I spent the bulk of my trip at a summer school in SIAS International University in Henan province. Henan is the most ancient part of China, the oldest examples of Chinese characters were found there, but unfortunately the provincial museum was closed for refurbishment so I couldn’t see any of these “Oracle Bones” in the flesh.
Over the course of the camp I learned some basic “survival Chinese” which proved somewhat handy, especially the numbers. In China they have a system to count from 1-10 on their hands, meaning that you can do 1-99 on two hands which is really cool!
We also learned some contemporary Chinese law and History, it was really interesting to learn about these things without a western bias, for example how Mao is still seen as a hero here by the majority of people. According to our lecture he was 70% good and 30% bad, but I think the split is up for debate.
We were lucky enough to have Chinese ‘pals’ that helped us to translate when we went off campus, they were all incredibly hospitable and couldn’t be happier to help. We had great fun at places outside the uni, like a local bar that brewed its own ale and at the KTV!
The campus itself is unbelievable, it was like if Vegas did education! There was a mini Florencian square, Red Square, Spanish Square and they are working on expanding, starting with a Palace of Westminster. They also had a basketball court that we were lucky enough to play a game on, in front of 300 people, after a large dinner… But we did end up winning, after a little help from our Chinese counterparts!
We were lucky enough to visit Foxconn in ZhengZhou (jungjo) at a site where they employ over 250,000 staff. It was strange to visit a place where I have never been but the laptop I am writing this on was assembled. The company is taking may steps to improve its working conditions and I wish them all the best with achieving that goal!
The global festival of learning (the main reason we were there in the first place!) took place on our last 2 days at SIAS and it was interesting to see how the Chinese students learned in lectures. Lots of notes and no questions. A professor from America that we had, talked about this and how since Chinese children have to learn thousands of characters from a young age, to be able to read they learn to be amazing memorisers. Then later in there school career comes the dreaded GaoKao that really puts those skills to the test.
We finished our trip with 48 hours in Shanghai, where I am writing this post. Shanghai is probably the most mad but coolest place I have ever been, you can buy deep fried scorpions, turn left and four meters ahead is an M&S. I’m sitting in the hotel bar listening to a conversation in Russian, across from some Americans while a local guy enjoys a cigarette indoors; all while enjoying a European beer and watching EURO 2016 highlights.
We did all the touristy things i.e. Pearl Tower and tea shops but we also got to walk around and take in the organised madness that is the city. Lots of the buildings look like those that you would find in London around “The Bund”, they look Chinese in some corners but mainly like a huge modern metropolis everywhere else, with huge amounts of sky scrapers.
I have written a small list of tips for those looking to travel to China:
- Bring Toilet paper in your pocket, it is not always provided.
- If you are planning on learning some of the language, learn pīnyīn and speech only don’t worry about characters
- If you want good internet buy a Chinese SIM with preloaded data, as the WiFi is slow or few and far between
- Roads are crazy, horn means “I’m not stopping” and red lights do not seem to apply to taxis and bikes
- Bring hand sanitiser as toilets may not have soap
- Make the most of it, there is so much to do here in two weeks I only scratched the surface.
My closing thoughts on China are as follows; China has so much that is impressive, but the most impressive thing for me is the peoples ability to change. I am staying in a hotel with people that may have been alive in the cultural revolution that then use their smartphone to pay for bowling. As China continues to grow the population facing many challenges but I would say that after spending two weeks here if anyone can handle the future it is the Chinese!
So if you ever get the chance I can’t recommend a visit to China more!