Birth place: Akola
Current city of residence: Mumbai
I recently had the pleasure of hosting a Chinese student via the international exchange program AIESEC. The month that my guest Alysa stayed at my home in Mumbai was among the finest learning experiences for me in terms of understanding Chinese culture and lifestyle.
We referred to our guest as Alysa, her English name, because her birth name seemed too difficult for us to pronounce. Despite language barriers, Alysa got along very well with my family and within a couple of days, felt like one of us.
As we got to know Alysa better and vice versa, we realized that although we speak different languages, Indians and the Chinese have a similar approach to a lot of things such as attitudes towards family and cultural values, preferences in food and even sharply honed bargaining skills. I learned that just like how Indians give envelopes filled with money to the younger members of the family on special occasions, the Chinese have a similar tradition of gifting “red envelopes.”
It shouldn’t be surprising that people from India and China share a number of similarities. While they have definitely had differences over the years, the two neighbors have also maintained decades and decades of economic, political and cultural exchange. A popular slogan during the 1950s was “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” (literally “the Indians and the Chinese are brothers”). It aptly described the bond shared by the two great civilizations and emphasized that their people were part of one big family. Today, thanks to cultural exchange programs like AIESEC, the younger generations from India and China are discovering new ways to connect with each other.
Food is a popular area for bonding. India and China have a staggering variety of culinary delights across the length and breadth of these countries, much more so than anywhere else in the world. Rice, vegetables, meat and potatoes are used in abundance in their dishes. And while both have their own specific spices, the amount of detail that goes into producing incredibly well-rounded flavors is a common link between their kitchens.
And how can I not mention tea here? Called chai in Hindi and cha in Mandarin, the beverage is virtually the elixir of life for people in both countries.
Cultural exchange between India and China has been taking place since ancient times. Several Chinese philosophers such as Xuanzang visited India and documented the rich experiences of their travels. Almost all of the works of Rabindranath Tagore, among the most influential figures in Indian history, have been translated into Chinese. India may be known as “the land of festivals,” but the Chinese celebrate just as many, if not more, with comparable pomp. India has Diwali, Holi, Eid and more, while China observes festivals like Lunar New Year, Dragon Boat Festival and the Lantern Festival.
The moral values and ethics that India and China share are similar in nature and practice. Both cultures are heavily family-driven and place considerable value on the concept of multicultural upbringing. Education is of the utmost importance in both societies, with kids pushed to great lengths to excel in final exams (respectively, grade 10 Board Exams in India and the Gaokao in China). Along with this pressure to succeed, another unfortunate common trait is the belief that sons are more important than daughters.
India and China are home to various sects living in harmony, speaking many languages and dialects, making both countries vibrant melting-pots. Meeting Alysa was a window into a world that is so like my own, despite superficial differences. By the end of her stay, Alysa started referring to us as her second family and still keeps in constant touch through video calls. She learned some Hindi words from us during her brief stay, but I can safely say that she gave us a lot more than we could teach or give her.