Sometimes you don't even notice the most obvious things unless you are slammed into it, face first. Having the opportunity to attend the China Winter Camp, showed me that being a New Zealand-born Chinese young adult was like "having the best of both worlds."
After coming home from China, I was discussing the trip with fellow Winter Camp goers. We seemed to agree that we didn't fit anywhere ĘC in New Zealand we were seen as "Asians", clumped into the same category as those who have flash cars and commit kidnappings, while in China we felt we were not even "proper" Chinese, not assimilating with locals in appearance or being able to speak the mother tongue.
I don't see this as a barrier to our success, but rather a positive attribute which we can utilize in the future as the world becomes closer.
Some things I learnt on the trip weren't so obvious ĘC like sharing the same great great grandfather as three of my fellow travelers. Or, someone pointing out at one of the museums that the plastic coverings on the chairs must mean they were really Chinese. This comment was something a lot of us could relate to, as we thought back to our grandparent's furniture and how well they looked after it! Only people with our background would understand such idiosyncrasies.
I went to China with absolutely no expectations on what to expect and came away from it with the most amazing experience. It truly was a "once in a lifetime" trip. Going to China with fellow participants from the same "unique" background as me at such an opportune age will never fall into my hands again.
Nothing could have prepared me for my 5 weeks away, retracing my roots to my ancestral villages and mother land, after living generations and miles away.
Sitting on the plane from Auckland to Hong Kong for eleven hours with 17 strangers and without any in-flight entertainment was almost a blessing in disguise. Eleven hours later, we had all gotten to know each other well and it was the start of a long road ahead.
Being the first city to visit, everything was such a novelty. Why did people at the airport wear helmets who didn't need to, while people riding motorbikes and bicycles through the city's busy streets do not wear helmets when they should? Why were there so many intricately designed buildings dotted along the highways directly adjacent to slum and squalor? Where were all these people on bicycles going to? Do traffic lights mean anything to motorists?
Foshan gave us the first glimpse of the real China, and we were all blown away by its magnitude. It also showed us the harsh realities of China, as well as the massive opportunities. Seeing mothers holding children with burnt faces begging, and various other handicapped people was shocking and it was only a taste of what was to come.
Our time in Foshan was predominantly filled with days of kung fu practice. It quickly became routine: throwing on our yellow shirts after minimal sleep, walking from the hotel, through the underground roundabout, bobbing up at an intersection, dodging traffic as we crossed the road twice, walking past the Baihua Plaza and further down past the nauseating public toilets and into the Huang Fei Hong Martial Arts Academy.
Our first few hours of kung fu were borderline tedious, but things started to look up as the group made overall progress. It was rewarding to see how far we had come and it also worked on teamwork and cooperation. I felt that kung fu was a positive way to start the trip, giving everyone something to talk/complain about that evening!
Visiting Jung Sun was the main purpose of the month long trip away, and we all understood the gravity of the situation. It was disappointing that more time could not have been spent here to allow us to have the chance to visit our villages in a more relaxed approach. I felt the whole day was quite hurried, but I am extremely appreciative of Janet taking the time to show me to all four of my grandparent's villages.
It seemed ironic that in almost all of the houses I visited, the television took centre stage in their living area, a sign of both prosperity and modernity. Wealth must be trickling down through society's hierarchy as China moves forward to become the next powerhouse.
Spending a day at the school was an interesting experience, and it certainly gave us another perspective on daily life in China. The kids were so keen to see us and be able to practice their English with "native speakers", which was humbling as English was something we took for granted. To us, English was simply our only method of communicating, to them English was highly valued and seen as a means to "get out of the rat race".
The old adage "You always want what you can't have" rings true again. I, for one, want to live in China within the next few years and eventually become fluent in Mandarin.
Guangzhou was the first city we were given some free time. The transportation system is so efficient, with subways running every few minutes to convenient locations. A day of exploring the city on the subway system allowed us to get another view of real everyday life in China. A lot of time was spent just observing and commenting on locals and how different things were to back home.
The long drive to Dr. Sun Yat Sen's Museum may have been more beneficial had the group known more Chinese history to appreciate the importance of Dr. Sun Yat Sen. This could have been achieved by some basic Chinese history lessons in Foshan, in addition to the language lessons and kung fu. As a New Zealand born Chinese, I am so ignorant of any Chinese history, so this would have been very valuable to us.
The two day stop over in Hangzhou was a pleasant change from the usual hustle and bustle of the previous ten days. This city showcased the contrast between cities in China, despite the usual stereotypes of polluted, crowded and dusty roads frequently plastered throughout the media. The scenery was magnificent.
We arrived in Hangzhou tired after the traveling and self inflicted minimal sleep. The Westlake Cruise, Lingyin Temple and Yue Fei Temple were all valuable experiences, and I felt fortunate to be in a region known to Chinese as being as close to Heaven on Earth.
Two days was the perfect length of time, and the designated sightseeing was generally well structured. Just a few more hours of free time would have been welcomed.
I arrived in Shanghai with preconceived ideas founded on what I had read about the city previously. I hope to be living in Shanghai within the next two years, so this thought had a huge impact on my opinions and overall experience. The immense scale of Shanghai in every way was overwhelming, in particular the people, buildings and traffic.
It is the most modern city in China, and I guess, is considered to be the next commerce centre of the world. Although there are still many prevalent inequalities amongst society, the standard of living was higher than in other parts of the country. Beggars still beg outside designer stores with young consumers traipsing in and out buying the latest fashions; well dressed women still spit and pick their noses in public. Life in China is an oxymoron.
Shopping took on a new meaning after seeing Nanjing Road. The scale of the operation was colossal; contending with the conditions was also a task in itself ĘC streets packed like sardines, the weather and our time constraints! Our luggage allowances were always in the back of our minds and played the biggest restraint of all.
The designated days were well planned and our free days were fully utilized. Seeing Shanghai from the Pearl Tower was amazing and it put into perspective the magnificence of the city which expanded far into the horizons.
The history of Old Shanghai was rich. This part of town was where the Chinese were restricted to live when settlers overran parts of China during the Opium War. Being told that there were signs saying "No Dogs and No Chinese Allowed" appalled me, and in one way, it made me proud that the Chinese have fought back over the decades to restore their country.
The overnight train ride was a new experience to all of us, and we were pleasantly surprised by the conditions. The 12 hour journey quickly passed with many a game of mah jong ("This will be the last game, ok?"). We were welcomed to Beijing at 7am, with temperatures plummeting as quickly as the snow was.
Standing in Tiananmen Square was unbelievable. The history of the Square and the significance to China is immense. The fanfare before seeing Mao's body exemplified China in more ways than one. The efficiency of the procedure was mind blowing, and the reverence of the commoners visiting the Square was evident. Non permitted items such as cameras, bag, hats and other accessories were taken off before we joined the single file line outside Tiananmen Square. We were under the constant watchful eye of staunch guards in military attire and given strict instructions from an overpowering loud speaker, again complementing the military theme. Our fellow visitors were very solemn as they waited in queue, perhaps a sign of their respect for Chairman Mao. Recycled flowers could be purchased from a booth. The Chinese run an efficient operation. We shuffled up to the steps to enter Mao's Moseleum with more armed guards lining every corridor. Mao's body looked like cold, hard wax. This was the man who transformed China, taking it on The Great Leap Forward and beyond.
Climbing the Great Wall of China was amazing. It took us a while for it to sink in that we were standing on one of the Wonders of the World as we hauled ourselves up uneven steps in the freezing temperatures. The view from above was magnificent and was well worth the climb.
Having the opportunity to stay on in Hong Kong for seven more days, my time in Hong Kong was not nearly as rushed as my fellow travelers who only had a day and a half to achieve a lot. It would have been great for everyone if a couple more days in Hong Kong could have been arranged, but I understand the constraints given Christmas was fast approaching.
This trip has transformed my views on life at large. It has temporarily feed my craving for traveling and has made me strongly consider China as my home within the next few years.
It has given me a stronger appreciation of my heritage and the friends I have made will truly last a lifetime.
A huge thank you to Janet ĘC she was great, I can't think of anyone better to take us on this trip!!