My trip to Beijing was just to see the typical sights, although it would have been rewarding enough if this was all that I did. Once in the capital my group meet up with students from one the the Universities in Beijing. The college is one of the best in the country, pulling together some of the brightest minds. When our bus picked the group up at the airport was when I first met Ophelia and her friends. Ophelia was to be one of our student guides throughout our trip. The bus drove to our hotel where we were able to check in and then headed over to the campus. Here we were broken up into smaller groups to be taken on a tour of the campus.
Their are times in everyone life when you get a candid look into someone elses life leaving you wishing for more and at the same time regretting what you learned. This was quickly becoming one of those times. Ophelia lead us around the school eager to share her life with us. The campus was beautiful, but we soon began to question some sights. Outside one of the buildings were forty or so large canteens. She explained that the only safe drinking water was on the other side of the campus and that the students would fill them everyday so that they had something to drink. At another building we saw a long line and questioned what it. This, we were told, was the line for the showers. The dorms had no bathrooms (with the exception of the dorms for the International Students) so a central bathroom was on campus. The lines were usually long for the showers and she had even skipped class to wait in the lines. She asked if we wanted to see her room and we all jumped at the chance. The rooms were long and skinny with a table in the center and lockers inside the door. There were four bunk beds, so that each room could hold eight girls. All of their belongs were either in a locker or on the bed. At the foot of her bed, much like the other girls, a board was proped up to hold a computer. I was astonished, and after that I never complained about how small the room on the ship I was currently living on was.
Once outside we lost all sense shyness and the questions flew from both sides, and eventually lead to the current political state of China. She explained to us that unlike the US elections are not that important. She is one of one billion, her one vote would never make a difference. The people's voices go unheard and only those who make up the current head of state decide who will be the next leaders. Through talking to her I could feel her hopeless. She knew that she would never be more then a number. One person asked if she ever considered leaving. Ophelia knew this was an impossibility. Like most of her fellow students she couldn't even afford the $8 train ticket home let alone a plane ticket, and only the best of the best get to leave the country and since she was at the second best school in the country she had no hope. However she wanted to go to America. She liked it better then China. Instantly she knew her mistake. The look on her face was of someone who just signed her own death certificate. She pushed us all away from where we were and quickly began to explain that comments like that could go on your personal file. In China you are always being watched. You never knew who was connected to the government. We all held back on the questions after that. No one wanted our new friend in trouble.
Ofelia introduced us to Sofia who opened the question flood gate again. We asked about going on-line to e-mail, but were soon to find out that their was a restriction on international websites. They were banned. Then came the more hard hitting questions; China's One Child Policy. Ophelia was one of three children. Her first two were born before the policy, but she was born after. Both her parents were fined and lost their jobs; they were even blacklisted from many organizations that they applied to. Sophia on the other hand was one of two, both born after the policy, but her family knew some people in the government who looked the other way for them.
Later that evening we met up with a larger group of students. Sophia took this opportunity to question me one on one. She wanted to know about the US and my life their, but more importantly if the American Dream was true. Her teacher told her about it and ever since then she dream about it every day. It was the first look of hope that I seen all day; how could I deny it. I just replied "yes". She took a deep breath as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.
Once back on ship that I came to China on everyone began to talk. The over all feeling that I got from the students were confusions. The college I visited was defiantly very liberal; they sided with Taiwan and stated if their was a war then they would align with them. My friends who went to other Beijing schools reported the same however some said other wise. The overall statement at two of the colleges was that China stands tall. There was never a time of hardship and they aligned themselves with the government seeing themselves as Socialist and against the Taiwanese rebels.
Every place that I visit my friends ask about it and I can always explain what I have seen, eaten, and done, but their was no way to express what I experienced in China. It was a country of mixed emotions for me. There is no words to express what happened and even four years later I'm still trying to understand everything and have recently given over to the fact that I never will. I have taken to a Buddhist outlook towards the country; China is.