Before coming to China I was horrified by the idea of being surrounded by swarms of people in a city as big as Xiamen, the lack of any English-speaking voices and the greyness of a smog-filled skies. After spending about 6 weeks in Xiamen, I find China to be a fascinating country. Old customs and habits linger on as the skyline seems to grow on a daily basis. I strongly feel this adventure will transform my perception of China, and I am convinced I’ll never forget about my stay here.
In the Netherlands, I live in a city near the Hague with a population of about 125,000 people. Nothing ever seems to be going on there. Being primarily a dormitory town this is not really surprising. Xiamen is completely different. Historically known as Amoy, it is a city with a population of about 3,5 million people. Most of these people (around 1,8 million) live on an island not far from China’s mainland. The Huli and Siming districts are located on the island, and this is where most of my adventures in Xiamen take place. Everything I feared regarding swarms of people in big cities turned out to be true, it is simply impossible to go anywhere in Xiamen without being surrounded by endless streams of pedestrians in the street.
Did I say pedestrians? I meant Chinese pedestrians, Chinese people riding e-bikes, Chinese people driving cars. Then there’s what seems to be far too many Chinese people on the same bus, huge malls filled with Chinese people. I think you get the point, there’s people EVERYWHERE.
The Chinese people are fantastic to interact with. If you show an interest in the people of China, their culture and their language, the Chinese people will be very kind and welcoming to you. Although they don’t see a man with long curly hair (“You have hair like girl!”) or beard (“You have big hair on face!”) everyday, I am always treated with respect and their interest appears to be genuine.
One of the most fascinating things to me is the language. I love how words are sometimes built up out of smaller building-blocks. A bus for example is a ‘public car’ in Chinese (公共汽车), and the word dàxué(大学) for ‘University’ can be translated to ‘big learn’.
I think studying Mandarin Chinese is a lot harder than you’d think. To every rule there seems to be at least 3 exceptions, making it very difficult to understand the grammar. Then there’s thousands of characters that seem to look very much alike. The language is a tonal one, meaning that intonation does not just impact what is emphasised and what is not, but it completely changes the meaning of a word. The language is incredibly interesting, but attempting to learn it can be extremely daunting.
One of my goals in Xiamen is to be able to speak Chinese well enough to be able to interact with people that my knowledge of English would not allow. I feel this changes everything, and this new perspective seems very interesting to me.
I can not imagine not wanting to come back to China. Although life here is not what I’d call an experience free of worries, the first six weeks here in Xiamen already proved to be the experience of a lifetime.