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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Traditional modernism

     China is a much different place from what it was 20 years ago and the pipe dreams of overly romantic Westerners. I found that out this summer during a two-and-a-half month internship teaching English in Beijing.

    I expected Beijing to be a completely modern city with high rises, suave sports cars and suits rushing from one subway to the next. And it is unargubly quite modern, but the metropolis also has its old ways.

    Small electric rickshaws and bicycles carrying inordinate amounts of fruit or recyclable bottles can block an entire lane of traffic. Babies often don’t wear diapers, but instead walk around with slits in their pants to relieve themselves on the street with the help of their parents. Street vendors and panhandlers take on the responsibility of our gas stations and dollar stores.

    Beijing is a living anachronism. Yet its mixture of traditionalism and modern sensibility is an integral part of what makes the city so unique.

    My favorite aspect of Beijing was undeniably a product of this happily paradoxical world: the arts scene. In the Communist-Bauhaus-turned-gallery-space called the 798 Art District, this modern/traditional aesthetic was key to what made much of the art so powerful.

    Captivating photos of the Great Leap Forward shared the same gallery space with a photo study of Buddhist monks, as well as views of an inner Mongolian family’s collection of appliances in the middle of the desert. Traditional Russian art was repainted with Chinese stylistic choices; Karl Marx was invoked countless times.

    Chinese art made clear something essential to understanding Beijing as more than just a developing city. Traditional values and practices are essential to Beijing’s identity — moreover, its charm. Where else can you buy a brand-name soy latte on one side of the street and an octopus kebab with a slice of melon on the other? It’s the best of both worlds.

    Coming back from a summer abroad, as many of you will doubtless attest, is also a very strange thing. I’m suddenly launched back into a world where I blend in, where there is a Starbucks on every corner and where the oldest buildings are about 90 years young. And while it’s good to be back, it would be nice to buy some popsicles on the side of the road to cool off.

     

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