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And Then I Lived In China

There were many reasons I wanted to go to China. Not to sightsee for a couple of weeks, but to live there for a period of time, to see the real China.

First, by the end of Spring 2007, I had been learning Mandarin for 3 years. I knew from my experience with English that I would never be able to actually speak Mandarin unless I immerse myself in a Mandarin speaking environment. Well, people speak Mandarin in China. Perfect first excuse to go to China.

Second, my scholarship with Ohio Wesleyan would cover the cost of studying in China. It didn’t matter where in the world I took classes as long as I came back and complete the required amount of in-residence credits to graduate.

Third, my boyfriend back then was Chinese and I wanted to learn more about his culture.

And last, I was an international business major. My thought at the time was that if I was going to practice international business as a career, I must learn about China. Most international business textbooks have at least a chapter or a study case about China. I read several books about China, fiction and non-fiction. However books are often reflections of their authors' points of view. Even non-fiction books could be subjective. Check out books about the same event in history from libraries in different countries, you might very well find different stories. I wanted to go to China, to see it for myself.

Four great reasons (or more like a traveler's excuses) to go to China. August 2007, there I was in Shanghai. And that was one of the best decisions I made.

Many things I learned from my time in China.

1. Life will surprise you, sometimes in an unpleasant way. Just trust that everything happens for a reason, and for the best.

Did I say I wanted to go to China to learn more about my ex-boyfriend’s culture? Well, we broke up when I was in the early part of the program. It was a very bad break-up. Then I realized life took me to China to give me a few gifts. One of those was to meet Dianna, my roommate, one of the most awesome friends I could ever ask for. She taught me to be strong, to live and enjoy life to the fullest, and to always love and take care of myself first.

And so I had some amazing adventures in China.

2. The world is a better place than what we see on the news.

The problem with the media is that negative news sells and positive news is not reported enough, or sometimes not at all. You might hear a lot of negative things about China. Yes pollution is real. Wikipedia to help with a college paper research? Forget about it. It's banned in China. But the more you travel, the more you see how real people live, the more you can distinguish between “government” and “people” when you watch the news. Chinese people and the Chinese government, two different things. American people and the American government, two different things. And it goes on. Every country has its own problems.

I love traveling because I can see real people. And I have seen, in Shanghai or Beijing, Luoyang or Ningbo, most people are nice. People work hard to make a living, to provide for their family. People enjoy going out with friends, having a family meal, running in the park, biking across the city, watching their kids enjoy the food at their favorite restaurants. It’s the same everywhere.

3. Here’s to international business. If anyone wants to hone their negotiation skills, I highly suggest living in China for a couple months.

I was raised in Vietnam in a family business. Growing up I saw my dad negotiate business deals with the Vietnamese, the Taiwanese, the Koreans, the Singaporeans. I saw my mom negotiating everything on the materials list with vendors when she helped my dad with his business, from concrete to steel to paint, and everything on her grocery list at the market, from rice, to vegetables, to meat and fish.

But my experience in China teach me how to negotiate hard, in a second language. I learned more Mandarin at the markets and on the streets of Shanghai than from my daily Mandarin class. Bargaining is a life skill in China. If you don’t bargain and end up paying too much for everything, it's your own fault unfortunately. Just take it as a cultural lesson. It’s a part of life in that culture. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Remember that saying?

4. Take time to reflect.

This was my thought after our trekking day at the Great Wall in Beijing.

Every time I reached a tower, or a stop, I could visually spot the next, higher tower. And all I wanted to do is to keep climbing to get to the next tower. What amazed me was that when I actually took the time to stop and look back, the scenery behind me had changed tremendously, without me realizing it the whole time. At each stop I reached, the view was different, breathtakingly different.

This taught me, sometimes we are too busy getting to the next level, we forget to take the time to reflect on how far we have come, and how everything around us has changed.

When we take time to reflect, things will come into perspective. And perspective will allow us to see what is important, and what is not.

This year I made a note to myself, to take time to reflect. This blog was created for that reason.

Reflect, and plan for the exciting adventures ahead!


20th birthday

Our classroom

Getting ready to bike to The Bund

Train ride to Beijing!

The Great Wall of China!

Forbidden City

Summer Palace

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