31.03.2015 - 07.04.2015
Blog Entry 5
April 7, 2015
Two Mondays ago, my Daoism class took another field trip. This time to a famous Buddhist temple. We arrived on a very special day; the local monks were about to perform an annual ceremony. The main temple was filled with women wearing dark brown robes symbolizing their marriage and also their dedication to practicing Buddhism. I approached one woman who had just finished a prayer and asked if she would mind if I asked her about her religion. I soon discovered that she was also learning to speak English, so we spoke in a combination of both languages. She began by telling me about the life of Shakyamuni, the Buddha, and why Buddhists model his behavior. She then went on to explain how his teachings of Anatman, the pure mind, life and death affect their daily behavior. When I learned about Buddhism in Vermont, I was somewhat under the impression that Buddhists live in ways that we might see as limiting, restricting, or extreme. After speaking with this woman, I discovered that the lives of Buddhists and Americans, for example, are not all that different. We simple focus our energy on different aspects of life. She asked me if I would like to participate in the ceremony and I excitedly accepted her offer. We read/sang prayers out of an ancient style book (written from top to bottom instead of left to right) lead by the temple’s monks. The energy of the room was amazing; hundreds of devout monks, nuns and practicing lay people chanted 1300 year old prayers in unison. Unfortunately, a wave of illness came over me and I was forced to leave the temple before the rest of my class. I returned to my room, slept for two days straight and was fully recovered an additional two days later. Perhaps the ceremony had a stronger effect on me that I had imagined!
Later that week, after recovering, I was anxious to make up for lost time and meet some more Chinese people. I heard of this thing called “the English Corner” where Chinese people go to meet native English speakers. The Chinese get an opportunity to practice their Chinese while foreigners get a chance to make Chinese friends. However, I was not interested in speaking English all night, so I compromised and spoke some of both languages. I was amazed by some of the student’s ability to speak English many of them did not even have an accent. They asked me a wide variety of questions, inquiring about American culture, U.S. politics and my first love! One person, who had heard of Vermont, asked me about “feral hogs,” telling me that he had read about problems with population control. The next hour of conversation revolved around the difference between wild pigs and feral hogs, and how I would solve the problem if I were in control. (I wasn’t even aware that we had a problem!)
That evening, I went to the bar to meet a Kiki, A beautiful Chinese girl whom I met several weeks before. She is planning to study at Boston University for her master’s program, so we have started a sort of language and culture exchange. I forgot to mention that I have also recently began learning the local Sichuan dialect. They say it is one of China’s most complex dialects to learn, but it sounds so interesting, so I decided to brush up on it. Also, the local shop owners, restaurant employees and townspeople prefer to speak their native dialect, so I figured it could only help with my goal of immersion. Thus, Kiki taught me Sichuanese words and phrases for an hour or so. In exchange, I taught her how to dance, as she was a bit nervous about dancing publicly. What a good time! Later, I met up with my friend Ivo and we decided to go to another bar. We have created a habit of avoiding the foreigner bars altogether and searching for the most authentic Chinese establishments. We found one, met some locals who insisted we drink with them, and practiced our language skills yet again. However, practicing in places like bars is very useful because one gets to experience a different level of political correctness. In other words, the Chinese spoken in bars or clubs has much more slang and common verbiage than one would learn in a classroom. To top it off, we played the Chinese dice games that we had learned several weeks before, demonstrating our understanding of the Chinese bar culture.
The following day, I decided to buy a bicycle. A classmate of mine told me to, “Go to the Zhou Yan Chao Bridge and look for the guy sitting on the scooter. You can ask him to buy a bike.” I was not all that busy so I decided to follow his vague instructions. I walked to the bridge and, sure enough, I saw my man. “Qing wen,” I said, “Wo keyi mai yi liang zi xing che?” (Excuse me, can I buy a bicycle?) The man got off of his scooter, walked down the street with me without saying anything for several minutes, and told me that he could. He made a phone call to another man who also rode up on a scooter and asked me to follow him. I was lead down a dark, narrow alley filled with bicycles, most of which I presumed were stolen. I found one that I liked and asked the price; he told me 280 yuan. Within five minutes, I talked him down to 150 and left riding my new bike! As I learned from my first trip to China, bargaining is definitely a part of Chinese culture.
That night, a group of Chinese students asked Ivo and I to join them at the KTV; the karaoke bar). We took a cab and found our new friends already in their private room singing popular Chinese songs into a microphone. Of course, they encouraged us to participate. We sang the few Chinese songs that we are able to sing before resorting back to “Beat It” by Michael Jackson. We found out that the Chinese people that we were with are from XiJiang, China’s most northwestern province home to a large minority population of Uighurs! They told us about life back in their home and the political problems that their families have faced as a result of the Cultural Revolution and modernization. They told us of their dream to come to the west while we explained that we were interested in living in the east. I suppose the unfamiliarity of a new place is what attracts people!