On a warm evening in Hubei province in South China, I and a number of friends from Africa are sitting outside for dinner. A couple of drinks, salads, and fruits are being served alongside the customary plethora of different types of meat served on Chinese dishes.
Waiters are busy, bringing this dish and taking away that from the table as people munch away.
A Chinese from another table rises and comes to our table and says something that sends us into a frenzy!
She says there are frogs in the dish that has just been brought to our table: frogs mixed with chicken. Her communication is perhaps a warning for those who didn’t want to eat, but it might be a tip to those who want to try it out.
I lift my eyes and look at my colleagues. A number of them are kind of giggling yet a few seem amazed but silent. Such scenarios would continue to happen as I and colleagues from different African countries spent a one year media training in Beijing, China.
Many Africans get scared about what they think is eaten in China. Many of the things they think are not true, or at least partially true. Some people think that when in China, everyone is eating snakes or frogs. I asked, and I was told that only a very small number of people eat snakes.
Leaving food alone, China might be one of the most misunderstood places in the world. The Asian giant which is home to about 1.2 billion people is one of the places that have held onto their cultures so much that when you go there, chances are you might feel a bit lost.
Still, due to its communist history, China hadn’t opened up to the world until 1979 when President Deng Xiaoping established “reforms and opening up.” Prior to that time, China was not only a closed economy, but also closed to the world culturally and in other aspects of life.
Today, having opened up, the potential of the country has been unleashed. For a country with the largest number of people, a formidable number of cashless transactions, intricate architectural technology, and much more, China is an intriguing and amazing place to stay in.
One of the iconic elements of China is its architecture. I visited the Hong Kong- Zhuhai-Macao bridge, a fifty four kilometer bridge which is said to be the longest in the world.
Part of it goes under the water, but when you are in a car going through these parts, you would find it hard to know. The bridge also has a few artificial islands which are large enough to have offices, as well as other facilities! That’s how far the architecture is in China!
I visited the shanghai tower, a 632-metre, 128-story skyscraper that shares the record of having the world’s highest observation deck (562 m), and the 2nd world’s fastest elevators at a top speed of 20.5 metres per second.
Yet there is so much more. The road network is itself eye-catching, camera almost on every street, and then the subway-trains that travel miles in minutes.
“People would always ask me, ‘Do you know kungfu,’” said a young female Lecturer at Renmin University, telling us about her life while studying outside of China.
A number of people think that almost every Chinese knows Kungfu. They think everyone is a fighter. But, I realized, that many people I met did not exhibit anything like this.
And honestly, I got amazed to see that different concerts in town were not about martial arts, but about music, or something else. True.
Although I would have loved to meet Jackie Chan, I didn’t have a chance to but my friends did. It was in February at the people’s hall in Beijing, a large government building in which many important government meetings take place.
Being a member of the communist party, he had come as a delegate, and he sat in the “VIP” area where it was not only hard to reach him, but hard to see him as well due to the distance between journalists and the delegates in the large hall.
I can’t tell how my colleagues noticed him, went after him, and despite the large crowds that thronged him, they managed to take some selfies too.
The author (R) with a tour guide when they visited the Hainan province of China.
I remember going out of my room to go do some shopping but had to turn back due to the cold yet I was dressed in a thick long jacket.
The weather in China was one of the most difficult things I tried to cope with. My ears were always in pain, my fingers would sometimes go numb and there were times I wished to put my face in fire. It was coldness that I had never experienced.
Yet still, summer in Beijing is very hot and humid. It gets hot in the house and you feel like opening the window, but what comes out of the window is close to what is inside the house. It gives you food for thought about hell.
Shanghai City is a place renown for its clear skies.
It was funny trying to learn Mandarin. We often laughed at each other as we struggled with pronunciation of the words. Mandarin has some really hard pronunciations because it has tones. The tone in which you speak a word may determine what you mean.
One day I went to a supermarket to buy noodles, “wo yao miantiao,” (I need noodles) I said to one of the workers in the supermarket. He listened, and then led me to a place where there were different things, which I don’t remember. I tried again, until, I finally got it right.
Now, “miantiao” is noodles, I had got that right. But, I had spoken in the wrong tone, and it meant something else!
I learnt mandarin for sometime but still I fear the fact that even what I know is victim to wrong tones.
When it comes to writing, the easy way is to use the alphabetical style of writing.
You can write mandarin words using an English alphabet. Yet, this style “pinyin” is not the real Mandarin because it is made up of characters, not letters.
Therefore, it is non alphabetical. You can simply call them characters, and there are over 50,000 of these. Many people (foreigners) I met who speak Chinese may not be able to write in this style. Yet the natives do it.
Yet on the easy part, Chinese has no tenses. The word “wo qu” can mean I go, or I went, I will go. If you want to indicate when you went, you simply add the time, for example, “mintian, wo qu,” meaning, “Tomorrow, I will go.”
Some of the popular Chinese dishes include Sea foods (L) and noodles.
I met with a number of Christians in China. Yet, on a strange note, a lecturer told me that China has many gods. So, some Chinese believe in some other gods for example Hinduism, some Buddhism while others are Muslims.