Community Life: a Cross-Cultural Dialogue

Denny Rice

Today the UD NSLIY Xiamen group had the distinct pleasure of meeting with prominent members of the Xiamen community and local high school students at the Binhai Neighborhood Committee Headquarters. The Binhai Neighborhood Committee is just one of many Neighborhood Committees in the greater Xiamen area that function as the level of government closest to the people, much like city councils or home owners associations in the U.S. However, there are several key differences between the roles played by the neighborhood committees in China and local city councils in the United States. According to one of the social workers from the Neighborhood Committee who gave a presentation on the Committee’s activities, the purpose of the Committee is to positively engage its citizens in every aspect of their daily lives. While the Committee provides access to basic social services like Tai Qi classes for the elderly and community service efforts, they are also responsible for items such as promoting patriotism, administering justice and security within the neighborhood, and organizing the local chapter of the Youth League. Binhai itself is relatively small in terms of its geography. At only 1.5 square kilometers in area, the neighborhood stretches from golden sea shores on one end to lush, tree-covered cliffs on the other. The urban neighborhood nestled in between these two geographic extremes boasts an especially large population of approximately 11,000 residents- giving the neighborhood a mind-boggling population density of over seven people per square meter.

Our actual visit to the Binhai was spectacular. On our arrival we were greeted by a cadre of smiling Chinese high schoolers all holding signs welcoming us to their neighborhood. We were then ushered into the main lobby, where a team of older community members were waiting to perform a traditional waist drum dance on our behalf. Following their performance, we listened to a presentation given by various leaders of the Binhai Neighborhood Committee that explained the function of local government in China. Our hosts in Binhai were gracious enough to set up a number of cultural stations at their community center to give us a lesson in traditional Chinese culture. At these various stations, we learned how to prepare porcupine 

shaped red-bean buns (in Chinese红豆沙包子),how to write the character 福 (Fu, meaning fortune) in stylized calligraphy, and how to perform a traditional tea ceremony. After we finished going through the stations, we then watched a series of culturally-oriented performances by members of the Binhai community and UD NSLIY participants. In addition to Kung Fu and Tai Qi demonstrations, community members treated us to musical compositions on the Er Hu (a two-stringed Chinese version of the fiddle) and the Gourd Flute. Our very own UD NSLIY students did a riveting rendition of 小星星 (Xiao Xing Xing, more commonly known in English as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star…) on the Ocarina and made us proud with Xinjiang dance and Tai Qi performances. To conclude our visit to the Binhai Neighborhood Association Headquarters, UD NSLIY students and local peers exchanged gifts and best wishes.