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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

1st Post: "...An adopted son of China"

Well, this is my 中国 Blog. 中国=China "Zhong" (middle/center) and "Guo" (Kingdom/country)

After reading this, I realized how rambling it was, but this was a quick type and hope you enjoy it!

John Pomfret, in his book "Chinese Lessons", speaks about his experiences in the early 1980s as an exchange student in China. He ended up spending many years in China doing everything from being a student, a tourist, a lover, and eventually a husband. He was an American student within China less than 2 years after the United States normalized relations with China. He was in the streets of Tiananmen when the government cracked down on thousands of students. He made lifelong friends in China. He met and married his wife in China. He witnessed firsthand the power of the government. Near the end of his book and looking back on his experiences, he wrote "I feel like I have become an adopted son of China".

He spent such a significant amount of time in China and poured his life into telling people about China's history, culture, and newly-found political identity on the world stage. He is someone I greatly admire because of his intellect and the fact that he made China a real place for me. Reading his book, you come across real people who he shared meals with, laughed with, got in trouble with, went to parties with, and just lived with him. These friends all had faults, shames, little tics, nicknames, and all the nuances of  relationships which any part of the world would have.

Living in Texas (and the South in general), people tend to talk about China in a few ways: "Oh yeah, they're good at math and make all our stuff" or "Those **** Communists, they oppress their nation just because they can". Putting a quick and convenient label on a country or a race of people is all well and good for the occasional benign joke, but there are all kinds of dangers due to an oversimplification of culture (when the oversimplification is honest and mal-intended).

I think mostly we do this because of convenience due to cultural differences. It is difficult to get to know a culture, and no one really can sum up what a particular culture is in one neat and tiny package. To know a culture, or to know anything, really is a matter of 'stepping back' and taking in every sociocultural trend, idiom/expression, language, and far more and asking the question, "What does this say about that particular country?"

"A lot of times when we work overseas we tend to put the experience of someone who lives overseas, a Chinese person or a Korean person or a Bosnian person, within the prism of an American life." - John Pomfret

It is true that we try to put things in an American box or what-have-you and it is easy to forget just how similar people are. All people get angry, all people laugh, all people want happiness, all people have fears, all people love something, and all people have problems letting some things go. 

I cannot wait to go to China and to get to have the experience of living with people on the other side of the world for 5 months or longer! The people I have talked to, laughed with, shared my uncertainties with, and been here for me have done me more good than they know, and I know that there are people just like those on the other side of the world, and I can't wait to meet them!

The next post I will be putting up some information about where I am in preparation and what my trip is all about.

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