Roll up those taxi windows, drag your bags through security… this only comes every ten years. Beijing’s bitter wind welcomed 2270 delegates yesterday to shine their shoes and take their seats in a room booked for the “18th National Congress”. While the U.S. lets out its breath to enjoy another four years under Obama’s leadership, China prepares itself for a new president and premier (7 of the 9 current Politburo Standing Committee members are retiring this year). Xi Jinping, the likely candidate to replace President Hu Jintao, emphasized four main questions to be addressed at this year’s conference, namely: What flag will we wave? What path will we follow? And in what state of mind? To continue advancing towards what kind of goals? (我们党将举什么旗、走什么路、以什么样的精神状态、朝着什么样的目标继续前进) Specific, I know. Citizens wait eagerly to see what solutions the committee generates for problems like insufficient health care, inflated real estate, and the growing gap between the rich and poor. As news stations flash snippets of animated discussions over round mahogany tables, the mysterious lure of the national government grows in the eyes of the people. Local and provincial governments may be corrupt or unfair, but loyalty towards the national government is a tradition that stretches back thousands of years, born from the people’s innocent dependency and undying hope in a power that remains faceless. Just as religion presses followers to have faith in what they cannot see, a government too can round up millions of supporters if only by providing a mirage of hope.
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.