It’s been 7 years now since I first went to China. And I had no idea what I was doing.
I was supposed to teach high school students in Dongguan for an intensive month-long summer school. I’m not sure if they learned anything from me, but I imagine it wasn’t because of me. Perhaps in spite of my fumbling attempts at teaching.
My teaching certainly was something to be forgotten, but I enjoyed being in China and getting to know some of my students. I remember our last day of class when Shaun and I took them go-karting as a goodbye gift from us.
I doubt if any had driven before. And it was quite comical watching some drive. But I also remember them inviting us to various restaurants where we couldn’t communicate much together but still enjoyed hanging out.
My first encounter with China was a good one. And I thought it was my last. Ironically, I thought after I left Qingdao a year ago, it would be my last again. Yet here I am once more. Back in the Middle Kingdom. Back in Guangzhou, an hour’s drive from Dongguan.
Guangzhou certainly is no Qingdao. It’s much bigger, noisier, and more developed. Humidity is a fact of life here. And it can rain at any time. Qingdao was lucky to have a couple rainfalls a year. Sadly, I’m about two hours away from the ocean rather than a 10-minute drive. But on the other hand, there’s no more wind gusts that pierce your clothes in the middle of winter.
Guangzhou is more well-known and historically important. It’s been an international trading center for centuries. It’s the third biggest city in China and has absorbed some Western values with Hong Kong being its close neighbor.
The people here are different too. Most have slightly darker skin and seem a little shorter too. I imagine the burning sun’s rays keep the girls from maintaining pearlescent skin. Although parasols are quite the fashion here.
It’s kind of amusing that there’s as many parasols out on a rainy day as there is on a sunny one. Cloudy days seem to dispel umbrellas. That’s about the only time they disappear. I still haven’t brought myself to use one on a blistering hot day. When I do, I will have truly embraced the culture then.
Another disturbing difference are the bugs. They don’t just come in small, medium, and large sizes. There’s plenty of extra large bugs around. Thankfully I haven’t encountered too many. But I did see the biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen. I was innocently drinking a mango slushie at McDonalds on their patio when a disturbingly hefty cockroach crawled over the wall and much too close to my chair. I was relieved when it scuttled back to its dark abode.
My apartment has been largely devoid of bugs, but some of my coworkers haven’t been as lucky. My German friend has met some cockroaches who apparently are not only Olympics sprinters in the bug world but also have a knack for jumping unexpectedly at your face. I’ve heard they fly too. Needless to say, he plans to exterminate them with some potent poisonous spray.
One last stark difference here is the provincial language. While Mandarin is the mandatory, official language in China, Cantonese is still spoken down here. And it’s completely different from Mandarin. It has 6 different tones. Mandarin has 4. I think I’ll stick with Mandarin.
In some ways, I can’t believe I’m back in China. I’ve been gone for a year, and now I’ve been back for a month. I will certainly miss my friends and colleagues in Detroit. But in many ways, I feel like I’m back home.
Another adventure awaits. And this time it begins in subtropical Guangzhou.