Here are a some random items from the past few days I thought I would share:
1. I met a girl from Austria today while I was trying to figure out where to purchase a fan ka or meal card. She asked me what I was studying back in my home country. When I told her my major and that I had done corn research in Iowa this past summer, she said, “Oh, so you worked for Monsanto?” She is part of an organization in Austria that is somewhat similar to Greenpeace. She, like many many other Europeans, believes that plants should “be kept the way they are.” Gotta love when things get that awkward within the first two minutes of meeting someone…
2. In America, one of the chapters in my Chinese text was about apartments and apartment hunting. My friend Tiffany from Los Angeles is doing her PhD in business strategy at Peking University. She’ll be here for four years, so she’d like to move into a more permanent apartment than Zhongguanxinyuan. I’ve accompanied her to look at several apartments, and the conversations had are literally straight out of the cheesy situational videos we watched in Chinese class back home. I almost burst out laughing while she was meeting with landlords.
3. At the Great Wall, countless vendors dot the streets below selling fans, fake jade, Communist party hats, and other crap. However, among these are a few gems. During the election, a red and blue poster depicting presidential candidate Barack Obama by artist Shepard Fairey became an icon of the campaign. Some genius decided to take the image, print it on a dark green shirt, and dress up face and shoulders in a communist getup, looking scarily similar to the way Mao often looked in pictures. The vendors would run after us with the shirts in hand yelling, “O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma.” We nicknamed them the “Obamao shirts.” An even smarter genius was inspired by the ubiquitous I <3 NY, I <3 DC, I <3 etc. t-shirts in the United States and came out with a shirt reading I <3 BJ, presumably for Beijing, however while walking on the wall, I noticed all the buyers of these shirts were American “bros” with ear piercings. Surely the guy who designed this shirt knew what he was doing, right?
4. While spending the summer with my tobacco chewing, country music listening, truck driving coworkers, I felt incredibly un-American and too worldly for my own good. However, here in China it’s the total opposite; I almost feel, well, country-bumpkin? Maybe it’s in the way other Americans react to the fact that I’m from Minnesota. Tiffany can’t believe that I’ve never had sushi or Korean food or even shrimp thanks in large part to my dad’s exclusive Midwestern diet of meat and potatoes. She’s also confessed to never having seen a cornfield. After all the trials and tribulations of this past summer, I just can’t even fathom that. I think most people probably think that I come from a rural area or that I like to hunt and fish. Other Americans often make fun of my Minnesoooota accent. Like I said, I haven’t met any other Midwesterners here yet, much less anyone from Minnesota. Beyond that, I know for a fact that I am only one at this entire university studying agricultural science. It’s funny because this lends even more to my country-bumpkin status. Little does everyone know that I’m from a big city and as girly as the next Cali girl. Before this past summer, I never even thought of Minnesota as a major agricultural production area. Sometimes I feel down about not having anyone else here to relate to, but I think it’s important for me to embrace my Minnesota roots and what I’ve chosen to do with my life. I think my obscure field of study and the even more obscure idea that I’m also studying Chinese and have taken a year off to move to China at the age of twenty makes me unique, sets me apart, and most of all, makes me crazy employable. In a few weeks I hope to find myself at the doorstep of Monsanto’s Beijing offices and laboratories. I’m going to say, “Hi, I interned for you in Iowa this past summer and now I’m here learning Chinese.” And that might be the first and last time that ever happens. I might be country-bumpkin, but honestly it’s pretty cool.