This week was National Day–China is celebrating 61 years of statehood. It’s interesting, the contrast between China as a country with 5000 years of history and one with only 61 years of history. Students sometimes ask me what Americans think of China. My answer is usually something like, well, Americans know about three Chinese people–Mao, Jackie Chan, and Yao Ming. Americans don’t understand China very well. It makes them nervous. A group of students went on–what do Americans know of Chinese history? Well, not that much. I could maybe name a couple dynasties before I came to China, but no details about them. I could mention Chiang Kai-shek, or perhaps the 1912 revolution, or perhaps that movie about the last emperor I saw in middle school. But for Americans, the history of China has happened mostly in the last few years—Mao, and those few domestic and foreign policy incidents whose Names We Do Not Speak.
But Chinese people tend to obsess over their own history: there are many, many television dramas taking place in ages past. It’s like our interest in Elizabethan or Victorian costume dramas but on a much larger scale. They can recite the Five Great Inventions that China brought to the world with pride, or the dynasties, or whatever, as a matter of fact, and they know their great epic stories from thousands of years ago like we know nursery rhymes. But then, about certain incidents–the aformentioned unmentionable ones, eg–they know little or nothing. National pride is a strange mixture of pride in those 5000 years and pride in just the highlight reel of the last 61.
In any case, National Day is a much bigger holiday than our Fourth of July. Students and workers get a whole week off, and everyone travels to see their families, if they can. Of course, I did not travel to see my family, and instead spent most of the break with friends in Chongqing. But, never have I been more aggravated to live in China than I was this week—the crowds were everywhere, bringing out the most obnoxious crowd behavior. Pushing, yelling, traffic, spitting, noise pollution, real pollution—it all seemed exponentially worse than usual this week. Even though you know to always expect it, it’s still continuously stressful and frustrating. Back home and off the holiday now, things seem a bit calmer.
I took a daytrip with three friends, one day, to a little village mentioned in Lonely Planet. Houses on stilts, quaint vllage, local snacks, etc. Yeah, sure, whatever. Cute and old, but not necessarily worth a whole trip. We changed buses in a city called Jiangjin—just about the worst imaginable in terms of a sprawling, dirty, characterless Chinese city of 1.5 milion and an odd number of stores selling toilets. We joked about it the rest of the day. And you know what, that’s what authentic China means today, for most people—not the hundreds of years old riverside village. Boring, polluted cities of industry.
On Wednesday night back in Chongqing city, we went to one of our favorite clubs, called 88. Natasha commented that it’s funny that going to dance clubs is the cheapest evening activity we can engage in—-everyone buys us drinks and pays attention to us, there’s no cover, etc. At restaurants or bars we have to pay for ourselves, on the other hand. I spent a lot of the night hanging out with an Italian guy visiting from Shanghai. Why are you here, I asked over the loud music. I am in an extreme sports show–I’m a BMX biker. There you have it—a 23-year-old punky Italian, two years into his life in China traveling and performing on his BMX bike. He said he loves it here. His Chinese is good. You never know who you’ll find in China or what their stories are….