Zai Jian // See You Again: Post-Trip Reflection

Going to China for Spring Break was an unforgettable experience. I loved everything about the trip (except for squatty potties). I loved the sights, the food, the language, and of course, the people. Let’s start off this reflection by answering some quick hot seat questions. Favorite food? Peking Duck, but Ding Tai Fung soup dumplings come a close second. Weirdest food? Probably Gillian’s scorpion, even though I wasn’t the one to eat it. For myself, I think I ate pig’s blood for the first time (despite it being on my dinner table multiple times before). I thought the fried corn, sugar, and dough dessert was weird too. Favorite city? Shanghai. Favorite site visit? My favorite planned site was the Great Wall, but my favorite site overall was Shanghai Disney. Favorite memory? Karaoke!!

Many of my prior expectations for China were broken and exceeded. Even those expectations that were met, I was still hit with culture shock. First, my expectations of urbanization of the city and modernization of society was met, but, like I said, I was still shocked. I expected to see major leaps of urbanization, especially in Shanghai. I’ve seen many pictures and videos of the Bund and I was prepared to see full-blown cities, rather than farmlands. However, the massive scale of the city still took me by surprise. I guess part of me still had my doubts about China’s ability to urbanize completely and at that speed. Someone commented that “we shouldn’t call Shanghai the New York of China. New York is the Shanghai of the US.” I also expected the modernization of Chinese society, also known as, the rising middle class. I expected to see consumers just like me and that’s what I saw. Especially in Shanghai, I saw many shopping malls and stores that were even too fancy and expensive for me. The PC’s had similar consumer habits as us in the US. They also like to hang out with friends to grab food, go to the movies, or go shopping. In a way, this expectation was exceeded. Everyday Chinese consumer taste was more expensive than ours and valued luxury brand names a lot more, (whether they were real or not.) Expectations that were not met related to crowds, seniors, and squatty potties. I’ve heard so many horror stories about the crowds in China and have been tipped numerous times to wear my bag on my front. My most prominent impression of crowded China is that when visiting the Great Wall, you wouldn’t even see the Wall because of the smog and crowds. This expectation was not fulfilled at all. There were basically no crowds, in comparison to my experience with Hong Kong streets. I was also surprised by the fitness of the seniors at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing! My Chinese grandma also goes out every morning to do morning exercises with her friends, but nowhere to the extent the seniors in China exercised. There were grandpas doing full out workouts – workouts that I couldn’t even do. I thought that was awesome that China had such a lively group of seniors. Honestly, that’s how I would want to live in my old age, active and able, now that I know it’s possible. I used to think that becoming old, weak, and frail was just an inevitable part of the process. Finally, squatty potties are everywhere! I originally thought that they would only be in select rural areas, but these were basically everywhere besides Americanized areas, such as the Great Leap Brewery owned by an American.

Professionally, China’s growth in industry and academia is amazing and it makes me very proud to be Chinese. I enjoyed how clean, respectable, and quiet the schools were. It reflected the students and teachers’ respect for the education system as a sacred place of learning. However, it also reminded me of the giant pressure and high stress of the Chinese education system, as well as, from Chinese family and culture. It is so important to be “perfect” and to performing highly, starting from a young age. Success in school means success for the future, which is the only way to a happy life. The perfection and spotlessness of Peking and SJTU almost made me feel uncomfortable and pressured to act on my best behavior. We also discussed the limitation of creative freedom in the Chinese education in class. I personally relate to this issue. I took many extracurricular classes as a child, drawing classes being one of them. You may expect drawing classes to be pretty creative, but mine were structured. We were taught step by step which lines to draw, how to measure exact proportions, and there was always a right way and a right answer. I do agree that Chinese educational values limit creativity, but all is not lost by valuing structure. Because of those lessons, I am atleast able to draw whatever I wished to draw. Even if not the most creative, I am able to, at the bare minimum, draw a decent piece, while some cannot even do that. As well, when I talk to my dad about this creativity issues, he argues that with China’s huge population, even with lower creativity levels, one hundred Chinese with structured knowledge will beat one creative American at innovation. Moreover, in regards to industry, I was amazed at China’s progress as a world player. They are clearly moving up the supply chain ladder. We observed this from their shift away from manufacturing into distribution. Manufacturing has moved to other areas, such as India, Vietnam, and Africa.

This study abroad experience has made me much prouder to be Chinese. My dad always talked about China with such high honor, whether it was about their history or their present day advancements. He always praised China and I never understood that until now. China has thousands of years of history and accomplishments to be proud of. The scale and detail of ancient China’s projects are incredible. The power of the emperor and the ability of the people to create the massive Great Wall or the beautiful Forbidden City with the limited technology back then is breathtaking. Honestly, just having three thousand years of history is amazing in itself – for civilization to have survived this long continuously and to have stories to tell from so long ago. When visiting the Urban Planning Museum, China’s modern progress also inspired me. They’ve been working so hard and have accomplished so much growth in only a couple of decades. Their commitment, strength, and brilliance are just inspiring. It’s crazy how far they’ve come. I can’t wait to see where they go next and I would even love to be a part of it.

This trip has really helped me grow as an individual by forcing me out of my comfort zone. Despite being Chinese, this was my first time visiting Mainland China, not including Hong Kong and Macau, and this was my first time without family in Asia. This experience has made me more open to Mainland China. I’ve also become more confident with my Chinese. Because of this trip, I am now also a fan of China. I dare even say that I love China, so much that I would strongly consider working and living there. Working in China had recently been in the back of my mind, but after this trip, I am more certain that it would be something I would be interested in. As a professional, this experience has made me more open to new experiences, empathetic to different cultures, and flexible to differences in opinions. These are transferrable skills in the workplace even if I don’t travel for work. Being open, empathetic, and flexible are the prime assets to have in a team, especially as companies become more global and teams become more diverse.  

This trip had a high price tag, but the experience and lessons I took away are priceless. China took my breath away and also stole my heart. I’ve never been prouder to be Chinese and I hope I get to be a part of its greatness one day as well.