Cross-Cultural Blog

He Said:  他说

Follow along as our two bloggers, Nick, an American living in China, and Tommy, a Chinese living in the U.S., discuss topics from their own unique perspectives.

 

Nick   Nick

Nick Compton is a native of Strawberry Point, Iowa, completing a Master's degree in journalism at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He's been back-and-forth between Iowa and China since 2007, when he spent a semester studying Chinese in Tianjin while he was a sophomore at the University of Iowa. Nick is fascinated by Chinese culture and language, and thinks Chinese food is the most delicious type of food on earth.

 

Tommy was born in Shanghai and spent time studying in Singapore when he was 15 years old.  He enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa and earned his bachelor degree in Public Relations in 2012.  He is currently working in Iowa coordinating a community project.

                                  

Social Expectations in China
Nick Tommy

I remember the scene vividly:

Late last year, I was eating lunch with a Chinese friend who was obviously upset. When I met her at the gate of the student canteen, she tried her best to make small talk, but something was clearly wrong. Her head hung low, her eyes were glued to the floor, and she spoke in one-breath answers, quiet and polite. 

Finally, when we’d grabbed out trays and dug into the cafeteria food, she told me what was on her mind.

“My parents don’t agree with my boyfriend,” she said, elaborating that the couple had been dating for four years, and she could sense he was on the verge of marriage proposal. She loved him, she said, and she was sure he loved her.

But her parents, working-class people from central China, were practical to the bone. They didn’t like the fact that he was a librarian in Beijing, or the fact that he was a few years shy of 30 and didn’t own a car or an apartment. They asked my friend how he could possible support her, and what use it would do to start a family with a man who could barely afford to feed himself, let alone a second (and potentially third) mouth.

My friend’s arguments did no help. Her parents disagreed. That was final.

A few weeks after our meeting, just before the Chinese New Year and a family reunion that would have been painful had she disobeyed her parents, she broke up with him. There was no other way, she told me.

Such is the dilemma in modern China, where young adults must balance cultural and family expectations with the overpowering desire to blaze their own path and do things their own way –touting individualism over collectivism.  

The expectations are fairly clear cut, and the roles are almost typecast from a Hollywood movie. Men are expected to secure a steady job and then lean on their families to buy a car, an apartment, and anything else that proves handy in landing a wife and starting a faily. Women, for their part, are expected to succumb to their gender roles: Marry before 30, have a child, and raise him/her (preferably a boy) to success. In many circumstances, desperation kicks in if a woman is approaching 30 and hasn’t married yet.

What I would argue is that this set of cultural expectations isn’t unique to China, but from what I’ve seen firsthand, it can be a sort of a poisonous culture that acts to tamp down dreams before they’ve had a chance to blossom.

For instance, I have so many smart, capable, Chinese graduate student friends who will forgo a career in whatever their skillset or interests are in favor of what their parents tell them to do, or what they foresee as the most stable option. 

Society as a whole suffers from this, when innovative, talented people are pigeon-holed into the feeling of living a life and a career that is not their own, but is merely what is expected of them.  


我清楚的记得:

去年年底的时候我和一个很明显心情低落的中国朋友去学生餐厅吃饭的时候,她虽然很努力的装出没事的样子,但她的异样也很明显。她的头低低的垂着,目光仿佛黏在了地上,而她对对话的回应更是十分简短,显得安静又彬彬有礼。

终于,当我们准备开始吃饭时,她告诉了我这件困扰她的事情。

“我父母不同意我和我男朋友,” 她说,接着介绍道他们俩已经在一起四年了,她也觉得男方差不多准备提出求婚了,她爱他,并十分肯定他也爱着她。

但她的父母,中国中部来的工薪阶层,现实到了骨子里。他们不喜欢一个在北京做图书管理员的女婿,或者这个快三十岁还没房没车的男生。他们质问我的朋友这个男人能如何养家,一个连自己都不一定喂的饱的人如何能养的起第二张(甚至可能有第三张)嘴?

我朋友的反驳显得苍白无力,她父母的拒绝已经是最后的答复。

几星期后,在春节前夕,她与那个男生分了手,因为她不希望自己的不顺从会使这个家庭团聚的日子蒙上一层阴影。

这就是现代中国社会的困境,年轻人们必须以压制自己走出自己的路的欲望,以及无法凸显个性来平衡主流文化与家庭的期望,来达成集体主义。

这些期望非常的显而易见,就像是经典的好莱坞电影,男人们需要有一份稳定的工作,然后买车,买房,买一切找老婆时需要的东西。而女人们则被希望能做到她们这个性别的标准:30岁前结婚,生小孩,把孩子(最好是男孩)养大。大部分的时候,一个接近30岁却还没结婚的女人会变得越来越绝望。

我觉得这并不是中国独有的社会价值观,但我的经历告诉我,这是一种非常不好的文化,会在梦想能有任何发展机会前就扼杀在襁褓之中。

就像我的不少聪明和有能力的中国的研究生朋友们会放弃自己的兴趣,或符合自己能力的工作,而去做他们父母让他们做的工作,或者说看上去最为稳定的工作。

总的来说这个社会会因此受到不小的伤害,这些有创新意识和天赋的人们都像鸽子一般塞进了这个感觉不是他们的生活及工作的牢笼,而这正是社会对他们的要求。




Four years ago as I was preparing to come to the United States and to University of Northern Iowa, I had no idea what I am going to major in or what I am going to do after graduation. My mum then told me to choose accounting as she explained the stable future of accounting major and the ease of finding a job. "Besides, UNI has a great accounting program and high CPA pass-rate." She concluded.

So that's what I did. I joined the one of the majors that most other Chinese students chose as well. However, I realized that accounting was not for me within the first half of the semester. After a weeks of long and painful "discussions", I changed my major to Public Relations.

Since then, I talked with many students, both Chinese and American, to find out who chose their major and what they feel about their major. Not surprisingly most Chinese students followed their parents' advice while most American students chose the major on their own. Most American students said their parents didn't care what they choose.

However, what came as a surprise to me was the fact that not many Chinese students are as unhappy about the choice as I thought. Most of them said they didn't know what else to do so they followed their family's advice. Don't get me wrong, not all of them are doing great in these majors, but they just endure the suffering (in my opinion), and keep working hard on the subjects they have no interest in at all. "That's what everyone else does," one of them commented.

I am pampered in a way. My parents and I both did not like to work too hard on something if there is an easier way out. So I cannot understand why people would spend so much of their energy on majors they don't enjoy. If they end-up in the industry they might even need to endure it for a good amount of year before they can do something else. And as far as I know, the longer you spend in an industry the harder it is for you to switch.

The reason for such a different mindset of parents is easy to figure out if you consider the difference in society norms. In China, most children nowadays are the only child of the family due to the one-child policy. When there is no one else to take away the attention from the parents, all the expectations fall upon one child. This then naturally caused the parents to map out everything and want their child to make as few mistakes in life as possible, whereas most American parents would spend their attention on multiple children and those families with single child would still be influenced by the society's norm and not interfere their children's life as much.

What the Chinese parents fail to realize is that avoiding mistakes will not only leave the possibility of making greater mistake in the future, but also leave the child to wonder for the rest of his/her life: what if I did/did not….? With this thought, they cannot focus on their current job because they keep thinking they might be doing something wrong. Thus making it hard to give 100% of what they have at work.

There is no easy way to change a society's norm, but I am really glad that I came to University of Northern Iowa for my undergrad degree because it is really easy to switch majors in the United States.


四年前当我准备出发来北爱荷华大学时,我完全不知道自己准备读什么专业或者毕业后准备做什么。我妈妈告诉我选会计专业,因为会计工作稳定,并在毕业后能很容易的找到工作。“而且你们学校的会计专业挺好,CPA通过率也高点”她总结道。

 

于是我照做了,我加入了这个有着几乎最多中国学生的专业。但是不出半个学期我就很明显的觉得会计不适合我。在经过了几周的,又长又痛苦的“讨论”后,我换成了公共关系专业。

从那之后,我和不少中国和美国学生谈过他们的专业,以及他们对自己专业的感觉。不出所料的是大部分中国学生都遵从了父母的意思,而大部分的美国学生则自己选了专业,而他们说他们的父母不怎么在意自己的选择。

但让我惊讶的是并没有我想象中那么多的中国学生对自己的专业不满意,他们中大部分人说自己不知道应该干什么所以就听了家里的意思。我并不是说他们的成绩都很好,但(在我眼里)他们只是默默的接受了这份辛苦的专业,然后努力的学习着这些自己不感兴趣的专业,“大家都是这样的啊”其中一个学生说道。

我应该是被宠坏了,我父母和我都有点如果有更简单的出路就不想做的太辛苦的心态,所以我完全无法理解为什么大家能接受在一个自己不喜欢的专业上花如此多的精力。如果他们最后还进入了这个行业,那可能会要忍受大半辈子才能做些自己喜欢的事,而据我所知,在一个行业里呆的越久就越难换成别的行业。

如果考虑到社会环境的不同,两国父母想法上差异的原因其实很明显。中国大部分孩子都是独生子女,没有兄弟姐妹来分担父母方面的注意力,所以所有的期望都集中到了一个孩子身上,这就很自然的让父母们为孩子的每一步都画好了地图,并希望孩子能尽可能的少走弯路,而大部分的美国家庭会把注意力集中在几个孩子身上,即使是独生子女家庭也会被社会常态所影响而不太干涉子女的生活。

中国父母们没有注意到的是避免走弯路不仅仅会让孩子可能在未来走更大的弯路,更可能会让孩子一直想知道“如果我当初做了/没做…..的话”这个问题的答案。正是由于这个想法,他们无法把注意力集中在他们当前的工作上因为他们不知道自己在做的是不是正确的,所以无法发挥出他们全部的实力。

改变社会的常态是非常难得,但我个人来说非常高兴能来北爱荷华大学读书,在美国换专业的简单对我的帮助实在是非常大。

 

Making Sense of the Geographical Divisions in China | 进一步的去了解中国的地域划分
Nick Tommy

Before coming to China I, like most of my friends and relatives back in the U.S., assumed that China was one, huge, homogenous chunk of land – where everyone spoke “Chinese,” looked “Chinese,” and shared a common culture and history.

After living on-and-off in China since 2007 and traveling throughout much of the country, I can resolutely say that notion is false. Just like in the United States, each geographic region of China (province in China’s case) is distinct with its own cuisine, culture, and in many cases, dialect. Although an overwhelming majority of the people, close to 92 percent according to government statistics, are Han Chinese, there are 55 other ethnic minorities in China. Some, like the Uighurs in China’s extreme northwest, look nothing like the image of the “typical” Chinese person that was burned into my mind before coming.

Now, having just traveled to Shenzhen in China’s southern Guangdong Province, I’ve become aware of another division that shares a parallel with the U.S. – the distinction between northern China and southern China.

In my experience, if you ask a Chinese northerner (north of the Yangtze river) the difference between northern China and southern China, they’ll tell you that southerners are more interested in earning money and less interested in politics.  They eat rice instead of noodles and steamed buns, don’t dine on jiaozi (dumplings) during the spring festival, and are generally darker-skinned.

Of course, if you ask a Southerner about a Northerner, they’re likely to say that they’re taller, stronger, and eat heartier food, but are a tad less “cultured.”

In Guangdong province, the heart of China’s Cantonese culture, I experienced southern culture at its apex. In Beijing and Manchuria (dong bei), I experienced northern culture at its apex.

Just like in the U.S., each region has a rich heritage and culture. In southern states in the U.S., you’re likely to hear voices flavored by a Dixie accent, and will probably see a confederate flag or two, a remnant of an era that came and went.

In China, I’ve found that the stereotypes of north and south are, by-and-large, spot on. Like the culture as a whole, southern cuisine is carefully prepared, subtly spiced, and neatly served. In the north, food is blasted with flavor and sauce, and served on huge, heaping platters.

It’s tough to say which culture I like better, but because I’ve spent most of my time in China in Beijing, I’ve become more familiar and comfortable around the northern culture. Still, the allure of the warm, subtle south is alluring.

What’s most important is for an outsider to understand that China, like the U.S., is far from a homogenous country. The geographic divisions, north-south especially, play an important role.

 


 

在还没来中国之前,我和我的朋友都认为中国就是块很大并且非常相似的一块土地-而且所有人说的都是同一种语言,样子也相同,而且文化和历史都一样。

直到从2007年开始,我在中国生活过并且去过了许多地方,我可以很准确的说我们原来的判断是错误的。中国就像美国,每一个地理区域(中国叫做省)都有自己的文化习俗,美食,甚至属于自己的语言。根据政府统计,百分之九十二的人都是汉人,尽管这样,中国还是拥有多达五十五个少数名族。比如维吾尔族,他们民族的人跟我想象中的中国人完全不一样。

前不久我刚去了深圳,在中国南方的广东省,从那里,我意识到了跟美国很相似的一点-中国北方和中国南方。

根据我的经验,如果你问一个在北方生活的人;北方与南方的区别,他会告诉你南方人更喜欢赚钱而不是很重视政治。他们吃米饭要多过吃面食,过年的时候不吃饺子,而且皮肤比较黑。

如果你问一个南方人关于北方,他很可能告诉你北方人个子较高,力大,吃的丰盛,不过相对来说没有很浓的“文化。”

在广东省,我经历了最浓厚的南方文化,在北京还有东北,我经历了最浓厚的北方文化。

就像美国一样,每一个局域都含有自己独特的文化与习俗。在南美洲,你会听到迪克西口音, 而且你还会看到人们挂着盟旗,用来纪念一段历史。

那些针对于北方或者南方的说法还真不是瞎扯的。南方的食物是精心准备的,而且口味比较清淡。而北方的食物,是在各种酱料下做成的,味道较浓。

南北如果要我选的话,我很难可以选一个我更喜欢的,不过因为大部分时间我还是在北京度过的,所以北方对我来说比较亲切。不过这不代表我不喜欢南方,那边温暖的天气与友好的人们也很让我留恋。

对于一个外来者,最重要的还是得让他们了解中国,就像美国一样,完全不是一个同质的国家。地域划分,尤其是北方与南方是很重要的。

Some of us were talking about the problem of littering in office today. For me, who grew up in Shanghai, studied in Singapore and finished college in Cedar Falls, Shanghai has the most serious littering problem. However, as I have always seen America as a homogenous entity, I failed to realize the difference people came from different places would have. From what was described to me, cities like New York has a much worst littering problem than Shanghai.

This did make me start to think about the difference people show in my four years in the States. Americans do not have dialects like we do in China, but some of them do have a very distinguishable accent. Another thing I noticed was Americans usually have a very strong stereotype for each state whereas in China, most of the people are grouped into North and South.

The reason for the difference in my opinion is that more people want to travel and move into bigger cities in China which created a bigger flow of population. I think there are enough opportunities here in the States so people can do well without depending too much on their location. But it is very different in China, most people believe in going to a bigger city would bring them more income and ultimately lead to a good life. While this idea is true in many cases, I feel there are many opportunities missed in smaller communities.

Most of my American friends could not understand the difference between a dialect and a language and are usually surprised to learn that people from the north can sometimes do not understand a single word someone from the south is speaking even though they can both write in the same language. I personally believe this is a very important aspect of Chinese culture and should definitely be preserved and this can be a good indicator of geological identity.

 


 

今天我们几人在办公室里谈到乱扔垃圾的问题,对我这个在上海长大,新加坡读书,美国完成大学的人来说,上海在这三个城市中乱扔垃圾的问题最严重。但是,我一直把美国看成是一个整体,我没有考虑到来自于美国不同地方的人们会有不用的习性这个问题。按我听到的理解,纽约的垃圾问题要远远比上海严重。

这让我开始回想四年来在美国观察到的来自于不同地域的人在待人处事上的不同之处来。他们不像中国大部分城市那样有着自己的方言,但不少地方会有自己独特的口音,我还注意到美国人之间几乎对其他的周都一个比较传神的印象而不想中国的大部分人那样分成南方和北方。、

我认为造成这个区别的主要原因是不少中国人都希望搬去大城市工作生活,所以人口构成会比较复杂。在美国有足够多的让人们可以不用过度依靠周围环境而过上小康生活的机会,但在中国大部分人都相信进入大城市可以带来更多的收入和为以后提供更好的生活。虽然这个想法依当前的国情来说没错,但我还是认为一些小城市里的机会被人们遗忘了。

我的许多美国朋友都搞不懂方言和另一种语言的区别,他们往往在听说中国北方长大的孩子可能会遇见一个说南方方言的人而一个字都听不懂,但双方却能写一样的字的时候表示大吃一惊。我个人认为这是中国文化中很重要的一个组成部分,方言可以成为一个非常直观的地域标识所以具有很高的保留意义。

The Job Hunt in China | 在中国寻找工作
Nick Tommy

When I graduate with a Master’s Degree from Tsinghua University in four months, I will enter perhaps the world’s toughest job market – China.  While the official government unemployment rate has hovered around 4 percent since before the Olympic Flame was extinguished at the Bird’s Nest Stadium, recent college grads (my Chinese friends among them) tell a completely different story.  Unless you have remarkable skills in a red-hot area like computer programming, it’s nearly impossible to snag a promising job that you’re interested in, and can pay the bills, fresh out of college.

As far as I can tell, the reason rests in simple statistics.  

In 2012, China pumped out nearly seven million college grads, according to its ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. That’s seven million educated grads with sky-high expectations entering a job market that is still heavily tilted towards low-paying manufacturing jobs.  And those jobs are, indeed, there for the taking.

A serious shortage of willing labor has caused many factories in southern China’s industrial belt to engage in all-out recruiting campaigns, sometimes, my friends say, even, venturing into China’s most prestigious universities like Tsinghua and Peking University to fling out job offers.

More often than not, these recruiters are scoffed at. Factory work is looked down upon, considered far below the abilities of well-read, worldly college grads. Perhaps they shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the idea, though. Reports came out last year that detailed how these factory jobs paid more, on average, than the starting salary of a college grad in China.

The problem is that so many in China, like the U.S., hold themselves out for the perfect job – one that pays well, challenges them, and fits their area of expertise - when the jobs available don’t at all fit this criteria. That leaves Chinese college grads, just like their American counterparts, settling, in desperation, for low-paying service jobs, working in fields that have nothing to do with the fields they studied. 

My Chinese friends at Tsinghua who will soon graduate are, like me, scrambling to send out resumes, network with potential employers, and score reference letters from their professors and internship coordinators.  I can’t help but feel, though, that I, as a foreigner and native-English speaker, have a leg up in the rat race.

All seven million Chinese are competing against each other for that perfect job. Most drag through the official hiring process at big multinationals and huge Chinese firms – applying online, taking tests, going through group interviews….Outshining their fellow applicants is near-impossible when some positions attract thousands of very bright, ambitious go-getters with internships under the wings and connections to pull on. 

I, on the other hand, can often just email a company executive to inquire about an opening. Being a foreigner is sometimes that much of a novelty.

Whatever the case, I wish my friends, both foreign, and Chinese, the best of luck while job hunting before this graduation season, and I urge them all to look beyond their ideal jobs and settle for something a little more feasible.

 


 

还有四个月,我将从清华大学获取硕士学位的毕业证书,到那个时候我将会进入社会,进入全世界最困难的就业市场-中国。据了解,自从奥林匹克之前,失业几率也就只有百分之四,不过最近的毕业生(包括我的朋友)说情况并不是这样的。除非你在电脑程序方便拥有非常独特而又出色的本领,其它方面对于一个毕业生来说,能够找到一个称心的职位几乎不可能。

根据我的了解,这种现象是因某些数据而造成的。

在2012年内,根据人力资源与社会保障部门的调查,中国大学毕业生超过七百万。这就说明了有七百万充满了期望的大学生但愿能找到份好工作,不过现实摆在那里,那就是低工资的工厂职位

因为毕业生都不愿意去工厂当职员,所以导致中国的很多工厂都去大规模的招人,我朋友说有时候这些工厂都会去清华或北大去招人。

大部分时候,这些招聘官都会被鄙视,因为在工厂工作是一件让他人很瞧不起的事情,而且更是浪费毕业生的才华。不过根据调查,对于刚毕业的大学生来说,这些职位发的工资要比其它的工作要高。

问题所在就是,就像美国,大部分人都想拥有他们梦寐以求的职位-高薪,有挑战性,符合他们的专业-而现实并不会如此完美。这种现实逼迫了毕业生只能够选择底薪,而又不符合专业的职位。

跟我一起在清华的中国朋友也像我一样,马上就面临着毕业,也已经开始四处投简历,与公司联系,并且为了推荐信与老师打好关系。作为一个国际生,我感觉自己稍微有点优势。

七百万人在竞争一个梦想职位。在网上投简历,考试,小组面试。。。一个位置可能会有成千的学生来征聘。

而我,大部分时候就是发个邮件给公司的管理处,然后问问有没有空位。有时作为一个外国人也有些它的好处。

不管怎样,我祝我的朋友们,找工作好运,不过我劝他们不要把目标定的太死,有时候也需要放松。

I have always thought before I graduated that working in the United States would be difficult. This idea was largely affected by articles and other media pieces either about either illegal immigration or barriers for foreign national individuals to find job in the United States. Many of my friends and I heard a lot of stories about the hardship people went through when they were looking for a job. All these added up and made me believe firmly that it would not be a fun experience to look for a job here. I learned later that finding a job here is not difficult as long as you know how to look for one. In my opinion, the barrier is usually there to prevent foreign nationals from taking jobs with lower pay or unfair advantage over United States citizens. As long as you can prove your value in the work you have done or demonstrate the importance of your work, there should be no problem for you to be able to work in the United States. 

Luckily for me, I managed to get hired as a full time staff member to work on the Blue Zones Project for Cedar Falls. This is a community wellbeing improvement initiative. I grew more and more passionate about my job everyday because I realized that this is such a great opportunity for me to experience working and learn more about engaging different people. However, I couldn't help but to compare the working environment and employees' attitude towards working here with Chinese culture. 

It seems that Americans are more likely to quit a job without knowing what their next step would be. Most Chinese workers would not leave their current job until they know they have another job waiting for them. Americans seem to care more about finding passion in the job and will not continue once they do not feel good about what they are doing. 

Some may say this kind of action is reckless and irresponsible, but I think it is really important to be doing whatever you feel is right for you. I believe firmly that doing something with passion will make you one of the top employees in the industry. It would motivate you to keep on learning and improving. However, I also think that before leaving a job a person should at least have a general idea of what should come next instead of just leave and  start searching later. 

All in all, I have had an awesome working experience here in the States and this definitely would help me in my future career development.

 


 

我毕业前一直认为在美国找工作会很难。这个感觉主要来自于一些网上的抨击非法移民的文章及其他媒体内容,还有不少关于美国找工作时外国人会遇到的“门槛”,我的一些朋友和我也都从不少人那听说了他们各自在找工作时所遇到的困难,所有的一切都汇聚成了一个非常明显的,“在美国找工作难”的印象。不过我后来知道了其实在美国只要你知道怎么找工作,留下来并不是很难的一件事。我认为,所谓的“门槛”是为了防止外国人以较低的工资或其他不公平的竞争因素从美国本土居民那里抢走工作。只要你能证明自己所做的工作的价值,或者展现你自己的重要性,留在美国工作绝不是一件很难的事。

我很幸运的在本市的一个公共健康项目里供职,我一天天的变的对我的工作更有热情,因为我发现这不仅仅是一个十分难得的工作经历,更是一个可以让我更多的与别人沟通的机会。不过我总是会忍不住的比较美国和中国文化上对工作的态度及工作环境。

我觉得美国人比起传统中国人更容易在不知道自己下一步的时候辞职,大部分的中国上班族不会轻易在不知自己下一步的时候离开目前的工作,而美国人更注重自己工作时是不是做的开心,做的是不是自己喜欢的工作,有没有热情等等,如果他们感觉不对那就非常有辞职不干的可能。

有人认为这是冲动和不负责任的表现,但我认为做自己喜欢的事是最重要的。我坚信从事自己有热情的工作会不断的激励工作者学习和进步,从而使他成为行业内顶尖的人才。可是我认为无论是谁,在决定离开一份工作时至少应该已经决定了下一份工作的大致方向而不是先辞职再开始考虑下一步。

总的来说,我目前的工作经历非常棒,我相信这一定能在我未来的职业发展上留下深刻和久远的印象。

Running a Marathon in China | 在中国跑马拉松
Nick Tommy

I consider myself a runner.  I’ve completed dozens of 5k and 10k events, stretching back to a time when I still hadn’t shed all of my baby teeth. The last few years, as my life became busier and my stresses multiplied, I used running as my crutch – embarking on long, slow tears to clear my head and enter a sort of meditation.

In this way, inadvertently, my conditioning improved, and I began not just finishing in the races I entered, but competing. I won some, placed in others, and slowly but steadily improved my times. After finishing a half marathon in New Orleans, and thinking “that wasn’t so bad,” there was only one frontier left: a full marathon.

The difficulty ahead of me was forbidding, however: I was moving to Beijing.

That meant a near deathblow for my training. If I wanted variety and hoped to escape Tsinghua’s campus, I would have to putter along car-choked highways, dodge throngs of people, and endure throat singing smog. Running inside on a treadmill was OK for the first hour or so, before it became intolerably boring.

Still, I pushed ahead, and formed the habit of waking up with the sun to beat the morning crowds and run a few laps around my corner of Beijing. I joined the marathon group on campus, all Chinese graduate students who capitalized on a sliver of free time to embark on long, slow runs every Sunday around Tsinghua’s campus.

In early October, I was ready and excited to run the Beijing Marathon. Because of the 18th Party Congress, however, the event was delayed, and my registration was voided. I watched with disappointment as the event came and went, without even the chance to tie my running shoes.

So, my friends and colleagues in China recommended I register for the Xiamen Marathon, a well-respected run in China’s beautiful southern port city. The climate is perfect, they assured me, and the race well organized. So, without giving it much thought, I registered online, and booked a plane ticket from Beijing to Xiamen.

When my plane lifted off from Beijing, I looked down on a landscape frozen in ice and dusted with snow. Dropping down in Xiamen, the ocean sparkled brilliantly, and the hills surrounding the city were lush green. The temperature difference, I noticed as I grabbed my luggage and stood in queue for a taxi, was dramatic – I took off my jacket and wished I was wearing shorts instead of jeans.

My hostel was owned and operated by a family who spoke next-to-no English, rarely entertained foreign guests, and was fascinated by all things Western. Using my hesitant, choppy Chinese, I explained to the owner, his wife, his brother, and his college-aged niece, that I was in Xiamen to run a marathon in a few days, and just wanted to rest before the race. Over tea and sunflower seeds in their garden patio, they questioned me about my hometown, my siblings, my studies at Tsinghua.

“You know,” the owner said, pointing to his young niece, “She still doesn’t have a boyfriend. Maybe you could help.”

I politely ducked away from that suggestion, reminding them that I had a girlfriend, and few of my friends were single.

On the day of the marathon, I popped out of bed at 5:30 a.m. and gathered my things in order to catch a cab in time for the race’s early morning start.  As I stepped out of the door and entered the lobby, I was floored by the owners’ thoughtfulness. On the front desk was a large, folded cardboard sign that said ‘Nick, You Are the Best.’ It was obviously written in the niece’s careful hand, and immediately motivated me – knowing that I had support in such an unfamiliar place was hugely important.

The marathon was as promised. It was well organized, the route was gorgeous, with the pale blue ocean in sight most of the time, and the weather was ideal. What struck me most, though, was the support I received from thousands of locals who stood near the path and shouted words of encouragement, “jia you, jia you, kuai pao!” Some brought bananas or water to pass out to the runners. Others dressed up in costumes to cheer even louder.

As I passed the 35 kilometer mark, my legs already rubber and my will power beginning to fade, I saw a familiar sign – ‘Nick, You Are the Best.’ The owner and his niece were standing along the path, yelling my name, yelling for me to suck it up and run faster. Seeing them, knowing that they went out of their way to come root for me, sent a surge of new energy coursing through my body, and I pushed through the last 7 kilometers, finishing in just more than three hours.

Meeting with the owner after the race, I thanked him and told him how much his support meant to me. He laughed and once again pointed to his niece.

“She still doesn’t have a boyfriend,” he said, hoping, one last time, that I might reconsider.

 


 

我认为我自己是一个很能跑的人。在我乳臭未干的时候我就已经参加过5公里与10公里的长跑项目。在最近这几年里,繁忙的生活给我了很多的压力,跑步成为了我生活里的拐杖-它能够让我拥有一种很平静的感觉。

 

不知不觉的,我发挥的越来越好,不但可以跑完我参加的比赛;甚至可以与其他的选手竞争。在一些比赛里,我还获得了优越的成绩。曾经我在新奥尔良跑完了一次半程马拉松赛,个人觉得很轻松,自从那次以后,我打算挑战自己;跑一次全程马拉松。

 

不过我遇到了一个难题:我就要去北京了。

 

这是对于我训练跑步的一个致命之打击。如果我还想像原来,在多种环境中训练并且“逃脱”清华的校园,这就意味着我得在堵塞的马路上,人山人海中而训练。刚开始在室内的跑步机上跑几下感觉还可以,不过时间一久就变得枯燥无味。

 

尽管如此,我还是努力的训练着自己,并且养成了日出就起床的习惯,因为这样人群就会少很多,而且给我提供了一个不错的跑步环境。除此之外,我还加入了校园的马拉松队,每周日我们都会在校园内跑上很久。

 

在十月初,我为我将要参加北京的马拉松而感到无比的兴奋。不过生活不可能一切都按计划而进行。因召开第十八届人民代表大会,马拉松被延迟了,所以我的注册无效。我眼睁睁的看着这次活动到来而又离我而去,连鞋带都没有机会系的我感到无比的失望。

 

不久以后,我朋友建议我去报名参加厦门马拉松,一个有知名度的项目在中国美丽的南方。他们告诉我那里的气候很好,马拉松赛也举办的非常专业。我听了后,二话不说,在网上注了册,定了从北京到厦门的机票。

 

当飞机从北京起飞的时候,我看到窗外都是冰与积雪。到达厦门时,我看到的却是闪闪发光的大海与碧绿的山坡。当我一出机场准备打车时,突然感觉到那里与北京的温差很大,于是我脱下了身上的夹克,我是多么希望当时穿的是短裤啊。

 

我所住的宿舍主人完全不会英文,而且很少能够见到外国人,所以他们会西方文化都很好奇。我引用磕磕巴巴的中文,告诉了他们我来厦门是为了跑马拉松,所以在赛前必须好好休息。边喝茶边嗑着瓜子,我回答了他们很多关于我在西方的问题。

 

“你知道吗,”其中一个接待人指着他的侄女说,”她目前还没有男朋友呢。或许你能帮帮她。”

 

还好我反应的快,很有礼貌的躲避了这个建议,并且告诉了他们我已经有女朋友了,不过我倒是有几个朋友是单身。

 

在比赛那天,为了早些到并能够打到车,我早上5点半就起床开始准备了。当我出门进入前厅时,我被我的接待人而感动了。在前台办公桌上,摆着一块折叠好的纸板,上面写的是‘尼克,你是最棒的。’这一看就是他侄女写的,看到后,它给与了我很大动力-因为在一个陌生的地方能够得到支持对我来说是非常重要的。

 

马拉松就想当初描述的一样。搞的非常专业,路线无比的华丽,浅绿色的海洋无时不在眼前,再加上晴朗的天气,这简直是跑马拉松的理想条件。最打动我的是在路边;上千的当地人各种为我们打气加油,喊着口号“加油,加油,快跑!”很多还带了水和香蕉递给参跑的人。有些人为了欢呼甚至穿了特殊的制服。

 

当我跑到35公里的时候,我可以感觉到我的双腿已不听使唤;而且我的意志也在开始退缩,在那一刻,我看到了一个很眼熟的牌子,上面写着‘尼克,你是最棒的。’那是我接待人的侄女与她一家人,站在路边喊着我的名字,让我快点跑别婆婆妈妈的。想到他们各种为我打起,我突然有了股新的力量,硬着头皮跑完了剩下的7公里,最后在3个小时内跑完了全程。

 

比赛结束后我又见了我的接待人,并且对他们的支持于鼓励表达了真诚的谢意。他又再一次笑着指着他的侄女。

 

“她目前还是没有男朋友,”他说,但愿我能够重新考虑。

The first time I know I was going to do a long run instead of a short lap run I was in middle school in China. The guys were required to run 1000 meters and girls 800. Some of my friend had leg cramp after the run. Most of them did not finish it. I was never a fast runner, but I managed to finish the run without stopping.

However, Singapore requires their students to run 2400 meter a few times each semester, and a 5k cross-country each year. I felt I almost died the first time I ran, but I slowly adapted to it. That was when I started to like doing long runs.

I had a minor knee injury when I was younger, so few years ago doctor told me running was really bad for my knee as it puts a lot of pressure on it. I slowly stopped running after that and have not been running since I got to the United States.

Many of my American friends run on a regular basis whereas I do not see or hear any of my friends back in China who runs. I think the running culture is very different and it's a more common practice in America than in China. The environment can be an important factor but also most sidewalks are not runner-friendly. Not many trails were in place for people to use and not many people use them anyways. To me this has  become a vicious cycle because nobody would care to push the city planning department to build more trails for people to run or walk.

I wish cities in China can become more suitable for citizens to exercise, have fun and live.

 


 

我第一次听说自己要长跑是我在中国上初中的时候,那时男生要跑一千米而女生要跑八百米。跑完后我又好几个朋友都说自己腿抽筋了,不少人也没跑完。我从来都跑不快,但是我坚持没有停下的跑完了全程。

 

去了新加坡以后,那里的学校要求学生们每学期跑几次2.4公里,每年还有一次5公里越野长跑。我第一次跑完时觉得自己快死了,但渐渐的也习惯了,并开始喜欢上了长跑。

 

小时候我膝盖的韧带受过伤,几年前医生告诉我跑步对我膝盖很不好,因为会造成很大的压力,从那之后我就渐渐的不怎么跑步了,而来了美国以后更是一次都没跑过。

 

我有不少喜欢跑步的美国朋友,但我几乎没听说我有哪个在中国的朋友平时跑步的。我觉得中国和美国的跑步文化很不一样,在美国跑步是很常见的日常运动,但是在中国环境是一个很大的让许多人对跑步望而却步的因素,而且中国的街道也非常的不适合跑步。城市里可以供市民跑步的小道也不多,用这些小道的人更少,我觉得这是一个恶性循环,没人会在城市规划部门里推广并希望城市建设更多的跑步或散步小道。

 

希望以后的中国城市能变得更加适合人们运动,休闲和居住。

Chinese New Year | 我的第一个春节
Nick Tommy

After two full weeks of firecrackers, feasting, and a whole lot of red, the Chinese New Year, the biggest annual holiday in the Middle Kingdom, officially wrapped up a week ago. I’ve been back-and-forth between China and the U.S. since 2007, but this was the first time I spent the holiday season in Beijing, and I can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed by all I experienced.

As all of you studying overseas know, the phenomenon of culture shock is not a myth.  At first, everything – from the food, the buildings, the customs, the language – all seems backwards and upside down. But, as with all else in life, after you get past the growing pains and come to a deeper understanding of something, it seems less strange, less foreign, and more easy to come to grips with.

So it was for me and the Chinese New Year (春节)

Leading up to the holiday season, I was schooled in the traditions of the holiday by my Chinese friends, and repeatedly told, “This is as important to Chinese people as Christmas is to Americans.”  It’s as much about family as anything else, they said. My American friends who had ridden the holiday out in China before gave me a different tone of advice: “It’s boring, man.  The whole city shuts down, and there’s nothing to do.” They said I best buy a cart-full of DVD’s or a stack of good books and hunker down until the city sparked back to life. 

I quickly learned that my American friends were not joking. When my University broke for the holiday, there was a mass exodus to a scale I’ve never seen. The campus transformed from a bustling, mid-size city unto itself into an eerily quiet ghost town. Likewise the migrant-built city of Beijing, which probably lost half its population when workers journeyed back to their hometowns to visit family. The subway lines emptied out, stores shut down, and fireworks began.

 The Spring Festival is the only time it’s legal to light fireworks in China, and the locals savored what time they had. Late into the night I’d hear the deep bark of firecrackers and the fizzle of colorful bursts lighting up the sky.  The best display came on New Year’s eve, the pinnacle of the festival, which also happened to be my birthday.

On that night, I joined my academic advisor, her family, and a banquet room full of other professors, officials and businessmen to celebrate with a traditional feast. We tore into big, steaming plates of dumplings, stuffed buns, boiled fish, braised lamb, and roasted duck, as the elderly professor sitting next to me talked about his childhood in central China, surviving for weeks on nothing but sweet potatoes, soy, and cabbage.

Etiquette was of the utmost importance. All the younger guests, including me, were expected to circle the table and toast, one-by-one each of our elders. We cheered with cups of fiery rice liquor and glasses of expensive French wine.  No harsh words or negativity was allowed, as it would set the year off on the wrong foot.

By the end of the night, after many toasts and much rice liquor, I was feeling warm and happy. Then the group, realizing it was my birthday, ordered a traditional birthday dish for me – a bowl of extra long noodles signifying a long life. I slurped the noodles and thanked the group, before heading out to catch up with a group of friends to watch fireworks over Beijing’s Hou Hai lake.

This experience, an intimate feast with a group of people I’ve known for only a year, makes me appreciate the genuine kindness and welcoming spirit that I have found repeatedly in China. When I think back on this Chinese New Year, it is this meal, the toasts, the traditions, the noodles, that will forever stand out.

 


 

通过两个星期的炮仗,盛宴,搭配着很多的红色,春节在上周告了一段落。自从2007年起,我来回从美到中了很多次,不过这还是我头一回在北京度过春节,所以这次经历让可以说令我非常震撼。

很多身在海外读书的人都知道,文化冲击并不是虚构的。当你刚刚接触一个文化时,几乎所有的东西-从食物,建筑,到礼节和语言-都显得无比的陌生。不过如同生活一样,当你经历过某些人与事后,你会慢慢的成长起来,然后你会觉得这些事并不是如此的陌生。

过春节对我来说就是一次很独特的体验

在过年的前一阵子,我的中国朋友教了我很多关于中国的过节传统,他们并且不断的嘱咐我,“春节在中国是一个非常重要的日子,就像美国人的圣诞节。”过年的时候人们都是以家庭为主,他们告诉我。我的在中国度过春节的美国朋友跟我说:“挺无聊的,兄弟。整个城市都荒无人烟,完全没有事情可做。”他们还建议我准备好大量的电影和书以免无聊。

我很快的意识到我的朋友还真的不是在开玩笑。在块要过年的那段时间,整个学校都变成了一个我从来没有见过的模样。整个校内都成为了一个安静的鬼城。北京城的人口也突然少了一半,所有的工人都回到了他们自己的家里。地铁也不再那么的拥挤,商店也挂上了不营业的招牌,烟火是唯一能够听到的声音。

那天晚上,我和我的学术导师还有她的家人和宴会上其他的教授、行政人员、商人们一起欢庆了这个传统节日。我们一起吃了蒸饺、面包、煎鱼、炖羊肉和酱鸭,坐在我旁边的老教授告诉我他的孩子在中国的中部只靠吃红薯,大豆和卷心菜度过了几个星期。

礼节在这里是最重要的。我和其他年轻的客人被要求绕着桌子向每个长者轮流敬酒。我们喝的是很烈的中国白酒和很昂贵的法国葡萄酒。在这里粗鲁的语言和不敬的行为都是不允许的,这样做可能让你在将来的一年里都走霉运。

这天的晚宴结束时,喝了很多酒的我感觉很温暖很开心,并且当人们意识到今晚是我的生日时,他们为我准备了一个传统的生日餐--一碗预示着长寿的长寿面。我囫囵吃下了那碗面条,并感谢了他们的好意之后,我又和朋友们去北京的后海参观了烟火表演。

这段和那些只认识了一年的朋友一起吃团圆饭的经历让我感受到了在中国感受到很多次的热情好客的传统。中国年、团圆饭、长寿面、中国的传统,这一切都是我永生难忘的。

It has been 10 years since I last celebrated Chinese New Year with my grandparents in China. I always had to go to school during that time of the year. However, at least I get to celebrate it with my parents most of the time. This year they visited me for two week for Chinese New Year since I had to work. I consider myself very lucky for being able to do this with my parents almost every year because traditionally this is the most important festival and family members are supposed to get together. 

The Chinese Students and Scholars Association usually celebrations the two major Chinese Festivals, one being the Chinese New Year and the other being the Mid-Autumn Festival. This is for most of the Chinese Students here who would not get to celebrate them with their family since both of these festivals are traditionally times for family members to get together. These celebrations are usually open to all UNI students for free and there would be Chinese food, performances and games with prizes. 

However I feel that fewer and fewer students are showing up every year. Back when I first came, most of the students see this as a good opportunities to gather and make some new friends. Now more students have cars and are better connected so they do not see this gathering as important as we used to see it. Some of them also chose to go to other celebrations instead of the student-organized one. 

With a not-so-big Chinese students population on UNI campus, it takes a strong leadership and a lot of effort for a foreign student group to build a culture here. My experience with the American students here on campus is that a lot of them are very interested in the Chinese culture but there is no way for them to learn more about the culture from real-life Chinese students. I hope that someday this will change and the Chinese students can get more involved on various campus activities and not only hang out with each other. When that day comes, I believe this would be an awesome experience for them as well as the American and other students on campus!

 


 

通过两个星期的炮仗,盛宴,搭配着很多的红色,春节在上周告了一段落。自从2007年起,我来回从美到中了很多次,不过这还是我头一回在北京度过春节,所以这次经历让可以说令我非常震撼。

很多身在海外读书的人都知道,文化冲击并不是虚构的。当你刚刚接触一个文化时,几乎所有的东西-从食物,建筑,到礼节和语言-都显得无比的陌生。不过如同生活一样,当你经历过某些人与事后,你会慢慢的成长起来,然后你会觉得这些事并不是如此的陌生。

过春节对我来说就是一次很独特的体验

在过年的前一阵子,我的中国朋友教了我很多关于中国的过节传统,他们并且不断的嘱咐我,“春节在中国是一个非常重要的日子,就像美国人的圣诞节。”过年的时候人们都是以家庭为主,他们告诉我。我的在中国度过春节的美国朋友跟我说:“挺无聊的,兄弟。整个城市都荒无人烟,完全没有事情可做。”他们还建议我准备好大量的电影和书以免无聊。

我很快的意识到我的朋友还真的不是在开玩笑。在块要过年的那段时间,整个学校都变成了一个我从来没有见过的模样。整个校内都成为了一个安静的鬼城。北京城的人口也突然少了一半,所有的工人都回到了他们自己的家里。地铁也不再那么的拥挤,商店也挂上了不营业的招牌,烟火是唯一能够听到的声音。

那天晚上,我和我的学术导师还有她的家人和宴会上其他的教授、行政人员、商人们一起欢庆了这个传统节日。我们一起吃了蒸饺、面包、煎鱼、炖羊肉和酱鸭,坐在我旁边的老教授告诉我他的孩子在中国的中部只靠吃红薯,大豆和卷心菜度过了几个星期。

礼节在这里是最重要的。我和其他年轻的客人被要求绕着桌子向每个长者轮流敬酒。我们喝的是很烈的中国白酒和很昂贵的法国葡萄酒。在这里粗鲁的语言和不敬的行为都是不允许的,这样做可能让你在将来的一年里都走霉运。

这天的晚宴结束时,喝了很多酒的我感觉很温暖很开心,并且当人们意识到今晚是我的生日时,他们为我准备了一个传统的生日餐--一碗预示着长寿的长寿面。我囫囵吃下了那碗面条,并感谢了他们的好意之后,我又和朋友们去北京的后海参观了烟火表演。

这段和那些只认识了一年的朋友一起吃团圆饭的经历让我感受到了在中国感受到很多次的热情好客的传统。中国年、团圆饭、长寿面、中国的传统,这一切都是我永生难忘的。