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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

How fascinating everything is...

Life is fascinating. Currently, I am not even two full months in China and everything has changed around here. It's not about discovering Beijing but about living it. Actually, no news on the discovery front. As you get adapted to life, it becomes more difficult to write about it. Living in another country and another culture, makes you very observant. Everything which is different attracks your attention, from the most ordinary things (they shout here much more than in the Netherlands) to more deeper understanding, eventually. But with this deeper understanding, the observant side tends to vanish. Well, it did in my case, maybe also because I've been here more often.

What has changed dramastically recently, is the weather. Eight weeks ago we still had some snow en temperatures below zero (32 Fahrenheit). Currently it is 32 degrees Centigrade (89 Fahrenheit) and Beijing has changed from an arctic desert into a tropical garden, though still no rain. Then to imagine this weather will stay till the end of October! For those not from the Netherlands, I have to explain our Dutch passion for the weather (or maybe our national headache). We have rain all year and temperatures in summer, which starts in July, are between 16 - 25 degrees Centigrade (average; Fahrenheit 60 - 77). In fact, when we have a day with sunshine and temperatures around 25 degrees we consider ourselves to be lucky, because there are more days with rain and chilly weather, than real summer days. Early September our summer is over and a period, you best can describe as an extended autumn/fall, will follow till May/June. Very depressing and therefore the weather here surprises me. And... I like it!

Despite the beautiful weather, I have my first examination tomorrow. I don't really feel like doing it. In that respect, although adapted to Chinese life, I'm still Dutch. In Holland every day of sunshine and warm weather should be celebrated, and as a consequence the motivation to work drops almost to a minimum! (Tip for foreign businessmen dealing with the Dutch: don't call us on a nice summer day, so you might check the weather first! You can call my company though!)

Studying in summer heat 

Well, maybe I am less motivated because I have some reservations against the way they test our Chinese speaking, listening and writing ability. I agree with the 'feeding the duck' method. Because of high speed teaching your Chinese will increase very quickly. But the tests do not reflect your ability to communicate with the Chinese and comprehend the language. These two aspects recently have improved a lot. For me it is much like making a puzzle. The first pieces, although recognized as an individual tree or person, do not really make sense. They only will become to make sense when the puzzle grows and you start to recognize the whole picture. Then you see the person is picking apples from the tree.

In a way you could also say, the examination comes a bit to early for me. Okay, point taken. And... I've always said that it is not about getting the certificate and the end of the course, but about communicating with the Chinese. I should stick to this conviction.

Life in China still fascinates me, though. Compared to Europe everything seems so vibrant here. At the same time I've become to appreciate the way we Europeans spend their free time, and we have a lot of holidays and national/religious festivals. China is vibrant and full of convidence. In this respect Europe is 'Das Abendland'. As a consequence, Europeans tend to be especially good at appreciating life, such as holidays, arts and just having dinner with friends or family. We Europeans have lost our street (fighting) mentality, something the US still has and China possesses plenty, but in many ways we live a good life. I doubt that the EU can stick to its promise to become the largest economy in the year, what was it, 2010, 2020? For that we would need to give up many pleasures in live we got so used to. If to become the largest economy in the near future, we drastically need to change our mentality and create a more entrepreneurial spirit. Yes, that would involve risk and uncertainty, something Europeans had began to think of as non existent. Well, it's still out their.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Shooting Beijing

I have been making quite a few photos in the last seven weeks I am in China. Some of them are already on my site, but I found three photos that I really like and would like to share with you and which haven't been put on this site yet. Enjoy!

The photo below was taken in March when Chuang and I visited a teahouse. Because the sales lady and Chuang were discussing tea in Chinese I got bored and found it a good opportunity to take some pictures. (Click on each photo to see it full size).


The next photo was taken just in front of Beihai park, Beijing. It was a warm and misty day (smog and dust), early April. I had been following the old man for some time and tried to make a fine photo of him, which wasn't easy because there were so many people present. So I took multiple photos. Not a single one was suitable except for this one. Back home I discovered that this was indeed a good photo because of the young girl that I by accident also had stored in my digital camera. I especially like the contrast between old and young. Both beautiful faces.


The last photo also has been taken in Beihai park. I already noticed the grandfather and his grandchild but did as if I was taking a picture of the yellow jasmine flowering below. For this photo I took my time, carefully followed by grandfather and grandchild.


Saturday, April 02, 2005

Modern China

Ahead of all development China has known since 1978, when China for the first time since the establishment of the People's Republic, are the (coastal) cities. Shanghai and Shenzhen are the most well known examples. They now (almost) can compete with cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo. In Beijing the development has lacked behind aforementioned cities, but with the Olympic Games in 2008 in sight, it seems that development now is speeding up.

Other than the contruction of prestigious shopping centers, hotels and business centers, one development already has been taken place, and that is, the establishment of Western style clubs, bars and discos. At Wu Dao Kou, the place where I live, is such a 'going out' centre. Till late at night, Chinese boys and girls dance in the latest fashion in expensive clubs. I've visited a few of them and was, at first, really surprised to find these kind of clubs in Beijing. At the same time I realized I have been living like the ordinary Chinese all my previous visits. As a random visitor it is difficult to find the clubs, but living in a community of foreign students, it's very easy.

Beihai Park nearby Tian'anmen 

My picture of Beijing has changed because of this. Or maybe the word 'diversified' is better. Beijing consists of ancient China (e.g. Forbidden City), displaying the signs of communism (e.g. the Worker's Stadium). Currently, besides these symbols of China's (recent) past, classy bars, discos and clubs have emerged. It is amazing that there are people here living in the famous 'hutongs', Beijing's villages with their narrow streets, small houses, where many cook outside on coal heated stoves, and at the same time the Chinese (and many foreigners) shop in the modern airconditioned shopping malls, to have dinner at KFC and eventually to end up in Club Propaganda.

Yesterday, my new friends (see photo above) and I went to one of the most fashionable clubs to dance. In those clubs it's easy to forget that only about 200 million Chinese can afford this way of living and that another billion still work six, seven days a week for a 20 euro salary.