my favorite part because I felt like a part of a bigger community.  I was sharing tea with the Chinese woman and laughing about how expensive house prices are in Beijing.  I knew how to answer her questions.I felt like I truly have been living in China for a long enough time to begin to truly understand the culture, the questions, the people.

I’ve read several books about China, I speak an elementary level of Chinese, I have Chinese friends and I live in a Chinese apartment but I’m still going to say that understanding China and Chinese people is very complicated. It’s almost as if the more I live here the more complicated it gets in some ways. Perhaps complicated isn’t the right word, but  I realize that every culture has many layers, especially China, and each passing day is a way to peel back a layer and discover something new.