|With Professor Qin, Director of the Confucius Institute|
I have just had the privilege of spending 10 days in China, with the compliments of the Confucius Institute at UCT. Pinelands North started teaching Mandarin as an extramural in January 2016, and this term we already have about 70 children in the programme, ranging from grade 3 to 7.This institute provides teachers and workbooks at no cost to those who wish to learn this Chinese language. The purpose of the trip was to take principals of schools where Mandarin was being taught, or where the school had expressed an interest in starting the programme, to both southern and northern China, to be immersed in the culture to better understand the people.
Before this trip, my only experience of the Chinese as a nation was while I travelled overseas, and it wasn’t a positive one! In Turkey and Greece every relic had at least one Chinese lady posing with a selfie stick……and usually for a very long time too while they took several different views of themselves. Also on that overseas trip, when we asked about why there was no kettle in the hotel room, we were told that they aren’t provided in rooms any more because the Chinese boil water for their tea all day. I had also been told that the air in Beijing was so thick with smog that you couldn’t breathe, and that every Chinese person spat in the street all the time….
So, herewith some of my cultural learning from the trip……
- Chinese names are written completely differently from those in the west. The first name is the family or surname, and this name is followed by a middle name taken from the ancestral family tree, followed by the child’s given name. This enables families to inform the ‘world’ of how long their family has been in existence!
- Because of the congestion in Beijing, not everybody can have a car. If you want to buy a car, you put your name into a lottery, and only if you ‘win’ the lottery can you buy a number plate. And only then can you buy a car! Even when you have a car, you can’t drive to work everyday. Depending on the final number on your number plate, and what day of the week it is, one day of every week you need to leave your car at home because it may not be on the road! Everybody can drive over weekends however!
- Tea making is very important in Chinese culture. Tea is had without milk and sugar, and with every meal, as well as a social occasion on it’s own. Markets sell lots of different teas made from leaves and flowers, each with their own ‘nose’ and palate. Markets sell tea sets, tea pots too, all beautifully decorated with Chinese writing, traditional flowers and typical scenes.
- Chinese calligraphy is traditionally done in black with paintbrushes, and is no longer written back to front as was done in the past. The calligrapher ‘signs’ their name with a red seal after writing a poem or motivational message.
- Chinese food varies from south to north, and is very different from ‘westernized’ Chinese food – initially we found eating noodles, pumpkin and dumplings for breakfast very hard, but when we moved to Beijing and went to ‘tourist’ restaurants, we rejected the usual ‘sweet and sour’ type foods that we think is ‘traditional’ Chinese cuisine. Fish and other seafood is eaten at every meal in the south, but beef, pork, lamb and Peking duck is more common in the north. I loved eating chillis with every meal too! Carbohydrates are seldom eaten, and I didn’t see one fat Chinese person.
- Interaction between ‘business’ partners in the Chinese culture is much more formal than in the west. Every meeting is ‘sealed’ with a group photograph to ‘record’ the interaction, and gifts are exchanged as part of the meeting.
- People in the west imagine that China is still ‘stuck’ in the past but the reality is that Guangzhou has 3 of the 5 tallest buildings in the world, and the most up-to-date library I have ever seen! We were lucky enough to travel from Guangzhou to Beijing on the ‘bullet’ train, which at times travelled at 307km per hour!
- The history of China is vast – Guangzhou is at least 2200 years old and one of the first destinations on the Silk Road. We heard lovely stories of emperors, hutongs, warriors from Manchuria, how the Chinese developed their writing and how the dragon came into being….all these stories made me want to get home quickly to start reading up on the history as soon as possible!
|We painted our own fans....|
|Chinese sisters learning to take selfies|
- China no longer has a ‘one child’ policy. When the population started getting older rather than younger, the People’s Party announced that every family could now have 2 children, and I only saw one family that had 3 children.
|Some of the group at Tia He Men Square|
I am really glad I went to China! I feel that I have opened my perspective and learnt so much about a part of the world I knew little about!