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!