Sunday, August 30

Inaugural Post, 8/31/2009 – 学期开始 - 开学 (The Semester Begins – Classes Begin)

I have now been in China for about 6 days and all I can say is that it’s been one experience after another. I always knew that it would be something completely foreign from the way I’ve lived in the United States, but it is almost impossible to understand the degree of otherness which has characterized my time in China so far. The (shameless) stares, the (loud) sounds, the (bad) smells, the (disgusting) hocking of spit into the street, it’s as though they have taken every bad habit that could manifest itself in a person and multiplied it by 1.4 billion. Then they took 5 million of those people and put them into a city where you have to wear a light jacket during the day in late August, let alone what you have to wear in the dead of winter. But despite all these things, you can find something to enjoy in Harbin, such as eating for less than a dollar; being able to enjoy a big bottle of hapi (Harbin Beer) with a big plate of dumplings and baozi or ma la mian; or also explaining to the Chinese that even though she is White and I’m Black we are both still American and yes, my entire family is American.

I’m looking forward to the start of classes today. These past six days have made me feel a little bit useless, as we’ve been moving from city to city and from hotel to hotel, eating out in big groups and walking aimlessly around the city to pass the time. However, given the fact that I can’t speak any English, I’m a little nervous. Even just starting the pledge last night I felt myself fading fast from all of the entra energy I had to expend just to get myself to have a five-year old level conversation with my classmates. It is frustrating when you can’t figure out how to express yourself or understand what your teacher or your roommate or the people on the street are trying to say to you, and when you don’t have English as a safety net you lose any remaining sense of comfort that you somehow would have retained despite being on the opposite side of the world from everything that you’ve known. But I took a pledge and I’m stuck with it until December 12 when I complete all of my exams. I figured that if I work hard for the next two weeks my Chinese will improve to the extent that I won’t get so tired just from trying to have a semidecent conversation with my roommate or my classmates. As for the professor that I have to do research with, I just hope that I can somehow understand him and slap something together to present to the teachers by the end of the semester.

Saturday, August 22

3 days and counting...

I really can't believe that I'm going to be in China in 3 days. It is utterly nerve wracking and overwhelming and, frankly, I don't like thinking about it. I'm not nervous about the normal aspects of traveling to another country, particularly one as foreign as the Middle Kingdom, like exchanging money or worrying about food and the possibility of contracting crazy diseases that could only originate in China. I'm very nervous about my placement test. I'm nervous about the Chinese people adjusting to me, rather than me adjusting to the Chinese people and their culture. I'm nervous about just being able to communicate in general when I get there (we can only speak in Chinese because of the language pledge we take a couple of days after arriving in Harbin). It's a little disheartening. I'm going to be there with 24 other CET Harbin students, 4 of which are Georgetown students, 2 of which I am good friends with, not to mention the 1.3 billion plus people that live in China. Yet I feel like being there, surrounded by all of these people, could still be very lonely. But regardless of my trepidations, unfounded or not, I will still be taking off from Newark at about 8:40 on Tuesday morning, heading for what will be one of the most momentous experiences of my life.

Monday, August 3

Crass Injustice and Inhumanity Continues in China

Anyone who takes a brief glance at the paper has probably seen the coverage of the Chinese Government crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang province, bringing the already tense relations between the Uighur ethnic minorities in China and the Han majority to a fever pitch. In the wake of all of this unrest, twitter and blogger have been banned, joining youtube on the Great Firewall of China's black list. I leave for Harbin, China in 21 days and a handful of hours meaning these posts will be my final opportunities to easily access blogger and write a post that is somewhat subversive in the paranoiac eyes of Beijing and it's keepers in the government.

Human rights have never been the strong suit of the PRC but these recent events in Xinjiang surely bring tears to the eyes of even the most hardened Republicans who would rather toss human rights issues to the side in order to continue to pursue persistent economic dialogue with the CCP. What some fail to recognize is that the human rights violations in these parts seem to go hand in hand with Han racism toward its ethnic minorities, particularly Uighur Muslims, which the Han Chinese often believe are synonymous with Anti-China separatists. But what we have seen in Xinjiang are really just race riots that the Chinese government has manipulated to project to the international community that the government is cracking down on Uighur separatists and their subversive protests. Race riots between the majority and disenfranchised minority or mass arrests and persecutions of the disenfranchised minority. Neither reflect well on the PRC but as they have seen, there are many in the US who are able to look the other way in order to maintain a working relationship between the two countries that promotes any kind of economic partnership.

So, perhaps rather than insisting on a dialogue in terms of human rights with China, the US needs to look at its own legacy of racism and apply that in how it helps the PRC to come to terms with its ethnic makeup and allow for a rapproachment between its 54 minority nationalities and the Han majority nationality.

Here is a piece in the New York Times about how the PRC can learn from the US and its history of race riots.

A Full Night's Sleep May Not Be the Right Kind

I am not a sound sleeper. I am prone to waking up one to three times a night. A couple of nights ago I woke around 1:30 and found a friend was still on gchat. This friend went on to tell me that I was probably suffering from a sleep disorder and I should see a sleep specialist. I was hesitant, not only because these kinds of sleeping habits are common on my father's side, but also because I've spent a ton on co-pays and vaccinations and prescriptions already.

While browsing through my google reader, catching up on news headlines from the morning, when I came across this little tidbit on sleeping habits of the modern day versus sleeping habits of the past. In an article on NPR, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr explains that there are historical records of people sleeping in two shifts. "They called the first bout dead sleep, and the second bout was called morning sleep. The wakeful period in between was referred to as watch or watching." I think it legitimates my sleeping habits. Maybe my body wants to reconcile the two sleeps of my ancestor with the streamlined efficient sleep model of modern day. Or maybe I am just a weird sleeper.


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