Ctripper: An American in China—Kealy Jaynes hits up the Expo

by Intern Diaries
Posted: October 27th, 2010 | Updated: July 25th, 2012 | Comments
Ctrip Ctripper posts come to us directly from the good folks at Ctrip, China's top online travel services provider (and proud sponsor of ChinaTravel.net). Stay tuned for Ctrip special offers, travel tips, news on new travel deals, tours and activities, and slices of life-in-China from Ctrip staff and interns. Here, guest writer Kealy Jaynes shares valuable experience about her visit to the Shanghai World Expo, as well as her honest opinion about the USA pavilion.... >>>

After nabbing her post from the Pepperdine Graphic, Kealy Jaynes tracked us down and offered to share more of her study abroad experience with the Ctripper. Take a look at what this young American has to say about her country's Expo Pavilion.

We bounded up to the VIP line with huge smiles, waving our passports in front of us. The boxy grey building ahead looked decidedly less impressive than most of the surrounding pavilions, but as we bypassed the snaking two-hour queue toward the entrance, I couldn’t have felt more patriotic. We were here: the USA pavilion. It was my second time visiting the 2010 World Expo. Another long day of exploring country after country, from Asia to Europe to Oceania— the world seems much more accessible when reduced to the size of a theme park. But something about this pavilion felt different. We could hardly contain our excitement as we were ushered into the first large waiting room. It felt like we had entered little bubble of home in the middle of China. A large screen projected a scenic montage of beaches and mountains, waving grain and majestic forests, national monuments and iconic landmarks alike. “Look, it’s New York!” “That looks like Colorado!” “That could be Malibu!” Read more about Kealy's Expo experience after the jump ... We had seen countless videos similar to this— tourism montages of beautiful scenery. This time however, instead of a vague desire to hop a plane to the UAE or Barbados, I was filled with a sense of pride, even exclusivity. We stood as a small minority in the sea of Chinese faces, savoring the familiarity. Whether or not we had been to these particular places didn’t matter— they were from the states and they were ours. In a way, it felt rather strange to be so proudly American. I’ve spent much of the past month and a half striving to become more Chinese— learning to navigate the world of food, bargaining and traveling like a native. To this end, even the littlest things become milestones: using more Mandarin and fewer hand gestures (although a combination of the two still seems to work best), finding the best street food (late-night eggplant and mushroom skewers or handmade noodles), and perfecting the art of using a squatty-potty (a complex process that requires balance, coordination and your own supply of toilet paper). But even with my best attempts to blend in, I’ve found there are certain, inescapable consequences of being to being a “waiguoren,” or a foreigner, in a land where you can’t help but stick out. Open stares, inflated prices, unsolicited pictures— I quickly learned that the Chinese hold very different standards of personal space and privacy, and that by virtue of being different I was subject to the full execution of their curiosity. Most of the time I’m not sure whether I should feel like a celebrity or an animal in the zoo. My giddy patriotism cooled a bit as we made our way through the rest of the pavilion. I had heard rumor that the USA pavilion left something to be desired, and this wasn’t far from the truth. We all had a good laugh about the cheesiness of the video presentations, which featured scene after scene of ethnically diverse actors clad in a rainbow of conservative 90’s fashion— think middle school textbook pictures. A middle-eastern girl, a Chinese boy and a Hispanic boy played in a circle. An African-American boy helped a little blond girl drink from a water fountain. Elderly neighbors helped a young girl plant a garden. “This is America?” we laughed, dubious. “Where does that actually happen?” The montage ended with actor after diverse actor smiling and saying “Ni Hao” to the camera. America had come to China, and the result was a bit embarrassing to say the least. I probably would have continued to scoff critically were it not for what happened when we finally made it to the gift shop. I had wandered away from my friends to the other side of the store when I was, as we’ve come to call it, “photo bombed.” A group of high school girls ran up to me, excitedly pointing to their cameras. “Picture! Picture!” I smiled and flashed a peace sign with each one of them individually. And then with the older woman and her husband standing nearby, respectively. And then with another man who happened to walk past. Still seeing spots, I seized the lull in camera exchanges to say a quick “xie xie,” and power-walk over to meet my friends again. It was then that I began to wonder if I had been too quick to write off America’s (albeit cheesy) embrace of diversity. These days it seems America and China are always portrayed as locked in an intense economic power struggle. But as an American student living in China, I feel can say with some degree of neutrality that, for being portrayed as so intrinsically tied, the two countries have a lot to learn about each other. Perhaps, when all is said and done, patriotism is the wrong response. Perhaps, when all is said and done, what’s really needed is a bit more cross-cultural playing in a circle and cross-generational garden planting. 90’s attire optional. -Kealy
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