A Travellerspoint blog

Internship Aftermath - How My Perspectives Have Changed

The internship I did this summer was through my university's international internship program. And its purpose is to give students an opportunity to engage in international experiences.

You may ask, "How is this an international experience if you are going back to your home country?"

It is true that China is my home country. I was born and raised there until I moved to Canada with my family at the age of 15. After having lived in Canada for nearly ten years, though, I've lost many of my Chinese ways. I am very much integrated into the Canadian society to the point that I honest feel more Canadian than Chinese.

Moreover, I left China when I was still a young teenager. This time, I returned as a well-educated student and critical thinker who have both Canadian and Chinese experiences. I sort of needed to readjust to the Chinese way of life. And that changed my perspective in many ways.

The most notable example is of the notion of private space. I used to think that people in China are so rude because when they line up, they don't leave any space between them and the people in front of them. I always thought that the Canadian way is much more civilized and polite.

But now I realized that in China sometimes it's just not practical to leave plenty of space. The large number of population leaves people with no choice but to line up against each other. If they leave too much space in between, the line would go on forever.

So, lesson learned: before you criticize and pass judgments, know the culture and context first. That way, you will find yourself much more open-minded.

Posted by AndyXia 16:00 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Global Citizenship

What does it mean?

I consider myself to be a global citizen.

First of all, I have traveled a lot and been to many countries. In addition to China (my home country) and Canada (where I live now), I have also visited the United States, New Zealand, Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Mexico, and Korea. Traveling has expanded my horizon and increased my knowledge of the world around me.

But what really makes me a global citizen, I think, is not just the fact that I have physically been to many countries but also experienced and appreciated their cultures. I am not a big fan of “traveling just for the sake of traveling”, where you just take a bunch of pictures, upload them to Facebook and brag to all your friends how you’ve got a life. I do not believe that is what traveling is really about.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that seeing famous landmarks is important. But what’s more important is that you need to understand and learn the history and culture behind them. To do that, you need to spend time to study, research, and talk to local people because they are the ones who can tell you what travelers’ guides do not offer. Once you understand the history and culture, you can call yourself a global citizen.

When I travel, I enjoy taking time to learn from the locals. For example, I spent two months in Wroclaw, Poland making friends and learning from them. I spent about two weeks in Monterrey, Mexico teaching in a winter camp. During that time, I learned a lot about the local culture from my students.

If staying in a foreign city for a long time is not practical, I will find other ways to meet and interact with local residents. That is when social networking websites such as Couchsurfing becomes extremely useful. I spent a week in Berlin and Munich and stayed with two different hosts. They took me to the essence parts of the cities where regular travelers would never go to. But that’s where you truly learn about a city.

So, in my opinion, being a global citizen is more than just about the number of countries you have visited. It is about the number of cultures you truly learn and appreciate. I have always strived to do that. Thus, I am a global citizen.

Posted by AndyXia 02:35 Archived in China Tagged culture history travel global_citizen Comments (0)

Getting Around the City

What’s the best way of getting around in a new city?

Many people would say public transit. And that is very true. If you are only going to live in the city for a short period of time, there isn’t any need of buying a car. Taking the public transit is cheap, environmentally-friendly, and convenient (sometimes). It is definitely the number one mode of transportation for many people.

But I have my own favourite means of transportation – cycling. I am a biking enthusiast. Back in Toronto, I ride to school everyday. I only take the bus in winter or when the weather is bad. Public transit in Toronto is quite expensive – CAD$3 per trip or CAD$106 a month for a metropass. Therefore, biking saves me a lot of money.

In Nanjing, taking the bus is much cheaper than in Toronto - only ¥2 per trip (roughly 30 cents in Canadian). However, traffic here is very bad right now. The whole city is undergoing construction to prepare for next year’s Youth Olympic Games. There is a construction site on pretty much every major road. Cars and buses are having a very tough time traveling around. As a result, many people choose biking over driving. In Toronto, cycling is only a recreational sport. People only do it on the weekends or in holidays. In China, it is a necessary means of transportation.

I bought a second-hand bike on my second day in Nanjing for ¥300. A very good deal, consider I have been using it almost everyday – going to work, going out to meet friends, shopping, sightseeing… When all the cars are stuck on the road and angry drivers honking at one another during rush hours, I can easily pass between them while a big smile on my face. Yes, I am evil.

However, biking in Nanjing has many risks. Do not expect any driver to yield to your right of way. You have to stay alert and stop at every turn to make sure it is clear. Moreover, bike theft is a huge problem here. You must lock your bike every time you are not present; even if you are only away for a few minutes. Do not count on luck. You will regret having done it when you find out your bike is gone.

Anyways, now I have grown emotionally attached to my bike. I think I am going to find a way to bring it back to Toronto in September.

Posted by AndyXia 03:06 Archived in China Tagged traffic culture toronto transportation bike cycling biking cycle nanjing jiangsu right_of_way york_university public_transit Comments (0)

Who Am I?

An (sort of) identity issue

It has been a month since I arrived in Nanjing. During this one month, one of the most common questions I get from people is, “So, exactly where are you from?”

Let me first offer a brief self-introduction. I was born and raised in Qingdao, China. Then, in 2004, I moved to Toronto, Canada with my family. In 2011, I passed my citizenship exam and became a naturalized Canadian citizen. So, in technical and legal terms, I am a “Chinese-Canadian”.

I am also what some sociologists may call a “third culture kid”. My developmental years were influenced by the Chinese and Canadian cultures equally, and I have created my own unique cultural identity as a result.

But, the point of this blog is not to discuss some grand yet vague terms. I am here to tell you how my mixed identity dictates my life in Nanjing.

Now, because I look very Chinese, and speak perfect Mandarin (with a Qingdao accent, I might add), no one ever thinks I am a citizen of another country if I do not tell them. And there are very few occasions outside my work where I need to disclose that information. So, to most people, I am “one of their own”.

However, once I start speaking English, things get a little complicated. First, people are stunned by my fluency. Then they ask me, “Wow, your English is very good! Which language school do you go to?” So I tell them I actually live in Canada. They give me a confused stare, “Oh… Ok. So, exactly where are you from?” After hearing my background story, they let out a long “I see”.

My mixed identity has never caused me any trouble. However, there are occasions in which it is more beneficial to be just “Chinese”; or just “Canadian”; or both. Here are some examples.

When I go take a taxi, or rent a hotel room, it is better if I say I am Chinese. That way, I will not be charged extra money. When I go shopping, I tell people I am Chinese so they think I know the market and do not overcharge me.

When I deal with the authority, it is better if I say I am Canadian. For instance, every time I am stopped by an officer for a “surprise inspection”, he always lets me go when I produce my Canadian passport.

When I go to a party or other social events, being a Chinese-Canadian makes it very easy for me to make friends. Usually, people are naturally curious about somebody of a mixed identity. So they want to approach and get to know me. I have made numerous friends this way already.

So, back to the big question of this article: who am I? It is really hard to say. Depends on the situation, I use the identity that can bring me the most advantages. But, at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s who I am that makes me successful. Rather, it’s how I treat and interact with people. If I can always show respect, no matter who people think I am, they will certainly respect me back.

Posted by AndyXia 02:12 Archived in China Tagged people parties culture china work canada identity nanjing opportunities nation Comments (0)

Elements of Culture

A Comparison of China and Canada

I have been in Nanjing for nearly two weeks now. During these two weeks, I have been able to observe many interesting cultural elements of the country. Some of them are unique to China; others also exist in Canada but manifest in different ways. Today, I would like to share with you my three most interesting observations. Of course, they may not be entirely true or accurate; rather, they are just my personal thoughts. Please feel free to comment or make corrections. Here are the observations: the face culture, the education system, and the social attitude towards homosexuality.

The Face Culture

To start, I would like to first clarify that “face” here does not mean the physical part of your head where the eyes, nose, ears, and mouth reside. Rather, face, or 面子 in Chinese, simply means honour, prestige, vanity, or pride.

In China, face is something of great importance. To lose face is an extremely embarrassing thing. You are expected to respect and uphold other people’s faces; and you can expect the same from others. That is why you must be very careful with what you say, as one wrong word might hurt another person’s face. People would really hold a grudge against you for hurting their faces, and sometimes that can become a long time animosity.

A great face can come from many things – wealth, social status, personal achievements, unmatched skills, and so on. To hurt someone’s face is to question his/her ability in these areas. Therefore, people rarely disagree with one another in public even though they do not like other’s ideas. You must help uphold people’s faces.

Now, let us use one example to demonstrate how the face culture manifests in everyday life. I worked many jobs in Toronto and held positions on many different organizations. We would hold regular meetings to discuss and exchange ideas. If I do not like another person’s proposal and believe I have a better one, I would voice my objection and opinion. Sometimes, it may turn into a fierce discussion or intense debate. But, no matter how much we argued, we knew that we only targeted each other’s ideas, not characters. And what happened in the meeting room stayed in the meeting room. Once we left, we were still good friends as if nothing occurred.

In China, it would be a different story. You do not object somebody’s ideas. If you do, that somebody would feel you are making him/her lose face. That person will think by attacking their ideas, you are actually questioning their ability, and that is unacceptable. A grudge might grow from this point. If you really do not like an idea, what you are supposed to do is to point it out politely and subtly; or do it afterwards. In public, you still need to express agreement.

In short, face is a serious business in China. People would do many things to defend it. And you are expected to help them defend it as well.

The Education System

In about four days, all the graduating high school students in China will take part in gaokao (高考) – the annual Higher Education Entrance Exam.

This exam is something that can decide the rest of your life. No matter how well you have done in all your past school years, this one exam determines whether you can attend a top-notch university, such as Beijing University or Tsinghua University; or have to settle with an unknown, second- or even third-class community college. Gaokao is what separates future elites and future common people.

That is why the preparation for gaokao can be extremely tough; or even cruel by Canadian standard. As an education student, I am taught that schools should be about inspiring minds and encouraging creativity. Grades are important, no doubt about that; but what’s more important is to teach students essential life skills, such as critical thinking, team work, community volunteerism, sense of responsibility, and so on. That is the goal of a teacher. That is what we must strive for in the future.

In China, the education system takes a very different approach. It is about preparing students for gaokao – the life-determining exam. People say Chinese students are smart. That is because from a very young age, their heads are filled with facts, knowledge, and numbers. Grades and marks are everything. The life skills that are highly valued in Canada mean little here.

To prepare for gaokao, schools dump mock tests after mock tests, exercise questions after exercise questions on the students on a daily basis. Students’ gaokao results determine a school’s reputation, which then determines how many students it can attract and tuition fees it can bring in. Therefore, in many ways, schools “require” students to do well. That is why they design such “cruel” review system.

Just to demonstrate how serious gaokao is: a few days ago, two grade 10 students of Yunan province were expelled for throwing paper airplanes and blowing bubbles on the school exercise ground during gaokao review period. The school believed that such actions could severely disrupt those who were trying to concentrate and affect their gaokao results. This sparked great controversy and protest across the province. Eventually, the school was pressured into revoking the expulsion order and taking the two students back.

For somebody who did not experience gaokao, I will never fully understand its intensity and the stress it brings to students. But, from what I have read and heard, it is sufficient to say that Canada and China take very different approach to the meaning of education.

Social Attitude towards Homosexuality

I know, I know, this can be a quite sensitive topic.

In Toronto, homosexuality is, from what I know and see, largely acceptable and treated with equality and respect. I say “largely” because there are people who do not tolerate it, especially from the religious sector. However, generally speaking, at least among the people I know, gays and lesbians are seen as just another ordinary person. I have many close friends who are gays and lesbians. We go to class, eat out, and attend parties together. We hang out the way other friends hang out. We do not feel anything awkward at all when together.

In China, feelings towards homosexuality are much more subtle. I will try my best to explain it.

First of all, there is a grey area in China’s legal system regarding homosexuality and same-sex union. It neither outlaws nor recognizes it. So it is entirely up to the people to decide how they want to feel about it. And among the people, homosexuality is generally acceptable. That means, if your friends found out you are a gay/lesbian, they would not shun you. They would still be your friends and hang out with you. More or less, everything would still be the same.

That being said, the coin has another side. Although homosexuality is generally acceptable, it is not without its own controversies, either. You friends would still be your friends; but you will surely attract a lot of attention and discussions behind your back. Homosexuality is not something that is looked down on; but it is certainly frowned upon. You friends do not have to say anything but you could feel something is changed. You could sense that you are being treated a little differently. It does not have to be a negative difference; but you can sense the change.

It is hard for me to fully and clearly explain it, so allow me to tell you a true story. I go to Nanjing University’s gym a lot and make many friends there. Last Sunday, I went out to have a cup of coffee with two Australian friends who were traveling and needed a translator in Nanjing. Yes, they were very tall and good-looking guys. So, when a gym friend saw us together, and when I went to the gym the next day, rumors had spread that I was a gay. Nobody said or did anything. We still trained together. But I could feel something had changed. I could sense that people looked at me and whispered behind my back. So I asked them what was going on and found out it was a big misunderstand.

To conclude, I do not think homosexuality is considered to be an evil thing in China. It is generally accepted. However, accepting it does not mean everybody fully embraces or understands it. One could certainly expect subtle changes in the way people treat him/her.

Posted by AndyXia 00:05 Archived in China Tagged culture education gay china canada face lesbian nanjing exam homosexuality gaokao 面子 Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 6) Page [1] 2 »