Posted by Shauna | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 11-11-2012
There I was, about to embark on my first harbor crossing from Hong Kong International Airport to Shekou Port in Shenzhen. After traveling for a grueling 25 hours, I was in a rather hypnotic state, voyaging to my new home. I wasn’t sure what to expect; a part of me was anticipating the traditional China that I had read and saw pictures of, and another part of me was expecting … well I don’t know. Truthfully, I came to China because it seemed like the best option for me. I was also rather bored with living in the same province I had my entire life, so I came for a new life. Apparently you can pick those up on the second floor of Ren Ren Le.
My expectations, of course, did not in any way pan out to be what I had imagined. For the next year of my life would be one filled with peaks and valleys, difficulties and revelations, friends and foes, good times and very, very bad times. But, that’s life. Get on with it.
I came all the way from Canada, spitting out “ehs”, and talking about how hot it was. Yes, I thought I was quite cultured, moving half way across the world.
But actually, I hadn’t left Canada in the last 15 years, and went to university in the same province that my family lived in. Mom and dad, and the rest of my family were a phone call away. What the heck did I know about living internationally?
That’s a good question.
The first time I left my new home alone, I had heart palpitations. I had eaten with some friends at a small local restaurant the day before, so I decided it was time to go get some grub and venture back there.
Lesson number one: In Canada cars yield for pedestrians, but in China, they don’t.
After my near death experience, I decided it was time to get something to eat. I was starving, and wasn’t feeling very well due to cheap Tsingtao, and unruly Canadians. I’m also almost positive that all I had eaten the day before was peanut butter and crackers. So, I did it all by myself. I ordered food! There I was pointing, using hand gestures, expressing what I wanted. Woohoo! c-o-m-m-u-n-i-c-a-t-i-o-n.
I sat down, and patiently awaited my food.
However, I started noticing something quite peculiar. I wasn’t sure why, but the cooks were taking turns, mysteriously walking out, on-by-one, looking at me. The lady, who had taken my order, was smiling and laughing at me. I was just sitting there – what the heck was happening?
It bothered me – why would they want to look at me? I had nearly just died. I said “ni hao. Didn’t they understand that this was stressful? I left feeling annoyed and angry, thinking that I was the center of some stupid joke.
They also gave me the wrong food. Ughh.
Alas, for the next week and a half, I ate next to nothing, other than McDonalds. Everything else made me feel sick and I had no idea how to order things properly. McDonalds also didn’t make me feel very good, as I probably ate more in those two weeks than I had for 3-4 years. But, hey, I was living in China, being cultured. Ha!
I later found out after talking to a fellow co-worker, who had been living in China for a few years, that I probably shouldn’t have been angry towards the workers at the aforementioned restaurant. Apparently, they wanted to check out the ‘beautiful’ new teacher, who was ordering food all by herself. I should have been flattered.
Chinese culture definitely eluded me at first, and to be quite frank, at times it still does. I had more experiences like this within my first few months than I can count on my fingers and toes, and I’m sure I’ll have others. My level of consciousness has certainly increased, though, and I try not to be someone who thinks they are privileged simply for being a foreigner. I take the good with the bad, reciprocate smiles, say “ni hao” when someone yells out “hello” at me, and I try to practice kindness when I don’t understand what’s happening. And most importantly, I reflect on my experiences and the way I reacted.
Undoubtedly, being an outsider in China summons extra attention, but dealing with that in a positive and constructive way is important.
My experience, although simple, is quite enlightening to the many errors in communication and judgment that occur. It’s not easy adapting to a new culture, but it is necessary. Otherwise, you are ignorant. Understanding human nature + kindness + adapting = being cultured in Shenzhen.
The next time you’re in a tiff, try practicing this. It makes life in Shenzhen a heck of a lot more enjoyable.