This time, being my second trip to China has been a rather exciting one especially going along with Chinese students from my new country. Being born and bred in South Africa coming to New Zealand in early 1997 it was very eye-opening the multi-cultural face of NZ. We joined the NZCA to meet other Chinese people and get to learn from where they originally came from. From this trip I have met some very talented Chinese young people and hope to keep the friendships and visit them when I travel down the country.
I first went to China 15 years ago. This trip being a memorable one especially the first week of the trip while we were in Foshan at the Huang Fei Hong Academy learning those martial arts moves. This was a very challenging for me getting the stances and the moves correct. There was plenty of laughter and so we got to know one another during this time.
This time being my second time to Foshan I noticed an improvement in the traffic system with synchronized timers at the round-a-bout intersections. What an efficient system they have in place there. Transport system very advanced in china to help ease the busy roads and make it easier for bikes. Traffic certainly don't give way to pedestrians, something which I found very strange.
I noticed that the locals do not wear masks as much as they did in the past; this was another thing that struck my eye. Perhaps the air pollution is not as severe as it was in the past, I wouldn't know.
In Foshan we had language classes in our first hotel we stayed at. I found this to be very basic and felt that this was insufficient, especially for those who's Chinese was of a very basic level. I felt that we spent too much time learning martial arts and very little time focused on the language part.
We learnt the basic greeting and how to introduce ourselves to the group in Cantonese. We had a very brief lesson of Mandarin the last day of our trip at the Huang Fei Hong Academy. As we toured around China we learnt how to bargain in Mandarin and how to request for "cheaper". Other than that it was up to us to learn the language by asking the teachers who were with us from the Chinese secondary school or carrying a pocket dictionary with us and trying to converse with the locals. I found that part of it very challenging, even going to the Chemist or local supermarket, or even trying to ask someone directions. I was able converse in Hong Kong much easier with my basic level of Cantonese.
I personally think that if we spent more time on language we would have learnt more other than bargaining terms. I don't think that many of us from our group will keep up with the martial arts, but I do think that most of us know how to bargain in mandarin and greet each other. We certainly would keep up with the language more and it would have more meaning to us than the martial arts.
Our teachers from the Secondary school in Guangzhou were very helpful if we asked them some information or wanted to go to a specific place. The one teacher was Mandarin & Cantonese speaking, and did not English conversant. The younger teacher was more conversant in English in that she could understand a little and talk a little. She could speak in Mandarin but not Cantonese. I would have felt more comfortable having a teacher who was conversant in English as well as Mandarin and Cantonese.
The accommodation we stayed at was very good apart from one - the Bai Hua Plaza Resort. Cleanliness was not of a high standard there. We were only there for two nights, so I did not mind too much as we were out most of the time.
Chinese food, Chinese food - wow it was Chinese food every day for lunch and dinner, ranged from 8-10 dishes twice a day. The dishes were very generous and most times too much food that it went to waste. Six dishes would have been ample, but I guess set-menus are more economical than ordering a few specific dishes.
I craved for something other than Chinese on the free days, but surprisingly enough we did not have western food all the time on free days. Sometimes we would stop along the way and get some quick food from random food stalls, it was quick and cheap so that suited me just fine.
The wonton noodles shops were good value in Hong Kong and I was able to converse quiet easily with the locals.
Free days, we had two free days in Beijing and I felt that it was not necessary to have two whole days free. If we had one free day in Beijing, we could have one more day to spend in Hong Kong. The one and a half days we spent in HK was a bit too short, Two full days would have been much better, it would have given those first-timers to HK more time to spend sightseeing on the one day and shopping the other day.
We had two nights in Hangzhou which I thought was too little, and extra night in Hangzhou would have been better with one night less in Shanghai - i.e. 3 nights at Hangzhou and 4 nights Shanghai.
I was certainly hoping to see an improvement in the toilet facilities. In some parts of china, people would stop alongside the road for toilet stop. This is quite normal for bus drivers and truck drivers.I was hoping Beijing would have been starting to be more westernised with their toilets, but I was actually quite shocked at the state of them. Some toilets had no doors, some had doors but locks were broken. Cleanliness in most of the public toilets in China is not a very high standard and not well kept and maintained.
This time I did not visit the village where my ancestors came from. I did go on my first trip to China. Therefore the highlight of this trip for me was the Great Wall of China. I enjoyed our day spent at the Secondary school in Guangzhou meeting young Chinese students who have left home to come to that school to learn about their culture, traditional Chinese classes and root-seeking. This school recruits domestic students as well as students from other countries; HK, Taiwan, SE Asia, S America, Australia. I found the brush painting activity quite interesting learning how to write our names using brush-painting technique. It was an eye-opener to see their living conditions - I was quite surprised.
I was not expecting to see any groups from other parts of the world. We happen to meet an Australian group in Guangzhou and South African group in Shanghai at the Summer Palace, so that was quite a surprise!
The evening express train from Shanghai to Beijing was quite comfortable in second class, although it was a long journey I managed to get a few hours sleep. Being unwell with the flu (which the majority of the camp had at that time) it was good to catch up on some sleep.
I would recommend this trip to others, although the cost of the trip does seem a bit steep even though we were reimbursed in RMB before we left. The Overseas Chinese Affairs office funds the first part of the trip, but I was unsure of what exactly it was or how much they actually funded.
I would like to thank the NZCA for all the organising that went towards this trip as well as the organising with the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office in Guangdong.I wish the NZCA well in the future - allowing NZ Chinese youth to visit their country of origin and go root-seeking!