Daily Beacon Column, Part 2

Preemptive editors note: This article? Complete crap. This is the second column I wrote in the summer of 2005 for The Daily Beacon. Read it at your own risk, and keep in mind I was fighting a nasty sinus infection and on Chinese antibiotics (really).

Mountains are, by their nature, difficult to hide. Amazingly, this is precisely what Beijing has been able to do to me for the past…oh…week and a half. You see, there is a rather large mountain range rising majestically behind the university to the north, however the dust, smog and general pollution has caused them to simply vanish leaving yours truly completely unaware of their mere existence until yesterday.

Needless to say, the air here is bad. I’ll certainly think twice before complaining about the pollution in Knox-patch (again). On top of the exceptionally bad air, it is hot-very hot.The first day after arriving, I decided to hit up the Beijing Zoo as pandas are decidedly adorable. So I headed out and the heat and humidity consumed me-the high that day was 41 degrees Celsius, or roughly 1,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit (give or take).

I’ve certainly had to readjust my definition of “dirty.” After taking multiple showers on the most taxing days, I’ll come home after a “normal day” completely drenched in sweat and think to myself, “eh…not too bad.”

Despite all of this, the trip has been amazing thus far. Beijing is an amazing city. There is always, ALWAYS something to do here. You can visit “old China” at the Forbidden City and Summer Palace or you can visit “new China” for some drinks at a club. And there’s always Karaoke. The Chinese love their Karaoke. As our first week at Tsinghua has taught us, they love singing in general. The first thing we’ve had to do at the university is to overlook a campus-wide singing contest. They’re doing it to learn English and doing it with more zeal and pure joy than any group of college-aged Americans would be expected to. Of course, if you told the entire sophomore class at UT to learn and perform a song in Mandarin in a week, you would probably be told to do something anatomically impossible by most of the students. Unless UT just scored a touchdown, and the song happens to be “Rocky Top,” we ain’t singin’ anythin’.

Speaking of that delightful albeit not-to-flattering song, guess which one us folk from UT performed? That’s right, we got up there with fellow Knoxvillian and local music legend Todd Steed and sang “Rocky Top” with pride, emotion, and most importantly-completely out of tune.

However, “Rocky Top” was perhaps the best song performed in the competition. After that it was Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” and the rest getting far cheesier from there. Granted, I know that these students do not have full access to many popular songs in the west-but seriously, “Heal the World?” Come on…
So I guess the Karaoke stereotype is at least partially true. Although the biggest misconception about China still remains, namely that it is a communist country. The only thing communist about China anymore is the party in charge. But the party doesn’t even believe in the principles set forth by Marx, Lenin or Mao. The Chinese love capitalism.

Don’t believe me? Trust me, they’ve taken capitalism to the extreme. During this trip I have been charged to park my bike, charged to use (disposable) chopsticks that they gave us at a restaurant, and charged to use a public toilet. And these are not even the big things. I paid to leave flowers for Chairman Mao at his mausoleum (only to have them returned to be resold out front), then I left his tomb to enter a market where you can by all the Mao memorabilia my little heart desired.

I paid to climb the tower that Mao used to use to overlook Tiananmen Square. I was curious at first why I could not bring my camera only to find a man standing at the top taking pictures which I could buy for twice as much as I paid to get up there in the first place. I bought one…

When I went to the Great Wall the bus dropped us off no where near the wall so we had an option of either walking up a cliff or taking a cable car. We took the cable car to find that it only brought us about half-way up the hillside. Amazingly enough they had an incline train that we could ride once we got there. Weird. Of course, the train didn’t even take us all the way up to the Great Wall and I was half expecting a man trying to sell us camel rides for the rest of the journey.

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