I have now been in China for almost half a year, which is crazy to think how fast the time has gone. It has been both a fascinating discovery and one of my hardest experiences yet. It’s been up and down throughout my short time here. Things are also about to change again for me. I’ve written down a few of my observations from my daily life living in China and what I have experienced whilst working in the pearl of the orient, Shanghai.
Since arriving in China one of the first things that hit me was the obvious language difference. Listening to sounds I’d never heard before. People communicating and not being able to read anything was a new feeling. I’d experienced a different language before sure, but at least it was the same alphabet! This immersion in a new and unfamiliar surrounding meant I had to learn fast. Within a couple of weeks of arriving i’d picked up a few of the basics – if I was pronouncing them correctly is a different thing altogether. I knew I had to be serious about it or not all. Luckily Shanghai is such an international city that there are English translations for most things here and people get by living here for years without having to speak any Chinese. They also have a ‘pinyin’ version of the Chinese characters, which is great! But what’s the point of going to a different country and not giving it a go! I found a Chinese tutor to go alongside my own self teaching schedule and a few months later I feel a little more confident with the basics. I can read some characters which is pretty cool and I’m enjoying getting to grips with it as time goes on.
If you’ve learnt or are learning Mandarin Chinese, then you’ll know straight away that there are different tones when you speak. It’s like you’re singing and unfortunately for me, I pretty much have one tone when I talk. So, learning the 4 basic tones was difficult. I could be saying the same thing over and over but because I haven’t gone slightly high in my tone or high then low, the word can be misheard or not received at all.
Learning some of the ancient Chinese characters was always a dream of mine and I can say now I know at least 10 different characters and how to write them. Only another 3000+ to go, small steps! It’s fascinating to see them everywhere and I feel like the smartest person ever when I can identify some of the characters while I’m waiting for the metro! I still have yet to take a calligraphy class to learn the traditional way of painting these characters but I can’t wait to try it out.
Language barriers and understandings
As I’ve experienced before a different language comes with different understandings of words and meanings. I have miscommunications about really small simple things on a daily basis here. Sometimes it’s as simple as ‘how are you?’….which sometimes gets a blank stare but on the whole it’s usually resolved by laughing it off and a smile! If you travel anywhere you’ve always got to be prepared for some sort of language barrier, that’s why I always try to learn the basics. If you make the effort, It shows you care about their culture and language too.
Kids in class teach me
One of the best things about teaching is learning stuff from the kids! Every time we break halfway through class they find it hilarious to teach me some Chinese. They’ll often scribble out a character on the board and I have to remind them that I need to learn baby Chinese first, which they find hilarious and jot down the pinyin version for me. Keep laughing kids, I’m still getting a free Chinese lesson!
It goes without saying that Chinese culture is both ancient and unique. There really is nothing like it and getting to live and breathe it first hand is a truly an incredible experience. I have always dreamt of seeing the diverse traditions, details and customs that this country holds. I have not been disappointed when it comes to grandure, tastes and festivals. Shanghai is a modern metropolis sandwich with parts of old tradition. I’m looking forward to exploring more of this enormous country!
All I will say is that if you have been to Asia in general you’ll understand why the ‘road system’ (if there is one) is so different to that in the west. Red and green lights have a whole new meaning here. Just get across alive.
Everyone here is glued to their phone. There is no age limit to it either. You’ll often find the young and elderly both playing their favorite crush games or scrolling through wechat moments in the metro and around the city. In fact, if you just take a trip on the metro and look up around you, you’ll notice everyone will be looking down into their rectangular shaped abyss’ for the entire journey. They’ll still be looking at it as they bump their way out into the doors and up the escalators too.
Having a family is the pinnical of most Chinese peoples goals. They give everything to their children and from what I saw, sometimes over do it! But the intentions are good. It is also normal to send a quarter (sometimes more) of your wages to your parents every month when they are older to care for them. Incorporating the elderly into family life and society is so apparent in China. Something western society could learn so much from. However, there’s always a flip side, this integration into the family unit is usually because the parents are too busy and overworked to care/give attention for their children. I was able to witness that every day when it was the grandparents who dropped off and picked up the students from school.
One thing I’ve noticed a lot in Shanghai is the active role of the elderly here. No one seems to be sitting idle once you hit a certain age – very much still an integral part of the family unit. It is usually the elderly that look after the grandchildren and take them to school. Tai chi, board games and general congregations in parks is nice to see that everyone is so active #shanghainese #shanghailife
I have learnt a lot about the country, culture and people in my 6 months I’m China. It’s incredibly different to anything I’ve experienced and if I’m honest I don’t think I was expecting it to be so hard. Who knows how long I’ll be here for and if things will get easier with my lessons and adjustment. All I know is that I am grateful I have had the chance to see parts of China that I had always dreamed of seeing. If you’re interested in heading to Beijing, check out my post here!
Travel. Create, Be Nice!