Eliazian Lilia (Russia): “Chinese people are very patient, polite and friendly, so even if I couldn’t express myself they would always try their best to understand, and if worse came to worst, they’d ask me to use gestures until I got my point across”.
By Eliazian Lilia, Russian, International Education College, Heihe University, matriculated in 2014
I am a Russian girl born in the town of Blagoveshchensk on the Russian-Chinese border. My father gave me a beautiful name: Lilia, which in Russian means “lily”, symbolizing purity. I have an elder brother and younger sister and we all get along very well together.
My destiny with China began at the age of six, when my parents took us on a trip to China. As soon as we got off the boat, my sister and I felt like little princesses. Wherever we went everyone’s eyes were on us as if they were mesmerized by us, and they kept saying, “Look. They’re like little dolls! Their eyes are so big and bright, their skin is so white and soft, and they’re so pretty!” Then they’d like to pinch us or hug us, and the flashes of countless cameras would flicker as they took photo after photo with us. My sister and I had no idea about how to react, but this new place filled me with both bemusement and wonder. After we went back I’d often ask my mom, “What else is different between Russia and China?”
As friendly ties between Russia and China were strengthened, learning Chinese became increasingly popular in Russia, with places close to the border particularly “going crazy”. For kids like us in these towns, being able to speak Chinese gave you incredible bragging rights, and for the adults Chinese was a surefire solution to future employment. Seeing how rapidly China was developing, my brother decided to learn Chinese, so that in the future he could help dad with his business. He was studying Chinese in Blagoveshchensk and every time he did his Chinese homework, I’d always be beside him watching. At first I thought he was drawing something, so I kept asking him things like, “What are you drawing? Why are all the pictures square? Do Chinese people all express themselves with pictures?” He answered all of my questions, with a note of pride, and although I only understood a bit of what he said, what I felt at the time was: Chinese characters are so mysterious, and Chinese people are so imaginative and innovative; I wanted to draw these beautiful characters too, to understand what they meant, and after I graduated I wanted to learn Chinese just like him.
In 2014 my wish came true and I came to China. I began my study in the school where my brother was studying. We both worked very hard. I would constantly ask questions, and talk to others, so I was really popular, and made quick progress. From my first day as a student there I tried to speak with Chinese people, and would often make a fool of myself, only knowing a few greetings. When I ran out of Chinese words I had no choice but to laugh and call it quits. But I persevered, and whenever Chinese people tried to make my life easier by speaking Russian with me, I would always “coldly” refuse, and insist on speaking Chinese. Chinese people are very patient, polite and friendly, so even if I couldn’t express myself they would always try their best to understand, and if worse came to worst, they’d ask me to use gestures until I got my point across. Then they’d tell me the way to say it. They would be very tolerant of my extremely Russian ways of expressing things, teaching me as if I were their own child. A year later, I could chat with Chinese people, and no longer had to be as “hurtful” as before. Everyone praised me for my progress, and pointed out how authentic my Chinese had become.
In 2016 my family went on a self-guided trip across Europe. The first stop was Greece, and while we were in this country known as the cradle of Western civilization, I felt full of both joy and sorrow, since there were so many stories to learn about the country, but none of the five of us understood Greek, nor was our English very good, so the language barrier really held us back. My parents decided that we should travel around on our own. As we were passing a store we came across a Chinese man, and it was like seeing a light at the end of the tunnel! We were as excited as if we had met someone from our own country, and I especially felt as if I were back in China. I rushed into the shop and showed off my Chinese, asking about this and that, taking down all kinds of notes. The Chinese man enthusiastically answered all our questions, and drew a map for us, on which, in places where I had written Chinese, he added the original Greek names. This unexpected encounter greatly improved our experience there.
“Chinese characters are so mysterious, and Chinese people are so imaginative and innovative; I wanted to draw these beautiful characters too, to understand what they meant, and after I graduated I wanted to learn Chinese just like him.”
The second stop was Italy, where we were equally out of our element, but a lot of places there had signs in Chinese, so by using our second language our trip there was a great success. At the third stop, Austria, I met an amiable German with whom I wanted to become friends, but our different mother languages held us back. Just as I was worrying about how we could communicate, he said something in Chinese, and it seemed I had stumbled upon a trove of treasure. We had a happy talk in Chinese, and he introduced a Chinese friend of his who lived in Austria.
The Chinese language has really opened up many doors in my life. As the saying goes, “Learn Chinese, and you’ll have friends throughout the world.”
Published in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 49. Volume II. March 2017.