Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reflections on an internship in China

From Jared:

I think I’m going to try a different approach to this blog entry. I haven’t really done anything touristy since our internships have started (I take that back I had fried scorpion near Wangfujing) so I think I might just rehash what an internship day has been like. That way, any future people on this trip can hopefully get some sort of idea of what to expect of their own experiences and anyone who knows me that’s reading this will maybe know a bit what it is like.

I get up around 6:30am, Beijing is an absolutely huge city so it just takes a while to get anywhere. There is no air conditioning in my bedroom so it’s possible I had already been up before 6 having gotten too warm when the weather starts to heat up at sunrise. It’s also possible that I had migrated out to the couch in the living room, to sleep in front of the AC. I take a shower in the 6’x6’ bathroom. There is no separation of the shower from the rest of the room so everything in there will get wet, when I had lived in Taiwan we had exactly the same setup. The bathrooms at Peking U. were also the same for me, but there we had a shower curtain at least to divide things up (no differentiation on the floor though so it will all get wet). I finish getting ready, since it’s summer work is casual, have a glass of orange juice and head out.

It’s about a 15-20 minute walk to the metro. I take a short cut and the route takes me by some retirees doing tai chi with swords, some higher class condos, and then behind a department store where a few people live in and off of the trash that comes from nearby restaurants and businesses. In the U.S. I would be expecting to get robbed along the way, but crime here is so negligible that I’m not concerned. On the other end of this alley I’m met with a 6 lane road, two lanes for cars and one for bikes (separated by a median) in each direction, no one, though, follows the recommended traffic pattern. BMWs, Audis, Japanese, and European cars compete for space with bikes, trikes, motorized bikes and trikes, scooters, rickshaws, and the occasional horse drawn wagon. We are pretty far to the outside of the city, though, so traffic always moves and horns are not sounded so much. I follow this road for a time before getting to Beiyuan Rd, a major thoroughfare for the neighborhood. Above me is the metro line I want, and I make a right and walk a short block to the station.

Once I’m through security and have paid my fare, a flat rate of 2Yuan no matter where you go (about $.30), I head up to the platform. There are a handful of people waiting at each of the door stops for the train. It takes me normally about three trains to work to the front of that line. The metros are beyond maximum capacity with enough physical space to add one or two people at my stop as long as you can push people together, elbow, and squeeze in. There’s no need for the handrails as we are all packed in tightly enough to not really move when the train speeds up and slows down. For those of you in DC it’s like the metro at rush hour with 50% more people in the trains. 5 stops of more pushing and squeezing until my transfer station. At my transfer station, and I counted today, about 30-40 people are waiting at each of the 20ish doors for entrance onto the line 10 train. The line 10 train is just as crowded already as the one I had gotten off and it takes me another 3ish trains to get to the front of the line and push my way in. 9 stops to Suzhou Avenue, the closest stop to my internship. It’s close to the end of the line so I get progressively more space as time goes by. Out at Suzhou Ave., I head due south and eventually stop for an egg pancake about half way through the 15 minute walk. I shell out another 2Yuan and get an unsweetened, fried, pancake with a scrambled egg inside. They paint the outside with chili sauce and another substance I cannot identify, put some lettuce on there, and I enjoy breakfast for the rest of the walk (it’s really good).

I am interning for Yilian, a legal aid and advocacy center for migrant laborers here in China. While there is a workers comp. law on the books here in the country, it is very difficult to enforce it and China is where the U.S. was in labor rights about 100 years ago. Yilian is preparing for a conference with their European counterparts and the majority of my duties revolve around that. I am lucky that the conference and materials are to be in English because my Chinese is not at all what it once was. Sumei, my supervisor goes around and kicks everyone out of the office at lunch time. While there is very little communication during working hours, everyone is very friendly and conversational on lunch. I am rotating through eating with the other English speakers and local restaurants. Back to work an hour later, I finish up what I had been doing and get ready to repeat my commute in reverse. The crowds aren’t as bad though because people leave work at different times and do not always go straight home.

Getting off at my stop I make for that department store I mentioned earlier. I pass people selling bootleg DVDs, who may or may not (I admit nothing) know who I am by now. In the parking lot of the dept. store in the evenings a bunch of street vendors come out and sell food out of stalls. They are all decked out in their favorite team’s colors, mostly Argentina, though a few Dutch, and a few clinging to the hope that Spain can still turn things around. All the tables are clustered around a white box truck onto which they project the world cup game(s) of the evening. My favorite meal is kabobs of BBQ lamb and Eggplant (different skewers), a bowl of cold and spicy Chinese noodles, and either a beer or soda. The meal runs me about $3. Then I enjoy the cool evening and yell at the side of a truck along with everyone around me.

Last Thursday I was talking to my supervisor, Sumei, and was commenting on the size of the city. She said the Chinese have a saying, like American slang the Chinese love to make sayings, to describe the cities of China – 河人山人. This translates out to “rivers of people and mountains of people” rivers, the streets, sidewalks, and metro lines, and mountains the apartment buildings. I thought this was apt, but I thought on it some in the next few days and grew to really like that characterization. Both rivers and mountains can overwhelm you, sweep you away, get you lost, etc. but, at the same time, I have never seen a river/mountain range combo out in nature that wasn’t beautiful. Likewise, there’s a certain beauty to everything here if you know how to look at it. Now, though, I must go join that river and head home.


  1. I've really enjoyed reading about your experiences so far. The part of me that still thinks I am young is slightly envious, and the realistic part is grateful for his air conditioning. :)

    I have been educated, entertained, and even blessed by your blog. It's like Bourdain without the nihilism and alcohol abuse. :)

    Take care,

  2. I have to say that internship in China is worthy thing but if you will do in technical or computer related it will be more helpful.

    Internship in China

  3. Hello Everyone,
    Thanks for a great blog. I was able to get the information internship in China I had been looking for. The country is undergoing a silent revolution in that field from education to business thinking. Thanks..