By Nimshi Perera
It’s been over a month since I left Texas and embarked on a journalistic journey through China. And as of early July I am still in the People’s Republic, watching the Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Singles Quarter Final, the Mandarin-speaking commentators reminding me I am not home yet.
Since our University of Texas reporting workshop ended I have been a tourist, spent too much money at overpriced Western restaurants, come down with a spot of food poisoning, and been able to observe a completely different side of China. However, the time I spent during my month of reporting produced the memories I will treasure the most.
Initially, I felt that coming to China as a government major, with no journalistic experience, would put me far behind the others in terms of producing the “journalistically worthy blog posts,” our instructor insisted on – but I truly underestimated the purpose of this program.
Few journalism students have had the experience of learning outside a classroom, let alone in a place like China. I consider myself lucky to have learned so much from my director and peers. Though I could have done without the Internet restrictions we faced, and the language barrier, I did enjoy this opportunity to report. My daily observations meant so much more than a tourist’s drive-by thoughts; I was able to see contradictions and gain an understanding of how they fit into the bigger picture that is China.
For example, I was impressed with the way in which China’ one-child policy is creating a future in which the youth population will only be a third of its current size; men will marry into their late 30s due to the need to have an apartment and car to be considered eligible partners; and the number of Audis and Mercedes sedans on the already crowded highways will only grow. Such observations have showed me that China is not only growing at an alarming rate, but its leaders are finding it harder to balance the growth and the kind of income disparity typical of a Westernized country.
In my view, though the consumer power of the Chinese population is one to rival America’s, the lack of democracy in this state-controlled economy is holding China back. “Timmy,” a journalism graduate student, told me during a discussion at Shanghai University that he believes greater freedom of speech will be achieved through the power of microblogs – and the ordinary Chinese citizen will determine the future of China through the strength of his pocketbook.
I for one will keep an eye on China in the future and be sure to practice my Mandarin. I will never forget what I have learned on this trip and I hope I will be able to use it in my future career, wherever my path may take me.