- Posted December 11, 2012 by
Washington, District of Columbia
This iReport is part of an assignment:
What’s your secret spot in Beijing?
Expat Life in The Middle Kingdom
After graduating college in 2010 with a Bachelor's in Elementary Education, I struggled finding full-time employment as a classroom teacher. An opportunity came along for me to work as an early childhood gym instructor in Beijing, China and I chose to go for about seven months in 2011. I kept a blog the entire time I was there (http://nocheeseinchina.blogspot.com). Here is an excerpt around five months in:
"There have been times when I have thought that going home would be the best option for me because how easy would it be to be around others who speak my language and see the same familiar faces and be able to find everything I need at the supermarket without having to ask someone while using funky hand gestures and a Chinese dictionary? There are days I wake up and I don't want to go outside because I know outside means I am back in China and inside means I can pretend to be home while I eat my ridiculously expensive foreign cereal and watch countless episodes of Friends. There have been those days when taking the bus makes me want to jump off a cliff, seeing kids peeing on the street makes me want to scream, and hearing the sounds of loogie hawking makes me want to vomit. There have been those horrible days. But you know what? In between all of that crap and my pompous American outlook, there are moments of just complete and total beauty. I am so lucky to be living in a country where the people love you upon first meeting and they do not judge you because of your clothes, hair, accessories, make up, past, job, or money. They meet you and they literally love you. This is a country of people who genuinely care about their neighbors. It is a country of people who love their lives. It is a country of people who dance in the park, laugh with their children, hold hands with their friends. I am so lucky. I want to remember how lucky I am to be here right now. Even on the bad days I want to remember that I am part of very few people who get to have this experience. I get to live in a world and be a part of all of these beautiful things while seeing a culture so different from my own.
Here's to not taking things for granted and for remembering that I have great friends and more unforgettable moments than I could have ever dreamed of having in my previous life."
Living in Beijing totally changed my outlook on the world and how I choose to live my life. I understand now the difficulties of being a foreigner, looking different, talking funny, and seeming to be a total moron. You must lose all inhibitions and forget about insecurities you may have when learning to survive in a foreign country, especially China. The Chinese people are so genuine and caring. They often hold your hand to be sure you cross the street safely. Strangers will invite you into their homes for extravagant meals (and this is not uncomfortable, un-heard-of, or strange). They will smile at you and stop to take their pictures with you. Chinese people love Americans and each other.
As an educator, I was very interested in the way children were taught in China. A conversation with a Chinese colleague led me to this belief:
"The public schools in America are supposed to help raise generations of children with firm ideals in democracy, freedom, independence, and citizenship. I am learning from living in a country that does not promote these beliefs in any way, that America is a country of great value to the world and we are lucky to call ourselves Americans. Why do we drill and test students so harshly in a country that was founded by free-thinkers? I am seeing that education in America and education in China may have more in common than I originally thought. The difference is that education in America is supposed to produce creative citizens in a free world and education in China is supposed to produce pawns in a government-controlled society."
Government in China seems to be invisible when you first arrive. The people do not speak politics at the office water cooler. There are no outright, political advertisements. When you ask others about their thoughts, they really don't have opinions to share. After a few months you begin to see the effect the hidden government has on its people. You start noticing the internet blocks (other than the obvious social media blocks) and purchase a VPN. It's frigidly cold inside and you learn the government restricts the heat and that it won't turn on until mid to late November. You buy a space heater and wear gloves and a scarf to bed. You see a commercial on the bus ride about the evils of Japan. You notice the orderly manner which everyone seems to abide by. Children raise their hands with their arms crossed, elbows on tables, and right hand up at an exact 90 degree angle. The effects of the government don't seem to exist until you lift the cover of the lid. My thoughts when living in China:
"I am ashamed to admit that I know so little about China's history. I do not know how Communism came to be in this country or what forms of governments previously held control. I know there were many dynasties but I do not know what exactly they did or how they chose to control their countrymen. I had a conversation with Bella today about how different our governments are but really I could not make many comparisons since I believe most of what I have always thought about China and its government is false. We talked about health care, freedoms, gun-control. Bella explained that she was taught in school and by her family that you must always respect those in charge whether you believe what they are doing is right or not. She was told never to question authority and always to obey it. I asked her what would happen if she questioned it and all she said was, "It would not be a good idea and I believe it would end very badly." Bella told me that she knew very little about China's government and its president. She said she is certain that other countries know more about China than China knows about itself. I talked to her about how the government in America is supposed to be controlled by the people (not that that is always the case). I told her about how we are taught to question it and to speak up for what we believe in. We told each other the different things we thought were unfair in the world and Bella, in her wisdom beyond my years, informed me that, "Nowhere in the world is perfect, no matter what some may believe is right or wrong. There is nowhere that is perfect." She teaches me so much every day. I see that my beliefs are so different from her's but that it doesn't matter and that I can do nothing but learn from everything she knows."
So much can be learned from the people and the culture of China. My first impressions were mostly about the humidity, smoggy sky, wretched stench, and hard mattresses... The Chinese believe the sun in TRULY red. They don't understand that actually the air is so dirty it makes the sun appear red on days it is actually visible. They think sleeping on a soft bed will give you back problems and drinking cold beverages will make you sick. Some of these cooky beliefs were annoying when you are sick from food poisoning and not allowed to sleep with a pillow or have a cold glass of water. Some first impressions:
"Everything stinks here. The air was so smog filled yesterday. If you are breathing with your mouth open it tastes like rotten sewage and if you breathe through your nose you feel like you might pass out. I guess you decide which way is better for you at the time. The water smells, too. I'm not really sure what exactly it smells like. Maybe bad eggs..."
I believe we, as Americans, should all live outside of the country at least once. The experience is eye-opening. It helped me be able to be more understanding of life as a foreigner (living in DC this is a helpful skill to have). My time in China was an experience I will never forget. I await the time when I can go back and view the country as a tourist instead of an expat