Holy Ground

Two rather fun things happened recently.  The first was that I got to take place in the “Fourth Annual Chinese-American Student Discussion and Exchange” put on by the School of Sinology (teaching Chinese as a second language) here at SNNU. Four American students and four Chinese students with two MC’s coming together to wax philosophically on college/career, family relations, gender equality, community service, cultural exchange, and then meaning of success.

Overall very interesting and fun, and a bit exhausting to prep for.  Some of the interesting highlights were probably one of the Chinese delegates whipping out “To be or not to be?” and relating it to the meaning of success.  It translates into Chinese as “to live or to cease to exist?” and he took this to mean to succeed is to strive to be better everyday or not be a real human.  Not only do I entirely agree with this (although it’s a nice sentiment), but I felt I had to whip out a Chinese literature reference to represent the American side. I fired back with “climb one more floor.” which is a reference to a famous Tang poem:


The white sun sets behind the mountains
The Yellow River flows into the see
I want to gaze for three hundred miles
(So I) climb one more floor

The last line now means to go to the next level in really any context, so I used it to ask “using your example, if everyday you’re climbing one more floor, what if one day you find the 329th floor to be super comfy? If you stop climbing does that mean you’ve failed?” which sparked a lovely debate.

Other highlights include the American wage gap, gender discrimination in hiring, taking care of one’s parents (usually done in China by taking them into your house), and why the Chinese film industry is so weak.

Halfway though we had a brief intermission where I performed a joke I’ve had for a while, and my fellow UMass student Sydni did some dance.


Here’s a link to the joke being performed by another foreigner (Canadian) below with subtitles.

This weekend the program took us up to the north of the province for the weekend.  It was a lot of time spent driving, so thankfully I brought a book.  We first got up to the Huang Emperor memorial, which commemorates the ancestor of the Chinese people.  The legend goes that many many years ago two tribes in present day Shaanxi were warring.  Huang, the leader of one tribe, defeated Yan, the leader of the other, and went on to father the Chinese people.  The saying goes that the Chinese people are the “children of Huang and Yan”, so this memorial is somewhat of a pilgrimage for people of Chinese descent all over the world.

Then back on the bus to Hukou (teapot spout) waterfall, which is one of those places that you have to see if you stay in Shaanxi for any extended period of time.  It’s a very impressive waterfall, although I couldn’t for the life of me see where it got its name, and divides Shaanxi from its neighboring Shanxi province.  Some nice rainbows, me getting soaked, and a good conversation about cartoons with my roommate.

After more car riding we got to the hotel and immediately collapsed, exhausted from all the sitting we had done.  Well except my Spanish classmate who stayed up until 6:30am (we left at 7:30) to watch the Euro Championship final.

Our half day in Yan’an started off at the revolution museum, which was really cool actually.  For those that don’t know, Yan’an was Mao’s base of operations for the vast majority of the Sino-Japanese war and Chinese civil war up until the “liberation” (as they put it) of Beijing in 1949.  The museum covered this period of the city’s history with tons of pictures of what Yan’an used to look like, merely a fraction of its current size and all classical Chinese architecture.  Unfortunately not a trace remains of it.  There was also an interesting section on foreigners who visited while the Communists were there, including a Canadian surgeon who provided tons of medical help, and Edgar Snow, the author of “Red Star Over China” who was the first western journalist to really cover the Party.  We were pressed for time, so I didn’t get to spend as much time there as I would have hoped, but perhaps there will be another opportunity.  A quick visit to the Date Garden (as in the fruit) where the Communist leaders lived for a period in cave dwellings which are a symbol of the region thanks to their advantages in hot and cold weather, which Shaanxi has in abundance.

Lastly was a Red Drama entitled “The Yan’an Nursery School” which was a dramatized telling of the Yan’an Nursery School during the Sino-Japanese war as remembered by one of the kids.  You may have seen Red Drama’s like the one below, and boy are they impressive.

This one didn’t have ballet, but it was amazing all the same.  Huge stage, imaginative set consisting of a ramp sloping down towards the audience that lowered in the middle to reveal the nursery school, and could be shifted to represent a battlefield, mountain paths, etc., and great choreography.  It was also incredibly powerful, I was almost moved to tears. From a propaganda perspective, I also had a surprising desire to martyr myself for some cause after watching the performance, not necessarily the Chinese communist one, but it was weird all the same.  I don’t know dance that well, but one of the coolest portions was when the kids and their caretakers had to flee Yan’an by crossing the Yellow River, with the water being played by a troop of dancers.  Enough on that, rode home, slept, that brings us to today when I am quite busy so please enjoy the pictures!.


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