Alright, so yesterday was the first day of my internship with Zhicheng. My supervisor, Jing Jing, is wonderful! She speaks great English (super helpful for me), but she is also helping me figure out some basic Chinese words...yay. There is another intern in my office, Kevin, who is basically fluent in Chinese, and he does a great job of making sure I understand everything that is going on. There are only two other interns so far, but more arrive next week. There are LOTS of lawyers working at this office, and yesterday Xiuhong (the intern supervisor) introduced me and the other interns to all of them. Needless to say, I can't remember many of their names (oh, I have a terrible memory for names, by the way), but I was intrigued to find out that many of them use English names when speaking with native-English speakers. Of course, those names were the easiest, and it was suggested that the other interns and I pick Chinese names to help out the Chinese speakers. Maybe. When in Rome, as they say. I'll update you later whether I decide to pick a name or not.
I am working in the juvenile research department, and my specific project will be researching American diversion programs. Diversion programs, for those not familiar with juvenile law, are programs that seek to keep youths out of the juvenile justice system. Basically, if the youth has committed a non-violent (sometimes lesser violent offenses are allowed), non-sexually related crime, he has the option to enter one of these programs to avoid a court record. The jury is still out (ha!) on whether these programs are actually successful (i.e. reduce recidivism), but of the limited research I have completed thus far, it seems they are on their way to helping juveniles avoid court proceedings, reducing further crimes by the youth, saving the counties money, etc. However, there are some major drawbacks. For example, we know that youths don't have certain constitutional rights in the juvenile justice system, but what surprised me about these programs is that the basic right, innocent until proven guilty, is absent. In order to enter a program, the youth has to admit guilt. So what's the problem you might ask? Well simply put, a young kid may be innocent, but maybe he wants to avoid the stigma of a court record, so he admits guilt. Once you enter a program, you have forfeited your right to a trial (you "gain" this right back if you re-offend because at that point (in most jurisdictions) you immediately enter the juvenile justice system without the option of a diversion program). Strange? I think so.
Switching to my cultural experiences thus far, I finally worked up the nerve to try some food on the street. I think I mentioned in my past post that there are lots of little food stands on the streets...the food is often served on skewers, and they make it right there in front of you. It seems strange, as the meat, veggies, etc. are just sitting out, but eh, lots and lots of people eat there. I tried several different options (I can't tell you what they were...mostly different looking meats and an interesting vegetable that I didn't recognize surrounding some green onions), and they were delish. Super salty and spicy, just the way I like most of my food. If you make it to China, just do it. Oh and p.s., for me and another intern to eat, it was 16 yuan or about 3 American dollars. Not too shabby.
Another interesting note, the intern I was exploring with last night is also an American without any Chinese language skills. She is blonde with blue eyes, and it was funny to watch so many Chinese people staring at her, but not even really noticing me. I've gotten a few stares, but I think my dark hair and short stature allow me to blend in a bit more. Not to say that I look like I'm Chinese, but I suppose I'm not as interesting as my much more sterotypically looking American.
But what's more is the surprising sense of isolation I've felt. Believe me, there are LOTS of people in Beijing, but I'm so glad I'm feeling this way. That may sound strange, but I've never really felt so unable to fit in. I know, I know, I've only been here a few short days, but I think this experience has given me a new found understanding of how foreigners without native language skills feel in the U.S. I've been feeling super guilty about my frustration that has arisen when I'm not being understood. I can sense the frustration from others, but really, where the heck do I get off being frustrated about being in China and the Chinese people not understanding English?? Life lessons learned: patience, respect, and humility.
So more fun to be had. In my next post (get excited!), I will be describing some of the most shocking things I've so far.