(The author of this article, Mr. Timbray Shafer in picture above, is an English teacher at Yiling American High School)
This past summer, I went on a two week Euro-trip filled with flights on cramped budget airlines. In comparison, my ride from New York City to Beijing on Air China felt luxurious: Leg room, televisions, pillows and blankets, food, drinks. The only disappointment was realizing just how bad my Chinese was. The dozens of lessons I took on my phone felt worthless as I attempted to understand the in-flight announcements and conversations around me. My appearance doesn’t help. My mother was born in China, and therefore my face probably suggests some semblance of competence in the language of my ancestors, but this is a suggestion I will have to get used to disappointing. Though I have traveled to ten other countries, this is my first time in China, and also the first time I have lived and worked in another country. Knowing this made me a bit frightened as I realized just how little of the language I could comprehend.
But my disappointment didn’t last long. I have long longed to explore a country and culture that differ greatly from what I know. Stepping off the plane and looking across the vast Beijing airfield, Talking Head’s “Houses in Motion” blaring from my iPod, I felt the excitement that I had hoped for. I understood when a woman next to me said ‘kan shu,’ pointed at the book I was reading and gave me a thumbs up. As I went through the airport, I was in awe of the beautiful signs and statues.
The next few days spent in Beijing were both enlightening and enjoyable. It was filled with delicious food, meeting wonderful people, and seeing inspiring sights. I often was in pain walking after a meal, because I couldn’t help myself from continuing to eat long after my stomach urged me to quit. We met several hosts and guides who were both generous and informative. One great experience came when we learned how to prepare some traditional tea. I was the least successful, spilling water and burning my fingers numerous times. This did nothing to dull my enthusiasm, however. Additionally, I will never forget all of the stunning buildings and sites we saw, which include the famous Drum and Bell Towers, the Fire God Temple, Houhai, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace. Perhaps my favorite sight was the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. The ancient wall lived up to its reputation. Kenneth, another teacher at Yiling American High School, and I hiked as far as we were allowed, huffing heavily by the end, but unwilling to stop due to the thrill of traversing the wonder with people from all over the world and the beauty of the mountains around us. Whenever I am at places of such beauty, I try my best to soak them in fully by reminding myself how rare of an opportunity it is to see such a marvelous place.
Going to Beijing was a glorious introduction to China and the culture that I have found so exciting. It was a wonderful way to prepare for coming to Yichang and settling into the city where I am happy to be teaching and living for the foreseeable future, and I can’t be grateful enough for how warmly I was welcomed.