Dare I say, at risk of sounding standoffish, that I have never truly ‘felt’ culture shock? I get so excited about travel that I don’t notice it. Ironically though, culture shock hit me on my first day here – ironically as it is the first time I had gone to a place I had studied about extensively. More ironically, I felt it when I was in the company of Westerners.
One of the most fascinating ironies about it was in the opportunity to practise the language. You’d be a foreigner, speaking to a local in straight Chinese, and they’d reply to you in English. Perhaps they’d assume you won’t understand their reply … or just that practise goes both ways. Though I must say, they will reply in Chinese more often than the Chinese in Australia, where some Australian Chinese may take your attempts to practise as your perception of them as foreigners in a land that is as much theirs as it is yours.
But even if I don’t get culture shock, there’s one part of travel where I always get nervous – it’s approaching a destination. With all the moving and shuttling around to get your bearings on the first day, it’s difficult to get that much of a cultural experience. And for a city where most commuting is done by subway, every journey has a unique allure. You see nothing of the neighbourhoods you pass. And most stations in the Beijing Metro look fairly similar, giving it a uniform, utilitarian feel.
This only fuels my curiosity even further … and it makes the end of every journey, regardless of how seemingly mundane, particularly interesting, something like a ‘moment of truth’. What is the neighbourhood like? Where am I, really? Perhaps it’s one of those things that makes the journey there almost as exciting as the destination itself.