Filled with excitement at winning a Chinese government scholarship, I did not anticipate that my stay in China would evolve to be an exhilarating adventure and eye-opener. My sojourn has not only given me an opportunity to be a first-hand eyewitness of China's miraculous economic transformation but also exposed me to the interesting ancient history and culture of the Chinese people.
My first taste of life in China was learning the language. The Chinese language is seen as one of the hardest languages to learn. This preconceived notion scared me off at first. However, my passion to learn the language grew as time went on and it has become an adventurous journey. I am particularly fascinated because the language is written with characters. Each word seems to be a drawing, and this raised my curiosity to learn it. Sometimes I encounter words that are spelled the same way but have different tones and mean different things. For example, xīng with the first tone means a star while xíng with the second tone means row.
Moving around the streets, one can easily notice that food reflects the diverse cultural heritage of the Chinese people. China is blessed with so many nourishing foods that it is possible to live without eating the same dish twice for the whole month. There are different cuisines, which have distinctive features that separate them from one another. The use of garlic, shallots, chili and spices cannot be missed in a routine Chinese meal. My best memories of Chinese food were when I first learned to use the chopstick. I recall how I could not hold the chopsticks properly. It was a struggle to hold the pair of sticks and eat food without dropping it several times back onto the plate. But the story has changed now. I have learned to balance large meatballs between two sticks without any difficulty.
The use of technology is one inevitable aspect that you cannot escape while living in China. Technology is at the center of everyday life in China. Technology is everywhere, be it in schools, on the streets or homes. Apart from food and shelter, I dare say that everyday life in China largely depends on the phone. China is a cashless society. I recall my first visit to buy soap and I was asked by the shop attendant if I had Alipay or Wechat. I looked at her and had no idea what she meant. Now I look back and cannot imagine life without Alipay or Wechat. My phone with Alipay and WeChat Pay is sufficient for me to buy groceries, book a hotel, rent a bike, or manage my finances while enjoying a movie on my bed.
There is an adage that says that you cannot understand China unless you explore. Fortunately, my quest to explore was actualized with trips funded by the China Scholarship Council (CSC). The trips were meticulously organized by the Overseas Education College (OEC) of my school, Jiangsu University. The trips took me to various places but the most outstanding one was the week-long trip to Liaoning and Jilin provinces in the Northeast of China. This trip started off with a bus ride from the university to Nanjing, where we embarked on a 14-hour long, exciting train ride. This was my longest-ever train ride. It showed me parts of China I probably would not have seen if we had used another mode of transportation. As the train passed through the countryside, I saw farmers working in rice farms, with the reflection of ancient houses along the way. The breathtaking views left me wondering at the landscape, size and magnitude of China.
In Liaoning province, I visited Beiling Park, which is the largest park in Shenyang city. Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the park is the Zhaoling Tomb. This is the tomb of the second Qing emperor, Huang Taji, and is one of the most famous ancient relics because it depicts China’s ancient architecture. I also visited the Industrial Museum of China and the Liaoning Provincial Museums. The museums house various cultural relics dating back over 4,000 years and document the industrialization of China. It was interesting to have a glimpse of so many artifacts on display, including cultural objects in archaeology, painting and calligraphy, carving, ceramic, cloisonné enamel, silk embroidery, dress and adornment, copper ware, currency, lacquerware, furniture, oracle bones and stone tablets. The trips to the museums clearly showed that traditional aspects of Chinese culture remain very visible in everyday life, although the country has modernized.
There is no better way to understand China's miraculous economic transformation than a visit to Shanghai. The city has three major areas of interest for any foreigner: Tourism, business and shopping. Shanghai is a portrait of a modern city. The skyscrapers and its modern appearance are signals of Chinas’ economic development. I had never seen tall buildings as those in Shanghai. The tallest skyscrapers loomed over me, and for a moment, I feared the buildings might collapse on me. What impressed my sight so much were the well-built apartments and how the city has balanced modernity and natural beauty. Shanghai is a metropolitan city with both modern and traditional Chinese features. Shanghai is probably the most evocative city for any foreigner in China.
Studying in China has accorded me a life time opportunity to explore the world's most populous nation while experiencing its unique blend of ancient and modern civilization, as well as its scenic beauty and bustling life. China has made me realize the beauty of learning about other cultures, taught me not just the importance of learning in the classroom, but also of learning from every single person. These are memories that I will live to cherish. My story with China has been amazing.
Glad Tako Ngwira, a Malawian by nationality, is studying for a master's degree in public administration and management at Jiangsu University in China. Prior to coming to China, he worked with Malawi's anti-corruption agency, the Anti-Corruption Bureau in the Investigations Division.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.