Monday, November 17, 2008

Autumn Leaves sung at Presto: The last nine weeks

November 8th ~ 16th
After the final exams of the first module, I headed south to Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai. I do not dare to recap all my experiences, I think the reader will read to death about temples and gardens.
Hangzhou's West Lake was a nice change of scenery from the gloomy block buildings of Beijing. I rented an orange tourist bike and biked all around the stone bridges and gardens surrounding the water. It reminded me of home - the blue skies, fair wind, open roads reminiscent of Main Street. North of West Lake, I visited the Yue Fei Mausoleum, erected for one of China's greatest patriots. His grave is a huge mound like those of deceased Ming dynasty emperors. Across from his grave were the statues of Qin Hui and his wife stripped naked, kneeling as if begging for forgiveness. Yue Fei was a general for the Southern Song dynasty that could have potentially united China a very long time ago, but because of Qin Hui's desire for wealth and power, he was executed with no reason given (莫须有). History punishes and condemns anyone like Qin Hui, "traitors" to the country, or 卖国贼. Yue Fei was such an important patriot that the Chinese government requires that students must read at least one book about Yue Fei and study his poem Man Jiang Hong (满江红).
Suzhou, in a nutshell, is a canal town filled with gardens. Frankly, I only enjoyed the city museum designed by the architect I. M. Pei, whose wealthy family once owned the Lion Stone Forest here. Besides that, I found the city to be rather cramped and dirty. Perhaps the weather or the large number of tourists was too much of a contrast after visiting Hangzhou. The gardens make Suzhou famous. Mirrors are hung at specific locations around the garden to give the illusion that the garden spills out into other chambers. In ancient times, poets sat on benches among shrubbery and pagodas, musing nature and society.
Shanghai is a mixed bag. Skyscrapers and three story cement remnants from the sixties and seventies stand side by side, expats roam the streets like locals while Chinese tourists take pictures madly like foreigners, one-legged or extraordinarily crippled beggars open taxi doors while shaking coin cups in the faces of passengers donning the latest fashion from Louis Vuitton and Dior. I stayed in a cozy little hostel behind the Tomorrow Square, a skyscraper that mixes the design of tesla coils and buildings from the Jetsons. Shanghai is an easier city to walk and explore than Beijing. From my hostel, I walked all over the French Concession, Nanjing Donglu, the Bund, the Old Town and Pudong. During the day I experienced street food in the coiling alleyways of Old Town, while during the evening I sampled homemade cocktails in Lounge 18 on the Bund. Though I love Shanghai as a city, it feels anti-foreign. Sure, expats work in the companies in the special economic zone and live in corporate apartments that look over the city, but the locals keep to themselves, yelling in blurs of Shanghainese. I know that the city government is working furiously to prepare for the World Expo in 2010 - in the central People's Square subway terminal, they even have a huge green digital clock reminiscent of those posted all over Beijing counting down to the Expo day. Government officials hope that by 2010, the city population will be "5% foreign." Only then is Shanghai "a true international city." I wonder if the Shanghainese want that.
October 31st
Speech day. At IUP, we have to prepare speeches on the sixth week. The following is a speech about globalization (全球化), discussing how to globalize oneself in a globalizing world.
虽然我们经常用全球化这个词,但它给社会带来的莫大的影响并非人人都清楚。全球化的发展意味着人类社会将被重新构建。有句歌词说得好:“这世界变得越来越小。”随着传媒技术的高速发展,互联网以惊人的速度遍布整个世界,经济全球化日益现实。网络不声不响地进入了每个城市,想在如果没有它人们似乎无法生活下去。在时下的世界里,可口可乐和麦当劳的广告铺天盖地。在每个城市的大街小巷都可以听到英文。虽然大家似乎对全球化所带来的物质享受感到欣喜,但还有一些为传统文化的未来感到忧愁,尖锐地批评它所带来的不良的影响。所以,各个国家也在尽量保护其传统文化遗产。为了消除传统和现代建筑的冲突,建筑师在千方百计地设计一些融合这两种建筑的特色的高楼大厦。为了让这一代的年轻人了解过去的习惯,各市政协会举办特殊节庆活动来让大家亲身体验不同的文化。有的城市甚至为了所谓的“保护”抵制外国文化融入人民的生活,生怕全球化使我们丧失个性。 “全球化我不怕,可怕的是找不回自己。”我们似乎把这句口头禅作为了一种生活方式。但何必如此呢?我想,越来越多的人在国际商店购物或者喝星巴克咖啡反映出了大家都迎接全球化的态势。为何我们只能在所谓的“文化”中找回自己,而甘于在全球化的生活中迷失呢?在我们的现代汉语词典里,文化的意思是“人类在社会历史发展过程中所创造的物质财富和精神财富的总合。”换句话说,文化是一种形式,可以是多种多样的,不只是我们想保留下来的遗产。文化本无国界之分,只能在缺乏创造力的人们的脑海中受到了限制。全球化也并不是一种新的现象。虽然这个词直到1962年才出现,但事实上,原始人类的迁徙和繁衍过程完全可以被视为早期的全球化。大约五万年前,我们的原始祖先最先出现在非洲东部,他们慢慢分散到包括南北美在内的世界各个角落。那时候,由于人类交通技术有限的缘故,全球化发展得比较慢,但现在已经可以用先进的技术以迅雷不及掩耳之势改造世界了。我们“找不回自己”的恐惧的根源也便在这儿:我们没有时间习惯千变万化的社会。所以,一个星巴克牌子出现在故宫,我们不由得感到突兀。 我认为文化中的精神财富比人类更易于全球化。我们在美国的华尔街上可以用中国的红砖绿瓦建成高楼大厦。许多生意人可能会吃惊,但我却不然。只要我们有足够的资源,我们可以把任何东西从一个地方输送到另一个地方,可是人的思想却难以改变。当我们跟不同文化背景的人聊天的时候,我们会不会乐意接受并使用对方的思维方式?我承认我不会——我看,老师和同学们也都深有同感。我想问:我能否把自己全球化?很多社会学家已经预测,在全球化的影响下,各个国家的文化势必会融合成一种文化。我们所保留的历史遗产无非是一种日记而已,让我们回忆或者学习人类的精神和奇妙之处。 王国维在他写的《人间词话》说每个学者得“必经过三种之境界。”旨在让每个人系统地全球化,我想出了一些境界。其一,“对他客观,对他宽容。”“他”是指不同的文化。在我们从小形成的对世界的成见的阴影下,我们不可能理智地对待某一现象。只有我们以客观的态度来面对世界才能变得宽容。其二,“追他而迷,为他而创”我们不能只当一个旁观者,我们也得亲身经历文化才能理解。当我们理解的时候,我们也可以创新,为文化做出些贡献。其三,“纵观颜色千百度,蓦然回首,原色犹在,独形异矣。”在我看来,文化不是为一个群体所拥有的,而是人类共享的。即使文化是人的精神的表现,但也得承认不同的群体会因生活环境不同而使用不同的方法来创造文化。如果我们将来在故宫或者在其他的名胜古迹和古典园林里看到洋快餐或者现代购物中心,我们不用觉得突兀,其实我们是少见多怪。当我们看惯了必胜客挨着一家传统茶馆的时候,我们看到的是文化的现代形式,一种文化,一种颜色。 文化和全球化不是不容互相的,是息息相关的。当我们觉得两种文化存在时,两种文化就存在。但我们习惯了文化的融合,那就是一种文化。我们的任务就是达到只看到“原色”的境界。如果你会看原色,我会向你多多指教。
October 29th
Outside the main gate of my apartment, an old man sits, passing time by looking at passersby and taking care of his two white dogs that get dirty in the grass easily. One of the dogs likes to smell my pants and lick my index finger - the other bitch just nips and barks at the former dog to get away from me. The old man is in his 80s, wearing a simple V-neck with worn black dress pants and vest, throwing on a light blazer for the wind - I just call him "老爷," or grandfather. I occasionally talk with him, trying to discuss some of the colloquial phrases I've learned. The man can't write characters, but he knows so much about Confucius and Chinese history from a working man's perspective. He doesn't like to play Chinese chess or poker with the men around the apartment corner - he just smokes the day away, steadily going through a pack of cigarettes as he watches the willow trees. The weather is getting cold these days, and he spents more time couped in his room, like the pigeons and sparrows that he shelters outside his window.
October 25th
I feel like I've hit a critical point in learning Chinese. Synonyms are bumping into each other, sentences are getting more complex and the line between formal and colloquial Chinese is getting blurred. I find myself thinking unconsciously about the fine differences between two words with the same meaning but different characters. My ideas and arguments are understood by my teachers and friends with more ease and less hiccups, but I'm getting unnecessarily wordy. By taking a class on colloquial Chinese this semester, I've been able to talk more like a regular Chinese person among my friends here. But, I find it harder to talk with taxi drivers, my first intermittent conversation partners in China. Yes, they understand what I'm saying, but when they ask me to repeat a very formal academic word (书面, as the Chinese say), I find myself watering down the beauty of a sentence that I took time to construct into simple sentences. I don't think the fact that I have a bigger vocabulary makes me better or more Chinese than them - I think that studying professional Chinese desensitizes you from something my colloquial Chinese teacher calls "language environment" - that is to say, I should know not to say among my friends that a girl may a protuberant butt when I can just say her ass is big, or that talking about Confucianism or Chinese medicine isn't something that everyone prepares for. To develop this sensitivity to the surroundings is still a work in progress, but by thinking about the words that I learn beyond their fixed definitions, I find myself more sensitive, or “敏感."
October 12th
Music never seems to escape me in this city. A couple research students that I met at the Beijing Language and Culture University invited me to attend a rock concert called the Midi Festival on the outskirts of the fourth ring. Aside from getting lost and asking a million people how to get to the concert, we comfortably arrived at the concert arena, a small music college geared for churning out China's rock artists. Clusters of students in surplus military gear stood outside makeshift tents, an outer ring of cigarette butts growing thick around them. On stage, a French alternative rock group keeps its listeners' heads nodding and hands waving. A couple of kids waved large red flags saying "Independence for Rock Music! Rock Revolution in China!" while running into people all over the place - perfectly raucous.
On the either side of the arena, a smaller stage was set for Chinese rappers freestyling to the beat and melody of Kanye West's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." I'm not exactly sure what they were rapping about, but it had something to do with making money, buying bling, getting girls and beating any other crew that would dare challenge them. The sight of them with fake gold necklaces, oversized sweaters and fake Nike Air Force Ones was enough excuse to leave.
September 22nd
A couple days earlier, I helped plan my roommate's dinner birthday party. In her search of traditional fried duck in a local hutong, I found a lovely restaurant south of Tiananmen Square that has somehow maintained its hutong integrity and duck taste compared to the Quanjude crap.
As for me, I needed any food resembling homemade food - namely, Korean food. I haven't celebrated my birthday with my family for a few years now - during high school it was because of band competitions, during college it was because of the distance. I found a restaurant that served close to authentic Mee-Yok-Gook (미역국, seaweed soup). Traditionally, Koreans eat this soup to remind themselves of the pain that their mothers endured during pregnancy and to thank them for giving them a life.
I've never felt more homesick.
September 16th
I got a call from a friend if I wanted to see Avril Lavigne in Beijing. I thought she was joking, but in a serious voice she offered a VIP ticket to watch the Canadian rock star in a private booth. I ended up at the Wukesong Basketball Stadium a few hours later.
Nobody actually buys the VIP tickets individually in China - they are all bought up by corporations and companies seeking to give their employees bonuses that extend beyond a lump of cash. So, my fellow Lavigne fans were composed of Chinese men in their fifties and expats from Texas and Kentucky working for major oil companies. I think they just came for the champagne.
About fifteen minutes into the concert, the floor in front of the stage was crowded with the real fans - the college and high school students and pop rock enthusiasts dressed in proper gear and laced with glow sticks. Suddenly, the security turned on the lights, the stage manager came on stage and commanded everyone to return to their seats before the concert got canceled. "This is for the safety of the performer and for everyone else's safety."
Since when was Avril afraid of having her fans a few feet away from her? And what does the stage manager have to fear? She is no Cui Jian - revolutions are not start by songs about skater boys and muddled infatuation.
September 14th
Zhongqiu Jie, or the Mid-Autumn Festival - the day for family and friends to get together, to find a place to see the full moon when it is closest to the horizon and to enjoy mooncakes. Nobody wanted to go with me to Houhai to actually see the moon, so I went by myself. Unfortunately, I had to share paths with other couples walking slowly, nibbling mooncake crusts, talking about sweet nothings. A girl looked at me with pitiful eyes as I asked her boyfriend to take a picture for me. Fortunately, the scenery was beautiful. Though the photo that I've uploaded was taken later at night, the moon was red only minutes before, truly 朦胧.
September 12th
As a reward for her hard work as an intern of the 2008 Olympic Games, Danni got a couple tickets to go see the Paralympics from her boss. Not really interested in the Paralympics and already caught up with academics, she offered me the tickets to see the powerlifting finals. I sat among a sea of Chinese flags and red plastic clappers. When the Chinese competitor came out, everyone just rose to their feet, the stands shaking with their cheers. On the television, I heard the familiar cheer "Zhongguo Jia You" (Go China!), but instead I heard a chorus of children led by an enthusiastic teacher yelling "Yundongyuan Jia You" (Go athletes!). Very fitting - to see the blind and the wheelchair-ridden athletes pump more than 300 pounds into the air is not something to cheer based on nationalities, but based on the human spirit.

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