I was given the opportunity to study Chinese in China two summers ago with an Irvine Valley College teacher and fifteen other students. They ranged from fourteen to fifty years old, all with a passion to learn a new language. Spending one month in China intensively studying every weekday from eight in the morning to twelve in the afternoon was definitely an interesting experience.
I had never been to China, and I thought it was an important trip considering my Chinese family background. Aside from staying in a dormitory at a Beijing university, we traveled to Shanghai and Xian on weekends exploring tourist attractions such as the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the home of the terra cotta soldiers.Our classes included reading, writing, and speaking, as well as singing and painting. We had two different language teachers — ”one for grammar and vocabulary, another for conversational purposes.
We learned to order food and bargain. Our singing teacher taught us various songs, including older, well-known songs and modern pop songs. In art class, we tried learning how to paint pandas and flowers with traditional paint brushes, but we would always end up laughing because of our horrible outcomes.
On some days, we performed tai chi exercises, carried out with patience and precision. Our teachers spoke little English (with some speaking only Chinese!) during each class period, forcing us to become immersed in the language so that we could not rely on English as a crutch. The classes taught us the importance of learning about a country’s language, history and culture so that we could experience the lives of people in China.Perhaps the most memorable experience was the shopping and inexpensive food.
Every morning we bought little buns filled with meat or vegetables in addition to our daily cup of warm soymilk, all for less than one U.S. dollar. Furthermore, we frequently visited the dumpling house and even tried dog dumplings.
‘Water bars’ fulfilled our sweet cravings. For just a small entrance fee, we could order as many drinks and desserts as we desired. Fruit teas and smoothies, with any flavor ice cream could be ordered for only three dollars! We enjoyed malls and local shopping centers with cheap clothes and shoes.
These items filled everyone’s luggage within the first week of our arrival.When we went on weekend tours to major cities, we also went on tea, jade, and silk tours. We attended a traditional tea ceremony in which we were given different samples of tea, such as rose and lychee tea, or white and green tea. They showed us how to prepare and serve the tea in the customary fashion.
At the jade tour, enormous sculptures amazed us as we could hardly believe that such beautiful animals or ships could be carved from blocks of jade. In addition, when we visited the silk factory, we witnessed the process of how silk is made from silk worms and then woven into comforters. These tours demonstrated a different cultural beauty of Chinese indigenous products that one cannot find anywhere else in the world.Not only did China’s famous attractions astonish me, but also the large amount of poverty.
Since we did not have a car to travel in, we either walked to our destination or took a taxi or bus with the help of our Chinese teachers. I saw streets filled with people laying on the ground — ”injured or badly wounded, asking for spare change. These people were also found near the many tourist attractions I saw. They helped me understand that the life I have in Orange County dramatically differs from others around the world. I realized how privileged I am to live in the United States and how we pay so little attention to those in need who face hardships everyday. The society I live in, compared to the one I was luckily able to experience in China, is far more comfortable. Even the experience of going to China is a special one that many are unable to enjoy. Going to China greatly impacted my life and the way I think. Not only did I learn about a culture that I will always remember, but I also visited a country my ancestors were born in. I now have a greater appreciation for my own lifestyle: indoor plumbing, air conditioning, lighting, convenient transportation — ”all ‘necessities’ we take for granted. Just being able to travel to another country is a treasure that will always be an unforgettable memory to me.
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