Oh, where are you digging a hole to ...China?

Oh, where are you digging a hole to ...China?

Randi Dermo

Meet ... Randi Dermo

China Study Abroad Major: Languages and Cultures
Location: Beijing, China
Studying: Spending four weeks immersed in the Chinese culture while visiting majestic, historical sites and studying at the prestigious Institute of Chinese as Second Language of Peking University.

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You know when you’re four years old and playing in that plastic three-by-five foot yellow and blue sandbox in the backyard? Your parents are sitting there watching you dig a tiny hole in one of the corners and they jokingly ask, “Oh, where are you digging a hole to? China?!” Yeah, the old “China hole” joke.

We’ve all heard it a few times in our day. But what exactly is the origin of humor in that so-called “joke”?

Well, when you consider that there is 7,000 miles of nothing but land, water and blue sky separating U.S.’s east coast and Beijing, only reachable by a plane ride just shy of 14 hours, the concept of this foreign land which goes by the name of “China” almost seems comical.

At least that’s how I felt weeks before our little tribe of 12 Bloomsburg students hopped on a plane and flew to China’s capital, with the goal of taking a few courses to improve our Chinese (or in some cases, to begin learning the language altogether) and to discover the pleasures of a different culture, which is nearly always a remarkable experience and, in many ways, self-satisfying.

So on the morning of June 30 we said our good-byes to the good, old U.S. of A and “Ni hao!” to China with all the same hopes and desires: to get lost in a new and exciting world, and, hopefully, to do a little personal growing. At least that’s what I like to think anyway.

Who Needs A Fork?

General Tso’s Chicken, Lo Mein, pork fried rice, cheese fried wontons. Yum! There’s nothing like a take-out Styrofoam container of American Chinese cuisine — emphasis on the American.

Now, it was no surprise to me that the food in Beijing was more authentic than in the States… I’d be worried if it weren’t! However, what did surprise me was that I actually liked this authentic Chinese food!

Unlike the food in America, true Chinese cuisine puts a much greater emphasis on veggies. Like Americans, the Chinese are big meat lovers — not so convenient for a person who does not eat meat.

Another big difference of dining in China is that instead of ordering individual meals, it is common for a party to share dishes. At restaurants you’ll find large, circular, glass plates on tabletops. The dishes of food are then simply set on the glass plates, which spin in order to accommodate everyone seated at the table. Then, everyone just goes at it with his or her chopsticks. No serving utensils needed here! Sticking your personal fork or spoon into the serving dish is generally a big “no, no” for me, but I don’t seem to mind it here. I suppose living in a foreign country for a month is bringing out the real risk-taker in me!

Sometimes It’s Okay to Judge Others

I studied Chinese for four semesters at Bloomsburg. I technically have a minor in the darn language and I’m delighted to even exchange a simple greeting with a native speaker.

There’s no doubt that Chinese is a tough, tough language. And I know all us Americans tend to think that the rest of the world can speak English. Not only is it inconsiderate to visit a foreign country and expect its people to speak YOUR language in order to convenience you, but it’s as simple as this: not everyone speaks English!

Let me just recount a little incident that could have easily turned out to be quite embarrassing, if my very non-Asian friend didn’t love studying Chinese so much.

One day I returned from class to find that the lock of my bedroom door had mysteriously been broken so that it would not open from the inside. My friend, Dan, alerted a maid about the situation, who, in turn, phoned a custodian to come fix the lock. About five minutes later my doorbell rang — obviously the man who has come to fix my door. Who else could it possibly be?!

I opened the door to find a middle-aged, dainty Chinese woman standing in the hall. Now, this caught me a little off guard because I was expecting more of a manly handyman, but hey, all the more power to ya! The bubbly, little woman says something to me in Chinese, of which I do not understand a single word, so naturally I usher the poor thing into my room. I’m just about to show her the broken lock when I really take this woman in for the first time. She is donning a bright, colorful traditional Chinese outfit and is carrying gift bags … And that’s about the time when I become doubtful that this visitor is really here to fix my door.

Luckily, Dan interjected and asked the woman what she was here for (in Chinese, of course). Turns out she was visiting a professor on the 6th floor of our building — and NOT trying to fix my broken lock. Unfortunately, there were only pies in her gift bags, not tools.

Hidden Alleyways

Maybe it’s the area surrounding Peking University, but it’s been a little slow around these neck of the woods. Not really much nightlife. We found this restaurant and bar called Laker’s Pizza, which sells American food. Thank God, too. I know I said that I’m enjoying the Chinese cuisine, but once in a while I just need some pizza and onion rings for my health! But now we’re frequenting this place all too often (in other words, every night). Laker’s is great and all, but I think it is only appropriate to experience some Chinese nightlife while we’re in China!

Last night I had the opportunity to go to a part of Beijing called Nan Luo Guo Xiang, and it was awesome! There was art, concerts, bars, boutiques, Chinese hippie stores — the whole works. Nan Luo Guo Xiang is basically where the Chinese hipsters hang. But other than catering to Beijing’s indie scene, the little alleyway is quite aesthetically pleasing, as well. With a stone roadway, art splashed on the walls of buildings, and glowing lanterns dangling from nearly every storefront, Nan Luo Guo Xiang is a cultural aspect of Beijing that you definitely do not want to miss. Good vibes!

Horrors Surrounding Beauty

Yesterday we visited Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City. As beautiful as it was, the fact that 980 very large buildings was the home of Chinese emperors for hundreds of years is the most fascinating part for me. It’s, like, so big, it’s crazy!

After The Forbidden City, we were walking along the sidewalk to the bus. The sidewalk was just packed with people. Along one block, there was beggar after beggar. Every city has its beggars, but I had never seen anything like this before in my life. These beggars were mutilated. One man, who was wailing a song into a microphone, was shirtless and missing his entire left arm. His face was also burnt. If anything else on him was damaged or missing, I do not know. I had to look away. Witnessing these human beings was truly horrific.

    — Randi Dermo, languages and cultures major