Sunday, 09 October 2016 12:21

Of things big and small

Shanghai, a city of 24 million Shanghai, a city of 24 million

I have recently returned from another business trip to the truly mysterious land of China. I stayed in several different cities and what struck me each time was how absolutely massive everything is.

Massive – an adjective I used a lot in my Facebook posts to describe the cities, the buildings, bus and train stations, the serving portions of food, the shopping malls and super markets… Everything seemed so big, probably because, but not exclusively, because I was coming from Cyprus.

I got home to Limassol and felt everything was so tiny. And I enjoyed it. Even though during my last week I stayed outside the city on a huge, but quiet university campus, where I was able to walk everywhere, I now find the comparatively empty streets in Limassol blissfully small.

It makes sense – after all, cities of over 24 million (Shanghai) would appear huge to anyone.

What did not make any sense to me were people’s mindset, their way of thinking and behaving – or at least the tiny bit of it that I got to experience. Despite it being my third time in China, I still found everything more inexplicable and much ‘stranger’ than in any of the several other countries I have visited or lived in.

Obviously, three weeks offer only a very limited understanding of a culture so different from ours, even though I did work and spend time with local teachers and students. After all, I stayed in a country with a population of 1.3 billion and an area of over 9 million square kilometres. Cyprus has 9 thousand square kilometres and a population of barely 1.3 million.

In fact, the country is so large that when students discuss multi-culturalism in class, they talk about different cultures within China. I only spoke to a handful of people who actually knew where Cyprus is, let alone anything about its culture.

It also seems logical that knowing only one language is enough when it’s spoken by so many. People mostly refused to comprehend that I do not speak Chinese. I had innumerable ‘conversations’ with my counterparts speaking Chinese to me – at length, getting louder and louder, repeating phrases over and over, as if that would help.

My colleagues always assured me that if I needed help while out and about, if I talked to any young person in ‘modern clothes’ they’d speak English. But somehow, I seemed unlucky in that aspect, being left, at times, exasperated by it.

Nonetheless, even though for the moment I am happy to be home, loving how I can actually talk to people, and how tiny everything is, I do consider myself lucky to have experienced the massiveness of this Asian nation. When the next trip comes up, I’ll be ready for another truly expansive adventure.

ASrticle as published in The Cyprus Weekly of October 7th 2016 

Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

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