China First Hand

9 February 2006


Filed under: Personal — china1sthand @ 11:05 pm

This wasn’t my first trip to China. When I was 19, I went on a gap year project in Malaysia, and from there I decided I had to visit China. To some extent, this is another story. It happened in only a week before starting uni, was my first experience of independent travel, and involved a lot of drama! However, from having the same experience on both trips, I must have found something that is Chinese by nature.

For my first trip I visited my English uncle in Wuhan, and his Chinese friends welcomed me into their family home. These strangers looked after me like I was their own child; I will never forget this overwhelmingly pleasant experience.

I am experiencing the same thing now in Beijing. My friend gave me a bag full of oranges on my first day, as a gift from her parents. I had not even met them, and they had supplied me with a delicious source of food. However it wasn’t just a practical help – I now realise that oranges at New Year are symbols for wealth (due to the similarity in sound between the Chinese words ‘orange’ and ‘wealth’). Their intentions were even kinder than I first thought, and this was the first of a long string of good intentions. This also included my lifeline. SIM cards and mobiles are very expensive here for short-term use, and using my own was even pricier! They lent me a mobile for the time I was here. This was not only the basis of communication for my working life – and therefore fundamental to my future income – but it also meant I had a friend, translator, guide and fountain of knowledge on hand at any time. It gave peace of mind. This is so important when you’re in an unfamiliar environment.

I had no shared language with my Chinese parents. Today my friend has had to work late, so her parents knocked on my door, and signalled that I should join them. We enjoyed a meal together, using signs and body language to communicate. My friend’s father can speak some simple English, so I enjoyed spending the rest of my evening teaching parts of my language to this beaming middle-aged man. You know, you can teach language without having a single word that you both understand. He had a few words – although not enough for many sentences. I wish I could speak properly with this man, and his lovely wife. Throughout my trip this couple have managed to make me very happy, and I feel incredibly close to them. Whenever I look I them, I smile. I hope that one day when we communicate it will be in words.

Of course the hero of this tale is My Friend, a fabulous person I met at university. I was living in halls and my friends and I would regularly sit in the corridor in a manner that regretfully we were later told appeared intimidating. But this Chinese lady wasn’t phased at all, and marched through with a big smile on her face and playful comments. We have been friends ever since. No praise is too much for the assistance I have received from this person throughout my trip. And when times are tough, I think to myself, “Well if she can do it, then I damn well can too!”

Having your every need catered for is certainly the most wonderful welcome to a country. Perhaps Westerners have more expectation of independence? You can get too used to being looked after though – on my first trip I was alone to catch my return flight from Hong Kong. As I sat down the flight transmission across the whole plane welcomed my arrival… Just a few minutes ago, I had only just reached the airport!



  1. […] Many of us enjoy going for a “Chinese”. Today I joined my hosts for a meal out. All the Chinese meals I’ve eaten in the UK are mediocre when compared with the food I ate today: Real “Chinese”! I have enjoyed top quality meals in London, but they are not as good as the wondrously delicious creations here. During the Cultural Revolution (ending only 25 years ago), most sources of entertainment in China were banned …but obviously you can’t ban life’s essentials! I think consequently, the Chinese developed a particular passion for food. […]

    Pingback by Will You Join Me For Dinner? « China First Hand — 16 September 2006 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

  2. […] When I first came here, I brought gifts from England for my hosts.  They didn’t seem grateful.  Today my surrogate mother visited me and signalled that a huge, beautiful, expensive-looking box of loveliness was for me!  There’s just different ways of doing things here. […]

    Pingback by For You…I Insist « China First Hand — 16 September 2006 @ 8:31 pm | Reply

  3. […] Obviously you can’t vet every person you may want to help you – so you build a network: A friend of yours is a friend of mine. This is something of which I have been very lucky to be a part. I have benefited from guanxi by having a free home on both trips to China, and most of my work I found using guanxi. All my original students referred me to another. However, due to this network those with no connections will struggle. Power breeds power. […]

    Pingback by I’ll Scratch Your Back « China First Hand — 16 September 2006 @ 8:39 pm | Reply

  4. Thank you for the post. This information gives me thoughts for future.

    Best regards,


    Comment by favorites — 19 September 2006 @ 10:38 pm | Reply

  5. Personally, I have no idea why people would not understand how to do this.

    Comment by wikipedia — 21 September 2006 @ 12:31 am | Reply

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