Guest post by Michelle Szeto, a Foster junior studying Accounting and Information Systems. She studied abroad this summer on the China Exploration Seminar.
It was midday in Beijing. Our initial plan of visiting the Forbidden City had to be postponed, so a few of us made an impromptu decision to visit a nearby park just a couple Beijing blocks away. The park included a hike up a rather steep hill which would lead to a somewhat aerial view of the Forbidden City. But this was not your average hill, in fact this man made mound of dirt was created after years and years of digging out the massive moat that surrounds the imperial city. I could hardly imagine the years of back-breaking labor necessary to create the Forbidden City–the grandeur and history of it all blew my mind, but this historic site was not the only thing that left me in awe.
Even before the hike itself, the group of us causally meandered through the park. In the distance, we heard the faint melody of a choir. Instantly inciting our interest, we followed the voices in search of our Pied Piper– only assuming the sound was coming from a massive stereo. But what we stumbled upon was something magical. To our surprise, the singing was not a recording blasting through loudspeakers, but actually, people gathered together singing Chinese folk songs. A man played the accordion, another conducted, and an entire group of elderly Chinese men and women sang together with immense passion and with joy. This was nothing like anything I had ever experienced.
I asked my professor, “Was this planned?” to which he replied, “No, not really”. It was hard to contain my smile as I watched these people sing at the top of their lungs. He later explained that a few people play music in the park and throughout the day, the group will organically grow larger and larger. Pure spontaneity. I learned that in China, many elderly people will spend their days in city parks, playing games, exercising, singing etc. It occurred to me that these type of social activities ultimately helps maintain high spirits and overall good health.
After enjoying a couple of songs, then the what I can only assume as the group leader made a brief announcement. He had noticed that us foreigners were watching, so he gathered the group to perform a very special song for us. With a couple waves of his hands, they began singing “我爱你，中国”, which translates to “I love you, China”. The patriotic lyricism paired with a genuine love of life echoed throughout the park and seemed to fill the entire world. Every worry I had seem to dissipate and an ear to ear smile situated itself permanently on my face for the remainder of the day.
This very special moment reminded me exactly why going abroad is so rewarding. Immersing yourself in local happenings and culture leaves just as special of an impression as visiting magnificent historical sites. There is something to be said about purely observing the local environment. This was something unexpected and something I had never experienced before, and honestly, 我爱你，中国.