China isn’t the most popular country on the planet right now, thanks to 2019-nCoV, coronavirus, COVID 19 or the politically incorrect, Chinese Virus. This isn’t the first time China has given the world a virus. There was the Asian flu in 1956, SARS in 2002 and H7N9 in 2012. Being one of the oldest cultures on the planet, many Chinese people still believe in TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine. For many Chinese, especially the older generation, this is the first step in treatment when they feel unwell. They will go to the local practitioner and will be treated with acupuncture, cupping, herbal remedies, etc. These treatments are not effective for these viruses, thus allowing the infected individuals to return to the public, infect others and sometimes giving us a pandemic. Although, this coronavirus may go down in history as the one that stopped the world. When the virus first appeared, the world looked on, watching and waiting, not expecting the world to stop turning.
There is a lot of negativity toward China right now. I see hundreds of posts saying China lied to the world…the numbers are fake…it (the virus) was created in a lab for bio-warfare…general hate messages about Communism and the government. I get it. I understand being angry at China. I understand the “buy American” sentiment in the USA and I support it…to a point. China was my home for 4 years and yes, sometimes I got mad at China. Some things about China, I will not miss. I don’t want to turn this into a political post or “I hate China” or anything negative in general because China isn’t all “bad”. During the Han Dynasty, 202 BC-AD 220, China gave of us one of the 4 great inventions of the ancient world, paper/papermaking. Along with paper, they also gave us the compass, gunpowder, and printing (woodblock and moveable type). These 4 discoveries are considered to have had a major impact on the development of civilization around the world. I don’t want to talk about what China has given the world. I want to tell you what China gave me during the 4 years I called it home.
China gave me the chance to see, touch and walk on one of the “Seven Wonders of the New World” The Great Wall of China…With a total length of 21,196.18 km (13,170.70 miles), equal to half the length of the Equator, the Great Wall of China is the longest feat of human engineering. The 2,700 year-old structure is not a single long line but a series of many walls sometimes doubling and tripling itself. I have visited 5 different sections of the Great Wall including LaoLongtou or Old Dragon’s Head where the wall ends in the Bohai Sea. And, just for the record, it is not true that the Great Wall of China is visible from space.
March 29, 1974, some farmers in Xi’an, Shaanxi were digging a well and uncovered terracotta pottery. This pottery was the funerary art of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China (210-209 BCE). This 8000+ army complete with horses, chariots, officials and acrobats was meant to protect and entertain the emperor in the afterlife. To see this massive UNESCO Heritage Site was overwhelming.
Tibet, “Land of Snows”, “The Roof of the World” is still a controversial place when you speak to mainland Chinese. Is it part of China or not? The PRC (People’s Republic of China) claims Tibet is an integral part of China while the Tibetan Government-in-Exile maintains that Tibet is an independent state under lawful occupation. What I know is Tibet is a magical place that I was fortunate to visit. It was like the land where time stopped. I was afforded the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the Dalai Lamas. I learned about and experienced Buddhism first hand. I rode a yak, ate yak meat, had yak cheese and butter. When I camped on Mount Everest Base Camp, our tent was heated by burning yak dung. China gave me a dream come true in Tibet.
Food…China introduced me to “real” Chinese food. You can read more about Chinese food here, because Chinese food in China is nothing like what we have in the USA. I have eaten many strange things in China and things that I know some of my friends frown upon. Donkey meat for one. One of the communities where I lived, was known for raising donkeys, not only for the meat but for making Ejiao which is important in TCM. If you are going to immerse yourself in a culture, sometimes you have to overlook your personal feelings. I had no problem eating donkey meat and if I tell the truth, I loved it. I also view it very similarly to countries that raise cows for meat, milk and their hides for leather. If you choose to be vegetarian or vegan, great, that’s your choice! I just happen to be a meat-eater. I also learned that the Chinese do not waste any part of the animal and most everything is consumed. Much of this stemming from years when the country was suffering widespread famine with the most recent between the years 1942 and 1961 during which as many as 45 million people perished. Ahhh, then there are the controversial markets.
Every big city and every rural village has its markets. I have seen animals slaughtered and have purchased the meat. I have seen all the bugs, snakes, starfish on skewers and sold as snacks. Some I have even indulged in myself and most I didn’t care for. These markets don’t only exist in China but all over Asia and SE Asia as I have visited many and have enjoyed more than a few meals at these markets. If you know anything about me, you know I have an obsession with noodles, especially noodle dishes from Asian countries. Thank you, China for introducing me to Lánzhōu Lā Mǐan. Honestly, I mostly thought rice when I thought about China, but I learned that noodles are just as popular. Actually, noodles are popular in the more northern areas of China while more rice is consumed in southern China. Just for the record, I do not like chicken feet. The other thing I learned about food is the Chinese have a way with vegetables that is amazing and I can’t talk about the food without mentioning dumplings. I never met a dumpling I didn’t like.
During the 4 years I lived in China, it gave me some of the most amazing experiences of my life. It is a beautiful country with a lot to offer. Most of all, China has shown me the beauty of its people. They are kind, they are generous, they are hard-working. They are proud of their country. What I want to say here is; we may not agree with their government, their traditions or their way of life, but as a whole, they are good people. I will always consider the people that crossed my path during my time in China as friends, some as close as family. Marlon, my student in Qingdao and his mom are near and dear to my heart. My Chinese co-workers at my first job in Xiashan, the small rural village that made me decide I wanted to stay in China a bit longer. Rabbin and his family in Changning, Hunan that treated me as part of their family. Peter and his extended family in Dong’e that cared for me during my broken back journey. The doctors and nurses that cared for me without prejudice…my “noodle guy”….my “littles”… my sweet Alice…my neighbors…all my students, some I got to know well and some just part of the overcrowded classrooms that I would only see once every two weeks. China, thank you for putting each and every one of these souls in my life.
I’ve heard the phrase, “China is the country you love to hate and hate to love”. During these times when China is the target of much hate, I am choosing to remember the things I love about China. I will choose to buy American when I can.
After all, I am an American born and raised, but I will not choose to hate an entire country that showed me kindness, love, and gave me joy. There are things I did not agree with while in China but those things are not for me to try to change. I can hope that the people of China will choose to make changes in their society. That they and the rest of the world will come out of this stronger and more conscious of how the actions of a few can affect the many. China, thank you for the 4 years of love you gave me.