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.
Today we took a trip to Jinshan Ling (金山岭), one of the better places to view the Great Wall. If you’re looking for a truly stunning experience, I’ve heard camping overnight on any of the wall’s most remote locations is incredible.
While this section is primarily visited by locals, we still ran into quite a few European accents on the hike today. But I’m afraid that our oh-so-strict language pledge thoroughly confused one poor English woman who offered to take our photo. After she snapped the picture, here’s something like how it went:
“Here you go”, she says, extending the camera to me.
“A, xiexie ni.” (Thank you).
I freeze. Shoot, that was Chinese.
Sure enough, she eyes me curiously as my friend starts chatting away, also in bizarre harsh tones that starkly clash with our appearance. I wait for the question.
“So, are, are you visiting from some western European nation?”
Europe? I shake my head no.
“Do you uh, speak a different… do you speak two languages? English?”
I’m dying to answer her and easily end this confusion but notice our conversation has already attracted my teacher’s attention. No way out. I can only nod back silently- probably wearing a pained expression knowing where this is going. The woman looks more bewildered.
To no one’s avail, my teacher pipes in with her choppy Chinese accent: “They can’t speak English– we don’t let them.”
Silence. Now the woman surveys us as if to determine whether we’re actually orphans abandoned by heartless parents forced to journey across the Great Wall and into the wastelands of Mongolia. I writhe in helplessness. After giving her one last apologetic glance I step ahead and consciously pick up the pace.