Over 10 km above sea level and just a few hours from Shanghai, a thought sinks in: I’m going to China. Suddenly, I start remembering all of those Youtube videos I watched about tourists complaining of the culture shock they experienced while traveling in China, and I start wondering if I will end up being one of them. Will my Chinese language skills be enough? Will I actually be able to make a significant difference in those students and teachers I’m supposed to help? Did I over sale my abilities and as a result will end in failure?
All sorts of questions and thoughts start flooding my mind; the next thing I know, the pilot is announcing our decent into the Pudong Airport in Shanghai. Whether I was ready or not, my journey in China was about to start.
I had never experienced jet-lag before–I knew something wasn’t right but it was hard to pin-point what exactly was different. Thus I was glad that a day had been scheduled for us to recover from jet-lag! It was very difficult the first day because it was as if all the Mandarin Chinese I had learned in college disappeared the instant we landed in Shanghai. It wasn’t until a few days later that I “woke up”, and my whole outlook changed, and I felt ready to experience China.
I was glad to find that the Amity Foundation had set up a schedule for us to explore Nanjing and learn more about Chinese culture and history. We were treated to a wonderful regional lunch with delicacies like fried frog legs and steamed duck!
After the welcome lunch, we decided to walk around Nanjing to discover what interesting places were outside of our hostel. We found that we were situated in a very central location in Nanjing with a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and markets to explore!
The next day, we were introduced to a student who had been in Nanjing for three years volunteering with the Amity Foundation. He took us to see the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall–it was a site full of recorded memories from the “Rape of Nanjing”, when the Japanese Imperial Army decimated the then Chinese Capital as well as many other parts of China. It was a sad reminder that in the past Japanese-Chinese relations have not been very fruitful, and gave me a deeper understanding of why the current conflict over the fishing areas near the islands between China and Japan has been such a heated issue in the region. After much reflection on the Chinese-Japanese history. We returned to our hostel to rest for another day of exploration.
We ended our week traveling to the Fashion Lady Underground Mall and the Confucius Temple re-purposed as a popular tourist shopping area. It was interesting to see the differences between the Western and Chinese culture in everyday life. I was able to understand why those foreign tourists found the culture shock so intense, but thanks to their stories, I knew what to expect and the culture shock I experienced my first week was rather mild by comparison.
The Amity Foundation did a great job of easing us into being in China while making us excited to begin work in Fengxian County outside of Xuzhou the following week.