Experiencing China

'Experiencing China' is about ordinary life in China and the wealing and dealing of a Dutchman in the Middle Kingdom. Marc works for DuoArts Consultancy and the Empowerment Foundation, travelling between the Netherlands and China.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Going out in Beijing

Last friday I got to the airport to pick Chuang Li up. She studies at the Academy of Utrecht, The Netherlands, where she studies Marketing Communication. She will do an internship at one of the projects I am involved in. This project consists of supporting two schools in rural China.

Chuang comes from Henan province, here in China, and has been studying in the Netherlands for three years. She will do a research on how to 'translate' concepts such as empowerment, human resource management and consultancy on intercultural cooperation into the Chinese context. Because she has lived in both China and the Netherlands she should be able to bridge the two different cultures.

In front of the Forbidden City 

But, as a good host is supposed to do, I took her to all the sight seeing places in Beijing. Though it was rather strange: who was who's guest? I'm now a resident of Beijing, although temporarily, but still laowai (foreigner). She is my guest from the Netherlands, but still a Zhongguoren (Chinese). But because I like to reverse the whole game once - all the other times I have been the guest - I was happy to play the host.

A guest generally is treated with great hospitality. Hosts do their utmost best to make the stay unforgettable by taking their guests to sight seeing places, pay for the taxi and lunch and dinner and ask you many times if you are enjoying yourself and/or need a rest. I know many Dutch people feel uncomfortable in this situation. But hey, that's China!

The next day after Chuan's arrival, we played the tourist visiting Tiananmen square and taking pictures in front of the Forbidden City. Hundred of thousands of Chinese tourist have done this before. So did I, but it is always a hit!

Attending a tea ceremony with Chuang 

After Tiananmen we went shopping at Wanfujing, Beijing's most luxurious shopping place. I bought a suit, I couldn't bring it from Holland, for 30 euro and bought my guest one of the finest kind of tea in the country. We had dinner at Wanfujing's restaurant area. This is also the 'snack' area of Beijing with multiple kinds of sate. One of the most horrible snacks can be seen on the photo below. Have a nice dinner!

Having a snack 

Chuang currently is visiting the project in Shandong and taken care of by Tom, who runs the school involved. And I like the idea that I was able to repay all the hospitality I received during all my previous visits to China, including this one.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Hi Mark, it's Marc! I just want to tell you I can read your comments, thanks for that, but I can't reply. So I just do it this way. Yes, the writing below makes you hungry, doesn't it?


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Paradox of Food

It seems the larger part of Chinese society is about food...

Dinner with classmates and teachers 

As I already said before, in (rural) China the proverb 'have you eaten yet?' (Chi fan le ma?) means so much as 'how are you?'. Social encounters take place with an abundance of food. From good friends visiting each other, to business banquets, there is always food nearby. Don't worry when in China that you can't find a restaurant nearby. There are millions of small, medium sized and large local restaurants. The smallest is a bike with a big box on it, a little window and many small dishes in it. Then you have the canting, a small restaurant with 'romantic' neonlight, spitting and loud talking farmers. Finally, you have the larger restaurants complete with Kareoke, circular tables, your own waiters in a private room. Then I even haven't mentioned the great popularity of the McDonalds and KFC's (haven't seen a Burger King yet).

Breakfast in Dongping (7 am) 

In Beijing you also have Muslim restaurants (Uighur people from the West of China), Mongolian hotpot restaurants, Japanese and Korean restaurants. Pizza is widely available at the Pizza Hut (no I don't get paid for mentioning the brands!). Modern Chinese youth with bleached hair eat hamburgers, drink coffee at Starbucks or have a Kekoukele (Coca Cola) (I really should get paid for mentioning the brands).

Lunch with government officials 

There are bars where you can get a drink without food though.

When visiting friend, it is common to bring food with you as a gift. Last weekend I went on my first businesstrip to the Shandong province. When I left, I got a sack full with food for my seven hour journey back. I left at 11 pm and mainly slept in the train. However, I tried because there were no sleepers available and I can't sleep sitting in a chair. Because the train was loaded with people from the countryside, returning to their jobs in the city of Beijing, I ended up in the restaurant of the train. Here you have a little more comfortable seats for which I paid 30 kuai (about 3 euro/3.5 dollar) extra. But it was not only for the comfortable seat I paid those 30 yuan. After 30 minutes, at half past twelve pm, we got dinner. I just had a farewell dinner with Tom and his family, so what to do? Well, for it is a long trip, I ate!

Li Xuer (Tom's son) eating 

Till now I only have been writing about the abundance of food. But what then is the paradox of food? All my classmates complain about the fact that they loose weight. Somehow, in the paradise of food, foreign students tend to loose weight. I think it has to do with the fact that most of the Chinese food contains little fat, sugar and other fat producing ingredients. Moreover, many students must suffer from a culture shock. This stressful condition often leads to the lost of weight. Luckily for me, for I am already rather thin, I don't loose weight here. Maybe it is because I know what to expect in China...

Gift from Tom's wife... food! 
Enjoy your dinner!


Sunday, March 06, 2005

The First Day of Spring

Today it was 17 degrees Centigrade (63 Fahrenheit). The first day of spring and I bought some tickets at the Beijng Railwaystation. Next Thursday I will travel to Tai'an and Dongping for a few days to conduct business. Below you'll find some pictures.

Beijing Railwaystation 

Waiting for the train to arrive 

Smog covering Beijing 

Friday, March 04, 2005

Total Immersion

Did my homework well! 

Well, I just survived my first week of total immersion. It's fun though. It's international and very diverse. I like that. The following nationalities are present in my class: Americans, French, Germans, Swedish, Fins, Canadians, Kazachstanian and Iranian. In addition, this week I met people from Spain, Italy, Ghana, Israel, Phillipines, Indonesia and, our neighbor, Belgium. Many of them are Chinese as well that were born and raised abroad. The only people you don't get to meet are the Japanese and Koreans. Their presence is rather overwhelming and therefore they don't feel the need to mingle with other people.

How is class like? It's Chinese, obviously! This means that learning is rather different than in Europe or the US. Some cultural history...

In Confucian tradition learning is about a long socialization aimed at copying the skills of the master. This is why the Chinese have so little moral difficulty with copying dvd, sigarettes and other products from the EU and US, although this is changing since China entered the WTO, but that's besides my story. Only until the master level is reached, more or less independent thinking is allowed. This word 'independent thinking' is exactely why Europe and China differ.

Entrance of the Yu Yan University 

On the campus with Tete 

In the West, because of individualism, independent learning is not something regarded as to start once a person is able to copy the master's level, but a way of life. You could call it a coping strategy if you like. If you are able to stand on your feet and regard life critically, you are able to learn. This is probably why young parents praise their child making some terrible looking drawing. It's not about the drawing itself, but about independency.

As a result, Western students are allowed to argue or differ in opinion with their teachers. Discussion at universities promote independent thinking and learns you how to become persuasive and well grounded. In China, you are not allowed to argue or to question the teacher. It is just like you can't question the governments policy here. Teacher's way of teaching or government official's policy in many occassions means 'infallible' teaching or policy (I don't know if 'infallible' is written properly).

Our class therefore mainly consists of drilling the lessons. When class begins the teacher says: Nimen hao! (Good morning) or Xuesheng hao! (Good morning students) and we have to reply in choir: Laoshi hao! (Good morning teacher) or Nin hao! (Good morning in the polity form). Then the drilling starts and will continue for 4 hours (with small breaks though). By imitation we have to learn how to write the characters, use the proper pronunciation, and combine the newly learned words into different sentences. This last aspect is the most creative one.

At Wu Dao Kou with Catherine and Alex 

I must admit, for learning a language, this is a fine way. Already after one week I was able to order some dishes in a restaurant (a colleague of mine is visiting) and ask for the price. So, in a way this system of learning works too. In everyday class, the way of teaching in many occassions leads to laughter. Many Chinese sounds are pronounced in such a way that by pronouncing them, you sound like an imbicile. But because of the character of this language study, that is, total immersion, I think I will long for the weekend every day. It's rather intensive.