Written by Natalie, High School/Pre-College Student Correspondent for JSA Diplomat Program in Beijing, Summer 2018*
Most would ask, “Why China?” and I would answer, “Why not continue my great JSA experiences this summer?” When it comes to trying new things I’m not the person to go to but, as of June 30th, I have tried a lot more than I normally would, such as eating with chopsticks. China is almost like a new world to me. It has opened my eyes to new things I had never heard of or seen before as someone who does not have a lot of Chinese background. Beijing has different food, different driving, different people, and different culture. I come from a culture that has different people, different food, and the same driving as Beijing. Coming from a different culture is why I chose China because knowing one culture and missing the rest of the world is not enough.
The difficult step for me is learning Chinese. Yesterday I was placed in the beginners class with Ed, Will, and Louis. Today was the big day—the first day of class. Our Chinese teacher is not only the nicest teacher I have met but also the most comforting. Today we learned all of the Chinese initials which can be very confusing because some sound the same. We all got stuck on some of the initials but we made it through the hard part as we kept reading “b, p, and j” and trust me they look easier than they are pronounced.
A Horror Story with A Happy Ending
As all of my classmates know, I’m extremely cautious about what I eat. At orientation we learned about Chinese etiquette, which is very good to know before going out and eating at a restaurant, or in my case it can be a pain. China banquet night we all went to a restaurant and next to me sat Juniper and Swetha. I will be a little more specific. When I said I’m cautious I meant I’m very cautious about the meat I eat. As the waitress kept coming out with more and more meat, Swetha continued to place some on my plate because that is Chinese etiquette. Although I did not want that meat, Swetha made me realize that trying things are not as bad as I thought and some meats were actually better than I thought.
Malls in Beijing
Our first excursion was to the mall, which was very modern but very different. I noticed some brands that I see in my mall back at home such as Zara, Baskin Robbins, and UNIQLO. The mall did not look much different except that the very first floor and the very top floor included a food court while everything in between was clothing. On the very first floor there was a class of kids being taught English and a fresh orange juice machine which made Magan scream and take thousands of pictures. Every floor was categorized, one of them was even named “trendy”.
Did You Eat the Scorpions?
The answer is no, of course not. I’m just figuring out the culture of Beijing, so it is almost impossible for me to move right into eating insects. Although, I watched some of my classmates do it and by the look on their faces it was not the best thing. This excursion held many more things to discover. Starting from the beginning, we walked to the train station as fast as we could with scooters and many cars not stopping. The subways are always crowded and if you are not quick enough to jam yourself in you will not make it onto the train. We got off at a stop named wang fu jing which was the most beautiful place I have seen in Beijing so far. The buildings looked so modernized and the street view was something different as every staircase had such detail.
The street food was not for a beginner Chinese explorer, but you can certainly find something to eat there. There is Chinese culture all throughout that street. I got to take a picture with what almost looked like a Chinese royalty outfit. The guy who took my picture spoke English, which means I got lucky. As I was taking the picture I noticed a lot of the men and women were walking and stopping to take pictures of me and stare, but none of this was in the intention of being rude, it is just the simple idea that Chinese men and women are interested in us more than we know. At the food street I ran into my first communication problem. I asked a woman for an ice cream she had on display, and she just kindly picked it up, and I nodded my way through ordering what I wanted. The problem occurred when the woman put a fruit that I do not like on the ice cream and I was trying to ask her to take it off. She thought I was trying to get out of paying for something she had already made for me, which is very bad in Chinese etiquette. She was getting more and more mad as I tried to show her that I just wanted the fruit out of the ice cream, so I just simply bought it. It can be very hard as a beginner to come to China. You might face some problems like my minor street food problem, but don’t let that stop you from learning about one of the fastest growing countries in the world.