It’s the 61st Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (National Day or 国庆节). Partayyy! That’s what it was in Tiananmen Square. Cotton candy, corn on the cob, massive floral displays, and… multi-colored plastic devil horn headbands. I have yet to discover their significance. But in essence, the mood on the square tonight resembled that of our Fourth of July. It was unfortunately (or fortunately) not the security-ridden atmosphere that I’d previously conjured up in my mind. Perhaps last year when China rounded its sixth decade the mood was a bit more conflicted, but I doubt it. All the controversial censorship, arrests, and injustices that plague the foreign press coverage on China feel like bitter annoyances when you stare into the crisp, glistening characters on two giant flat screens that illuminate messages of technological success, economic progress and a harmonious society. There is no looming sense of dissatisfaction here but one of overwhelming pride. After all, tonight’s square wasn’t empty but bustling with a smiling crowd snapping photos of their kids posing with Chinese flags and peace signs. And in the end, what’s not to be proud of? All the bad aside, because every country has its dark side, China’s unprecedented growth in the last twenty years is not to be taken lightly. Recognizing the pressures experienced in the past from both within its borders and abroad we might make rational sense not only of China’s rapid economic development but also of its political system. Of course there are many problems left to tackle here, but every citizen deserves a day to honor and rejoice in the successes of the country they live in.
Here’s where I lived this weekend, with a Chinese family I hadn’t met until I showed up at their door. You can tell by the photo that this particular family is very well-off compared to the average in China. The inside of the house was beautifully decorated with wall paintings and chandeliers, and of course the typical-Chinese Merry Christmas ornaments strung about. The girl at the door is Yixuan, she’s 14 and lives with her parents and dad’s parents. (This is a traditional Chinese family set-up, though her dad told me that more and more young married couples are now living alone without their parents). The father takes unbelievably gorgeous photographs, and I spent the majority of Saturday night with the family eating watermelon seeds, lychees, and looking through loads of photo albums. They’ve been to Australia, Tibet, Kenya, South Africa, and Egypt… in the last two years. The father also showed me his photographs of the most beautiful areas in China, and upon seeing my obvious interest in visiting them gave me his book with travel info for those sites. Chinese gift-giving is turning into my favorite part of this country.
The weekend wouldn’t be complete without adding an unknown food to my palate by mistake. I was unknowingly crunching down on little knuckles thinking it was nothing more than unique-textured chicken when the dad says, “Ji rou” (chicken), makes a clawing gesture with his hand and grins.