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Free Hugs and a Healthy Dose of Communism

68 °F

I arrived at school at 6:30, but I did not have class. No, there were no questionably fictional floods today. My classmates and I took a school day trip to DaQing, the oil capital of China. The bus ride each way was 3 hours (aka actually 3 and a half or more). We were given the choice of going to either the museum or to a polar animal zoo. We decided on the museum because 1) apparently the animals are treated cruelly at the zoo 2) there are zoos in America 3) we all had a pretty strong feeling that the museum was the “right” choice (where the teachers wanted to go). The bus ride wasn’t too bad because almost everyone fell asleep, so it was quiet enough for me to read 1984 (I finished it that evening. Incredible novel). The first museum was about the oil industry in DaQing. Aka, the museum of environmental destruction as dubbed by the Harbiners. In that respect, it was disturbing. Plus, it was really boring even though our tour was in English. The next museum was disturbing in a different sense. It was an homage to Wang Ji Xi, a worker in the oil industry from the mid/early 20th century. He lost his leg somehow and continued to work in the oil industry, and he became a hero because he plugged some leak by jumping into a pit and stirring a concrete mixture with his one-legged body. Okay, guys. I know how to solve the BP oil crisis. We take a bunch of one-legged Chinese men and throw them into the Gulf with some poured concrete and use their bodies to stir the mixture. :) or maybe not. The museum was all about this guy though, and, to my knowledge, the aforementioned event was his biggest accomplishment in life. I have left out the most notable aspect of this museum. It was very…Party friendly. A wall-size inscription at the museum’s entrance extolled Wang Ji Xi ad nauseum as a good Party member. The whole thing was somewhat horrific to me because I was reading 1984 at the time, so all I could think of was how “goodthinkful” this whole place was. If you don’t understand that word, again, I urge you to stop what you’re doing and read 1984. That book made me a bit skeptical as to whether this man and his accomplishments were…greatly embellished to say the least. The museum, in my mind, was not about the oil industry at all. It was How to be a Loyal Party Member for Dummies. The whole environment just skeezed me out. One entertaining event at the museum did occur though: Bekah pretending to be blind and actually convinced the museum workers that she was. Imagine a purple-haired girl in a Spongebob jumper wearing black Ray Bans indoors and being led around by her friend. Um, yep. That’s Bekah. It was a little wrong but, admittedly, entertaining. At lunch, I learned a bit about Chinese culture by talking to Vanessa, our AFS liaison, and Li Laoshi. Vanessa told me about her boyfriend, Frank (not his real name. We Americans game him an English name. She approved because she said he is very “frank”). She said she used to date a boy who she really loved while in university, but her parents didn’t approve, so she broke up with him. Her family and Frank’s family are good friends, and they wanted Vanessa and Frank to date, so they did. She said Frank is very nice and dependable, but they don’t have a lot in common. They don’t seem to really be in love from what I gathered from this conversation. They’re probably going to get married. It’s not an arranged marriage exactly, but it’s a strong suggestion like most “rules” and traditions in China are. I asked her why she doesn’t marry someone she really loves, and she told me she wants to please her family because she was a wild teenager and feels like she owes it to them. I didn’t follow this logic at all. This is a part of Chinese culture that I will probably never completely understand. But it’s not true universally. I asked Li Laoshi at lunch about her husband, and she said he’s smart, handsome, treats her well, etc. I asked her if she loves him, and she gave me a funny look and said, “Of course. Otherwise, how could I marry him?” So it really does depend on the person! I just thought that was an incredibly interesting piece of Chinese culture. After the museums, we headed home. Everyone was a little bit crazy on the way home. For example, one person who will remind unnamed in case she reads this blog, had to pee so badly that she actually peed in a water bottle in the back of the bus. And it got on one of the seats. I’m glad I was in the front of the bus! After I got back to school around 5 or 6, my sister was waiting for me. She had a math class across the street for an hour, so she said I should wait with her until class was over. I sat in the back of the class and read 1984, so I was happy. I finally finished it a few minutes after I got home, and I ended up eaten reheated pizza for dinner at 8.

I went to Tai Yong Dao (Sun Island) with my host family (sans mama who is in another city visiting her father again) and Tian Tian. Sun Island is basically a giant park. We walked around and took pictures. The weather was nice and warm, so I didn’t mind (although I’m not a huge fan of taking pictures). After lunch, I met up with my friend, Maggie, on Central Street. She was late, so while I was waiting, I sat on a ledge in front of Pizza Hut and read. Suddenly, three Chinese women approached me (cornered is perhaps a more accurate word) and began speaking at lightning speed. I wasn’t sure what they were talking about at first, and then I realized that they were Christian missionaries. They were telling me that God loves me. I was kind of in shock, and I didn’t understand the individual words that they were saying. The whole thing was strange! Finally, they asked me if I could say “Amen.” I said it, probably with a rather inquisitive inflection. They handed me a piece of paper (which Maggie later confirmed was indeed preaching the Word…) and went on their way. So this blog kills two birds with one stone. When people ask me about arranged marriages or about Christianity in China, I can direct them here :D. After Maggie arrived, she said she had seen five of our classmates giving Free Hugs a little way down the street. They had made signs that said both “Free Hugs” and “Mian Fei Yong Bao.” We walked to find them, and we decided that we would join in. The street guards (not really police) were not pleased with this event, so Free Hugs relocated to the open space in front of a famous Russian church, St. Sophia. We got a lot of hugs, and Olivia (future director) got the whole thing on tape. The best part of the day, however, was when we saw a blonde guy and a brunette girl walking around in front of St. Sophia. We all stopped and stared. They were, without a doubt, Americans. Not Russians--Americans. We ran at them yelling, “FREE HUGS!” It turns out that they were on a similar program studying Chinese for the summer. The guy attends Yale, so I talked to him about that for a bit. He was from New York and knew of Jordan’s school; the girl, like Olivia and Maggie, was from D.C. It’s a pretty small world. After Free Hugs, Maggie and I explored the church’s interior. It was cool but nothing breathtaking. After I got home, I skyped with my friend, Paul (my long lost brother), who is in Changzhou, for a ridiculously long time and ended up going to sleep at 4 AM. That was just a brilliant idea because I had to wake up at 7:30.

This morning, I woke up hating Skype. Seriously. Why did I go to sleep so darn late? I got up and got ready, but I was not exactly captain enthusiasm. We left the house around 8:30 and picked up Maggie and her sister before heading to the Japanese Germ Warfare museum. The museum was incredible (not opulent in any way, but it was eye-opening), and I learned a lot. For anyone who doesn’t know, Unit 731 was a Japanese unit that occupied Harbin during WWII. They experimented on locals and POWs in disgusting, twisted ways: vacuum chambers, frostbite, hanging people upside down, putting people in centrifuges, infecting them with Anthrax and the bubonic plague…the captors referred to the captives as “logs” because they considered them to be subhuman. Few Americans know about the Unit because America was given copies of the medical research and, in exchange, did not persecute the Japanese. Some of the Unit leaders were venerated for their actions, and war memorials still honor them today. How anyone could revere people who committed such heinous, dehumanizing crimes is beyond me.

On a lighter note, I only have three days of school left. I head to Beijing on Thursday night, and I leave for the States on Saturday.

See you soon !

Posted by saralovett 15:45

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Thankfully, BP has plugged the leak and won't have to resort to your idea. It did; however, make me laugh out loud !!
The free hugs idea is a bit scary.
I guess I'm going to have to head to the library for 1984
See you soon !

by mlovett

Hi Sara
Your Grammy and I started to watch 1984 via hulu, but decided to stop and watch the rest later. I did know about the experiments that the Japanase performed or shoudl I say inflicted on the Chinese and how no punishment was delt to the japanese. This also occurred with some Germans scientists who also were performing terrible acts on people. Well it is not something that grandparents talk to their grandchildren about, but I am glad that you are aware of these atrocities.
Loe and miis you

by PaPainTPA

I especially loved this entry. It was filled with intrigue, adventure, humor, history, and the ridiculous. What a great experience! I love reading everything you write, Safe travels!

by Painter68

Mom, yeah free hugs was safe...A) it's China B) we had Jordan with us
Papa, why haven't you ever told me about that? I did already know about the German experiments that doctors like Mengele performed..
Grammy, glad you enjoyed it! there probably will only be one more.

by saralovett

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