So here is the honest truth. Before I got to China, all I knew was that the Chinese were extremely intelligent people, the streets glitter with saliva, and the Chinese students on our campus back home always dress like its fashion week (they always looked so impeccable). Now that I am here, 2 out of 3 of those statements are true. They are hard working people with beautiful minds and the students are always dressed like they got off the runway. The saliva part, not so accurate, though they do spit a lot like A LOT.
However I have noticed some similarities and differences between Africans and the Chinese that I just could not shake off, the most dominant one being the idea of ‘Togetherness’ and ‘Family’. The Chinese still eat together at a table and share their meals. Whether I am in a big city like Shanghai or Hangzhou, or a little county like Suichang, the restaurants are always filled with people sitting around a table enjoying a meal together. In a world which is promoting individualism and independence, I find it magnificent that the Chinese use their love for food to come together and eat, sit and talk. In South Africa, though some cultures are slowing moving away from it, food plays a significant role in bringing us together. Whether we having a ‘Shisa Nyama’ (barbarque) or enjoying a ‘sphatlo’ (a famous South Africa , township meal: half a loaf of bread stuffed with slap chips, cheese, polony, fried egg, viennas or burger: I know it sounds fatty, but it tastes like heaven). Our love for food and coming together is still embedded in our culture and I was so delighted to see that it is also part of Chinese culture.
The other thing I noticed was how the Chinese are always ready to help. How they are always so selfless and giving. My first week in my county, I was offered so much food. The ladies at the supermarket tried their best to understand what I was looking for with smiles and lots of patience and my students are always showering me with weekly gifts and notes. Their humanity is one of the most refreshing things I’ve ever experienced. And it always reminds me of home. In South Africa we call it ‘Ubuntu’, meaning humanity. We have a saying that says ‘Motho ke motho ka batho’ meaning a person is a person in relation to other people. I am because you are, and therefore we are. South Africans and the whole of Africa still lives by this mantra. The notion of helping, giving and being selfless is still embedded in our DNA and one of my favorite things about being an African. I have experienced a lot of ‘Ubuntu’ in China.
There is a huge difference I have noticed between South Africa and China that I pray changes soon: the feeling of Safety. I find myself doing things in China that I would never do in South Africa, especially as a black woman. I can run in the AMs in China without the fear of being kidnapped or raped, I can sit next to a man and not be insulted or catcalled, I can wear whatever I want at wherever I want without the fear of losing my life because I was ‘looking inappropriate’. I know it sounds absurd but this is the reality in South Africa. None of that exists in China and oh it is an amazing feeling. To be safe, to be alive and free.