Life on Science Island: Experiencing New Culture

Oct 08, 2023 | By Cheonho Bae

I arrived in China in September of 2021 under the sponsorship of CAS President’s International Fellowship Initiative.

Other than my research goals, I had some personal reasons to come to China. Being born and raised in South Korea, all my thoughts and lifestyle were strongly affected by the Korean culture from 1970s to 1990s. As a Korean, I was somewhat exposed to Chinese culture due to the historical cultural exchanges between mainland China and ancient Korea. It will be similar to that American culture shares many similarities with European one. One good example is that I have read “Romance of the Three Kingdoms(三國演義)” in my 20s because it is also loved by many Koreans.

Since my 20s, I had several chances to study in the US. Other than my academic endeavors in the US, it was my chance to learn the western culture and philosophies as well. My focus was on understanding the unique culture that governs their social behaviors and thoughts. As I started seeing major cultural differences between the western and eastern worlds, I was able to better understand the Korean culture in which I grew up. Things that I have taken for granted during my teenage days looked different once I started seeing the uniqueness of Korean culture.

Coming to China, I try to make the same effort as I did in the US. I have a list of things that I can only do in China or it is better to do it while in China. First on this list, of course, is travelling to the places where I have only seen in Chinese dramas or novels. I enjoyed watching many Chinese dramas, such a Romance of the Three Kingdoms(三國演義), The Great Jin Empire(大秦帝国), Han Mu the Great(漢.武大帝), Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋), Sunzi War Doctrines(孙子兵法), etc. If I were a European American, Hefei may just be the capital of Anhui province and a rising city in China. But as an ethnic Korean, I see Hefei as the strategic location where Sun Quan(孫權) so wanted to take over with 100 thousand troops but got defeated by the 7 thousand troops led by Zhang Liao(张辽). When I see the flat agricultural land of the eastern part of China, I see why constructing cannels was the best choice in ancient times. So, I not only get to see the beautiful landscapes in different parts of China but also enjoy the rich histories behind them.

Second on my list is to get a big picture of ancient and modern Chinese arts. This is because of my personal interest in Asian brush art for many reasons. I have been practicing Korean-style brush art for a long time and enjoy watching the modernized style of them while in Korea. I have the same interest in studying how Chinese artists are transforming the traditional styles into modern forms. One example is the art by Li Keran(李可染). I understand that his modernized art form, known as Li river landscape(灕江山水) style, affected many modern-day Chinese artists. Arts by Qi Baishi(齐白石) opened a variety of new objects to be painted for modern arts. As I learn more on Chinese arts, I actually see those ancient arts or those influenced by those pioneers in unique art forms in the televisions, restaurants, and buildings in China. This is only possible while in China.

Third on my list is the food. In my 20s, it was very difficult for me to get used to American foods after eating hot and spicy Korean food while growing up in Korea. Once I got used to them, I had a list of additional cuisine items that I can enjoy no matter where I live. I have mostly introduced to Chinese food through the Chinese restaurants in Korea and in the US. Later I learned that Chinese food in China tastes quite different from them. So, I now start exploring the true Chinese tastes and also try Chinese liquors such as Baijiu(白酒). I have some food items that I like from the Science Island but plan to explore more from the city side of Hefei and by visiting other cities in China.

Science Island is my home base for all these adventures. It provides a perfect balance between my research work and my China exploration. My apartment is about 15 minutes by bike or 30 minutes by walk to my office. I alternate between these two methods for exercises. In the evenings, I usually walk to my office after dinner and work for about two hours. Doing this keeps me awake after dinner that otherwise I would fall asleep after a good meal. I often walk to the bridge connecting the Island to the city. It is the best spot to view sunsets. Taking a walk or riding my bike around the island or beyond is another fun activity especially when the weather is perfect. Since I have grown up on a farm in Korea, I enjoy the spring season when the farmers start their annual business and the fall season when they start harvesting. When the sport tournament season comes, I join my ASIPP soccer team not only to enjoy playing it but also to get the amount of fun exercises I need to stay healthy during my research career. Balance between work and exercises on Science Island helps with my balance between work and exploration.


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