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kendras chronicles225Kendra's Chronicles - A Meaford teacher shares her travel stories

In 2012 I lived in Huangyan, China, for three months. While I was there I taught Ontario Curriculum English as a Second Language (ESL) to a small group of Grade 11 Chinese students.

The program was at a satellite campus for an international private school that is in downtown Toronto where the students, if successful in their Grade 11 year, would move and attend to finish their final year of high school. Below is a list of things that I discovered to be culturally different or unusual while living in Huangyan, China.

  1. By Chinese standards, Huangyan was consider to be a ‘small town’ with a population of 570,000+ people, and because it was a ‘small town’ it was too small for a McDonalds to be in it.

  2. …Yet KFC was everywhere!

  3. There were a lot more Western snacks, drinks and things than I thought there would be (especially being in such a “small town”): Mountain Dew, Sprite, 7UP, Pepsi, Coke, Fanta, Mentos, Wrigley’s and Stride Gum, Skittles, M&M’s, Bueno, Snickers, Dove Chocolate and products, Herbal Essences, Roxy and Kappa clothing, Red Bull, Iced Tea, Cheerios, Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Minute Maid, and more.

  4. The taxi drivers never slowed down for speed bumps or potholes. Ever.

  5. No one wore seatbelts and the driving was insane. There was no real order on the road, and miraculously I never saw an accident! Although, one time I was in a taxi and it grazed the side of a moped, but both motorists kept driving as if nothing had happened!

  6. People rarely wore helmets when riding on a moped, and it was common for the mopeds to be crammed with riders. Sometimes infants would be in the arms of its passengers.

  7. Toilets (as we know them) were a rare commodity; usually it was just a hole in the ground. Toilet paper and hand soap were also rare commodities.

  8. There are Chinese hand signals to gesture the numbers six, seven, eight, nine and ten. For the number six it is what in our culture is known as the ‘Surfer’s Wave’.

  9. The ‘Chinese’ food we have in North America is NOT authentic Chinese food. Generally everything from an animal is eaten and most of the bones are still intact. One of my student’s favourite snacks was pig’s tongue, and another student tried to get me to eat fish bone as a snack.

  10. There was a special soap to wash fruits and vegetables with before eating them.

  11. Smoking wasn’t as big as I thought it was going to be.

  12. Weddings could happen any day of the week and usually happened around lunch time. After that, everyone would go back to the groom’s house where his family would prepare a huge dinner for their guests.

  13. Justin Bieber was quite popular while I lived there and was played a lot. Like, too much.

  14. Fireworks were used for celebrating holidays but also to celebrate the life of someone that had passed.

  15. Everything that was in a package (cookies, candies, etc.) were wrapped in another smaller package, and then individually wrapped again in another package. It was like an endless Russian doll situation of wrappers.

  16. The game ‘Mahjong’ is not the same in China as it is in North America. Teachers at my school weren’t allowed to play because it was considered gambling and gambling is illegal in China, but sometimes when I walked off campus I’d see elders playing it.

  17. The students lived on campus and their dormitories were closed and locked every morning after they went for breakfast at 6:30am. If they forgot something, oh well!

  18. Elvis was known as the ‘Cat King’.

  19. Lunch break was just over two hours long and most of the time students would eat quickly and then rush back to their classroom to sleep. All students had pillows they kept at their desk and would use them for when they slept during lunch, and sometimes during their dinner breaks. The students would close the blinds and doors and would be fast asleep in minutes. They were so tired from being in school literally all day (7:00am-9:00pm) and staying up too late doing homework (it was mandatory to give homework in every class.)

  20. The very fashionable rattail hairstyle from the 1980s was very popular amongst the boys of Huangyan.

  21. A bean paste was in a lot of breads and most of the desserts. It was really deceiving because it looked a lot like chocolate, and I was let down on numerous occasions because of this.

  22. I was told that the law of only being able to have one child wasn’t for all of China and that it was different in every province. For those provinces where this rule is in effect, they actually are allowed to have a second child but only if their family is of a certain status. If the family is of that status, those parents would also have to pay a sum in order to be allowed to have their second child.

  23. You have to show your passport everywhere you go. Buying a train ticket? Passport. Checking into a hotel? Passport.

  24. I was told that aside from me living in Huangyan that there were only five other foreigners.

  25. There were a lot of unusual flavours of some staple snacks in North America. For example, I tried Raspberry Blueberry Oreos. They were kind of good, but mainly kind of weird.  

kendra chinaBelow is a list of things that I found different while visiting the bigger cities (Shanghai, Beijing and Hangzhou) compared to Huangyan.

  1. Even though these were HUGE cities (14 million, 11 million and 2.5 million people), they had McDonalds, but KFC was still everywhere and definitely more popular.

  2. In addition to McDonalds and KFC, the bigger cities were way more Westernized than I expected: Burger King, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dairy Queen, Forever 21, H&M, GAP, Guess, Fila, Monaco, Tommy Hilfiger, to name a few.

  3. Their taxi drivers slowed down for speed bumps and potholes. Always.

  4. Motorists followed rules on the road and the driving was a lot like it is in North America.

  5. The architecture in Shanghai was absolutely beautiful!! One minute it was ancient Chinese, then modern, and then European! A few times while I walked along The Bund, where the European architecture was most prominent, it felt like I was in a country in Europe.

  6. These cities were much cleaner and litter free.

  7. In their public restrooms there were porcelain toilets and/or holes in the ground (soap and toilet paper were still rare commodities though).

  8. Their buses were Volvo and the cabs had mini TV screens on the backs of the front seats with advertising commercials playing on them.

  9. Unlike many big cities, the people were just as nice in Shanghai, Beijing and Hangzhou as they were in the ‘small town’ of Huangyan.

Even though I was able to travel to three of the major cities in China and lived in one of the ‘smaller’ towns, I quickly realized that you cannot judge an entire country from one area you’ve travelled to. Had I not gone to Shanghai, Beijing or Hangzhou I wouldn’t have seen how different they were from one another or how vastly different they were from Huangyan. I learned that every city, town, province or state differs from one another, and each has its own culture, style, tradition, and those types of variances apply to cities and towns all over the world. Sure, there could be some similarities, but they’re not exactly the same. It would be like comparing Toronto and Iqaluit, Victoria and Winnipeg, California and New York, Louisiana and Ohio: same countries, different people, customs, rules, values, laws, etc.

Looking back on my experience living in Huangyan, China, I’m tremendously happy that I didn’t live in one of the major cities I travelled to because of how Westernized they were. By living in Huangyan I got more of an authentic Chinese experience, and if I ever did start to feel homesick I knew I could just hop on a train and get Subway in one of the bigger cities.

What an unforgettable experience.