By Chen Xuefei
F rom March 2003 to April 2004, I stayed in New Zealand as a visiting scholar. It’s hard to describe my feelings and experiences over there. If I have to describe the place in one word the first thing that pops into my head is “beautiful”. But clearly, that‟s not enough: the longer I think about it the more I realize that a single word doesn‟t really do it justice, and it at least needs to be modified. “Absolutely beautiful” is what I‟ll leave you with for the time being. And the Kiwi people are very nice as you can always hear a “hello” even you just meet them in the street. The following are a few segments of my unforgettable experiences in New Zealand.
Beautiful Campus in A Beautiful City
It was a rainy morning when I arrived on the campus. I stood in front of the University of Canterbury‟s Students’ Union Building waiting for Head of Department Jim Tully to pick me up. I was stunned by the beautiful trees growing all over the campus. There was a maple forest before my eyes and most of the maple leaves were red or yellow. I couldn’t help thinking: “This is exactly the place where I‟d like to stay.” Jim arrived. Then, much to my surprise, he went to buy some birthday cake for one of the 20 students in Graduate Diploma in Journalism class. Jim remembers everybody’s birthday and buys some cake to help add a “sweet” element to the special day. As we got to the classroom, it was almost time for the next class. Jim introduced me to the 20 students and then began the class focusing on objective reporting in journalism. To improve my skills and get to know more about journalism in the west, I joined this class. I almost got lost when I tried to go back to the bus stop after class as the campus is, especially for someone who has just arrived, a little confusing. It’s huge and well forested, with trees and flowers everywhere. Fortunately, there is a map almost in every corner and an arrow to show where you are. When I left the campus, I ended up in another beautiful place, Hagley Park. The park is located between my apartment and the campus, and I pass through it everyday. It’s a huge park, and if you walk around it, it takes more than an hour. Most of the trees in the park are hundreds of years old; but there is at least one tree which is very young, planted by the Mayor of Gansu, Christchurch‟s sister city. There were very few people in the park, which is surprising considering its beauty. The botanical garden in the center of the park is surrounded by a stream where people can take small boats to see the surrounding beauty. And, interestingly enough, there‟s a sailor wearing handsome uniform that moves up and down the stream in a boat. The day before I left Christchurch for Beijing, I went to the park again and began to think there really is a “Heaven on Earth”. The city of Christchurch got its name from a Christian church located in the city center. The church was built in the 18th century and still serves the people everyday and is a place that proudly displays the city‟s history. Not very far from the church, is the newly-opened art gallery that shows modern aspects of the city. It is made of glass and hosts both modern and classic art exhibitions. Some of the most common descriptions I heard from Chinese students are “fresh air”, “blue sky” and “beautiful gardens”. And they are right! Christchurch is a real garden city.
An Unforgetable Dinner
People often asked me what I eat and if I cook. To tell you the truth, most Chinese staying abroad cook for themselves, and I was by no means an exception. It‟s less expensive and makes it a little easier to keep the tastes of home alive and well. Here I‟d like to tell you about a special dinner I had with my Kiwi classmates. We went on a reporting trip to the Marlborough Express newspaper in Blenheim, in the northern part of New Zealand‟s south island. Jim drove us there on June 16th, and the next day we went to work at the Marlborough Express. Our assignments were to write soft stories like profiles for their weekend edition. I interviewed a few Asian students including some from China, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. They all expressed that it was a good place to study because of its beauty, tranquility. However, while many of them cherished the opportunity of studying abroad, they usually discovered that there was no “taste like home”. They were not used to having bread or drinking milk twice a day. Although the schools took measures to hire Asian cooks to serve them Asian food every Tuesday, they still missed eating good hometown food all the time. After work, we went to the Countdown supermarket to buy some food for our meal. This evening, we would cook dinner in pairs. After we arrived at our Motel, Jim said: “You can start now.” The two Nicolas, Nicola B and Nicola W, started first. They took a big piece of pan cake, and then they put mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers and many other things on it. They were making pizza! After this, they put it in the oven to bake. And then the other students follow suit. I also tried to make a pizza, my first one! “To my surprise,” I said to Jim, “I didn‟t realize western food can also help create such a good atmosphere. It reminds me of Chinese Spring Festival when every member of the family joins hands to make dumplings. I feel at home!” “Yes,” Jim replied. “food always helps create a good atmosphere and good feelings.” It‟s true. Especially when my pizza was ready, I felt very warm to say the least. When I took my pizza out, Jim said it looked very good. In fact, it tasted even better! It was a great dinner! It was the first time I‟d ever eaten with a large group of students outside of China and I feel it was unforgettable.
Celebrating Spring Festival in RNZI
Another unforgettable thing was celebrating Spring Festival at Radio New Zealand International where I worked for almost 3 months. RNZI has only 11 permanent staff, but runs 24 hour programs. It was fun to be there. I didn‟t realize what time of year it was until I started to receive a few emails of festival greetings, which meant Spring Festival or Chinese New Year was on the way! The next day at noon, I went out to get some sweets, which they call lollies in New Zealand. I put the candy on the table which stands in the middle of the newsroom. “Hello everyone, please take some candies to celebrate the Chinese New Year!” “Wow! Happy New Year, Xuefei!” my Kiwi colleagues cheered. Janine and Penny were both born in the year of monkey. They were very happy to know that this year belonged to them. “What is it like to be a monkey?” Janine couldn‟t help asking. “Well,” I said, “it’s just like a monkey, intelligent, clever, smart and hard-working also. By the way, my mother was born in the year of monkey too.” Then, everyone starts to wonder what symbol is his or hers. In the end, we found out that Walter, Koro and Steven and I were all born in the year of horse. Then we drew the conclusion that horses make good journalists and editors because they are enthusiastic, independent and hard-working. And here the four horses are at different ages with Walter older and Koro younger than me. Then Lynda wondered what her birth symbol was and I guessed that it must be ox. An ox is definitely a good worker. It‟s true with Lynda, mother of two extremely energetic boys, who was very hard working and efficient, a good journalist. Sara turned out to be a rat, intelligent, sensitive, and easygoing. Then someone found some information about the Chinese zodiac and printed it out in English. As Linden came over, I told her that she was a tiger. “What is a tiger like?” She asked. “Just like you, in charge, very demanding and also capable.” I said. She burst out laughing. Linden is the manager and she is a good team leader because you can often hear laughter coming out of her office. And if you have any worries, she‟s also an amazing problem solver! Then the ladies started thinking of their partner‟s or children‟s birth symbol. After an enthusiastic discussion about their zodiac signs, people went back to work. As Penny came back to her desk after an interview, she said, “Our life is not the same any more.” I didn‟t really know what she was getting at. No one pointed out what she meant. But after a while I began to understand that the knowledge they gained caused them to wonder about their family members’ signs: what year their parents were born; and what kind of character their children and friends had. It gave people a new way of understanding others. It doesn‟t matter where they‟re from, the zodiac applies as equally to Chinese people as it does to Kiwi‟s and everyone else around the world. Everyone cares about their fate, their luck, their future and their relatives. It‟s a thread that links us all together. Even the next day we continued to talk about it. And we found out that Don‟s birth symbol was also monkey. Johnny was a rabbit and he would like to come to China some day soon. And a colleague of Steven‟s found out that he was born in the year of the dog. He said his mother even gave him a name Damin, which, at least in his opinion, is a dog‟s name. There weren‟t any fireworks or big family reunions, but I felt I had a great Spring Festival celebration in RNZI‟s newsroom.
Farewell to the University of Canterbury
200405The year passed so quickly that I barely had time to catch my breath, but the time came that I had to say goodbye. Why? The campus is a sacred place, it‟s fun, it‟s hard, it‟s frustrating and totally unforgettable. In fact, I didn‟t really feel that the campus has anything to do with academics; rather, it seemed much more like a social place to me, where I, and everyone else for that matter, could socialize freely. It was fun to practise Teeline or short-hand in English during journalism classes and I also found that I‟d developed a serious interest in media law along the way. Interviewing Chinese and other Asian students in Bleinheim was a wonderful experience. But what I found even more inspiring was to see students protest an increase of their tuition fees. As a visiting scholar from China Radio International, I really enjoyed sitting in the classroom, listening to lectures and having heated discussions with classmates. I was deeply impressed with the professors‟ attitudes and lectures; yet, I could also feel the stress they experienced during recent restructuring. I felt the library was extremely convenient because you only needed one card for everything.
The University of Canterbury has over a hundred years of history, yet it‟s also a melting pot for people coming from all over the world. It doesn‟t matter where you‟re from, anyone from anywhere can become a member of it. Goodbye, Canterbury, I loved you at first sight, and I will love you forever! (Chen Xuefei)