By IKENNA EMEWU
Are you travelling to China as first time visitor, especially to spend some time, like a year? Possibly, during your stay, you would be involved in studies, in professional practice as exciting as journalism? I know you must have a major concern in your mind – how you are going to communicate and interact with the people who speak a different language and also write in very peculiar ‘drawings’ called Chinese characters.
You might have been seeing those drawings in books and on TV, but never worried to know what they are about. But here you are faced with the obligation of going to China to live in China, study in China, work in China and make friends with China. Your worries might keep increasing as you cogitate on what their dishes and local meal would feel like. Now, it’s not just about the meal, but how it is eaten – with chopsticks, not the conventional cutlery you know and use.
So, would China be accommodating or easy to adapt to?
Eventually, you arrive China, and the bustle never took congnizance of your tiny self at a minuscule spot in this sea of human beings, the largest on earth, some 1.4b milling busy human beings.
Coming from Africa and Nigeria in particular, with a different skin hue, hair type etc, you look just different and conspicuous like a patch of land jutting out of the sea.
I shared this string of feelings early 2016 when it became certain I would go to China to work and study for a year.
But on arrival, it was just normal, especially with a longing to be there.
It, however, became more exciting after that day in March when we were taken to suburb Maquanying, outskirts of bustling Beijing for formal induction into the Beijing International Chinese College (BICC)
BICC has been there since 2005 helping to indoctrinate foreigners into the Chinese way of life through language and tangible culture acquisitions. For us it started at Maquanying, continued at the Sanlitun, Beijing downtown campus, and ended at Maquanying for the graduation.
The team of 28 African journalists from different countries in China for the media exchange arm of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) were shared into two classes for ease of learning. I fell in the team tutored and nurtured by an elegant and brilliant teacher, Ms. Gao Yuan (Gao laoshi) as fondly called, simply meaning Teacher Gao. In Chinese naming pattern, the surname or family name is always the first, therefore the nomenclature that puts her family name there instead of her given name. It is the same tradition for all Chinese and the other teachers.
It was an arduous task starting to learn a new and totally strange language as professionals, but it had to be learned because it was so needful. From step to step, Gao laoshi and Xi laoshi, the teacher for the second class, took the journalists along – from initial phonetics to the finals, to the convoluted tongue-twisters. This course was noy just essential for adaption, but had a more than mundane endorsement to it as a people’s culture is best understood through the linguistic expressions. There are definitely aspects of a culture that can never be adequately conveyed in its entire essence in another language or translated format.
The teachers’ approach to the duty made it not so complicated to follow. And from the commonest pleasantry – Ni Hao, to Ni hao ma?… we took on the interesting journey of revisiting the kindergarten class at old age.
So they adroitly took us from one lesson to the other to get the basics of Chinese needed in everyday life and interactions to a point that we shored up some confidence to walk into a supermarket or the subway station unaccompanied and communicated in truncated and battered Hanyu and got things done.
Outside the class, the Chinese has a penchant to pep you up to learn her language. For even the slightest Ni hao you manage to utter, the Chinese cheers you, almost clapping — ‘wow, your Chinese is so good.’ That way, you are encouraged to keep learning.
In the class, Gao laoshi, who like every average Chinese would not admit being so good at her duty, would applaud you for every word you manage to say, no matter how terribly pronounced.
BICC lectures eventually became one of the icings on our cake of being in China that someone like me excitedly waited for the lectures that happened an average of two hours a week for eight months.
The course was really a good effort to make one have the totality of Chinese way of life as we learnt Chinese paper cutting, cooking, arts, calligraphy, history of Chinese calligraphy, cake making that happened at the Moon Cake Festival, a major traditional event in China.
We attended the Willow Branch waving festivity where we stepped out in amazing Chinese native regalia and many more. The Beijing International kite flying event was not left out, just like visiting the Kung Fu masters at their temples and learning the basics of Taijin fitness art and two tours of the Great Wall.
Anyone that knows China, also knows they are people so passionate about their cultural identity and to China every aspect of the culture is a big issue. That is the reason the BICC even includes attending Chinese traditional operas in the curriculum.
Nothing could be more rewarding for an inquisitive foreigner than learning the way of life of distant worlds and that was an appetite the BICC kept wetting all through the period.
Eventually, the day came for us to practice the much we learnt, and it was like a compelling task to appreciate the teachers that laboured to put us through. Therefore, we had to step into rehearsals of songs, drama, dances, interviews – all in Chinese language for the graduation day. It was a big and memorable day, no doubt.
Since the inception of the BICC, 11 years as at the time we enrolled, the College had engaged in teaching and training foreign students and diplomats in Beijing in Chinese language and other cultural aspects and from my experience, it is a brief, I am sure has yielded good dividends. BICC, I know and read about has kept faith with ensuring that the world knows China more and better through it.
As one of the tens of thousands that have become alumni of the BICC, I didn’t just pass through it, but hold very fond and enduring memories of that wonderful learning turf that etched in me the proud heritage of China’s way of life and still propels me, close to a year after leaving China, to still study the language as a duty at least twice a week.
I left the BICC, walked out of the gate with a promise and resolve in me that one day, I would speak fluent Chinese to say to my teachers in BICC that I appreciate them, I love the Chinese way of life and the reason for which BICC is there.