I've reached the two month milestone today. Besides the usual surprises you'll get in what ever new place you wander to, I feel mostly the same as on the first day: deeply misunderstood.
I've been only given 6 Chinese language courses spread over the period, which doesn't help in the process. Nevertheless; I feel like an astronaut dropped on a different planet. Did my Boeing 777 go through a worm hole on it's way to Guangzhou? That would've been cool.
To get around I try to speak basic English, simplified to the max, and I use hand gestures. All sorts of awkward gestures, flinging my hands, arms and sometimes even body all over. Message received 0/5. Nothing goes through. Speaking of worm holes.
I'm not referring to the people who actually do speak some English and with whom I manage to get around with, this paragraph is aimed straight at the ones who don't understand "No Chinese". Bang! Salesmen are a bit aggressive by times, bullying you into their shops, pointing at useless products and speaking loudly. "No Chinese" as I wave my hand. It doesn't reach them. A man with cunning intentions only understand what he wants to. Body language just doesn't make it. If I went mute I'd get around decently in Europe or the USA. In China I'd have no chance, probably better off giving Sentinel Island a try. Sentinel Island is North of Sumatra (biggest island of Indonesia). The inhabitants have always refused any contact with the outside world, even during the 2004 tsunami, shooting arrows at a helicopter dropping goods to help them out. I'd go there before coming to China mute. Got me?
There is something profoundly different in this country. It's a bit as if China -as a country- had been catapulted into the present too fast, and besides the visible addiction to smartphones, they -as people- are still unaware of how the world is out there. The massive censoring and control over the media is one thing, but education seems to be the bigger part of it.
I don't know how exactly their school system works, but I truly believe they are not thought to think, and mostly thought to obey and follow the rules. Combined to the cultural shock, it appeared to be normal when I got here, as the government has a population of 1.3 billion to manage it is hard to compare it to even the biggest European countries or the USA. The only comparable country is India, and China is succeeding way better. But then as I stayed and got to speak to my peers and sometimes debate with professors, it felt increasingly awkward.
Here are two examples:
- When I moved into my apartment there was a street-lesson inside of my community. They were teaching people who had dogs how to pick up the excrement. A week later I saw a man let his dog poop on the sidewalk. He swiftly pulled out a plastic bag from his back pocket and picked it up. Now comes the fun part. After making a knot with the bag, he threw it in the bushes. Why would one need a lesson for such a thing in the first place? Isn't that common sense to pick up your waste?
- Yesterday I went to Baiyun Mountain, a famous place to visit. You'll find it in every "Top 10 things to do in Guangzhou". My friends and I were basically the only foreigners there. Just for you to get the picture, we're talking about nature, blossoming trees, bee hives, dirt paths and natural springs the locals seemed to be fond of. It was a great hike and will be in my next blog post, but ...
Chinese people seem to have no clue about pollution, every 100 meters there were scenes like this one.
This isn't street garbage that'll eventually be picked up. This is trash thrown out by people who actually made the effort of hiking up a steep mountain, who were looking for some pure air in the middle of a gas-guzzling city, and who thought it's a good idea to throw out their wastes into that once sublimate nature. Or did they think?
Overall I'm spending a great time and am really enjoying it. I wouldn't want any reader to think the contrary. Exchange programs are best when there is a real cultural shock and I'm in the very middle of it; if I had to chose again I'd be coming back. But I can't deny I'm a bit disappointed by some behaviors I've been witnessing. By now people should be aware anywhere in the world that some things are simply not done anymore...
We're all human beings, wired the same way; culture can't be an excuse to everything.