Maybe its not so bad

Anthropology has been a passion of mine for the past two years and there is only one class in the major that I continue to put off.  A week ago, knowing that I would have to take it next semester made me anxious for what was to come.  The looming terror: archaeology.  Whenever I think of archaeology I think of math, chemistry and physics.  I think of all of the numbers and dates and machines.  In archaeology, I thought, there is no single person that I could talk to and learn from to know a story.  There is no open-ended interview or participant observation that could solve these riddles.  There is only chemistry and possible dates and historical records of those dates as clues that tell us something about what we find.  It’s a huge puzzle.

This weekend, our group traveled to Xi’an in the northern part of China and the first site we saw was the excavation of the Terracotta Warriors that were found near Xi’an by a farmer.  He was digging in the ground to find water for a well and he saw remains of these clay figures.  He was very nervous and thought that some evil spirits were after him so he covered it up again but it was later investigated by local government.  They initiated the excavation of the site.  These archaeologists found that there were thousands of clay warriors buried deep under the earth ready to be explored and restored.

When I saw the restored warriors in the excavation site with my own two eyes, something came over me.  All I wanted to do was ask a million questions: How are these restored? How many are there? How were they made? Who made them? Why? When were they made and buried? Why were they buried?  I was so intrigued by the chemical process used to clean the clay warriors and the computer processes used to piece all of the remains together to restore or recreate just one warrior.  To me this was a hidden gem in the earth that made me think about the potential of human beings to create beautiful, meaningful things and use them or stop using them as time passes: a vague definition of archaeology.  Now that I have seen such a site, I am excited to take Archaeology in the Spring of 2013 and I am way more open to archaeology as a deeply interesting and intriguing topic.  Even though chemistry, math, and physics are necessary to help us reach some understanding about an excavation site, the work is motivated by the potential for a great find, something like Xi’an’s Terracotta Warriors.

The Great Wall

There is an allure about being in Beijing, China that does not exist anywhere else in the world.  The ancient history and culture manifested in the buildings beams throughout the city from temples to palaces to squares to hotel buildings and even in the quotidian street corners.  Just the aura of Beijing was something I couldn’t have imagined to be the way it was.  As soon as we arrived by bullet train, the first experience we had was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had.

It was long, exhausting, and tedious; but climbing the Great Wall of China was an unforgettable experience.  As some of the students on our program would say: it was so worth it.  The views from some of the towers built every so many meters were unmatched to anything I had ever seen and knowing that so many people took part in building that wall as well as fighting for their lives and for their country on it centuries ago is an exciting idea.  As I was walking on the wall and looking around at the surrounding nature and the entirety of the wall that stretches for miles and miles, I took pride in being one person who had taken the time to experience at least a small part of what makes China, China.

The people that lived around the area of the wall that we climbed were kind, welcoming, and impressively entrepreneurial.  They were selling everything under the sun that could be related to the Great Wall plus other things that were useful like gloves and snow hats.  I was intrigued by the looks on their faces when they saw us wai guo ren as they seemed enthralled by the way we looked and hoped we would buy their trinkets.  One woman even climbed most of the hike with us so that we would buy some of her products.  It was exciting to see the people of the neighboring villages and to see the differences between the way people lived at the time that the wall was built and now.

A Lesson Manifested in Nanjing

As a junior in high school I was astonished by what I learned in my Chinese history class.  Each lesson seemed more and more foreign and I still remember having nightmares about one particular lesson from the gruesome stories I heard: The Rape of Nanjing.  I remember coming home and telling my family all about the Japanese and how they wanted to conquer China, describing all of the atrocities I heard that day in class as if they were elements of a horror story made up in someone’s head.

This weekend I traveled with Fudan’s School of Social Development and Public Policy to none other than Nanjing itself.  We visited the National Museum for the Nanjing Massacre and saw both abstract and very concrete depictions of what had happened during the few weeks in 1936 and 1937 when the massacre took place.  There were explanations of the events and descriptions of people who had killed, been killed, and had helped save the lives of many.  It was more than eerie to be inside that room, reading every plaque and seeing the faces of many of the deceased as well as some of the survivors and knowing that some of them are still alive today living with the heavy burden of the memory of this event.  This experience brought to life what I had learned in a textbook a few years ago and taught me about people’s feelings and reality, but also about the way history plays out and is remembered.

There were signs and plaques throughout the museum that referred to the future and how ordinary people need to remember history in order to avoid conflict and the unnecessary loss of human life in the future.  There was a very paternalistic tone that reflected on peace around the world and ending violence; it implied that everyone should be part of that movement.  Even though this moment in history is taught as an embarrassment for China that could barely defend itself from the small island of Japan, the museum’s rhetoric turns that idea around and points out an embarrassment for a heartless Japan.  It is important to mention that every plaque in the museum was translated into three languages: Chinese, English, and Japanese.  It was clear that through this museum and China’s stance in general that Nanjing was warning Japan, and other countries in general, never to try anything like this again because China is prepared to fight.  The anger and pain that the Nanjing Massacre created toward the Japanese and among the Chinese may truly be “Forgivable, but unforgettable.”

Do You Smell That?

As soon as I landed in Taipei, Taiwan on Thursday evening, everything seemed different.  It was a much needed vacation within a vacation that exposed me to a whole different side of Asian culture that made me think deeply about what I have been experiencing for the past two months.  Taiwan runs on a democratic system even though it is considered part of China – as one of my classmates said, it smells like freedom.  I met some young people in the Democratic Progressive Party and spoke with them about the interesting role of politics in Taiwan compared to the mainland.  They were interns just like I have been for the past two years in government agencies.  Their perspective on life as a Taiwanese in general was particularized and culture-specific.  At the end of the end, bubble tea in the mainland originated in Taiwan.

One of the most moving sites in Taipei was the Buddhist temple that we visited.  Of course, like most Chinese religions, it was a mix of many different religious practices together.  We walked in at the perfect moment: right in the middle of a ceremony.  We had the opportunity to hear the chanting, watch the people in their robes, and smell the aromatic incense.

Taipei 101 is the tallest building in Taiwan and is among the tallest in the world.  It is visible from almost anywhere in the city because it is so much taller than all of the other buildings.  It has the fastest elevator in the world!  The elevator takes people up eighty nine floors in thirty seven seconds, pretty impressive.

Speaking of climbing to high places, a small group of us hiked up a mountain in Yangminshan National Park.  Yes, I hiked to the top of a mountain… It was basically stairs straight up for over an hour, but going down was a lot easier.  It was totally worth it; the view from the top was spectacular and unlike anything I had ever seen.  The entire city was visible from that point and it was a breathtaking moment.

Just a little fix…

Shanghai is indulging in many ways.  Over a month has passed and I still have the urge to photograph every tall building, smell every flower, and taste every delicious meal.  I have tried everything from banquet style Chinese food to Taiwanese take-out to Hong Kong chicken’s feet and I have enjoyed (almost) every bite, but sometimes you just need a little something with that extra kick.  Yes, I mean coffee.  Preferably with a warm brownie on the side.

Apparently I am not the only one who thinks so, judging by the number of successful branches of Starbucks in popular shopping malls and the scattered coffee shops throughout the city.  However, nothing I have tried so far beats the proximity and the taste of the newest café around, Sculpting in Time.

When we first arrived in Shanghai and in Tonghe, the apartment complex in which we live, there was a nondescript office building where students can pick up keys, mail, and jugs of water among other things.  After about a week of being here we noticed some signs of early construction and when we returned from Suzhou last weekend there was a full-fledged coffee shop, Sculpting in Time, up and running in that spot.

I found it most interesting how quickly the café was constructed and opened.  In a matter of weeks, it was fully furnished, had employees running it, and had a sign outside telling the world it was ready for business.  This makes me wonder about the quality of the structure; is this an example of reckless development?  It may be so, but it is already profiting and becoming more and more popular.  Even without the surveyed building checks that probably would have been performed in the United States and hindered the ability of the business to go up so quickly, people are trusting of the structure enough to go inside and place an order.  Students spend time there drinking coffee, chatting, and studying as it is a very comfortable environment.  When you are inside you really feel like you are back in a coffee shop in North Carolina.  As much as I am loving my experience in Shanghai, sometimes it is nice to have just a little fix.