Wednesday, 11 May 2016 16:57

It's all Chinese to me

China, the land of many surprises China, the land of many surprises

I’ve recently returned from a business trip to China to research how I can help improve the teaching skills of English teachers in the shipping industry (yes, I do like a good challenge). I found the experience thrilling. I also found it tiring, baffling and, at times, exasperating.

I’ve lived all over the world during 20 years of teaching, in places as ‘exotic’ as Mongolia, Burkina Faso and Cairo and consider myself a seasoned traveller.

I’d been to Beijing for a week about 10 years ago. I remember that it was so smoggy, I did not see the sun once and that basically no one spoke a word of English.

I was thrilled to see that during both my one-day stays there this time, the skies were sunny and clear blue. But, still no one seemed to speak much English. I had been a bit worried at first about having a local travel companion with me during the whole time, but in the end I was very happy to have him there.

Without him, I’d probably still be waiting in line at a wrong ticket window at one of the train stations. We took a high-speed train (300km/hr) from Shanghai to Beijing, Beijing to Dalian in the east and back. Each ride took about 5 hours.

As a central European, I’ve been to some fairly big train stations, but nothing prepared me for the train stations in China: massive, humongous, and yes, overwhelming.

There are throngs and throngs of people everywhere and loudspeaker announcements fill the air. Some were in English, but it all seemed Chinese to me. Even with my local companion, we once ended up waiting in the wrong queue for an entire hour.

The whole 10 days seemed like one big adventure, with new discoveries and oddities around every corner. My camera clicking incessantly - over 2,500 times.

I took the approach that works best for me in life: lots of deep breathing and take it all with humour.

I kept reminding myself that I’d have lots of good stories to share. I filled many pages in my notebook during those long and rather comfortable train rides. Some instances were so hilarious, I had to scribble them down very quickly as they happened.

At my first hotel, I returned to the reception from a lovely room to ask the receptionist, “Excuse me, do you have a room with a bathtub?” She looked at me, eyes wide open in astonishment, “A bathtub?! No, no, no, no, noooh! No bathtub!” as if I’d just asked for a room with a rocket launcher.

I settled for my room with a shower and went to dinner. In the street, I asked a young, well-dressed man, “Excuse me, do you speak English?” He looked at me with those same astonished eyes “English? No, no, no, no, noooh! No English!”

I soon came to a small shopping mall and found a lovely little restaurant where I dined splendidly after having pointed at random food at neighbours’ tables.

When I first sat down, looking forward to a cold ‘Tsingtao’, a tasty local beer I remembered from my last trip, the waitress put a glass of hot water on my table and I wanted to exclaim in despair “Hot water?! No, no, no, no, noooh! No hot water!”

Thus went just a few of my many adventures in a country where obviously everything is Chinese. I look forward to sharing more and to going back there in the fall.

Article as published in the Cyprus Weekly of April 29, 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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