Thursday, May 15, 2008

From the archives

This is cheating -- definitely cheating -- but I'm going to dig into my blogger archives and rehash something I wrote a year and a half ago that I just reread and thought relevant to this blog.

From January 19, 2007, a blog post titled, "CHINA: A life calling realized":

I get restless every time I watch a documentary about China. It's not just that I sympathize with the many generations of Chinese citizens getting left behind by the country's massive modernization movement -- the peasants who still toil in the villages oblivious to the wealth just downstream, or the window-cleaners forced to work at night because the businesses prefer their view of the skyline unimpeded during the day, or the homemaker who says, "My dream was always to be a simple woman" -- but because I think about the opportunities that are potentially there for me -- the stories to be reported on the professional side, the nightlife to be enjoyed on the personal (from experience last summer, I can say that that nightlife is very enjoyable). Selfish, yes, but my ambitions always have been. I've wondered before what it was like to be a muckraker in turn-of-the-century America, hailed by people struggling to find an identity as a voice for the voiceless. No need to wonder anymore: it's happening all over again in China, right now. And I wonder how much I've already missed...


Foremost among the questions that weigh heavy in my mind is, "How do you find your identity in a country of 1.5 billion?" It's a personal question, for I have family in Beijing that can trace their ancestry back multiple generations -- to powerful people, too, like landowners and military leaders. My maternal grandfather was a notable military officer whose head, I was told, garnered a huge bounty from the Japanese. My father's little brother is currently a colonel in a government post in Beijing, yet he's the antithesis of what you'd expect a military man to be; gracious, good-looking, popular, and one of the most personable of my relatives, he places family -- not country -- above all else, often telling his daughter -- a very pretty middle schooler whose accomplishments so far include winning first place in a regional hopscotch competition -- to stop working so hard because he'd rather she enjoy her life now, when it's precious, than later. And my parents and my aunt are both graduates of Beida (Beijing University, the Harvard of the East). I wonder what the students there are learning now, what misconceptions shattered or reinforced. How do they interpret the change sweeping the country that threatens to both destablize their millenia-old Orient culture and introduce advancements previously unimaginable?


Documentaries about China -- I just finished watching one on the Discovery channel -- knock the wind out of me every time. In 1979 the government issued a one-child policy that effectively destroyed the old family structure as China knew it. Imagine the sadness that must accompany the death of children in China -- an inevitability, considering the number of them and the substandard health care system -- and imagine the disappointment that comes with seeing an only-child falter. Hope -- unflagging and desperate -- swells and empties in and out of parents and grandparents like a love-stricken heartbeat, for the heart of the country no longer lies in the family unit but in individuals, even in the drifting, confused, lost children of moderenity who strive to find both themselves and their place in a world that demands their importance. It's a devastating responsibility. And for me, it's heartrending to learn about these people's lives, for I am connected to them yet so very far. It's enough to make me want to hop on the next plane to Beijing. But who would I talk to? For whom would I live? What difference can I make? Back up. How do I get there?

The questions keep coming, and I'm left asking them to a blog.

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