This month ushered in the first day of summer and an array of exciting experiences in China.
Several months ago I began taking an online Chinese course. One day I received an email from the course administrators to take part in an educational and culture tour of Shanghai and the surrounding areas. I applied for the position and to my delight, I received an invitation to join! In about two months, I would be heading to Shanghai with about 29 other students to learn about Chinese language, history, and culture. While so much has happened in the last week, I will hilight a few experiences below.
At the core of the summer course is Chinese language, which takes place every morning for about three hours. Students were placed in one of three classes to study reading, writing, listening, and speaking. A few of the very advanced students are in a class where the instructor only speaks Chinese! I am enjoying having a review of the basics as well as practical topics, such as prepositions, going to the doctor, and ordering food!
Speaking of food, lunch time has been an experience in and of itself. At noon each day, the group gathers together in the campus restaurant to dine on some divine Chinese dishes. I was quite familiar with dishes such as xīhóngshì chao jīdàn (scrambled egg with tomatoes) and hóng shào ròu (braised pork), but lately I have been sampling many new and tasty foods.
Each day after lunch, we delve into Chinese culture. So far, the group has learned about traditional Chinese paper cutting, painting, Caligraphy, and Taiji. Each activity seems better than the one that preceded it!
While traditional Chinese culture was emphasized during the week, the razzle dazzle of Shanghai shimmered during our weekend excursions. Saturday was a whirlind of visits to the flashy Pudong area and a cruise on the Hangpu River. Harmony and tranquility were not forgotten however, thanks to trips to the Yu Garden and neighboring Suzhou.
One of my favorite parts of this tour so far has been learning more about my group mates. Within our tour group, nearly every continent is represented. Folks from Africa, Asia, Euroasia, and Europe were all present to learn more about Chinese language, culture, and heritage. Whether we were working on our pronunciation of the four Chinese tones or trying to get directions for a local foot rub, there was always different ways of thinking and plenty of laughs to share.
While the tour has been going strong for over a week now, we still have a few days to go. Later this week we’ll have an evening at the circus, a Shanghai eating tour, and a final get together. It’s always a peculiar feeling to bond with people from different walks of life and cultures, only to say goodbye within a few short days. This experience reminds me that we are all more alike than we are different: each person wanting to learn, make new friends, and fulfill the desire for a more enriching life.
This country is full of surprises. Right when I thought I was getting to know China pretty well, I was once again humbled by the beauty, diversity, kindness, and complexity of the people. So far, moving from Central Eastern China to Eastern China has been a real blessing. I’m looking forward to all the experiences the rest of the summer has in store. Next month, I’ll discuss my summer job in Wenzhou, China. Stay tuned!