9月17日 星期二 晴
As I stepped out the outer doors of Jinan International Airport two years ago, I froze. Not from sadness, or horror, or even an overwhelming sense of fear and trepidation, but in the very literal sense of the word. It was the end of March in China's illustrious Shandong province and, according to the locals, this was the beginning of Spring. As a person who had lived her entire life in a city where the word "winter" simply meant half days at the beach, this was shocking. I stood there, huddled next to my future classmates, as waves after waves of ice cold air washed over my already blue and numb face. I distinctly remember an old Chinese woman, with nothing more than a light coat on, laughing at our chattering teeth and mocking us with a lighter. I was so desperate for warmth that I nearly grabbed it and attempted to warm my chilled bones with the tiny flame. Nearly. It would have been fatal.
My first glimpse of China now seems like ages ago. Since then I can say with certainty that I've matured and grown into a person who can one day be proud to call herself a medical graduate of Shandong University. Also, I have less susceptibility to the cold now.
Immersing myself in Chinese culture was difficult at first. No one spoke a word of English. But that didn't stop them from coming up to me and rattling away in Chinese! I think the first words I learnt in Chinese were: tīng bù dǒng (do not understand). The second words were my name. I'm glad to say that I now have an average knowledge of Mandarin, at least enough to get around. I have to thank Zhāng lǎoshī for that. Bless her soul for her patience and understanding in dealing with the class from hell (popularly known as G2011).
Compared to South Africans, Chinese people are extremely fast paced. They're always moving, rushing, working, (yelling their wares). But the upside to that is efficiency. Hospitals, public transport, police stations and banks all work with a lightening efficiency that put South Africa's public sector to shame. Although I do kinda miss taxi conductors screeching "789 Plaza! 789 Plaza! Ma, where you goin' Ma?" on Phoenix roads.
And did I mention the technology? I fell in love the day I walked into Cybermart.
Perhaps my biggest stress was food. As a person with numerous allergies and intolerances, food that didn't make me barf up my intestines was hard to come by. Did I sample Quemen and street food? Yes. Did I get horribly ill for three days afterwards? Well... also yes. But it was worth it. You simply cannot live in China without sampling the local cuisine. However, to this day, the words méiyǒu (have not) is forever indelibly engraved on my mind. I can never again eat mayo. Just can't do it.
In retrospect, if I say that my life and experiences in China were all sunshine and roses, which would be a blatant lie. It took me a long time to adjust and find my niche with more than a few tears shed along the way. But I truly believe that this has made me a stronger person and I know this will make me a more understanding and compassionate doctor. I never regret the day I stepped onto that plane to start my new life and career. For all that I miss home, China has given me the opportunity that South Africa never could: the opportunity to study medicine and make a difference in peoples' lives. Imagine if I had listened to my inner fears whilst in SA (I'm too young. It's so far from home. It'll be so hard), I would never be where I am today: a successful medical student in her third year of study.