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Fulbright scholar describes hometown in China

Rebecca O'Neil | Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Yan Song, a Fulbright teaching assistant at Saint Mary’s, offered a firsthand account of life in Lanzhou, China in the Mother Pauline Room of Cushwa-Leighton Library on March 25. 

The presentation, sponsored by the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL), gave faculty members and students a dose of Chinese culture. 

Home to Song and three million others, Lanzhou marks the geometrical center of China and is the capital of Gansu, one of the country’s 34 provinces.

“It’s a great tourist location because of the surrounding historical sites,” Song said. “With the Maiji Mountain Caves to the east and the Buddha Caves to the west, it attracts a lot of visitors.”

Once a key point in the Silk Road, Lanzhou remains central to surrounding regions’ transportation and telecommunication, Song said. She attributed this reliance to the capital’s location on the Yellow River, the second largest river in Asia.

“It’s vital because it’s the only provincial city that the river runs through,” Song said.

Though motorboats are accessible, Song said many Lanzhou residents use sheepskin rafts to conveniently navigate the city’s veins. Unique to the Yellow River, these simple rafts are made of inflated sheep or pigskins.

The floating devices are not the only interesting sights available on the Yellow River’s banks, Song said. The city is teeming with artwork.

Song said she believes the Yellow River Mother sculpture, located symbolically along the river, is the most significant of expositions. 

“The Yellow River is often referred to as the mother of China,” she said.

Many other structures flank the river’s shore, Song said, such as Lanzhou’s Waterwheel Park, a water conservation system formerly used to irrigate local crops, and the Zhongshan Bridge, the Yellow River’s first iron bridge.

“Lanzhou adds the grand beauty of northern Chinese cities to the quaintness of the south,” Song said. “It’s a harmonious combination of the modern and the old.” 

Song said her hometown also offers religious diversity. Gansu Province is roughly 10 percent Muslim, she said. 

Song said Lanzhou currently has 1,000 Muslim noodle shops that, combined, serve 1,000,000 bowls of hand-pulled beef noodles a day. The elastic noodles are boiled in beef-liver broth and have extra potassium carbonate added to them. 

“It is the most loved food in China. It’s so delicious,” Song said. “Many people in China eat it, but it all comes from my city.”

Although Song said she feels privileged to be studying in the United States, she admitted she missed the food of her city the most. Elaine Meyer Lee, director of the CWIL, said most of the “Chinese” food in the United States is Cantonese style, which is more common in the southern part of China.

Song studied English for ten years in Lanzhou but said she had felt deprived of understanding American culture because she was not immersed in it.

“I did not have a real vivid image of what Christmas was,” she said. “Now I have experienced Christmas and Halloween. It has furthered my education to see the different kinds of western festivals and celebrations. 

“We cannot learn basic cultural differences from our textbooks. We must cherish diversity of all the people here, and respect their rights.”