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Q&A: First Impressions of China for First-time Visitors

FILE - Foreign tourists visit Yuyuan Garden, one of the most famous tourist destinations in Shanghai, China.

FILE - Foreign tourists visit Yuyuan Garden, one of the most famous tourist destinations in Shanghai, China.

The first visit to China for most Westerners is likely an experience for which they are not fully prepared. Now, there is literary help; Lessons from China will be officially launched the week of April 7.

The book highlights the experiences of Jan Cross, a recent college graduate on her way to teach English in Beijing, China. The challenges of living and working abroad change her forever as she gives and receives lessons inside and outside of the classroom on life, social practices, international employment, and the deep bond of friendship.

Cross is a fictional character created by author Beau Sides, who shares some of his real life first time memories of the Middle Kingdom.

SIDES: Honestly I went with no expectations because I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I was just wide-eyed and couldn’t wait to jump in and get my feet wet over there.

STEVENSON: It’s an amazingly familiar sight when you get into the city and see how people are dressed and you see some of the modern things that they have. They have cell phones just like we do, and move around on buses and subways. But yet there are differences that strike you pretty quickly when you arrive there.

SIDES: One of the things that I noticed was that guys that were out doing manual labor were wearing slacks and nice shoes while they were doing that, let’s say they were digging a hole or something like that.

Their technology for cell phones is about two years ahead of the United States. They realized that when that technology became available, they had a huge country that wasn’t 100% connected with landlines. So they thought why should we spend the money on upgrading our landlines when we won’t need that soon, so they were actually doing text messaging I think about two years before America.

STEVENSON: You had a lot of chance at the university to interact with students, and that certainly must have presented some interesting times for you.

SIDES: I was amazed with how accepting students were of me. The guys would just take me in like I was someone their own age when I was in my early to mid-40s at the time I was there. We would go play basketball. They would come to my apartment and watch DVDs, American movies. They would ask, ‘Do you think she is pretty?’ when we would be out playing basketball and a girl would go by. I was just amazed how they accepted me and then I was just another guy their age. We had some wonderful times together.

STEVENSON: One of the other sides to spending any time in China is of course the food.

SIDES: One of the things you are told not to do is eat street food. And I loved street food. There’s something called chuànr, which is meat put on a stick kind of like a kabob, and it is cooked over these hot coals. They put some pretty strong spices on it. Yángròu, which is mutton, is by far my favorite. You have your chicken and pork obviously. But I really like the street food there with the mutton on a stick.
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    Jim Stevenson

    For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.