Blue skies, fresh air, you definitely take it for granted. Unfortunately also with the fresh air comes back the allergies and hayfever. I keep joking that there are no allergies in China because the air is so badly polluted, nothing can survive.
Julian and I have returned home, and because of our adventures on China - I feel we've come back with perspectives broadened and can see how our ways aren't necessarily the only way.
All my life I have been told "Oh! But you don't look Chinese?" by other New Zealanders and Chinese people alike. However, in China, (when we told others that we were from New Zealand), they would say "Oh but you look Chinese!" Strangely I felt accepted, and a sense of belonging within a nationality that I refused to embrace for most of my life...I think everyone craves to be accepted—right?
I also did not relate to the the name my grandmother gave me 凯贤, or Kai Xian. (Excuse the pinyin doesn't have the tonal strokes, I haven't quite figured out how to do that on a computer.) "Kai" which means triumphant/victorious, and "Xian" meaning virtuous and able / worthy. This name took me going to China to really appreciate and towards the end of the trip I noticed I was using my Chinese name to introduce myself more and more.
However I did use my English name with the chinese volleyball team. Yes there was the language barrier, for example during our team talks I had no idea what people were saying. So in my last blog I mentioned that I competed in a volleyball tournament. They had told me that it's their first competition and were only looking to get more experience. These other teams were apparently the best in Beijing and train together at least twice a week.
Our inexperience showed in our first match where our nerves got the better of us. However we built up our confidence match by match, started to get some amazing ups, defence and attack. I even ran "quicks" through the middle and blocked some unbelievably tall lanky girls. We united together to win our first match at the end of the day, it was like a scene of out of Mighty Ducks when the underdogs ended up winning, we were all laughing and almost in tears. The weekend resulted in three wins out of six matches and we exceeded our expectations of ourselves. Our preconceptions initially held us back but then we pushed through and ended up having a blast.
And I think you have to have no preconceptions about China. Like Europe because of the vast amount of area China covers, the people are also very diverse in look and language as well as food and culture. What I had perceived to be "Chinese", the Chinese people who actually have enough money to come to New Zealand, is only a sliver of the actual representation of the Chinese population.
Once you get past the initial wall that people have up, (because the population is so freakishly big and who has time to make small talk anyway,) we found actually, the Chinese have the biggest hearts. We were welcomed by strangers like long lost children, coming home to the motherland. As Julian puts it, just like the Prodigal son.
I'm not entirely sure if we were European if we would've had a different experience, and if you've heard crazy stories, chances are it happened...somewhere in China, and you're gonna smell/see some funky stuff - so just be wise, but also be open to having a crazy adventure. And yes, people stare, even a few centremetres from your face, but you'll get over it. And if you're nervous, hook up with a company like China Study Abroad.
Travelling to another country has allowed me to have more empathy for foreigners who come here. Who tells them all the little details of how to do life here? (I as a New Zealander find Auckland Transport complicated, let alone someone who does not really speak/read English.) Before, I always felt slightly offended when I would see Chinese people push their way through a queue, but now I get it. You have to in China - otherwise you won't get anywhere. So I'm going to look for an opportunity to help someone out, and welcome them into our country, educate them on how things are done here, as others did for me.
China feels like a far away dream now....And when I go to speak mandarin here in New Zealand, I can already feel the language slipping through my fingers, so I am very determined to keep using it by keeping in touch with new friends in China using WeChat and pick up a mandarin class here in Auckland.
We want to go back to Beijing but we do not know when.
From Julian and I - here's to 2014!