THE FIRST SUPPER
After our orientation on June 11, we headed to a hotpot place for our first meal without our program leaders. The three students with the most language experience struggled to read the menu and order for the group. After much confusion and unsuccessful translation attempts, we ended up picking meat from a display case. The labels were slightly easier to translate than the menu, but we were often unsure of the animal and/or body part. As frustrating as it was to not be able to order a meal, the shared feelings of disorientation made me feel as if I have known everyone for some time.
This meal was a reality check because I had taken two semesters of Mandarin and expected to be able to ask for directions and order food. I can ask basic questions, but rely on hand gestures and could barely understand responses.The language barrier is higher than I anticipated, but the isolation made the awkwardness between us dissipate quickly. While smiling is not as common in Chinese culture, I have found it to be an effective way to communicate with people that do not speak English.
The first week of class focused on the fundamentals of Traditional Chinese Medicine. On June 12, we were split into groups and each group was given the name of a location in Chinese. We were allowed to ask anyone but our program leaders for help. My groups location was The Golden Temple park. We struggled to interpret the Chinese characters and decided to ask the hotel staff for help. After deciphering the name, we used our phones to figure out the best means of public transportation. I anticipated traveling to the park to be the hardest part, but navigating the park was much more challenging. We attempted to ask for directions, but the most advanced Chinese speaker in our group did not understand. We decided to continue walking and stumbled upon a beautiful tower. After appreciating the ancient structure’s beauty, taking pictures and buying souvenirs, we realized we had found the Bell Tower and not the Golden Temple. After a bit more wandering, we were able to find the Golden Temple.
On June 13,we traveled to Western Hills to learn about medicinal plants. After plant identification, we were given time to explore the temple. On my own I found a hidden shrine with a plethora of golden statues. The room was silent and the aura was so serene I immediately felt at peace. After a vegetarian lunch, we hiked to Dragongate.
I expected the food in China to be amazing, but most meals have been underwhelming. Most dishes are very oily and lack the spice I was warned about. Additionally, getting over my American preferences of not eating certain foods has been challenging. I taste everything, but often wonder if not liking something is due to its actual flavor and texture or my preconceived notions. On June 14, I ate at a local dumpling place and my stomach has been upset ever since. Adding to my discomfort, most Chinese bathrooms have squat toilets and do not provide toilet paper or soap. This has been the biggest challenge to “making friends with my new environment,” as Dr. Wen, our program doctor, says. The physical challenges of being in a new place have been mentally exhausting. There have been multiple days I found it difficult to focus in class or get out of bed. Despite how strenuous being abroad has been on my body, I have enjoyed China and getting to know my classmates. I am excited for the remainder of our trip and hopeful that Chinese medicine will cure my ailments.