Coming home to Indonesia after six months, inevitably I always get asked *the* question: “Cina itu gimana? How is China?” And I think, where do I begin to describe its richness? In culture, history, beauty. I ask them what they most want to know and if they say, “Oh, anything!”I look in their eyes and give them the story I think they’d like to hear most. Whether it’s funny, enticing, gross, or beautiful, I spin words from the chambers of my memories, though not quite as eloquently as on paper.
I tell them that China is a special country, claiming to be the oldest civilization in the world. But if you want to know about its history, there are various other more credible sources you can delve into. So let me recount it from my own eyes. China is the cliched metaphor of an onion, with so many layers to uncover and explore.
Red as their lucky color, the Chinese people breathe fire as they talk. What I mean is that even when talking regularly they sound a bit angry, but this is because of the tones of Chinese language. There are four: the uptone, the downtone, the neutral tone, and the “slanted” tone. The tone is a crucial part of the language, because if it’s incorrect then what you’re saying could have a different meaning altogether! For example, the Chinese word for “is” is shì, with a downtone, whereas the word for “ten” is shí with an uptone. A more dire example is the word for “breast” which sounds similar to another word which I had meant to say (though I forget now what word it was I’d meant to say). This confusion happened in a restaurant when I was having dinner with my best friend’s larger family. That was embarrassing, to say the least. :’)