Looking Back on My Middle Kingdom

I once read that if you stay in China for a week you can write a book; if you stay for a month, you can write an essay; if you stay for six months, you can write a paragraph; if you stay for a year you can write a sentence, and any longer, you can’t write anything at all.

I very much feel this is true, once you have stayed in China for a prolonged period you realize how complex it is. A quick glance, and you may think you have identified some key differences, but when you look closer you realize that it is not that simple.

I have wanted to go to China ever since I started reading about its emergence 5 years ago, while still in CEGEP. I knew I had to find a way to go so that I could experience the most possible with the smallest incurred cost. When I finally made it to China, I was asked by my friends if I had a “culture shock” when I arrived in China, the truth is I think I was well prepared mentally and my largest “culture shock” was actually when I got back to Montreal. I knew about the poverty and the injustice in China, but what amazed me was how kind and welcoming even the poorest of people could be when we sat down to talk with them. At the base, all humans have common desires; security, love, and comfort.

After seven months in China you realize how petty any problem you could have in Canada is. I have never worried about getting food, or escaping the police, or being confined to a life on a factory line. I genuinely feel that most people should travel to a third world country to truly see how the majority of the world lives.

I had the luxury of traveling all over China for work and for vacation. The country is vast and diverse and in many ways, cannot be grouped into one greater China. Many of the more remote areas are barely under the control of the central government and it is difficult to imagine a high level of devotion to the party. What this leads to, is an appreciation for what we have achieved in the western world, our complex institutions, respect for the law and our relative equality of living standards. Before leaving the developed world, you tend to take this for granted and assume that it is relatively simple to build such said institutions, when in fact, it is remains the greatest challenge any developing nation faces.
On a more personal level, I spent most of my free time with individuals who were significantly older than I. Most of my friends were 27 to 30 years of age, and without exaggerating, time spent with that age group will inevitably change the perspective of a 22 year old. Their life experiences, personal accomplishments, and responsibilities altered my view of what it takes to be successful. In China, I met more adventurous, more daring types of people than I met on my jobs in Timmins or Dunkerque (my previous two work terms). These people push you do more, move faster and work harder. I plan to go on more trips, experience more cultures and keep pushing hard.

It remains very difficult to quantify the effects that China had on me, but there is no doubt that it changed me for the better. I will likely return thanks to my positive experience and my base of Mandarin skills that I have acquired. Many things that I expected to find in China, I did not, and many that I did not expect, occurred.

Published on January 27, 2006