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11 posts categorized "Student"


What I have Learned Living in Nanjing as of 11/3/2013

I have been living in Nanjing for almost two and a half months.  A wonderful city that features the best of Chinese history and modernization efforts, Nanjing is the perfect learning environment for an intermediate mandarin speaker.  Before coming to study here there was one thing that worried me. Before I continue, I would like to take a moment to introduce my background.  I am a fifth generation Japanese-American originally from Hawaii.  As someone whose appearance very strongly resembles an ethnic Han Chinese person, I often receive puzzled looks and quizzical stares when stumbling through sentences with native Chinese speakers.  I can confidently make the claim that every time I go out in Nanjing, whether it’s coffee or a cab ride, the following interaction takes place: After fumbling through a sentence in Chinese and/or a “ting bu dong” the person I am talking to will question my nationality.  American, but this answer is never good enough since Americans can ONLY be white Caucasians (kidding), which ultimately leads to a question that I used to dread more than anything.  If you aren’t Chinese, what is your ethnicity? I used to lie.  Thai, Filipino, anything but the truth, since the truth would only turn this quick conversation sour.  


            For those unfamiliar with modern Chinese history, Nanjing is the site of the Nanjing Massacre, a devastating invasion that has stained relations between Japan and China for the past seventy five years.   On December 13th, 1937 the Imperial Japanese Army marched from Shanghai into the former Chinese capital of Nanjing.  Over the course of 6 weeks, hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians were mercilessly raped and killed by Japanese forces.  The Japanese occupied Nanjing for the next 8 years, where many more Chinese perished.  Those who survived lived in fear of their ruthless oppressors. The brutality of the war crimes committed by the Japanese almost 75 years ago paired with the many important members of the contemporary government denying such war crimes a major contributing factor to existing tension between the two countries. 


            Visiting the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, it was very clear that the Nanjing Massacre is still fresh on many people’s minds.  Survivors who witnessed the horrors of the massacre are still alive today to give their accounts of “Japanese devils” destroying their homes and families.  Walking around the Memorial Hall seeing the horrifying pictures, graphic descriptions, and videos of survivors giving their descriptions, I was entranced peculiar sensation.  It began with shame.  Shame that I shared the same bloodline as the villains who destroyed so much of China.  I can’t quite answer why I felt this way, especially since I am a fifth generation American whose family was in Hawaii long before the 1930’s and WWII.  But if anybody in the museum knew my dirty little secret, I felt that I would be the target of loathing and disgust.




            It took me a few days, maybe even a week to clear my head and make sense of the feelings I experienced in the Memorial Hall.  It finally struck me that there is absolutely no reason that I should feel inclined to hide my ethnicity or feel ashamed of whom I am.  I have no responsibility in what happened 75 years ago and I do not deny the events that happened in Nanjing.  If the natives of Nanjing found me charming as a Thai-American girl, why wouldn’t they be able to find me charming as a Japanese-American?  While I believe the former is true, I understand this can be difficult for some.  No matter where you go in the world, you will encounter people who refuse to open their minds to something contrary to what they believe. So be it, I am here to talk to anyone that is willing to listen. If people have formed a predisposed opinion that anyone with Japanese blood is terrible and untrustworthy, I want to be here to change their minds. Just as the people of China educate me through their language and culture, I want to be here to educate them in acceptance of individual character over racial stereotypes. Living in Nanjing, I learned to be confident of who I am as an individual and accept the consequences of p: a Japanese-American with a very strong affinity towards Chinese culture. 


A trip to Luo Yang



Blog post about travel in Luo Yang

During the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday in China I decided to take a solo trip to a city with a long history and many attractions. Situated on the Yellow River, the birthplace of Chinese culture, Luo Yang is an interesting city that is both old and modern. Walking down the many streets and alley ways of Luo Yang I was surprised to see more writing in traditional Chinese (繁体字) than simplified (简体字). It seems as if the city decided to keep its cultural roots and disregard the latest changes to the written script. As one would expect, a city without much simplified Chinese was also a city without much English. Another layer of confusion came from the thick accent that most of the residents of Luo Yang spoke in. Thankfully, with good signage and a helpful map, I was able to get around the city. The three big attractions of Luo Yang are the Longmen Grottos, The White Horse Temple, and the Water Banquet (The first two are historical sites and the last one a delicious medley of soup-based dishes).

 The Longmen Grottos are a set of grottos carved into the walls of a canyon with a long river running through it. There is a long staircase carved into the mountain up to a giant statue of Buddha. Both the size and scope of the grottos were breathtaking. Although the grottos were amazing, the focus of everyone around me was not on the carvings but on me. It was a unique experience in that I finally got the feeling that I was a stranger in a strange land (人生地不熟). Far from the international coast, Luo Yang doesn’t get as many foreigners as some of the other big cities in China. For the entire day at the Longmen Grottos, I ended up talking to people in both English and Chinese, snapping pictures with locals, tourists, and their babies. Needless to say, by the time I dragged myself out of the grottos I was ready for a hearty dinner of Luo Yang’s famous soups. 20130920_084645


A Reflection of My First Time Traveling Internationally

Prior to leaving for Nanjing, I had no idea what I was in store for, but I was confident that the experience was well needed. I considered myself very sheltered, not sheltered in the sense of lacking social skills or never hearing a cuss word, but sheltered in terms of lacking international experience. I knew people who had traveled abroad to multiple countries and they seemed so cultured and knowledgeable. In comparison to these people I felt left behind and even ignorant. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that studying abroad was a must for my education and my own self progression. I have seen many movies and read many books but none of them convey the actual experience of a trip abroad. Due to inevitable culture shock, I have gone through every emotion on the spectrum as if I was traveling along a Sine chart. I never knew that this could happen. As an American I thought I had lived a rather “normal” life, from growing up in suburbia, to playing sports in high school and being a college student, but I see the that idea of “normal” can only be from a perspective. From my perspective, though limited, I thought I was normal, but having entered an entirely different society I can now say that there is no normal, and if there was it would be weird because everything is different in nature. How exactly has this trip improved me for the better? Well during my range of emotional roller-coaster I have had to question my very own core of assumptions about the world. I came to question the existence of a higher being, I came to question my own attitude towards people, but most of all I came to question what I really want out of my life. As a senior my life has already settled on a career path, and I will be starting within in a few months. This trip gave me the opportunity to get out of my usual atmosphere and look at the world from an entirely new perspective. One of my favorite metaphors of life is that you are in a boat, in the middle of the sea, with no land in sight and only two oars and the current. You can let the current take you were ever it may, but that is where everything/everyone else will also end up. It is far better to make a firm decision and paddle away, every day, because sooner or later you will reach land. Only the few will make it there, but that decision to paddle makes all the difference. This trip has allowed me to confirm my decision in the direction that I am paddling and I am grateful for that, because now I will paddle even harder.



As I was applying to study abroad in China, I had a professor tell me something I will never forget: "When I studied in Spain, I didn't so much learn about how Spanish people live as I learned how American I was." At the time I did not think much of it- I know I'm American. I'm a white, Christian, middle-class male, a runner and a drummer. I love being a part of what I have always been told is the most powerful nation on earth. I also happen to be interested in languages and particularly in non-western languages like Chinese. Naturally I knew that culture and language go hand and hand, so I was eager to explore the depths of this relationship, even electing to live with a host family.


It's been several weeks now that I've lived in China, learning the language and culture from my family and teachers and I've been thinking about that lesson a lot. I never realized that in order to understand how something is different (like a culture), one must first understand the one side of the equation. Instead of noting that Chinese are crazy drivers who pay no heed to the lines on the road, I've begun to examine why my American self is so appalled by this behavior- why do I, as an American, see the Chinese style of driving as reckless and crazy? Is there something hardwired in me that says that lines in the road are meant to be stayed between and turn signals used? Along those same lines, I've also had to reconcile who I am as an intellectual being. As an American, I attend a prestigious university, and express myself very well in English- that description doesn't work in China. I'm now the outsider who can't speak the language beyond expressing yes or no and who my family members are. I've had to look at myself and see the lumbering ignoramus that the outside world sees.

That reflection has driven me to think before I judge. I am an American and I will have certain opposing ideas about how the world should run, but these are not necessarily the best ideas for every situation. In the eyes of the Chinese people around me, I know nothing about how they live and their values. My goal is to change that perception ever closer to the Chinese way of seeing the world in the coming weeks.


Learning to be Brave

In Nanjing, I learned to bravely adapt to this society and fearlessly question my thoughts.  When I first began to study Mandarin, my professor informed me that I had to be ready to embarrass myself and do things I did not think I could do. I had to be ready to change the way I thought about communicating. She was never more right than now. In Nanjing, I am forced to do honor her way of thinking.

In the beginning, I was faced with many problems. Every time I went somewhere new or not so new, I got lost. Everywhere I went, people stared like they had never seen a black person before—maybe they had not. Most times when I spoke with people, they did not completely understand me because of my bad pronunciation and grammar. Also, I could not understand them because of the Nanjing dialect. Obviously, this was really frustrating.

However, I learned to buck up pretty quickly. Now, when I get lost, I ask for directions. I’m not completely disappointed in myself either. I consider it a good way to get to know the city and meet new people. When people stare, I greet them so they know I'm not an alien. They may have plenty of questions about my “unique” features, home country, and reasons for coming to China. I do not think of it as annoying, but rewarding because I helped them learn something that they may have never learned understood had they not met me. Not many Chinese people travel or get to see people of different races often, like I do, so I understand their curiosity and appreciate it. Also, my Chinese has gotten much better with many embarrassing moments. I have learned to persevere through some of the most mentally strenuous situations in my life—and it has been fun.

Also, in explaining myself and my own society in America to others, I have learned more about myself. I have learned to think about things in a way that I never thought about before. In explaining how I could be American and African at the same time, I thought about how I come from a country of immigrants (mostly European immigrants). I forgot that there is no such thing as ancient or medieval United States. Also, I am saying things that I never thought I would say before.  When chatting with a friend, I talked about wanting to watch a certain movie. He reminded me I could just go watch online. Then, I suddenly said, “Oh yeah I forgot China was free!”  Right after saying it, I had to think about what that meant. I meant that all forms of art are free, but I realized there are laws in both China and the United States that prevent art from being free in different ways. I had never thought in this way before. This experience has challenged me to confidently contradict myself and try relentlessly.  


Parks and Recreation

Spring has arrived and it's showing its colors all over China! 

Traveling around Shanghai a couple weekends ago opened my eyes to the Chinese love of nature, and more specificallly, of parks. Shanghai is a city that is renowned for its skyscrapers, nightlife, and modern architectural designs, but it should also be known for the shear amount of beautifully landscaped recreational parks. I was happy to see that in a city that is the symbol of the current China’s modernization, there was detail put into the city that would bring nature back into the concrete jungle. The plum blossoms that are just beginning to bloom and the flourishing white and pink magnolia trees were bearers of instant joy and happiness, also a reminder that spring has finally arrived.

What I really enjoyed about the parks in Shanghai was the fact that everyone, and I mean everyone, from newborns to teenagers to elderly grandparents, were gathered together, enjoying the services that the parks were providing. It seemed that these parks were always in use, no matter the time, and were always the center for multiple activities. In one corner of the park, grandmas and grandpas were singing at the top of their lungs, a song probably from their teenage years, and around them were many singing along; in another corner there would be families flying kites; another corner there would be old men debating the latest hot topics of China.


For most of the parks that I visited in Shanghai, about three or four in total, there was always a little section of people dancing. The dancing that I saw included salsa and some sort of slow motion glide dancing. For the salsa, there were young and old couples, and for those who weren’t a couple, mostly ladies, they just danced with the others who didn’t have a partner. The slow motion dancing was by far the sweetest and most endearing dancing I saw. In the background played old Chinese pop music that was slow and melodic, and these older adults and senior citizens would just be taking their time, feeling the music, and as if gliding, “dancing” to the music. There was one man in particular that stole the show for me - he would shimmy his shoulders to the music, and though his body was moving slowly, his shoulders and upper body were quick timing with the song. It was so fun to just watch these people dance and move to their hearts’ content.

From what I remember of the States, or I should say, of California, parks aren’t nearly as popular as they seem to be in China. On any given day, one can go to a local park and find communities of people enjoying the great outdoors. It’s as if parks are a second home for some. I talked to my friend’s mother who lives in Hunan province but visiting her family in Shanghai, and she told me how she goes to the park everyday, to meet up with her park friends, do exercises, dance, and be outside. From the way she was talking, it seemed like it was the way she loved to start her day. In sunny California, it seems a day at the park is a planned activity – a picnic, a concert, or whatever reason. The joys of exploring and going to a park don’t seem to be ingrained in the culture as it seems to be in China.

What was also lovely about my park hopping, was seeing the community engaging with each other, getting together with neighbors, meeting new friends, bonding with family, taking pictures of flowers, and being awe-struck by the natural beauty that surrounds them. Parks, I feel, in their essence, are supposed to do just that – provide a space that is open to all. They have a way of providing a joy, a freedom, that is hard to find elsewhere - especially when traffic and city life are everywhere – and a reminder to live a simpler, more community-oriented life.




Project Panda: Adventure in Chengdu

             I fidgeted in my seat like an impatient child, completely unable to conceal my enthusiasm.  “We’re in Chengdu, we’re in Chengdu…” I repeated breathlessly to Sam and JR, who were seated on either side of me in the plane.  I glanced at Brian and Kayleigh (seated a few rows ahead of us) and we exchanged excited smiles.  I had been researching, preparing for, and anticipating this trip ever since I found out that it was possible to hug a panda in Chengdu.  I had always dreamt of petting a panda, but I assumed that it was illegal to touch an endangered species.  But hugging one?  That seemed too good to be true! 


            We deplaned in a hurry because our flight had been delayed and a driver from the hostel was waiting to pick us up.  The five of us immediately dozed off in the van, waking up at Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel an hour later.  The hostel was a really neat place, complete with serene Zen gardens, friendly cats and rabbits, and a delicious restaurant.  We stayed in an eight-person dorm room, complete with bunk beds, bathroom, and shower.  I had a bottom bunk adorned with pink silk curtains for privacy.  All of us were exhausted from traveling and a long day of school, so we knocked out as soon as our heads hit the pillows. 


            The following day, I woke up bright and early with my mind in panda-monium.  Although I felt like my heart was fit to burst with excitement, I was my usual slow-moving, non-morning person self and missed breakfast.  Completely undeterred, I grabbed a tangerine as we ran out to hail a couple of cabs.  After just a short half an hour ride through the city, we arrived at the Chengdu Panda Base.  I had been in contact with a private tour guide for weeks before the trip, and we met her near the front entrance at 8:20 AM.  I had hired her for the day and paid out of my own pocket as a gift to my friends; I wanted all of us to get the most out of our rare opportunity.  Our guide’s name was Vanessa, and she was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.  She had pre-purchased our tickets and passes for us so our day went very smoothly, and she was able to answer any questions we had. 

            We first signed our lives away on waivers, then were led behind-the-scenes for our “volunteering.”  The volunteering was essentially the chance to be “panda keeper for a day,” and cost 700 kuai per person to participate (so therefore wasn’t exactly volunteering…).  The five of us were lucky enough to be the only ones volunteering that day, and thus had a longer, more intimate experience with the pandas.  The first panda that we saw was a dashing fellow named Dian Dian, pacing about in his dark enclosure.  I almost cried in pure joy and disbelief because I was actually getting the opportunity to be so close to one of my favorite animals.  The next two pandas we met were Da Da and Xiao Xiao, the twin teenage sisters.  We fed apple slices to the pandas off of a long stick of bamboo, watching delightedly as the bears gobbled them up.  Xiao Xiao was my favorite; she would delicately bite the apple off of the stick then cover her mouth with a paw, as if trying to be polite while she chewed.  We also fed them “panda mooncakes,” which were essentially mooncake-shaped wads made of wholesome ingredients.  We were given a few slices to sample, and it tasted exactly like damp cardboard.  I was so hungry from skipping breakfast, though, that I finished my piece and ate my friends’ ones too.  We would dangle the mooncakes right above the pandas’ noses so that they would stand on their hind legs, which was extremely adorable.  The twins were good at it, but Dian Dian was so lazy that he would just sit halfway up, swat the mooncake into his mouth, then sink back to chew sprawled on his back. 





            After the fun part came the dirty work: cleaning up the panda enclosures.  Upon entering we were asked to wear shoe covers, plastic gloves, and blue protective gowns.  Although they made us look goofy, they came in handy when dealing with soggy bamboo and panda poop.  We used teamwork to clean out the twins’ enclosure, forming a train to pass the dirty bamboo from person to person before finally loading it onto a cart.  Then we scooped up the poop, which really just smelled and looked like bamboo.  I learned that giant pandas only digest about 18% of the food that they intake, which is why they must eat so much but also why their poop is essentially just clumps of chewed bamboo.  Despite the fact that we were shoveling dung and sodden leaves, we actually had a lot of fun with this part of volunteering.  How many people can say that they have scooped panda poop?



IMG_1043             When we had finished with the cleaning and feeding, it was time for the most exciting part of my day!  We pulled off our soiled gowns, thanked the panda keepers, and headed over to the Sunshine Nursery area.  Brian and I were the only ones who were willing to drop 1,300 kuai on panda hugging (in my opinion a small price for my wildest dream come true).  The others explored the nursery area while Brian and I filled out forms and suited up in the blue gowns again.  We were last in a long line of 外国人 (foreigners) waiting for the ultimate panda experience.  At last, our torturous wait was over and the keepers carried out an adorable black and white bundle of fur named 双喜 (Double Happiness/ Fortune).  Although only a year old, the little girl already weighed about 90 pounds.  One of the keepers had a jar of gooey honey and was dunking sticks of bamboo inside, handing them to 双喜to keep her occupied.  Brian and I decided to use my camera for pictures and his for taking a video, as to maximize our souvenir memorabilia.  I watched as the people before us carefully sat beside the baby panda and posed for tentative pictures, only nervously inching closer if urged to do so.  Finally, it was my turn.  I felt my heart fluttering as I walked up to the baby giant panda and sat down beside her.  Our eyes  met for a second then 双喜 went right back to gnawing on her snack, completely indifferent to me cuddling right up into her soft fur.   I literally had my face pressed up against her fluffy cheek, which seemed to surprise the keepers because the other people had been so hesitant.  At one point 双喜 yanked off a chunk of bamboo with her teeth and accidentally hit me with her face, to the amusement of everyone watching.  I was so happy that I was actually hugging a real live panda that I could scarcely contain my excitement.  Talk about my wildest dreams come true!  And to my utmost delight, pandas are indeed just as soft and cuddly as they look. The keepers seemed to give me a longer amount of time because I was enjoying my time with 双喜 so much.  After my time was up, I still could not believe that I had just cuddled with one of the cutest, most endangered species in the entire world.  Even now I still can’t believe that I actually hugged a real panda! 



            We received official certificates and panda sweatshirts as a thank you for our donation to the Panda Base.  I was so excited that I was literally jumping up and down with an absurdly large smile pasted on my face.  And my excitement only grew when Vanessa showed us the nursery with five little baby pandas sleeping in a crib.  Some were no larger than a loaf of bread, and all of them were heart-meltingly adorable.  They looked no different than the stuffed animals being sold in the gift shops.  We stopped off for lunch after that; I was so famished that I finished a whole plate of egg fried rice.  Then Vanessa led us to the red panda exhibits, where were so much fun!  Red pandas are just bundles of playful, fluffy adorableness.  The red pandas were chasing each other around, pouncing on each other, rearing up on their hind legs, and leaping from tree to tree.  They were so entertaining to watch and their antics spread contagious laughter to all of the spectators.  I took so many pictures that I used up an entire 8-gigabyte memory card at the Chengdu Panda Base alone! 




            We took a van from the Panda Base to downtown, where we visited the famous Jinli Ancient Street.  All five of us were out cold for the entire hour-long drive, exhausted from our early morning start and all of the day’s excitement.  Jinli is a refurbished ancient street that sells many traditional specialty crafts including shadow puppets, eggshell artwork, spicy peppers, hand-made jewelry, straw weavings, sugar art, and of course pandas.  So of course, out of all the neat shops to choose from, the first place we ducked into would be a Starbucks.  Although not exactly the most traditional choice, Kayleigh and I had been craving the holiday peppermint hot chocolate for weeks.  It’s a personal tradition for me to get what I call “Christmas in a cup,” which heralds the arrival of the holiday season.  And it was definitely nice sipping a warm cup of Christmas as we wandered the chilly alleys, exploring every fascinating nook and cranny.  The street was a lot of fun to ramble through because of the beautiful cultural context, and we spent several hours weaving in and out of shops and stands. 


            Hunger kicked in at around 8:00 PM and Vanessa brought us to eat famous Sichuan hot pot.  I was worried because I have zero spice tolerance, but luckily Vanessa ordered us a huge pot of “超辣” (the most extreme level of spiciness) with a smaller pot of clear broth in the center.  Sam and JR absolutely loved the dangerously spicy concoction, but Kayleigh, Brian, and I were more content with cooking our food in the plain soup.  However, JR made a tempting wager with me: if I ate a big piece of 白菜 (Chinese cabbage) that had been soaking in the spicy soup, he would give me 300 kuai.  The stipulations were that I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything for five minutes afterwards.  Still hesitant, I didn’t agree to the bet until Sam upped the ante to 500 kuai total.  I tentatively stuffed the hot vegetable into my mouth, chewing slowly and swallowing the fiery juices.  As the heat blossomed in my mouth, I began to realize just what a mess I’d gotten myself into.  My mouth had never before been in so much pain, and I hope it never will be again.  There was searing fire in my mouth and throat, and even on the skin around my lips.  I literally had tears and snot running down my red face, and my mouth was salivating like a waterfall.  Those were probably the most painful five minutes of my life; every second on Sam’s phone timer felt like an eternity.  Finally five minutes was up and I shoveled white rice into my mouth then chugged an entire bottle of water in one go.  The spicy pain in my mouth was just barely assuaged by the sweetness of the cash in my hand.  But it was definitely a memorable spicy Sichuan experience.  We took cabs back to the hostel after that, bidding farewell to Vanessa.  Sam and Brian bought burgers from the hostel restaurant because they were still hungry, and the rest of us just tucked in for an early night. 



            I had the hardest time waking up the following day, but eventually Sam and JR’s efforts succeeded.  I groggily showered and washed up, then we all headed down to the hostel restaurant for a leisurely breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast.  We headed out at around 11:00 AM, flagging down a taxi outside of the hostel.  JR and I said we would hop in the next one we found so Sam, Kayleigh, and Brian got in and headed to the People’s Garden.  But there was no next one.  Out of the few empty taxis that we were able to hail, all of them turned us down.  JR and I were forced to find and figure out the bus system, asking police officers and strangers for directions.  Although it was a bit troublesome, it was great practice for my Chinese and I was really proud that we were able to communicate and find our way.  We finally found the famous People’s Garden, which was gorgeous with its bright yellow ginko trees.  There were many activities going on in the park like small shops (I bought a turquoise stone bracelet), group dancing, karaoke, finger-painting, water calligraphy, photography, and much more.  Some of the more unusual sights included a man sitting with a beautiful rooster perched on his lap and a lady in a pink ball gown and very hairy armpits singing terrible karaoke.  JR and I wandered around taking pictures until we located the Teahouse, where we found the others relaxing with some fresh tea.  I ordered some Oolong Tea and sipped it as we lounged in the garden on a lovely, blue-sky day.  When we had finished several cups of tea (and subsequently visited the restroom), we found a small stand where a woman was making sugar syrup art.  She would take hot syrup and pour it into a design, then press a stick into it to make an elaborate lollipop.  I requested a dragon one, and the complex and delicious sugar art was only 4 kuai.




            After leaving the People’s Garden, I pulled out a map I had taken from the front desk of the hostel and we oriented ourselves with the nearby roads.  We found that we were actually very close to our next destination: Kuan-Zhai Lane.  Only about a ten-minute walk away, Kuan-Zhai Lane was another place that was great for souvenir shopping.  As hungry and responsible adults, we decided to have dessert before lunch.  We stopped at a gelato placed called Koko and indulged; I had one scoop of matcha and one of fresh milk gelato.  After shopping around some more, we decided to stop for a real meal at a small Sichuan cuisine restaurant.  I ordered 白味(non-spicy) Chengdu dumplings in soup, which ended up being very good.  We found another Starbucks afterwards and I got my same peppermint hot chocolate to warm up.  Then we explored the alleyways lined with little shops.  I ended up purchasing a set of panda silverware for my roommate and a panda ice tray for myself. 




            When I walked out of the panda store, I found Brian, Kayleigh, JR, and Sam sitting perfectly still on a wall in front of a restaurant.  This was one of our silly games that we’ve named “manikin-ing,” in which you sit as still as possible to try and get people to notice.  Kayleigh and Brian got up to leave, but Sam and JR continued sitting still as statutes.  Instead of forcing them to move, I handed my DSLR camera to Kayleigh. 


            “I blend in,” I whispered excitedly, “I’m going to pretend that I’m a local!”  Brian was immediately in on the plan and took out his camera to record the whole episode.  Suppressing my laughter, I made a big show of running excitedly towards Sam and JR squealing, “哇!好帅啊!帅哥!老外!可以帮我拍照片吗?”  (“Wow!  So handsome!  Handsome guys!  Foreigners!  Can you help me take a picture?”)  Kayleigh snapped pictures while I did my best to dramatically fawn over our frozen friends, making a big deal out of the situation in hope of attracting attention.  It worked.  People began curiously stopping to investigate, laughing at the two handsome young white boys sitting motionless on a wall.  Eventually the Chinese people, especially young girls, began gathering enough courage to take pictures with JR and Sam as I had done.  Every time there was a lull in the crowd, I would hand my camera to Kayleigh and repeat my ridiculous fan girl dialogue.  It was absolutely hilarious!  We couldn’t have guessed how big a crowd we would attract, though; the lane literally became clogged with people struggling for a look at our manikin-ing friends.  JR and Sam did a surprisingly excellent job of staying perfectly motionless, not even cracking smiles (except for a couple of slip-ups).  They later explained their methods: Sam was biting his tongue very hard and JR was doing complex quadratic equations with square roots in his head.  I eventually urged the crowd to be bolder by running up to the two of them and touching their faces, repeating, “好帅!” (“So handsome!”).  One young lady shoved her camera into her boyfriend’s hands and essentially fell in love with Sam, using him as a prop to model on and cupping his chin to gaze into his eyes.  Another lady put her fuzzy leopard-spotted hat on JR’s head and used her finger to slowly draw down his bottom lip (to our amusement and horror).  Following my lead, many other Chinese people (including children) ran up to the two frozen foreigners and posed with them, often trying to make them laugh.  At one point Brian put his coffee in Sam’s hand, and the crowd went wild with laughter when Sam moved it to his mouth and took a sip.  After about half an hour, a crowd of at least seventy people had amassed around JR and Sam.  People were holding cellphones, video recorders, and cameras above the heads of the crowd to get pictures of them.  It was strangely bizarre to see our friends become immediately famous in a small Chengdu lane.  Eventually, I heard Sam and JR complaining out of the corners of their mouths about being in pain from sitting too long.  Handing my camera to Kayleigh yet again, I took each of them by the hand and pulled them off of the wall.  In my mind, we would have just made a clean escape by walking away without looking back, but that’s not what happened at all.  Somewhere in that half an hour I had tied JR’s shoelaces together to make the crowd laugh, and Sam’s legs had gone to sleep.  Both boys nearly fell when I pulled them off of the wall, and we had to fumblingly gather our belongings and stumble away.  It was still such an amazingly memorable and purely unforgettable experience, though.  I was laughing so hard the entire time!






            We took a bus back to Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel and rested for a little bit in our room.  We grabbed a quick dinner of pizza at the restaurant, then were picked up at 7:30 for a Sichuan Opera show.  Again, I knocked out in the van so I only remember waking up at the small theater.  The show was a really wonderful experience!  It contained acts like Sichuan opera singing, shadow hand puppets, traditional Chinese instruments, goofy comedy, mask and clothes changing, balancing and acrobatics.  It was actually a very fascinating show and I am glad we got to go and see some traditional aspects of Sichuanese culture.  The only terrible part about the night was that Brian got terrible food poisoning, and I felt really bad about that.  The van took us back to the hostel and Brian went straight to bed, while the rest of us took a taxi to the bar district just to explore.  It wasn’t very interesting so we headed back rather soon afterwards, trying to catch what sleep we could get because we had to head back to the airport at 5:30 AM. 






            The following morning, we got up at 5:00 AM to pack and get ready to leave.  We loaded into the van and naturally fell asleep instantly.  About an hour later, we arrived back at the airport.  I was really sad to be leaving Chengdu because the carefree explorations were so much fun, and we had just barely scratched the surface of this fascinating city.  Sam, JR, and I said goodbye to Kayleigh and Brian because they had a later flight, then the three of us sleepily made our way through check-in and security.  JR and I bought red bean pancakes and a matcha and red bean pastry roll from Ganso, which we munched on while sitting at the gate.  We groggily boarded the plane a half an hour later and I stared out of the window, half hoping that the plane would break so that we could stay in Chengdu for one more day.  As we took off and ascended through the cloud cover, I watched color bloom into the dim sky as the sun peeked over the clouds.  I leaned back in my seat with a contented smile perched on my lips, laughing to myself as I replayed memories from the trip in my head.  I could not have asked for a better Chengdu expedition; it was everything I had fantasized and more.  I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to take this dream trip with some of my closest friends, and that we were able to share this extraordinary experience.  This semester has honestly been one of the biggest blessings in my life and I will never, ever forget it.        


On Living Abroad

La version française de ce blog se trouve plus bas, si vous préférez lire en VO.

I wrote this blog both in French and English, so that my friends and family back home can read it as well as all my English-speaking my classmates.

                On my first day in China, my plane landed in Shanghai. I then took the train from Shanghai to Nanjing. I took a cab from the Pudong airport in order to get to the train station, and hence had the first of the many culture shocks I would experience in the ninety days leading up to today. The cab was constantly changing lanes on the highway and speeding past every other car, ranking up there with the New York taxis in the rating of most frightening car experiences I have ever had. I have since learnt that my driver was in all likeliness not actually out of his mind, but that it is rather customary for cabs in China and drivers in general to somewhat ignore traffic laws and what Westerners would consider common driving courtesy.

When I left France for the US two years ago, I was prepared to live a completely different life, and was warned about culture shock from many of Penn’s faculty worried about their international freshmen. It was, however, nothing compared to what I have experienced in China. Living abroad in the US has been different from France mostly because of the way people consider me, much more than because cultural differences between me and American students led to incomprehension or conflict. We are all Westerners, and I have rapidly learnt about how to bridge the few differences that existed between American people and me. Paradoxically, living in the US has mostly changed me by making me more aware of my French heritage than I ever was. People in the US see the French person in me before they see Rodolphe. For instance, all you American readers out there probably just thought something along the lines of “What a strange name. Silly French people.” I have hence started playing on that, acting foreign enough that American people see something different and somewhat exotic in me, but not too different that they would not treat me like they would fellow Americans.  That is to say, I can understand American culture and behavior and never have any problem interacting with Americans and making friends in the US, but anything I do that might seem weird if I actually was American is dismissed with a simple “French people !”

This is quite different in China. I have been here almost three months now, and have travelled to several places in China – Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing of course, and the Silk Road – and yet am still in the process of understanding China. The first and foremost thing to remember is that of course, anything I say about Chinese people in general is only a generalization and is different on an individual level. I am only pointing out general trends one would not find in Western countries.  There are many of those. Most of you probably already know about the surprising aspects of China. For instance, people might push you in the street or bump into and have absolutely no regard for you, not even turning around to apologize. Or going into a shop, the vendor will likely say neither hello nor thank you. And, contrary to something many Westerners think, Chinese people do not apologize all the time. I realized that I apologize much more in English than I ever do in Chinese. These differences used to bother me a lot, as I could not understand them and did not know how to relate to them. Then a few days ago, I realized that it seemed that most Chinese people act as if everyone was one big family. Paradoxically, one is not as polite with people he loves as with people he does not care about. I swear at my friends – admittedly jokingly – much more than I ever would strangers. If I cut in line in front of my family members they will most likely not care. Chinese people, especially older people, love to give advice to younger people, much like grandparents would with their grandchildren. I used to find it annoying that complete strangers would tell me what I should do, but since I started to think that they probably kind of considered me as family, I appreciate their advice much more. It also explains why people I just met feel comfortable telling me that I am handsome, in the same way a cousin or an aunt would, without any flirting connotations to it. Habits that used to seem rude to me now remind me that Chinese culture seems to simply see less barriers between people than Westerners do.

Living abroad in China and in the US have been completely different experiences. China took longer to get accustomed to, and still sometimes requires effort to understand, probably because of how different it is from France. On the other hand, French and US culture are close enough and I have spent enough time in the US that I have now internalized American culture and do not need to think about it to react to American customs. I hope that I might one day do the same with China.



Lors de mon arrivée en Chine, mon avion atterrit à Shanghai, d’où je devais prendre un train jusqu’à Nanjing. Je pris un taxi pour aller de Pudong jusqu’à la gare, et c’est ainsi que j’eus mon premier choc culturel. Il s’ensuivit bien d’autres dans les quatre-vingt dix jours suivants, jusqu’aujourd’hui. Le taxi ce jour-là changeait constamment de file sur l’autoroute et dépassait les autres voitures à toute vitesse. A part peut-être dans les taxis new yorkais, je n’ais jamais été aussi effrayé en voiture. Depuis, j’ai appris que le conducteur ce jour-là n’était pas ivre ou complètement dingue, mais qu’il est normal en Chine pour les conducteurs en général et les chauffeurs de taxis en particulier d’ignorer la plupart des lois de la route et ce que la plupart des Occidentaux considèrerait comme étant la moindre des politesses lorsqu’ils conduisent.

                Quand je suis parti de France pour aller étudier aux Etats-Unis il y a deux ans, je m’étais préparé à vivre une vie complètement différente, et j’avais été averti par de nombreux membres de l’Université de Pennsylvanie –  inquiets  pour leurs étudiants de première année – que je pouvais m’attendre à être surpris par certaines facettes de la culture américaine. Cependant, ce n’était rien en comparaison à ce que j’ai vécu en Chine. Au fond, il y a peu de différences culturelles entre Américains et Français : nous sommes tous occidentaux, et les quelques différences qui m’ont étonnées au début de mes études aux Etats-Unis ont rapidement été comblés. Ce qui me pousse à agir différemment aux Etats-Unis qu’en France c’est plus la façon dont les gens me considèrent, me perçoive. Paradoxalement, vivre aux Etats-Unis me fait plus penser à ce que « être Français » signifie que vivre en France n’aurait pu le faire. Les Américains voient plus en moi l’ambassadeur de la culture Française que Rodolphe. J’ai donc commencé à jouer là-dessus, agissant de façon exagérément étrange pour paraître légèrement exotique aux yeux des Américains. C’est ce que je fais par exemple en écrivant ce blog à la fois en Anglais et en Français. De cette façon, je n’ai que très rarement de conflit due à des différences de culture avec les Américains, mais cela me permet aussi d’agir de façon que je ne permettrais pas en France, puisque si cela est trop inapproprié les Américains le considèreront simplement comme une habitude de Français et ne m’en voudront d’agir de façon inhabituelle.

                Ce n’est pas le cas en China. Cela fait trois mois que je suis ici,  j’ai été dans diverses parties de la Chine – Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing bien sûr, et la Route de la Soir – et pourtant il y a encore des jours où j’ai du mal à comprendre la Chine. Avant tout, je voudrais simplement rappeler que tout ce dont je parle ici ne sont que des généralisations et ne s »applique pas toujours au niveau individuel. Je ne fais que rapporter ici des habitudes que de nombreux Chinois avaient et qui m’ont surpris. Par exemple, pour ceux qui ne sont pas familier avec la Chine, on est souvent bousculé dans la rue par quelqu’un de pressé qui ne voit pas l’intérêt de s’excuser. De la même façon lorsque je vais dans un magasin il est généralement inutile de dire bonjour ou merci, le vendeur lui-même ne s’encombrant que rarement de ces politesses. Contrairement à ce que la plupart des Occidentaux pensent, les Chinois ne s’excusent que rarement. Je m’excuse bien plus souvent lorsque je parle Français ou Anglais que lorsque je parle Chinois. Ces différences culturelles me dérangeaient beaucoup car je ne pouvais pas les comprendre et ne savais pas comment y réagir. Mais il y a quelques jours, je me suis aperçu que la façon dont les Chinois agissent semble indiquer qu’ils considèrent que nous faisons tous partie d’une grande famille. Paradoxalement, on est bien moins poli avec sa famille et ses amis qu’avec  des étrangers. Je jure bien plus avec des amis – en plaisantant ça va de soi – qu’en présence d’étrangers. Il importe peu à ma famille que je les double dans une file d’attente. Les Chinois, particulièrement d’un certain âge, adorent donner des conseils aux plus jeunes, de la même façon que des parents ou des grands-parents pourraient donner des conseils à leurs enfants. Cela m’énervait, mais maintenant que je pense qu’ils me considèrent probablement plus ou moins comme un membre de leur famille, j’apprécie leurs conseils. Cela explique aussi pourquoi des Chinois que je connaissais à peine n’avaient pas de problèmes à me dire qu’ils me trouvaient beau même s’ils avaient la double de mon âge : c’est ce qu’un cousin ou une tante ferait, ils n’avaient aucune arrière-pensées. Des habitudes culturelles qui me troublaient au début du semestre me semblent maintenant simplement être le témoignage du fait que les Chinois voient beaucoup moins de barrières entre les gens que les Occidentaux.

                Vivre en Chine et aux Etats-Unis, bien que tout les deux à l’étranger, à été complètement différent. J’ai mis longtemps à comprendre et à accepter les habitudes Chinoises, peut-être parce qu’elles étaient si différentes des habitudes françaises. Quant aux Etats-Unis, j’y ai passé suffisamment de temps et leur culture était suffisamment proche de la culture française pour avoir ne même plus avoir à penser à comment réagir à des situations typiquement américaines qui auraient pu me surprendre il y a deux ans. J’espère pouvoir un jour faire la même chose avec la Chine.



The camera isn't tilted, the wall is. C'est la muraille qui est penchée, pas la caméra.



Brian, Kris and I at Kunlung Monastery. Brian, Kris et moi au monastère de Kunlung.


Picture in 1000 Words


        After being in China for over two months I have noticed many different styles of restaurant and side food markets, some of which were very well kept and clean, but many were very dirty and seemed to be rather unsanitary.  Because of these vast differences I decided to look further into the laws which regulate the cleanliness of these businesses.  The photo I chose is from a small street-side restaurant.  The picture shows one chef preparing a dish.  What the picture doesn’t show is how this is the only station for cooking food, and the pan is not always washed in between cooking each dish.  It also depicts how dirty and unsanitary the surrounds of the restaurant are.  After observing the quality of the restaurant and how sanitary it seemed, I wanted to look deeper into the laws that regulate and keep the food quality safe for the consumers and how they have changed and improved over the past years.

            Up until the Cultural Revolution there were not many laws regulating the safety and quality of food.  On November 21, 1949 the Ministry of Health was established in the People’s Republic of China.  This contained sixteen different departments and did not only focus on the safety and quality of the food to protect the people of illness caused by bad nutrition.  The Ministry of Health consists of mandates that drafts laws and propose health programs.  They educate the public on health prevention and make sure health-care in safe.  Along with the health-care regulations, they also create food quality protocols.  The Ministry of Health was the start of China’s food quality control (Zhu, Chen. "Ministry of Health").[1]

            The first real push towards a food safety law was conducted in 1965, just prior the Cultural Revolution.  It was called the Regulations on Administration of Food Hygiene.  These laws mainly focused on the food supply, and not on the safety and quality of the food being produced.  Being formulated in the year prior to the Cultural Revolution, these laws didn’t last.  Due to the fall of the legal system during the Cultural Revolution, the Regulations on Administration of Food Hygiene failed (Bian Yongmin, “The Challenges for Food Safety in China”).[2]

            During the Cultural Revolution all of the food production and distribution companies were controlled and run by the state, so there were few problems with the quality of the food.  The food was produced traditionally, which reduced the chances of a safety problem.  Following the end of the Cultural Revolution and the rise new legal systems and economic reforms, China was able to further themselves in the world of hygienic foods.  In 1979 China formulated the Regulations on the Administration of Food Hygiene (Bian Yongmin, “The Challenges for Food Safety in China”).[3] The Food Hygiene Law of the People’s Republic of China was first drafted in 1979.  Over the next decade it was edited and revised multiple times.  The first time was three years after the founding in 1982, and then on October 30, 1995 the final revisions were added to the law to make it what it is today.  The law consists of nine chapters; General Provisions, The Safety of Food, The Safety of Food Additives, The Sanitation and Safety of Food Containers, Packaging Materials, Utensils and Equipment, The Formulation of Food Hygienic Standards and Regulations, Food Safety Control, Food Safety Inspection and Supervision, Legal Liability, and Supplementary Provisions.  The main point of this law is to “ensure food safety, prevent food contamination and hazardous factors from doing harm to humans, and to guarantee people's health and improve people's physique” "Food Hygiene Law of the People’s Republic of China").[4] Other factors of this law consist of random government inspections to ensure that everyone is abiding by these laws.  Also, the quality of food must be safe and the environment in which the food is produced and distributed must follow a strict hygienic law ("Food Hygiene Law of the People’s Republic of China").[5]

            With the Food Hygiene Law in effect, China’s food quality rose greatly and there were far fewer food problems occurring among the population.  It was looking very successful until a major food safety scandal arose.  In September of 2008, a toxic chemical called Melamine was discovered in a company’s powdered milk products.  After much investigation, it was found that people in the Sanlu Group, the company’s name, were guilty of contaminating the powder and many were imprisoned and a few were executed ("Timeline: China Milk Scandal").[6]  Because of this scandal China decided to improve the Food Hygiene Law.

            On June 1, 2009 the Food Safety Law was drafted and it took the place of the previous Food Hygiene Law that was being used in the past. The Law contained everything the Hygiene Law contained, but broadened its scope to cover more areas to prevent another food safety scandal from arising. The law made stricter laws regarding food additives, and now requires every company to keep a personal record of inspections done internally.  Also, this law got rid of the inspection exemption policy; no company is exempted from a government inspection.  If there is another scandal and a product is found unsafe, the government is now able to recall the entire product and remove it from the shelves to prevent further illness.  As of now, the Food Safety Law is the most up to date (Ho, Bing. "New Food Safety Law Brings Sweeping Changes to the PRC Food Industry").[7]

            It is very evident how China’s food quality and safety measures have increased through the back few decades.  China started out very unhygienic and through reforms and laws brought it self to be a cleaner country.  Although China has made giant steps in the right direction, I believe, from what I have observed while being here, China still has room for improvement.

[1] Zhu, Chen. "Ministry of Health." 

[2] Bian Yongmin, “The Challenges for Food Safety in China”,

[3] Bian Yongmin, “The Challenges for Food Safety in China”.

[4] "Food Hygiene Law of the People’s Republic of China." 

[5] "Food Hygiene Law of the People’s Republic of China." 

[6] "Timeline: China Milk Scandal."

[7] Ho, Bing. "New Food Safety Law Brings Sweeping Changes to the PRC Food Industry." 


Bian Yongmin, “The Challenges for Food Safety in China”, China perspectives, May- June 2004, Accessed Web. 4 Nov. 2012. <>.

Ho, Bing. "New Food Safety Law Brings Sweeping Changes to the PRC Food Industry." Bakermckenzie. N.p., Apr.-Jun. 2009. Accessed Web. 4 Nov. 2012. <>.

"Food Hygiene Law of the People’s Republic of China." Food Hygiene Law of the People's Republic of China. N.p., 30 Oct. 1995. Accessed Web. 03 Nov. 2012. <>.

"Timeline: China Milk Scandal." BBC News. N.p., 25 Jan. 2010. Accessed Web. 4 Nov. 2012. <>.

Zhu, Chen. "Ministry of Health." Ministry of Health. N.p., 22 Dec. 2009. Accessed Web. 03 Nov. 2012. <>.



No, Really, I'm American.

Before I begin, I’d like to clarify that I’m greatly enjoying my time in China, and that the part of my experience I’m going to describe is just that: a part of a much larger and more significant experience.

When I came to China, I had expected to be noticed as a foreigner, an outsider, and an American. I’d heard rumors and firsthand experiences of how Americans were treated in China, ranging from “the celebrity treatment” of photos and autographs from native Chinese around every corner to a shutting-out sort of feeling accompanied by the sentiment of “you’re American...why are you here?” What I had prepared myself for, though, was completely unlike what I received. I will have been in China one month tomorrow, and I have still yet to be asked if I am (or assumed to be) American. I’ve been asked if I’m Russian, Italian, and (in a case of which we still haven’t made sense) Japanese. I’ve been asked how many months or years I’ve been here (though only before I start to speak in my broken Mandarin), and people occasionally can’t place me at all and go for the nice, safe, general “ 你是从哪一个国家来的?" (Which country are you from?) but never whether I'm American. Several people I've directly told that I was American have refused to believe me, one of them even beginning to laugh and telling me that he met another Russian once, too, and I share her sense of humor.

At first, I felt almost cheated by this...part of the reason Americans go abroad is to find out more about the experience of being an American abroad, and I was watching my friends have that experience, which I felt I was being denied. Eventually, almost three and a half weeks in, it hit me. The experience of being an American studying abroad isn’t just the experience of being recognized as an American abroad. The experience of being an American in China also includes my experience, of total and alienating expatriation, whereby a nationality is ascribed to you according to the media stereotype you most closely reflect and that’s how you’re expected to act and who you’re expected to be. My American (and one French) classmates, and even a friend from Sweden, will always be asked if they’re American more often than I will, but the sudden loss of the apparency of my national identity doesn’t alienate me from the Americans-abroad experience, it just gives me insight into a different facet of it.