Posts tagged Beijing

Friendships Built in China and Cultural Revolution Memories

The following is a continuation of what I have started to write the last several blog posts. You see, I’ve been going through my old notes of my teaching experience in China.  It has nothing to do with Kazakhstan or human trafficking but if you read towards the end you can see how inhumane man can be against man.

Back in the 1980s when I lived in Harbin, the Chinese people were very aware that in order to build up their society, they must have good friendships with the western world.  Even though their customs are different from ours, they are trying to change rapidly.  One sign I had noticed in keeping with that theme was:  “Do Well in Sanitation – Build up Socialist Civilization.”  That was a case where the authorities were strongly advocating a new, no-spitting policy. They fined people who were caught spitting in public.

My job description as an English teacher in China was to build friendships while China kept building apartment complexes with red brick and bamboo poles.  The men would bring their heavy burdens to the top of six story buildings singing together in rhythm to lighten the load.  There would be teams of eight men who would haul heavy beams of cement while the leader would call out commands of which way to walk and when to stop together.  The bamboo poles were propped up on the sides of buildings to catch falling bricks OR men.  The piles of cement bags were either brought in by mule and cart or by truck. The men would work their way down the six stories of building by cementing the sides and securing the balconies.

Such hard, manual labor, I hope these men were paid well for their long hours in the hot sun under such conditions…but that was back in the 1980s. I hope working conditions have improved.

Like I mentioned earlier, my job was to build up relationships with the Chinese people at my university. I met some very fine people like Lu Bin.  She was responsible for finding me at the Beijing Intl. airport and taking me to Harbin by train.  Her father’s name was Mr. Lu. They invited me to their place to enjoy eating jiaozi which is like a meat dumpling.  To eat this delicacy, it must be dipped in soy sauce and vinegar.  Yes it is considered among the Chinese a great social activity, perhaps comparable to our pizza parties.

Sadly, at the age of 10, my new friend Lu Bin had been separated from her intellectual parents and was not reunited with them until ten years later.  The stories I heard about the Cultural Revolution started sounding the same.  With each sad story I learned from each different family, it spoke volumes of the lunacy that the whole country of China underwent from 1966-76.  As a result, Lu Bin, lost out on a chance for a good education.  She knew little English while I knew as little Chinese. We got along great!

Lu Feng, Lu Bin’s brother was younger than her so he was not affected by the Cultural Revolution.  Fortunately he was able to learn English and went to Canada to study.  For the time I was in China teaching English I enjoyed being with my highly motivated students.  They worked hard for me because they wanted to pass the national examination that would determine who would get to go abroad for more study. Many of my university students were older and were doctors, teachers and managers of factories.

To pass the time when we weren’t teaching, my teammate Rich would give tours of the city of Harbin.  He was totally absorbed in the history of the city and showed us the sites, even to where the old foreigners graveyard was outside the city limits of Harbin. A few of the gravestone markers had porcelain pictures of the deceased still in tact.  Most of the faces, however, had been chipped away by vandals during the Cultural Revolution.  About in the 1960s the prestigious grave stones and their coffins were moved from the center of Harbin to the countryside.

Back 85 years from this present date, Harbin was living in the heyday of the White Russians who had fled Russia after the 1917 revolution.  They made a lot of money in the timber business and as a result, many of the Russian made buildings were well built and are still standing in Harbin today (at least that was true 25 years ago).  Some of the places that Rich liked to take us on his tour were several Russian Orthodox churches still in existence. One church had only a handful of the original Russians who had lived in Harbin in the 1920s and 1930s.  The Meatov brothers from Poland still regularly attended services with the chanting of the liturgy from the main priest.

At the time I lived in Harbin, there was only ONE Protestant church still open and known as the “Three-Self Church.” Though splitting at the seams because so many attended this service, it was tightly controlled by the communist government.  The architecture reminded me of an old German or Norwegian Lutheran church. In the old days it perhaps seated about 200 people, but when I went to visit it there were seats up the stairs in the balcony and main floor, all to overflowing.  I would guess that 600 people attended a Sunday morning service because people sat outside the windows of the church or sat in the basement or fellowship hall.  Oh for such fervency of faith that the Americans should have with their well manicured and coifed churches. The people recited the Apostles creed together and even sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” in Chinese.  Imagine MY thrill to hear something so familiar yet in a different tongue.

Another onion-domed church situated close to the market was a landmark in Harbin. It had been closed soon after it had been built in the early 1920s and used as a warehouse instead. I had been told that the acoustics were great and on some rare occasions, Rich was able to get inside the old church and go to the top.  The front entrance was bricked up and blocked with “stuff.”  Maybe things have changed from 25 years ago, maybe this particular church is in use for its original purpose of worship. I’d like to think so. Someone from Harbin, China will have to let me know if there are any Chinese who read this blog. One other church was used as a light industry factory to make clothes. Yes, many changes have taken place since the Russians dominated the area.

Finally, I got to know several of the Chinese who had English names…they each had interesting stories.  Shiela told me that during the Cultural Revolution, her parents had been separated and set to work in the countryside in different provinces.  She was only four years old at the time and was taken care of by her 6 year old brother.  She remembers crying every day for two years. Her family had since been restored together and they each had high positions in their city.

Not only did the intellectuals suffer during the Cultural Revolution, but the artists did as well.  Stephen had been sent out to the countryside to be re-educated for about four years. Stephen painted a portrait of me because he wanted to practice painting western noses (they are considered BIG compared to their Asian noses).  The sign of beauty for a Chinese woman is to have big eyes, small nose and small mouth. I suppose Stephen tried to compliment me with that same prescriptive look.

I heard many troubling stories about the Cultural Revolution, but maybe most of today’s Chinese students don’t know this sad era in their most recent history.  I’m wondering what the Kazakh students know of their history.  What do American students know of theirs?

Stay tuned for more about my adventures in China!

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“Karate Kid” movie and Kazakh art

Yesterday I watched “Karate Kid” and came away with different impressions on many levels.  First, I have never watched a Jackie Chan movie before but this one was good because it shows a man who is a master at his craft teaching a young, impressionable, black kid from Detroit how to defend himself.  Whoever the 12 year old actor was who played the part of the newly transplanted American in Beijing with his mother, did a GREAT job. [found out it was Jaden Smith, son of Will Smith] Jackie Chan didn’t do too badly either especially when this legendary he-man type is crying for his family that was killed in a car accident.  It evoked strong emotions in me, I started to cry too. Jackie appears quirky and is mis-read by many people because he is a simple maintenance man in the center of Beijing, but of course he comes out the winner in the end.  The 12 year old named Dre Parker in the movie is the little squirt that is bullied by about six Chinese boys who know kung fu but they have been trained to hurt and maim without mercy.

I liked what Jackie told the Karate kid, “there is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher.” No different in Kazakhstan, the Chinese teachers are trained to be teacher-centered. Whereas the westerner teachers use a different kind of methodology that is learner centered.  Dre first went to Beijing and was disrespectful towards his mother because he HATED China.  He missed his friends and school back in the U.S. that had revolved around him. But he started to learn discipline and hard work under Jackie. You did not see Gameboy or Wii or whatever that stuff is about that distract the younger generation these days.  I’m sorry I’m not a “digital native” so I don’t know what 12 year old boys are into but it seems they are starting to notice girls.  At least this Dre had a cute little Chinese girl he was interested in, she played classical Bach on her violin and was also very disciplined.  She practiced hard every day under very stern Chinese parents.

The moral of the story that I carried away after watching Karate Kid was, “NEVER give up” and of course the old “the Good guy always wins.” Others might be, “Respect your elders” and “Practice Pays off.” But at the beginning when the Karate Kid was about to be beaten to a pulp by six Chinese boys, that’s when I made an exit to buy popcorn and pop.  Too bad because I missed the part where Jackie Chan comes to the rescue and just ducks out of the way and the bad boys do each other in.  I’ll have to watch the movie again just to see that highly choreographed violence.  I prefer the usual chick flicks and the bad boys in this movie are REALLY evil. (kind of like the Toy Story evil boy)  The one Chinese bully had menacing, opaque eyes like one of a killer.  I didn’t think 12 year olds in real life could look so hateful but this kid pulled it off making you root for the little guy, Karate Kid all the more.

I don’t have any photos of the Karate Kid, you’ll have to see the movie yourself.  But I’ll show photos I took at a friend’s place here in Astana where she has five boys, they all grew up in Kazakhstan.  They no doubt will go see Karate Kid because this movie is about disciplined self-defense and not about aggression and violence.  This isn’t about “boys will be boys” but more about not being scared of the big guys and knowing who you are as a person.  Dre did not want to be scared anymore so he stood up to evil and ultimately won the hearts of the audience in the theater.  I won’t tell you the end, but I think it’s going to be an Oscar winner for sure.

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Sharon’s Photos and Story from Beijing

Sharon receiving awardI have known Sharon since we taught together in China back in 1986-88, she was in a different location (Nanjing I think) while I was in Harbin.  Then we later taught together at the University of Minnesota working mostly with Chinese ITAs (international teaching assistants) up to 1993.  Now for the past decade or more, Sharon has been teaching in Tibet.  Please don’t miss the significance of what I just wrote in the last sentence.  Note also that China just awarded her for her service and that this big country is to the east of where I currently teach in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  As the crow flies, Sharon and I are fairly close in proximity but far apart in more ways than one.  I will let Sharon tell about her fantastic adventure up to Beijing.

I had the honor last week of shaking hands with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.  I’d almost missed the opportunity because I went to the wrong room, but was guided to the right place just in time.  I was overwhelmed by the experience, not because of who I met but more because of what I got to do… 
I was one of 100 foreigners working in China singled out to receive a “friendship award” for my contribution to the development of China.  I was flown to Beijing and put up in a nice hotel (in a suite of rooms all to myself!), invited to the State banquet celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and taken to the parade grounds for the big parade on October 1st.
 
This thing was too big for me.  I was intimidated by the other “experts” who also received the award: a nuclear physicist, a UN geologist, an aerospace engineer, a professor of rotor mechanics and another of biochemical engineering, the head of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins, etc., etc., etc.  I’m just a simple English teacher who has had the honor of being granted a visa year after year to work where my heart is at home. It was indeed too big for me.  But, that was the whole point.  I wasn’t impressed with the award nearly as much as the incredible honor it was to extend blessing to the third highest leader in China.  That was an honor that didn’t come from a degree or position or level of intelligence.  It came from something far beyond myself . . . because, really, it was too big for me.
 
I brought home a plaque and a medallion.  I am again in awe that I might be considered worthy to do the work here that I so love to do.  Indications are that I may not need to worry about my visa again for a while. 

Keep in mind that whatever negative things the Kazakhs might say about all the foreigners who come to visit Kazakhstan as teachers or people who are part of the oil industry from distant lands, the biggest threat to them is their eastern neighbor.  This country of Kazakhstan is the size of 4 Texases, but only has under 18 million people.  China has over 1 billion people. Don’t you think they would love to claim KZ as their own as they have done with where Sharon currently teaches? The following photos are Sharon’s and what she put on MySpace.

Bejing paradeladies in redWomen soldiers

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“Crowds of Cheering Fans” by Kazakh Students

My Listening and Notetaking students answers a second question related to watching the movie “Rudy” who had always dreamed of playing football at Notre Dame.  “Have you ever been in a stadium cheering for your favorite team or have you been a player on a team being cheered?  Describe your feelings in that particular sporting event.”

Crowds of Fans

Soccer

Gaukhar N. – My favorite soccer team is Aktobe, because I’m from Aktobe and it is the best soccer team in Kazakhstan.  And my feelings were great when you feel like you are a part of the team cheering.

Diana – I like football, especially the team of MU (Manchester United) and the best team of our country – Aktobe, because it is my native town and good players are there.  So, I always went to the football games to the stadium and I want to say that it is really exciting feelings.

Serikzhan – When I was in Aktobe (my birthtown) I used to go to the Central Stadium and support our team.  I really adore this feeling, because you feel yourself as if you’re part of a team.

Aizhan – Once my sister and me stayed at home together and we had nothing to do that evening.  We decided to watch TV.  I had never been interested in watching or playing football before, but my sister persuaded me to watch it.  And surprisingly, I found it quite interesting.  Brazilia and Japan were playing.  My sister and me were for Brazilia, but our team lost first part of the game and we got so sad.  Fortunately, at the end of the match, at the very last five minutes, Ronaldo goaled.  We even started to cry (say loudly “Aaaaa! IGA!” I’ll never forget that feeling.  Afterwards, I adore football!!!

Karashash – Two years ago I went to the football game “Portugal vs. Kazakhstan.”  Actually, I went there only for C. Ronaldo – the best player in Portugal team.  But when I came and saw so many people cheering for favorite team I felt excited!  That was great! From that time, I like football a lot!

Almas – Once I had cheered at the football stadium – Kazakhstan vs. Portuguese.  Of course, I was cheering for the KZ team, however, in my opinion half of the stadium came there just to look at Christian Ronaldo.

Galimzhan – I had been in a stadium of Almaty in 2007 when Kazakhstan national team of soccer was playing with Portugal for a chance to go to the World Cup of soccer.  After those matches, I lost my voice for a few days.

Aslan – When I played for my class football team in school’s championship, we began as the most unpopular team.  Then we became the most cheered team.  I noticed such kind of things during breaks in the game, because when I’m playing football, I see only the field, ball, opponents and teammates, and I do not pay attention to the other things as the crowd and so on.  But I’ve been to Olympic stadium in Beijing.  It was at New Year and that big stadium is really impressive to stay on it’s ground [?]

Julia – I’ve been in a stadium cheering the Kazakhstan soccer team.  They played against Turkey.  Our team lost with the score “6 – 0”  I was very disappointed and discouraged.  Although I knew that, our team would lose, I didn’t expect such a result.

Ruslan – Yes, I’m a soccer fan, so that I’ve been to stadiums a lot.  I can say, that these feelings cannot be forgotten, you’re encouraged with them.  All fans are cheering for their team and it is fantastic!!!

Gaukhar D. – I was at the stadium cheering for our football team.  I love this atmosphere when everybody around you is excited.  I mean it’s a wonderful feeling when you are just like a part of a big family and for some time you can share joy with them.

 Tolegen – It was actually recently with the match of Kazakhstan vs. England.  I was really excited and thrilling and evening though our team lost, I was glad to be there.

Elbar – Once when I had been in England, I visited “Fly Emirates” Stadium.  There was a match between Arsenal vs. Real Madrid (Real, the team which I support for six years). It was exciting to see our team, my favorite team in REAL life.  I felt so cool, that I could see all players, that I had seen on TV before.

 Olzhas – I have been in a stadium. There was a football match, not American football.  It was very interesting match because I had never been at a football match before.  Maybe that’s why it was great.

 Sergei – I have been in our Almaty stadium with my friends.  We watched how our football players played with players from Ukraine.  It was a bad game, we lost to them.  But we screamed a lot at the stadium, like “Come on! Come on!” or “We need to beat them up!” and some other things like this.

 American sports

Abylaikhan – I went to a Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins game.  My family’s “fav” team was Bills.  When we got to the stadium I felt excited.  The stadium was full of Bills fafns, and they were cheering all the time and singing: “Let’s go Buffalo (;-) That’s unexpressive feeling.  I loved it!  (;-) Buffalo won that day.

Nurlan A. When I was in the States, my host family took me to the Red Sox game.  Even if I didn’t know the rules of the baseball game, the crazy atmosphere at the Red Sox stadium took me away.

Indira – yes, last years I was cheering for our football team the Titans, it was really cool.  I liked it very much.

 Other Sporting events and Concerts

Amina B. – Okay, it wasn’t a sports event, I don’t like looking at such thing.  But I’ve been in the concert of my favorite group.  That was the BEST DAY!  I still remember the date, October 5, 2007.  My emotions, I can’t describe it!  I WAS CRAZY, HAPPY, CHEERING.  And I was under the impression for 2-4 months. And I still can talk a LOT about this concert.

 Yesmurat – Once I participated in a tournament of table tennis and I reached the final.  My rival was very good player.  When the game was started, my friends were cheering for me.  It gave me strength and I won him.

Rustem – I have a little brother who is 16, he’s a wrestler and a year ago he had a competition.  All our family went to cheer him.  At that moment I was very proud of him when he won the third place.

 Valerie – I have never been in a stadium cheering for a favorite team, I’m not interested in it.  Possibly, I will do this later, if I have a passion or someone invites me.  I heard from my friends that it is so great.  Maybe it is.

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Uighur Grandmother – “Be Ready to Serve Your People”

Right now I am just 19 and I already don’t have either a grandfather or a grandmother.   However the situation was different just a few years ago, at that time my mom’s mother lived with us.  Her name was Aimkhan.  She was a very beautiful and kind woman.  She had 11 children, the youngest of which is my mother.  As long as I remember myself, grandmother had always lived with us. She lived a long life, so she always had something to tell.  My grandmother and her family were born in Eastern Turkistan (Xingjiang Uygur Autonomous Region) Kashgar city, but due to political reasons she had to migrate to Kyrgyzstan.  However she always told us stories and reminisced time in Kashgar.  One of my favorite stories is the one about heroes of Uighur nation.

 

         My grandmother got married when she was very young and my grandfather’s family was in politics. At that time after already failing one attempt to declare an independence Uighurs were preparing for a next try.  My grandfather’s cousin, whose name was Abdukerim Abbas was the head of the government of the unrecognized country.  According to the international rights in order for a country to be sovereign its independence has to be recognised by at least 3 countries.  Joseph Stalin, general secretary of the communist party of the USSR made the Clayton’s promise to be the first to extend recognition to a state.  Feeling very excited and glad about the possible future declaration of independence Abdukerim Abbas and all his delegates got aboard of a helicopter heading to Moscow.

 

The flight went all right but when they landed at the Moscow the situation went out of control.  As soon as they step on the ground they were taken to the KGB’s head office on the Lubyanka and tortured by the Russian agents until the death.  As for the Uighur people in China who were looking forward to coming their liberators back home both Moscow and Beijing prepared another version of what has happened that days.  For a long time people in XingZang couldn’t get in touch with anybody who went to Moscow on that  fatal plane.  Just as time passed it was announced that the plane was wrecked and no one survived.  It was clear for everybody that what happened to Abdukerim Abbas and his people wasn’t just an incident but people were too afraid to do anything.  Since this news flew across, my grandmother and her family had 24 hours to pack all their belongings and leave their homeland forever.  And this is the starting point when a great number of Uighur people emigrated to all Central Asian countries.

 

         At the end of this story grandmother liked to repeat “Always be ready to serve your people”. Unfortunately she had never come back to the Kashgar and never knew what happened to her house, neighbors and people she knew.  One of the things brought from Kashgar in 1960 was an album with pictures of Abdukerim Abbas and other members of the family.  I always feel proud to be a part of our family.  

by Makhfirat

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“Strong Belief” Nurganym’s narrative

Family ties are very important for many, especially for Kazakhs because according to our tradition we should know seven ancestors by names. I often heard my father in law telling stories to my children (sometimes, I think, he makes up some of his stories…) about old days. That great man gave me many interesting life lessons and taught very important things. In order to understand how this person became who he is today – a very well known and greatly respected person among 1.5 million Chinese Kazakhs – I would carefully listen to all his stories about his childhood, youth and early life.

 

He grew up in western Turkistan – today’s Xinjiang – on the border of North Eastern China and Western Kazakhstan. He doesn’t remember his parents, he became an orphan when he was a baby, and his aunt rose him up. They were cattle breeders and as all nomads used to move from pasture to pasture,  they stayed winters in China and summers in Kazakhstan – back then no borders remain between countries (Last time he saw his motherland in 1947 since then this is his dream to visit those places again). He rode on horses and grew up naughty and prankish but never was punished which was uncommon in Kazakh families and was against child rearing principles at that old days.

 

At the age 17 he fell in love with a young pretty girl who soon became his wife, it was usual to start family life at that early age back then. His adolescence coincides with Chinese revolution and soon he went to Beijing to learn Mao’s communism doctrines. He left his pregnant wife and young daughter. Soon after when the second child was born, his wife and my mother in law traveled from Urumqi to Beijing to reunite with his husband after two years living apart. The trip took almost two weeks by train, and a young woman, who did not speak a word of Chinese was have to travel with two little children with all these strangers who would help her all way along sharing food with her and taking care of her children. My father in law says that he still can see a picture in front of him of his skinny wife holding nine months old baby and a little girl dragging large heavy bag on the ground.

 

Soon after my mother in law was have to attend ideological courses in Beijing, and she left her little child with Chinese nanny who leaved away from them and reared her son until he reached five. They could see their children on weekends, and she very upset when heard son calling nanny “mommy”.

 

After five years of life in capital they returned to their homeland where they went thru hard years of starvation, poverty and building communism. My mother in law says that is her merit that her husband could build his career; she did everything to help him, gave him suggestions and raised four children alone. 

 

I think the main reason is that they could fight with all the difficulties together without fear and believed in a great future.

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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