I’m supposed to peel all my fruit before eating it? What do you mean, there’s a hole in the ground rather than a toilet? I shouldn’t drink the tap water here? When I first arrived in China a little over a month ago, a myriad of differences between my American ways and the new culture I was immersed in shocked me.
Though I’ve had a lot to get used to, there’s one thing that’s been heartwarmingly constant: the kindness of the people here. In Shaxi, a small town where we spent several days acclimating to China, I can still remember the friendly, amused look on an old shopkeeper’s face as she tried to teach us some words of her native Bai tongue. At the Shi Bao Shan temple as we hiked up to a smaller temple on the very top of the mountain, welcoming arms pulled us into tiny rooms filled with people joyously singing. My younger brother in Bangdong, where we spent several weeks with a host family, unfailingly handed out moon cakes, gum, and other assorted treats. Even back in the city of Kunming, the hospitality is just as strong as in the villages. Voices cried “Hello!” as I walked through Yunnan Da Xue, a major university in Kunming, and a lady invited me for a game of Mahjong as I walked through some gardens near a canal. Just a few days ago, as I was haplessly asking everyone I could for directions to a Buddhist temple somewhere in Kunming, an elderly Chinese lady took me by the arm, pushed me onto two different buses, and led me to the gates of the temple herself. When I tried to thank her for all her help, she waved away my thanks, and typed out directions on my phone so I knew how to get back home.
I’ve more or less gotten used to the toilet situation and some other social mores, but I know there’s a lot left for me to learn. Looking back on the kindness everyone has shown me so far, and knowing how many helping hands I’ll have, eager to teach me and proudly display the culture of China, I think I’m going to be just fine.