I am feeling fear as I’m standing on the corner of an intersection. A hundred of motorbikes are sitting there, waiting impatiently for the green light.
“Don’t hesitate, just go and don’t stop. They will avoid you.” says my Chinese friend Yance. I grab his arm tight and dive into the madness.
I am still trying to overcome my fear when I cross the street in Fuzhou. Motorbikes are like pedestrians here, so they use pedestrian crossing…It is so impressive (and scary!) to see on the other side of the road, an army of motorbikes that literally ploughs into you.
China is a real cultural shock that I am still in the process of getting used to. It will happen in the end but it takes time. Everything is so different and it’s a big change from my western life.
My life in Fuzhou is challenging. I am feeling a mixed bag of emotions that make it quite intense. I am so excited to discover a new culture and immerse myself in a new environment. But it is also alienating as the cultural shock is so strong.
It reminds me of the turmoil of Vietnam. Insane traffic, a hustle and bustle in the streets that never stops, a cacophony of horns and the smell of Asian food emanating from every corner.
Fuzhou never sleeps, it’s constantly developing and expanding. Buildings, skyscrapers, and massive shopping malls are popping up like flowers. Towers appear in no time and in a couple of months, a new suburb is born. China is like a giant tree whose branches keep growing.
I have observed a curious mix of advanced technology, modernism, tradition, and conservatism. It’s everything and its opposite. They fancy the luxury of the Western world but forbid you to be truly exposed to the outside world (Google, YouTube, social media are banned). The access to information is restricted and controlled. If I am still able to update my blog and socials it’s thanks to a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that I have downloaded.
It’s for sure one of the most difficult things to cope with as a foreigner. I was born in a democratic country whose main principle is liberty.
But the most challenging part is definitely the language barrier. I did not really think of it before leaving. I was way too excited about the amazing teaching opportunity. I naively thought that people would speak English. At least a little bit.
The reality is no one speaks English in Fuzhou. All the signs are in Mandarin and I have no clue of what’s happening around me.
Luckily, my Chinese friend Yance is with me. He’s been guiding me so patiently but relying entirely on someone is somehow, alienating and frustrating. Not being able to communicate or understand people are the biggest frustration I’ve ever felt in my life.
I remember the first group dinner we had. I felt so diminished and powerless not to be able to interact with the rest of the group. It’s a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling. I have never faced a struggle like that before and I did think: “What am I doing here”.
I am so out of my comfort zone that it scares me. The thought of going back to Australia has crossed my mind many times. This natural instinct that pushes you to go back to what you know because it’s safer and easier…
I do miss my Western lifestyle, but I do know I need to put in the effort to build a new life in Fuzhou if I want to make the most of it.
I have to think about the long-term and I want to recall this experience 5 years from now saying:
“My year in China has been the most enriching and challenging experience in my life. I am proud to have given myself the chance to live over there and open my mind to a new world.”