Studying in China – Holly Pickerell

It is a country so far away from us and a culture that we know so little about. Half-way through my year abroad I feel I’ve gained a greater understanding for Chinese life. However, Shanghai with its lofty towers could be mistaken for most major modern cities around the world; bar the throng of neon signs in Chinese characters. To gain a greater appreciation for Chinese life I have been travelling during the Chinese new year. The biggest national holiday in China and the greatest human migration around the world.

This understandably has some ramifications. Busy train stations, busier than Paddington at rush hour, with stations at least twice the size. Train stations have the feel of airports in China. Buzzing with life even as early as 6am. This buzz carries to popular attractions such as visiting the Giant Pandas in Chengdu or Shilin stone forest in Kunming. Though China is a wide expansive country its population is massive and growing still. Once the national holiday of Chinese New Year had passed the crowds started to shrink, to my relief.

Despite these immense crowds, everything runs like clockwork. No train is delayed. Full to the brim but still on time. Infrastructure in China is remarkable. It seems a slightly dull point to many, but when taking practicalities into consideration it is quite impressive. The Maglev is a high speed train in Shanghai that operates on magnets. It runs at around 430kph at its top speed, leaning on a tilt at times. The speed though visually noticeable through the window isn’t felt. These technological and structural advances that China has achieved makes travelling around incredibly easy. It is also quite gorgeous as train tracks carve pathways through some of the most spectacular scenery in China.

When first arriving in China I was overwhelmed. My first time living anywhere but England and my first time in Asia. I threw myself in at the deep end. There is a limited ability to converse with locals as English hasn’t much traction in China and my Mandarin is non-existent. Though it is something I am working on and finding pleasure in exploring. Admittedly things such as ordering food at restaurants, especially if one has a dietary requirement is made more difficult, though translation apps are a god send and sometimes produce laughable results. China now after several months appears to me as an open book ready for exploration.

One of the considerable benefits of starting my travels round China after having already lived here for a few months is familiarity. I’m aware I need to be at the train station at least thirty minutes before departure for extra security checks. I know a few items to be found on most menus to avoid being served feet, heads, tongues or something more grizzly such as brains. Seeing dog on a menu in Guilin is not quite as shocking when you’ve already seen turtles being sold in the Carrefour around the corner from your flat. Some things as simple as knowing how to order a taxi have made my travels that much more easy. Saying this, nothing compares to the kindness of strangers in China, today whilst trying to collect tickets for an upcoming train, try as I might I couldn’t find a human manned desk. A local spent forty or so minutes helping to find the desk and checking to make sure I got my tickets and got through security safely with my large rucksack, at the expense of sitting in comfort waiting for their train. I’m not sure what I expected from my time in China but I’m honestly so grateful I took the plunge, it has been an incredible and unforgettable experience thus far. I look forward to finding joy in more things, whether it be successfully mastering a new character, finding a new item on a menu I enjoy or learning how to play badminton with a racket in each hand like the old ladies in the park do.

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