By Hazel Kutkue
We recently got to talk to Papua New Guinean writer and educator about her experiences of living in China. It was one mix of super interesting facts. Thirty three year old Betty Gabriel Wakia from Papua New Guinea’s Hela Province was born in Ramu Town in Madang Province but grew up between her village and Port Moresby city. After a short stint of being a fourth grader in her village in Hela, she had to return to Port Moresby for school due to tribal fighting.
But we wanted to know her about her China experience: how did she go to China in the first place? It is a roundabout tale! Apparently, Betty had applied a total of six times for the Chinese Government Scholarship all throughout high school and her college years. She had studied for one year at Sonoma Adventist College in Rabaul to get a diploma in primary teaching, but as is a common plight, high tution fees saw her withdrawing from studies the following year. Betty however managed to get a diploma in Vocational Education Training at the PNG Education Institute in 2010. Now, that’s where we came to how she landed in China! While working at Airways Hotel in Port Moresby, and on the seventh attempt at applying for the Chinese Government Scholarship, Betty made it!
“I went to China in August, 2011. It was my seventh application and I was in the process of giving up.”
“We all met in Beijing and dispatched to various universities in different cities. Some travelled by air and others by train.”
“I was asked to study the Chinese language for a year at East China Normal University in Wuhan, Hubei Province.”
Yes you read that right, Wuhan, now famed for being the city of origin of Covid-19. Wuhan is a commercial centre divided by the Yangtze and Han rivers. After her one year stint in Wuhan, Betty moved to Tianjin to study her major. Tianjin lies on the shore of the Bohai Sea in Nort-Eastern China and it is a major port city and among nine of China’s mainland cities.
A University Library
“I was studying at the Tianjin University of Technology and Education. I was studying for a Bachelor’s Degree in Education – basically I was studying the Chinese education system.”
Curious how a Chinese university was like, we enquired and Betty shared a lot of interesting information.
“Chinese university campuses are much larger than our universities and colleges in the country. For instance, Jilin Agricultural University lies on a 15 000 000 square meters area!”
Zhejiang Normal University sports stadium
Betty describes a lot of Chinese architecture as influenced by their culture. However, she says modern university facilities boast a more westernized approach to the design and architectural styles.
She further describes the labs, dining halls and sports facilites as being on a level far removed from the ones university students experience in the country.
Outside the Main Classroom Building
Student behaviors are also markedly different from Papua New Guinean student behavior. Apparently, Chinese students are very respectful.
“Students show respect to teachers or the elderly by bowing their heads. Students are quieter, and very respectful. When they hand in a paper, they always use both hands, as if making a gift presentation. They often use terminology such as ‘our dear teacher’.”
2011 was a year where not many students were studying in China, however they had a warm reception.
“Three PNG students met us in Wuhan at the train station. We were lucky.”
Betty estimates over five hundred srudents currently studying in China today through various scholarships.
Burning Question: are the Chinese friendly? Betty describes them as not friendly but respectful. Students in China are very disciplined! Betty puts this down to their millitary training.
Betty with a Chinese classmate
“Military training was introduced in 1955. It became compulsory for all high school and university students to do training in 2001. ”
Military training is believed to encourage a more disciplined community, goodwill and to improve the country’s level of defense.Betty did not have it smooth language wise. She learnt enough to get by though.
“I was surprised that classes began the next day and communication was a big problem.”
It was Betty’s first time in a country where English was not the first or second language. She however loved the fact that a common language united China and gave them a common purpose
“I travelled to fourteen of China’s thirty four provinces and I discovered that if you cannot speak the dialect, you can write it down!”
To write in Chinese, Betty had to study Shufa, a form of Chinese Calligraphy so she could write good Chinese characters.
Winter was Betty’s favourite season because she got to do a lot of travelling.
“Ticket prices drop in winter time and not a lot of people travel.”
In winter holidays
Another burning question: What does snow look like in real life? 😅.
Matters of the tummy are another thing Betty loved about China.
“One of the best things about living in China is the food !”
She described food for the Chinese was almost anything that swim, walk or grows. Chinese dishes are famous for colour, aroma, taste, meaning and appearance. Food is cheap, tasty, diverse and easily available at your doorstep even.
Somebody ordered Chinese? Yes we think!
Betty’s favourite dishes included Dumplings or jiaozi, Chaomin, and Peking roasted ducks amongst others. Some dishes are more of an acquired taste, and Betty did not particularly take a liking to, including Ma Po Tofu which was too spicy and quite hot.
Ma Pa Tofu
Chinese food aside, Betty still missed a good old mumu and coconut creamed vegetables. Nobody ever outgrows these!
Summer and winter vacations were times Betty jumped at the opportunity to travel. The must sees that she’s seen include the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace.
Visiting the Great Wall of China
Travelling by train is the easiest way to get around and she travelled to fourteen provinces by train only! However, travelling by train has its downfalls as on one occasion, she had to stand for 16 hours from Tianjin to Zhejiang Province.
So what has China thought Betty?
1. DO MORE, LESS TALK, wisdom all Papua New Guineas need.
2. START FROM SCRATCH AND CLIMB YOUR WAY UP!
Will Betty be returning to China given the chance? Not suprisingly, she is keen to return.
“I’m planning to go back to pursue a doctrate degree.”
We wish Betty only the best of everything she aspires to do. If you are planning to travel to China, maybe this might be helpful.