Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Entry Fifteen:

[Due to recent limited internet access, the final three entries are late. My apologies.]

In my final days I have continued to have interesting adventures around Jinhua. I was invited by the parents of some of my young students to go camping. To quote the invitation, “We’re going up the mountain to sleep on the mountain. We have the tents.” I knew the mountain and presumed the hike would be long so I packed plenty of water and food. Imagine my surprise when I found myself driving up the mountain, and eating dinner at a restaurant. We did sleep by a lake and in tents, but needless to say I felt pretty silly in my hiking shoes. China still finds ways to surprise me.

My next big night of entertainment was the “Special Teacher Class Graduation Performance.” Every year the Special Teacher Group does not need to take exams to enter the attached university, so they spend the end of the semester preparing a talent show. Typically over-the-top, smoke machines and spotlights filled the stage as the kids danced to “We Will Rock You.” It was fun to see my former students sing and dance, but in many ways it made me gloomy for having missed the graduation at Oxford Hills. There are a lot of great young people in the Class of 2008, and I wish I could have said goodbye.

Rather than have “step up day” for the incoming class, here in Jinhua there is a two-week program. The first week is an off-campus orientation, and the second week is a full week of classes at the high school. After being indirectly asked to take on some of these new classes, I abandoned some travel plans and accepted my new schedule. For one week I had a teaching schedule similar to my American work load with 3 classes almost everyday. The new students were full of enthusiasm, and I was much more confident in how to plan and prepare for them. The classes went really well, and I was surprised how willing they were to speak. Time has been flying by since.

A few days ago Max returned from Maine wearing his LL Bean t-shirt and telling me how “wicked good” people were to him at Oxford Hills. I expected no less.

Max really enjoyed his time with you back home and only had positive things to say about our community. He asked me to make a special thank you. In Max’s words, “The lunch ladies were so good to me, I really miss the lunch ladies. They would give me two hotdogs, and made rice special for me. Thank you, lunch ladies!”

Now that Max is back in Jinhua I can’t have a night without a big dinner and/or a trip to the KTV. They are trying to have me go out with a bang, that’s for sure. But, my most interesting trip of late was when Max took me to an isolated village about an hour out of town.

Due to its relative isolation, this town (forgive me, I don’t know the name) has seen little development in the last 30 years. There are buildings from the Ming and Qing Dynasty, many in desperate need of restoration – but at least they are still standing. People live in this village like they have for generations; many reside inside buildings with facades carved 300 years ago. Also, remnants from the Cultural Revolution are everywhere to be seen. The town’s loudspeaker is still in operation at the central square. “Long Live Chairman Mao” paintings are fading but not painted over. There is even a building where the Nationalists reportedly had an office before fleeing to Taiwan. In this office still hangs a portrait of Chiang Ke-Shek over a desk that the tour guide insisted is the real thing. In this one place I could see the history of modern China in its rawest form, decades of complex history layered on one another.

I have been to museums, I have read books, but to see it all together painted a vivid picture of the human experience in China over these last few centuries. I am in awe of the people of China.

I marvel at a society striving to find a balance between traditions and modernization. I marvel at a society trying to reconcile years of suffering at the hands of feudalism and colonialism. I marvel at their unconventional and costly journey of political, economic and social development. But mostly I marvel at these Chinese people who have endured so much – they are determined, hard working, sincere people with a clear understanding of what my grandfather would have called the “American Dream.” They look to the West with a defensive curiosity, and we have a tremendous opportunity to make a natural ally in a tumultuous world. But our next steps must be made with the utmost care or the opportunity will certainly pass.

Americans needn’t fear China, but we must begin to respect China for the power she possesses. This power, so worthy of our respect, is not China’s economic or military potential; it’s the strength of the Chinese people.

Walking in this isolated town with Max I saw all the history unfold before me. Chinese people have endured hardship beyond your wildest fears. With extraordinary resilience, and against tremendous historical odds, they have emerged. China rebuilt itself after a post-feudal-post-colonial dilemma, and they did so by their own power! In its historical context, China's current situation impresses me everyday - and I am humbled by the people I meet.

Chinese people are not hostile, but neither are they flaccid. What the people of China now want (for better and for worse) is to possess an economic lifestyle similar to our own. Who are we to object? In many ways we, the common people of both nations, share a common dream.

Walking with Max through the ancient village or down the developed streets of Jinhua's city center - the evidence of China's bright future is everywhere to be seen. Just look at what these people have overcome, look at what they have accomplished, meet them, know them, love them - and you will see in China the better parts of yourself.

See you soon,

The Viking in China

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