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Global Education

Postcard from China: First impressions of a new culture

By Michelle Chin
Published: February 2010

The airport was dead silent. It was squeaky clean, and the only people we saw who weren’t on the plane were policemen and policewomen wearing masks on their faces. We had to get in line to hand in our quarantine sheet that we all filled out on the plane.

Afterwards, we walked through this arch that looked like a metal detector but was actually a temperature detector’€how cool is that? And we were told to walk slowly, and if I am guessing correctly, if the detector went off, you would be thrown into quarantine.

After a few more steps, we waited in line to get our visas checked and to hand in an immigration form, which we also filled out on the plane. Although I forgot to sign mine, I still got through.

After we pulled our luggage off the conveyor belt, we were rushed over to the exit where, ladies and gentleman, I became famous (even if it was just for five minutes, it was fantastic).

Cameras were rolling, we were smiling and waving, and names were being called out. Flowers were given and more pictures were taken, until I was whisked away by my host family.

My host mother can’t speak any English, while my host father can manage a little and my host sister is still learning.

Although they were really nice to me, I felt as though I were in a zoo being watched by everyone; when I did something wrong or different, I was laughed at.

But I don’t believe that it was suppose to be seen in a rude manner, rather just a laugh from people who have never interacted with an American before. They are curious, which makes me to want to learn from them.

Although my host father is living in another apartment near his work place and I will only be living with my host mother and sister, I look forward to this experience of living with an entirely different family for four months.

The following morning arrived quickly, as I slept like a baby, not having had any sleep on the plane.

I unpacked, updated my blog (www.mytb.org/mgchin), read and responded to emails, and tried a few new foods. I tried everything from cereal yogurt to “French bread to duck heart; I even tried scorpion!

That day they taught me that Chinese families are very giving and sweet. At least my host family is. They took me to Qianmen Street in the afternoon and bought me a few things, even when I said that they didn’t have to.

By this time around, the only phrase that I’ve used in Chinese that I know for sure is xie xie (thank you). And whenever I say anything in Mandarin, my family praises me.

I met my host aunt today; she was the one who drove us to Qianmen Street, and she is so nice. She told me, in Mandarin, that if I ever want to go anywhere she’ll try to get me there and that she wants to be my friend.

In the end, my first impression of Beijing, China, is that it’s a huge city just like Boston, and the people are generous. I can’t even say how sweet they are.

But I have yet to experience the real China, as I haven’t seen a squat toilet yet’€and I’m going to continue to try my best to avoid them as long as I can.

After being in Beijing for only two days, I have already become famous, a zoo animal, a friend, and a family member’€what more could I possibly ask for?

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