“The eyes are useless when the mind is blind.” -unknown
Coming to China I knew that I was coming into a country with very different societal views. A western view is more individualistic while the Chinese have a collectivist approach. The society as a whole is more important than individual needs and this was quickly obvious on arrival. Coming from a culture so different it can be easy to quickly judge by the first impression of no personal space, lack of neat order, people cutting in line, a free for all in driving and what we, as foreigners, may consider as a lack of “common courtesy.” However, if you open your mind and realize that this is their way of life and that doesn’t make it wrong or inferior. And instead get to know the people you will soon meet some of the kindest, caring and helpful people you have ever met. Just like anywhere in the world, everyone comes with different personalities that deserve to be noticed.
The first local Chinese I really had the pleasure of getting to know as friends, were my co-workers and teammates at the school I work for. There is a large staff at my school of front desk, management, sales and teachers. They are all kind, welcoming and so hard working. The local teachers I work with are brilliant and creative. I learn so much from them. Anytime I need help or have questions whether it is about work, China, translation or whatever the case may be they are eager to help with a smile. At times they have gone above and beyond and I am so grateful for them and the friendships that have grown.
The generosity is not just seen from people you get to know but on occasion from strangers. There are those that may be interested in taking a photo, practicing english or looking at you because you are different. There are also many people as well that are so happy to help you, when they see you may be struggling with translation or finding your way. This has happened to me on many occasions without even having to ask.
Food is also one of the best ways to get to know the culture. Its a big part of the culture here in China and different places you go, even within Sichuan province, they have different cuisine or special dishes they are known for. The small little hole in the wall places have the best food, so you should get out and not be afraid to try new things. The best way is to go with a local Chinese friend, they can take you to the best places and educate you about it as well. Plus then you also have great company. Recently a friend took a group of us to an amazing small family restaurant near Leshan that was over 100 years old. It was delicious and somewhere we never would have found on our own or known the history of.
My favorite experience so far from being here in China the last six months was a short camping and hiking trip into some of the nearby mountains off the tourist track. I went with a small group of friends. We first took a bus from Chengdu to Wenchuan. Wenchuan is a small city in the Sichuan province that was most greatly devastated by the earthquake in 2008. It was interesting to see how it has been rebuilt from that time. We had met a local there who treated us to a delicious lunch and helped us hitch two more rides up into the nearby ShangMeng mountains. From a small Tibetan village where the road stopped we went on a short hike up to a beautiful piece of land with stunning views owned by the wonderful people we call “uncle” and “auntie.” Here we set up camp. Though we may not have been able to communicate much, they were gracious to feed us delicious Tibetan hot pot, let us explore and feed their animals, teach us Tibetan dancing, roast a chicken over a fire and of course down some homemade baijiu. It was magical and my heart was so full!! I am looking forward to many more adventures like this while I am here!
As humans it is in our nature to judge, but it is how we react to those judgments is what important. I personally have always been one to do my best to get to know someone as an individual beyond the judgements, imperfections and differences. This time in China has now more than ever given me the opportunity to do that and open my mind even more. I encourage that when you travel, even in your own country, to really experience and take it in. I have been guilty of just doing the touristy things and missing the realness, rawness and knowledge that can be gained. Safety is of course important but making common sense decisions and going with a group is always a great choice. Its never to late to change your perspective and open your mind. Get outside, explore all of our beautiful earth and people it has to offer. Above all it reminds you we are all just people despite our skin color, religion, background and language and everywhere on this earth there is so much beauty.
“A traveler immerses themselves, a tourist scratches the surface.” -unknown