Editor's note: A new columnist is joining the Daily Press. Former local resident Brittney Moraski has been working in China since February 2010. She will be writing a regular column about her life and experiences there.
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HANGZHOU, China - In February, I traveled on a cruise ship down the Yangtze River, China's best known waterway and a region home to over 400 million people. During this trip, my brother and journeyed through the Chinese interior, eating spicy Sichuan food and wandering the sidewalks of Chongqing, a city of 31 million people that few people outside of China are familiar with.
I have been living in China for over a year now, and my brother's visit was a chance to see the country from a new perspective. I remember when I first arrived in China: I lived in Shenzhen, a mainland city in southern China of 13 million people across the border from Hong Kong. I lived in a shipping zone, and the hundreds upon hundreds of shipping containers that dotted the landscape opened my eyes to the sheer size and scale of global trade. Seeing factory workers, most of them young women my age, move in groups to and from their shifts and their dormitories in my neighborhood gave me a new perspective of the goods I buy at Wal-Mart, whether in China or the U.S.
In September, I moved to Hangzhou, a city of about 8 million located in the center-south of China's eastern cost and about 100 miles from Shanghai. Hangzhou is a famous city, at least for the Chinese.
In the middle of the city sits West Lake, a partially man-made expanse of water about 9 miles in circumference ringed from within with cruise ships and paddle-boats and from without with temples, mountains, and pagodas. Chinese come from all over China to walk along the West Lake and drink cups of Hangzhou's famous Longjing tea in any one of the city's many teahouses.
Hangzhou has given me a perspective on old, ancient China as well as the development that is coming to China in waves. I live in a studio in a high-rise, I am within walking distance of a Subway restaurant, and I can shop at CenturyMart, a big-box retailer similar in many ways - but not all - to Escanaba's Wal-Mart. (One difference is that you can buy live turtles to cook and serve later for dinner). I belong to a private gym with equipment imported from the U.S., and in the same complex as the gym is a movie theater that screens Western movies. Living among upper-middle class Chinese suggests to me that people, as they become more prosperous, often enjoy similar things, no matter what country or culture they come from - owning a car, going out to eat, shopping, and seeing movies.
But for all the development, old China is often around the corner, close enough to me to see but seemingly too far for me to ever grasp. Tea shops are as common as banks, and inside of them sit old Chinese men drinking tea, smoking cigarettes, and eating sunflower seeds together. Chinese tourists to Hangzhou share a collective knowledge of centuries of poetry, paintings, and legends surrounding West Lake to enrich their visit to my city.
Travel to any new location can serve as a reminder of the bigness of the world and the relative smallness of our awareness of it. Living abroad is a bit different: in settling down into a foreign city, I've found that in many ways I've recreated the lifestyle I had in the U.S. And so I like my life in Hangzhou, in large part because I can eat familiar foods, watch movies in my language, and go about my day not too differently than how I might in the U.S. My travels with my brother through new parts of China re-reminded me of the size and differences to be found in China, as large and varied a country as the U.S., so much so that I experienced a new feeling in China: a sense of anticipation in returning to the familiarity of Hangzhou, my home away from home.
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Brittney Moraski, daughter of Robert and Bethany Moraski of Bark River, graduated from Bark River-Harris High School in 2005. She graduated from Harvard with a degree in American history and literature in 2009. In February 2010, Brittney moved to Shenzhen, China, to work with Chinese students applying to U.S. universities. In July 2010, she moved to Hangzhou, China, to work as a program coordinator and to continue working with Chinese students. She plans to return to the U.S. this summer. You can follow her blog at www.brittneymoraski.com.