A Prelude to The Eighth Conference of Society for Cultural Interaction in East Asia (SCIEA): A Travelogue to Beijing

I first set foot on the soil of Beijing, to attend the conference co-organized by Beijing Foreign Studies University and Kansai University, from 13th May 2017 to 14th May 2017. Even though many, especially my patriotic Chinese ex-supervisor at Tokyo University, stereotypically decided me to be the same as his other more precious mainland research students, and decreed that Cantonese is a mere dialect, I experienced differently at the capital, which did surprise me a lot.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t dare instigate any confrontation between Hongkongese and mainland Chinese, especially when “one country” speaks louder than the “two systems”. But I had to switch off, as expected, all the social networking sites when my plane landed on this great city. Facebook, Line and Instagram were nothing but empty logos on my smartphone. Immigration officers, bus and taxi drivers were mostly sulky faces. Okay, I am not a dumb Mandarin speaker, but I felt uncomfortable with their frequent cacuminal: the natives there rolled their tongues more often when they spoke than I expected. During my less-than-three-day sojourn, I felt myself more like a stranger, a guest than a fellow countryman.

What is ordinary to us can be rare to the citizens. The most memorable is how a cab driver did not have any GPS services installed, nor did he know exactly where the station was located; he opened the car window, and asked in the end a fellow taxi driver, or someone riding a bicycle passing by him, “Brother, excuse me, do you know if this is the right way to get to the south exit of XXX station?”

At a banquet, right after the planetary sessions, I got to know one young boy from Shandong and who had registered to be the audience of this conference. He told me that if I wanted to visit Facebook here, I had to install a special application which connects the phone to US or Japan servers – a way which they call Crossing the Great Wall (翻牆), a metaphor used to describe any Chinese netizens’ attempt to avoid the tight censorship of sensitive content on the Internet and see whatever they want. One of his words struck me the most, “The more the government forbids us, the more the effort we spare finding a way to do it clandestinely.”

Let me reiterate: I didn’t try to despise anybody, but I appreciate and respect their culture, and did observe “When in Beijing, do as the Beijingians do”. Meanwhile, regardless of race and ethnicity, it is important to cherish the differences in various cultures, and to have, with one another, a dialogue with reason, with peace, just as the scholars did in the conference.

[Photo credit goes to SCIEA]

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