In this video I give a very brief overview of what politics is like in China today. When I say brief, I mean that this is at the lowest level of what I think a tourist should know before coming here.
Something’s in the Air
And it’s not Christmas spirit kiddos. These past few days, the pollution has been beyond 2010’s crazy bad. In fact, I had the not-so-pleasurable pleasure of experiencing China’s record breaking levels of smog on Monday and Tuesday.
For those wondering what it is like waking up to this, you simply have to experience it to truly grasp the horror. The air hurts to breath. The only thing I’ve ever felt similar to it was when I unintentionally breathed in some oven-cleaner mist during my first time cleaning the deep fryers at Dairy Queen. Days like these burn your eyes. People get headaches from just spending a few minutes outside unprotected and I have heard of several students being hospitalized.
The part that really kills me (literally) is that you cannot escape it. People seem to think they are safe inside but they aren’t. The other day I was in the work-out center’s badminton gymnasium and I had trouble seeing the court on the opposite side. Being within school hallways, classrooms and confined offices gives you the illusion that your immediate air is clean. It’s only when you enter a truly large room with a longer line of sight that you begin to realize “oh shit- I am having trouble seeing the opposite wall”.
Buildings in China are simply not built to be air-proof and you are kidding yourself if you think that any of them are equipped with purifying technology. This has resulted in me waking up in the middle of the night to sore throats and dry-nose bleeds despite being indoors. How can you combat something that enters the room while you sleep?
I Won a Chinese Speech Contest
Yeah, that happened. I received a rather expensive Peking University thermos and a shiny piece of paper to prove it. I talked about music, played a little guitar, and sang in Chinese.
I want to make a small note here about a somewhat odd occurrence regarding the speech. Prior to performing, a teacher of mine “revised” what I had prepared. According to the revisions, I was supposed to say that Chinese music was my favorite music, and recite a couple sentences that were written for me slamming its American counterpart.
Needless to say, I didn’t do this.
I’ve encountered subtle things like this in China since being here. Random comments sometimes creep into conversations that are clearly aimed to knock other countries (especially those in the west) down a peg or two. I don’t think it’s a secret that Japan is a pretty big target of criticism here. As for America I’ve heard some really crazy accusations, including us purposefully popping Japan’s economic bubble to avoid competition, attempting to invade China after the Korean war, and having inferior colleges to those of China. I do notice propaganda at play here pretty often. As a westerner, it’s right in your face and I still haven’t quite gotten used to it. As a matter of fact, when I hear these things they are not being said by people who do not like the west; they are simply repeating what they have been taught.
A Russian Birthday
A few weeks ago I sat across from my friend Oleg in a booth at Laker’s. It’s a western restaurant we commonly go to that I showed in a previous video. We were discussing his birthday. Each of us ordered a beer and to our dismay were intently stared at for the following two hours by our waiter less than two feet away.
I don’t know how or why this young man decided on us, but it had become clear over the past few months that he really, really wanted to get to know us. In addition to trying on our hats while we were in the bathroom, he had gotten into the habit of randomly entering our conversation to repeat a English word we had said. When I ordered a pizza for delivery, he insisted on seeing my room, sitting on my bed, and asking me questions about America in Chinese for 30 minutes before leaving. I honestly have no idea what this was. A few days ago he mentioned he would be leaving Beijing for good but told us that he wanted remain close friends and even visit. Perhaps this is an isolated incident but friends from my classes have told me similar stories about random people telling them they were looking for “white friends”.
Despite feeling a bit awkward, Oleg and I continued our conversation. Oleg told me he was planning to go out on two separate nights with different friend groups in order to celebrate. I was confused when he mentioned it was going to be very expensive for him. I asked why; considering people were bound to pay for a lot of his drinks, I couldn’t imagine it would be too pricey. He paused for a moment, and in sudden realization of meaning asked me “are we really that different?”.
Apparently in Russia, when it is your birthday, cultural rules dictate you pay for all of the people who go out to celebrate with you. When I asked my German friend Nico if this was also true where he was from, he nodded in agreement. It was rather shocking to me. Still, I offered to pay for my own food. We also bought Oleg a cake and a nice bottle of German vodka. I think you should try to study up on things like this when planning to study abroad. In China for example, you can never invite someone out to eat without paying for the check. Things like this can lead to embarrassing moments.
This is all I felt was really important to note regarding November. For thanksgiving I got a steak at (you guessed it) Laker’s. It was actually pretty good. Now the count down until Christmas is upon us and rather creepy Santa heads are plastered around Western bars and the international dorm.