Culture shock!

I’ve often wondered what life would have been like – or more accurately, what I would be like – had I grown up in China.  Though I left China at quite a young age (6), I still remember several emotional moments in my short time in Beijing:

In my first (and only semester) of grade 1 gym class, I got distracted from marching by the grade 6’ers who were playing basketball.  For this, I got in trouble and lost 3 of my red flower stamps that day.  I cried about the loss of these precious stamps (indicating a student’s good behaviour) at home to my mom.

On a typical weeknight, I watched my female cousin (who I called ‘sister’ since we were all only children) doing homework. As I peered over her textbooks and perfect handwriting, I wistfully said “I wish I had homework”.  She stared at me for a long time before saying “No, you don’t.”

On hot summer nights, I remember taking strolls around the neighbourhood holding my grandpa’s hand, passing old men playing Chinese chess in the parks.  I also remember my contained excitement the first time I had McDonalds or KFC (not to mention an orange soda)!  (“Contained” because I was excruciatingly shy when I was little).

Standing outside my old elementary school in Beijing. (2010).

In 1990, I moved to Canada with my parents.  My first day of grade 1, I thought it incredibly rude how my teacher referred to us as “girls”, rather than “students”.  In grade 3, I remember worrying about the germs Santa Claus would leave on the milk, should he come to visit us on Christmas Eve.  (I was a weird kid.)  In grade 5, I remember my feeling of dread at the frequent presentations we had to do in front of the entire class.  In grade 7, I had gained a sense of self-confidence and became one of the most outgoing girls in my class.  Somewhere along the line, I also realized I was using more (and varied) facial expressions than I had in China.

Now, I’m 28.  In my inherent curiosity on the topic of culture, several unanswered questions  have emerged: How much of my personality, value systems and beliefs are me, and how much are the culture I grew up in?  Who am I, and where do I fit in this hybrid mix of Chinese and Canadian cultural values?

I’ll give you an example.  I’d like to take credit for my grandparents’ keen observations one summer when I came back to China for a vacation.  My grandparents were duly impressed that I had made close friends with all the servers and hotel hostesses of the beach resort we were staying at.  They observed that I had no concept of “class” (hierarchies), and that a city kid from Beijing would never think to do what I had.

So… maybe I am a truly kind-hearted soul.  Or – maybe, it was growing up in the egalitarian, individualistic culture of Canada.  Either way, this is the reason to travel and live somewhere different, I think.  To step out of our own culture and be open to another; to experience the joys, anxieties, frustrations, and frequent contradictions that are “culture shock”!

Exploring Jian Ko – an unrestored section of the Great Wall of China (2010).

6 thoughts on “Culture shock!

  1. Hi Helen Very interesting blog, lots to think about, thanks for sharing.Wonder what happened that you are not so shy anymore.

  2. I love your blog, your love to travel and meeting new people. I think your curiosity and love of life for different cultures surpassed your shyness. You’re an amazing person, and a true friend.

  3. Thank you for the blog.
    Hearing you talk about what you remember when you were 6 makes me think about all the details my young daughters are probably making memories of so that when they are your age they will still remember. I better be careful!! 🙂

    Another interesting thing from your story is your grandparents (who were born and raised in China) reaction to how you interacted with the resort helper staff. The fact they were impressed with the respect that you treated the different people I think shows that there is a commonality of values between cultures which transcend the values imposed by culture. Does that make sense. 🙂
    (Hey how do you get a smiley face in your comments?)

  4. I had a similar thing. From Grade 3 to 5 I was assigned to clean wash room and I was very happy. Because that gave me extra red flowers.

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