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Ping Pong diplomacy, student style

All of our Sino-Immersions Tour Guides, Assistants and Researchers spend as much time in China as their busy schedules allow. Angus Gilbert, who is fast becoming 'our man in Hangzhou', writes more about his gap year experiences and his further embrace of Mandarin. 谢谢 Angus! jeremy

Angus and his highschool friend, Eric

At the age of 12 I discovered that only a small step into a language was all it would take for me to be hungry for more. After a few lessons of elementary grade 7 Chinese I was eager to give it some practice with the Chinese International students at my high school. Walking by one of them during lunch I came to and halt and said:

“你好!你好吗?” - Hello! How are you?

“你好!我很好!“ - Hey there! I’m really good!

And just like that my face lit up with excitement. The exchange, whilst only simple, made me feel a great sense of accomplishment. Only two days later my second basic greeting was tested. As the weeks went by the dialogue grew longer and more complex. Fast track a few years later and I had become life long friends with a group of people from an extremely fascinating country. Here is a photo of us celebrating 6 years of friendship.

Angus Gilbert with highschool friends

Now I am currently studying at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou for a semester to strengthen my skills in the language and as well as visit some of my international student friends in their hometowns.

A few weeks ago I visited my good friend and ex classmate from high school Eric in Xiamen to stay with his family for a few days. After having known Eric for many years back in Australia, it was great to finally have the chance to meet his family. Eric and his family introduced me to the proud history of their city, a port city that is made up of various islands - some that are car free (a rare occurrence in China!).

Late into the night I had some thought provoking conversations with Eric’s mother about her views on 孝顺 (Xiàoshùn) filial piety, a Confucian way of thinking. Despite its decline in China, she believes in a contemporary society, filial piety should still be fulfilled as a way of showing appreciation for the sacrifices that parents make for their children.

Xiamen is famous for its proximity to the coastline, which consequently has some sensational seafood dishes with a Chinese twist. Eric’s family nourished me each morning with a hearty breakfast of freshly cooked local fish with fried rice and sautéed broccoli.

At home in Xiamenn

If you have been following our other blog posts you might notice a common thread in our liking for the Chinese cuisine. Food in China is an experience to be indulged in, not just something that you eat. Eating a meal is of high importance to the Chinese, so much that a common greeting in china is “你吃饭了吗” – “Have you eaten yet?” Most nights I will eat at my ‘local’ in Hangzhou called ‘牛肉面店‘ – ‘Beef Noodle House’. Even though it is a busy joint, the owner and head chef 哥哥 (Big Brother) will always make an effort to come and sit with me at some point to ask how things are going and is always interested to hear about Australia – a country he wishes to visit one day.

After a couple of games of Ping Pong I'm usually puffed out after running back and forth against the impressive local competition, but there is a silver lining in the opportunity to rest. Sitting on benches up against the wall watching the lighting fast games unfold, I have had some wonderful conversations with fellow students that have travelled from all over China to come to Zhejiang University to complete tertiary studies. Kitted out in a complete red Chinese national tracksuit, Lee a second year mechanical engineering student from Hebei and I talked about everything and anything. We bantered over the differences between Northern and Southern accents, debated over who is most likely going to be the next Chinese NBA superstar, as well as discussing student life away from home. It wasn't long before Lee said to me "我请你吃饭!" - "I'll shout you a meal".

The silence as we ate the delicious bowl of noodles was soon disrupted by another great chat into the night as Lee stressed that he needed to teach me a few useful 成语 - proverbs and 俗话 - sayings.

It is times like these that my motive to keep studying Chinese is reaffirmed. These various exchanges I have had in different parts of the country with a variety of demographics all share a common theme. As a foreigner in their country, they genuinely wish for me to be welcomed and to experience only the best. So on my bike rides around the picturesque West Lake I hope to meet more and more people that I can share small exchanges with, some of which may even turn into life long friendships.

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