Memorable Experience in China

Memorable Experience in China

By Ms. Aobuar Leelaswatanakun

By Ms. Aobuar Leelaswatanakun

It would have been my biggest regret to not join the Summer Program Abroad. Before joining this program, I doubted if one month in China will really improve my Chinese language skills. The expenses related to this program were also a concern. Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to receive the Foreign Language Ambassador Scholarship from MUIC, or else I might have missed this great opportunity.

The first day in China was a little hectic, but manageable. Everyone was very excited with the new environment, some were looking around the campus, and some like me were buying daily necessities. However, the real first day started on the next day where we had our first class. We had a speaking class in the morning and I must admit that the classes were more difficult than I thought. Teacher Yan was speaking very “fast and colorful,” good to listen to, but I didn’t understand 70% of the things he said. When he told us the definition of a word, we didn’t understand the definition, so he tried to explain it and somehow made us confused even more. At the end of the day, my roommate and I decided to translate the study contents in advance so we wouldn’t be so lost next time. The second day was not so bad as the teacher and I were more prepared. Throughout the course, both teachers and students were all struggling while helping each other. Looking back I can only feel appreciative toward the teachers and friends for being so supportive.

Although I was learning so much in class, I think what makes this summer program special is when you step out of the classroom and start incorporating Chinese into your daily life. The first Chinese conversation I had was with a cashier at a supermarket. She was asking if I want a plastic bag, however, my brain couldn’t react in time because she was speaking so fast and had the Beijing accent. The next interesting conversation happened at my favorite bubble milk tea shop, “A Little Bit.” You might think that ordering food is easy since you can just point at the menu but this was not the case. After I ordered a cup of milk tea, the cashier asked, “What size? Want boba? Sugar percentage? Amount of ice? Additional toppings? Open now or take home?” My brain just stopped working. Of course, after being a regular customer for two weeks, I can proudly say that I can order milk tea with a rapping tone.

There were also other interesting conversation times such as when I went to restaurants, asking for directions, talking to locals, and others. Yet none of them can compare to my experience when I went to Tianjin, another beautiful city in China. The challenge already started when we were buying the high-speed train ticket. There were so many lines, so we got it wrong once. There were so many people, so as I was representing my friend buying tickets, I could feel the eyes of people behind me stabbing my back. My friends even heard complains about why I was  taking so long to buy tickets, which was honestly not true, I was so close to rap in Chinese! As for the experience in Tianjin, it was amazing. The city’s architecture was a mix between East and West, like a combination of China and Europe, very unfamiliar yet cozy. We went to many places such as Beihai Library, Minyuan Stadium, Ancient Culture Street, etc. The journey was not always smooth sailing, but the people over there were very kind and helpful. There was a time when we couldn’t find the right bus, an uncle and auntie couple helped us by showing to us a bus tracking app and suggesting that we walk to the next bus stop. Even if their bus had already arrived, they still insisted on explaining, thus we couldn’t help but feel very guilty and touched at the same time. Oh right, their bus didn’t leave them behind because the uncle was half standing on the bus’s steps while pretending to make a call to an imaginary friend, “Hey! Where are you?! You near?! The bus is leaving soon! Mr. Driver, I’m sorry but my friend is on the way. He’s running already. I’m sorry, Mr. Driver.”

Well, other than positive experiences, my friends and I encountered somewhat negative experiences as well. It was the time when my roommate and I were taking a taxi to Tianjin Train station in order to go back to Beijing. The moment our driver kept on saying, “Let’s make it 15 Yuan then, simple, do you understand?” and not pressing the taxi meter, we knew he was trying to rip us off. Therefore, with my brave facade and broken Chinese, I kept on asking him why he was not pressing the meter. We went back and forth for a while, he was shouting and saying that he needs to make a living and go back home to eat his wife’s cooking but in the end he conceded and admitted that the proper fare is 10 Yuan. I nodded, then he blamed us for understanding 10 but not 15 Yuan. Thinking back, it was half-scary and half-funny. After all the haggling, the driver even boasted that the elephant pants he was wearing came from Thailand, commenting that we were so Thai because we seemed so frightened, and then dropped us off super close to our destination. We did not know whether we should laugh or cry. Anyway, it was super memorable.

I feel like I could go on forever, talking about my one-month experience in China. What I have written here is just a fragment of my brief stay over there, but as you can see that just this much is already so colorful. My horizons were broadened, no more rigid stereotypes and misconceptions about China. I truly hope that I am able to inspire you one way or another. Please go ahead and experience it yourself, bon voyage!

Ms. Aobuar Leelaswatanakun, a student in the ICMI program, is a recipient of MUIC’s Foreign Language Ambassador Scholarship grant in 2019.