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6 lessons learned from 3-month journey in China

China is a fascinating and rapidly changing country. Old customs and habits hang on as modern skyscrapers go up every second, the country becomes more of a global powerhouse, and people from around the world move there. Last year, my friend, Scott Young, best known as a learning hacker who learned MIT's entire computer science program in one year, said to me "I'm going to travel the world for a year and learn languages." I was thrilled with the idea! Today, he shares what he learned while living in China for three months and how the media portrays countries is often very wrong. 

中国是个迷人且发展迅速的国家。随着国家的强大,古时的风俗和习惯也如同平底而起的摩天大楼一样逐渐回归,吸引了世界各地的人们。去年,我的朋友Scott Young,一个在麻省理工计算机科学系已经学习一年的学生,他是著名的黑客。他跟我说,"我要花一年时间周游世界,学习语言。"我被他的计划吓了一跳!今天,在中国已经生活了三个月的他将分享给我们他所学到东西,以及媒体对这个国家的一些错误报道.

 

The trip transformed my perception of China, and the unfair image it sometimes has in the West. In this article, I want to share the biggest lessons I learned about China, life and travel from that experience. 

这次旅行改变我对中国的看法,西方也不总是公正的形象。在这篇文章中,我将分享我在中国生活和旅行中学到的重要几课。

 


Once you're interested in the local culture, people open up more 

一旦你对当地文化感兴趣,人们会很欢迎 


Originally Vat and I hadn't planned on going to China at all. We were warned that China might not be the best place to go to meet friends because people were unfriendly to Westerners. Instead, we were told to go to Taiwan. 

原本我和瓦特没打算去中国的。我们收到警告说那里不是个好地方,因为人们敌视西方人。我们被告知要想去最好去台湾。 

 

Some visa complications made it impossible to stay the full three months in Taiwan, so we switched to a three-month stay in China last minute. 

因为签证的原因我们没法在台湾呆三个月,所以最后我改变主意在中国呆了三个月。

 

However, from the first day I arrived in Kunming, I had my perceptions flipped. Far from being insular and hostile to foreigners, people came up to talk to me the first time I went out on the street. It happened to be all in Chinese, so I didn't understand much, but it did cause me to rethink my assumptions.

然而,从我们到昆明的第一天起,我的看法就发生了转变。根本没有什么狭隘的敌视外国人的偏见。我走在路上就有人跟我打招呼交谈。鉴于周围都是中国人,这事我也没想太多,但是这确实让我开始转变想法。


As my Chinese improved, this continued throughout my stay. From my landlord introducing me to people who could help us learn Chinese, to getting to know the couple who ran a noodle restaurant nearby.

随着我中文的进步,我可以去更广泛的地方接触人群。从我房东夫妇介绍给我教授英语的中国人,到他们常去的附近一家面馆。


If you're interested in other people, their culture and their language, they'll be friendly to you. China isn't an exception.

如果你对其他人、他们的文化、他们的语言感兴趣,他们会很友好,中国也不例外。

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Don't judge a country by its media coverage

不要通过媒体报道来评判一个国家

 

Hating China is a popular pastime of Western media. Some of the accusations are at least partially true: parts of China are quite polluted, political freedom isn't the same as in the West, the Internet is firewalled and some parts of China are quite poor.

仇恨中国是西方媒体的一贯方式。这些指控只有少部分是真的:中国一些地区确实污染很严重,政治自由度比不上西方,互联网有防火墙并且中国的一些地方非常穷。

 

I saw a very different kind of China. Kunming, where I lived for most of my stay, wasn't polluted. I've had frank conversations with Chinese people about communism, Tibet and democracy. Some sites are blocked, but China has its own versions of YouTube, Netflix, eBay and Google.

我看到的中国是一个完全不同的地方。昆明,我大部分时间住在这里,没有污染。我和中国人就共产主义、西藏、民主进行了很坦率的谈话。一些网站被封锁,如YouTube, Netflix, eBay 和Google,但中国有自己的版本。


China is still developing, but the economic growth means most people have seen their living standards improve rapidly in the last twenty years. People I spoke with were generally optimistic about the future.

中国仍处于发展中,经济增长意味着大多数人的生活水平在过去二三十年里有显著的提高。和我聊过的人们普遍对未来感到乐观。

 

Everything is food here

这里到处是食物

 

The relationship with food in China is fascinating, and I was amazed at the diversity of ingredients and flavors. 

中国的饮食文化是非常迷人的,我对这里食物搭配的丰富多样化如此惊讶。

 

Western countries tend to simplify Chinese food down to chow mien, fried rice and General Tso's chicken. That's a bit like saying Western cuisine is just burgers and sandwiches. 

西方国家倾向于简单化的中国食物,像是炒面,炒米和左宗棠鸡。这就好比提起西方食物就只有汉堡包和三明治。

 

Chinese food in China, on the other hand, is some of the most varied food on the planet. Not only does regional diversity mean food can change completely from province to province, but nearly every imaginable ingredient finds its way into some kind of Chinese dish. Chicken, pork, beef and vegetarian dishes are all options, of course, but where else can you eat fried insects, try stewed frog or shop at a Walmart selling live turtles? 

中国饮食在中国,从另外一个角度来说,中国食物是地球上最丰富多样的饮食文化之一。区域多样性不仅仅是省和省之间不同,更难以想象的是同样的鱼肉、鸡肉、猪肉、牛肉和蔬菜会有很多不同的烹饪方法,当然,这里也有你吃过的油炸昆虫,水煮青蛙或者你在沃尔玛超市可以买到的活乌龟。

 

Food is also an avenue for connection. In the West, each individual has his or her own plate, separate from others. In China, each person has a bowl of rice and eats directly from shared plates in the center. While this style of eating makes it hard to dine individually in some restaurants, it creates a communal feeling, making food more than just nutrition. 

食物也是一种联系途径。在西方,每个人都有一只自己的盘子跟其他人分开。在中国每个人会有自己单独的一碗米饭,然后跟大家共享盘中食物。当然这种方式对单独进餐来说有点困难,但是它提供了一种群体的感觉,让食物更加丰富且营养均衡。

Chinese is both incredibly interesting and extremely difficult 

极其有趣和非常难懂,汉语兼而有之

 

I won't lie to you, learning Mandarin Chinese was a struggle. Thousands of characters, with many almost exactly alike. For example, try and spot the difference between these two characters: 

我不想撒谎,学习汉语普通话真是一场战斗。数千汉字,几乎长得差不多。比如,试着找出下面这两个汉字的不同:


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Chinese is a tonal language, which means that the intonation doesn't just change emphasis but also what words mean. My friend went to a restaurant and attempted to order "shu? ji?o" (boiled dumplings) but instead ordered "shuì jiào" (go to sleep). 

汉语是一种语音语言,这就是说她声调发生了变化这个词儿的意思也有了变化。我朋友去饭馆打算买些"shuijiao"(煮着吃的饺子),但是音调变了之后就成了"shuì jiào"(睡觉)

 

Finally, few English words borrowed into the language survive unscathed, often sounding completely different from their original. McDonald's, which is available throughout China, adopts the Chinese name "Mài d?ng láo". 

最后说说极少部分从英语单词借鉴过来的词,他们只是用了相似的音调。比如McDonald这个词儿在汉语的发音就是"maidanglao"

 

While the Chinese language, like China itself, may seem daunting, it hides one of the most interesting linguistic systems on the planet. Chinese words have a tendency to be built up out of simpler pieces, like building a sentence out of Lego: 

虽然汉语和中国一样令人生畏,但也包含了地球语言系统中最大的乐趣之一。中国字的最大特点是简洁,就像用乐高搭建的句子: 


-panda = "bear cat" (xióngm?o) 

panda =长得熊样的猫(熊猫)

 

-chameleon = "color change dragon" (biànsèlóng) 

chameleon =颜色会变化的龙(变色龙)

 

With great difficulties also come great rewards. Learning Chinese may have been mind-bending at times, but it also allowed Vat and me to interact with completely different people in China than an English-only perspective would allow. 

巨大的困难会有巨大的回报。学习汉语时也许会混乱心烦,但这使得瓦特和我跟不同的中国人交流时有了个多视角,而非单一的英语式思维。

 

Near the end of our stay, I conversed over tea with a tattooed Buddhist. Together we talked about Tibet, religion and cultural differences. That conversation would never have happened had I refused to learn any Chinese. 

签证期临近,我和一位有纹身的佛教徒喝茶聊天。我们谈论的主题是西藏,宗教和文化差异。如果我没有好好学中文这次谈话就不可能发生。

 

You can count to ten with one hand 

你可以用一只手就数到十

 

The language differences extend even to simple gestures. The Chinese, for example, have a system of gestures for counting all the way up to ten with just one hand. 

语言的差异甚至可以延伸到手势。比如,中国人有一套手势,只用一只手就可以数到十。

 

If you've only been counting to five with one hand, you've been missing out. The Chinese have a system for counting 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 all with just one hand. Months after leaving China, I caught myself using this method to count things while I held a book with the other hand. 

假如你以为一只手只能数到五你可就大错特错了。中国人有一套手势可以表示6、7、8、9和10。离开中国几个月后,我发现用这种方法我可以一手拿着书一手来算数。

 


China has the best places you've never heard of

中国最好的地方你甚至没有听说过

 

Ask people which places they know of in China and most people will raise their hand for Shanghai and Beijing. The more geographically inclined might get Sichuan, Guangdong or Xi'an. But what about the tropical island of Hainan? The impressive winter festivities in Harbin? The bamboo forests in Chengdu? 

问问那些知道中国的人,大多数人会提到上海和北京。有点地理学概念的人也许会提到四川、广东和西安。但是海南的热带岛屿呢?哈尔滨令人印象深刻的冬季庆典呢?成都的竹林呢?

 

I had never heard of Kunming, a "small" city of around seven million in the southwestern province of Yunnan, before researching places to live. It ended up being one of my favorite places I've ever lived in, with weather a perpetual spring, mountain temples, and lunch for under a dollar. 

在探索居住之前我从没听说过昆明,一个七百万人口的"小"城,位于西南地区的云南省。旅程结束在这里——我最喜欢居住的地方之一,一个有永恒春天、山寺和一美元午餐的地方。

 

My advice: don't settle just on Beijing or Shanghai as places to visit. Doing a little research online can turn up dozens of places that will offer the Chinese experience for less money and fewer tourists. 

我的建议是:不要只瞅着北京和上海逛。在网上做点调查,能找到一大堆中国人推荐的花钱少不拥挤的好地方。

 

Everything you say is right and wrong all at once

你说的每一件事情是对的也是错的

 

The biggest lesson to learn about China is just how big it is. China is hard to describe because few generalizations are very accurate. Depending on where you go, China will be impoverished or opulent, polluted or pristine, densely packed or nearly isolated. As such, everything I experienced and have written about will be true of some people who go to visit China and false for others. 

我在中国学到印象最深的一课是她是如此巨大。你很难去描绘中国因为很少有那个词儿可以概括她。这得取决你你去过的地方,中国贫困又富裕,污染又天然,拥挤又开阔。因此,我所写的的经历只限于我在中国曾经去过的、交谈过的那些真实的人和事儿。

 

I can't sell China as being a perfect experience, free of worries. English is sparse. You need to watch out for pickpockets and scams in the bigger cities. Pollution can be bad. Internet can be frustrating. But, if you want an adventure and a chance to change your mind about the world's biggest, oldest and possibly soon-to-be the most powerful nation on Earth, I highly recommend going yourself. 

我不能说中国是一场无忧无虑的完美体验。英语基本没啥用武之地。在大城市你需要提防小偷和骗子。污染确实很糟糕,互联网令人沮丧。但是,如果你想要在这个地球上最大最古老,也可能很快会是最强大的国家里冒险或是获得一次机会来转换下你的思考方式,我强烈建议你自己亲临体验一下。

2016-06-23

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