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May 11, 2014 / windlessly

China Chronicles 5.10- May Holiday Weekend

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I remember that earlier this Fall quarter Mark Zuckerberg came in to our CS106a class to speak. One of the things that he addressed was the controversy over whether Facebook was enhancing or taking away from our social lives. I think that all social media is simply a tool and can be used or misused. Anyway, Mark talked a little about the evolution of communication- the telegram was a huge landmark. Then came cell phones, and soon afterward, the huge explosion of text messaging. With mobile smart phones and data plans came various apps and social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Vines, etc. Where are we now? In between the transition from photo to video sharing, both nearly instantaneous now with our technology. Where will it go in the future? Who knows, except that it will be closer and closer to capturing genuine “real life” experiences, packaging it up nicely with some new technology, and shipping it off to all your friends connected by the interwebs.

Why do I bring this up? Because I wish I could just transport these real live experiences to everyone back home. Taste the food that I’m tasting. Smell the smells that I’m smelling (was that a redundant sentence or what?). See the sights, laugh the laughs, think the thinks (now I’m just heading in Dr. Seuss direction). Imagine the dream catching in The BFG by Roald Dahl, but fifty times better. Pretty cool, no? Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. So I guess you’re stuck scrolling through my pictures and reading my verbose captions for the time being.

Time has definitely flown by- it was still before the May Holiday that I was having a great time playing ping pong against my professors, attending this ginormously massive singing competition held at Peking University, and having deliciously awesome hotpot.

This is Gong Laoshi, my professor for my Communications class, and he’s awesome. He’s already invited us all to play ping pong and badminton with him. He definitely kicked our butts in ping pong, but that’s okay.

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The singing competition was really something else, though. It’s not often that you get to see the whole of Peking University campus mobilize in massive numbers to line up for tickets. The day I tried to line up for tickets, I realized I showed up several hours too late as soon as I saw the line stretching from the east gate all the way to the dining halls. At least 800 people wrapped around two blocks. One of our Peking University friends was competing in the event though, and so we ended up getting seats to watch the show. Fifteen competitors, a mixture ranging from acapella groups to solo performers with ensemble accompaniment, all had five minutes to impress the judges with their singing ability. Our friend Katy, who does, opera, did a really fantastic job. Plus, I was excited to see my Chinese bamboo flute teacher doing an accompaniment for another competitor!

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The Bing program continues to spoil us with amazing dinners. Hai Di Lao hotpot was great- really amazing service, delicious food, good friend. My favorite were the noodles, which a chef would come out and make on the spot via special twirling magic. I’m gonna cheat and use someone else’s YouTube video, but only because it’s pretty cool to watch:

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20140429_182632And of course, I’ve been up to even more food adventures. Because what better food to get in China than good ol’ Pizza Hut? We did get some interesting flavors, like kung pao chicken, but the pizza itself was surprisingly good. We’ve had quite a few move nights in the lounge already, and movie nights aren’t complete without comfort food like delivery pizza or popcorn chicken from KFC.

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Because of the May 4th holiday, aka “Star Wars”/”may the fourth be with you” day but officially National Youth Day in China, we had a four day weekend, which was completely awesome. While a group of us went to Shanghai, I actually much preferred just relaxing back on campus. I was a little tour-ed out, I desperately wanted time to journal and do personal things, and travelling would have just meant a lot less sleep and a lot more to eventually blog about. It was a great weekend. We watched four movies in four nights, which was ridiculous but yolo. I had time to practice both chinese and western flute, sleep in, work out, read my Bible, Skype home, write postcards, and to just enjoy a few days with no real obligations. The change of pace was really welcomed, and who doesn’t love movies with friends?

I watched The Little Mermaid for the first time just because I had to, cried over The Last Samurai, really enjoyed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and then was very entertained by the whimsical but charming The Cat Returns animated film by Miyazaki. Movies and books remain some of the best inventions of humanity, if you can even call “storytelling” an invention. But it’s an escape from the world. It’s an influx of emotions. It’s provocative in terms of deeper thoughts. Rewatching The Last Samurai was probably my favorite, a touching story of the fiercely loyal samurai who are unable to retain their traditional culture in the face of Japanese westernization and global development. Tom Cruise plays a war hero troubled with PTSD who arrives in Japan to fight the samurai, but finds unexpected peace in the culture and lifestyle of the village he finally comes to understand. I used to love the movie for the action-packed plot and epic fighting scenes. But now I see that the story and emotions behind it have so much more depth. The movie does a good job of illustrating and expressing the culture and intense emotional bonds that the protagonist forms while staying in the village. So many tears.

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was very lighthearted and creative in presentation. Definitely a refreshing movie in my book (I might as well blurb about all of them). The Little Mermaid was classic and very old school- but more importantly, I now know the background for “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” my two favorite songs! And finally, The Cat Returns… such an entertaining view. Animated films and Miyazaki films in particular seem to be an acquired taste. You simply cannot compare movies like The Cat Returns, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, or Princess Mononoke with blockbuster Hollywood movies, or even other mainstream genres. For me, these movies inspire. And they often tug at emotions that are hard to hit. The Last Samurai was very well developed and very satisfying for the emotional investment needed to enjoy it, but The Cat Returns requires a different kind of attitude entirely. The plots of old school Ghibli and Miyazaki films don’t always seem plausible- yup, that cat statue can now talk, and sure, a magical deus ex machina tower suddenly appears that can transport the main character back to the normal world of humans, because of course, she is stuck in a world where she’s being forced to marry a cat prince by a unsavory-but-not-evil cat king. There are rarely “bad guys” in Miyazaki films. Things are sometimes nonsensical. But the flavor of fantasy and the charm of the characters are hard to beat- The Cat Returns managed to pack in more character development in 75 minutes than most modern films do in two hours and a half.

 So yes, it was a very enjoyable weekend. Well spent with the few of us that were brave enough to stay behind, and exactly what I needed about halfway through my quarter abroad.

 

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