Reflections Of A Foreigner Chengdu Reviews
Nov 03, 2007
As more years go by, they just seem to go faster. I am at a stage of life, from which I can reflect on my past and realize that it would be utterly foolish to imagine that the same number of years that lay behind also lay ahead of me. Travelling or living in the world at large provides numerous adventures and of course, memories for future reference.
I have been caught out before, so I try to avoid planning things in advance whilst living here in Chengdu. Quite often other things get planned for you by employers and the like. Sometimes with minimal notice - otherwise say, only a couple of days or so before the actual event. This practice can be very difficult for foreigners to get used to and accept in this part of the world. In the western countries, we are more accustomed to planning our schedules, months, even years well in advance. This especially applies for occasions such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve and other annual holiday breaks. For me, I consider it unwise to plan. It is easy to just go with the flow, and engage in more spontaneous activities.
An example of a past experience was that prior to December one year, I decided not to make any plans for Christmas Day. The year before, some other foreigners & I paid for and attended a western-style luncheon in a 5-star hotel. That evening, the university we taught at, treated us to a local Chinese restaurant where we were not only dined, but also entertained with a festive season’s performance show. We all felt that the evening function was much better than the lunch we independently arranged. It was only one day before December 25th that we were advised of the university’s Christmas arrangements. It was too late to cancel our lunch bookings at the hotel. I decided there and then that I would not allow the same mistake to happen again to me.
Occasionally I have been asked by westerners, “What did you used to do before you came to Sichuan Province?” That is not such a simple question to answer, because I have been in many other countries as well. Each had its own form of uniqueness, and I have adjusted accordingly in order to fit in. In simple terms, China and specifically the relaxed city of Chengdu is where I am and want to be.
My firm belief is that people travel to learn more about the world and more about themselves. It is all part of a growing process. A pearl of wisdom that my wonderful grandmother often imparted to me went something to the effect of, “ the day you stop learning is the day you start to die.”
What I have always most liked most about the orient are the Chinese people. I am aware that there are both subtle and obvious differences between provinces. But, from my point of view, “what you see is what you get”. Most mainland folk have no religion. Instead, there is a traditional value system in place which subscribes to i) strong work ethic; ii) family loyalty; and iii) respect for authority.
In everyday situations, the native people that just go about their own business. They don’t generally set out to cause anyone any harm. Sure, language can be a problem for a foreigner. Chinese is a much bigger language than English, and there are sounds that foreigners have never heard before. What makes the language difficult for me is not being able to read it. The use of Pinyin simplifies things only marginally.
Overall though, a linguistic barrier validates and highlights the importance of having local friends anywhere in the world. This applies not only for language purposes, but also for local knowledge of the town, city, province or country that you are in.
Learning to eat with chopsticks can also prove to be a challenge. This skill takes time, patience, practice and a sense of humour. I have become quite adept at eating with chopsticks, and don’t think that there is a western knife, fork or spoon in the kitchen of my apartment.
I returned to my own country of origin a couple of summers ago for a vacation. It was the first time in three years. I was a bit apprehensive beforehand as to whether or not I would like it. I was a bit worried about how I would feel about the western lifestyle, and those ways of thinking these days. Fortunately, I found that I blended back in very easily. Of course, I was mostly with close family and friends for the month that I was home. Somehow, it can seem slightly strange to an expatriate to travel back in time to people and places that haven’t really changed; especially after being in an incredibly dynamic and fast-growing place, such as the People’s Republic.
I was very happy when I flew back into mainland China, knowing that I was on my way to beautiful Chengdu. I guess from the outside, it appears to be quite complex, but my lifestyle is much more simplistic than in the western world. It suits me. I have no plan of living anywhere else in the immediate future.
It may sound slightly strange, but I am becoming very conscious of how many native Chinese are now in the foreign countries that I have known before. Not that I have any problem with that at all. Perhaps the ways of these foreign places are changing, but I suspect that it will take one or two generations (say in 20 - 40 years) before I do not fit in at all in the countries and cultures of my past.
On the other hand, my experiences and time in China should help me to better understand the world of the future. I once aspired to being a world citizen, but that could have just been an idealistic platitude on my part. I am not so sure if such truly exists anyhow. The city of Chengdu provides me with an opportunity to learn to be a better person. And for that, I am sincerely grateful.
Expatriate writer Warren Rodwell has been in China since 2002, and teaches university postgraduates in Chengdu. Many of his feature stories, reviews & photographs have been published online or in hardcopy media form. Warren also narrates documentaries and administers various websites as part of his efforts to promote Chengdu & Sichuan culture(s) more globally.
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