Posted by: apal1528 | 10/27/2009

Foreign Language Fellowship Report

Just a few weeks into my freshman year at Washington State University, my life was turned in an completely new direction. The head of the Chinese program came to speak to my Chinese 101 class to encourage our studies. The moment I heard this American-born Caucasian speak Chinese with total fluency my mind was determined to learn. The excitement of the unknown, the sheer peculiarity of the sounds and the concept of characters then drew me into a two-year obsession, working towards the famed CET immersion program for my junior year.

Now, beginning my senior year, I am confident that spending my junior year in China was the most valuable and rewarding experience of my life so far. Looking back at my experiences in China, I’d say the best part was the language learning. I saw so many tourists taking just two or three weeks to see all of China and I’ve realized that the best part of being in a foreign country is living there immersed in the culture and the language. Having the ability to travel anywhere in China and strike up a conversation with people in Chinese incredibly enhanced the entire experience. It was well worth the grueling two years of memorization and constant studying.

I remember one day I was in Tibet, I was just about ready to get into the van to return to Lhasa when I saw a very small elderly woman dressed in traditional clothes looking up at me from a bench. I knew the elderly Tibetans couldn’t speak Chinese very well, so I greeted her and didn’t expect much of a response. Though her Chinese indeed wasn’t that great, she was so excited to hear me speaking and she started to ask me questions. She asked where I was from and immediately starting saying how America is good and America is very strong. Knowing that the situation between Tibet and China was and still is very touchy, I told her that American people really like Tibet and that we’re friends. At this she smiled big. Though this was just a short conversation, I felt like for a second that one some level the two of us understood each other. It was an amazing experience.

There are so many examples like these. I talked to teachers who spent time in re-education camps and college students who firmly believed in the Communist Party and plan to join. In the last ten months I’ve nearly doubled the amount of people in the world that I can communicate with, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I am a completely different person than I was when I left for China and it is thanks to the lavish support of the Boeing Global Learning Perspectives – Foreign Language Fellowship. Both the level of Mandarin Chinese proficiency that I have achieved and the cultural experiences that I have gained are invaluable assets that have forever changed my character and will greatly benefit my future career. Thank you!

Though China grew me as an individual and will have great weight in pursuing career opportunities, it was also the most fun and exciting ten months of my life! I hope the following pictures and blog entries can convey at least a little taste of what China was like from my point of view!

Tiananmen Square

In front of the entrance to the Forbidden City on the second day after my arrival.

With roommate and his family

My roommate (upper right in black shirt) and his family. His aunt and uncle invited me to their home for an enormous meal just weeks after my arrival.

Lhasa

In front of Lhasa’s Potala Palace, the palace of the Dalai Lama.

Sichuan Grasslands

This is the monastery in Tagong, a town in Western Sichuan Province but deep in the cultural region of Tibet. I traveled here over my fall break; it was the first time in my life I’d ever traveled alone. Though I spent just two days in this small town, I was forced to use my Chinese to meet new people and learn about the culture.

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10/27/08 – On Tagong

The monastery was a little eerie and slightly uncomfortable. It was cold and grey and there were crows everywhere. The monks were chanting and the building had smelled like incense, villagers were in the front area praying to themselves in Chinese and Tibetan and gave all the foreigners the strangest looks. The inside had gold leafed statues with paintings and offerings strewn about, hats or shoes weren’t permitted and we had to walk around the central statue clockwise. Very strange. I did get to talk a bit with the monks, they spoke good Mandarin and English too. They studied for a number of years in India.

The strangest thing I saw was the chanting in the upper portion of the monastery. They were chanting and hitting drums and blowing horns, but every few minutes you’d see a monk stop, pick up his cell phone and cover himself with his robe while he talked before resuming chanting. Very odd.

All that day I was amazed to see the contrast between old and new. The traditional clothing and old buildings, horses and donkeys pulling carts all fit into the historical Buddhist setting and way of life. But just an 8 hour bus ride away was China, the champion of economic development. On the other hand, trucks and materials, hawkers, cheap electronics, fashion stores and brand new airports were everywhere. China is trying to do what we’ve done in 200 years in about 30.

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Train

On the train. My bunkmates taught me to play Chinese cards on the 24 hour ride.

Harbin

Harbin’s city center, just a 20 minute walk from my dorm.

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1/10/09 – Unparalleled Beauty

We got in to Guilin two nights ago around 5:30. I waited in line to see about tickets to Hainan, but it looks like I’m going to have to take an 18 hour bus ride. Should be an experience.

We spent the night in Guilin and the next morning hopped on a quick bus to a town about an hour out called Yangshuo. We met two Chinese girls on the bus who were from Guilin traveling to see Yangshuo. We ended up getting rooms next to each other and helped us make sure we didn’t get cheated. Yangshuo is a super tourist trap. There are a ton of tourists and a ton of overpriced goods. We tried to see about getting some scroll paintings, and the guy started at ¥80 and we got him down to 30 in about a minute because we spoke Chinese and had the girls with us. It was realy good to have met them especially because they didn’t speak any English, it helped us practice our Chinese.

Yangshuo

So when we got to Yangshuo we had a little fiasco trying to find the cheapest hotel, I was pretty set on the youth hostel, because it’s usually cheaper than other places, but the second we got off the bus we were barraged by the piranhas that are salespeople and a few women wanted to get us to come to her house/hotel. I mean, the pictures looked nice and they were cheap, but there had to be a catch. So like normal I just ignored her or tried to get her to go away. But after going to two youth hostels and passing by her place, the kingfisher hotel, we actually ended up staying with her. It’s turned out nice, except that the windows they have might as well not be there since it’s so cold at night. But it’s only $3.20 a night.

After we got checked in we found another lady who wanted to take us to dinner by bike out to the Moon Mountain. The Chinese girls were into it, so we didn’t really say anything about it. We biked for about half an hour until we got to this mountain with a little smaller village next to it.

Moon mountain

The Yangshuo specialty dish is Beer Fish. We chose the fish ourselves.

Catfish

It was fantastic.

Beer fish

After this we went back to the hotel at a leisurely pace and took some pictures along the way.

We spent the rest of the evening looking at shops and eating ice cream at KFC. We also had a really good conversation with a woman at our hotel visiting from Beijing. It was good to talk about lifestyle differences in the U.S. and talk about things that we don’t usually talk about on a regular basis, just to stretch our vocabulary a bit. Our first day was good.

The second day was better. Jared and I rented bicycles and took a trip back out to Moon mountain to hike to the top. But first we stumbled upon an old brick making factory. We looked around a bit then saw some trails that led back to a really cool area.

Jared

Jared had been having trouble with his bike chain, so had to wash the grease off.

After our exploring we hiked to moon mountain. It was funny because there were these older ladies who were trying to sell us water and drinks before we started climbing, and their English was actually very good. They even followed us up the mountain and when I was sweating they were just chugging along as if they were just taking a stroll up the insanely steep path. They probably do it every day though. I wish I had taken some good pictures of them.

So we went to the top of Moon Mountain and ran into some foreigners. One guy from the states and a couple from Germany. They were all teaching English last semester. We talked for a while as we rested and then went back to the same restaurant and had basically the same meal as the first night. It was good enough to have twice. We had dinner then went back and went to a bar that our friend heard about, it had this Chinese guy playing French Experimental music. It was really awesome. My favorite was him playing the violin and throat singing at the same time. It was cool. But kinda wierd too, he also played the clarinet, the erhu, a lyre and some other Chinese guitar instrument.

Evening

Farm

This morning I woke up a bit early, but we’re planning on taking another bike trip. I think we may go back to Guilin either tonight or tomorrow.

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Hotpot

Hotpot. The traditional meal of Sichuan Cuisine. A non-lethal concentration of pepper oils and numbing peppercorns. Raw meat and vegetables are cooked to taste in the boiling pot. Unfortunately this meal is not for those with a weak stomach.

Oral presentation

A weekly oral presentation given to my business Chinese class. My two classmates and myself learned the history of the Chinese economy as well as important factors that have contributed to China’s rise. Each chapter was built with vocabulary and formal grammar centering on topics like the Chinese stock market and real estate market, as well as problems surrounding overpopulation and pirating. Our teacher was highly engaging and excited to be teaching, she tailored her teaching to challenge us specifically.

Tibet with nun

A good friend and I in Tibet. For the last week of our time in China, we traveled to Lhasa to embrace as much culture as we could. Even though I’d been to what was culturally Tibet in Sichuan Province, it was more fascinating this time to see authentic Tibetans in their homeland. Between us is a nun we met, we had a great conversation with her.

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