As I mentioned in my last post, we spent a day and two nights in Zhengzhou, in the province of Henan in north-central China, with my friend Erika. Zhengzhou happened to be a perfect stopping point between Hong Kong and Beijing during our week of train adventures.
Usually back home I am trying to convince people to guest speak in my classroom, so when Erika asked if I’d like to accompany her to two of her college English classes at Zhengzhou University, I had to say yes. My brother Danny also volunteered his services. It turned out to be one of the most enriching experiences during my time in Asia. After just a couple hours spent with Erika’s warm and curious students, I could see why so many people fall in love with China for its people.
First, we talked about our Christmas traditions, including Christmas cookies, Christmas trees, sledding, and carols. Danny and I taught two carols to the students, and in return they sang a Chinese New Years song for us. Erika also instructed her students that if they wished to ask us a question about ourselves or about life in America, they needed to share with us something interesting about China first. Here are a few of the cultural things we learned:
- Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is a pretty big deal!
- We should try dumplings while in China. We heard a lot about dumplings. (And when we tried them from a street cart later, they were pretty tasty!)
- Dialects vary greatly from province to province, and even within provinces. We even got a demonstration on dialectical differences.
- Do not eat a banana by itself! It needs to be eaten with something else or you might hurt your stomach.
- Do not drink milk by itself either.
- You should not put honey in hot tea as it ruins the nutrition.
Here are some of my favorite questions the students asked us in return for sharing a cultural tidbit:
- Why do Americans tuck napkins into their shirts in the movies?
- Why are dentists respected in America? (In China, they tend to go to the dentist for a toothache only, not for regular cleanings. It’s not a serious medical field.)
- Is it true that in America, if you wear an outfit to a party, you can’t wear it again? (Blame the celebrities.)
- Does America watch dating shows too?
- Are farms in America expensive?
- Can you use chopsticks? Are knives and forks used as eating utensils even safe?
It’s great seeing your own culture through a brand new set of eyes. Their questions surprised me, but then again, they were shocked that I didn’t know that I’m not supposed to eat a banana alone. It’s the beauty of culture, and cultural differences.
And also, why was it ever OK to tuck napkins into a shirt?
The best part of this whole experience actually greeted me back in America. Erika’s students wrote thank-you notes and sent them to me. Here are some of the heart-warming messages I received from these truly charming students in Zhengzhou, China:
- “Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! I like your lifestyle very much!”
- “Welcome to China! I wish you happy forever!”
- “Hope I could see your ‘star-like’ eyes again.”
- “Thank you for visiting our class which makes us very happy!”
- “It’s very glad to see you! Thanks for your beautiful songs!”
- “Hope you can come back to China someday in the future.”
- “May you come to China at Spring Festival.”
- “I am so glad to see you but I forget to take a photo with you! What a pity! I hope I can see you again… and then take a photo!”
- “What a lovely girl you are! Happy every day!”
What a great message: “Happy every day!” I’m not sure if the students learned a thing about Christmas from me and Danny, but I know I learned a thing or two from the whole experience. China is an amazing place, and I’ve never been greeted so warmly by young people I had never met before. When you are fortunate enough to get to add these kinds of experiences to your life list, it’s hard not to be happy every day!
Here we are:
Thanks for the experience, Erika!