Shanghai: An immersive cultural experience

On the 1st of December, I packed my bags ready to depart Australia for the first time and undergo a two week BUILD Abroad program in Shanghai, China. This was my FIRST time travelling overseas, and it got my parents a little bit worried as to how I would manage my safety and communicate in a country that I was not yet fluent in. Regardless of these issues, I was excited to move out of my comfort zone, and explore a new culture that had given rise to my curiosity. While Trump, Australian politics and the media have painted China in a bad light, I was determined to embrace what China has to offer. With an expanding influence in the world, China was a country that I needed to see.

Chinese language and business classes

As part of our program, we were given classes in the morning where we learnt basic mandarin phrases for everyday use. As I have already been undertaking Chinese language studies I found these classes to be more of a revision of what I’ve already learnt. Despite all of my preparation and studies, I still found that my Chinese was lacking, evident through my inability to understand the salesperson or the waiter. There were times when I was alone, where my inability to communicate or understand, caused frustration within me. But, I understood that being in a foreign land, English would obviously not be the first language spoken here, so I still made an effort to speak some Chinese, even if it sounded off. Despite the communication barriers, I found myself lucky to have a friend who could speak Chinese. She became our interpreter throughout the trip, and made this experience far less stressful.

Moving on…

Our Chinese classes were accompanied by business classes which delved into Chinese culture, entrepreneurship and logistics. Although business is not my cup of tea, I appreciated the insights as it broadened my global knowledge. Out of all of the topics studied, I found Chinese business culture the most interesting. It confirmed how influenced I have become through my Asian upbringing as I found myself aligning with the cultural patterns of the Chinese.

Cultural and business trips

In order to engage with the local culture, we were taken to the ancient town of Suzhou. It was breathtaking and aesthetic. I loved everything from the traditional gardens, the alleyways, and the silk stores that lined the streets. Plus, who can forget the canals that make you feel like you’ve riding through Venice, but without the singing. One of the gardens we visited was the Lion Grove Garden. It was fascinating to observe the architecture and interior of a wealthy home that was adorned with spiritual meaning. The garden itself, was beyond describable. It had its own pond, a mini waterfall, and huge rocks that you could climb in a maze-like labyrinth. While Shangahi offers a city landscape and towering skyscrapers, Suzhou offers a quiet retreat into the past. Definitely worth a visit.

On the second week, we visited a local neighbourhood community. We were given a tour of their local museum where we revisited its modest beginnings. There was also a small cinema inside, where we watched an unforgettable and cringey short film. Following the museum we were taken to what seemed like a community centre, and listened to the beautiful old choir sing. It sounded like heaven. We then saw some old people play tennis table in a very competitive manner which I have never seen before. My passive tennis table skills were no match for them. Afterwards, we were taken to a local home where we learnt how to fold a dumpling and eat a massive meal. Overall it was a good experience to quietly appreciate local life.

Bao Steel Company

To experience a local business industry, we were given a tour of the Bao Steel Company. It is the leading steel manufacturer in China, and is the 5th largest steel producer in the world. The production of steel was fascinating to watch, and seemed to run smoothly through the machines. Unfortunately, I can’t really explain the process, but there is a lot of fire and water involved. There is also a small zoo nearby, which is used to test the air quality so that the company is conscious of any pollution to the environment. While this trip was interesting, it wasn’t as fun as the other trips.

Overall…

China has been an exciting journey filled with friendships, shopping, exploring and lots of food. Immersing in Chinese culture through archery, martial arts, calligraphy and painting was an exciting way to enjoy what China has to offer. I fell in love with the huge metro stations, the huge shopping malls, the cheap food and the nightlife. It is such a different landscape from Australia, and I took every scenery with interest. Certainly, this experience has fuelled my curiosity to travel the world, and gain global knowledge and cultural awareness.

Yaminn Oo

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