In the land of dragons

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Had been to China on a professional assignment. It was my first (and definitely not the last) visit to the land of dragons. And my first impression for China is ‘WOW’! In fact, I didn’t have had this much big WOW while I visited the big apple – New York City last summer.

A colleague came to receive at the airport with the name of the organization that I was affiliated with. We reached the hotel and then freshened up myself. She had brought some fruits for me as well so had ‘Made in China’ fruits to start with and then went out for a walk since the work was to begin from the next day. The work went very well during my stay and I enjoyed each and every moment of this assignment. It was great to learn about Chinese style of working and this visit has really changed my perceptions about living and working in China.

Before going to China, some of my friends had given me a few Chinese (Mandarin language) words and phrases. Special thanks to Phyun that she gave me a long list of English to Chinese words conversations. Also Fan gave me couple of ideas beforehand regarding Chinese culture. I am not too sure as to how much I could actually ‘implement’!

One night in Shanghai’s hotel I had a memorable episode. I had some food from home with me which I wanted to warm it up. And for this I needed a microwave oven. Hence, I went to the restaurant on the ground floor to see if I can get some help. I observed that people in China take their dinner quite early as compared to other countries. In fact, I was invited at 4:30 pm in one of our dinner meetings and the dinner got over by 7 pm.

It was around 8 pm I found that the kitchen and the restaurant were closed. There was only one gentleman at the counter watching TV. I approached him and tried to request to him if he could warm some food packet for me.

Now one can imagine that I don’t know Mandarin language at all and this guy does not know English! Not only that I had to show my food packet but also had to do gestures to communicate my request. That was so funny and I recalled ‘charades’ (or called ‘dumb charades’) that we use to play during our school/college days. And we both were laughing and having a great time in communicating with each other. He was shouting on me saying that the restaurant is closed and no food is available. While I was not bothered about the food and I was trying to communicating that I don’t want your restaurant to be ‘open’ but I simply want to use your microwave for couple of minutes. At one point of time he thought that I want to buy some drink so he offered me a beer can! Finally, I had to actually hold his hand and take him to the kitchen, find out the microwave oven and point towards it and then again gestures (!) saying that ‘I wish to use this!’

After around 15 minutes another guy (apparently the cook) joined the chaos! And then suddenly I realised to show an empty plate to both of them and then I enacted to both of them by my actions that I would put the contents of my food packet in that plate and put the plate in the oven. That’s it! That was my only request! And then it was ‘AA HAA’. They both burst out of laughter and so I did. It was half an-hour operation and finally I got my food warm! But this was a very hilarious episode!

I observed and thought on this later as to how fascinating it is that though we all human beings have different languages, different cultures, how similar and compatible are our basic styles of communicating in terms of gestures, eye movements, tone of voice, pitch, smile, etc. In fact, after some point of time, we could actually ‘communicate’ with each other though we belong to a complete different cultures and language background.

In some aspects, I found that the town planning and infrastructure (read ‘roads’) were slightly superior especially in the cities that I visited as compared to even New York and London. And yes the population is really quite dense and one can see this on the streets, roads, everywhere you go. But then it appeared to me that the town planning and infrastructure is designed to meet this population pressure. You see a lot of people everywhere but you don’t have a feel of ‘crowd’. Everything is ‘big’ – roads, lanes, public places, etc. Even the cycle lane is as broad as a car lane (see photo )

There is a right-hand side driving so I was feeling bit odd when I was sitting on the right hand side on the front seat without having a steering in my hand! I also observed that quite a large proportion of people in the cities that I visited were young. May be they were like school/college students. When I visited hotels, restaurants, bars, etc., I realised that a large proportion of working population seemed to be very young.

It was extremely difficult for me to make any conversation with anyone outside our hotel when I was alone. Fortunately, the staff at the Holiday Inn were quite comfortable with English but the moment I stepped outside the hotel (especially alone!) the only words I had to rely were ‘NIHAAO’ (meaning, ‘Hello’) and ‘SE SHAI’ (meaning, ‘Thank you’).

During this visit, I made some new friends (including those two guys in hotel!) and found some interesting observations regarding China in general and their culture. One of such observation is that whenever you are a guest and some Chinese person is your host at his/her home or any restaurant he/she will always order/make more food then what all can eat! The culture is that the food quantity should not be ‘just sufficient’! It should be quite ‘more’ then the required quantity. Another thing for which I was really surprised and delighted to know was that they have great varieties in Vegetarian food dishes. And they were all great in taste!

The work culture in China in my few days’ experience had a lot of elements of ‘modesty’ and ‘humility’. It was not just because I was a foreigner for them and therefore they were apparently more modest towards me. In fact, I also observed in other meetings and also in surrounding tables in public places that in general people were extremely humble and modest to each other. When I shared this observation to a friend there, he told me that since the majority of the population follows Buddha religion, these elements of modesty and humility are in built among them since their childhood. Also I learnt that the economic system and the industries are highly clustered. Perhaps, this can be an interesting area for my future research and publication.

Overall, it was a nice trip with lots of work and loads of fun. Your feedback and suggestions for the next trip would be most awaited!


PS: This cute little boy is Kevin, son of one of my colleagues.

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