Cheese and Aubergines
I moved to China 4 months ago today. It has been, without a shadow of a doubt, one of themost invigorating and sensational roller coaster rides of my life, and i still have two months togo.
I'm 22 years old, and came to China for the same stereotypical reasons most people my agedo. They get the travel bug, they want to 'see the world' and 'expand their minds'. I was nodifferent. I wanted to be one of those cool guys I saw when I was younger, arriving home after astint of travelling, stubble on their face, wisdom in their eyes and an aura of accomplishmentsurrounding them. Add to this my yearning curiosity about China and Hey Presto, here I am -currently teaching Oral English down in Guangdong, I earn 2000 RMB a month and live with asquadron of other foreign teachers from all over the world, aged between 19 and 33.
China has not been the expected. I was unaware, before I came, of the level of ongoingdevelopment within the country. High rise building, flat screen televisions, well equipped classrooms, comfortable (to some extent) living conditions. I found myself pleasantly surprised. I wasprepared for the beastly and the basic. Mud huts, camp fires and the occasional swarm ofmammoths or something. Life in Dongguan, Houjie town is practically cloud 9 in comparison tomy minds eye before I left sunny old England behind in January. The living conditions werebearable. I could cope with cockroaches, with having to fetch my own water, with a rock solidmattress and a squat toilet. The one thing I couldn't live with, was the staring.
You receive a phenomenal amount of attention as a westerner almost everywhere in China, somuch so that to the reclusive and quiet personality, it can be a little overwhelming. Blue eyes,blonde hair, big noses and hairy arms are some of the things my kids find particularly hypnotic.I felt like a continual outsider when I fist arrived. People didn't make a lot of effort to makethemselves understood, I was overly and repeatedly warned about theft, my apartment was apig sty and I felt, essentially, alone. A feeling aided in no small part by the intensive, unrelentingand perpetual staring, kindly provided by every single person in a 20 meter radius.
But time makes all things easier. Eventually, like everyone else, I came to abide the stares,even indulge in them at times. I saw the funny side of the language barrier, tasted the chickensfeet and sang at KTV. I submitted to the flow of Chinese culture and haven't looked back since,but it wasn't until today I realized how intrinsically similar it is to my own.
When the Chinese take a photograph they will not say 'Cheese!' like we do back home. Insteadthey say, with total conviction and sincerity on their smiling faces, the wonderful word - 'Aubergine!"
Amused at first, it dawned on me that I had no reason to be judgmental. Where I am from theysay cheese! Cheese? ?Cheese?? Why on earth say anything at all, why not just count to 3 andbe done with it? Why, as human beings, do we feel the need to yell a non-specific food whensomeone takes a photo of us? Do me a favor and google it, send your response firstname.lastname@example.org.
I always thought 'You have to be crazy to live in China for 6 months'. Today I asked myselfwhy? Perhaps it's because of the tenable sanity of my co-workers, but I don't think that's thereason. China is home to one of the oldest and most profound cultures in the world, and has avery, VERY large number of inhabitants. They can't all be mad.
China is globally known as a country of contrasts. Of vividness and resounding humanity. It is inthis country that I have witnessed some of the most heart wrenchingly beautiful and disturbinglybizarre scenes that the human race can offer, and as extreme as these moments have been,the core of them, their motivation is as clear to me as crystal. Love, hunger, hatred, jealousy,compassion, curiosity, lust, pride, bravery.....I could write for weeks and not finish this list. Weall share a modus operandi for life, no matter where we're from or where we go, we are pushedand pulled by the current of our emotions, by our fragile and fickle hearts.
The definition of insanity is to repeat the same action a number of times and expect differentresults. Isn't that what we all do everyday when we wake up? When we get out of bed andpledge ourselves to our daily routines? Aren't we all, to some degree, a little bit crazy? It's myconclusion that you have to be, not just to live in China, but to live in this world. This worldwhere we shout random foods at a camera when we see a flash.
At least we're all shouting words from the same category, so, in the end, how different can wereally be? We may all be a bit crazy, but at least we're crazy together! So, instead of graspingonto your own culture, take a break. Let go and allow the culture of another country to embraceyou, and you may be surprised at the amount of similarities you find, just like I was thisafternoon in sunny, southern China.
(The author is an oral English teacher in Guangdong. )
茄子qié zǐ: aubergine
照相zhào xiàng: to take photoes