My China Trip
By Rachael Kneen (S6)
The bell rang at 3.30pm, signalling the beginning of the October holidays and the beginning of my adventure to China. I left immediately for the airport, said goodbye to mum, and departed alone, eager to see what adventures lay in wait. I left with one goal in mind; to improve my Chinese (something which I recognised as vital to achieving academic success in my IB Chinese exam!).
After the short flight to Frankfurt airport, it was easy to spot the gate for the flight to Shanghai, there were a scary number of Chinese people nattering away at gate 54. I immediately started listening in to people’s conversations, trying to understand. The passengers on the flight were about 90% Chinese and 10% Westerners. It was a little shock to me to see so many Chinese people in one place, but something that over the next two weeks was going to become normality.
Arriving in Shanghai I had the challenge of negotiating Pudong International airport to find the long distance bus to Hangzhou. Eventually, I found it underground, in a small corner with Chinese people shouting instructions at each other. During the bus journey it started getting dark, so by the end of the 3-hour journey, it was pitch black. The bus stopped on a brightly lit street, I had arrived in Hangzhou! I exited the bus, looked around. It was pouring with rain, very noisy and very busy. Before leaving the bus, I decided to check with a local that this was Huanglongzhan stop and to my shock, it was not! I quickly boarded the bus again and continued my travel through Hangzhou. At the next stop, everyone left the bus so I decided that this must be my stop. I was left outside, in the rain, feeling tired, a little bewildered and not exactly sure where I was supposed to go. I phoned my Chinese godfather who arrived 15 minutes later and we then drove to his house.
Sunday began with a relaxed morning. We went to the bookshop where I marvelled at the number of Chinese books and set myself the task of reading a few. Dinner was with some of the students from the university where my godfather lectures, then I took a taxi to meet an employee from Dahua, a large technology company specialising in video security, where I would be working for the next four days.
My first impression of Dahua was the sheer size of the place and the vast number of people working there. The canteen was busier than the one at school! We would have to wait for at least five minutes just to get one of the five lifts up to our office on the 23rd floor.
My work at Dahua consisted of translating an instructions manual from Chinese to English. This led to my knowledge of technological terms expanding significantly. In addition, I was taken to their showroom. It was dazzling and looked like something out a science-fiction film. I was amazed at the capability of their systems though I had the sense that their video analytics gave them the capability to spy on a large number of people! Another day, I had the opportunity to go to their factory and witness the production line. This was only one of the numerous factories belonging to Dahua. There were over 60,000 workers and I saw the expansion plans where they plan to double the factory size. This visit hit home about the very different lives that people live, and made me realise that I do not wish to ever work on a production line!
When talking to Dahua employees I was astounded by the dedication and hard work they put in. Most arrive around 7.30am and leave 7pm but on busy days they can be there as late as 2am. During the course of one year, they are allowed one day of holiday in addition to the 12 public holidays and one day of sick leave. This really opened my eyes to the high level of hard work they put in, and made me realise that in an ever more competitive world, the standard for work is very high.
Finishing my time at Dahua, I then went on for a day visit at a school in Hangzhou. This provided a real insight into the lives of Chinese pupils my age. I was impressed with the discipline of the pupils and the respect they had for the teachers.
The school day was quite different to Watson’s and I enjoyed the whole school morning dance as well as the midday school-wide self-massage service which was broadcasted over the public address system. The pupils were really friendly and eager to show me around. It had lovely facilities and a very well developed art, music and sport department. I found it interesting that they had to achieve certain times in running time trials as well as passing academic exams in order to progress to the next school year.
That night I returned to my godfather’s house. The next day, a few of his friends who are also professors at university came round for lunch. It was really difficult to understand them as they talk in very thick accents. They were very friendly and they taught me the Chinese way of eating crabs!
Their family was a typical Chinese household where the grandparents, parents and children all live in the same house.
In the afternoon I took the high-speed train to Shaoxing, to stay with my godfather’s foster daughter and family for a few days. Their family was a typical Chinese household where the grandparents, parents and children all live in the same house. They welcomed me warmly and I was called “jie jie”, Chinese for 'older sister'. They had a son who was 8 years old and a little bit of a rascal! My time with them provided deep insight into the way of life of a normal Chinese household.
My godfather’s foster daughter is a history teacher and her husband owns a small factory selling a variety of goods depending on what is currently popular, for example, selfie sticks and phone holders. I went to her school, which was very different to the one in Hangzhou. It was in a rural town and seemed a little more run down. Nevertheless, the students were friendly and very excited to see me! I felt like a celebrity! I attended classes in Chinese and Physics and went to see the art teacher whose calligraphy was amazing. I had a try, but mine looked like it was done by a 3-year-old compared to his! In the afternoon I drove to a small village where her husband’s factory is located. I was introduced to his mother who looked after me. His mother and I wandered around the village together. Rice paddies surrounded the village and quite a few of the houses looked as if they were about to fall down. The villagers that I met were friendly and we stopped to chat with almost all of them! I received some strange looks and stares, due to me being a foreigner. One person I met had never heard of the UK and thought I was from India! The village was a real contrast to Hangzhou, thus very interesting to see how rural Chinese lead their lives.
I spent two days in Xiamen. Although the flight was only 90 minutes, it felt as though I had moved to a different country. The weather was hotter, the air cleaner but the people remained just as friendly. I was lucky enough to have my own personal tour guide, my godfather’s cousin. He spoke no English so it was another great opportunity for me to practice speaking. Xiamen was beautiful. I especially liked our walk along the beach and the botanical gardens as well as the museum describing the history of Xiamen and the battles with Taiwan. The Chinese nature is very different to that of Scotland. I was not allowed to pay for anything as I was the visitor so every need I had they would insist on paying for.
For my last days, I travelled to Shanghai to stay with a work colleague of my dad’s. This was another opportunity to witness family life in China. He has two daughters, Rain who was 13 years and Yaoyao who was 11 months. Yaoyao was really cute and it was nice to be better at Chinese than a native (despite the fact she is 11 months!). On the other hand, Rain is almost as good as me at English yet alone Chinese. At school, she is studying Hamlet which we are also studying except she is reading Shakespearean English as a foreign language and is four years younger than me!
On Saturday, we went together to Saturday morning extra class where she has chosen to study Spanish. Her school also offers the International Baccalaureate, so it was interesting to compare! I also study Spanish at school so when I visited her school I really enjoyed the Spanish lesson and found it pretty cool that I was learning Spanish in Chinese! On the way home I had the oddest flavour of ice-cream I have ever tasted-sweet potato!
We visited a few tourist sites including Tiandifang and Xintiandi. I loved the vibrancy and bustling atmosphere. To end my trip, Rain and I went on a boat tour to see Shanghai lit up at night. It was beautiful! I loved it and I wouldn’t mind returning to work there in a few years!
Food was something throughout the trip that was consistently different to food at home. I extended my love for Chinese food, in particular, dumplings (jiaozi) and hot pot. I was amazed at the variety of the food and tried some weird and wonderful fruits that I had never heard of before including yellow kiwis and the dragon fruit. I really enjoyed being able to taste the food we had discussed so much in class! However, there were one or two dishes that I am not particularly keen to try again. These include pig’s brains and pig’s testicles! It was also an opportunity for me to experience Chinese etiquette as it is quite different to Western culture. The first difference was chopsticks. Although initially tricky and fiddly to use, I was happy with my improvement and by the end of my stay, I had almost mastered the use of chopsticks.
Chinese dining style is quite different too; instead of each person receiving their own plate of food, there are many dishes in the middle of the table and everyone takes a little bit of each. I really liked this as it gave me an opportunity to try a large variety of foods!
I embraced every speaking opportunity that came my way. I talked to taxi drivers, security guards, salesmen; anyone who was willing to have a conversation! I also kept a diary that I wrote in Chinese to try and improve my written characters as well as my speaking and listening. Although I sometimes felt way out of my depth this helped me increase my confidence and vocabulary.
My trip to China has really helped me develop and grow not only in terms of my language skills but also as a person. It has widened my appreciation of the Chinese culture and opened my eyes through unforgettable experiences. I have made so many new friends and memories that will last me a lifetime. And, coming back to Watson's and my Chinese lessons I was so happy to see an improvement in my language skills – I can understand my teacher better and I have more confidence when speaking. The main aim, to improve my Chinese, has definitely been accomplished! I am so grateful for the travel award as without it I would not have been able to go to China and have this incredible experience, which has left me wanting more!