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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

I recently returned from a summer studying Chinese in Beijing. It was an intense summer, to say the least, in a war zone of culture fought in the urban jungle that is Beijing. The language barrier was daunting, the food hard to digest and the cabbies had a death wish that Charles Bronson couldn't deliver on.

I landed in Beijing at a very opportune time. I witnessed the final stages of the transformation of the capital city firsthand, without editing from NBC or CCTV.

When I returned home to watch the Olympics on the couch like everyone else, I saw a cleaner, brighter version of the city that I didn't expect.

On the screen, the air looked crisp and the streets vagrant-free. China went through a transformation for the Olympics, its own personal crucible.

Hosting the Olympics acted as a catalyst for the country, sparking the government and its people to rally around one central cause.

Despite the beautiful portrayal of the Olympics on television, my experience was not consistent with the international show.

Obvious problems exist in China. In Beijing, the juxtaposition of the haves and have-nots is astonishing. You could see incredible opulence mashed against extreme squalor.

Fifty-story buildings next to dilapidated migrant construction workers' barracks. Luxurious BMWs next to donkeys pulling brick carts. The gap in wealth was hardly subtle.

It's always in the back of your mind, when it's not shoved in front of your face.

Despite all the differences I encountered in food, traffic, fashion, hygiene and sexual habits, the Chinese people are basically the same as Americans.

Family, compassion, respect and dignity are values shared by people of all cultures.

Their government may have some serious character and managerial flaws, but we can't lump the people of China into the same category.

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The fate of the Chinese government and country is not for America to judge; rather, it is the responsibility of Chinese citizens to decide.

It's difficult to separate a country's people from its government, but the distinction must be made because we can't afford to dehumanize the citizens. They really do deserve a better government.

I sat on a dilapidated ancient watchtower on a piece of the Great Wall that has been eroded by years of vegetative growth, lack of tourists and zero renovation. This stretch of the wall is still inside the Beijing municipality.

On an unusually clear day I could see the city's rising skyline miles away through a pair of binoculars.

From there, I could see living proof that building walls doesn't solve problems. It failed against the Mongolians, and the ideological wall crumbled after Mao's death.

Hopefully, America can learn from China's mistakes.

Anthony Paglino is a fourth-year economics student.

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