Archive for June 14th, 2008


One World, One Dream, and Buh-Bye!

After arriving back from Xinjiang, I regret to report that on the surface, at least, it may not sound like I was up to anything exciting in Beijing. That is, I didn’t have time to visit the Great Wall, or the Tibetan Exhibit that had been set up in the wake of the Tibetan protests (China’s exhibition of cultural artifacts designed to prove that China really wasn’t committing cultural genocide against the Tibetans, and more importantly, that Tibet Was Always, And Always Shall Be, Part Of China). Nor did I get to see the Underground City. Primarily, the last week I had in China was spent doing more banal things – packing up my apartment, helping Allison move and set up to take over my apartment. I had the last meetings with several of the students I was tutoring, and the last meetings with my bosses to insure that I was actually paid before I left the country.

We did, mind you, try to make it to the Tibetan Exhibit, but were turned away at the gate when they explained that they were going to close before we’d really get much of a view of the exhibit. So you might say that my trip in China ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Though that’s sort of misleading. For one thing, happily, I did get to try Peking Duck, at long last. And it was quite different than I expected. I’m not sure what – perhaps that it was going to be fried a certain way, but certainly I didn’t expect that it was going to come with a special sauce, and to be wrapped up in special pancake/tortilla-type bread, and wrapped up with onions and cucumbers. Still, it was phenomenally good. And for another thing, I did do some of the things I enjoyed most about Beijing one last time – pub quiz, for example, where even though we were robbed of first place on the flimsiest of bases, we still came in 2nd and enjoyed a free round of cocktails.

And most importantly, I spent far more time with Allison than I had gotten to spend most of the trip. Since she was living with a host family, most of the time, I’d have to say good-bye to her around 6pm every day, but since this time, she was moving into my apartment, we actually got to enjoy dinner and evening activities, as well as breakfast, together. That was by far much more rewarding than the Great Wall ever could’ve been.

Now, you might feel sorry for me, thinking that I missed the chance of a lifetime to see the Great Wall. But there, you’d be working from a faulty premise. That is, that this is the only time in my life that I would every have the opportunity to visit China and see the Great Wall. Allison herself has had a lot of well-wishers, family and friends alike, who’ve said things like, “Oh, this is perfect for you! Go and enjoy this while you’re young. It’s the chance of a lifetime, before you get older and have to settle down.” To which I think Allison and I both say, “Hogwash!”

You see, Allison plans on studying China professionally in some capacity, probably as a political scientist but possibly as a historian or an anthropologist. This, therefore, is only the first of many trips she’ll be taking to China throughout her life. And as I see it, this means that I will have ample opportunity, in the coming years, to join her during her future trips, and see all of the things that I didn’t get to see this time around. In other words, as if Allison herself wasn’t motive enough, I now have other incentives to return to China in the future. And in the future, as now, since I will be working as a philosopher, assuming I can arrange a fellowship, I can continue my own scholarship virtually anywhere in the world. I got lots of research completed during this particular trip, and I would no doubt continue the same thing in any future stay. Now, I’m not anticipating that I will be living in China for 5 or 6 month stints as I did this time, but I imagine that as a husband to someone in China on a scholars’ visa of sorts, and thus, with a spousal visa of my own, I shouldn’t have as many visa difficulties next time as I did this time. I should be able to come and go far more easily. Which is good, because as happy as I am to visit China and spend time with Allison there, I hope to never have to live there! The pollution alone is reason enough, but I can tell you that learning to say controversial words like “Dalai Lama,” “Rebiya Kadeer,” “Tienanmen Square Massacre,” in Pig Latin and under my breath was freaky, and not something that anyone should ever have to do.

Speaking of which, I think I know the reason why I had such a flurry of job opportunities toward the end of my stay. It seems that I’m hardly the only one that China is more or less expelling. Foreigners left and right are finding themselves without valid visas, as the country is suddenly clamping down on foreigners staying in Beijing during the Olympics. At the last I’ve heard, China is apparently no longer awarding ANY new visas, at least, not if you’d like to visit during the Olympics. A Chinese embassy official, for example, was quoted as saying that foreigners just shouldn’t come during the Olympics: they should come some other time. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, since I thought we wanted lots of foreigners to come and spend money – wasn’t that the whole point of bringing the Olympics to China? But the Chinese government seems worried that its stability may be put in jeopardy by its longer-term residents, which actually strikes me as the opposite of what’s true. If they don’t want protesters, they should emphasize people who have long-term commitments to stay there, who have an investment in behaving, as opposed to people who’s only goal is to draw attention to themselves as they get themselves deported. Ce la vie.

Regardless, I was told many times by the agencies I had been working for that they were suddenly facing major labor shortages as their English tutors and teachers were being deported en masse. Again, this should’ve been an obvious problem with the sudden restrictions on Chinese visas. I would’ve thought that the government would’ve wanted as many of its citizens, particularly those in the service industries, to polish their English skills as the Olympics came to the city, but perhaps its more worried that its English-speaking ex-pat population may be trying to subvert the population. Allison’s hypothesis, of course, is the most sensible and simple explanation: the government is run by a coterie of very, very paranoid people. The openness they’ve shown in the past decades is less a matter of them becoming more open-minded types, though there may be some of that, but more as a means to an end, as they build their “Harmonious Society” of “Market Socialism,” whatever that oxymoron of a slogan is supposed to mean. The end being, of course, more economic development and prosperity. All fine and good, highly respectable goals, but I suppose it all comes back to the human, all too human desire to have the honey without the sting.

I wish the government could be half as open-minded as the many Chinese people I met during my time there. I realize that Beijingers are not exactly representative of the whole nation, considering how many hundreds of millions of people still live as uneducated peasants in the countryside. But I think about all the cool people I met, like my landlord Mara, or her friend Sissi, or even my student Nicole, one year away from her college entrance exams. Some of my bosses – Shawn, for example, or Eaton (who gave me the recording job), or my co-worker Amy. These are some of the most sensible, intelligent and kindest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and I cannot get over how much better the Chinese government would be if these people ran things. And who knows? They are all young, and if they are any indication, the rising generation may complete the job that the lost generation of Tienanmen began in earnest in 1989. One can hope.

Anyway, enough rambling. I’ll have more to post soon, about my return to the US and subsequent house-hunting expedition in Madison, to begin tomorrow (Saturday).