Before my trip to china I did wonder if I would be able to connect with other people. I didn’t know any Chinese, nor did I not know anyone there. I also wondered if the cultural differences would be too extreme to make any friends. Where I live in England it is very multicultural. Growing up in school I had friends from all around the world so I was used to encountering different cultures. However I wasn’t used to travelling alone to a different country where seems so mysterious, so I was a bit nervous!
But since staying here a few weeks now I have found people to be more lenient with my cultural ignorance than I thought they would be. In fact they seem grateful for the opportunity to learn about my culture more than anything else, and they jump at the chance to learn some English too!
Through this I find I am making some precious memories and bonds here. At the monastery there are some kids that come from the village to help and volunteer. ole and me see them often and we have a great time together. We teach them English while we work and give them tests from time to time to see how much they can remember. We teach them simple phrases like “good morning”, “good afternoon”, and “see you tomorrow”. But the ironic thing is, is I actually find the kids teach me more than I teach them! They will point to everyday objects and shout their name in mandarin and then get me to repeat it until my accent sounds acceptable to them. It’s strange to see such happy, hardworking kids. I don’t believe I have ever met kids to be so grateful and respectful before I came here. One of my favorite days with them was when we all went to pick watermelons together. There were huge watermelons and looked even bigger when the small kids held them. One of the Monks came along with us too, and where he goes the villager kids will always go. They really look up to him, so I also see the true respect even from kids that is very valuable.
Another memory that I wont be forgetting easily will be the all those times, after a hard days work of chopping wood; a group of us will all go to have tea. The sense of accomplishment that we feel as we all sit down making jokes is something that I seldom have the pleasure of sharing with others. In England, when I work I feel so tried at the end of the day I won’t want to spend time with other people. It’s very isolating in that sense as most people I know will just want to go home to sit in front of the TV after working all day. So after my experience in England I am even more aware of it and I feel more grateful to be experiencing it now.
Instead of working together, sometimes we also like to talk, to share. Nicole is a huge help as she helps translate a lot of things for me. I get to hear everyone’s stories and perspectives and exchange my own, allowing me to relate to them on a deeper level. We all talk about buddhism and what it means to be buddhist, we also wonder about the definitions of certain words and we explore ideas and concepts.
I enjoy spending my time with them. I like finding out about their different personalities. One of the guys Nicole and me will call a “feeder” because everywhere we go he will always bring food for everyone. Even if we are completely stuffed he will insist on feeding us more. At some point after denying the food so many times, I just kind of give in and force myself to eat just to make him happy. One of the other guys we will call “The wise man” because he will constantly come out with some really interesting points or observations. Then there’s a guy who always makes jokes. He teaches me funny phrases in Chinese. this all just makes me realize that although we come from complete different worlds, we are just all the same on the inside; we are all human beings.
But don’t get me wrong: language is still a barrier especially when I am not with Nicole. We just manage to find ways through it. For example we use WeChat to message each other as it has an option on there to translate. It can make for some interesting conversations though because on occasion it wont translate correctly, making up some incoherent sentences. Another way that I communicate is through acting out what I want to say then hoping the other person understands. It just becomes a huge game of charades really, makes for some great laughable moments.
However I find some gestures communicate something words can never express. In my first few days here I had a lot of irritating mosquito bites covering my legs. One of the first few acts of kindness that stood out to me was when a girl, who had obviously noticed my discomfort, handed me with some cream to help with the itching. Here we didn’t understand each other on any level. This was my first time meeting her, and yet she was able to communicate to me that she cared and just wanted to help me. All this was said with out words, going beyond all barriers that I had built up in my head. I greatly appreciated that simple act, but after spending more time here I found that it didn’t stop there. People at this monastery just keep on giving. While staying here I got sick. One of the girls at the propaganda team that I work with supplied me with a heap of medicines to help aid me in my recovery. It’s just something I would never expect for someone to just do, I didn’t even have to ask. So I felt really looked after and cared for.
Or another unexpected gesture was when I was looking in the monastery’s shop to find beads for myself. However I didn’t end up getting them, I thought I would come back at another time when I had money on me. But next thing I know, the shopkeeper had bought them for me! These kinds of acts are very rare in England, yet it happens all the time here. It’s so alien to me.
There have been many more incidences like this and I feel so overwhelmed by all the kindness that I have received. I couldn’t be more grateful even if I tried. I have a tattoo on my arm saying “Be Kind.” to remind myself that kindness is so important. It’s so simple, yet it makes such a huge difference to our everyday lives. This place is just reaffirming my thoughts on that. I’m glad I am able to connect with others here, proving my past self wrong about the barriers. I seem to have made friends here regardless of where I come from, and I have gained many amazing memories that will never leave me. I read in a book once “Strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet” and I am starting to see the truth in that now. I am excited to see what friends I will be making on my next adventures!
Hope to meet you if next time I will be in the South Shao Lin Monastery. Thanks for reading my dairies here and Welcome to South Shao Lin Monastery to see and experience these amazing stuff.