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What I've learned in China

By Keita Moussa | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2019-08-02 14:32

The author and his friends are celebrating the graduation of some colleagues who finished this year in Jinhua, Zhejiang province. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

On the tarmac of Pudong International Airport, through the window, I immediately realized that the seas and great distances could keep individuals prisoners of discoveries and therefore knowledge. From Conakry, the capital of the Republic of Guinea, to Shanghai Pudong International Airport, everything seemed different, and nothing seemed to be the same. Tossed around by the airport services and in contact with the foreign Chinese language, a feeling of shock and hallucination overwhelmed me. As for the hollow feeling in my belly, I could no longer discern it as I took those first steps to reach my destination: a university located in Jinhua, Zhejiang province.

The university’s northern gate, known in Chinese as the beimen, is now associated with a life of small businesses of all kinds, which can satisfy all students, Chinese and foreign alike. Restaurants, hair salons and manicures for young women, creameries and cafés abound. A whole New York-style life replaces that of a Chinese cowboy town from 4 pm. All the young people – black, yellow and white -- mix together like a cosmopolitan district. Once again, it feels like an open fashion show all over the world. At the northern gate, everyone finds a taste for appreciating the much loved perimeter, and it is here that the first contacts with Chinese third parties outside of the university are made. Since I’ve hardly prepared much food, I then spotted a restaurant offering quality meals at a low price. That's where I've been eating for over two years. And since habits are hard to break, I can no longer go a day without eating the food. All the staff members know me. As soon as we enter the restaurant, these hardworking people flash their smiles when they hear my Chinese name: masa, masa, masa!

Yiwu, the city located less than 50 kilometers from Jinhua that includes my university, is also a center for international trade. The Frenchman Bernard de la Villardière used all the superlatives in the attempt to describe Yiwu’s market during his presentation in Enquête Exclusive. The night market of Yiwu, a long corridor extending over a kilometer where merchants of all kinds gather together, has a frenetic atmosphere until 2 am. Most Africans think that the Chinese have discovered everything that is edible in nature, and the market serves up some fascinating proof for this. I discovered a line in this night bazaar selling only unusual foods. They dished up insects of all kinds. I observed the hardworking salesman, fighting against the smoke he was struggling to control on his apron of scorpion skewers, a rather popular street food. In Yiwu, the variety of foods I witnessed has had a profound effect on me -- as a Chinese saying goes, seeing once is worth hearing something a hundred times. Since in China you have to do like the Chinese, I have expanded my food choices, adding bamboo and giant frog. These are excellent dishes that I will not hesitate to eat when the opportunity arises again.

My stay in China has proved a life-changing experience. As a Guinean with an education between the traces of a dying Mandinka tradition and a strong dose of Islam, I’ve had to learn so much in this country all over again. Living in China and trying to understand certain cultural and social codes requires the same precepts as those of the wise Mandinka, who says to his new student: "If you want to know who I am, stop being what you are and forget everything you know." So you can see why I’ve described my stay in China as a rebirth.

Because China is a vast and diverse country, the great harmony shown by its society deserves praise. The very life of the individual being a journey is made up of challenges that are both happy and dangerous. But nothing is to be lost, because each experience gives way to learning. For me, China is a lesson that I will never stop revising and using until my last breath.

Keita Moussa is a student researcher at the Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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