First Impressions in China

Liam D: Bachelor of Business/Laws – New Colombo Plan mobility student to Zhejiang University, China

Around ten months ago while at having dinner a sushi restaurant, I made the decision on a whim to go on exchange to China. Not knowing what this impulse decision held in store for me, I was elated to be putting a plan in motion to spend time in China after aspiring to visit for so long. Nearly a year later, I’ve touched down in the renowned city of Hangzhou and have commenced my studies at Zhejiang University.

Acclimatising to China’s vastly different culture and settling into my new home can thus far only be described as a fantastic learning experience. Exhilarating, exciting, demanding, stressful and awe-inspiring are all adjectives which aptly describe how my experience of moving to China has felt so far.liam8

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Arriving in the dead of night at Hangzhou Airport, I had ¥200 in my pocket, bank cards that weren’t cooperating with the local ATMs, a phone incapable of contacting anyone without Wi-Fi, and a meagre vocabulary at my disposal. liam1After a lengthy cab ride into town spent anxiously glancing at the ever rising fare meter, I arrived at my hostel with ¥25 to spare, only to find the ’24-hour check in desk’ seemingly closed up shop for the night. Just when I had resigned myself to sleeping on a stone bench by some pot plants outside the establishment, I was rescued by my girlfriend who had woken the innkeeper and in turn let me in. Following this bumpy entry, I had to wonder whether the remainder of my time in China would be so turbulent.

 

Fortunately, the mishaps of my first night in China haven’t followed me past this disastrous arrival, and I’ve since had the opportunity to make some early reflections. Being in China as a Westerner, one feels a long way from everything familiar. The people are different, the customs alien to outside eyes. The pace of life is accelerated, reflective of a country in motion with aspirations to reach the pinnacle of the international order. But to generalise or make broad statements about China is to err grievously; under each unturned stone lies something new to learn, a new insight into a society rich in history yet transforming more rapidly with each passing day.

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Living in one of China’s vast metropolises, one is immersed in a constant cacophony of noise, embedded within a kaleidoscope of over 1.37 billion people, each with a different story to tell. Sirens and car horns blare endlessly, and every street corner has its merchant vying for the attention of all passing by. Visit tourist streets in Hangzhou and you’ll be beckoned to purchase a handful of the city’s famed Dragon Well Tea. In Shanghai, street merchants peddle counterfeit watches and designer bags. Here, the nights come alive in a blaze of neon lights accompanied by a chorus of cuisines sizzling in woks and frying over grills. The air becomes thick with the heady smells of mutton charring on the flame, egg noodles colliding with spring onion and spice, and ears ring with the sound of voices shouting, laughing, and bartering.

In just over a month, I’ve visited the glass waters of Hangzhou’s West Lake and witnessed the monolithic spires of Shanghai’s Pudong district. I’ve travelled to tea villages in valleys underneath mountains ensconced in thick forestry and shrouded in mist, and climbed the winding stairs of ancient pagodas and temples. Despite this, it’s easy to feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this dynamic country has to offer. With close to five months remaining in my stay, the clock is ticking, and the dilemma I face is deciding how best to make use of the time I have left. Regardless, I can take comfort in the knowledge that however I choose to devote my time, every day will bring with it a new opportunity to learn and discover more about this eclectic and fascinating country.

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