Am I the only one who gets super nostalgic every time I get on a flight? There’s something about traveling home (especially when traveling alone) that just begs for reflection. As you’ve probably guessed from the title of this post, my time in China is nearing the end! These past ten days flew by all too quickly, and I can’t believe how much I learned about the textile and apparel industry, but also about the culture and history of China. As with every new destination I visit, this country exceeded all of my expectations!
Over the past weeks, I've talked a lot about apparel and garments and dyes and fabrics and finishes and factories and fashion. But I've also been interacting with Chinese people, learning about their country, and seeing with my own eyes the beauty of this unique place! I came to China with certain expectations and beliefs (some of which were met, others of which were proven wrong) and I want to share some of the insights I’ve made that stand out most to me.
1. BEING AN AMERICAN IN CHINA
I totally expected to be a viewed as a novelty in China. In addition to being American, I'm blonde and (tragically) pale. As a group, we're fashionable, sunglasses-and-scarf-wearing young girls, so in areas that are rarely visited by foreigners, it was no surprise that we attracted attention. I was, however, surprised by the way we were greeted with so much curiosity and admiration. Many people asked us for photos and selfies, but even more people just stood at an awkward distance and took photos of us as we walked along the streets and shopped in markets. I'm sure if we were in Beijing or Shanghai, it wouldn't have been this way (not a single person has looked at me curiously since I've arrived at Pudong Airport, except maybe the waiter who saw me pour my gin with a bit of a heavy hand) but since we were in less touristy areas for the majority of the trip, we created a bit of a scene! Of course the highlight of this for me was on Day 8 when I was gifted a baby by a particularly eager tourist, but all in all it was fascinating to see how our presence was received in different cities. Being from America, where pretty much every nationality, race, and culture is represented in some way, it’s hard to imagine the sensation our “admirers” in China felt upon seeing Americans, a rare sighting in their country.
2. THE FOOD
EVERYONE who had traveled to China previously warned me about the food. I'm not a very picky eater (I’ll try pretty much anything at least once) but I'm an unapologetic germaphobe, so I sometimes have trouble finding food while traveling abroad (if you ever forget Purel, I am your go-to gal). Luckily, we were with amazing hosts who made sure all of our unique tastes and dietary restrictions were accounted for at each meal. After having Chinese food for 10 days straight, I'm so excited to have a nice, American-style salad as soon as I get home! All in all, the food wasn't bad, but it was different, so if you're traveling to China soon, don't expect to be indulging in General Tso's or Sweet and Sour Chicken. And definitely pack snacks (Goldfish crackers, granola bars, boxes of raisins, whatever gets you through the day). And plan to eat a LOT of rice (seriously. A LOT of rice. I had rice almost every single meal)!! Another thing about Chinese food is that they often serve their animal dishes with the animals in full form, so expect to see duck heads and shrimp with their legs still attached at your dinner table! You might even catch an occasional glimpse of a chicken eye if you’re lucky!!
3. THE PEOPLE OF CHINA
ARE WONDERFUL. Every single person we met was ready to welcome us into their worlds, to share their stories and their knowledge, and to learn about us! I was a bit worried about the language barrier because let's be real, if you don't speak Chinese how they heck are you supposed to understand all these symbols???? But each person we interacted with was patient and generous. The culture of China involves so much respect and generosity, and as guests of the country we really did experience that first hand. One of our chaperones explained to me that in China, family and relationships are more important than business, and you are more respected if you are a good person as opposed to if you’re wealthy. Even when business relationships end, many people often stay close friends. I found this to be such a refreshing contrast from America, where many people are more concerned about their income and their personal success than the wellbeing of those around them. At each factory we visited, we learned that the owners had some relationship with the Jiao family, whether they previously did business together or were friends from other circumstances. Because of their friendships, they allowed us into their facilities, and they took time out of their busy days to teach us about their companies. This is just one example of the many inspiring instances of generosity we encountered throughout our trip.
Each time I travel, I remember that this world is big, but we are more alike than we are different. Traveling allows you to build understanding, tolerance, and appreciation for people from all walks of life. While it's impossible to underscore the privilege of growing up in a free & fair country like America, it's also important to remember that there are many ways of living that make many people happy. In this time of particular political turmoil, we can protest and we can complain, but the only true remedy is education, understanding, and appreciation. Learn from each other. Listen to others points of views and perspective. Understand why they think this way, and what it is that makes your opinions different or similar. Appreciate the ability to be alive, to think, and to comprehend. This beautiful, miraculous, diverse world we live in has so much for us to discover and explore. To remain in a bubble or to seek out the unknown: the choice is yours!
As for me, I'm taking a break from world travels for a bit, but next on my list is either a return to India or a new adventure in Botswana or Zimbabwe. Where will I end up next? Only time (and United’s airfare pricing) will tell!
As I take the last few sips of my long awaited G&T and prepare to board my flight home, I'm again eternally thankful for each and every person and course of action that led me to this trip. I am forever grateful to the Jiao Family, who generously coordinated this entire trip, and to Professor Jooyoung Shin, who taught us so much about China this past semester and made this trip possible! I'm also thankful for my parents, who have always provided me with the greatest gift: the opportunity to explore and see the world. Also thank you to Lena and Mrs. Jiao for answering our questions and serving as wonderful translators! And to Uncle and Mr. Chu for transporting us from city to city and taking the best photos along the way! Oh and also to each factory and company that welcomed us into their facilities, shared their stories with us, and helped us better understand the complicated process of apparel production. I'm so grateful for Cornell University and all the travel opportunities I've been provided as a student. This past week has added so much to my knowledge of the industry I adore so dearly and the world I long to understand.
My time in China is nearly done, and after a 15 hour plane flight, I'll be back in the states and back to reality! Thank you all for following along (especially MomMom Applebaum, who read every single post!! I love you MomMom!!). I hope through sharing my experiences in China, I was able to provide you all with a better understanding of what it really means to be "Made in China."
Until next time!!