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Clothes Lines and Open Minds

 Hannah Garland is studying in Qingdao, China on a U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship.

“Hello, I would like to buy a long line that you can hang up on things, like in a room, and can then hang clothes on it to dry. Where are those in your store?”

“…*blank look*…”

“Excuse me, I asked if your store has those long lines.”

“…Um…*look of pity at the foreigner* Let me help you look…I don’t think we do. Sorry, try the next aisle.”

“Ok, thanks. (Thinking: The next aisle?? Why can’t you lead me to the next aisle??)

Next aisle:

“Hello, I would like to buy a long line that you hang clothes on to dry.”

“Yes, we have those. Here they are.” *Points to an electrical cord*

“Um… I do not think that I can hang wet clothes on an electrical cord. That is dangerous.”

“Then, no, we don’t have any.”

“Ok…”

I then proceed to walk to the next aisle and find the CLOTHES LINES (which I do not know how to say in Chinese) hiding underneath the hanger isle. Yes, underneath.

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I have been living in Qingdao, China for almost three weeks now, for the main purpose of studying Chinese intensively. I have class daily, followed by tutoring and then several hours of homework. Though this sounds frightening, I am slowly learning how to manage my schedule so that I have the most possible time to go out and explore the city. Exploring cities in China, however, involve not only going out, sightseeing, taking pictures, etc, but many cultural aspects that one might not realize they will encounter. It is good to not be too shocked by these things when they occur, so to help, I will list a few personal tips and stories about life in China.

1. “Beware of her fair hair.” – Goethe

In China (Beijing and Shanghai are not as bad), if you are a foreigner and have a hair color other than black, people will take pictures of you. This can happen in front of a tourist destination, while you are walking to class, or even while riding a crowded bus (that is definitely the most awkward). At first I was a little annoyed when people would take pictures without asking me (like on the bus…awkward), but now I am getting used to it. As the Chinese always say, “Don’t think too much.” Follow their example on this one and ignore it.

2. Hot water is good for you.

Well, at least that’s what my Chinese friends tell me. Whether hot water is good for you or not, you will be drinking it at every meal. If you don’t like the taste, take some tea leaves to the restaurant and stick them in the tea pot. Everyone at the table will be grateful…especially other foreigners who don’t like hot water either.

3. Invest in a backpack dictionary.

In situations where you need to buy a clothes line (which is not literally translated “clothes line” in Chinese) or need to figure out how to tell someone about your allergy shots, it is really important to have some small kind of dictionary, in paper or on your phone, that you can rely on. Though it can be entertaining describing what a clothes line is to someone for twenty minutes, a dictionary can save unnecessary miscommunication, especially in important situations.

4. Don’t be afraid to try new things…

…as long as it is a safe situation or food that is well cooked. Though I already kind of regret trying the grilled starfish from the roadside cart, it is an experience that I will never forget. Great stories and lessons come from trying new things, making some mistakes, and learning how to do something right the next time. China is a land of new things, so it is quite important that one goes in with an open heart and mind, excited about what she is going to face.

Though there are countless lessons that can be learned in China, these are the ones I have time to list right now. Over the past few weeks, I have learned so many things. One main lesson, however, that has been hammered into me these past weeks is that of flexibility. Once you are more flexible about your life, you have the freedom to enjoy things, though they may at first seem a little unconventional. If you are not flexible, you will only end up being angry that things did not unfold the way in which you planned. Be flexible and enjoy the journey!