Alumni Blog: Jianbing Time Anytime
Written by Lisa Ly (Colorado College) & Frank Stroker (Gettysburg College)
CET Chinese Studies & Service-Learning in Beijing, Spring 2009 alumni
To view the winning entries of the 2012 CET Alumni Video/Blog contest, click here: http://cetacademicprograms.com/category/alumni-blogvideo-contest/
Anytime is jianbing time! Breakfast, lunch, and dinner – with the occasional baozi substitution – the class of spring 2009 would stroll down the alleys for a quick bite before heading back to class. We were on a mission to locate the best jianbing our neighborhood vendors could produce. This Chinese delicacy, unheard of in American Chinese restaurants, enthralled us from the initial crunch to the very last lick of special sauce. Not all vendors were able to make it with the crunch, and not all vendors were able to match our taste buds’ spice threshold, which varied from sensitive to being able to handle the hottest kick.
Our favorite vendor, Jianbing Xiansheng, arrived at the CNU gates at 7pm every night. Jianbing Xiansheng migrated from the Henan province in pursuit of wealth and entrepreneurial opportunities. His day job was tailoring, and he continued to work after dark pushing his cart around the neighborhood and attracting hungry students. While he sure did manage to make a killing off waiguo xuesheng such as ourselves, who needed a tasty reprieve from our grueling Chinese lessons, the situation was not so bright. Many of the street vendors who migrated to the large cities in search of a better life are hampered by the fact that they largely remain in the informal sector. On nights when the CNU gates remained vacant, it was because the authorities were enforcing street vendor restrictions. Food carts faced criticism of sanitation, creating sidewalk traffic, and producing street litter.
The plight of the food vendors is representative of the issues China faces as it continues along its path of economic development. Mao Yushi of the Unirule Institute of Economics and Justin Lin of the World Bank discussed the main barriers to China’s continued growth. These barriers include the shift away from China’s long championed export industries and closing the income gap between the rich and poor. If China hopes to maintain its place as the world’s fastest growing economy, it must find ways to tap into the hidden fortunes of its food vendors and the rest of the informal sector. To do this will require not only finding common ground for Jianbing Xiansheng and his peers to operate, but also reforming the financial system and giving entrepreneurs access to the opportunities they need to push China beyond the technological frontier. It would be a shame if China falters in this endeavor.
At CET, we were able to engage in these conversations and immerse ourselves in Chinese food and culture. Our friendships and conversations have continued beyond CET. Frank Stroker and Lisa Ly decided to collaborate on this blog entry as a demonstration of our continued interest in a dialogue that sparked while studying in China. We hope that when we return to China, anytime can still be jianbing time.