Coming to China
A lot of the foreign friends I know and have met since my time in China have all had varying reasons as to why they had come out in the first place. Some courted adventure, some felt an affinity to the culture, some wanted to learn Mandarin and a few had nothing better to do. Personally, without being too pedantic, I came to China because it interested me culturally and I also need to satisfy my hunger for travel.
I know from experience that some people have arrived in China and found it far removed from what they expected or what they could live with. As noted in a previous article the reasons for some people leaving (notably the lack of Western hygiene, Western food and/or the lack of Western people). For those people I would question what their motive for venturing half way around the world was in the first place. In fairness, those who don’t like it, don’t stay too long. Anyway, I’m digressing.
Recently I have been steeping myself heavily in to revision of Mandarin and even though it’s quite hard to get my head around I’m finding it very rewarding. When I came to Fuzhou I hadn’t given a lot of thought of learning the language and didn’t know what to expect of my social life either. York School has a considerable network of foreign teachers here so if you want to remain insular then it is easily achieved. I certainly didn’t expect to be sipping green tea after my tai chi lesson, speaking fluent Chinese and being surrounded by locals. This has definitely not been achieved.
Immersing the culture
On the other hand though, it is nice to immerse yourself in the culture, take a little time to understand the people you are working alongside (the Chinese staff I mean) and their way of life a little more. There are of course huge stumbling blocks when it comes to getting to know people. First of all, you come here with no Mandarin speaking ability. I think there has possibly been one teacher to come here with previous talents for speaking the dialect. Secondly, not a lot of people can speak English. This makes for some hilarious corner shop/taxi ride moments. My friends who have attempted dating a Chinese person with no English in their repertoire haven’t lasted past the twentieth refresh of Google translate.
Getting to know the locals
Getting to know people here can be a tricky business. All of the teaching assistants can speak a good level of English and it is though them that most friendships with local citizens develop. The other form of meeting people who can speak English is by having a random Chinese person come up to you, speak a few lines of English and then ask you for your phone number. It can be both a little off-putting and forward.
However, it is possible to have genuine friendships outside of the scope of work and this is also one of the best ways to understand the culture of your host country and also a chance to practice your skills for all those budding linguists. If you are keen to learn, understand and converse with people then it is important to be more open-minded and less reliant on your home comforts. There are a lot of people in China and not all of them are the people who ask you to be their best friend after your twenty second exchange. Don’t be put off by the social abruptness of a few when there are many more out there to enjoy time with! It really is what you get out of it, that you put in.