Lessons in Mandarin

Just when I thought I was getting savvy with flinging myself off to new, strange places, China happened.

This trip was supposed to be a solo jaunt, but I don’t think it would have been quite the same experience if seven of my pals didn’t sign up for an adventure in the Orient as well. There were more than enough bloopers and good times to go around, after all!

Together we swam in the lavish reds, yellows and blues of the timeless pagodas and flashy neon signs; side by side, we were stumped by the vastness of the Summer Palace grounds and the mere sight of the Great Wall. As for the less-than-wow moments, well, we got by with the games we inadvertently invented, such as The-Hunt-for-the-Elusive-Clean-Toilets, Temple-Run-While-Avoiding-the-Spit-Pools, and my personal favorite, Ordering-in-the-Restaurant-Charades.

It was more than just traipsing around China — it was a journey to see how far we can go outside our comfort zone. Of all the places I’ve been, never did I have to work so hard to ask for directions, to order food, to haggle for a good buy. The impulse to gesture every word that came out of my mouth stuck even if I was already speaking in my native tongue with my friends.

China will teach you one of the most valuable lessons any destination can give — that you are not the center of the universe. Those preconceptions and rules you have in your world? Tuck them away for now; they don’t apply here. China will challenge you to define the line between acceptable and unacceptable, of what you’ll stand your ground for and what you’ll charge to experience.

It was definitely a challenge, but I can’t wait to go back for another adventure in the Middle Kingdom. Just like its wise masters, China has a lot to teach me about how the world works, but most of all, it has a lot to teach me about myself.

However, for now, maybe I’ll start with Mandarin lessons.

Quick! How do you say 'adorable' in Mandarin?!
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