Moe-Ments from China

Monique Irish, Cactus Contributor

Once upon a time, whilst interviewing our Chinese exchange students, I remember trying to envision what the China they spoke of might be like. Deep down, I knew it was a possibility to see it for myself someday, but surely I underestimated the probability that I would ever see it within a matter of months from then. What people told me about China previous to my arrival has been humbled by my own experiences thus far; however, some of the things I was so quick to dismiss the last issue, have ironically shown up here and there, it turns out that they were not so far off after all… I apologize for running my mouth, or more like my fingers because it was they who typed the words of extreme naiveté. Forgive me. How ignorant it was to think that I knew China after just a few weeks. Though I have grown progressively more familiar with it in the past two months, I realize now that even by the end of this journey I will not fully be able to conceive this land known here, as “Zhong Guo”. This place, this experience is so much more than I can put into fathomable words, but I can try.

The initial overwhelming “new-ness” has somewhat worn off. Month one was an adjustment period. I noticed the surface differences like the whole restroom ordeal of squatty potties, B.Y.O.T-P., and the coed-ness. The fact that people smoke cigarettes in all of the buildings stinks, literally, but we hardly notice it anymore. We drown out the constant honking from the perpetual flow of traffic and nearly getting run over every time I cross the street isn’t even that scary anymore. People’s stares no longer offend me, in fact I hardly notice except when I am trying to eat, that still bugs me. I have seen animals hanging by their limbs, but they were already skinned and I could not even tell what kind of animal it was, all I knew is I wasn’t eating it, but I did get a good disgusting look at it. I feel like the rawness of this culture is hardening me, breaking me of my bounty of empathy. The regard for life in all forms seems to be nearly nonexistent, yet life is abundant in every direction. I learned that the first time I fell, dropped all of my fruit and juices, nobody stopped to ask if I was okay or help me pick up my things. While I was still wailing in pain, someone still had the nerve to push me out of their way, that was a cold day and it wasn’t just the weather.

As far as the weather goes, the acclimation to the cold climate was rough at first, but like the weather I am warming up to China more and more and I have embraced it as my home for the next few months to come, rather than looking at it as a boundless foreign play-ground, drenched in enticing adventures to be had. Spring has arrived and now I see why it is so warmly welcomed with the illustrious spring festival every year. The trees are full of lovely fresh leaves and the grass is growing greener and welcoming dreams for those (like me) who seize every opportunity to lie in it. There are flowers of many shades from white, pinks to purples, and bright yellow; they come in many shapes and sizes and greet gazes from cracks in the sidewalks and hang triumphantly among the bright green leaves while expelling the most pleasant, pungent aromas. This is what is must feel like to witness the transitions of seasons, it is nice considering how barren and snowy it was when we first got here.

Let’s get real now. Time is flying and everyday seems to be more intense than the last. The teachers here expect a lot from us and now I see why the children of this culture are stereotyped as such high academic achievers, the pressure is immense and heavy. Learning Chinese is like a snowball of excitement and stress that just keeps expanding. All of the complex Chinese characters along with the difficult tones of pronunciation scurry for a permanent yet easily accessible space in my ever expanding yet oh so crammed brain. What keeps me going is that I derive great satisfaction when I can effectively communicate with locals on the street, which seemed so far-fetched not so long ago. Presently I can introduce myself, I am an American foreign exchange student, and “I want that (food) without meat”. I can ask questions like “Where is this place?” “What time is it?” “How much is this?” and a few other ends and odds. The greatest part is people can understand me and I can understand them! The more I know, the more I want to learn!

The Chinese and I, well we have little in common, besides the enormous (yet gradually shrinking!) language barrier, I am a loud crazy American with an “abstract” mentality and the Chinese people do not really know how to relate to me or even interact with me. However, little by little they are warming up to me and I am very lucky to have made friends with the Chinese exchange students from CAC last semester. Socorro and I have grown very close to Lindsey who has helped us and been there for us every step of the way, and she is the only one who doesn’t use us just to speak English. I lived on campus my whole CAC career and people whine about the most futile things; at least you do not have a curfew of 11 pm even on the weekends that literally results in being locked out if not adhered to. Having the option to control the temperature in your room was also nice, and so were dryers. Clothes take up to 4 days to dry (only about a day and a half when we still had furnace power) and when they finally do achieve dry-ness, best believe they are stiff and crunchy. We had the heat turned off about a month ago and it gets quite cold at night. Using a space heater is not an option because our electricity use is limited, should we go over our allotted amount we have to pay the difference. A room a few doors down was pitch black and has been without electricity all weekend because the office to pay the bill of difference was closed. We know that being without electricity for a whole weekend would NOT fly in America. The Chinese students don’t even have the option of going over their allotted amount; they get completely cut off by 11 pm on the weekdays, and get cut off by 1 am on the weekends. That’s the presence of communism for you, besides the obvious internet wall blocking and all social media we Americans are so fond of. I just like to think that is how they keep their society so productive.

It’s all so interesting. I would recommend this experience to anyone. It is like living on a perpetual roller coaster of human emotion and experience. I often ponder if I am learning more about China or myself. Traveling to a land so far from your own with such immense language and cultural barriers is like planting yourself in the most fertile grounds for personal growth. It’s safe to say I am growing with the flowers, man. I appreciate things like never before. Being able to hop in my car and go wherever I want and see whoever I please even if it takes an hour or two, I took it for granted. People holding the door open for you or just reciprocating smiles, I took it for granted. People not only accepting, but loving you for who you are and not just staring at you in bewilderment, I took it for granted. People here only talk to us because they just want to practice their English while we just want to practice our Chinese. No middle ground. Having an actual friend to share jokes and puns with, to at least laugh with, they are hard to find. Now I love my friends from home more than they will ever realize, even though they continue on without me with the life I put on pause. I often wonder what it will be like when I get back, after all of this enlightenment. But I am in this for the long run and loving every minute of this. Two months down, three months to go.}