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China in My Eyes

[Source]    Confucius Institute at University College Cork in Ireland [Time]    2019-01-10 15:52:11 

Melissa Brunner(柏丽莎), the senior majoring in Chinese Studies at University College Cork,win the 3rd prize in the speech "China in My Eyes".

1. WHO AM I?

Melissa Brunner

I am a fourth year student at UCC doing my major in Chinese Studies. Last year I had the pleasure of spending my third year of college in Shanghai. Naturally I was full of questions before leaving, What is China like? Will I like the food? Will I like living in such a big city? Will I make friends with locals? I was nervous and at the same time excited to start this new adventure.

The flight over was a very long one with two stopovers and by the time I arrived in Shanghai it was already very late. I still remember the first time I drove through the city from the airport to the university dorms. Although I have travelled a lot, the dimensions of Shanghai were quite breathtaking. It was a massive city with skyscrapers everywhere and as I arrived at nighttime they were all lit up creating a sea of endless lights. Another thing I noticed while driving through the city were the flashing lights on the motorway which I assumed were cameras. When I tried to ask the driver about them in Chinese and he just looked at me like ‘What on earth is she talking about?’ I knew that communication was going to be a challenge.


tour picture

At the beginning I was convinced that my Chinese was horrible and that people just couldn’t understand what I was saying but soon I realized that many Chinese people are so shocked by the fact that you are speaking Chinese to them that you have to repeat what you are saying for them to process that ‘Yes, this Wàiguó rén (外国人) is indeed speaking Chinese to me, it’s not a trick’. Once they accept that it is possible to actually talk to“ Wàiguó rén” (外国人) and not just stare at them, a point I will come to later, you can actually have great conversations with them. I remember one day when I was travelling from Lìjiāng (丽江)to Dàlǐ (大理)my friend and I were sitting in the train with a group of Chinese people who were very eager to learn about our countries and hear about our interests. I was amazed at how much they knew about German and Irish history and the products our countries produced. Still, what surprised me the most was that they knew that Ireland was separated into Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and why. As I travelled more around China and met many different Chinese people I came to love the culture and the people. They were always so kind and so helpful and I always appreciated how bluntly honest the Chinese could be.

Of course there were some things that were a little harder to get used to at the beginning, such as the staring. Many Chinese people would stare at foreigners in shops, on the metro and on the streets and it wasn’t like in Europe where if you get caught staring you’d look away embarrassed. In China there was two options, either you catch them staring at you and they just keep staring with a blank or critical expression on their face, or, if you’re lucky, they smile and wave at you. It wasn’t too bad in Shanghai as it is a big city but especially in more rural areas of China it wouldn’t be uncommon to have groups of Chinese gathering around you either staring at you or taking pictures of you. One of my favourite moments was when I went to visit Zhāngjiājiè (张家界) National Park with a group of friends and a family that was walking towards us were pointing at us shouting Wàiguó rén (外国人) and my friends and I just looked at each other and thinking the same thing pointed at the Chinese family shouting Zhōngguó rén( 中国人). First the family looked at us with shocked expressions but they soon burst out laughing. Another one of my favourite memories is when on a trip through the province of Gānsù(甘肃) I was travelling through an extremely rural area with a friend and came across a mother who wanted us to pose for a picture with her son who was about 4 years old. The little boy just looked at us and then ran away screaming we were scary. I guess if you’ve never seen tall blonde girls before we must seem quite intimidating. Something I always enjoyed doing when I caught people talking about me in Chinese was to respond to the questions they were asking each other about me in Chinese. I would often hear people say 她是俄罗斯人 (She is Russian) about me and always took great pleasure in seeing their reaction when I turned around and said 我不是俄罗斯人,我是德国人 (I’m not Russian, I’m German). Many of them would either be embarrassed or intrigued by the fact that I could speak Chinese and start a conversation with me.


city tour

Apart from the wonderful people and stunning Chinese landscapes, what really impressed me was how developed the big cities were and how convenient life in China is. There is no need to bring anything but your phone when you hit the streets of Shanghai as it is your all in one multifunctional device integrating your wallet, shopping, source of food, source of information and so on. For example, if you want to get somewhere really fast and avoid traffic, you can use an APP like OFO to scan the code on one of the many bikes around the city which opens the lock and you’re good to go. And all that for only 1 kuai an hour which is about 14 cents. If you’re feeling lazy you can always call a Dī dī 滴滴(cheap taxi app) and while you’re in the Dī dī (滴滴)you can order some food on an APP like Měi tuán(美团) and arrange for it to be delivered to you by the time you get home.

Shanghai is such a vibrant city that it will not allow you to get bored as it offers various types of entertainment. You can find pretty much any type of restaurant from French to Mongolian to Uzbek in Shanghai and some even offer buffets where it’s well worth spending the day if you’re a foodie. There are also many different bars to choose from and they range from ones that offer a more relaxed and elegant atmosphere to ones that seek to entertain you with whirlpools or beer pong and pool tables. Even just walking through the shopping streets or parks or taking a stroll along the Pǔdōng(浦东) river with a view of the Bund are great ways to appreciate the beauty of the city.


All in all I must say that living in China for a year was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I miss the culture, the convenience of everything, the amazing people I met there and the vibrant city of Shanghai. If I could, I would get on a plane tomorrow and go straight back. I do hope to have an opportunity to work in China once I graduate and to travel to more of its beautiful places.