First week


To treat the symptoms but not the root cause.

I spent the majority of my first week feeling…sick. The funny thing is, even though I didn’t feel my best, it didn’t stop me from taking part in any and every experience I could since I’ve been here. Experiences have included touring the Forbidden City, going on a late night excursion to Tiananmen square on the eve of June Fourth, attending my first Chinese opera that Zhicheng funded, taking part in a high energy office dinner party, hopping from market to market, subway line to bus line, etc. These events probably didn’t help me much health-wise. I tried once to go back to my room to take a nap while everyone else was out, but no matter how bad I felt at that moment, I couldn’t sleep because I kept feeling like I was missing out. Long story short, I ended up rejoining the group after only 20 minutes. Hey, you only live once.

The most valuable moments I have had have revolved around cultural differences in handling very basic, day-to-day tasks. I started this post out with a Chinese idiom that I came across while searching for ways to describe the cold symptoms I had so that I could stop feeling sick.  I wanted to know what the average person here did when they got the common cold. The responses I got varied. “Drink a lot of water,” a colleague said.  “Drink some coffee,” another office mate said.  The Chinese interns that were a little closer to my age said, ”You don’t need to do anything-- just wait a week!” And finally, my immediate supervisor said, “You need to figure out why you are sick in the first place.” This advice made me think of the Chinese idiom I had accidentally found, which I said to her at that point.  治標不治本. Zhi4 biao1 bu4 zhi4 ben3. I had been trying to treat my symptoms and move on with life as quickly as possible; but really, I think I was tired and just needed to chill out. My body hadn’t fully recovered from being sick in the states and the extreme fluctuations in temperature that I was going through on a daily basis in addition to the stress of constantly being in situations where I had to rely solely on communicating using what Chinese I hadn’t forgotten was taking a small toll. 

While I was hard-headed and resorted to my Western ways by taking whatever medicine I could get my hands on that covered anything ranging from cough to congestion to aches to just general malaise, they really didn’t work because I wasn’t actually treating the root cause of sheer exhaustion. I think it was time, liquids, good sleep, and a purposeful break from attempting to know every. single. Chinese. word that ultimately did the trick. I feel much better now—today—and for that, I am so grateful. 

And yes, it has almost been one week to the day that I started to feel sick.

I am working at the Zhicheng Public Interest Law Center which does research and gives legal aid to those that normally could not afford to receive aid in the areas of children’s rights and migrant workers rights.  I am working in the research portion of the center where my primary responsibility is to research other countries’ juvenile justice systems that apply UNICEF standards as a means to help develop the juvenile justice system here in China. As foreign interns, we have to present our research to the rest of the office at some point during our time here.  The first presentation was last Friday and it was done by a Harvard intern that has been here for about 3-4 weeks. There are six of us in total. It was nice because, at the end of her presentation, there was a full-out impromptu Chinese-English discussion about the differences in American and Chinese legal systems. I think it is so cool when these exchanges occur because there is so much confusion and yet so much learning that occurs during these times.

In addition, I will have weekly opportunities to communicate with the lawyers downstairs that have large caseloads of 20-30 cases each. Many of the lawyers that do the legal aid casework don’t speak much English, so there will have to be translation done by one of the assistants. I’ve studied Chinese, but I haven’t had many opportunities to keep it up on a consistent basis, so I’ve forgotten so much.  Occasionally, a word pops into my head that I haven’t used in years, and I’m surprised that it’s still there in my brain. But even that aside, I never learned any legal Chinese. So I hope that the exchange with the lawyers isn’t too much of a burden on them considering the amount of work they have to do. But the people here at Zhicheng are so kind and welcoming, I doubt anyone would say too much even if it was a burden.  Actually, I think they welcome the change of pace.

Speaking of this kindness, the people in my office alone (there are usually four of us to a room/office within the larger Zhicheng building – my office includes my research supervisor who is also a lawyer, and two of the director’s assistants) have offered me so many snacks throughout the course of each day that it makes me feel warm inside. Almost family-like. Additionally, the law center has its own chef! As a result, the center provides the interns with free breakfast and lunch in our dining hall.  The people that work here full time use something like a food card to pay for their meals. It is really good food and you can tell that the chef and his assistant enjoy making the food for us. They also cook for and partake in our office parties, which occur at least one or two times a month.

Ok, I’m seeing that I will have to make the effort to update more frequently because I feel as if I have shared so little! So much has transpired that deciding what to post in this blog was a tad overwhelming.  I hope to tell you more about where I live, my new roommate, office happenings, media exposure, my language successes/failures, and random intern excursions. But until next time--