Where we love is home- home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
The feeling of leaving home can barely be held in place by these few words, but they do justify the emotion. To leave a place that you have known, loved and where you have made your most painful and precious moments is barely anything to be overlooked. It’s an act of independence, faith in a better tomorrow, but most importantly strength. Needless to say, when I left my own home, I felt anything but strong. I had no idea what to expect in the Asian country that was to be my home, and that excited me! But I also knew everything I was leaving behind, and that is what scared me to death. My family, my friends, my home, the little things in my room, the big things in my life, everything, everyone. The time had come when I had to wean myself of the familiarity and comfort of being at home, to the strange, cold world outside. It was a relatively tearless goodbye until my mother held on to me and I nearly broke down, but I reminded myself that I was a big girl and I had to buckle up for the roller coaster. (Don’t be fooled, I cried on the plane when no one was watching)
I must say that China was nothing close to what I expected. I came bound for the eastern city of Hangzhou and even though it’s not Beijing or Shanghai, I was still a little too ignorant to know that it would not be as awe-inspiring as either of the 2 cities. Where I had imagined a huge airport that would intimidate me with its size and splendor, I was instead greeted by a rather small and not too busy airport that nearly matched Harare International. Needless to say, even in its small size, the mere design of the architecture was still a feast for my eyes. Completely oblivious to the people around me, my journey began. When I left the airport, I had mixed emotions to what I saw. I expected shining skyscrapers in impossible designs but I saw rather dirty apartment buildings with all sorts of clothing and cloths hanging from various balconies and clutter on every one of them. This got worse when I arrived at my school and I saw it in HD when I was walking in between buildings wondering if Chinese people were really this careless about their immediate surroundings. The neat freak in me was screaming but I was trying not to be judgemental so I tried as best as I could to keep my cool. Eventually I got used to seeing the odd mixture of amazing infrastructure and dirt on the next street but that’s only because reflex has taught me to look away. Aahhh, the power of the mind. Beautiful, no?
To say that I had an actual first impression of Chinese people would be lying. I’ve never been one who sees people in colors. That’s why I’ve always had a hard time understanding segregation, especially default segregation (I’m not sure if this is an actual term but I’ll just try to sound smart and use it anyway :)) when people automatically hang with others of their own “kind” and I put that in quotes because I feel mankind is the only “kind” there is and that’s where it should end. But don’t get me wrong, I’m NOT blind to racism. Anyway, I only started to form an actual opinion of Chinese people after interacting with other students who had been in China for longer than my 72 hours. There was a wide spectrum of opinion, some of which I will not outline because it truly would be hurtful but it did range from “They’re weird little people” to “they’re the sweetest you’ll ever meet”. In between these words is a wide range of insults and compliments that I will wisely rate *PG 100* so as long as you’re under the stipulated age, kindly seek Parental Guidance, thank you.
As I met more and more Chinese people, my eyes were opened to just how different we were. The first thing that unfortunately put me off about them is probably the spitting. That is something that I will never get used to because in my eyes, it is rather odd and truly unhygienic. The second thing I noticed was our huge differences when it came to table manners. Whereas I was taught to eat quietly with my mouth closed and slowly enough to be polite but quickly enough to be elegant, Chinese people chew rather loudly (which I still find unbearable) and quite quickly too. Because of these pet peeves that I had never had to experience, I always declined dinner invites and outings with my Chinese friends but I knew I had to get over it, after all, I was in China! I then asked a friend who then explained to me that it’s actually a sign of good manners to eat so loudly because it shows you’re enjoying the food! Ha! Who knew? Also from my own deductions and analysis, I found out that Chinese people are very health- conscious people who use various kinds of medicines to detoxify their bodies. From green tea to hot water. And so I think the spitting is a centuries-old habit to remove unwanted substances from the body by the quickest way possible. I still cannot bear it, but at least I understand it. Ladies and gentlemen, ignorance is not bliss!
How Chinese people react to black people!!
However, the biggest impact that the Chinese people have left on me is that of racial difference. I’m not what black people would call a dark skinned girl, I’m more of caramel colored with rather light undertones so I unfortunately don’t have a lot of melanin. However, in China, I’m apparently mighty dark! Ha! Who knew? I’ve had a couple of people ask, “Why are you so black?” The question always shocks me but in comparison to Chinese skin, I’d say charcoal is my sister. Fear not, this question was not meant to offend me but it was just out of pure curiosity. A lot of unnamed forces are behind the lack of exposure of a large portion of the Chinese population and while these forces were trying to do what was best for the country, some effects were unfortunately adverse. For this reason, we have to bear with our Chinese friends for asking these otherwise insulting questions. It’s not always in good faith though. Although I have not been a victim of direct racism (that I know of) I do have to say that the clear preference of white foreigners to black foreigners is as easy to see as the pollution in Beijing. This is most apparent when looking for. Be it English teaching, modeling or just singing, to the Chinese customer, white is gold. In the teaching arena, common thought is that white people are native speakers and so will speak the perfect English in great accents to the children who will in turn magically wake up with American accents. Personally, I think this is a very uneducated opinion. There are black Americans to begin with and black Africans who speak fluent English. Some countries in Africa like and Zambia were colonized by the British and so speaking English is as common as grass in a field. But this is reasoning that never occurs in the minds of those who still prefer white teachers and usually mistakenly take white teachers who can barely put a sentence together. Basically two blind men leading each other, quite a sight! （Pun intended)
However, something that always bring out the pettiness engraved on my soul is the staring that I am subjected to every day of my life in this interesting country. Be it on public transportation or at a shopping mall, they can even stop to point and stare. I detest it. It’s the first thing my mother taught me never to do. Haven’t you heard that it’s rude to stare? I half expect them to clap their hands when I speak, awed by the fact that this strange creature can talk! I recently discovered my hidden superpower which is also (drumroll please) STARING! I can win a staring contest any day, any time. So I have channeled this incredible superpower to staring back at anyone I find giving me their eyes to torture. I think the subway trains is where I get a lot of practice. I stare until they look away (then I laugh so hard to myself). And then there are the occasional pictures that I sometimes entertain but other times they make me so angry. Now every time someone takes a picture of me I also take a picture of them. Effective and entertaining. Ha! Two birds with one stone.
But one thing I will always love about China is the efficiency and convenience of the life we live here. From the subway to the use of Alipay and Taobao. This is the land of efficiency. The transport system is a beacon in the world of convenience (maybe not air transport) but the railway is a breeze and the subways (although usually very crowded like in Shanghai and Beijing, daymare) just work like well-oiled machines. The rate of development here is amazing. People working day and night, literally, to erect buildings where nothing existed. Buses that move on a strict schedule with taxis and Didi to complement them, it’s the stuff of dreams, no? Of course with everything great, there is the monster of its effects that rears its ugly head on the flip side. Pollution and overpopulation just to mention a few but I’d say that authorities are truly trying their best to keep up with numbers and the development. On the other hand, I do feel that the society might be having a hard time keeping up with the economical development. It’s very unsettling to see people encouraging and ignoring public defecation. It’s completely unhygienic and rather backward.
At the end of the day, I think it is most important to understand that life in a foreign land will always be an adventure and a new untold story every day. From thebarriers to the culture shock. It’s all part of the psychological cuisine that is necessary for a full course experience. When all is said and done, it is imperative that your mind becomes the only voice of sanity in this world of imagined sophistication.
Written by Phoebe R. Nyashanu