Brendan Frentz, Canadian, one of the top six contestants in the 13th Annual "Hanyu Qiao" Chinese Language Proficiency Competition broadcast by CCTV4 and now studying in the School of Business Administration at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics.
When he was 10 his family moved to Malaysia where he started his journey of learning Chinese. He always loved learning the languages of the local people he lived amongst. He discovered that language acquisition builds bridges of friendship and opens the pathway of heart-to-heart cross-cultural communication.
Last week I said goodbye for now to my Chengdu and returned back to live in my passport country Canada - the maple leaf kingdom and the home of ice hockey, polar bears, Justin Bieber, and the hugest mosquitoes you've ever seen! Did you know that in Canada you can drive on the highway for hours and not see a single car, most stores close at 6 PM, in the summertime the sun doesn't set until midnight, and we always put ice in our drinking water even though you can jog outside in the middle of summer and not break a sweat. Canada ranks as the second largest nation on earth. However, per square kilometer of land we average only slightly more than three people (vs. 145 in China). Canada contains one-fifth of the world's entire supply of fresh water and one-tenth of the world's forest reserves. Canadians enjoy beauty and blessing on a scale hard to imagine for most in the world. But upon arriving back in Canada this time while driving home from the airport I made the comment to my sister, "Everything seems just as it was when I left four years ago."
I come from the city of Edmonton, which is the provincial capital of Alberta (hint: the province from the West coast). Canadians from other cities often joke by calling my city "Dead-monton" instead of "Edmonton". By so doing they imply that nothing exciting ever seems to happen around here. Of course this clever little play on words doesn't contain much truth, as Edmonton with over 800,000 residents impressively ranks as the fifth most populated city in Canada. Trust me, many places in Canada deserve the prefix "Dead" far more so than Edmonton. For example Ormiston, the little town where my dad grew up, literally died when everyone moved away. Living in big Chinese cities like Chengdu for four years has totally redefined my concept of what makes a truly large, vibrant, and bustling international city. With over twelve million residents (according to Wikipedia), Chengdu could swallow up Edmonton and hardly bulge. Not only massive, Chengdu is also changing at a pace only matched by teenagers in the middle of their awkward growth phase.
This leaves me wondering, "If I had never moved to China, would I have simply stayed the same too, just like 'Dead-monton'?" I am no longer that 20 year-old boy who moved to China to follow his (perhaps overly ambitious) dream of mastering Chinese. Compared to him, I now grow (slightly) more facial hair, weigh a few kilos more, and have memorized thousands more hànzì (Chinese characters). But such changes occur naturally as a function of age and time spent in a classroom. Rather, just as I personally witnessed mega projects like the Elevated Second Ring Road and Subway Line 2 completed during my short time in Chengdu, I also experienced equally impressive mega projects completed in my own life. In Chengdu I learned the art of perseverance during my incredibly difficult university courses taught in Chinese. In Chengdu I mastered the process of thinking in a different language and viewing the world through the lens of another culture. In Chengdu I became comfortable in settings with many people - none of whom looked like me. In Chengdu I made progress in recognizing the blessings I have received and putting them to use by helping those around me in greater need. In Chengdu I even picked up enough Sichuan Hua to impress most local taxi drivers (or at least to shout "guawazi" at the rival car competing for our lane). The adventures and the difficulties associated with cross-cultural living in Chengdu seem to have unlocked, and with great speed, a new and improved version of me. For these great works completed in my life I must thank Chengdu and my many friends there.