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Entries tagged with: "meilum"

A Driven Youth

Aug 19, 2011 by Marisa Lum in Asia

Are college students too idealistic? In a recent debate, a sociology professor at NYU categorized the current generation of college grads as "drifting dreamers," individuals who have high ambitions, but no clear life plan for reaching them. They are a group of jaded young individuals who consider themselves to have the "rite of passage" in a dwindling job market—assuming that little efforts will lead to success.

In a 40-minute car ride from Beijing's university hub to my homestay in the center of Beijing, I found myself engrossed in a deep discussion about China's youth in the wee hours of the morning. Conflicted about my own personal woes for plans post-graduation, I asked my driver about his hopes for his son as he enters his third year of high school, the year of the dreaded college examination, the gaokao. His answer was simple. He had one hope for his son: that he would approach things in life with a practical attitude. He went on to explain that China's young generation was too idealistic. My taxi driver was convinced that because of this many college graduates were left with low-paying jobs and unrealized dreams. We winded through the morning traffic as he tried to explain why he had adopted a philosophy of indifference toward his son's future. We reached the silver archway that led to my apartment complex and he uttered, "I only hope that my son will be grounded in his decision making and live a happy life."

Looking for more answers, I asked a fellow Chinese-native Smith intern, Zhai, about this question of idealism versus pragmatism in the eyes of her parents. She was quick to agree that her parents, like my taxi driver, also did not weigh her down with the pressure of expectations, but just wanted her to be happy. After conversing with a few of the other Chinese interns in the office, I found that they had similar answers. One intern explained to me how her parents had always reminded her of the benefits of diligence echoed in one of Mao Zedong’s famous quotes: haohao xuexi, tiantian xiangshang—often funnily translated as "good good study, day day up up," meaning "if one studies hard, they will make progress every day." What happened to all of the tiger mothers? Where were they all hiding? All of this talk about happiness and indifference made me wonder whether young adults' idealism was a result of excessive coddling and the lack of pressure that parents were giving their kids—a phenomena that seems to be present in both the states and China.

At the same time, it made me respect my peers even more. If their parents were pandering to their every need and babbling on about happiness 24/7, and they were still this self-motivated and persistent in achieving their goals, then boy, was American youth behind in the game. All 12 of the Chinese interns had impeccable English and at least one year of experience abroad. Their hunger and drive was something I found to be missing amongst my friends back in the states. Not to say that they completely lack ambition, but there was something about my peers’ energy—it was pervasive. I always felt the buzz in the office.

It also helped that our office was undergoing renovation and all of us were crammed into a conference room. Doesn’t it resemble a wang ba or an internet café?

I am thankful for this opportunity to have been able to intern at Edelman. The people I met and the things I learned this summer have created memories I will take back with me to Mount Holyoke. When walking in the Beijing airport to board my plane to New York, I passed a billboard that caught my eye. I took a double take and realized that it was one of Edelman’s clients I had been writing monthly media summaries and press releases for all summer!

Red Happiness

Jul 19, 2011 by Taliesin Nyala in Asia

(Domestic tourists flooded Tian'anmen Square on the weekend of the Party's 90th Anniversary. Mother and daughter pose for a picture with me as their background!)

Two weeks ago, The Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 90th anniversary. For two straight weeks leading up to July 1, "red song" (hong ge) television programs, party movies, and television dramas monopolized literally every channel on TV. To get in the red spirit, I asked my host mom, Zhang Ayi, to teach me a few of her favorite red songs. The song “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China” was my favorite simply because it was the easiest to remember, and therefore the most catchy. I watched Zhang Ayi belt out the line, “meiyou gongchan dang, meiyou xin zhongguo” with vigor. She sang the lyrics as if she really did believe that without the Communist party, New China would not exist. Zhang Ayi told me that the red songs reminded her of her childhood, the days in which she rode her bike in the Beijing streets and sang about Mao and the Party at the top of her lungs. As we watched that night’s red song TV program, we sang along to hong ge old and new, laughing as we flipped from channel to channel in disbelief at the sight of the same singers on all ten programs. They stood on different obnoxiously neon-lit stages against various Communist Party backdrops, and managed to maintain the same pep in their voices as they sang Party tunes.

The next morning I woke up to a newscast profiling a sweeper who worked in the rural suburbs of Shaanxi province. The sweeper explained how red songs had changed her life. It was her daily routine of sweeping and singing that made her xingfu, or happy. I started to think about the concept of xingfu and its link to Chinese identity. Earlier in the year I worked on a small film project with a friend of mine, and we went out and interviewed ten Beijing locals and asked them how they understood happiness. No mention of red songs, but it was apparent that their answers had a clear connection with the societal pressures that they were experiencing at the time—one of the most memorable interviews was with a man from my neighborhood who explained his definition of xingfu in one statement, “If I had freedom of speech, I would be happy.” It was interesting to see how different people of different ages, backgrounds, and genders answered this somewhat simple, yet broad and abstract question. (You can find the video here on YouTube; the English subtitled version is in the works!) It will be interesting to see how the answer to this question evolves, as the rise of inflation, property, and food prices is beginning to loom over locals’ heads, disrupting them from enjoying the small things, or xiao shir, that make life xingfu.

In other news, I am approaching the three-week mark to my American homecoming, and have seen my own definition of xingfu evolve into something trivial. But actually, it will be a xingfu miracle if I can get all of what seems like 200 pounds of luggage back to America...

Building a Routine Within a Community

Jun 24, 2011 by Marisa Lum in Asia

As I enter my third week at Edelman, I have begun to think about what it means to be a participant in a community. The past two weeks have been a time of transition as I try to find a routine between my work schedule and my own free time. My new host mom, Zhang Ayi, and dad, Lao Mu, have played a big role in my adaptation to the “working world,” as their home-cooked meals have allowed me to literally eat my way into my routine. The cyclical porridge-egg breakfasts and delicious Beijing-cuisine dinners have given structure to my daily schedule. Lao Mu, Zhang Ayi, and I will sit down every day to the sound of the morning and evening CCTV news broadcast, eat our meals, and listen to Feifei (the cat) meow her way out of her morning slumber. Our conversations initially began as short commentaries on the food we ate that day, but eventually developed into long conversations about Lao Mu and Zhang Ayi’s life working at the coal work unit during the Cultural Revolution. Our relationship developed similar to that of Lao Mu and Zhang Ayi’s understanding of my kouwei (taste for food): detectable, but not yet familiar.

(My host mom, Zhang Ayi)

My first week at Edelman is a blur. I was bombarded with so many translation and PowerPoint proposal projects that I didn’t have a chance to interact with any of my colleagues. When I finally looked up from my computer after my last deadline of the day, I found out that the girl sitting next to me was also a rising senior at a women’s college…Smith! Zhai and I are two of the 15 Chinese and foreign interns at Edelman’s Beijing office. We all sit together and exchange sympathetic looks as each of our supervisors come over and assign us a new task for the day. I have come to appreciate the small intern community that we have created—commiserating when we hit a wall in our work and helping each other when frustrated with our assignments. Last summer, I was what seemed like the only intern at Shanghai’s Education Television Station (SETV) and often felt lost, an intruder disturbing a sacred work camaraderie. The absence of a familiar community of my own created a disconnect in my routine. I was an observer rather than a participant—a one-person community.

A sense of community is propagated all over the city of Beijing as different districts hang various signs to promote a collective effort in building a “harmonious, civilized, and happy” community. As Beijing gears up for the celebration of the Chinese Communist Party’s 90th anniversary on July 1, the sense of the collective is running high and the Chinese government is attempting to encourage outward expression of patriotism among its citizens’ in honor of the party. There is the sense of community amongst Chinese citizens and community within the city of Beijing, but my community is at the Andingmen annex with Feifei the cat, Zhang Ayi, and Lao Mu, who have allowed me to fall into the Edelman community with ease.

Beijing Summer 2011, Wansui!

Jun 02, 2011 by Marisa Lum in Asia

Hello! My name is Mei Lum and I am a senior Asian studies major from New York City. This week will mark my one-year anniversary since first coming to China last June. My favorite part of Beijing has definitely been the morning bike rides to school and the evening bike rides home (the times when I feel most like a Beijinger, in the midst of both the morning and the evening rush).  

My China experience has been an interesting one—I've worked for a Chinese education television station, studied Chinese at Tsinghua University, was a contributing writer for an expat magazine, taught English, and worked on Chinese-English translations for the China Development Brief. I'm really excited for the change of pace this summer, as my internship at Edelman Public Relations will bring me to a different part of the city: the business district! I will be researching marketing and business proposals and acting as a media liaison in both English and Chinese. Who knows? I might be lucky enough to meet a Chinese pop star! We shall see...