“Ones destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ~ Henry Miller
During my six weeks of preparation while awaiting the government documents required for my work visa for China, I read and read some more. I perused the inner-webs for anything I could lay my eyes on regarding foreigners living in China, expats in China, nearly every heading plausible for someone traveling to and living in China… I also spoke and exchanged email with many people who have lived in China, studied China and Asia, and many that simply have a love for Asia. The best bit of advice I received is, what you think is important to know before you leave, will not be so important when you get there! (hahaha!) I’m a preparer by nature, so gathering information is what I do, though I do get this bit of advice. I’d say that the reading and chatting I’ve done is a starting place for me and yes indeed, reality will be more and better when I arrive in Zhengzhou.
What is also true is that 98% of what I’ve gleaned is from a Western view-point. And this translates to filters and biases that obviously are not Chinese or Asian. Expectations for social norms and interactions based on a Western modality, will most certainly disappoint. Other anecdotal advice I received is that, the world doesn’t revolve around the West, really. Earlier in my life someone made a mention that we all live in our ‘own little worlds’. I don’t think it was meant in an unkind way, though upon reflecting and preparing to live in a very different culture, both of these thoughts drive home the point that there isn’t a cultural superiority or a best way of doing something. I’m reminded and encouraged to be open, to be aware of my biases and culture, and to remember that I am a guest in this new culture.
I’m learning that relationship, loyalty, community, respect for age and for teaching professions, are much different, seemingly stronger , more valued, and more important in Chinese culture than typical American culture. I know, I think (I feel) I’m all about those qualities too, however, ours are coupled with a fierce sense of individualism, competition, wanting to be top-dog, with value put on monetary and physical things, which I’m told is not typically the case in China.
Because I’m well prepared with the physical things I need from the transformer, the CO2 detector, waterfilter, personal care items, my calling cards to introduce myself, etc., I’m hopeful that I can manage the differences and allow many of them to impact positive changes in my thinking. There is no real way for me to totally prepare my psyche for the huge cultural difference, though my spirit is willing!
Three lessons I’m taking away from these weeks of study and interaction are:
What I think is important before I land in China, will likely not be important the longer I am there…
To remain open-minded and open-hearted to new and different ways of being and doing, everything…
I am a guest in this country and this city!
A few things I hope to do while I’m in China are… to learn to prepare delicious Chinese food! Seems ingrediants are common the world over and yet when preparing dishes from different countries, they’re used differently. I’m eager to, at minimum, learn conversational Mandarin and to be able to read local rags; I’m told it can take years of full-time study for an outsider to become proficient at writing and speaking Mandarin. I’d like to volunteer some time and effort with women and children, or possibly business women, to help move women forward, to build bridges for us all round the world. To hear local poetry being read and local music being performed, would be a delight. And to be witness to sun rises and sun sets on the other side of the world, will surely warm my heart.
China, seven days and counting…