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Tauranga Scholarship winners thank NZCFS at Conference

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Lucy Ketel, speaking, and Lauren Anning at NZCFS Conference, Nelson 2015
Lucy Ketel, speaking, and Lauren Anning at NZCFS Conference, Nelson 2015. (Photo by Judy Livingstone, Christchurch branch)

Lucy Ketel and Lauren Anning, as winners of the BoP Cultural Scholarship Awards, were chosen to go to China this year, 2015.  They are from Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand.  They both spoke about their experiences in China at the New Zealand China Friendship Society’s National Conference held in Nelson, May, 2015. The ‘Bay of Plenty Cultural Scholarship to China’ was made possible with the support of the NZCFS ‘Simon Deng Li Fund

 

Lucy’s speech is below (and is followed by Lauren’s speech):

Good morning everyone. My name is Lucy Ketel, and I am a year 12 student from Tauranga Girls College. I was lucky enough to be chosen to visit China for one month this year [2015] over the April holidays. Today, Lauren and I would also like to share with you our Chinese experience in Nanchang.

I went on the Arts scholarship [Bay of Plenty Cultural Scholarship to China] as I am heavily involved with music inside and out of school. I play the cello, saxophone, and attempt to sing a little.

Because I arrived one week late, I missed out on some of the music experiences, so I did not have the opportunity to get together with other students during their music class. However, my host sister played piano so we played a couple of duets together, and sung a couple of songs together on the guitar. We found a common interest in some american singers and bands which sparked great conversation!
 I also have a great passion for fashion design and sewing. The arts are a huge part of my life, which I am very passionate about, so I was delighted to be given this opportunity to experience the arts in China.  A highlight was visiting the fashion university and what some students had created provided some inspiration for my project at school this year. 
 During our visit, we met many local Chinese. We interacted a lot with them when we went shopping at the markets.  Trying to discuss prices and ask questions about the products took a lot of effort. At times it was very difficult to communicate with them as they didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak Chinese, but we got by! We met many different people of all ages. I loved chatting to those who could understand me as I could ask them questions about what life in China was like. It was extremely rewarding creating so many friendships with such amazing people. I think one of my favourite encounters was early one morning when I woke up to go to the park. There were many people playing badminton which I enjoy, and after only watching everyone play for a minute, I was given a racket and invited to join in and play. It was so lovely just to join in with what everyone was doing, and play such a fun game.

One of my favourite things was meeting the school and university students and getting to know more people my age.  I am quite a sociable person so I found that I really enjoyed getting to know so many new people and learning about their lives in China, and what it was like to be a young Chinese student. I remember talking to one student who was particularly interested in astronomy. We talked for a long time, and he taught me a lot about space in a very short time. I was astounded by this young man’s intense passion for astronomy and how he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he had finished school. I was also extremely impressed by how well and naturally he spoke English.

I made many friends in China! I met my host-sister’s friends at school and we all got along very well.  We spent a lot of time together, often seeing each other during school or after. One of my favourite nights with my host family was when my host-sister and I met up with some of her friends at a mall and hung out together. We had coco, a delicious milk tea, and explored all the shops. I created a bracelet with all our names on it. Here in New Zealand I live far out in the country, so it is hard to spend time with my friends outside of school, but in China I would see my friends every day. It was also lovely to meet the other New Zealand and German students visiting China at the same time.

I found family life to be very different. I woke up at the same time as I usually did, but then had a quick breakfast and then straight off to school. I would then come home for lunch, head back to school and then come home again for dinner. On the weekends I spent most of my time with my host-sister and her friends. We went to the movies, the zoo and did some sight-seeing around Nanchang. I found it interesting that everyone just ate when it suited them. My own family usually has a sit- down dinner all together so we have one chance a day to catch up and see one another. However, in China it seemed to be normal not to see a family member for the whole day, as it suited everyone to eat at different times.

The biggest difference between my Chinese home life to my New Zealand home life was the fact that I found I had to do very little housework. At home I am often doing an odd job for mum or dad, and cleaning up after dinner, but in China it was all done for me. This was a strange, new experience but definitely something I could get used to! When I did try to help, I was told off and instructed to leave my dishes on the table and not clean up. This is completely different from everything I have ever experienced, and it gave me a sudden realisation that yes, we WERE in a different culture and that Chinese culture was very different from what I was used to.

I thought life would be extremely different between myself and my host sister, but I found that we shared more similarities then I originally thought. We shared worries such as school and what would come next, but we also shared similar interests such as music and food. I realised that we had quite similar weekends and that we spent our spare time doing the same things, such as practising instruments or catching up with friends. I found that living the life of a 15 year old Chinese girl was certainly different and hard work! It made me really appreciate the dedication that my host sister brought to everything she was involved with.

A highlight of the trip was visiting Hong Gu Tan [a district of Nanchang] and the Nanchang Eye [aka Star of Nanchang]. It was something that excited all of us for we had been planning it since we arrived in Nanchang. We all split up into smaller groups and had a cart. The best bit was when we were right up the top and could see over Nanchang. Because it was night time, the city was shining bright with all the lights, and we could see animations being projected from one building to another.

Another was visiting the ancient village and learning more about China’s history. It was a cool day, so we were wrapped up warmly, but after a while of walking up the street we soon warmed up. The scenery was breathtaking. At the back of the village there were a number of steps that led us to a great big lake and gave us a great vantage point of the surrounding farmlands. I couldn’t take enough photos! This was perhaps one of my favourite places that we visited in China as it was so beautiful and made me realise what an amazing country China was and what it has to offer everyone.

The Lushan Mountain were also a highlight of the trip, but hard work! There were hundreds of steps down, and hundreds of steps back up again! I didn’t reach the bottom, but those who did, said they were amazed by the stunning view. We met some people on the way down who asked for photos, and they were very friendly. I was fascinated by the surrounding bamboo, as it was so big, nothing like anything I have ever seen in New Zealand. Along the track there were many places to stop and catch our breath which was handy, and take more photos.

John Hodgson, of the NZCFS Tauranga branch, is the prime mover in organising the Bay of Plenty Cultural Scholarship to China with the support of the NZCFS Simon Deng Li Fund.  Looking back at John’s purpose , which was to give us a complete China experience in Nanchang, I can wholeheartedly say that this was a huge success. Never did I think that I would have such an incredible opportunity and looking back on the trip, I have realised how valuable this experience was.

It was amazing to experience Chinese culture, as I believe I learnt a lot from those who I met. The great thing about music is that unlike languages, everybody understands it, so when we played music together or just listened, everyone enjoyed it and could fully appreciate it, without the barrier of different languages or miscommunication getting in the way.

We DID have a complete Chinese experience, as we just dived into the culture and figured it out from there. We were both blown away by how different China is from New Zealand, but amazed at what an incredible country it is, and astounded at the kindness and generosity of the people living there. This has been an eye-opening experience, and something I will always look back on with the fondest of memories. Thank you!

Lucy Ketel

Lauren Anning’s speech:

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, my name is Lauren Anning. I am 17 years old and I’m in my last year at Bethlehem College in Tauranga. Last April a group of students from the Bay of Plenty spent a month in Nanchang, China. The NZCFS provided us with this wonderful opportunity. Before heading off we knew very little about China and its people. However after spending just one month in Nanchang, we have had a complete China experience. We now have a much deeper understanding and appreciation for this amazing country and its people.

Today it is our privilege to share with you our complete China experience in Nanchang, the ‘Hero City’ [Editor’s note: The People’s Liberation Army was ‘born’ there].

Student Life

For over half our stay in Nanchang we were each billeted with a host family. It was an interesting experience to live amongst the typical Chinese household. It was extremely fascinating and eye opening to participate, observe and embrace the day-to-day routines of my host family.

A typical school day for my host sister Emily, seemed from the outset a very busy schedule but for her it was an ordinary way of life. I must say that I am extremely thankful for the fairly relaxed routine that we [New Zealand] school students have over here. Emily would wake up just after 6, start school at 7:30, and go until 9 o’clock at night, obviously stopping for lunch and dinner in between. After her night class she would come home and study till 11 or 12 at night. On average she would do schoolwork for about 10 hours a day. I highly respect her dedication and commitment to her studies along with many other Chinese students. Emily takes about 10 subjects this year, I really surprised her when I said I only take 5. I remember a conversation I had with her when she mentioned that studying was ‘magical’. It really blew me away to think how much they value their education and the opportunity to study and improve their skills. It was great to attend a few classes with Emily and be able to see how they worked in school. On average there was about 50-60 people per class, the teachers would often speak into a microphone with a small speaker attached to themselves, so the whole class could hear them.

I noticed in a few schools we visited that outside most classrooms there would be a hanging board with a quote written on it. I really think they are a great idea, because they have the potential to inspire and motivate the students. I believe some schools in New Zealand could benefit by adopting this sort of creativity. The students jumped at the chance to have even the smallest conversation with native English speakers, they worked extremely hard on perfecting their pronunciation of English words. I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with them and gaining insight into what they valued most, which was family and their education.

Food Culture

One of my favourite aspects of China would have to be the food. If I had to choose whether I preferred western or Chinese food the most, I would have to lean towards the Chinese food, this is not just because of how it tastes but actually to how it’s prepared and cooked, eaten and enjoyed. They put a lot of time and energy into creating delicious food. I remember when I helped my host mum prepare dinner one night, we sat at the table on little stools for about an hour continuously peeling layer upon layer of some sort of runner bean. Although it did take a while, the dish was amazing. For most of the meals that we ate in China, we used chopsticks, so as a result at the end of our trip, we all had the art of using chopsticks perfected.

Lunch and dinner were pretty much the same: they consisted of a bowl of sticky rice and a few vegetable and meat dishes. I found it very interesting how my host mum would use a single wok to cook all the different vegetable and meat dishes in. In the kitchen there was no oven or microwave and that applied to many other Chinese households as well.  She would often cook with fresh vegetables from the local market. However, the Chinese do not like to waste food so a few times I found myself eating the leftover lunch I had that day for dinner the same night. My host family were very generous with food: after every meal I was completely filled to the brim.

During popular eating times of breakfast, lunch and dinner, there would be a lot of food stalls set up on the streets. Some stalls were strategically placed just outside of the school gates, so often students would buy cheap meals on the go. Popular foods that the stalls would sell were fruit on a stick, dumplings, savoury crepes and steamed buns. When walking down the street, passing all these stalls, you would every so often be hit with a different smell. Some of which were pleasant and some were not so pleasant: some stalls would cook what we liked to call ‘smelly tofu’, whenever we walked past one of these stalls we would know it and we’d subtly try and hold our breath.

We were privileged enough to go to some amazing restaurants that served all sorts of interesting foods. At the restaurants, the tables were often round with a Lazy Susan in the middle for the food to go on. We all collectively had a favourite dish, this was the hong shou rou, which is a delicious pork dish. Whenever it appeared on the table we all dug in happily. Soup would normally be served first then the vegetable and meat dishes and the rice last.

This was the typical layout at the table: each get a packet of napkins, utensils, soup bowl, a glass cup and a plate. Often they would give us hot water to wash our cutlery and bowls with. I really liked the fact that some restaurants would pour you a glass of green tea to aid digestion or drinking yogurt to help you cope with the spiciness of some dishes. There would be at least one very spicy dish at the table which most of us couldn’t resist trying.  However we soon regretted going overboard: when later our eyes started to water and our faces went a bright red. For all of us, eating out was a very interesting and exciting experience, especially when we got to go to the hotpot restaurants. These were our favourite: at each table there would be a big pot of boiling stock usually separated in half with the hot and spicy stock on one side and the mild on the other. You would be given a selection of raw vegetables and meat and it would be up to you to cook them the way you liked it. The restaurants were fairly noisy, as they were full of lively discussions.  It was really cool to experience these restaurants, not only with the group we went with, but with the locals themselves, we all felt very welcome and a part of the Chinese community.

Transport

The transport over in Nanchang was completely different to here in New Zealand. Throughout the day, there was a continuous bustling movement on the roads. I remember the one time I rode on the back of Emily’s friend’s scooter, one moment we were driving on the footpath, the next we were on the wrong side of the road dodging all the cars and then thankfully we arrived home safely. I must say that, that was one of my favourite experiences over in China, it was so exhilarating but nerve-wracking at the same time. Despite the continuous honking of horns and mild road rage that you would expect in all countries, I believe that the Chinese are very skilled drivers. I don’t know of many people in New Zealand who can swerve in and out of moving traffic without getting a single scratch to their car or able to drive on moped-infested roads and not hit at least one in a million. I found most of the drivers to be very observant and quick to react.

My host family and I travelled to the country side to visit their relatives for the tomb-sweeping festival. To get there, we went on about 3 buses, 1 taxi and a minivan. I have never been in a more crowded bus in my life: it was bursting with people and it really didn’t help because the weather was very humid. Even though this wasn’t one of the most pleasurable experiences I had, I am so glad for it, because it was very eye-opening. I was able to get a small taste of what it was like to be a local, travelling around the city. One thing that really did surprise me was when we were waiting for a bus, I was watching another bus fill up with people. I stood there as I saw a lady pass her small baby through the back window into her husband hands, then climb through the window herself onto the bus. I really didn’t expect to see this! But these little interesting moments I will remember.

Our complete China experience in Nanchang was extremely unforgettable. The friendships and connections we had made are still in existence today and I am sure we will continue to keep in touch with our lovely friends. Thank you very much to the NZCFS for providing us with this wonderful opportunity. It was a privilege to be an ambassador for New Zealand and share our culture with the Chinese people. This trip has definitely strengthened our relationship with China and I am sure this relationship will continue to grow. As a young person I recognise the important role that we play in creating and maintaining existing and future friendships with China. It is an absolute honour to be a part of this great organization. Thank you.

Lauren Anning