Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beijing Week 6: Bye Beijing

My six weeks in Beijing has come to an end. It has been a cultural enriching experience: from the sights, my internship and my interactions with Peking University's students. The last week has been calmed, in terms of sighting seeing and my internship. Basically, I would try to hang out with the friends I made there, along with preparations for my travels to South Korea and Taiwan.

I was busy with my independent study. I was trying to get in as many interviews as possible. In the end, I managed to talk to 28 students, the original goal was 30. I know through the dialogues I've exchanged with these students; I have learned a lot about their perceptions and they have learned a lot from me.

So on my last day in Beijing, I went to the Beijing Zoo. One of my goals in China was to see a panda. I know I needed to go to Sichuan province to see them, but the Beijing Zoo is just as good. It's in China.

The Beijing Zoo has 7 pandas! I was very excited! Although 6 of the 7 pandas were sleeping and the one that was awake was stuck in a tree. Either way I was satisfied . Besides the excitement over the pandas, what surprised me the most was the people's behavior at the zoo.

I'm pretty sure at almost every zoo there are the "Don't Feed the Animals" signs. And for the most part, people will compile and follow it through. That's not the case in China. The signs are everywhere around the zoo, however, the people do not follow. Instead, I see a bear being fed a banana, a pack of wolves scouring for food thrown in there, plastic bottles surrounding the tigers and lions exhibits (my guess they are throwing the bottles to get the animal's attention). I think my favorite is seeing an ostrich that is accustomed to this walking around deciding what food it wants to it. I guess in my mind, I'm thinking this is a country that is supposed to be authoritative, but yet at the zoos there is a sense of disorder in following rules. But then again, I've learned that in China there are many rules and laws, however, it's not enforced.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience. I'm glad that I chose China because I was able to witness first hand how this "developing" country has come so far. It's one thing reading about, but it was another thing to see it.

- Manith Hang

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Beijing Week 5: A Hong Kong Comparison

I have now been in Beijing for five weeks. During the week I did my usual internship and college student interviews for my independent study. I also took a trip to Hong Kong. My independent study research is progressing well. I’ve met and talked to many students about their views and thoughts on South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan to assess what local Chinese students have seen and learned about each of the countries. Each of their responses was different and unique. Compared to the previous weeks, most of the people I talked to this week watched/listen to the cultural products from all three places, instead of just one. This provided me a better comparison of the success of one cultural product over the other. Specifically, five out of the six students that I spoke with agreed that Japanese anime provided a better look and understanding of Japanese culture than South Korean or Taiwanese dramas. Even though South Korean dramas are popular among those I interviewed, one stated that "Korean dramas are over exaggerated. However, I do enjoy their romantic story lines."

My internship is going well; however, it seems to have slowed down quite a bit from when I first started. After the article about China’s satellites and missile capabilities was submitted, there has not been a lot for me to do. Instead, I have been given the tasks to read and edit articles that will be published on the next issue of China Security.

As for my weekend, I took a trip to Hong Kong, which was a spur-of-the-moment decision. My friend Lingwen from Beijing told me that she has never been to Hong Kong and would not mind visiting there. I saw this as a great opportunity to go to Hong Kong, plus the travelling and hotel accommodations cost were not that expensive. So what was Hong Kong like? I would say INTENSE! There were a lot of shopping places and tourists everywhere. Hong Kong is very touristy compared to Beijing. The people for the most part all spoke English, making it relatively easy to get around. The prices were more expensive. The biggest contrast I see between Hong Kong and Beijing is the economic status. In Hong Kong, luxury goods were everywhere- real or fake. At the same time, I saw many female Filipino migrant workers who would congregate at various stations or parks in Hong Kong, socializing.

I was in Hong Kong for a total of three days and four nights. My friend and I did the best to see everything possible. We managed to go to two bar districts. What I found surprising was that in the news or in the movies there are portrayals of businessmen from overseas going to Asia and having a one night stand…. well it is one thing to hear about it or watch it, but another thing to witness it. While at a bar, there was a married man (which was apparent from the ring on his finger) flirting with two Hong Kong girls. After a few drinks they left. There was not just one case, but instead the whole area seemed to be like that. I guess you can say the first night in Hong Kong did not leave a good impression.

During the remainder of our trip we saw popular tourist attractions and places of interest. The Peak Tower provided a nice view of the city from a tall place. We managed to take a ferry to Lantau Island to see the fishing village Tai-O and the Giant Buddha statue at Ngong Ping. The lifestyle there is more rural than urban, giving me a different perspective of life in Hong Kong. However, when I returned to work in Beijing my supervisor told me that a police officer in Hong Kong told him that Tai-O use to be a point of drug smuggling. Interesting how things are not always what they seem.

After Lantua Island, we went to Kowloon which is across from Hong Kong Island. We saw a night view of Hong Kong from there. At nighttime there was a city night show, during which a majority of the buildings use their lights to put on a show. It was something I have never seen before. There was also an “Avenue of Stars” where we were at. It was like Hollywood’s Star of Fame, but instead it was with Hong Kong actors. I’ve also learned that Macau was only an hour away by a ferry right. I would have gone and visited Macau if I knew about it earlier, but it is something I can keep in mind now.

Hong Kong is also a shopper’s paradise ranging from overpriced boutiques to shopper stalls. Even the airport is like a high-end shopping mall. Each market in Hong Kong had a special characteristic such as Temple Street/Night Market and is also known for having fortune tellers of all sorts from palmistry and face reading to tarot cards. For fun, we had our fortune told. I’ll just wait and see if it comes true or not. I’ve also spoken with some friends from Beijing and when I told them I’m going to Hong Kong they all said: “Buy some cosmetics there, it’s cheaper than Beijing and much better.” I didn’t really buy any cosmetics but they were abundant.

Overall, Hong Kong is a city of East meets West. The history of Hong Kong has made it a unique place to visit. The influence of British culture is there, along with Chinese culture. Add in migrant workers from the Philippines and other countries and the culture there becomes very diverse. I wouldn’t want to live there or return anytime soon. However, I would recommend going there at least once to see what it’s like.

- Manith Hang

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Beijing Week 4: I can go local…

My Chinese language skills have not improved; however, I’ve used my dictionary less and less now. I feel I can be a local here, if I can speak the language. Even, if I can’t speak the language, I think I’ve adapted and adopted some of the local habits. Before, I was afraid to cross the streets in Beijing (even with the signal lights and crosswalks) but now I have no fear and just go with the flow. I also play badminton at our apartment’s courtyard with my roommate EJ (he’s from George Washington University). Every now then, I would think I can manage living in Beijing, if there was not a language barrier. The food here is great, if I want Western food or other cuisines, they are available. There is always something to do-from tourist attractions to a simple afternoon tea in the park or a weekend trip to the mountains.

The past weekend, Dr. Sun took us to the mountains to have our weekly discussion about our internship and independent research. It was a nice change of scenery from the city. I guess one can say that the novelty of Beijing was wearing off. Because the fourth week, I toured the 798 Beijing Art District along with the Olympic Village, and the Summer Palace. These attractions and spots were nice; however, by being in the mountains and witnessing what life was like there was a refreshing new perspective of what life was like an hour northeast of Beijing.

As for my internship, even though it has slowed down, I have continued to do research on satellites and missile defense. Even though the article has been approved by the Navy War College Review, the article was submitted to a few reviewers. These reviewers have provided some comments and suggestions, where in more research is still needed. Likewise, I have also been reviewing articles that will be published in the next issue of China Security.

My independent study research is going well. This week I talked to students who were fans of Japanese anime/manga. In the previous weeks, most of the students were fans of South Korean dramas. So I was able to learn a few students’ perspectives of Japan as compared to South Korea. Plus, it was enjoyable because two of the interviews were a big fan of anime I watched (Bleach) so we were able to talk about what was happening in the show and our favorite characters.

So in the future, if I return to Beijing for work or for another reason, I know that it will be easier to adapt

- Manith Hang