Wang Anyi — Newman Prize Winner for Chinese Literature

This semester I got to meet the famous Chinese writer, Wang Anyi, who came to OU to receive her award for the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. I went to a Chinese Salon conducted only in Chinese where a panel of top Chinese writers, thinkers and interpreters took questions about Chinese history and writing. I understood about 40%, but one point I did manage to grasp was that Wang Anyi is not just a skillful writer, but also a thinker. In her writings set during the Mao era in China, she skillfully captured fundamental themes such as love, family, revenge, and death, themes which do not change despite the tumultuous outward political environment.

After the salon, I got to take a photo with Wang Anyi, along with another Chinese girl I met who has the same Chinese name as me. I also had the opportunity to take a photo with a Peking University professor.

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M&M — my two German conversation partners

Through the German Club at OU, I was connected with two girls from German (both with names beginning with M) to be my conversation partners. They both are Master’s students in petroleum engineering, and speak English fluently. I’ve only taken one semester of German, so the first meeting was mostly in English. I quickly realized that I was nowhere near a conversational level,  so instead they taught me some basic survival vocabulary as we sat outside Second Wind Cafe sipping our chai tea lattes. They helped me work on the German “r” sound as well as o, u, and a umlaut. I was happily surprised to realize that some of the sounds mimic Chinese letters, but then caught myself wanting to reply to German questions in Chinese. I will not be surprised if while in Germany this summer, I accidentally blurt out a few lines in Chinese. I’ve heard that it’s easier to learn a second language once you’ve learned one, but I think German is still pretty difficult, and nothing like Chinese at all. It’s going to be a challenging next few weeks studying abroad, but I look forward to being able to converse proficiently with M&M in German! I hope to meet up with them again in Germany and have a meeting in German instead of English.

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Environmental Crisis, Social Movements, and Nascent Democratization in China

The OU Institute for US-China Affairs hosted Liu Jianqiang, a Chinese investigative reporter and environmentalist to give a talk on how China’s worsening environmental crisis is catalyzing social movements. He began by giving a brief history of environmental issues that sparked public outcry, beginning with the Three Gorges Dam project that displaced over a million Chinese villagers. He recounted other environmental crises that sparked public protest, and as time went on, the government became more responsive to the people’s requests. He referred to 2012 as the year of dramas and showed pictures of environmental protests that occurred all over China–I had no idea that so many public demonstrations occurred in China’s recent history and are continuing to occur as the environmental crisis worsens. He said that most cases of public disorder have been tied to pollution issues for three reasons.

  1. Pollution is intolerable
  2. Environmental rights are apolitical (or at least seem that way)
  3. Environmental issues have a wider impact; there is safety in numbers

Ultimately, he argued that although citizens and journalist did not set out to turn their environmental efforts into a democratic movement, they have effectively established a relatively democratic sphere in the green movement.

Liu Jianqiang’s talk got me interested China’s environmental crisis, so in my Chinese capstone class, I decided to research the issue of cancer villages in China, villages where the rate of cancer is significantly higher due to economic over-development and industrial pollution. As with many environmental issues in China, I realized that the first step for the government to solve an environmental problem is to address the problem. But in most cases, the government censors “sensitive” content such as environmental issues, because they put pressure on the government, and as Liu proved, often are charged with democratic sentiment. Although the Chinese government is gradually beginning to respond more to environmental protests, hey are still more focused on economic development. So at present, such environmental issues are swept under the rug.

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Calligraphy

This past semester I decided to attend an Arabic calligraphy event, because I had some experience with Chinese calligraphy and I was curious to find experience a new culture and language, and see how it compared with Chinese.
A room full of students sat around and watched as a middle-aged man began to write in Arabic on a chalk board. He wrote a few different scripts, and each one became more decorated and complicated than the one before it. The first difference between Arabic and Chinese calligraphy became quickly obvious, as I had no idea what was being written, or even the names and boundaries of the Arabic letters. That made it slightly more difficult as the swirly script carried no meaning for me. But I could still appreciate the amount of time and detail that went into drawing each letter.
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Sitting in a classroom drawing in Arabic reminded me of when I took a calligraphy class in China, where my professor was an old Chinese man with a round face and deep voice who spoke melodically about Chinese history as he carefully painted beautiful Chinese characters stroke by stroke. For a single character, he demonstrated at least 4 or 5 different scripts, some readable, others unrecognizable. But even the unrecognizable script had its own specific design and stroke pattern, despite its apparent sloppiness. As I watched the Arabic calligrapher draw out the different scripts with letters of a specific shape and size (measured by the the unit of a little diamond), I was reminded of the detailed rules involved in Chinese calligraphy.
Another point that impressed me was how much school and training the calligrapher went though to master the art of calligraphy. He went to two different schools in two different countries and studied for many years to attain to such a level of calligraphy mastery. Maybe after medical school, I can attend a calligraphy school in Morocco (after I learn Arabic).
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Schnitzel

A few weeks ago my mom took me out to a small, local, hole-in-the-wall German restaurant that recently opened up near our house. The quaint, dimly-lit cafe had only a handful of customers, and German /flags, posters with German sport teams, and traditional German clothing decorated the walls. The menu was full of all different types of wurst and schnitzel I had never seen before, so it took us a while to order. When our food arrived, a semester in Biochemistry told me that 80% of what was on my plate was carbohydrates and protein, with the leftover 20% being purple cabbage and its cousin, sauerkraut. I had a flashback to a summer in Spain where I found myself desperately ordering an “ensalada” to increase my fiber intake. But, to my dismay, the wilted lettuce was swimming in a dollop of mayonnaise when it came out. I remember that meal vividly, and often think back on it and laugh.

Last week, my Chinese teacher took our Chinese capstone class out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We all grasped our chopsticks with familiarity and fondness, remembering our experiences together as a class and recalling our highlights in China, as we indulged in a rich, albeit somewhat Americanized, Chinese feast. My Chinese teacher chimed in from the other end of the table, “Xuelian, hao chi ma?” I responded politely that the food was great — and it was! She responded that because the company is good, the food is good. I laughed, and then considered her comment more as I chomped down on my fried rice. Actually, the main reason I enjoy Chinese food is not the MSG, but because Chinese food embodies China–the people, the language, the scenery, the culture. So, in a sense, when I eat Chinese food, I get to re-live my experiences in China. Through the doorway of food, an entire culture is opened up.

Although I will admit that according to my grade book the European cuisine has not always earned straight A’s, I am eager to give it another chance as I look forward to studying abroad in Stuttgart for 6 weeks to learn German and to not just eat, but experience German food. While I was in Asia for 6 months, one of the main entries in my travel journal was “New Foods,” and each new food was tied to a memorable experience. This summer, I look forward to expanding that list –as well as my “globally engaged” palate. I anticipate that German food will become more appealing to me after I come back from six weeks of absorbing German culture and cuisine.

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