No Regrets: My 20th Birthday in Toronto

AIDCI-50th-ann No Regrets:  My 20th Birthday in Toronto

So as some of you may have realized, I was not in Shanghai for the past week. As crazy (and exorbitantly expensive) as it may have been, I decided at the last minute to fly to Toronto to attend the 50th Anniversary commemoration ceremony of the 1962 Chinese-Indian internment. While my dad gladly paid for the plane tickets, I do feel compelled to give a special thanks to Fuji and Rebecca for helping me navigate through the paperwork and thanks to everyone else who was so supportive of the idea.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been mulling over the topic of the paper that Fuji and I plan on presenting at the conference in Meixian. A topic that I’ve hoped to address in the paper involves generational discontinuity between the ex-internee generation and ex-internees’ children. Here, I am referring to an issue that the ex-internee organization in Toronto has faced: getting young people to become involved in the organization’s effort to appeal to the Indian government for a formal apology to those interned as a result of the 1962 Sino-Indian border conflict. As of now, I am the youngest member of AIDCI…and that’s by about 25 years. The majority of the members are about 60 years old or older. With a majority of them being senior citizens, this has posed two major problems within the organization: 1) keeping up with social media and 2) working fast enough to ensure that these elders feel some sense of justice before their lives end.

When I first began approaching the paper, I was leaning toward a pretty pessimistic conclusion about the organization’s sustainability. Over the past few months, I’ve been trying my best to tackle both problems…and admittedly, I felt like I was failing, especially after coming to Shanghai. I had been trying to keep up with the Facebook page, the website, the interviewee blog, and some correspondence/networking—but it was pretty difficult doing all of it on top of schoolwork and the experience of traveling. Additionally, I am terribly behind in terms of social media and, quite frankly, don’t completely know what I’m doing.

These past few months, a small part of me was frustrated that no other young people wanted to get involved in the organization and that the in-fighting within the organization would drive away the few people who wanted to help. A large part of me felt certain that things would stay that way. After all, Sheng, the second-youngest and by far most active member of the organization, had almost quit this summer after he got so frustrated with the organization’s in-fighting and lack of cooperation.

My father and I had initially decided that I wouldn’t go to the 50th anniversary. He saw it as an impractical expense and I had convinced myself that it wouldn’t be worth attending anyway. But a few weeks before the event, my dad asked me on Skype if I wanted to go. I was shocked that he had asked, but told him that I wanted to go. When I asked him what had changed his mind, he said, “I don’t want you to have any regrets in life.”

And that turned into a part of the brief speech that I gave at the 50th Anniversary. The speech was directed toward all the young people at the event, entreating them to honor and appreciate their families by taking up the organization’s cause (the speech will probably be in my next blog post).

AIDCI-50th-ann No Regrets:  My 20th Birthday in TorontoI was so happy to see how many ex-internees’ children showed up to the event. More importantly, I was inspired by their involvement and interest in the event. My cousins and uncles showed up to the event, assisting in taking pictures, video recording, catering food, greeting guests and decorating the hall. I found out that some of them had even been helping out with printing tickets and fliers long before the event was held. My sister surprised me and came, too. Before I left for Toronto this summer, she wasn’t even quite sure about the purpose of my interviews.
AIDCI-50th-ann No Regrets:  My 20th Birthday in TorontoAfter we finished our speeches and dispersed for the buffet line, two girls walked up to me with their mom and dad. Their mother told me in English, “We’re so proud of you! I told my girls they should be like you!” Their dad told them in Hakka, “Make sure you study hard, too. You could go study with Tchi-tchi (older sister) someday.” Years ago, I remember being a little girl in awe of Li Kwai-yun, a fellow Hakka Indian and a published author on the 1962 internment. I remember my Dad telling me similar things—to be like Li Kwai-yun and study hard and someday write something that would make a difference.

 

I don’t know if I’m living up to the expectations that everyone’s made for me so far, but I can definitely say that this was an amazing 20th birthday. I loved getting to be with my family in Toronto, but more than anything, the trip definitely provided the optimistic outcome that I was always hoping for.

Trailing the Great Wall 长城!

DSCF6802 Trailing the Great Wall 长城!

Climbing China’s Great Wall (长城) is both a exceptional and extraordinary experience; having done it twice within 24 hours is seemingly unheard of, and I am glad to say that I’ve done it. Trailing up and down the undulating path was breathtaking, yet it kept me eager to see what more the Wall had to offer me. On the hand, straddling the Wall’s dips and nooks along the edge gave me time to be pensive, which made me nostalgic of my hiking days on the beaten Andean paths to Macchu Pichu in Perú. I remember descending the Wall with Fuji and Justin and I immediately flashbacked to a specific moment to my Incan Trail experience. Climbing the Great Wall was the connecting point – the moment of overlap – that united my Peruvian and Chinese experiences.

I started to notice the similarities as soon as I began to loose buttons. For me, the loss of those buttons, the degradation of my DSCF6802 Trailing the Great Wall 长城!prized and coveted pea coat, made me barren to the elements. Quite frankly, I was not expecting to sweat while climbing and still freeze while I remained idle. Truth be told, trailing up this massive construction in the dead of winter was just as miserable, as well as enticing as the Incan Trail. I honestly feel that up until the point, China has been a cakewalk compared to all of the hiking I’ve endured due to the Peruvian unforgiving terrain. Thus, I love seeing the overlap between the two unique experiences. I’ve been unjustly comparing the two experiences for some time, but the Great Wall finally gave me the excuse I needed.

The greatest link, as I mentioned earlier, was my hike down of the Great Wall with Fuji and Justin. It was so reminiscent of the day that President Quillen and I walked down the hills of the Peruvian salt flats. We talked about everything from the mundane to extreme topics in Marxism (which I couldn’t fully grasp). However, it was really a moment to connect to my social and intellectual superior. I felt a similar bonding experience with Fuji, who (I feel) that many ca attest to the fact that he is somewhat absentee… Nevertheless, both of these are key moments that added sustenance to my traveling experiences – humanizing the distant Davidson intellectuals. They alike have given me something to look forward to when I return to Davidson that I thought never existed before I left.

DSCF6802 Trailing the Great Wall 长城!

An Ode to Taipei’s Youth

The allure of Taiwan is immediate and powerful. When we left Shanghai, we were leaving behind a city of global attention and economic power, but we were also leaving behind a city of pungent smells, smoggy air, and honking cars with no intention of braking. Simply smelling Taipei’s clean air brought a smile to my face. However, what I really found and loved most in Taipei was its blossoming culture of youth and creativity.

coursen-taipei1-1024x682 An Ode to Taipei's Youth

Call us hipsters, coffeehouse addicts, or pretentious idealists, but the conscientious youth generation is powerful in both the United States and Taiwan. In the U.S., we are the creative force behind trendy green movements, grassroots political campaigns, and countless coffeehouse businesses. In the U.S., so many college-educated twenty-somethings want to move to a big city, “live their truth” (read: find yourself through an indefinite time of self-exploration), and change the world. It is no mistake that many of us chose the Davidson in Shanghai program because we were attracted to the big city. We wanted an opportunity to be at the heart of the action, at the crossroads of international culture and economy. In Shanghai, I certainly found the center of international economy; it is impossible to travel twenty minutes in Shanghai without seeing an endless array of skyscrapers and glittering billboards. While the international economy thrives in Shanghai, the youth culture seems to flounder.

In Taipei, the twenty-somethings are truly at the cultural heart of Taiwan. They run the night markets, which churn out an endless supply of fashion and food. They listen to “World Music” from the U.S., Japan, Korea, and more, but they also create their own Taiwanese pop. College students from the National Taiwan University are political participants and sometimes even political shapers and activists. The walls of the city are full of bulletins for poetry readings, film screenings, and educational lectures. Creative graffiti lines the walls of the Old Town, as if proclaiming that the youth are firmly Taiwanese, not pawns of colonization. The youth are dynamic, active, and highly visible.

coursen-taipei1-1024x682 An Ode to Taipei's Youth

On the other end, the youth generation of Shanghai is at the center of business and economic growth. To prepare for a future of economic success, most of the high school and college-aged students in Shanghai study as much as possible. Education is truly a full-time job in China. So, instead of seeing young adults traveling around Shanghai, gathering together, promoting fashion, and creating culture, many are preparing for their futures. I am always weary of stereotypes, but in this case the stereotype is partially true: Chinese students simply study more than American students in general.

In the U.S., we value experience more than academic learning. Mark Twain’s famous quote summarizes this view: “Don’t let your schooling interfere with your education.” Fuji would call this phenomenon anti-intellectualism, but I think it is also related to a love of pragmatism and the self-made person. In Taipei, I felt the same sort of phenomenon. The college students were out trying new things, making mistakes, and learning through experience. They seemed to care more about creativity and experiential learning than money. Taipei was so comfortable to me because my age group in Taiwan felt just like my peers back home.

The youth generation can tell so much about a country: where the country is coming from, where the country is now, and where the country is going. In Shanghai, the youth generation emphasizes China’s economic development. In the United States, the youth generation emphasizes experience or anti-intellectualism (depending on your perception). In Taipei, the youth generation emphasizes Taiwan’s blossoming creativity and cultural growth.

Dumpling Diplomacy

Saturday the School for Social Development and Public Policy, the Fudan University School that is sponsoring our study here in China, held a get together for the foreign students so that we could get to know the other foreign students as well as some of the Fudan students.  We all met out on the lawn of one of the main academic buildings for some icebreakers before moving inside to make dumplings.  Ali, Benito, and I were are bit skeptical as to what to expect from the event, but were all excited to meet new people and practice our Chinese skills.

When enough foreign students had arrived the Chinese students decided that it was time to begin introducing ourselves to each other with some games.  The first game we played was the human knot game.  For anyone who has played this game before you know that it can be taxing and confusing; now add in the fact that we didn’t all speak the same language and you get one hell of an interesting game.   One minute into the game we knew that we were in for a challenge.  We were all trying to direct people in both Chinese and English and translate for those who did not understand.  While we may not have learned everyone’s name in our group, that awkwardness of just meeting everyone was definitely gone after we spent 10 minutes all wrapped around each other.  There was one group of students who were having a particularly hard time unwrapping themselves, so a few German students who had finished early went over to observe and assist.  Whenever they could get a person free and untangled from the group a cry of “German Engineering” would erupt along with peels of laughter. Unfortunately, the German engineering was not enough to help them and they ended up being the last group to finish, but they all seemed to be having a great time.

The next game was again not so much of a getting to know you game, but rather a let’s just be silly and awkward all at the same time to lighten the mood type of game.  It involved two people standing facing each other and creating a roof-like structure with their hands while a third person knelt on the ground between them.  The two people standing made the “tree” while the person on the ground was the “squirrel.”  When the person in charge of the game called out “wind,” the “trees” all had to break apart and find a new “tree” partner and squirrel to cover.  When “fire” was called, the “squirrels” all had to leave his or her “tree” and find a new home, and when “earthquake” was called, everyone had to switch.  Again while this game also did not lend itself well to actually getting to know new people, it was a great way to get people to loosen up and become more comfortable with one another.  No one really understood the point of this game but we had tons of fun running around and grabbing random people to be our “tree” partner or screaming out that we had and empty “tree” for a poor “squirrel” to come and live in.

The next event for the afternoon was to proceed into the canteen to make dumplings.  This was the real time when we got to really meet some of the other students. We were all split into groups so that the foreign and Chinese students could get to know each other more. The Chinese students were very interested in where we were from and what we were studying.  We all had a great time trying to learn how to pronounce each others’ names as well.  With two German, one Swiss, one American and six Chinese students at my table the name part was defiantly a challenge.  The Chinese students thought it was hilarious to watch us try and make the dumplings.  None of us could figure out how to fold and press the dumplings the right way.  A few of the German boys even resorted to making disk shaped dumplings so they did not have to try and fold them.  All in all we met a lot of nice students, foreign and Chinese alike, and had a fun filled afternoon.  The dumplings were tasty and we found new friends to both hangout with and practice our Chinese with.  The Chinese students all seemed eager to know what we liked doing in our free time and wanted to get to know us better.  Overall it was a fun and exciting day filled with lots of laughter.

Yeye and Nainai

IMG_3135-1024x683 Yeye and Nainai

As the saying goes, life is all about “seeing and being seen.” There are plenty of people to see in Shanghai: the rich, the young, and the fashionable. They are the up-and-coming stars of Shanghai’s future. Chairman Mao is a distant memory to them, and communism has always meant “capitalism with Chinese characteristics,” as Jeffrey Wasserstrom calls it in China in the 21st Century (97). When I am out and about, though, it is not my youthful peers that catch my eye; it is their parents and grandparents.

The aging generations of China have experienced a great deal in their lifetimes. Many experienced the Cultural Revolution. Some were part of the Great Leap Forward. Some even saw the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party. In a city with so much emphasis on the future, the aging generation is living proof of the city’s tumultuous history.

Families are ever important in Chinese culture, and children traditionally support their parents as they age. Adult children will often send home weekly paychecks in gratitude for all their parents did for them. However, with the aging group of One-Child Policy babies, sometimes called “Little Emperors,” it will be harder and harder to support the aging generation of Chinese grandparents. For each only child, there are four grandparents to support. The pressure to succeed monetarily ever increases on the “Little Emperor,” or grandparents are left without a retirement plan.

Besides age and money, the digital age also separates the age cohorts. In most countries with internet access, there is a distinct divide between those with internet and those without. The internet can offer a wealth of information, but the elderly generation is often the slowest to adopt new technologies (as makes sense). In China, the divide is even wider because of the “Great Firewall,” a term referring to the Chinese government’s internet censorship (Wasserstrom 86). VPNs and other proxy servers can go around the firewall, but that technology is limited to the savvy. So, in such a futuristic, technologic city, the elderly are often left without the internet’s information.

Before coming to Shanghai, I thought that aging in China must be pleasant. In conjunction with Confucian principles, the ancestral line is cherished and respected; however, in a city that adapts so quickly to the waves of the future, it seems that the attitude towards the elderly is changing as well. I rarely see a younger person move to give their seat to an older person. People push past each other roughly, regardless of age. Maybe these examples are just cultural differences in manners, but they could also be signs of deeper cultural changes. As Wei Laoshi told me, adult children still send their parents money, but it is often out of duty and obligation, not necessarily love. With the tide of Western culture infiltrating Shanghai, I wonder how the aging generation will fare. Will the younger generation still hold onto their Confucian reverence, or will the aging generation be left behind as the youthful generation embraces their individuality?

IMG_3135-1024x683 Yeye and Nainai

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