Stepping abroad, putting yourself in an unfamiliar place is the best way to analyze yourself and the place you come from.
I've had a chance to observe American culture a bit, after being separated from the many aspects that I was so naturally accustomed to. I have a love/hate relationship with the country I was born and raised in, the United States of America.
Here in China, we can't say what we want all the time. I can't wear my Bjork shirt because she's banned here for saying things about T!bet. Youtube is blocked, and now blogspot is as well. Censorship is a normal thing here. There is no first amendment right that opens the door for someone to voice their dissatisfaction.
In America, we have a tendency to forget just how fortunate we are. I read online about the most recent Miss USA pageant and the stir of controversy it has caused. One of the judges, Perez Hilton (the openly-gay celebrity blogger), asked Miss California, Carrie Prejean (a staunch conservative) about her views on gay marriage. Rather than lie, she openly opposed it. So everyone was outraged, and according to Hilton, such a statement "cost her the title."
I would've loved to have seen the actual footage, but I can't access youtube in China.
Personally, I think we've got bigger fish to fry than worry about two people of the same sex getting married. If they want to tie the knot in a country with the third highest divorce rate in the world, let them. Sure, I don't agree with Prejean, but I'm surely not going to bash her for speaking her mind. Hilton apparently made a video calling her a bitch. Why punish the girl for being honest about the way she feels? A couple of years ago, Prejean's stance was virtually the norm in the media. Now that the country has taken a serious left after the Bush administration, suddenly it's faux pas to be right-winged.
I wonder if Hilton, or anyone truly upset by the pageant ever stopped to think what life would be like if we were not allowed to publicly express ourselves. Or what it would be like if the Miss USA committee was forced to abolish the pageant because of homosexual government officials who gasped when they heard her answer. What if they could only mutter a phrase like "homosexual" or say "Tian'nemen" with a glazed-over smile, keeping in mind that someone might be in earshot? What would Perez Hilton do if his beloved blog was blocked? Do we ever stop to think about that sort of thing, or are we too busy complaining? For a country that prides itself on cultural diversity, everyone surely wants everyone else to think the exact same way. They ought to check out China.
The relationship I have with my country is filled with frustration and admiration. I can't deny the sensations I feel when I'm driving down the highway on a breezy night, with the windows down and songs coursing through the speakers, watching skyscrapers twinkle and light up Atlanta. Or standing with my feet pressed in sand, staring at an ocean then turning around to gaze at a mountain in San Diego. Or that time I saw Bjork live with my best friend and she sang one of my favorite tunes in a ballroom theatre. But there are other times when I feel much opposite, like stopping to witness the trainwreck that is MTV and seeing a show that makes a mockery out of human relationships, or a news station trying to scare the viewer into submission. Or religious fanatics preying on people's faith. Some of these things I have mentioned are not necessarily exclusive to the United States but they are prominent in my mind and leave me conflicted.
Yet, I'm proud of my country. I'm also proud that I am able to openly criticize it without risk of censorship or persecution.
Stepping abroad, putting yourself in an unfamiliar place is the best way to analyze yourself and the place you come from.
I completed Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven yesterday, minutes after finishing my last entry. It's hard for me to judge a book directly after reading it. So, after a day or so, I think I've formed my opinion of it...
I just returned to Baoding after a long weekend spent in Shanghai, China.
After the French Concession, I knew I couldn't fight it any longer. I had to have a nap. I was at the point where I could hardly enjoy anything unless I got a little rest. So I went back to the hostel and took a three-hour snooze. Totally, totally worth it, because after I got up and got dressed, it was time to check out the Bund!
The Bund really comes alive at night. This was my favorite part of my trip to Shanghai, walking along the river, looking at all the buildings. It was very NYC. Here are some pictures of this luminescent city. Words can't describe having a glass of long-desired wine whilst sitting on top of a high tower, watching a city come alive. That part was pretty great.
After strolling around the Bund for hours, including having a glass of wine on a high tower, I found a vegetarian restaurant called Godly's Vegetarian. Total disappointment. The door was open with a large "open" sign, but the staff was mentally closed. The food was mediocre and they handed me the bill before I had the chance to ask for a second Tsingtao. Lame.
The next day, I made plans to see the Jade Buddhist Temple. This was something I had wanted to see since October.
I am not Buddhist, but I find it to be a calm and peaceful religion that makes more sense to me than others. I was looking forward to this for several reasons. Number one, it'd be great to see a Buddha or two while I'm in China. Number two, it's one of the still-active places of Buddhist worship. Number three, I thought that maybe, by going, I'd get a little sense of perspective. Hell, I might even meditate.
But when I got there, I was instantly turned off.
As I was walking toward the entrance, an eager and excited Chinese girl ran up to me. "Are you here to see the Temple?" she asked. "Yes, I am," I responded. "Oh! Well, you should come look at my tea, I have lots of tea," she urged me. "Um, yeah, maybe. But I'm here to see the Temple first," I said. "Okay! You come look at the tea after! Lots of great tea!" she said excitedly. "Yes. I'm going to see the Temple now," I said. "20 yuan," she said.
20 yuan? The big China book Kim lent me said it was 10. I told her, "I heard it was 10 kuai to see the Temple." Then she just laughed at me like that was the dumbest idea ever. "No, no. It's 20." Fine. I forked over the cash and prepared to be enlightened.
As soon as I walked in, another eager young man began walking by my side. I was on a mission and not in the mood for small talk. I wanted to come here alone, to think and to feel, without meddlesome peddlers. I've had so much on my mind, so much confusion that needs to be sorted out that I was hoping maybe a place like this, which provides comfort to so many other people, might help me too. But how could I when every direction I turned, I was being summoned to come look at all this junk for sale, overpriced jewelry, Jade, calligraphy saying "I'm with Stupid" for all I know. In fact, a really creepy calligraphist kept begging me to come over and watch him paint so I did, just to shut him up and boy was that a mistake. He asked me my name, and I said cooly, "Tara," and he exclaimed, "Kara! I can do this, see, watch!" and paints Kara's name on a white piece of paper, and even still all the letters looked the same. The way he was talking, I thought he might be sick or drunk. He asked me if I was married and I said no, then he said he wasn't either and maybe we could get together, something to that effect. It was kind of disgusting. I immediately turned away and started walking toward another Buddha. I heard him say he was just joking, but he was still lonely if I change my mind. Not my idea of a good time in a Buddhist temple.
Incense floated in the air. Dozens of Buddhas stood behind glass cases. I felt nothing looking at them, like average pieces in a museum. Boxes for offerings were strewn everywhere, of course, as if the entrance fee or the prices of shitty jewellry weren't enough. I was getting more and more repulsed. This is why I don't care for organized religion. I'd rather it just be me and God, nothing in between with alterior motives. I find more peace in the state before I fall asleep than I did anywhere in that stupid temple.
I went back to the hostel for lunch, then met up with a friend. He and his band, from Beijing, were playing a show nearby. It was my first metal show in China. I had seen many in the States, especially when I worked at a bar that had metal shows all the time. You see the young kids, yes, dressed in black. You see a lot of dread locks, long t-shirts, sullen faces. In Shanghai, it was a little different. No kids, which was nice. The preppy audience looked like people you would not expect to be into metal. It was a bit refreshing, actually. Who says you have to wear all that shit just to be into a genre? I met a Chinese man named Simon who worked as a counselor, majored in psychology. We had an interesting conversation about Chinese and Americans, and for the first time, rather than speak as though it was for a China tourism commercial, I spoke candidly about the Big Red and the people who habitate it. I also expressed my frustration with the language. I said I don't mind when my students laugh at my Chinese but I get fed up with the empty looks when people don't understand. When I'm pantomiming using a mop, and I'm in the grocery isle where all the mopping products are, using a little reasoning, I might be asking for a mop? He laughed, then brought up a very good point. This is a problem I have within myself, not something others have with me. I argued some but relented after awhile. It IS something I'm insecure about, but it doesn't help when others (especially other foreigners) call to attention just how bad it really is. Sure, it's difficult for me to have a conversation with someone who speaks little to no English. But I can still communicate some, a hell of a lot more than when I first got here, which hasn't been all that long ago. We shut up when the bands started playing.
Later, my friend Robbie and I got drunk. We wound up at some rave thing in an office building somewhere, I have no idea where it was. The fun game was spotting which preppy foreigner was on drugs and who wasn't. Then I went home.
The last day of my trip to Shanghai, I went to the bookstore and bought something I'm already almost finished with...and this was yesterday! The book is called Undress Me In The Temple of Heaven, by Susan Jane Gilmer. It's about two American girls who backpack around China, starting in Shanghai. All the places are mentioned that I just saw. It was cool. One thing about crack books...once I buy them I can't put them down, then I'm back to square one, bookless and wanting more. So that's going to be me in a couple of hours.
I spent a little extra cash and got a sleeper back to Beijing. Best money I could've spent. Soft sleepers on the Z train are NICE. Yes. I cuddled up with my book on the train and read for hours. Didn't sleep very well but it wasn't the bed or train's fault. Honestly, I felt the best on that train, better than I had the whole trip. Don't get me wrong, it was a good trip overall, but the train was my favorite.
Shanghai's an interesting city but three days was more than enough time. Aside from the glowing lights of the Bund, the city lacks personality. I felt like I was in Houston a lot... high rise buildings everywhere that virtually say nothing. Dirty, polluted of course. I like Beijing so much more. The Olympics really cleaned up the city a lot, because I rarely see a gray day in Beijing like I saw in Shanghai. Beijing may not have as many flashy sights as Shanghai does, but it's got more to do, more of a vibe, and definitely more of an artistic edge. It speaks a hell of a lot louder to me than Shanghai ever could.
I'm happy to be home. The four walls have expanded again. I have been wanting to go to Dalian now for quite some time but I'm starting to have second thoughts. I haven't been to western China at all and am interested in seeing something, maybe Yunnan or elsewhere down south. We'll see. I'll keep you posted regardless.
xox Thanks for reading.
lawd knows i like to ramble. thanks for reading.
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