Reflections on my time in China
Having a conversation with a Chinese man without speaking the same language is such a touching experience. Finding a common language through the use of facial expression and body language, suddenly my over-use of gesticulation when I talk (often knocking things, or people, over) has come in useful. It’s amazing what you can communicate to one another despite speaking completely different languages.
The Chinese can be so warm and appreciative when you offer them a lighter for their cigarette, attempt to speak their language, allow them to take a photo of you (on your own, with them or with their babies); it is actually quite humbling.
Going with a tour when visiting China is something I would highly recommend. In so many areas the English language is not spoken and menus are not in English. Unless you speak a good level of mandarin it would not be possible to order food or arrange transportation or ask for help – I even at times found it frustrating to not be able to be so free and independent with this despite having a tour guide’s assistance. In addition, China is huge and it takes a long time to get from place to place, and other than the well-known cities it would be overwhelming and tricky to know where to go and what to explore; going with a tour that has done all the research for you and had first-hand experience to be able to take you to the popular areas but also the diverse off-the-beaten-track places, including things you wouldn’t have even thought of, makes the experience so much more special.
Cultural differences evoke polar emotions; hearing someone spit on the floor right by your foot still makes me shudder and such blatant and regular queue-jumping so frustrating, but then you have to almost pull yourself back from believing your way (or our way) is the best or only way, and who are we to impose our cultural norms and expectations on them when in their country. It’s a task of continuously checking yourself and your automatic, culturally-imbedded responses.
It makes you appreciative of creature comforts you never realised existed. Being able to sit on an actual toilet rather than squat over a hole in the ground now feels like an absolute luxury – the process of hovering above a hole that is already surrounded by wee and poo is an experience that you flit between feeling accustomed to and exhausted by depending on your current state (and, as a woman, the time of the month – a time that becomes really unpleasant with the heat of China and the task of squatting). Right now, I look most forward to being able to go to the toilet without the physical and mental preparation required of this process in China.
I also greatly appreciate our traffic light system and how the majority of road users abide by the rules. I love our farmers and how our climate produces fresh and cool salads, fruits and vegetables. I have more patience and understanding towards tourists in England and swear to go out of my way more to help those whom seem lost or confused. I hugely respect those whom come to our country and have learned our language.
The Chinese do some strange things with food (such as red bean paste inside bread rolls, or sushi to go that has ham and carrot in it – cheap but not quite the sushi I crave) and it us usually far cheaper to have a whole meal (1 or 2 quid for a noodle dinner) than it is to buy a drink with your meal or purchase a bar of chocolate. It’s amazing for cheap meals when on a budget but makes everything else seem so extreme. You can buy super noodle meal pots for about 50p but they aren’t the most nutritious or tasty of dishes.
The rural areas are my favourite parts of China. Although I’m a city girl and I loved both Chengdu and Beijing, feeling particularly at home in the former, there is something about the rural areas where you see more of their culture, feel more at peace and have such a warm welcome and response from the locals. Oh and they are stunning places to hike or just wander around.
Having smoked on and off since I was 16 it is practically impossible to not take the habit up once again whilst in China; a pack of 20 can cost only 5 yuan (55p), which is less than you can pay for a single chocolate bar.
The way they literally work to live – complete physical labour to get their food, build their home and make a living – is at once both humbling and inspirational. It has sparked a desire in me to spend some time working in this way.
China is crazy, intense and wonderful in equal measure. Maybe I should have prepared myself mentally beforehand, but then again perhaps that isn’t truly possible and being knocked off your feet is all part of the whirlwind experience. It can take some adjusting – their relentless need for you to buy whatever they are selling, their fascination with us Brits that borders on personal-space intrusion, their staunchly respectful and committed attitude to religion – but, when the time came for me to move on, I realised how much I had fallen in love with China and how sad I was to leave. You must go.
[See first post on China: Hong Kong]