iNOW- Lanzhou, Day 1: In which I almost got in a fight with an unnamed laoshi
Aug 7, 2007
|Where to begin... The past 36 hours have been packed full of interesting things to write about. I guess I'll begin with an explanation for the title above:
Day 1: In which I almost got in a fight with an unnamed laoshi
I feel like, all day long, I have been acting as an English dictionary/cultural reference with my labmates- in the same way that they are human Chinese translators for me- and Xiao Li, who I am sharing a hotel room with, just asked me why the chapter titles in my novel all begin with "In which...". It seemed only fitting to begin this one the same way.
As I've mentioned before, I am now in Lanzhou with seven of my labmates from Tsinghua, as part of iNOW, a workshop we've been attending the past week. I'm registered with my Tsinghua lab- thus, I am considered a Chinese student (there are about 30 foreign students who are also here, along with students from a few other Chinese universities). I wouldn't have it any other way; in fact, I'm honored that my professor wanted to take me as one of her students, and that I get to spend so much time with my labmates, who have been great to me.
However, seeing how the conference is run from the perspective of a Chinese student is extremely interesting, and very frustrating at times. There seems to be a not-very-transparent class-system that has been put in order. For example, I took the train last night from Beijing to Lanzhou while all the foreign students took a flight. To me, though, that is somewhat understandable- the flight was very expensive and the Chinese professors could not fathom putting all of their students on the plane, while I'm sure the foreign students (motsly American) could not fathom a 20 hour train ride. But once we all arrived in Lanzhou, a thin veil of unequal treatment has remained. The most notable is that we are split into two buses, all the foreign students on one, and the Chinese students (plus me!) on another. There seems to be no reason for this. On top of that, the Chinese students are always commanded to do certain things first- we had to leave dinner to get back on the buses first, etc.
I suppose that none of this is really that big of a deal- the Chinese students don't really blink an eye to any of it- but it still frustrates me that they should be treated differently. It was in this vein that I almost picked a fight with one of the administrators. We were headed out from dinner, and I was slightly annoyed because I didn't understand why we had to leave before everyone else. Pi Yanyan, one of my female labmates, and I decided we wanted to stay in downtown Lanzhou, to hang out along the river and enjoy the evening. But as we approached the bus to try to convince some of our other labmates to come with us, one of the administrators from the local university overheard and came over to tell us we couldn't stay there. "Weishenme?" I asked ("Why?"). He then proceded to talk to me in a lot of rapid Chinese, which Yanyan translated: essentially, he said it was not safe. It was our first time in Lanzhou and we had to get back on the bus. I was mad. That makes no sense: we are 24 years old. It was very safe. And it was 8:30 PM at night. So... I started to argue, talking back to him in English. I guess I was making a scene (by Chinese standards), because my labmates (hanging out the window of the bus, with Yanyan beside me) kept urging me to get on the bus, which I finally did. I didn't even really care about staying down by the river: I was just mad that we were not allowed to.
There have been many times before tonight that I've been surprised at the way the Chinese seem to just accept what they are told and do what they are ordered. Yet tonight was one of the first times I really experienced it first hand- maybe because I was on the receiving end of it for the first time. As we drove back to the university (on our all-Chinese bus, with everyone accounted for), I kept thinking about why I had stood up to the teacher, too. I would have never done that in the US. Maybe it was because, though I was being treated like the other Chinese students, I still knew that as a foreigner, my behavior would be excused and dismissed.
... and in which we arrive in Lanzhou and Yanyan and I play hooky
The train ride from Beijing here was long, but really enjoyable. My seven labmates and I were all together in one car, and we just played cards, ate together, talked about various things, hung out... I really enjoyed being with them. The boys who a few weeks ago were too shy to talk to me are now friendly and always looking out for me, and Pi Yanyan and Xiao Li are as sweet as ever.
When we arrived in Lanzhou this morning, we were shuttled straight to the hotel, then straight to the conference room. Hosting part of iNOW is definately a big deal for the university here, and they are giving everyone star treatment.
After lunch, Yanyan and I decided to skip the talks and go into the city. We took a bus downtown and visited some of the sites along the river. Lanzhou is built in a valley, along the Yellow River. The river is huge, and figures very prominantely in Chinese history and culture- it is referred to as "The Mother of China"- and it is very impressive. All the Chinese students seemed very excited when we first approached it on the way from the train station.