Posted by: Brian | August 10, 2009

In Retrospect

Written on my last morning in China (approx 1.5 weeks ago):

I am leaving China in less than one hour.

I’ll already be in Japan by the time this gets posted, but I’m actually writing it while sitting in Terminal 3 of the Beijing airport. I think the less I say about Beijing the better – it was frustrating, I’ll put it that way – but overall my experience has been a good one. I’ve gotten to see some cool things, met a lot of nice people, and my Chinese has improved tremendously (still not fluent, but that’s life, right?).

Less than one hour. By my rough calculation, I’ve been here for 3,795 hours, give or take a few. From February 23rd until now, July 31st, I lived, slept, eaten, breathed China. I’ve eaten more fiery, taste-bud-consuming spicy food than I ever wanted to. I’ve also eaten a wider variety of *ahem* exotic cuisine than I ever have before, including yak (delicious!), several insects (some palatable, others less so), and cuts of meat that in America we wouldn’t consider fit for animal consumption, much less for ourselves (duck spine, anyone?). Also, I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten my weight in rice. I don’t want to see any for a long, long time.

Most of my time here I’ve been fighting The Man in one way or another (and by that I mean the Chinese Communist Party). I now know proxy servers like the back of my hand, or maybe better. I don’t look at my hand very much. I’ve weathered close to a dozen different sites getting censored, much to my chagrin. Almost every time I’ve plugged away and managed to make it past them anyone, a fact I am more than a little proud of. That being said, I admit to getting a bit lazy these past few weeks. Quite frankly, there was a lot to see and do while traveling; when internet access meant walking several blocks to a cafe with bad food or leaving the comfort of an air-conditioned room for the sweltering heat downstairs, more often than not I chose to forgo the world-wide web.

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time banging my head against the wall in frustration over one thing or another. Financial issues with my bank, cultural differences that leave both me and a Chinese person looking incredibly rude in each other’s eyes, language barriers that so often occur when the official language is one of only dozens of dialects used in a country; these things can really wear a guy down. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve made inquiries about something – my residence permit, for example – and been told to wait a while longer. When I ask how long, the response is some variation on, “I don’t know.” If you’ve ever been upset at things going slowly in the United States, trust me – that’s cake compared to the tortuously slow machinations of Chinese bureaucracy.

Not everything has been so bad. I’ve had a great time doing things like hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge and visiting Buddhist monasteries in Tibet. Getting to see so many different parts of China was an education in and of itself, and I’m happy to say that I never let school get in the way of a good trip. My grades weren’t entirely stellar, but they’ll do the trick (straight Bs, thanks very much), especially when it all converts to Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory back at OU.

I’m also glad to have gotten plenty of first-hand experience in a country I find so fascinating academically. Though I’m by no means an expert, I feel like I understand China a little better now. Of course, many of the more nationalistic Chinese would scoff at such a statement and say that because I’m not Chinese, I can never truly understand China. That might be true in some ways, but if it is I would suggest that not even the Chinese truly understand China. The country is 5,000 years of history wrapped in communism, which is itself clothed in social capitalism, which itself suffers such a laundry list of peculiarities and exceptions and special clauses that it is hard to determine if China is really any of those things, or all of them, or even none of them at all. There’s history, yes, but more often than not it ends up destroyed in the name of progress. There’s communism, sure, but only when it’s still convenient. There’s social capitalism more than anything, but it’s only the most recent in a long series of developments, no more likely to survive than the dynastic rule of old. As far as I can tell, the “social” angle on capitalism just means the the CCP picks and chooses which parts of the system they like, and puts a stranglehold on those they do not. Everything from the massive import/export inequality to the 40% higher operating costs for foreign business owners tilts things in China’s favor, and they seem disinclined to change that anytime soon.

I guess if you’re looking for my final opinion on the country, China is all right. I picked well in going to Kunming; Yunnan province was by far my favorite region of China. As a whole, it still has plenty of work to do. On the way to the airport this morning, Raymond and I surmised that China is like an adolescent child. It might be almost as big as adults, and it certainly wants to be treated like one, but almost all behavior points to a definitive lack of maturity.

It’s time for me to board my flight to Tokyo. See everyone at home in one week!



  1. Hi, I just read your post on your experience in having to leave China. I too have felt the anguish of leaving a place you don’t want to leave! I studied in Buenos Aires in the Fall and I was so upset the day I left. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my posts:

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