By Si Thu Tun
My first few days in China still feel like yesterday, and yet next month will mark my two-year anniversary in the country. I have learned a lot over this period. I gained understanding of many things such as different cultural norms, customs and government processes. It can be particularly hard for an Asian-faced foreigner who cannot speak Chinese at all. Even ordering food at restaurants could be an ordeal. Everybody assumes I’m local until I mutter English or the wrong Chinese.
One amusing phenomenon is when Chinese people think I’m pretending to be a foreigner. Once on a bus with three doors, I was confused about where to exit. The two-door bus is simple: You get on from the front and exit from the back door. But I had never encountered a three-door bus in my country, so it was a bit confusing for me. I tried to exit from the middle door.
The bus attendant gave some instructions in Chinese that I didn’t understand. I only later realized that she told me to use the other door. Because I didn’t understand at the time, I blurted out the only Chinese sentence I could remember: “I can’t speak Chinese.” She was perplexed by this statement and said in Chinese “You are speaking Chinese right now.” Eventually a passenger who could speak English interpreted for both of us and I realized what she originally said.
And the weather in China and Myanmar is drastically different. Beijing’s air is dry the whole year while Myanmar is always very humid. My first winter in Beijing was like hell
froze over. I’ve never experienced that kind of cold before. In my country, a light jacket or a sweater is all you need the entire winter.
Becoming a Host
In retrospect, making short videos in China has provided extremely valuable experience. As a journalist, my regular tasks usually involved writing articles and commentary. But reporting in front of a camera is totally different. The video industry was totally foreign to me before I started at China Report Press.
I will never forget my first ever trip to Nanjing to host a video there. I was working with two young Chinese ladies—one was the director and the other a production assistant. After I worked with them and two local camera operators for three days in Nanjing, I learned everything about hosting and what was needed to effectively talk in front of a camera despite the distractions of curious passersby. After three or four videos, I felt totally comfortable talking on camera.
Going on trips to make videos is always a real treat. After traveling to many provinces and cities in China for work, I have had the chance to witness the development of China. Development can be seen not only in urban and metropolitan areas but also countryside and rural areas. Efforts to improve the living standards of Chinese farmers are fascinating.
After 40 years of reform and opening-up, everything has changed. I visited some villages on the outskirts of Beijing. When I arrived in such places, I wouldn’t know it was a village until my Chinese colleague called it that because everything looked so modern. Villages have electricity, orderly buildings with good looking designs and wide and clean streets. Some villages have small hostels where around 10 people can stay and enjoy a party for a reasonable price. The hostels are run by a company that distributes profits among villagers. This is one of Chinese government’s methods to improve villagers’ living standards. An official of the village explained that young villagers often move to urban areas to earn more money and improve their situation. As a result, many villages are hollowed out, with only seniors remaining. So Chinese government is working to lure young people back to their villages by promoting the development of villages and creating job opportunities.
After I attended a conference about ‘nested markets,’ I learned that China is implementing a direct market system for farmers. This will enable farmers to sell the agricultural products to the market directly.
Recently I visited a science laboratory at the Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development of Agriculture under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS). I learned about plant factories, which are highly efficient agricultural systems that facilitate continuous production of crops in a precisely controlled environment. It is a laborsaving model of agricultural production in which all environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, light, CO2 concentration and nutrients are controlled by computers, eliminating reliance on natural conditions. The most prominent feature of this model is independence from weather conditions. Another important feature is efficient and intensive use of water and land to yield tens or even 100 times the crops of an open field in natural cultivation, with less than 5 percent of water consumption.
I saw strawberry and grape plantations housed in glass at the top of the Institute’s building. The green house maintains the necessary temperature and water for plants through a water-based air-cooling system. Planting inside a container is also observed. Dr. Li Kun of the science laboratory explained that containers are mobile and can withstand harsh weather, making them suitable for deployment in many Southeast Asian countries. He also stressed that some such technologies are already being used by farmers.
Everyday I learned new things in China. When I first arrived, I was impressed by the Chinese subway, MRT, bike sharing and online payment systems. For me, China is unbelievable. I hope to continue exploring it in the future.