Picture this: A sixth grade student. June. The end of school so close, but stress is building up. Next year is the first time this student has the freedom to choose his own schedule; to choose what electives he wants to take and to decide, more importantly, what language he would be studying for the next six years of his life. The options were simple; Spanish, which was what the school had been forced to take for the since the first grade; French, a subject that most of the 'artistic' individuals took in high school, and the new option of Chinese. Although the first class would only have 16 unique individuals in it, the boy would find that the class, taught by the best teacher in the world, Mrs.Zhang, would be a space of fun and learning for all. This boy was me, and this story is my adventure in the heart of China itself.
We had known that if we signed up for the Chinese language, we would be going to China. After all, that was one of the things that compelled the sixteen students to take this course. But to get there we would have to journey through two years of one of the hardest subjects that me and the fifteen others would ever have to take in. The language was not based off romance, like French or Spanish, but was based off a series of characters and PinYin, equivalent to English words and sounds. Day by day we memorized more and more of the tough curriculum, and by the end of our eighth grade year, Mrs.Zhang, our lord and savior, thought it was time for that promised China trip.
We would sign up through an organization called iPERC, each family would pay $2,200 each, and by April 2016, we were off. But I think it's safe to say that China was not what most of the students and chaperones who came along on the trip expected.
China was oddly barren. I use this word knowing the full definition: bleak and lifeless. The weird architecture mixed with the intense smog made for a unique setting among the American students who were used to bright and sunny suburbs, rather than a cloudy, crowded mixture of both cities and farmland. It seemed almost unfriendly. Even though the people were extremely caring, the food was warming to the heart, and the great red flags bared among practically every spot in the city, the intense feeling of unhappiness stayed with me throughout our adventures.
Despite this feeling, I think it's safe to say all of us had an amazing time. We laughed practically every minute of every day, we had amazing experiences. We all loved it, and I do not say that lightly. We had the time of our lives. But still, day by day, this weird feeling kept with me and stayed with me through the sights we saw and the people we met. And I can give you countless examples to try to explain this feeling to you without making the lame excuse of 'you had to be there to feel it'.
It was almost as though the entire thing was a production for us. Like it was fake. The airports were beautiful and the schools were nice, but for the six days out of the twelve in which we stayed with host families, it seemed like we were behind the scenes in this production. The first family I stayed with, in a suburb of Beijing, had one child. Just like me, an only child. Me, I live in a two story home with a basement, a large living and dining room, a kitchen, a spacious bedroom for me, a spacious bedroom for my mother and my father, an office, a porch, two bathrooms, and a large backyard. I get this with my school being about 1 mile away, but I choose to have my mother or father drive me because I like to take my time in the mornings. But Rohan's family (the boy I stayed with), lived a much different life. First off, his home, which was in an apartment complex, was about three to four times less than the size of mine. This said, there was two bedrooms, one very small one for the boy and a slightly larger one for the parents. They had a living room, and a kitchen, and one tiny bathroom. They had one car which the father took to work, and Rohan would take a series of subway transfers and walking throughout the Beijing streets to make it to school on time. I saw a different life from this family's standpoint that it seemed China did not want to show to tourists.
Now, this was far from a bad thing. I loved seeing the real life that people live and not just the Olympics that NBC showed on television in 2008 or the pictures of tourist sights that I had learned about during my Chinese class. Seeing the real life that they lived was one of the best experiences I have ever had in my entire life. And I leave you with this - if you are ever thinking of coming to China for whatever reason, see both sides. See both what the camera does show you (also known as some of the most beautiful sights that I have ever seen in my life), but also see the behind the scenes; see the poverty that some people live and eat the food that all of the locals eat. If you want a truly life changing experience, see both sides. I promise that it will change you forever.