|China today. |
The ancient and the modern in Jing'na exist side-by-side.
Image from Chinese Culture and Education Center in Spartanburg, SC.
|Elissa with her conversation|
partner Negin, from Iran,
and Fenghua at TMA
Fenghua knows more about the USA than I know about China. I find this to be true wherever I am in the world, by the way. People in other countries study American history, study our language, and are curious about who we are, how we live, and especially our popular culture. They follow us on TV and on the internet, no doubt getting all kinds of mixed messages. There's a curiosity about America. I remember conversations in Ukraine about the first time most people were able to watch American TV, after 1991. "Pow, America popped out at us!" a young counselor at Sosnovy summer camp outside of Starobelsk said to me, international hip hop music blaring loudly in the background. For many, I was the first real American they had ever met.
|Jinai (wikimedia image)|
The history of Shandong goes back to before 6500 BC. It embraces layers upon layers of cities, provinces, and dynasties. This complex layered mosaic of cultural, economic and political threads continued up to 1945-1949, when the People's Republic of China was created. Another layer was added to the mosaic and continues into the present.
|Shandong Coastal Vineyards |
|The Confucious Temple, Qufu|
It seems that my research offered more a tourist's point of view than a native's insight, and it made Fenghua uncomfortable. Maybe I was on conflicted ground here, so I backed off and asked her how she would describe her country. She hesitated. She talked about geography, environment, and regional variations, which she said are vast. Life is different in the mountains, in the plains, in the northern desert region, on the coast, she explained. Cuisine is very different from one place to another. So is language. The Chinese value education and study very hard to get into universities, which are highly competitive and require passing a difficult multi-day exam called the "gaokao." Students spend their young lives preparing for this test. The high school years are exceedingly intense since test scores determine whether or not students will go to university. Fenghua praised this educational system.
So my first Chinese lesson ended. I realized the huge cultural differences between us, an eye-opener in itself. I must admit the views and images I have in my head about China are one-sided and limited, and even outdated. Life is an adventure and we learn as we go, I thought to myself. The Water for Ishmael program is a good reminder of this.
|Mount Tai, China|
I think of China this way....
|....But it's actually more this way today! Quindao skyline 2016 (wikimedia image)|