China’s National Day

It has been a while since I talked about China, so today is a good day to return to the subject. October 1st is a very important day on the Chinese calendar. It is the day that China celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China, which happened in 1949 in a ceremony at Tiananmen Square.

Schools close for a week and many people travel to their hometowns to visit family and celebrate together. The Chinese government celebrates the day by organizing fireworks displays and other festivities, including turning Tiananmen Square into a huge flower garden (I hope the video loads more quickly for you than it did for me). This year China also launched a satellite to the moon on the same day. China wants to send astronauts to the moon and this mission was to test some of the technologies for that.

This year’s events did not receive the attention that last year’s did. Last year was the 60th anniversary of the founding of the republic, and the government put on a huge military parade on Changan Lu (Long Peace Road, ironically), showing off all of the new military hardware that China has developed in-country. It was a display of strength that made a great story for western media outlets looking to portray China’s military as a growing threat. Some, however, argued it also displayed weakness, since the Chinese government did not let Beijing residents anywhere near the parade, lest they disrupt the carefully-planned event. Whichever side you agree with, the scenes of tanks, trucks, armored personnel vehicles and thousands of soldiers passing in formation past Tiananmen Gate under the approving eyes of President Hu Jintao were striking. 

Exporting America

The other night, I managed to catch up with some Italian friends for the last couple songs of a night out singing karaoke. When I got there, they wanted to sing an American song so that I could sing along with them. They started scrolling through some American songs—I think they picked one by the Black-Eyed Peas—and they were surprised when I said I didn’t know it. “But how can you not know it? You’re American!” was the remark that captured the sentiment of the group. I was a little embarrassed and I pretended it was just that one song, but I doubt they believed my act. The truth is, this group of Italian twenty-somethings knew way more about recent American pop music than I did.

KTV in Beijing

In addition to music, I also found out that American television and movies are very popular abroad. On our long bus ride back from the Inner Mongolia trip, one of the conversation topics that came up was American television and cinema. Shows like the OC, CSI, Calfornication, Sex and the City, The Sopranos and Twilight were all well-known by my classmates. So were the Simpsons. I laughed when they said that they think of Americans as rich, beautiful people who live in on either of the coasts (of course, they also stereotype American tourists as being fat and loud). They wanted to visit California, because on television it looked like such a great place to be. I assured them that everything they see on TV is true.

Read More

Airport to Hotel

The arrival at Beijing International Airport was uneventful. There were some slow moving lines at the immigration checkpoint, but the Chinese officials soon changed some of the foreigner lines over to general entry lines, and I quickly made it through. It continues to be a mystery to me why some lines would move so much faster than others.

I would have liked to have been Zachary Auerbach today. There was a hostess at the airport who kept walking around baggage claim with a white piece of paper with his name typed on it. The third time she walked by, I looked a little closer at it. Apparently, she worked for the Ritz-Carlton and was going to take him there. That would have been nice. My Chinese language skills were not good enough to convince her that I was Zachary, so after picking up my bag, I walked over to where the express train from the airport to downtown leaves from. As I walked out of the airport and into the train station, I realized I was not in Portland any more. The blanket of heat nearly knocked me over.

Read More