Today was our 9th meeting and it was quite multiple. First we met front of Tampereen Tuomiokirkko, because Julia wanted to see it. In my opinion it is the most beautiful church in this city. We were there and discussed a bit about religion, Hugo Simberg’s art (the artist who has done paintings in that church) and what church does with donations. Orthodox and Lutheran churches look very different.
After the church we went to a small and cozy cafe called Runo. It is one of my favorite cafes here, because it is so small and nice and not too full of people. We had some coffee and cakes. Julia told me that in Russia they have Easter now, one week after our Easter. We were talking about Easter foods and traditions and I learnt a lot about them.
We had my kids with us, so after cafe we went to Pikkukakkonen park. Kids could play and we could have more peace to talk. Julia gave me a small Russian book written for kids and told me that it will be easy to read. In that park I tried to translate 2 of the stories from the book. It was hard, but nice. She helped me a lot. Some words were diminutives from words which basic form I have only learnt and some words were completely new to me. The funniest thing in the book was crocodiles who loved to eat rubber boots. I like the book, but it is a bit too hard to me even it is meant for kids. Anyways, good opportunity to study more.
During our final meeting we told each other more about the famous touristic hotspots and how worth they are to actually go and visit. We can all find the main attractions in a country when we want to visit it, but how many times do you find out later that it really is just that, a touristic attraction where you are herded like cattle and you can barely see any of the beauty you were looking for? The locals usually know the which spots really are worth a visit and which are better replaced by something similar, yet less touristy.
The three most important things I should not forget to visit, and which I probably won’t forget to visit, are the most well known ones as well. The Great Wall, a division between dynasties from the old days, is very important to visit. Not only tourists love to visit this place, also the Chinese make an effort to visit it. There have always been great walls in the history of China, since every dynasty built their own.
The second place to visit is the forbidden city. They did remind us that if we do, not to forget our passports, as you don’t get in without it. And the third place that requires a visit is the Hall of Supreme Harmony. It’s a beautiful place in which all the great emperors of China get buried.
They had a lot more they could have shown us, but they decided to stick with the traditional Chinese places. Nowadays China is a lot more open than it used to be, and this has influence on the bigger cities in China, which are turning more western now.
The weather is finally good again! So, as you’re supposed to in this weather, we too headed outside. While my parents at home were having our traditional Easter barbecue, we did the same here in Tampere. Chinese style, so to say. They had invited us to join them and their friends for a barbecue at their place. And although it was a Chinese style barbecue, it was also partly Finnish style. The kinds of barbecues that are at the studentbuildings require real fire to cook on. Something which made it a little more difficult at first. Luckily, it turns out that Dutch people are very well equipped at building fires. Not speaking about me, obviously, but Ryan got the fire going in the end and we were able to eat! It was fun to see how different cultures do barbecues so differently. Of course the main idea is probably the same everywhere: meat on the grill. However, it turns out we are not such big meat eaters in The Netherlands, compared to different cultures. Of course we don’t have as much meat at my home as some other Dutch families probably do, but even still, probably half of our meal at least exists of things other than meat. It’s differences that slightly, that make this course so fun.
Festivals come in all different sorts. The Chinese festivals are very different from the Dutch festivals. If in The Netherlands you talk about festivals, you usually speak about music festivals, one of the things The Netherlands has become quite famous for, thanks to the many great Dutch DJ’s that rule the house and dance scene. In China however, they manage to have many different national holidays which are celebrated in big.
The most famous festival, which is not only celebrated in China, is Chinese New Year. It’s one of those festivals that is celebrated differently, depending on where in the country you are. They told me with stress not to visit the Cantonese areas during this festival, as you would probably end up eating things like rat and dog. Things that don’t attract me at the least, being a vegetarian. One of the things I was most curious about, as a European, is what we call the ‘dragons’. I was immediately corrected, that they were not in fact dragons but lions. Apparently, the lions are going extinct. Only the older people in the community still know how to do the lion dance, and many young people are no longer interested in learning. The lion dances are mostly still done for tourists and in the various Chinatowns over the world, to keep the traditions of their culture alive in those places.
They also have a tradition which you could probably compare best to the Mexican festival of ‘The Day of the Dead’, for as much as I know about that festival. The Chinese use lanterns to scare away the angry ghosts, and food and money from the ‘bank of heaven’ to celebrate their past relatives.
The best thing about their festivals is probably all the stories behind every festival and tradition. While we in The Netherlands usually only celebrate Christian holidays, with very biblical stories, which as an Atheist, don’t mean much to me. I never knew much about all the festivals and the different kinds of food that go with each of them. It sounds like they like to celebrate everything in China.
The next meeting was held at the most Finnish place you will ever find Dutchies and Chinese together: the sauna. Never would I have thought to be having a meeting for a course in the sauna. For one, because sauna’s are not exactly something you find a lot back at home. Also, when you’ve got a meeting back at my home university for a course, the sauna is not a very convenient spot to meet, as laptops are 100% of the time very essential to work. It was fun to have a meeting with the Chinese guys in the sauna, as for some of them it was the first time going to the sauna. Everybody responds differently the first time, and I think it’s fair to say that the response of the Chinese was not much different from any of the others I have seen so far. For many of my friends it was the first time as well when they got here, so I have seen many peoples responses to the hot room and the ice cold lake. From early defeat to bravery, if you’ve never done it before, it’s not a cultural thing how you respond. That has been made very clear to me.
The sixth meeting was in the theme of basic language and daily greetings. I don’t know if there is any language that is further from Dutch than Chinese, and this was very noticeable in how well my learning progress went. Trying to figure out the sounds they are making is maybe just as hard as trying to figure out what their hands do when they write. The characters they use are just as hard to create as the sounds that go with them. The Chinese language is particularly hard in the sense that the way you pronounce a sound, determines the word you are saying. The, for me, exact same sound could have completely different meanings if you don’t pronounce it correctly. And then there were certain sounds my throat doesn’t even know how to make. It was fun learning more words than the standard ‘ni hao’ that we all know, however I’m convinced that if I ever said the words they taught me to a Chinese person, they would probably have no idea what I was trying to say because of my horrible pronunciation.
When we learn Chinese, they need to learn Dutch! I think the most common thing in our pronunciation of words that foreigners struggle with is the way we pronounce the ‘g’. And there are many, MANY, words in the Dutch language that contain this beautiful sounding letter. The biggest misconception is that we say it in the back of our throat, which indeed does feel like you’re about to throw up. It is actually pronounced at the back of your tongue. This difference is something our Chinese friends couldn’t figure out either. Kind of satisfying to be honest, after us trying to pronounce sounds they had no trouble with.
I don’t know how much of it either one will remember, but I remember again how difficult it is to learn a new language.
After having a Chinese dinner, we could not stay behind and had to do a Dutch dinner as well. Only problem is, what the heck is ‘Dutch food’. We do not have a very rich cuisine in The Netherlands. In fact, the Dutch like to throw everything in the deepfryer, and that is basically how far the Dutch kitchen goes. Or mash it together. We do like that too. The problem for us, in contradiction to the Asian cuisine, there are no ‘Dutch supermarkets’ in any other place in the world. Without the ingredients we need, and the right kitchen equipment, it made it a little more difficult to serve the real good Dutch food. However, we were able to make some versions of traditional dishes. We made them some boerenkool, hutspot and huzarensalade with a dessert of appelflappen and stroopwafels. Although they did not seem to like all of it, I think they had a good time learning about our potato filled diet. And the Dutch desserts have never disappointed anybody!
The fourth meeting was held in one of the studentbuildings, Lapinkaari, where Ryan and I got to enjoy a nice, real Chinese dinner. Together with another each one teach one group, the Chinese guys had made us a buffet with all kinds of traditional Chinese dishes. And they were very different from what I usually get from the take-away Chinese in my hometown. Although we all knew that the Chinese food from the takeaway was very ‘Europeanised’, I had no idea how different the dishes would really be. It was all very delicious, and they even kept in mind that I don’t eat meat. It was all very well taken care off, and they were perfect hosts. It was a reminder for Ryan and me to step up our game when we would be the next to serve them Dutch food. Chinese people are great at hosting dinners and making sure their guests are comfortable. They tried to teach us how to make dumplings. Now I know I should never make my own dumplings. Having dinner with people from an Asian culture, showed how different our table manners are. We had the chance to talk about it as well during dinner, as well as about many other topics. It has been an interesting, delicious experience!
Our third meeting was held at the cafeteria at school, as that was the most convenient spot for all of us. With the comfort of a nice cup of coffee, we talked about the party culture in the different countries. Which turns out to be a lot more present in the Dutch culture, than in the Chinese culture. In the Chinese culture school is extremely important, which makes it hard for them to go out to parties until deep in the night. We also talked about the alcohol age limit, as that has had a big influence on our party culture. It turns out, Chinese people don’t have an age limit to drink alcohol. Their parents teach them to drink from a early age, as drinking alcohol is very important when doing business. Although my generation Dutch people were allowed to start drinking at 16 (which meant we started drinking around 14), and this had a huge influence on when we started going to the club (around that time), this was different for the Chinese. Going to the club was not really common, unless you’re from big cities like Shanghai or Hong Kong. Focus on your studies, whether this was in high school or university, is more important and many students spend their Friday nights studying. By the time they are out of school, they are often too old to take a liking in it. They told us that they had been to the club here in Tampere, but did not enjoy it much. They prefer to sit in a bar with alcohol and good company. They do like one sort of party, and everybody does, from children’s parties to business meetings, and that is karaoke.
During the second meeting with the Chinese guys, we mostly talked about the histories and the basic information of our countries. Since we both didn’t know much about our countries, it was fun to get into the history of how our countries came to be the way they are nowadays. I knew there was a very rich history in China with different dynasties, but I had no idea what this meant for their current, present day life. People are still very aware of what dynasty they are from and are even treated differently because of it sometimes. Compared to them, the Dutch ‘complicated’ history, is not so complex after all. They tried explaining us with the help of a video, but it did not get a lot clearer for me after it. I already have trouble remembering how The Netherlands became the country it is right now, from democratic republic back to a democratic monarchy, let alone having to remember all the different dynasties and when which dynasty ruled.
I don’t think however we managed to explain the Dutch history much better to them. As I said, the Dutch culture has gone many directions in the past and many countries have ruled The Netherlands. In orders I do not even know, let alone these people who have never heard of it before.
In the end, I can honestly say I learned a lot about Chinese culture, yet there is so much more to learn. Like every culture, the history explains a lot about the culture. So learning about the Chinese history has given me a slight idea of the culture.