July 7th, 2010 from Indonesia...
China seems a world away.
We arrived on this island about an hour ago. The little wooden (not very sea-worthy) boat grinds onto the sand and we jump out into the surf trying to keep our packs dry. We wander up the beach for about ten minutes (almost half way acrossj the island) where we find a simple cottage right on the beach. Ahhhh... we can finally relax and catch up on our reading and writing. Yes, China seems very far away. Click here to see where we are... http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Gili+Meno,+Indonesia&sll=40.033372,-105.238741&sspn=0.004321,0.013711&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Gili+Meno&ll=-8.437055,116.026611&spn=1.05956,3.735352&t=h&z=9
But China will leave a lasting impression. The people, the ideas, the history, and the new, emerging culture are so vast and so foreign to our western brains. They say that western businessmen arrive in China with a plan to educate and modernize and show the east how it is done. And without even realizing what is happening they are the ones who become changed. I now understand that. No matter how open I thought I was; no matter how much I proclaimed that I came to China to learn; no matter how willing I was to throw my pre-conceptions to the wind – I am walking away not only with new ideas, but I am walking away a different person. It reminds me of my first philosophy class in college. Something in your brain changes and you begin to see the world with different eyes.
But what we most enjoyed was getting to know our students. In typical Chinese fashion, this both was and was not a representative cross section of the up-and-coming China. Most of our students came from rural towns, left their homes to find work in the big city, and had been struggling to find their way in large factories or export companies. This is typical China. What was not typical is that every single one of our students had the guts to quit their jobs and come to Yangshuo for three to six months to study for 14 hours a day to learn English with the hopes of finding a new job and a better life. From a society that encourages conformity and safety – these folks were different.
And it gave us the opening we were looking for. This greater risk tolerance provided us the opportunity ask questions and engage on topics that were not so openly talked about. We explored more about the one child policy. We got into passionate discussions about Confucian thought versus socialism. We talked about censorship and government control. We asked openly about Tibet and Xing Jiang province. We pressed them about China's role in taking care of the environment. And, just like China, the answers covered the entire spectrum from the conservative to the downright revolutionary. And we loved every minute of it.