Sunshiney Day

It’s one of those days where everything is dandy and not necessarily coming up roses, but pretty yellow weeds.

My view

The sun is up, the sky is blue, the pollen content is off the charts, the wind is strong and all the girls (including me) have to hold down their skirts because they didn’t wear the right underwear today.

I’m enjoying a very romantic moment by myself, waiting for my department’s International Friendship Day Picnic (yes, do laugh at this!), sitting in a little park on campus next to running water from a man-made pond, pondering the meaning of friendship and wondering if there will be enough food at the picnic. 

What a perfect afternoon…

**SNEEZE** 

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The China Train

To sum up what I’ve learned in less than two semesters of grad school in China; Studying development in a (developing) country where censorship, hypocrisy and saving-face are embedded in daily life is like falling asleep on the 1 train from Manhattan headed to Brooklyn, only to find out when you wake up that you’re back in Times Square because in fact, the 1 train doesn’t go to Brooklyn at all — the 2 and 3 do, but they’re on the all red line. Basically, the ride was a big fat waste of time and in the end, you end up where you started but angrier.

Here’s the thing about studying development in China; it’s paradoxical. “Chinese Development”, synonymous with economic growth, means only one thing: increase of wealth. But who does the wealth belong to? Let’s sweep that question under the table…

I’m currently taking a Research Design & Thesis Writing course in which the professor warned us against choosing “sensitive” topics to research. “Sensitive” here means anything negatively related to the government. Don’t even think about bringing up the terms “democracy” and “revolution” in a dinner conversation with Chinese officials (unless you’re praising the Cultural Revolution). They’ll eat you alive and feed your bones to the dogs, and then eat them too.

My professor’s specific example of a “sensitive” topic was the Diaoyudao/Senkaku Islands dispute. She is not incorrect to say that finding objective information on the conflict would be difficult in China, and I agree that presenting such a thesis topic to a panel of Chinese professors (many of whom are party members) may arouse uneasiness, but discouraging a group of progressive graduate students of international development from researching issues that are”too sensitive” is both infuriating and laughable.

Tsinghua University is a top-ranking institution and my department is even partnered with the likes of Harvard Kennedy School — impressive, no? — but now that I’m within the institution, it is disgusting how much propaganda and image-building I see the administration feed to its students and the public. Everything looks so good on paper. Our course syllabi look awesome and our professors are famous and award-winning! But as soon as they power on those PPTs (powerpoints) and start lecturing, it’s all China Dream China Dream China Dream. Whose China Dream? Who does the China Dream serve and how? Is the China Dream realizable? These are questions that we scrape the surface of, but no real answer is ever given.

China has come a long, long way since its Opening Up, but its development path is headed in the wrong direction. And just like that 1 train, the China-train might get to the end of the line and turn right on back to Tiananmen Square.


Grad School? China? Hmm?

In March, I made a spontaneous and skeptical decision to apply to grad school in Beijing. When I told my friends in America and my Chinese students my plan, both groups asked, “Why on earth would you go to grad school in China??!” Here’s what I told them after convincing myself these were legitimate and good reasons:

1) 10 months in China wasn’t long enough; there was more to accomplish! And if I’m going to stay longer, then I’d like to make friends, and if I’m lucky, also find that twinkle in my eye. It has been long enough.

2) A Master’s degree in International Development is relevant to my career goals.

3) Tsinghua University is the Harvard of China.

4) I can live in the dorms and have some privacy from my nosy parents.

So…in August, without great expectations, I moved into my dorm room single, filled it with plants and ikea goods, and stayed up ’til 3 in the morn’ because the bed is so hard.  Aside from an uncomfortable bed, controlled hot-water hours (very inconvenient, especially on weekends!), and mediocre dining hall food, living on campus is actually quite nice. The paths are lined with trees and there are plenty of sports fields (being built). There are also sculptures dotted around campus and even a famous water-lily pond, a hotspot for tourists.

Tsinghua University

Three weeks in and I’ve met dozens of people from all over the world, and for the first time in my life, the number of my Asian friends to non-Asian is greater. I’m surrounded by them! In my program of 17 people, we represent 10 different countries: America, Canada, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Peru, Ethiopia, Italy, England, and South Korea. The school of Public Policy, which I’m in, also has a Master’s program geared towards government officials from various African countries, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Grenada, Cambodia, Laos, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan, among many others. They’re a generally older crowd, and the fact that I am sharing a dormitory with these accomplished, government officials and leaders is somewhat laughable.

Judging from the first week of classes my professors are not stimulating enough. I want to be challenged, pushed, treated like a knowledgeable adult with lots of potential (I can pretend). But like I said, I didn’t enroll with high expectations. The International Development program is a relatively new one (to all of China, actually), so administrators and professors are still building it up. Unfortunately this means I’m one of the guinea pigs, but with a title of “Tsinghua University Graduate” it still puts me ahead of the game, at least in this country.

Tsinghua and Peking University are China’s Harvard and Yale, respectively (I think…does Harvard have a better reputation than Yale?), and getting into one of these top schools is the dream of every Chinese family. If you are admitted into one of these universities, you and your family will be forever celebrated in your hometown because it is such a great and near impossible feat that you’ll make your entire hometown, or even province, proud. When my family found out, I got text messages left and right and a personal phone call from my grandma in Chongqing congratulating me. Of course I didn’t tell her how unjustly easy it was for me, an international student, to apply (30 minutes to fill out the application including the personal statement, 2 emails to professors for recommendation letters, and an online request for my transcripts and graduation certificates to be mailed to Tsinghua). Chinese students, on the other hand, go through a grueling application and testing process. Might I add, they don’t have air conditioning or hot water in their dormitories (they have special shower areas); we do (international students live separately from Chinese students).

The choice to attend Tsinghua binds the next 2 years of my life–I’ll be 26 when I graduate, ah!–but I’m happy to be here. It’s a new experience and it feels great to be sharing it with a group of new friends (who are all brilliant by the way).

Okay. Now that I’m a student again, I must set a curfew that requires me to get into bed by a reasonable hour (it’s already 1 am). Then, it’ll take another 2 hours to fall asleep after tossing and turning on a slab of concrete. By the end of my 2 years, if I don’t learn anything valuable from school, at least I know I’ll have an iron back.

 

 


It’s Been a While, Crocodile

Apologies for the hiatus. I’m sure you’ve all been suffering since my last post…from the heat of course! It appears that a heat wave has swept across the globe, or at least in all the areas I’ve been visiting, rendering me into delirium — hence the corny humor (you must think I live in a tropical climate).

I returned to Beijing a couple of days ago to unwelcoming heat, humidity and smog. It thunder-stormed last night, which normally clears up the sky the next day, but not this time. The dense smog is here to stay, hovering above this crowded city like Dementors. At least there’s a bit of breeze this morning. How refreshing.

In just a few hours I will be flying out to Guizhou, a province in southern China that is rarely sunny, has ample rainfall, and is at its hottest in July. But don’t let my whining fool you, I am very excited for this 3-week teaching (ESL) trip!

More good news, I finally caved in to paying for a VPN service so I can access WordPress, Facebook, Youtube and the likes in order to keep up with you fine people.

I’m keeping this post short, but there’s lots to come because I have lots to tell you from my visit to New York and what’s to come in Guizhou. Stay tuned!

Hope all of you have been well and your joints not too swollen (from the heat)!

And now, some eye-candy:

Image

To my instagram/facebook followers: You will see many repeats! Sorry!


My Blooming Neighborhood

February

March

April


Emily, the Awkward Turtle

I just taught one of my Chinese students the meaning of “awkward turtle,” a phrase my college friends commonly used to break moments of, well, awkwardness. Then last night, I realized that I am an awkward turtle.

When I was living in Brooklyn, I went out more often than not. I loved going to bars by myself; who knows who you might meet in this wild world? I was a social butterfly! I talked to everyone; the bartenders (I love bartenders), men, women, the underage, war veterans, the elderly… it was the best of times. Since I moved to Beijing, however, I’ve been spending my weekdays exhausted at work and weekends with my parents. Sporadically I’ll go out with Dingding (my only friend–I don’t know what I’d do without her), but she’s always busy (with her boyfriend), and I can’t depend on others all the time. I need to make friends! I crave entertainment (aside from WordPress)! So, I looked online and found a show to go to by my lonesome. Actually, I was quite excited because I thought it would be a great chance to get myself out there and make some new friends!

Boy am I naive.

I went to a bar called D-22 to see an indie rock band from Shanghai–Boys Climbing Ropes–which consists of three tall Canadian men and one little Chinese vocalist who they call Little Punk. She was AWESOME. They were awesome.

While I was sitting at the bar slurping down my whisky ginger waiting for the opening band, Me Too, to start,

I noticed a very studly foreign lad looking my way. Sure I threw him a few glances, but I got tired of doing that and was too nervous to walk over so I opened up an issue of Timeout Beijing, which got me to the show in the first place. While I was reading and pretending I was totally independent and cool and didn’t need any friends, Studly Lad came over and fiddled around with the drink menu on the bar. I thought I would just raise my head ever so slightly to perhaps make eye contact, but instead–I don’t know what came over me–I blurted out “HELLO!” like an overeager beaver. The bartender had also just come over to offer him a drink. Studly Lad became flustered, looked back and forth between me and the bartender and walked away. I wanted to sink back into my hard shell and never come out to face this harsh world ever again.

No, this is not Studly Lad. But close.

And this wasn’t even the first Emily, the Awkward Turtle moment of the night. This incident occurred after my encounter with an American who worked at the bar. Though this conversation wasn’t as awkward as the Studly Lad one, I noticed that while I was “conversing” I had trouble thinking of things to say or even words to express what I wanted to say. When the American introduced me to one of the band members of Boys Climbing Ropes, I said, “Oh wow! Good luck!” to which they responded with chuckling. Do you say “good luck” in that kind of situation?  I can’t remember! Was I supposed to say, “Have a far out show!” or “You guys are awesome (even though I have never heard of you before). Can I have your autograph?”

Anyway, I got over my Studly Lad tragedy and hoped things would improve as the night progressed and I had more to drink. When the music started playing, I wanted so much to dance my brains out as I used to do, but I was too shy. So, I just bopped my head to the beat of X is Y in the corner.

Here and there I made small talk with Chinese girls, too intimidated to approach English-speaking foreigners. And when Boys Climbing Ropes came on stage, I was front and center and even jumped up and down to their heavy beats. They even dedicated a song to me–Socially Awkward. But as soon as the show ended, I walked straight out that door–no goodbyes, no telephone numbers, and no new friends– without looking back except to take a photo to remember the place where I changed forms.

What has come over me? And what am I afraid of, you might ask?

Well, here are my theories as to why I have traded my wings for a hard shell:

1) I have been living with and hanging out with my parents too long. Besides Dingding, I don’t socialize with people my age.

2) My opportunities of speaking English are limited and I am forgetting it orally, as was the case with my Chinese.

3) I felt awkward to begin with because I showed up at a bar alone (even though it used to be a favorite sport of mine).

4) I am currently facing an identity crisis which I shall elaborate on in another post.

Whatever the reason, I have forgotten the art of socializing and I desperately want it back. That night was a kick in the butt I’ve been needing to get my groove back. It might take a while, but I am determined to make friends while I’m here, because life just ain’t worth livin’ if friends aren’t in it.

Anyway, less talkin’, more walkin’. Wish me luck (this is a more appropriate situation to wish someone luck, right?)!

 


And so it is…wintertime.

The city was covered with a thin layer of snow early this morning. By lunch time, it all melted. And by night time it turned into black ice; one of my greatest fears. But at least there’s a chance I’ll have a White Christmas this year…a girl can dream.