On June 28, 2011 two McDaniel faculty and several McDaniel students, including myself,
flew to China to conduct research on a centuries old art called Tiehua. The following entries
are excerpts from my personal account of the things I saw and did while on this research
June 30: Get where you want to go, everyone else be damned.
The first thing I learned today:
The number four is unlucky in China because the Chinese word for “four” sounds
like the word for “death.” Some buildings in China don’t have fourth floors for the
same reason that some American buildings skip the 13th floor.
Eight is lucky because the word sounds like a word that means “to suddenly get a lot
The first thing I did today:
We visited a one thousand-year-old Buddhist temple site. The strangest part was
being given a tour by a Buddhist monk while people were at the temple praying.
In the same square foot there would be an American casually looking at a statue of
one of Buddha’s incarnations and a Chinese woman kneeling in front of the statue
in reverent prayer. It felt like seeing someone go up to the altar at church to drink a
soda and take a look around during mass.
The monk tour guide had extremely long eyebrows. How can someone grow their
eyebrow hairs? Eyebrow hair growth isn’t something a person can just will into
happening…unless they’re a Buddhist monk I guess.
The traffic laws in China are as follows:
Get where you want to go, everyone else be damned. This law applies to cars,
motorbikes, and pedestrians. If I die in China it won’t be from disease, natural
disaster, or political upheaval, it will be due to some asshole on a bike.
Things I did that were relevant to the research project:
We visited several Tiehua retailers, looked around, and took pictures and notes.
Later, the group broke off into smaller groups and walked up to people on the
street to interview them about Tiehua. In our group, Apple* would snare passers-
by, and then I would subject them to poorly spoken Mandarin, while Dr. Flute’s
daughter filmed us. The best part was watching the faces of people who saw Apple
approaching them. They knew they were about to be solicited and either looked
bewildered or pissed. The bewildered ones usually agreed to let us interview them
and the angry ones waved their hands at us and kept walking. I wouldn’t have
stopped if someone had come up to me either so I couldn’t blame them for their
The dog situation in Wuhu is interesting. Dogs are almost never accompanied by a
human. With the exception of a surly-looking husky, all the dogs I saw today were
on their own. They didn’t look mangy and starved like strays, but seemed healthy
and happy as if they had just chosen to live lives of independent doghood.
July 3: Middle School
The local paper in Wuhu ran an article about our study group. The article includes
a picture of me standing with our group with a dumb look on my face. There’s also
a short interview of me talking about my impression of Wuhu and Tiehua. My name
was listed as “Daniel.”
Today we were invited to a middle school to show a Chinese class what an American
class is like. All of the kids were so excited to see us. Each of us chose a group
of seven kids and talked to them about their lives, our lives, America, etc. The
point was to allow them to practice English. They were so cute and happy and
impressed . . . nothing like American middle school kids.
Before we left, all the kids mobbed around us asking us to write down our names
and email addresses for them.
Things my group knew about the US:
-Statue of Liberty (“The queen with fire in her hand”)
After lunch some of us went to a crowded smelly shopping street. I bought two
notebooks and a pen because they were so cute. I bought one paper fan because
it’s hotter than hell in Wuhu. In every store we went to the shopkeepers, and other
shoppers sneakily crowded around us to stare, but they weren’t as sneaky as they
thought. On two occasions old men at the shops recognized our group because they
read the article about our research project in the paper.
July 10: The Void
Today I became a man. I know what you’re thinking. I ate a bowl of testosterone
for breakfast. You’d be close, but you’re wrong. I’m a man because I climbed a
mountain, Yellow Mountain, the most picturesque (common opinion) and trying
(my opinion) mountain in all of China. A sign on the mountain said, “If you can’t
climb this you’re not a man.” Yellow Mountain called me out and I answered, “I AM A
At several points on the mountain we were so high up that we were standing in
clouds. When I looked out over the edge all I could see was White Void. After a
certain altitude I had to stop looking outward and could only look directly down at
my feet and the steps underneath them or I would get the shakes and start crying.
Every time Dr. Flute or the guide said, “The next part won’t be so bad,” they were
lying. Every time I thought, stairs can’t possibly get any steeper than this, I was
Toward the top of Lotus Peak, the highest summit in the Yellow Mountain range, the
stairs were so steep and narrow, I had to bend forward and hold on to the steps as I
climbed them. The Yellow Mountain stair builders didn’t deem it necessary to build
their stone guardrails any higher than mid-thigh level. Mid-thigh level is the perfect
height to pivot a human body over the edge of a tall precipice. The Chinese clearly
have no fear. Some people were lounging on boulders that hung over the edge of
cliffs like they were at the beach. Some people were smoking. Kids were running
around without a care in the world.
I can’t remember any more details about the climb because my brain was shrouded
in mountain fog and delirium. This was the first and last time I’ll ever climb a
mountain. NEVER AGAIN! Now that I’m securely not on a mountaintop I can
appreciate having been on one.
July 13: Beijing
Beijing’s metro is the best I’ve been on in any city. It’s bright, clean, and easy to
navigate. There’s a safety wall that divides the platform from the metro tunnel so
people can’t accidentally or on purpose fall on the tracks. The metro map inside the
train lights up to show you which stop you’re at, which one you’re heading toward,
and which ones you’ve been to. The only downside is that on some trains you’ll be
packed in like a sausage, where the people are the sausage meat and the train is the
sausage casing. So I suppose the tunnel is the mouth of the man who is about to eat
the sausage whole.
We walked around the Great Hall of the People and saw big things. Big rooms. Big
chandeliers. Big paintings. One of the rooms had a Tiehua piece in it (also big) that
we spent some time studying and photographing. Obama had been in that room on
his visit to China. I probably breathed Obama air when I was in that room.
At Tiananmen Square there were cameras and guards everywhere. Some of the
guards were “undercover” and wore gardener outfits. They gave themselves away
by standing stock still near bushes at regular intervals with piercing, nosy eyes. But
then again maybe that’s just how Chinese gardeners roll.
*Names have been changed.