China – The People, The Culture & The Experience

2014-06-07 09.42.54 As some of you may already know, I travelled to China to recently and had quite the time. Firstly, I apologise for the constant China-related posts and I fear that I have let myself down a little. For many a year, I have cursed those J-1er’s who seem to take-over our social media this time of year to try and out-do each other with pictures of pretty much everything that they have been doing. However, I admit that I became slightly hooked and now that it is all over, I certainly have the travelling blues. I have vowed to return and to say that it didn’t change my outlook on life would be a lie. Only time will tell whether my current notions of my future will last the distance or whether they will fall by way-side as final year looms. All I wish to share are my experiences that I had in the time I spent in Chengdu in the Sichuan Province, South west China.

You need balls of steel not to fear for your life whilst in a Chinese taxi. It was this 1st experience that made it really sink in that I was in a different world. They are either the most talented drivers in the world or else their wages don’t warrant them to pay much attention to general safety. I would like to believe the first idea, but I reckon the second notion is more accurate considering our €2 fee for a 15 minute trip. So I walk into our hotel reception to the sound of a massive “gluggg”. Yes, we have all heard that revolting sound and I turn around to see our very pretty receptionist leaving it fly right in the middle of the floor. In the meantime, her 2 year old son wandered around the place with his seamless pants doing his business wherever he may so wish and then splashing about in it to the delight of his Gran. We kind of stood there with mouths wide open. No better way to say “Welcome to China”. Following on from these incidents, we became accustomed to the way of the locals and realised that this was just the beginning of many more new experiences.

For the record, I would return to China in the morning if you gave me the chance. We didn’t have enough time over there to fully appreciate where we were. Nonetheless, we were blessed to have met some amazing people in our time there. These people were willing to bend over backwards to help us in any way possible. I could ring my mate, Li Hao, at 4am and ask him to give me a piggyback to town and I have no doubt that he would come running. Whether it was because they all thought we were loaded or just do it out of goodwill remains to be decided ( I joke, they really are the most accommodating people I have ever met). We attended many lectures ranging from Traditional Chinese Medicine to Tai Chi with lecturers that had broken English, but the patience of saints to put up with a bunch of 17 Irish students. I became particularly hooked and interested in the language and by the end of the month, I was having legible (well, almost) conversations with the local taxi drivers and I was even haggling in the markets to get that extra 10c discount. This, in particular, was very enjoyable and once you allow yourself to become embedded in a different culture, you can surprise yourself with how much your communication skills can improve. You even begin the think in Chinese. By the end of the month, I walked across roads with confidence knowing when to stop and when to walk to survive as they were treacherous. I began to become more of a hard-ass when it came to haggling to display false confidence that I could get the price I wanted. I looked forward to the constant struggle of using chopsticks and now I refuse to eat a stir-fry without them at home. I aim to continue my learning of the language in the hope to return their in the future, whether it be for leisure, study or work.

China seems to be a place that operates where the rich can be neighbours with the poor and there doesn’t seem to be any hard feelings. The high security presence in the country may have something to do with it. I’d imagine the punishments for crime would be severe and ruthless. As a westerner, I found it quite bizarre to see traffic come to a stand-still in the middle of a 5 lane intersection to allow Chinese military troops march across at their own pace. It just re-emphasized to me that this was a different place under the control of a strong, strong government. Yet, the people that I met seemed to be content with how things were. They work like trojans and accept whatever came their way without complaint.

As westerners, we felt and were treated like celebs (I could get used to it, I don’t know why they complain sometimes). It seemed that eyes were fixated on us as we walked down the street and I lost count of the amount of photos we were asked into. Mothers were practically throwing their babies at some of the blonde girls in our group hoping for some form of good luck! You couldn’t help but greet them with smile and deep down we all loved the attention. In the night-clubs, it was pretty much VIP treatment and a lot of “Ganbei”ing. If you think you have seen good DJ-ing in your lifetime, I suggest you take a trip to 88 to check out the four DJ’s mixing at the same time. It was pretty epic to say the least. Chinese students only get 2 months off during the year and rarely will you see them go out during the week religiously like Irish students. In this particular sports university, I don’t think I came across one person that you would consider overweight and they value health and wealth in seriously high regard for sure. In other words, they put Irish people to shame quite a bit with their discipline, but sometimes they can lack the freedom or personality to really enjoy life as much as they could. Again, these are only opinions that I have formed from my experience.

It is fair to say that I learnt many life lessons when I was away and my general opinion is that China is a pretty cool place. If you ever get the opportunity to go somewhere completely out of your comfort zone, I’d recommend that you take it. You may love it or hate it, but at least you can say that you have been. Life is too short to keep taking the easy options.

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