Last weekend, some friends and I accomplished something that had been on our bucket list for a while: we camped on the beach.
Shilaoren is the nicest beach in Qingdao, and often thronged with people during the day. We had seen people with tents in the evening and wondered if we could do that too. We found a guy who rented a “6-8” person tent to us for cheap, and he came and set it up for us and everything. Of course, it turned out to be more like a 3-4 person tent, so out of the seven of us, 4 slept out on the beach in the elements, under the smog.
The later it got, the more deserted the beach became, and it was relaxing hearing the crash of the waves against the sand as we chatted and enjoyed each other’s company.
Of course, the bathrooms on the beach closed at 11, so we had to get a little creative after that…luckily, this is China, and people kind of just go all over the place anyway, so we didn’t get arrested or anything.
I finally snuggled into my sleeping bag after midnight, made myself a sand pillow, and managed to sleep for a few hours until the sun rose at 4am, because China is one giant timezone, and communism. It was strange waking up at 4:30 and seeing people already on the beach, walking, running, doing yoga, and even swimming. At one point, a Chinese man was circling us, just staring at the crazy laowai 老外 (foreigners) sleeping in the sand.
We finally sat up around 5:30 to a beach shrouded in fog and mist, grabbed some coffee and muffins from the coffee shop across the street, and enjoyed the morning beach atmosphere, as well as the stares of the village people on vacation to Qingdao who have never seen foreigners before.
While I slept terribly, it was a unique experience, and something I can cross off my bucket list, as well as a bonding time with good friends in my last weeks in this crazy country.
Saturday marked the 27th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and it was business as usual in China. For those of you who are historically challenged, the Tiananmen massacre, or the June 4th incident, refers to the Chinese governmental crackdown and use of martial law against hundreds of thousands of protesters who had been camped out in the great People’s square for weeks. The protesters were mainly University students advocating democracy and free speech.
In the following week, China declared that only 100 people had died, while other, less official sources made estimates in the thousands. Soldiers were made into martyrs by the state, and then the event was banned from all state media, and to this day it is still a taboo subject, with arrests being made for even mentioning the subject in public. Most of the younger generation has never heard of this incident, and if they have they will not discuss it openly.
Having lived in China for almost two years now, I have grown used to China’s internet censorship, but never have I been more terrified than this Sunday when I decided to test what I had heard from other foreigners was a sure fire way to “break your internet”.
In Baidu, the Chinese version of Google, I entered (in Chinese) the phrase 1989 Tiananmen. As soon as I hit send, loading dots popped up, and then things went haywire. My internet connection completely dropped, all my internet connection options disappeared, and I couldn’t reconnect until I had rebooted my computer. I sat in stunned silence, glancing over my shoulder to check that I wasn’t being watched.
To me, this was one of the many signifiers of how total and terrifying the Chinese suppression of this incident is even 27 years later.
If you want to learn more about Tiananmen and the lengths the Chinese government has gone to to rewrite history, I highly recommend The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited by Louisa Lim.
There’s an intersection in Qingdao (Haier Rd and Tongan Rd) that I have to pass through to get anywhere, and with the approach of warm weather and summer, the traffic is becoming horrific. While traffic is usually bad all year round, people are flocking from the northern area of the city to the beach, and they all apparently have to pass through this intersection. If I pass through around rush hour, the FOUR LANE road is backed up around half a mile, and takes between 20-30 minutes to get through the light. If there is purgatory on earth, I think this intersection around 5:30 on a Friday is it.
In China, it’s common for people to adopt an English name to use in English speaking situations or with foreigners. As the English teacher at my preschool, it has fallen to me to give new students an English name, and so I have had the privilege to name close to 200 students in the past year and a half. I often name kids after friends and family members, so I can send a picture to their namesake. You can tell which TV show I was into at one time or another by the plethora of character names popping up in certain classes (Community: Troy, Jeff, Pierce; Veronica Mars: Logan, Veronica; Parks and Rec: Leslie, Andy, April). One of my friends has a class with students named Han, Leia, Luke, and Obie, as well as Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
When I first arrived in China, I asked a friend of mine to give me a Chinese name. He named me 林沐恩 Lin Mu En, meaning “immersed in grace” and I’ve had many Chinese people tell me how beautiful it is. As an English speaker, I have no idea what names sound good in Chinese (which was why I asked my friend to give me a real Chinese name), and, likewise, Chinese often do not have a feel for English names.
When I’m naming my students, it’s usually not a problem. It’s when the parents insist on naming their own child that you run into interesting English name gaffs, and it’s more common than one would think to meet Chinese with bizarre English names.
There are three categories these odd names can be separated into. The first is when a Chinese person directly translates their name to English. Each Chinese name is unique, and parents spend a long time deciding which characters to put together, and the meaning behind their child’s name. Because of this, Chinese expect English names to hold similar depths of meaning, and while our names do have meanings behind them, the emphasis is not as much on meaning as it is in Chinese. This first category fits names like Ocean, Ice, Winter, Rabbit, Sunshine, Lucky, Sunnybaby, Dragon, Cherry, or Honey, which sound nice in Chinese, but extremely weird (and inappropriate) in English. Recently, I had a poor two year old boy whose parents named him Angel, and no matter how many times I tried to tell them it was a girl’s name, and not a good one at that, they still insisted.
The worst mistake I ever made was a few months ago. I named a two year old Gary, only to have parents day the next day, and when I announced this student’s name to be Gary, the mom looked at me and said “but she’s a girl”. I stared back at her in horror at my mistake, and she then proceeded to demand that the girl’s English name was “Smile”. There was no way for me to argue after that.
The next category can be classified as names that sound good to Chinese speakers, but aren’t actually English names, and sound either Japanese or Spanish. I’ve had students named Miko, Chika, Yuna (as pictured above), Tintin, Cece, Jojo, and Yoyo (as pictured above). In the Chinese language, a repeated syllable makes something sound cute, and parents often choose names like the last four for their kids. I’ve had a number of Chinese coworkers ask me to give them an English name, and when I gave a few suggestions, they vetoed all of them (Kaitlyn, Misty, Emily) telling me “give me a name that sounds nice”. I wanted to respond “I think you want a Chinese name, not an English name, because these names sound very nice in English,” but I refrained myself.
I once named a student Paige, only to have her mom come back the next day and tell me to give her daughter a different name, because, and I quote, “Paige sounds too much like ‘pee'”. I stared at her, and barely refrained from saying “tell that to the hundreds of thousands of girls named Paige in the US”.
The third category can be described as the names that you have no idea where they came from, such as Fresh, Fork, and Long. The first two, the students just thought the words sounded cool, despite their meanings. “Long” is the Chinese word for Dragon, and somehow it didn’t get translated. Luckily for Long, the unstranslated word for dragon is also an English word and happens to sound incredibly weird.
One of the more ridiculous stories of naming mishaps came from one of my friends, who came across a high school boy named Zex. When she made him change his name, he decided on Zero (which he pronounced “tseh-roh”). She decided not to argue, as anything was better than the original name.
As I’ve learned more about the Chinese language and culture, I’ve come to understand where these naming gaffs come from. While often incredibly funny and confusing, I can also have compassion, as I know if I were forced to choose a Chinese name I would have no where to begin. Every aspect of living here is a cultural experience, even the names of the people you encounter.
Over the May 1st holiday we had the pleasure of witnessing the Shandong Erhu club playing in a park. The Erhu is one of China’s most ancient and traditional instruments, and is also incredibly difficult to play. These guys knew what they were doing, though, and it was a lot of fun to watch.
One of the members also performed the ancient Chinese art of taichi as one of the men played the Erhu. It was a wonderful experience to see so much of the old China in one performance when the new China is mainly what surrounds me in my daily life. It was moving to see these older people carrying on a mostly lost culture, as they were the ones who would remember China as it used to be, and have lived through the unbelievable upheaval that has wracked China in the past 70 years.