It is Different. I Can Tell You That.
I arrived in China on the 2nd of February 2017. It’s been one roller coaster of a month and from the sound of things, the second month is going to be even wilder. Not in a bad way, mind you. No, I’ve had one of the most eye-opening experiences jam-packed into but a few weeks and if I have to answer the question on every family member and friends’ lips “So what is China like?”, I’d say the following:
It’s different. Everything about this country and its people will baffle and surprise you. The fact is, the reason that you’ve finally decided to take the leap (or you’re at least considering it) means you’re open to being completely blown away. It won’t always be sunshine and daisies, trust me. My poor Chinese skills and meager knowledge of Mandarin doesn’t take me very far in a country completely dominated by its Mother Tongue.
For example, just this morning, I received a phone call from a local Chinese number. I answered of course, thinking it might be the school looking for me; however I ended up trying to profusely explain why I can’t understand the person on the other side of the phone, hearing them talk in the background and having the phone put down in my ear. First thought that ran through my head: “Don’t they have English Speaking staff?”
No, of course not, why would they?
Language Barrier in Daily Life but No Problem!
So get ready for a hectic lack of English speaking staff in about 90% of the places and businesses you’ll encounter in your life.
A restaurant around the corner from me has a pizza special every Monday. All pizzas are 50 RMB, which is about 7 USD on Mondays. (Bargain hunter over here, guys!) Do you know how difficult it is to order a pizza on an English menu with a waitress who only knows Chinese? It can be a wee bit of a struggle. However, you can’t let minor things like that stop you from experiencing what China is about and seeing all it has to offer. I was assisted by English speaking staff within a matter of minutes and shortly thereafter got the exact pizza I ordered with all my trimmings added and some taken away as I requested.
This brings me to my second point about China. Like I mentioned before, it is vastly different than what I’m used to. If I have to think back at the Chinese community in South Africa. They aren’t exactly a mirror image of the Chinese community here in China. Growing up, I was used to Chinese folk being somewhat closed off and not so helpful if you need something. Usually a rip-off if you’re not careful. However, I have to say that I haven’t experienced any real sour attitudes towards me or my fellow foreign teachers.
Sure, you have the odd student calling you fat every now and again, but really. I’m not in the least bit affected by it. Chinese people are so small of frame, I look like some ogre compared to them. When back home I’m considered a normal, healthy-looking young woman. Of course they’ll think I spend my days eating McDonald’s and Burger King (maybe I do, who knows?).
Going back to my original point, the Chinese people have been quite lovely in my city. In Ningbo, which is a rather large city with 7 million inhabitants, I’ve been welcomed with open arms, warm hearts and tons of food! Once you’ve arrived and you constantly hear people smacking while eating, then that’s normal. The smacking AND the eating. Chinese folks love to eat and they love to eat together! Don’t refuse food when offered or be offended if they think you eat a lot. They just love eating with others and sharing food is one way of showing they want to include you and make you feel at home.
So far, my first month, I’ve seen quite a few differences between the world I’m used to and China. I’m definitely not complaining and embracing these differences and changes makes China a blast!
Don’t be afraid of doing something way out of the ordinary. It just might surprise you how much fun you could have!