Wooden shoes in demand back home in China
I did not experience a shock when I stepped out of the aeroplane at Schiphol. I just thought to myself, 'so this is Holland'," says Wu Yueng, MSc student from the Agricultural University in Beijing. When Ching-ling Tsai arrived from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, she was struck by the positive aspects, like clean air and blossom on the trees in spring and how green everything was.
Wu Yueng was well prepared for the Netherlands. She had already received lots of e-mails on Dutch habits and a useful booklet with information on where to buy food before she arrived. She is critical though of the lack of standardisation of the admission criteria applied by Wageningen University to the Chinese who come here to further their studies. She suspects that there are quite a few who have not taken a language test. Pausing to think about the matter she adds that this is perhaps the case for older students, and that the newer arrivals are checked more rigorously on their language ability.
In general it is the richer Chinese who go abroad to study and they are already more used to the West, so it's not usually too much of a culture shock for them when they arrive Wu Yueng reflects. Once she'd got here she was flooded with e-mails and phone calls from friends giving her their shoe size. "For the wooden shoes," she explains. She arrived in September and at the beginning her study took up most of her time, which left little opportunity to get a feel for things here such as democracy. "It's not something I'm particularly aware of here," she comments. Like most young Chinese, Wu Yueng does not have much difficulty with the political system in China, which has been a socialist republic since 1949 and is one of the few countries that still has a communist one party system.
For Ching-ling Tsai the political situation is different. Taiwan is a democracy, currently in transition from a two-party system to a multiple party system, and has more in common with the Netherlands. "Every four years we have a general election for the president and other elections for legislative assemblies and other representatives are staggered over the four year period. There are political tensions between Taiwan and China. For example China regards Taiwan as a sort of disobedient province of China. I don't really feel any difference between the friends I have made from China and those from other countries. Most people know little about Taiwan other than that it is referred to as a newly industrialised country and is regarded as an economic miracle in Asia. What's funny, but sometimes annoying, is that I am sometimes asked by Chinese people if I speak 'Chinese'. In Taiwan we also have several languages, just as on the mainland."
Ching-ling Tsai continues: "There are eight Taiwanese students here at the moment, but we are brought up to be independent so everyone goes their own way. We don't tend to see each other except for important festivals or birthdays." Wu Yueng misses the festivals, such as Chinese new year with its spectacular fireworks displays. "It's a wonderful piece of history about a big people-eating monster that is driven away by the fireworks. Nobody really believes in the monster, it's just a good story." Asked about Chinese traditions, Wu Yueng tells that she has eaten dog meat in the past, but believes the tradition is dying in China. She now has her own dog, and is appalled at the idea of eating the animal.