By Jordan Martinez
I visited one of Seattle Central Chinese Club’s meetings and it quickly overwhelmed me. Attended by some 45 Chinese students (standing room only at that point, for chair deficient Mitchell Activity Center room 210), the meeting was run in Mandarin and conducted at a high pace. The meeting, while scheduled for an hour, actually ended hardly 30 minutes in. Less due to a lack of topics to cover, rather, the facilitator was doing an excellent job in efficiently conducting the room.
In spite of the language barrier I was able to glean information from interspersed English, and white-board notes. The club focused on planning for upcoming bake sales, hands popping up as the facilitator called on individuals for creative idea. Milk tea was a popular option The club also went over member’s Student Development Transcripts, and began thinking about Unity Fair as well as Legacy Club Status.
After the meeting wrapped and the room emptied out I stuck around. Staying behind were the Club Officers to further plan and chat. Needless to say I had many questions at the conclusion of the meeting – when there was time to accommodate someone with a language barrier like myself! Firstly I spoke to Yang Wang, one of the Chinese Club’s officers, and the Arts Coordinator of the group. What was Wang’s purpose for coming to a club week after week? “I have talents in doing art, so I’m in charge of designing.” It’s also a opportunity to “try to organize a club and be a leader” Wang added.
Liwei Hsieh, Chinese Club’s President approached me to provide answers as well- this was the excellent facilitator I had just observed, and surprisingly, Taiwanese. “I left the Taiwanese Student Association,” Hsieh told me. For the uninitiated in South-East Asian geopolitics after the Maoist Chinese Revolution of 1949, Taiwan broke from the mainland and declared itself the true government of the country. Needless to say, animosity still exists as those relations have continued into the 21st Century although apparently not in Chinese Club. The striking nature of this though, is not lost on Hsieh. While he tells me that “the reason why I joined this club, was because I saw the president paying full fare on the bus,” another central factor was the structure of the Taiwanese Student Association, much to formal for Hsieh
One of my first queries was on the running of the meeting. Why in Chinese rather than English? “I have tried to use English, and nobody came.” This answer was indicative of a larger nature of the club. Classified as a Cultural/Social Club, for many students it is the cultural rather than social part that we immediately associate with Chinese Club. The bake sales with colorful Chinese characters on banners; a multi-cultural front at different events on campus. However, what the club means for the membership is quite different. “People don’t care so much about (Student Development Transcripts), they now come because they think this is a place where they can get information, entertainment, and relax,” Hsieh tells me. “We are Chinese students, in America… we want to get together. Talk about family.” Chinese Club offers a more personalized route for Chinese students to navigate the often confusing paths through filling out paperwork for SDT’s, applying for Student Leadership positions, or even just discussing campus experiences.
Last year the club had under ten people, now upwards of 55 attend meetings regularly. Chinese Club is having an impact behind the scenes as well with two members in student leadership. In spite of this, the club evidently holds no biased sway over clubs. Last quarter, plans for a Lunar New Years celebration ended in bitterness towards leadership. Seeking out the Broadway Performance Hall led to an extended process of paperwork and meetings. By the time the venue had been approved for their use another group had reserved the hall for the day they sought. Remarking on this, Hsieh said that “I saw my members were ambitious, they wanted to do something big… But the whole thing was not a good experience.” More than Chinese Club’s own experience, Hsieh spoke on broader issues: raising that many opportunities for clubs are fenced into standard packages such as Unity Fair, or the Club Fair. “Leadership’s function is to provide freedom for clubs. But what happened with us is that they create an event, and we participate.”
Looking towards the future Chinese Club ended the meeting with a viewing of a video that had gone viral in China. An amusing and funny video of people singing and dancing in a Chinese supermarket, flash-mob style. Inspiration for a future club activity that a section of the club were practicing for just around the corner, from MAC 210 as I exited.