This was my first step into China.
This was my first time traveling alone and I was scared of what was to greet me in this strange foreign country. I had no idea on what to expect. I had left the safety and comfort of my family behind, choosing to go on this incredible journey that would start the new chapter of my life.
Everything had been in a rush. The packing. Saying teary good-byes. The grades had to be compiled and submitted quickly. Even the buying of airline tickets was bought the night before I was going to leave because the company that had hired me had simply forgotten about it. A student cried not because I was leaving but because I had given him a failing grade. Under a lot of stress, I caved in and gave him a passing mark but only because that was the last day of class and I was about to depart the next day.
I greeted the immigration officer with a red nose and puffy eyes after seeing my mother off with her in a far worse state (she couldn’t drive properly and was stopped by a police officer). This was the first time we’ve ever parted. Unlike the US or China, the Philippines don’t usually send their children off to live in dorms during college. Our universities are often located conveniently nearby. Plus, in Asia children continue living with their family until they get married or even after.
I spent most of my time crying in the boarding area. I was the only one without a friend or a family around me. It was tough being alone at that moment. I felt like a lost little girl. I had that Celine Dion’s “All by Myself” stuck in my head. It was the background song in the first scene of Bridget Jones’ Diary with Bridget getting drunk during New Year’s Eve. I felt like Bridget at that time minus the champagne and pajamas.
I had to keep a series of instructions in my head from the company. Forgetting one step could spell serious disaster.
1. Buy ferry ticket from Hong Kong Airport
2. Go to Gate 10 downstairs
3. Get on the right ferry (Imagine my shock when I got there, that the announcements were made in Mandarin. I had to ask one of the ladies.)
4. Arrive in Mainland China
5. Do not go to the visa counter
6. Stay in the waiting area until the contact comes in.
7. Give him the money and he will issue the visa for you.
It was like Mission Impossible to me except this was real. It was not a movie.
Thankfully, things went according to plan and I got my visa and successfully crossed the border to Mainland China.
With my heart pounding, I saw someone holding a sign with my name on it in the arrival area. I wasn’t forgotten! I met my first authentic Chinese person who helped with my suitcase and broke its handle in the same day.
He offered to replace it. I refused just to be polite as we do things more indirectly back home and waited for him to insist.
“Ok,” he said and didn’t pursue the matter.
My jaw dropped open.
Time passed when I would learn to like this direct method more. There’s no more going around in circles, trying to guess what the other person is thinking. You won’t be wasting time. Just get to the point with what you want. However, this got me into a little bit of trouble whenever I go back to my city.
After that first step beyond the border is the start of my whole journey in China. You could say my whole life literally changed at that point. I had to undergo a whole lot of inner purging in my mind because most of the things I take for granted back home don’t exist here. Like getting good quality MILK, my favorite cream cheese, not having different world cuisines and nachos, I miss my nachos and MTV.
I love that being here I learn something new and different everyday that challenge my assumptions because from the other 5 countries I’ve traveled to, China still beats them all as being the most different.
I posted in an earlier entry that I had the initial goal to become a Special Education teacher. What changed? I bet you’ve heard of “when opportunity knocks, grab it.” Well, this opportunity came knocking on my door that made me re-evaluate my goals (that special ed job might manifest longer), then said goodbye to the US and greeted Nihao to China. My goal has not changed. After all, my plan was to travel and work abroad. I’m still following that although in a different country.
I was also looking forward to tracing back my roots. I’m half Chinese so the prospect of exploring this other part of me thrilled me. I was ready to go on a soul searching quest. However when I arrived, I was disappointed. I had this romantic image of little temples, Buddhist monks, people offering incense amidst Dragon dances and kung-fu enthusiasts. What greeted me was a picture far removed from that in my imagination. The cities were cold and dark and grey filled with people puking on the sidewalk, taking dumps in the floor of public malls, dismal factory towns and a smog filled sky. What heritage they had of their glorious past was wiped out during the Cultural Revolution.
It is still a great learning experience being here. China is still reorienting herself with the world just being recently opened after being closed for so many years. There is so much to explore in this huge country which boasts one of the world’s largest population. Though most of its heritage is destroyed, it won’t totally erase its fantastic breathtaking landscape from the Great Wall and Forbidden Palace in Beijing to the Jiuzhaigou or Five Color Lakes in Sichuan whose picture I posted above.
But some things still bear getting used to around here. To name a few:
2. Sneezing without covering one’s nose
3. Lack of personal space.
They really get right at your face. Perhaps because there’s not much room around with 1.3 billion people
4. Not saying sorry
I used to get so pissed off if somebody bumped into me or hit me with his bicycle on the pedestrian lane and just drove off. Then I became really grateful when I went to Vietnam and saw these huge motorbikes cruising the pedestrian lane.
5. Saying “I understand” even though they don’t
6. Too much emphasis on losing face
7. Students being careless of following instructions
8. The men not offering to help you if they see you’ve got too much stuff to bring
I don’t know about you but I came from a generation where men were taught to help ladies. Here I see a man giving his heavy bag to a woman to bring and she has to give up her seat for him.
I rely heavily on body language because I don’t speak Mandarin but for some reason I can’t fathom, when we communicate they don’t seem to want to use body language or even draw pictures. This is even after they learn I’m a foreigner which makes it more difficult to convey what we mean to each other. I can’t say this would apply in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai though.
10. Body language
You think body language is universal? Think again. When we want to express that we don’t know anything, we usually raise our shoulders. Not the Chinese. They wave their hands at you as if to say “Good-bye.”
My journey still continues.
Stay tune for tomorrow as I will be posting one of my short stories starring Mr Shakespeare himself.
Jiuzhaigou or 5 Color Lakes in Sichuan photo by: Journey through Asia