Laura Fayer graduated from Georgetown in 2011 as a Chinese major. She participated in the Berkley Center’s Junior Year Abroad Network in the fall of 2009 from Beijing, China.
October 28, 2009
I have been living in China for almost five months and I have come to realize, despite the overwhelming traffic jams of people, bikes, and cars, you can manage to find anything your heart desires (except for the occasional western-style toilet). As China has recently become a major player in world affairs, other parts of the world have become a part of Chinas people and culture.
COMMENT BY PROF. JAMES A. MILLWARD - January 18, 2010
In reading Laura's letter, I'm reminded of a (bad) joke I once heard about Chinese Jews. The punch-line is, "funny, you don't look Jewish."
December 18, 2009
For seven weeks of my stay in China I lived with a Chinese roommate. She was a twenty two year old Biology major with a minor economics. She was doing research on diabetes and I was studying her native language. Despite the fact that she could barely speak English and my Chinese was not quiet conversational we managed to become great friends.
I told her all about my life in America and she told me about her life in China. She was from a small city outside of Shanghai, which was once known for its beautiful canals surrounding historic Chinese courtyard buildings and her town is now known for its grey factories surrounding the high-rise apartment complexes. One weekend she invited me over to her house to meet her family. I was pretty nervous because they spoke a different dialect of mandarin Chinese and they had met a foreigner before. However, I knew this was an opportunity I could not pass up.
The following weekend we jumped on a bus and rode the pollution filled streets to meet her parents, little did I know this would be one of the most interesting days of my life
We sat down for one of the best meals I had in China. We had duck, fish, chicken, a variety of meat and vegetable dishes, and of course, rice. Her mother and father had been preparing the meal all day and this became very evident from the variety of foods and the small size of their kitchen. Her parents were wonderful; her mother came up to my chest and her father to my shoulders. I brought a few books about Washington D.C. and New York City to show them pictures and give them an idea about where I am from. The language barrier was less of an issue than I had anticipated but it was still difficult at times to understand completely what they were saying.
After I told them about my life they told me about theirs. It was unbelievable. Both of her parents grew up during the Chinese civil war and Chinas cultural revolution. Her fathers family had been separated because his fathers family was members of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuo min tang) and fled to Tai wan, and his family on his mothers side was members of the Communist party and stayed in Mainland China.
My roommates mother then pulled out her Little Red book. The pages were tattered and torn and you could tell the book had been put to good use. She told me this was the book she read everyday and then told me to look inside and see if I could understand Maos Little Red Book. To my surprise, I was able to translate the entire first chapter. As I continued to flip the pages I came across a piece of fragile yellowed paper with English writing on it. Her mother immediately got excited and exclaimed, this is from my English class! This is my homework, this is what I learned to say in English! So I took a look at what was written down and could not believe my eyes. Her vocabulary consisted of words like force, leading, Marxism, victorious, and core. At the bottom of the page was her homework assignment; it read:
What is the reddest thing in the world?
The sun on Tian an men
Who is the dearest person in the world?
Chairman Mao Tse-Tang
What is the greatest happiness in the world?
Seeing Chairman Mao.
This was one of those times when you hear that a time period was a certain way but despite your previous knowledge it is still shocking to actually experience it first hand.
This single piece of paper captured the essence of the Cultural Revolution. My roommates mother was about my age when she was given this homework assignment. When they asked a question you did not give your own answer- you gave the right answer, the communist answer. I have read many books and heard many stories about the Cultural Revolution but this was the first time I truly realized how it influenced the common Chinese person. How it filtered in to every aspect of their lives, even the color of the ink was Red. And then I wondered; if she could answer these questions on her own would the answers be the same? Was the Cultural Revolution that powerful? When I asked her if these were her own answers, she said, Of course.