Alumni News

Saud Uz Zafar

 My Beautiful Encounter with China



When I was a child, every time I heard about China, the first thing that came to mind was long handmade noodles. Being a food lover, I enjoyed eating delicious and flavorful dishes. I have a distinct memory of my mother saying, "I hope God takes you to China," because I had a strong fondness for noodles even though my country's staple foods were flatbread and rice. Another memorable moment from my childhood was when I was in 4th grade. My school friends and I would pretend to speak in Chinese, although we didn't actually know any words in the language. We would carry on conversations with each other, even when our teachers or classmates were around. This was probably because I used to watch old Chinese movies with my family at the time. From those movies, I learned that Chinese people were skilled in Kung Fu, and I particularly remember a film called "Dance of the Drunken Mantis" (南北醉拳) in which an old man drinks a liquid to gain extraordinary powers and save his villagers from their enemies. Childhood is a phase of life where knowledge is limited, but when children gather and unite, they can achieve the seemingly impossible to some extent.

In my city, around 2004 or 2005, a new market named "China Market" opened up. What fascinated me about this place was that everything was imported from China. It quickly became my favorite place to visit, as it had a wide variety of toys and other alluring items. I would always pester my parents to take me there. This was also the first time I encountered Chinese people and had the opportunity to interact with them. Initially, they appeared different to me, but as I frequented the market, I became familiar with them.

In March 2016, I visited China for the first time, specifically Beijing, to pursue my higher studies. I joined the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST) at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS). Upon landing at the airport, I needed to contact my friends to come and pick me up. However, I didn't have a SIM card, so I approached a security guard for help in connecting to the WiFi. Unfortunately, due to the language barrier, I couldn't convey my message clearly. The guard sought assistance from another person, and I handed them my phone, gesturing that I needed to connect to the WiFi. The person took my phone inside an office and, after a while, returned it with a connected WiFi. I expressed my gratitude by saying 谢谢 (with proper tone variations), and they understood that it was my first visit to China. Looking back, I understand why the person took my phone inside the office; they needed to input a verification code from their own or someone else's device to activate the WiFi connection.

During my first dinner at a restaurant, I felt nostalgic about my home country due to a cultural difference in dining habits, namely, the use of chopsticks (筷子) instead of spoons and forks for eating noodles. I quickly learned how to use chopsticks that night so that I could satisfy my hunger. As time went on, I became more accustomed to using chopsticks when eating out. Another novel experience in China was the payment method. They had an online payment system using QR codes for all purchases, whether big or small. Initially, I would pay in cash and use coins for small change, causing delays for other customers waiting in line. However, I soon adapted to the practice of paying before my turn and showing the shopkeeper proof of payment. The famous Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, "Change is the only constant in life." We face changes every day, and even though one may try to avoid them, it is better to embrace change and eventually things will become easier and more acceptable.

When I began my studies at university in September 2016, I enrolled in classes for my master's degree and it was at this time that I started learning the Chinese language. I felt like a 3 or 4-year-old as the teachers coached us on how to speak, much like parents teaching their children. I struggled with pronouncing the correct tones for words and characters, making many mistakes. During my final exams, something both unfortunate and amazing happened. The teachers asked me to create dialogues using Chinese words and speak them in front of them. However, when I entered the hall and stood before the examiners, I completely forgot everything I had learned, practiced, and remembered for the dialogues. There was a moment of silence as I desperately tried to recall any part of the dialogue, but I couldn't. I then simply said, "对不起老师们我忘了" (I'm sorry, teachers, I forgot) and left the hall. I felt ashamed of myself in that moment.However, shortly afterwards, I remembered that I needed to organize a farewell party for my classmates and teachers. So, I arranged a gathering with all of them. As we interacted at the event, using Chinese to communicate with the attendees, one of my teachers noticed and asked me, "阿福 (that's my Chinese name), what happened to you in the exam hall? Now, you're speaking and communicating in Chinese, but there you completely forgot everything." I smiled and replied, "老师, here I don't feel the pressure of whether the other person will understand me or not, or if my pronunciation is correct. I can just speak freely."

When I joined my research institute, a Chinese friend advised me that I should learn a little more Chinese. This way, if someone is speaking about me in front or behind me, I can understand a little. Since then, I have been self-learning the Chinese language and can now understand Chinese conversations to some extent, even if I am not fluent in speaking. When I go out now, people can tell whether I am new to China or not. Initially, when I was new, people would often ask to take photos with me. However, now that I have been here for a while, they no longer do so. Additionally, when I travel outside of Beijing and meet older people, they assume I am from Western China and not a foreigner. When I reflect on this, I am not shocked; rather, I consider it a compliment. It shows that I have embraced the changes and adapted to the Chinese environment. China has become my second home and its people accept me as one of their own. Understanding and respecting their culture has made me feel like I belong, and that is a wonderful thing. I have become accustomed to this new lifestyle that China has provided me over the past 4 years. China is developing in a positive direction for its people. The Chinese government offers various job opportunities to ensure the well-being of its citizens and even provides chances for foreigners to work and showcase their talents and skills. China embraces people of different races and backgrounds, and individuals should also embrace diverse cultures and people with differing perspectives. Just as our fingers are not of the same length or level, we can still work together and achieve tasks efficiently and swiftly. This is exactly what is happening in China, as people from different countries study and work together as one. China is also transforming the lives of its people by introducing new technologies and machines that simplify their lives in the present and future.

Something significant happened to me last year when I had the opportunity to be interviewed on the Chinese news channel, 'China Economic Net,' as part of their 'When in China' series. It was a momentous occasion for me to be a part of that platform, and I am incredibly grateful to them and the Chinese people. More recently, I participated in an inter-university poetry competition titled 'Chinese Classics Recitation for Poetry (English to Chinese) Activity Project' and was awarded both the 'Best Communicator of Poetry Culture' and 'Chinese Classics Recitation for Poetry' certificates. Activities like these help me gain deeper insight into various cultures and understand different perspectives.

The year 2020 has been particularly challenging for nations all over the world due to the serious pandemic, COVID-19. Every person has experienced quarantine measures, but China has shown exceptional control and management compared to other developed and developing countries. The Chinese government tirelessly fights to protect and improve the lives of their people, working day and night in response to the pandemic. I pray for the safety and well-being of the people of China and the rest of the world, hoping they will be safeguarded from this contagious virus.                                                                                

                                                                                                  Saud Uz Zafar




Download attachments: