It took me over 30 hours to get to Sitka, Alaska from Beijing. Granted, I made a brief stop in Seattle where I saw some fish fly at Pike Place and visited Mark Dion’s Vivarium (think: life springing from a dead tree in an enclosed greenhouse). The first thing I noticed was that the sky looked the same as it did in Beijing: gray, one-dimensional, dreary. My only comfort was that the weather condition was created by clouds in the sky, and not in fact by billions of specks of smoke and dust and carcinogens looming overhead on a sunny day.

Sunset at Tiananmen Square

Sunset at Tiananmen Square

Anyway, hi! I’m Lucy. I’m working with Artchange Inc. for the summer and Ellen, the director, brain behind this,  filmmaker all in one wanted me to introduce myself and get some of my thoughts down about Sitka before becoming to immersed in Alaska.

I spent the last five weeks or so in East Asia. There, I talked to quite a few college students. They talked back to me, in perfect British English. I listened. I asked tough questions. They stammered a bit but answered them. With such frankness, these students shared their thoughts on Tiananmen, sex, love, friendship, the future, success, God, and their parents’ expectations. So here are my thoughts on their thoughts (I know, how meta.)

I’m never quite so patriotic as when I come back from China. Though Americans don’t make the best use of their political freedom, at least there is the opportunity to push for change. When I asked one of my Chinese friends why people generally had no opinions about politics, her answer was so perceptive, yet raw that I was left speechless.

We can’t care or talk about politics. Because even when we do, there is nothing we can change. So we don’t think about it. We just think about the things we can change: where we live, what we do, what we can buy.

Another friend explained first experience with YouTube during high school. As we sat and talked outside on a humid summer evening, I realized  she is the quintessential 21st century teenager, inseparable from her iPhone, getting live updates from the World Cup, the world at her fingertips. Yet, her first time seeing a YouTube video was only a year or so ago. While on a field trip to Hong Kong, she and a group of classmates crowded around a laptop to watch a scene of the Tiananmen Protests via YouTube. It was her first glimpse at what happened over twenty five years ago at the protests which are not acknowledged by the Chinese government nor mentioned in any history books. What’s more heartbreaking, the Chinese are generally uninformed about the systematic lack of human rights in their own country.

In a way, Tiananmen signaled to the Chinese that they couldn’t afford to care about politics. When people cared too much, things like the Tiananmen Protests happened. Like the hundreds of thousands of other protests held in China each year, they are silently and firmly crushed by the government with grave consequences for the protesters. Though the Chinese labor camps may be closing, conditions are not much better for dissenters.

An interactive wall where people are asked to write their wishes down

An interactive wall where people are asked to write their wishes down

On a lighter note, the college girls I talked to had a lot to say about love, relationships, and sex.

In recent years, there’s this very popular saying to describe the ideal man “高富帅” which is translated literally into “tall, rich, handsome.

However, I was pleasantly surprised that most girls didn’t actually desired this ideal. Instead, their first criteria was to find someone whom they love and who will love them. Happiness, they deduced, did not come from good looks but a loving home. On the other hand though, it is so implicitly assumed that their husbands will have at least a house, car, and job before marrying that everyone failed to mention these assumptions to me. In fact, a lot of couples end up separating over disagreements between the man and woman’s family over financial details. (i.e. Whose name is on the property deed?)

Sex. From what I gather, it occurs rarely, if at all on college campuses.

Dorms are strictly single gender and guards are posted to keep them that way. So couples resort to a large amount of PDA outside at night, usually on some benches in supposedly obscure corners of campus that I always seem end up at.

But it’s okay because the darkness shrouds their identity and they are not nearly as disturbed by my presence as I am by theirs. The conservative sexual attitude extend deeper than dorm rules though. When I pushed my new friends to explain their attitudes toward sex, they cited everything from a more conservative environment to ancient Chinese values to their sexual education, during which they are taught that their virginity is a precious gift, to be given only to their future husbands.

Speaking of husbands, they’re in pretty high demand. The percentage of the student population in a relationship is probably somewhere around fifty percent. In some ways, it’s pretty cute. In other, I imagine the pressure of finding someone to date must be immense. Most relationships start over social media, not actual social contact. “Why?”, I asked over and over again. It seems like no one really knows, which is fair, I suppose. Some girls blame it on the guys being shy and passive, which is also fair I guess. I mean, that’s not just a Chinese phenomenon.

Stay tuned for more to come!