China. Land of the Great Wall. Land of the wise, of the inventions. Land with 5000 years of history filled with dynasties and their emperors. All I knew of China is what I saw in 'Crouching tiger, hidden dragon' and Bruce Lee movies. There I went, a Dutch guy on his way to China, land of Kung Fu and the Green Destiny. It did not really turn out to be like the movies. But then, movies focus on a nice story, not on people spitting, dirty streets, pollution or holes in the ground where toilet bowls are supposed to be. That's right, my first impression of China was that it wasn't what Discovery Channel promised it to be. My first impression turned out to be wrong.
I stayed in China for a bit more than five months, of which I spend three teaching English at a school in Zhenze, a couple of hours by bus from Shanghai. The school was the Zhenze Senior Middle School and had students between the age of 16 and 19. It was the district's best school, as they never forgot to tell me.
I stayed at an English teacher's home and taught together with a girl from Manchester. She was the perfect match for me to teach with, because she turned out to be strong enough to endure my endless sarcasm and bad jokes. But I suppose she's used to that, being English and all.
All the people, the teachers, the students, everyone, were incredibly nice and the teaching itself has been one of the most joyful experiences of my life. I didn't have any teaching experience, but the enthusiasm of the students and the support of the teachers and my fellow volunteer made it easy and very enjoyable. Standing in front of a class of sixteen and seventeen year olds who are all paying endless attention to you when you are explaining to them the wonders of a family tree, the background of the war in Iraq or just talking about movies is something I will never forget. Doing this made me realise that I should seriously consider becoming a teacher. At times the teaching was tiring, Chinese students aren't used to having to be active in class, so you really need to work hard to make them do something, and I often felt like a clown, but it was worth all the energy and effort. It's simply amazing when you get a whole class to discuss something in a language they are afraid to use because they are scared of making mistakes. I will never forget the school, the teaching or the students.
The country itself is amazingly beautiful. I spent about two months traveling and saw some breathtaking scenery and architecture. I saw the hills of Guilin, the sunrise over the Huang Shan, the sunset from a beach in Fujiang, the endless lights and energy of Hong Kong by night and so much more that I would be talking for the rest of my life if I was going to tell it all. China is a country to fall in love with. And I did.
Look past the blackness in your tissue every time you blow your nose. Look past the dirty streets, the spitting and eating sounds. Look past the depressing buildings and often tiring shopkeepers. Because if you do, you will find a country of values and morals, of endless kindness and hospitality. A country of hard working people with real love for their families. A country of beauty, of splendid scenery and unimaginable sites. Country of the Great Wall. Country of the wise and the inventions. Of 5000 years of history filled with dynasties and their emperors. The land of Kung Fu and the Green Destiny.