6 LESSONS LEARNED FROM 3 MONTHS IN CHINA
China is a fascinating and rapidly changing country. Old customs and habits hang on as modern skyscrapers go up every second, the country becomes more of a global powerhouse, and people from around the world move there. Last year, my friend, Scott Young, best known as a learning hacker who learned MIT’s entire computer science program in one year, said to me “I’m going to travel the world for a year and learn languages.” I was thrilled with the idea! Today, he shares what he learned while living in China for three months and how the media portrays countries is often very wrong.
Recently my friend, Vat, and I finished a three-month stay in China. The plan was, with minimal preparation, to arrive in China and speak as little English as possible, in order to learn Mandarin Chinese.
We shot a mini documentary about the experience here:
The trip transformed my perception of China, and the unfair image it sometimes has in the West. In this article, I want to share the biggest lessons I learned about China, life and travel from that experience.
Once you’re interested in the local culture, people open up more
Originally Vat and I hadn’t planned on going to China at all. We were warned that China might not be the best place to go to meet friends because people were unfriendly to Westerners. Instead, we were told to go to Taiwan.
Some visa complications made it impossible to stay the full three months in Taiwan, so we switched to a three-month stay in China last minute.
However, from the first day I arrived in Kunming, I had my perceptions flipped. Far from being insular and hostile to foreigners, people came up to talk to me the first time I went out on the street. It happened to be all in Chinese, so I didn’t understand much, but it did cause me to rethink my assumptions.
As my Chinese improved, this continued throughout my stay. From my landlord introducing me to people who could help us learn Chinese, to getting to know the couple who ran a noodle restaurant nearby.
If you’re interested in other people, their culture and their language, they’ll be friendly to you. China isn’t an exception.
Don’t judge a country by its media coverage
Hating China is a popular pastime of Western media. Some of the accusations are at least partially true: parts of China are quite polluted, political freedom isn’t the same as in the West, the Internet is firewalled and some parts of China are quite poor.
I saw a very different kind of China. Kunming, where I lived for most of my stay, wasn’t polluted. I’ve had frank conversations with Chinese people about communism, Tibet and democracy. Some sites are blocked, but China has its own versions of YouTube, Netflix, eBay and Google.
我看到的中国是一个完全不同的地方。昆明，我大部分时间住在这里，没有污染。我和中国人就共产主义、西藏和民主进行了很坦率的谈话。一些网站被封锁，但中国有自己版本的油土鳖，Netflix， eBay 和Google。
China is still developing, but the economic growth means most people have seen their living standards improve rapidly in the last twenty years. People I spoke with were generally optimistic about the future.