China is such a diverse country in terms of environment, language, customs, and food. Over the past month, I had the opportunity to travel to three major cities in China and experience such diversity. During the first week of October, the people here partake in a week-long holiday called National Week, so I decided to travel around with three other co-op students (Aron, Jackie, and Jennifer) and see some of the cities outside of Weifang.
We left on a train late Friday night, which was an adventure in itself as we didn’t know that our train was arriving on the opposite track! We had to run down three flights of stairs with all of our bags, underneath the tracks, and up onto the platform before trying to find our carriage. We spent twenty-two hours on the train before arriving in Xi’an; restlessness doesn’t begin to describe the experience.
We spent two days in Xi’an and were able to visit the Terracotta Warriors and bike on top of the city wall at night. I think both Jen and I, who look Caucasian, were more of a tourist attraction than anything in Xi’an. People were constantly asking to take pictures with us, sometimes attempting to photograph us without our knowledge by using camera phones!
One evening, while walking around the streets after dinner, we bought quite a few large scroll paintings from a row of painters along the side of the road. We drew quite the crowd while bartering and purchasing the paintings. The locals were very kind and loved talking with us. The poverty in the streets is striking though, with so many people living in such a small space and not enough work. Many times, when walking into a store, we would notice an excess of employees, all of whom are paid very low wages. Most of my colleagues in Weifang make less than 1000 RMB a month, which is equivalent to only 140 CAD.
After Xi’an, we flew to Chongqing and stayed there for four days to go shopping and visit the local attractions. The Buddhist Arhat Temple we visited is much like the temples I visited in South East Asia, except for the massive buildings and towers you can see rising up around the temple. Chongqing is famous for a dish called hot pot. The dish is comprised of a huge bowl filled with a spicy broth, heated up by a burner in the middle of the table, while raw vegetables and beef are dropped into the broth to cook. It’s a lot of fun and the food is delicious, especially when we had no idea what we were ordering!
After flying back to Qingdao and spending a day at the beach, Aron and I took a short train back to Weifang to start work again while Jackie and Jennifer travelled for another two weeks. Upon arriving back at work I found that we had moved to an office building one block outside of the university campus. We’ve been in this building for four weeks now and it’s still under construction! Attempting to teach twenty seven-year-olds, while a wall that connects to my classroom wall is being constructed, is not an easy task. We obtained, just yesterday, an internet connection that remains connected for more than ten minutes at a time as well! It’s a nice building, but it will be nicer when the noise ends and the dust settles.
Last week my back had become very painful and so my manager took me to visit a traditional Chinese hospital, as they do not have family doctors in Weifang. When I arrived, after listening to my problem, the doctors recommended acupuncture and cupping. Once the needles were in my back, they attached a small battery to the needles and shocked my muscles for half an hour. Not the most pleasant experience. Even worse was the cupping. Amidst the cries of children next door, the doctors lit glass cups on fire and suctioned them to my back. It feels like a million hands pinching your skin for ten minutes. It left large and round purple bruises all over my back, which I thought was very attractive! I went back for the next three days to endure this “healing”. Needless to say, I think I’ll just deal with the back pain and have a massage instead!
As for my work, it has been a “learn as you go” experience. I was able to create new business cards using the program, Photoshop, for the first time. I have helped coordinate, with the office in Vancouver, the hiring of new co-op students for January. And most exciting is that last week I organized the beginning of Mandarin lessons for CIBT foreign employees and one other foreign teacher in Weifang. I now have the opportunity to formally learn Mandarin and the simplified characters!
Aron, another co-op student, organized a promotional lecture at a local medical university last week for 1300 students that I was asked to attend. The other co-op students and I spoke for a few minutes about ourselves and our work. We had to return the next night for an encore; as over 2000 students tried to attend the first night but they could not all fit into the hall. Overall, it has been an amazing experience!
Beyond the Blog
To learn more about working internationally, check out the SFU International Co-op Website