For the Becoming an Expert project, I'm supposed to write about how my perceptions changed when I visited China or my assumptions were proved wrong. But to be honest, I did not have perceptions or assumptions about China before my visit; I merely learned new things that I probably would not have been able to learn from Wikipedia or Encarta. I'll include some of my discoveries here.
I learned a lot about Chinese culture, especially relating to food. The Chinese love eating, and even in Beijing, where space is one of the most important commodities in this city of millions of people, every restaurant has a private room for those people who want to savor their food without the chitchat of the open area. Street food is cheap to many of us tourists, with hot yams at a quarter and cakes at two. But in other areas, like Xi'an's colossal, seven-story shopping mall, things don't come cheap--some swimsuits cost as much as hundreds of dollars.
Like many Asian countries, China values conformity. Most, if not all, of Beijing's schools have uniforms. But at the same time, China is yearning to distinguish itself in the world. There's a lot of hype about the Beijing 2008 Olympics, and you can find Beijing's mascots--the "Five Friendlies"--in posters in every public place around. Nearly every single company in Beijing seems to have teamed up with the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
I learned about Chinese history. In a history museum in Hong Kong, I learned about the Treaty of Nanking and the Japanese invasion; in Beijing, traveling through the spacious halls of the Forbidden City, I learned about the history of China's dynasties, from the Xia to the Qing. Giant pots were stored by many buildings in the Forbidden City. In old times they were filled with water to use in case of fire. On the roof of one important building in the Forbidden Cities, there are a certain number of animal figures. Many other roofs in the Forbidden City have these figures, but none of them can have the same number or more.
One legend from the Qing dynasty was interesting; the young Pu Yi, last emperor of China, was in a ceremonial procession when he became scared. His father comforted him by saying, "It will all be over soon." And the last dynasty of China fell only two years later. (Perhaps I have the two years wrong, but I believe this was how the legend went. Whether or not Pu Yi's father actually said this is up to your imagination.)
In the Summer Palace, we learned that the Empress Cixi spent the amount of silver on one meal as would feed four families for five years. By the way, she had four meals a day--and each had one hundred dishes. This is hard to imagine seeing, much less eating.
Going to China gave me the chance to advance my understanding of "The Middle Kingdom" in a very exciting way.