Over the past few years of researching online, interviewing past China study abroad participants, and grilling professors about their experience in China to plan this opportunity abroad, I have collected a few nuggets of insight:
1. Convenience Stores
No, no, convenience stores don’t mean the commercial pharmacy down the street. It’s not CVS. It’s not Walgreens.
It’s nostalgia. Convenience stores are a happy place (Disclaimer: This is coming from someone whose childhood was transplanted from Chinatown, Chicago to Wisconsin suburb). All the happy memories of childhood – warmed steamed buns, rice dumplings, bottled red tea; even better bottled milk tea, childhood heroes reproduced as collectible goods (Naruto, Hello Kitty, Pokemon anyone?) – these jewels that once took a 2 hour drive, can now be found in a convenience store right outside the door.
2. Being near Major E-Sports Competitions
Maybe it’s the recent hype for THE major DOTA 2 tournament in August, TI5, but E-Sports in China are big (DOTA 2 is a popular online game produced by Valve).
The second biggest international DOTA 2 tournament featured an opening by JJ Lin, the beloved singer-songwriter that has been stealing hearts across Asia since 2003. Think someone with the cultural presences of Usher holding a concert at a gaming venue. But, the wonder of E-sports goes beyond the glamour. It’s the story. These video gaming enthusiasts tucked away as outcasts in the basements of their parents home have made a multimillion enterprise and a new culture. It’s lovely.
3. Visiting the Expat Communities
Imagining the costs it takes to leave home, these people must have great stories to tell.
Beijing is a rather internationally oriented city. It’s a mix of Washington D.C plus the shopping districts, financial districts like Chicago or New York has. It’s fun to look at what aspects of the expats’ homes are carried over to China. I hear that microbrews and cheese enthusiasts are popping up around Beijing. Perhaps one day, Americatown (or would Wisconsintown be more proper?) will be accepted by google’s auto-correct.
4. Asking Chinese locals how they view America and China
Communist, eat dog, immoral, job sealers, try-hards, sounds like China in the U.S. It’s hard to get anything more than an outdated stereotype inside the U.S.
Our information about China goes through a filter before reaching us, whether it is through the government or the press. Stereotypes are necessary, but there should be stereotypes that are closer to the actualities that are happening in day-to-day China. The last fifty years in China were crazy. People who lived through it are still alive. People who are going to shape the next fifty years are shaping their view on the world.
5. Looking Like the Majority
Being Chinese-American in a quiet Wisconsin Suburb means sticking out like a sore thumb.
China isn’t as concerned with being “politically correct” about identity as the U.S. may be. There are horror stories about Chinese-Americans or simply Asian-Americans being mistaken as Chinese-Chinese (Nationals sounds odd), and being scolded for not understanding Chinese and Chinese culture, but I’d rather have that – and the ability to blend in the background – than being odd all the time. It can get exhausting (I’ve also learned a trick to tell people I’m from Korea when I can’t handle being scolded anymore — if you’re reading this, thanks Frances).
6. Visiting Friends from Across the World
Food with good company, what more could anyone want? Shout-out to Project Pengyou!
7. Crowds in the Subway
Crowded subways are a great way to study people-to-people interactions while appreciating high-tech public transportation.
The subway is a unique mix of routine and chaos. There are people from all sorts of backgrounds. Some are regulars, some are lost. The stops indicate the district people are headed to and from. The time, the location, the people, a PhD candidate struggling to finish could write their dissertation from the intersection these variables. After a week of riding the subway in the sweaty summer months, this statement will probably be retracted.
8. Taking Journalism Courses
News in China is run under the Propaganda Department.
I’m sure, journalism is not an attractive profession to anyone looking for good income or a normal job — that I have learned over my meager years as a J-school student myself. Journalists are in it for the story that speaks to the heart. In the U.S. journalists are romanticized as the fourth estate, always keeping the big guys in check. That doesn’t fly in China. Then, how does the mind of a journalist work in China?
9. Indie Film Festivals
Indie films are great because they’re made for the spirit of filmmaking promoting a cause and story-telling, not necessarily commercial value.
That’s not to say commercial films are terrible either, they serve different purposes. Unfortunately, last year, the Indie film fest in Beijing was cancelled by the government. Hopefully this year, the screening will be approved. If not, well, then there are trusty streaming sites thanks to poor IP laws and regulation.
10. Traveling outside Beijing
It was a lazy summer day filled by lounging in my bed when I stumbled across this image. I had to sit up to take a proper gasp of air when I saw it. This image has been saved onto my flash-drive since middle school. This is Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟) in Sichuan Province. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I am going to go here before I leave China.
My only fear is that my expectations of this list of ten, will be too high. Coming next, 10 things I am not looking forward to in Beijing!
Tammy Tian is a Senior studying journalism and mass communications and East Asian Studies. She is always on the look out for a great story. You can find her in coffee shops. For her stories beyond study abroad follow her on tammytian.com