Inside (and outside, and around the generally vicinity of) the Birds Nest
Remember when I said on the first day I was struck more by the similarities between China and home than the differences? Well…I think that’s just because I was so ignorant of the differences, from food to toilets to Communism.
I feel like the government is very present here, and in really different ways than it would be back home. We went to Tienamen Square last week and saw a lot of the government buildings in the city center, and it’s crazy how big and assuming they all are. Not to mention Mao’s picture looking over the entire space on the entrance to the Forbidden City. Oh, and his preserved body that you can go see at the other end of the square. No big deal. Or the Mao watches, pins, stamps, and other assorted knick knacks for sell in kiosks nearby.
But it’s more than that. We’ve been to or walked by multiple buildings with these big, red propaganda boards outside. One lady we interviewed, when asked if there was ever any tention between her NGO and the government, was confused as to why there ever could be. Another actual government worker ended the interview with a disclaimer that everything she said was only her opinion in case it was “wrong.” We joke about not being able to get on Facebook or YouTube here, but seeing just how culturally different two political systems can be is both fascinating and a little terrifying.
The internet here has been really spotty and I haven’t been able to post anything, and now I face the problem of having too much to post because I haven’t kept up with it. Sigh.
Tuesday we began again at the Global Center for a lecture by Prof. Yang, but the most exciting part was a reception in the afternoon with Barnard President Deborah Spar. She was giving a talk at the Global Center about liberal arts education, and we kinda just got to tag along. How cool!
This whole trip has been a weird experience as a Columbia student. When else would I ever get to chat with DSpar about the Columbia-Barnard relationship? And the school is paying for everything! So uncharacteristic! I think I’ve bought two meals the entire week. Apparently the office of the President is funding a lot of stuff…it’s crazy. I mean, it’s great—but I also know that it’s not how we’re treated back at campus, and we’re only being treated so well because this is a pilot program that fits very neatly into Columbia’s image and agenda. It’s just a weird feeling.
Also weird, and for similar reasons just because we are a delegation of Columbia students, we were invited to watch what was basically a propaganda film of quite terrible quality at a GONGO, or “government owned non-governmental organization.” China, lol. We had just been to a real, grassroots NGO struggling for funding and the political space to create meaningful change, and we were presented with the most insane dichotomy as the GONGO was incredibly nice, they fed us this fancy lunch, and they have the money to try and impress unimportant college students with their horrible video.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all.
Beijing, day 1:
It’s been nice having the group all together finally. Although enough people speak Mandarin, and especially with the help of a group of students here at Beidai (Peking) University where we’re staying, I’ve felt a bit in a daze—all I do is follow people around and let them do all the work. Basic things are in English, but like at the grocery store, everything was only Chinese.
The city is interesting. Where we were today is so modern! Huge buildings of glass everywhere; it’s very different from New York. But living in the city for two years, that Beijing is so urban feels very much at home. Honestly I’ve found myself thinking a lot of things are more “Western” or familiar than different, but I don’t know if that’s a reaction to being totally overwhelmed or not.
It’s very hot. A lot of women carry umbrellas for the sun, and since I feel like my face burned in spite of 50 SPF sunscreen, I’m beginning to think that’s a viable option.
The cutest moment of the day by far was during our orientation at the global center. There is a student my age interning there from Claremont McKenna in California, and somehow we started playing this game with him that can only be described, as he tried to tell us, by “hackeysack with a feather.” Apparently old people play it, and are mad good at it. What was so cute was that Prof. Yang decided to join us, and was absolutely giggling while he was playing!
Orientation at the East Asia Global Center…it was a little weird to see campus after just leaving it.