The build-up to having my parents over in China was stressful. I feel that western media often builds a distorted image of China and Chinese culture because so much of the news we hear is politically orientated. Documentaries of China romanticize eastern culture and at least for me there was a prevailing perception that Chinese goods lacked the quality of build. All of these ideas were also instilled in my parents and they used to hint at wanting me to return home to South Africa. Never, before being pushed by me had they had the slightest desire to travel to this ancient country and doing drastically changed their perception of China.
To put it lightly, just like me before them, my parents had their worldview fundamentally changed. Upon their arrival, they decided to dive in blindly. Armed with only the knowledge of their hotel’s name and not having access to communications my parents managed to find their way to their hotel without incident. I received a phone call via WeChat, later that evening when they had logged onto the Wi-Fi in their hotel and I was pleased to hear admiration in their voices. My dad commented on how safe he felt walking the streets of Beijing and how much more modern Beijing was than he had expected. My mom, being an avid duck fan couldn’t stop talking about the fact that they would go to a well-known Peking duck restaurant later on.
The next day was a little nerve-wracking for me and Sofia, my fiancé. We had agreed the day before that my parents would get a train that would arrive in Tianjin by 1:30 pm. It was 12:45 when I received a call from an unknown number with my mom on the other end excitedly exclaiming that they are in Tianjin and we need to come and collect them at the train station, we got them settled in a hotel and went exploring the city with our limited time. Again they were amazed at the city’s modern look and feel
Over the next 10 days, we traveled extensively from Harbin to see the ice festival, to Huangshan to go hiking and relax in a hot spring spa. We went to Tongling Sofia’s hometown to meet her mom and dad. Even I, not having met them before was blown away by the hospitality, friendliness and warmth that we experienced being welcomed into their home and shown around the town. Finally, we went to Shanghai where we had a Canadian meal, soup dumplings, exchanged Christmas gifts and sadly parted ways.
On New Year’s Eve we received a call from my family in South Africa, they had ordered a bunch of Chinese food and fused it with the traditional South African new years meal to celebrate their new love for China and Chinese food.
It’s unfortunate that some people never take the leap to live abroad because they are scared of losing connection with their family, or they are worried about culture shock. Culture shock does exist but it is a phase that passes. For the other point, family is family and sometimes they just need to experience a little bit of the wonder that you see to gain an understanding for why you have decided to live abroad.
My decision to live abroad has strengthened many of my familial connections and afforded me the opportunity to start a new family in the country and city that I now call home.