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by Domenic Ciancio
Well, where does one begin? At the airport, on arrival, where already we were down one passport, or later on when students ventured off to the silk markets for the first time.
Getting to the silk markets required travelling by taxi – an experience in itself. The phrase ‘fasten your seat belts’, which would typically describe a cab ride (and it really is a ride), doesn’t apply in this situation as the only person with a seat belt is the actual driver.
Upon reaching the silk markets, after counting your lucky stars, one would proceed and peruse. The situation/conversation frequently encountered/engaged in would go something along the lines of:
“Hello Hello, where you from?”
“Aah, Austraaaalia! Kangaroo, Olympic, Sydeny. Okay! You want to buy? C’mon, you make price okay?”
So to get the ball rolling on a wallet marked at 50 Yuan, “I’ll give you 20 Yuan” (and before all the humanitarians of the world cry out in dismay, this would in fact constitute a worthy offer).
“Nooo way. C’mon, this real leather (yeah right). Okay I give to you for 45 Yuan okay!?” “No no no Tai Guile!” Throwing in a ‘too expensive’ in Mandarin proved to be a successful sweetener on most occasions. Any attempt to speak Chinese had one of two possible outcomes. It either gave the impression that you knew what you were talking about, or alternatively, and probably more the case, that you didn’t know what you were doing at all. At this point, the strategic move was to walk away. “Okay friend, okay 40 Yuan. C’mooon I make no money.” Pleading to you at the same time with a very well practised, but somewhat sorry, facial expression. “Buyao xie”. Again casually throwing in a ‘no thanks’ in Mandarin.
“Okay Okay. I make 30 Yuan for you.” “Last price in 25 Yuan!” “Ooh C’mon.” Then just as you would begin to walk away, indicating that this time was definitely the last …“okay okay.” Almost seething “I give to you for 25 Yuan.”
The rest of the trip consisted of banquets, picnics of Vegemite, cheese and crackers in Beihai Park, tabletop dancing, festivities, frivolities and chaos. Oh, and classes as well. Classes (seven in total) were a must. Lectures were held at Deakin’s partner University, the China University of Political Science and Law and were instructed mostly by lecturers from the University.
Although there were a couple of guest lecturers, one from a Beijing law firm and the other from the Chinese International Economic and Trade Commission (CIETAVC).
Trekking the Great Wall at Badaling, which lies at an elevation of 1000m was one of the most exhilarating parts of the tour. So much so in fact, that it encourages a small group of Great Wall enthusiasts to travel for three and a half hours to see the Great Wall at Simatai (which is renowned as the most treacherous part of the wall, but also the most beautiful because it remains in its naturally preserved state). Trekking the Great Wall is, in my books, one of the most moving things I’ve ever done. To see with your own eyes and to touch with your own hands something that was built over hundreds of years with the blood, sweat and tears of millions of people commencing around two-thousand years ago, is definitely an amazing experience. With the vast landscape of Mongolia on one side of the Wall and China on the other, it truly is an awesome sight. <
Other sight seeing trips included the Ming Tombs, Yong Lamasary, Summer Palace, Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Each was memorable in its own way. For Religious reasons (Yong Lamasary – a Buddhist temple), historical significance (Forbidden City), or just amazing architecture and sheer size (Summer Palace). Each outing not only made a lasting impression but also provided an enriching cultural experience.
Trips to a law Court, the Intellectual Property Bureau, the Australian Embassy, and CIETAC provided practical perspective to the subject matter covered in class. But it was the day-to-day experiences that provided the greatest insight into Chinese culture and society:
> Walking down the road to local supermarket only to be greeted by looks of disdain by some and astonishment by others as you stroll down the shopping aisle casually picking up bread, bottled water and fruit placing them in your shopping trolley;
> Trying to explain to the shop assistants that you would like double prints of the film you are developing when their English vocabulary consists of two words – hello and goodbye;
>Almost being arrested in Tiananmen Square for just taking a photo or demonstrators;
>Giving a photo to a local family, which you took of the father and child the previous day and enjoying the expression of surprise and glee on their faces as they realised it was actually them in the photo.
These are the things you see and learn about the Chinese people that you can’t be taught in the classroom. This is what, for me at least, gave the trip meaning.
The tour was concluded with a farewell banquet. Rice wine (which is about 80 proof – I’m talking rocket fuel) was used as the official toast. Chants of “gan-bay” (Cheers) circulated throughout the room, and on more than one occasion (about 15 actually, and in particular from the head table – Prof du Plessis, you did Australia proud). Needless to say that the other ancient Chinese tradition of karaoke followed - exposing some raw Deakin talent.
Overall, the tour was a fantastic experience. If I were asked “what is the single most important or beneficial part of the tour?” I would have great difficulty in responding because the tour was captivating on all levels. This is why I would recommend to any student with an interest in Law, China, Asia or even Australasia to seriously consider going.
All photographs shown on this page, courtesy D Ciancio