Who Needs Water?

I know the title of my post may seem like a stupid question.  But one thing I’ve realized on this trip is how easily I take water for granted.  Back home, I normally get my drinking water straight from the tap.  Any time that I’m thirsty, I can simply put a glass in the sink and fill it.  Bam. Instant water.  Unfortunately here in China, that isn’t recommended. The water here is not as clean and thus can’t be consumer from the tap (without potentially getting really sick).

While we have water jugs in the room, I often forget to have it replaced when I run out.  For a few days every month, I find myself needing to plan to go out and get water.  While this is a very minor inconvenience, it’s made me realize how much I drink water.  I find myself staring at the empty bottles I have, thirsty but not wanting to go downstairs to buy another bottle.

After reading about the different struggles against diseases carried through water, I am even more fortunate for my current situation.  I can still go down to the store to buy a bottle of water.  But for many people, their main source of water was through a local river or other waterway.  It is a little bit scary to put myself in their place, where malaria or shistosomiasis is being carried through the water.  Whether it be mosquitoes or snails carrying the disease, I would be enjoy water a lot less if I knew my water was potentially affected.

Luckily we’ve gotten to a point where we can trust the water we drink and know we won’t be getting any scary epidemic diseases from drinking it.  Who needs water? I guess I do. And I’m happy to drink it.

Fieldwork Isn’t Easy!

This weekend, I got an assignment from Rhizome to go do some observations for one of their clients.  My task was to go to three electronics stores to observe the store layouts and customer behavior.  I have to say that it was probably one of the most uncomfortable situations I’ve been in since coming to China.  Anna, a fellow intern from Germany, and I first visited Suning on Friday evening.

When we walked into the store, there were almost no customers.  We had a huge task list that included taking pictures of merchandise, taking pictures of customers, watching what customers bought, watching how store employees helped, and watching general customer behavior.  I made the mistake of bringing a Rebel camera to take pictures.  About ten minutes into our visit, employees began to approach me, scolding me for taking pictures.  I quickly tried to explain that I was a student. They grumbled and glared at me.  Eventually I stopped taking pictures.  Employees were less likely to hassle Anna with her small camera and so she took the rest of the pictures.


We were asked to spend 1.5 hours at each store, which was extremely difficult.  Suning had about 30 customers the entire time we were there. Guomei, another electronics store, had about 8-10 in the 30 minutes we stayed there.  At both stores, it got to the point where employees recognized us because we were constantly passing the same products.  There was at least a 2:1 employee to customer ration which made it even harder to take pictures of products without the employees noticing.

Our third stop, Media Markt, was a little bit easier.  This was a more Westernized electronics store.  During one walkthrough of the store, we saw over 250 customers.  It was amazing how many more people were at this store compared to the other ones. We discretely went around the store, taking pictures of customers, and watching general buying patterns.  While it was fun, it was also very tedious to walk past the same aisles over and over for an hour and half.

I had a good experience doing this fieldwork, but I’m not sure if I’d be able to do it as a full time job.  I am interested to see how Rhizome will use the information we compiled this weekend, and am happy to help the company out.  I have often felt lost at their meetings (mainly in Chinese), and so I’m glad to have finally contributed something of use to the company.



A Whole New Wall

Hot and Crowded at the Great Wall (2010)

In my past visits to China, I’d visited the Great Wall a few times with my family. While I don’t remember much from most of these trips, I do remember a few things.  The Wall was always crowded with tourists and it was almost always really hot.  We’d visit the wall for an hour or so, take our obligatory picture and move on to somewhere else. This trip, I got a chance to experience the Wall in a new (and amazing!) way.  On our group’s trip, we visited the Jin Shan Ling (金山岭) portion of the wall. Unlike most other parts of the wall, this part is a little bit farther from Beijing and much more secluded.

The Beginning of Our Hike

Just to reach the wall, you need to take a 10-15 minute hike.  Once we reached the wall, we went on a long hike.  While it was cold, the 2 hour hike was one of the best experiences I’ve had in Beijing.  The beginning of our hike was similar to what you would get at any other tourist place (minus all the people!).  The wall was reconstructed with nice (but steep) steps. As we continued on our hike, we reached portions of the wall that were completely un-renovated.  This was an amazing chance to see the wall as it was originally built.  While the hike was tiring, reaching the end was very worth it.  The entire time we got to see amazing sights and breathe in the fresh air.  I found myself imagining the wall in it’s early days and could picture people working hard to build it up to what it is now.  It was an amazing chance to take in nature and the beauty of the Great Wall without worrying about bumping into people or stepping out of someone else’s picture.

When I return, I definitely plan to come back to this spot on the Great Wall.  I loved the reaching the top and feeling like I’d accomplished something. I loved seeing the un-renovated rocks and the broken wall in its natural state.  I love the Great Wall and can’t wait to go back.

A First Time for Everything

Two weekends ago, I got to visit Taiwan for the first time. Our short four day stay there was a whirlwind experience, but also very fun. Looking back, I’m surprised how much we fit in. Our days were spent visiting popular landmarks such as Taipei 101, Danshui, and Maokong. During evenings we got free time to visit the night markets, eat delicious food, and sing KTV. But while all of these activities were fun, I think what I’ll remember most from this trip are the few talks we got to have with the Taiwanese students our age.

Before this trip, my knowledge of Taiwan was next to none. I had heard about the delicious food its night markets had to offer and knew that there was political unrest between Taiwan and the mainland. Beyond this, I never had much of a chance or reason to give it anymore thought. But going to Taiwan and talking with the Taiwanese students gave me a much different way to think about Taiwan. It was fascinating to hear about their identity struggles and views of the future. What surprised me most was that many of the students seemed not to care as much about independence as they did about keeping the status quo and keeping their democratic freedoms.

Hearing the students talk about their lives and their struggle for a Taiwanese identity helped me to look at my own identity and myself. It gave me a chance to see others of Chinese descent who are trying to put together what it means to have the roots of a Chinese culture while also navigating a separate new home culture. I’ve definitely learned that there is no one specific way to “be” Chinese and that people must go through their own struggle to understand identity. I am glad to have had this chance  to see a different perspective and excited to learn more during my time here.

Family Matters

One thing I’ve learned during my few months in China is how important family can be.  Of course my family has always been there for me and I’ve met countless relatives over banquet dinners.  But growing up, I always attended these banquets with my parents.  Normally we’d have thirty people at two tables and an endless stream of fancy dishes.  I’d do my best to be polite and eat what was put in front of me.  Unfortunately, my inability to speak Chinese made these dinners uncomfortable.  I would sit and not my head when people talked to me, doing my best to appear as polite as possible.  In my head I wanted to have the meal, be polite, and go home.

But during this trip, I haven’t had my parents with me during these meals.  My first meal alone with relatives was here in Shanghai.  During the mid-autumn festival, I got to have lunch with my paternal grandfather’s younger brother’s family.  At this meal none of my relatives could speak English.  While our conversations were limited to my limited vocabulary, I definitely was able to make a connection with them that I had not made before.  Some of the meal we spent making simple small talk.  Other times we simply sat and ate the delicious food.  And yet throughout the entire meal I felt a sense of connection with all of them.  I had only met them a few times before but they treated me as if they had known me for years.  It felt good to be included with them.

My next family meal came in Taiwan.  My mom emailed me a week before our trip letting me know that I had relatives in Taipei and that I should arrange a meal with them.  Before the meeting, I had no idea who these relatives were.  I simply knew that I was related to them some how and that I needed to go to eat with them.  I went to purchase a few small gifts before the dinner.  Immediately after meeting them, I felt welcome and comfortable.  After some light discussion (they spoke English!) I found out that my grandpa’s father and this great-uncle’s father were brothers.  My great-uncle, great-aunt, their three kids, and one grandkid were all present.  While this may seem like a very distant relationship, they treated me as if I was a part of their family.  My great uncle told me stories about the three years he spent living with my grandpa while they were younger.  Hearing these stories touched me and helped give me a different view of my grandpa.  To this great-uncle my grandfather was not an elderly figure who took care of him like he was to me.  To my great-uncle, he was a friend and brotherly figure.  While I knew that my grandfather was an amazing man, it was very special to hear such personal stories of how he had changed another person’s life.  My great-aunt even began to cry a little bit as she remembered my grandfather’s visits to Taipei and Kending.

I think these experiences have definitely helped me to appreciate my family even more than I did before.  One of the biggest reasons I want to become fluent in Chinese is so that I can connect with more of my relatives.  I want to be able to hear more of their stories and learn more about my family history.  I’m definitely fortunate to have so many amazing family members all over China and am excited to get to know some of them better during my time here.