It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Beijing for 365 days. Well, if we want to get technical, I haven’t been in China for exactly that long, as with a few trips here and there, but I’ve spent 350 days in this country. So, how to bottle up all those experiences into some sort of reflective essay? Well it’s damn near impossible, but it’s worth a shot. I know this is a milestone in my life, so below I’ve tried my best to make sense of all my experiences.
Before i came to China, I thought “Ok, a year in China will be enough for me to understand the language and culture on a deep level.” While I wholeheartedly agree that I’ve peeled back layers of this culture to better understand it, I believe that there isn’t such a thing as setting a time limit on how well you understand something. You can check out another one of my blog posts about China’s cultural layers here. Just as a I tell my students that learning a language will always be a process, so will understanding different cultures. I think as humans, we like to set benchmarks for ourselves as to better organize the thousands of thoughts that go through our head. Benchmarks are good. They are great in fact. But, it shouldn’t deter us from continuing the process of understanding something, even if we feel it’s been understood. That’s why even though I’m heading back to the states in a few months, I’m going to continue to find ways to be immersed in Chinese culture, whether that’s through taking more classes at a university or joining in a Chinese cooking class on the weekends. I never want to stop learning more about this culture.
As many expats living in China will tell you, it can be a love hate relationship at times. While most of my experiences in China have been ones of love, I would be lying if I said it was all peaches and cream. The pollution was truly terrible at times, and I’m pretty sure in february I felt like China was a post apocalyptic world. The traffic and ever-present horn-honking drove me mad at times. Our never-ending saga with the apartment drama nearly drove me to curse at my Chinese landlord. People spitting near my feet made me clinch my fists. The meaning of quality and service in China is something completely different from the West. When you are living in a country of 1 billion people, quality just isn’t as important. At times I felt publicly embarrassed, like the time we were traveling on a crowded bus and were short one kuai. The bus attendant publicly called us out and insulted us in front of all the other Chinese passengers. And the worse feeling of all is the feeling of defeat. As my good expat friend said, “When you are frustrated and can’t communicate that in another language, you can’t let go of that stress. It stays with you and makes you even more frustrated.” Sometimes that feeling of defeat would creep up on me when I just couldn’t find the Chinese words to express my emotions. But all of these so-called “negatives” really are positives because do you really want to live abroad and have NO challenges. Of course not, that would be boring! And your stories definitely wouldn’t be as good. No but to be honest, the challenges of living in China is the good stuff. The challenges are what make your soul and self more resilient.
Speaking of challenges, living in China has made me understand the strains of population and environment. It still boggles my mind how many people are in China. That’s right, after 350 days, I still feel like there are a lot of people. The population is directly or indirectly related to every course of action in day-to-day life. Because of China’s population, the competition in education is fierce. There really isn’t a chance for every student to receive education. There especially isn’t enough room for everyone to receive higher education. Remember when George Bush famously said, “no child left behind” ? Well, in China tons of children are left behind in terms of their academic pursuits. My students have stressed to me how utterly stressful high school was. This quote comes from one of my students. ” You know foreigners are always joking that Chinese teenagers have no free time and are always studying but what they don’t understand is that we have to. If we want to go to university, we must have the best scores in China.” This quote really it me hard because education is taken for granted in so many parts of the world. In the states, if you do relatively well in school, you will get into college. Heck if you even do just ok you will get into university. I know if If you want to read more about education in China, check out my blog post here.
Living in China has not quenched my thirst for exploration, but i don’t think that thirst will ever be quenched. I know it’s ironic but, I don’t think you have to travel far to explore something new. Each city has endless possibilities of exploration! I hope that this idea of city exploration translates when I head back to the states.
The balance of tradition and modernization is always an important concept in this world and these two concepts are really fighting for space in China. There is still a huge population of elderly people in China that are trying to keep ancient traditions alive with the upbringing of their grandchildren. Beijing’s cherished hutongs are being destroyed left and right. Just the other day, I saw a very elderly man sitting on his stool playing with his grandchild, as a hutong was being torn apart with a jack hammer behind him. This country has one of the oldest history’s on the planet and there needs to be efforts to preserve the essence that is China and it’s “Chineseness.”
But, above all, being a teacher this past year has been the best experience. It really has been one of the greatest joys of my life thus far. Most of my students are from China, Libya and Saudi Arabia so I’ve seen and heard perspectives of China through different cultural lenses. My students are so eager to learn and wanting to better themselves, better their lives and families through the study of English. Feeling like you have imparted knowledge,lasting knowledge on someone, that feeling just can’t be matched. But more importantly, my students don’t realize what they have taught me. They have taught me the true meaning of dedication and hard work. They have taught me to analyze why things are the way they are in China. They’ve encouraged me in my Chinese study and made me realize how learning a language is truly connected in how you understand the culture behind it. But I think the best feeling of all is they’ve shown me a kind of love that is unique to teachers. Tissues anyone? I know I’m pulling them out right now… So for any of you who are thinking about teaching or teaching in China, you should 100% do it.
I hope that my rambling has translated into some meaning and expresses what living and teaching in China has been like for the past year. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them! I’m always delighted to read and answer your thoughts about China. For those of you that read consistently, thank you for your love and support this past year and thank you for helping this little blog grow!
For those of you that live or have lived in China, what do you love most?