Hope everyone had a wonderful start to the year of the monkey, posting this from my host family’s house so I should still be able to keep you all updated on goings on here. The blog seems to be a bit broken so hopefully you can all see this, if not I’ll figure out another place to start posting. First of all though let’s talk about the past few days. So it came about that our school was organizing a trip to Hancheng, a city about three hours to the northeast and home of one of China’s most famous ancient historians, Sima Qian. I was on the fence about going because I didn’t know if it would interfere with our homestays or not, but we all ended up going. We got there, went to Sima Qian’s temple, walked around the old town, and then were bused to the opening ceremony of the lantern festival. That’s when things started to click. I assumed we were just there to watch and enjoy, but as we walk towards the festival, we notice all the Chinese people being kept on either side of the boulevard by cops, watching us foreigners (about 150) proceed to some designated chairs in front of the stage. We then sit through a performance highlighting Hangcheng’s Korean heritage (the Han in Hancheng 韩城 is the same as in 韩国, South Korea, with 国 merely meaning state). Some great music and dance actually, if a bit loud, what made it miserable though was it was freezing cold and no one had tipped us off about this. A few of my classmates and the other students were salty about this, but we made it through and then went to a huge banquet hall.
While sitting there, I had the realization too that the reason the trip was free was that the city government had paid our universities to ship us there and raise the profile of the event, so the feeling of being used without our knowledge also ticked some people off, rightly so. Where I differed from my classmates though, was that I realized this is a fairly common practice in China (if you’re curious there’s a great 20 minute video, probably on youtube, about China’s use of foreigners to get people to move into remote housing developments). We were performing a service and getting paid in food and sightseeing, cold notwithstanding. And were it not for the cold and some planning mishaps outside the control of our teacher, it would have been a pretty solid trip. As it was, I could have done without. Anywho, I did make friends with some of the Kazakh students who are super friendly and even willing to entertain my terrible Russian, so that was really fun, looking to spending more time with them.
On to Spring Festival. So I get home last night and head over to the grandparents’ house of my family for the new year’s eve dinner, which is pretty sumptuous. Some delicious pork paired with one of the best sauces I’ve ever had, vinegar and chilies, salted duck, rice noodles, tofu, cucumbers and fried peanuts, a sort of celery dish, a dish called 蛋饺 which are like regular dumplings (not baozi) but the skin is made of egg and stuffed with pork, absolutely amazing and I want to learn how to make them. Strictly necessary to the meal are actual dumplings （饺子 jiaozi）merely for tradition’s sake, chicken (as it’s homophonic with prosperity ji for chicken and li for benefit) and fish due to the saying 年年有余 (surplus every year, surplus 余 has the exact same pronunciation as 鱼 fish, hence the tradition). Drank a little bit, but my family doesn’t seem to be super into alcohol so I managed to stay respectable.
Then we clean up, and play cards while watching the Spring Festival gala with the grandparents who I absolutely love. First of all I can understand them which is sometimes a concern with older Chinese folks, they’re really funny, and the husband is from Beijing while the wife is from Nanjing, which I think is really cute. (Beijing being the current capital and Nanjing being an older one, the jing part of their names designates that) The gala was cool, some propaganda resembling pieces about the army and China’s development, dancing, singing, and skits. It did inspire some awkward conversations with grandma asking me why America and the other countries are always invading China and being concerned about it getting strong which I managed to get through fairly easily. Will definitely have to talk with them about that more though, their house and the actual family’s are right across the street from the university so I hope to be visiting them throughout the semester. At about 10 we went back to the house which is a great example of why I love Chinese houses. First of all house, 房子 （房子） really means apartment, as American style individual houses are virtually unheard of in Chinese cities except for Mcmansion style homes. The exterior is a little old, I’ll have a picture later, but the insides are always super pristine ,beautiful, and make great use of space. Again, no pictures currently, but will have. Chatted a bit, then went to go set off fireworks which I’ve never done before. Really fun actually, and the pollution’s not even that bad this morning (relatively speaking considering the amount of explosives set off last night). Did the countdown, watched more fireworks, and then immediately crashed.
Not sure what I’ll be up to today, but I’ll write it here later and post with pictures tonight or tomorrow.
Update: forgot, lots of pictures, pictures for days, please find below, and hopefully the site will be fixed and the thumbnails will explain things.
As for today, on New Year’s Day you’re not supposed to leave the house, so we stayed in, I read, we chatted, ate, and relaxed. Met a former classmate of my host dad’s who teaches Japanese history in Shanghai and had just come back from California. Had some great conversation with them about politics, Chinese linguistics and California. For dinner we went literally next door to an uncle’s house where there was of course more food and merriment. The uncle took a shining to me and we talked a lot about the upcoming (American) election and Chinese vs. American education systems. Oddly enough, Chinese people really look at Clinton and not so much at Sanders, despite him being a Socialist, weird. Uncle Zhao also was of the opinion that if we were to build a bridge between the U.S. and China and/or the Pacific Ocean didn’t exist so we could just walk from one country to another U.S.-Sino relations would be perfect, and this is why I love him. Of course it’s not that simple, but I think he’s right in some respects, and I had a moment of optimism where I thought if by being here on this program I can help build a bit of that bridge in the metaphorical sense then that counts as a success. 😀