The summer is a slow news time for the blog — thus the weekly updates on my weekend activities. Today I thought I’d switch themes.
Back in November, I read about a report by the Institute on International Education that said China is now fifth on the list of countries where U.S. students go to study abroad. I regularly talk to students and applicants on their way to or from China, so I don’t find the news surprising…but it’s still amazing. I spent two years, 1981-83, teaching English and studying Chinese in Beijing, a time when there were so few “Westerners” in China that we would run into each other wherever we went. Three days on a train to some distant destination, and I’d find other Beijing-based Americans, Canadians, or Europeans at the same tourist site.
A contributing factor was that our movement was very restricted. I wasn’t allowed to climb on a train to anywhere without a travel permit, and there was a very short list of cities that I could ever receive a permit to visit. The students from the U.S. or other countries now in China have much greater freedom of movement.
The living experience for these many Americans in China is also very different from my time. We were all accommodated in dormitories or compounds for foreigners — virtually no one rented an apartment in the general housing market. At the same time as this arrangement isolated me from general society, it also gave me the opportunity to meet students from all over the world — a silver lining.
A few years ago, I visited the campus where I had lived. What used to be a sleepy little neighborhood, where the only street sound at night was the clicking of electric buses, is now a region tightly connected to greater Beijing by highways and the subway. Always a hub of intellectual activity, the area is now a technology center with gleaming office buildings.
I have no doubt that life is much more fun for Americans in Beijing now than it was back in the day, but I appreciate having had the opportunity to watch Beijing pull itself out of the long shadow of the Cultural Revolution. The news is filled daily with the evidence of change in China — I’m glad to have my own personal perspective on all this progress.
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