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.
I’m currently procrastinating studying for our “finals” tomorrow. Next year the program would be better off omitting the statement “we will not attach names to your grades” during orientation. But I’ll take advantage of this break to share a quick story…
So Starbucks is taking over the world one country, one addict at a time, and China is no exception. I’d avoided this place until last week because one, it’s a half-hour walk away and two, you can buy about ten days worth of breakfast (3 baozi/meal) for the price of one latte. But on the day I did decide to check out what a Chinese Starbucks is like, I strolled up to the counter and stared blankly at the menu for a full two minutes before the cashier bid me a hesitant “hello” in the all too familiar accent. Now, I refuse to speak English with native Chinese speakers, so I stubbornly responded “你好” (hello) and continued slowly deciphering the jumble of new generation coffee-related Chinese characters. It’s important to note that in place of coffee for the past two months, I’ve taken a liking to milk tea (奶茶), a drink with Chinese origins that is easily found in any native café or drink stand here.
“What-a would yew like?” This guy wasn’t going to give up practicing his English.
“等一下” (Wait a minute), I responded.
“Frappuccino? Muffin? Sandweeches…?”
Suddenly I lost interest gazing at this menu of unrecognizable characters and decided that I just wanted Chinese milk tea. So I told the guy “请给我一杯奶茶” (Please give me one cup of milk tea).
The cashier stared at me curiously. “Uhh, we don’t have that here”.
Duh, Juice. That poor cashier. Here’s a foreigner who’s most certainly familiar with Starbucks, refusing to speak English, and acting like a naive 80 year-old native asking for Chinese milk tea in a foreign café.
After a few more awkward exchanges, I ended up with iced red bean tea with milk.