Katherine Cumberland (front) and her roommate and fellow Fulbright Scholar Caroline White get ready for a trip on Cumberland's scooter.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
By BY ELISE SNAVELY - Special to the Bulletin
To everybody at home, Charlotte, N.C., and Greensboro, N.C., are big cities, but the city I live in here, Shantou in Guangdong, China (about 5 hours northeast of Hong Kong on the South China Sea) has a population of about 5 million, and people here consider it a small city.
Locals think it is a very relaxed place, even boring. The traffic and the crowds never cease to amaze me, though. Martinsville wouldn’t even register to the average Chinese person as being a city. It’s just too small.
My husband and I both teach at PowerTalk International English School. It’s a private English training center that helps prepare students to study abroad in English-speaking countries. It’s a small school; our class sizes are usually five to eight students, whereas typical Chinese schools have class sizes of 50 to 70 students in every class.
The foreign mark-up
In the U.S., it is unthinkable to walk into a shop and ask the price of something and then offer less than what they tell you. Here, that’s common. Most Chinese people love haggling and getting the best deal.
Unfortunately for me there is a foreigner mark-up. Most foreigners here are businessmen with deep pockets, so it’s assumed that all foreigners are rich — the prices reflect that belief.
The best price I can get is really about the same as the absolute most a local would pay. Arguing prices with taxi drivers can be especially vexing because they know the city and we don’t, so I’ve gotten charged 20 yuan (Chinese currency) to go about a block before. That trip should have cost me about 5 and for a local, about 3.
There are a few “price as marked” stores though, including Walmart.
Internet and naps
Access to Facebook, Youtube and Twitter is blocked here. China has its own versions of those sites, but they’re all in Chinese. Most expatriates use VPN software to get around that block, which they call “The Great Firewall.”
We get two-hour lunch breaks, and nearly all my Chinese friends take naps right after they eat. Boy are they grumpy if they don’t get their nap.
Parents are in charge
Family life here is really different, and it is very, very important. People here live with their parents until they get married, and even then it’s not uncommon for newlyweds to live with one set of parents or the other.
My friends often have to cancel plans we have made because family events come up, and it is absolutely not OK for them to not attend family gatherings.
I have a single friend, who is 28 years old, and she lives with her parents. Because her family is traditional, her parents get the final say in almost any decision she makes. She had to ask for their permission to accompany some of our students to the United Kingdom a few years ago.
My friend told me she had to change three times before meeting me one time. The first time was because her mother thought she would be too hot in what she was wearing; the second was because her father thought she would be too cold; and the third was because she was “showing too much skin.” Long story short, Chinese parents tend to be very loving and very much overprotective of children of any age.
Food and holidays
Chinese food is really nothing like the “Chinese” food you can get in the States. Granted, there are some similarities: There are only so many ways you can make fried rice, after all. But when we decide to come back, I will really miss real dumplings, beef balls, moon cake, fried tofu and shao kao, which is local barbecue.
Shao kao is cooked over coals with a special sauce. It’s actually a street food, but one of our absolute favorites. You can get almost anything barbecued here. My favorites are eggplant and chicken legs.
Chinese New Year here is pretty fantastic. They put up lots of red decorations and lanterns. There are parties and all kinds of things to do. The easiest thing to compare it to is Christmas.
Most of the country gets anywhere from two weeks to a month off to celebrate and spend time with their families. No one here celebrates Christmas or (American) New Year’s Day — they’re just days — but my boss tries to respect our culture and gives us those days off work.
Elise Snavely, 26, is the daughter of Randy and Shari Hopkins of Martinsville. She is a 2005 graduate of Magna Vista High School and a 2009 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a degree in marine biology. She and her husband, Alex, have been in China since May 2012.