Opinion

Our Man in China During COVID-19

‘The Chinese are different from us back home because they are always moving, no time to waste. They’re very hardworking and time is of the essence for them’.
29 Apr 2020 10:41
Our Man in China During COVID-19
Remo Cevalawa with university colleagues in China.

Opinion:

I chatted with a  Fijian student, Remo Cevalawa, who is currently studying in Nanjing, China. He is doing a Bachelor’s degree majoring in Veterinary Medicine. He enrolled in 2016 when he was 18 and will turn 22 in May. He will have spent four years in China by August.

Remo speaks and writes in Mandarin as that is the language of instruction. (Although I am on WeChat, I still have to brush up on my Mandarin and hoping to have more chat times with Michael Yang, chief executive officer of Fiji Chinese Media in addition to taking courses at the Confucius Institute! This will enable me to chat with Remo in Mandarin!).

I had written a media article in 2017 on Fijian students studying in China that included Remo. I chatted with him at length this week to get insights on how he coped with life during the period of COVID-19. (I had known Remo when he was a high school student in Nadi as he was part of the Youths For Integrity programme facilitated by CLCT Integrity Fiji).

Experiences during COVID-19

Remo says that students have just started returning to school last week. He has continued studying and preparing for the upcoming online exams.

Remo noted: “From the education aspect, we’re doing fine. I’m doing OK, I have friends here who didn’t go back home (during COVID-19) so we hang out and keep each other company.

“I keep in contact with home checking in on the family every now and then.  But the overall situation here in China is great. Things have gone back to normal but they still take those extra precautions to be safe like wearing masks and taking body temperatures when entering and leaving buildings or school campus, shopping areas, etc.”

Remo says that Nanjing, like other Chinese cities, had very strict rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For example, all outside visitors to the City had to be quarantined. It was routine to have body temperatures taken going to shops and public areas.

Remo, like everyone, had to wear a mask in public places. Where close contact was inevitable, like in taxis, plastic screens separated driver from passenger. Public offices had everyone wearing masks and often gloves. There were disinfectants to clean one’s hands.

Remo says that from his four years in China, he notes that, “the people are law abiding and follow the rules. I haven’t seen or heard about anyone trying to break the rules. I think the Government is like a father figure and the society here trusts it to do things for their benefit and welfare.”

Studies

Remo notes that his Chinese lecturers are affirming and supportive in his studies. “At the moment I’m doing courses online due to the COVID-19 situation. I’m learning loads of interesting stuff based on veterinary science. I am looking forward to doing the lab work/field experiments as we get to put into practice what we learn in our theory classes.”

He says that although, “I speak and read and write in Mandarin, I still have trouble recognising some Chinese characters. There are thousands of characters unlike the English language with just 26 alphabets!”

Remo says that to understand the Chinese mind one has to be familiar with Chinese characters. He quips that, “I do love the Chinese language. It’s fun because it also helps me communicate with the locals.”

Remo Cevalawa with colleagues in China.

Remo Cevalawa with colleagues in China.

Interaction with Chinese

“I interact with a lot of Chinese young people as I am one of the only two foreign students in my level who take classes with Chinese students. They’re quite helpful if you need help in not understanding things in class, or just random daily things like how to buy things online or information on how to travel around China and stuff like that, but there are also other Chinese who are shy to talk to us so we have to take the initiative to try and socialise with them as well,” he said.

I asked: “But weren’t you homesick and lonely there during the lockdown?”

Remo’s response was: “Of course but being here in China, I knew that we’d be safe and well cared for by the teachers who were responsible for us foreign students. I catch up with friends and family back home regularly to check in on how they are doing.  I also just do what anyone would be doing in their free time; listen to music, watch movies and trying new things here in China.”

Remo says that as a young iTaukei in a big country, he has also gained confidence by praying and trusting in the Lord to provide him with perseverance and to help him deal with his daily life.”

Remo highlighted that Nanjing is located in East China’s Jiangsu Province in the Yangtze River Delta region. It is a key centre of culture, education and research. Nanjing University is among the world’s top 10 universities ranked by Nature Index.

Remo reminisces that: “One of my most memorable outings moment was when I went to visit the place where they got the inspiration for the mountains in the Avatar movie back in my first year during the summer holidays. It was in Hunan Province in a place called the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Best place to visit so far for me. It was quite the hike though! I went with other Fijian students from different provinces and the Chinese in the pic were our tour guides.”

Parting words from Remo, “The Chinese are different from us back home cause they are always moving; no time to waste. They’re very hard-working and time is of the essence for them. They can’t be laid back because there’s always something to do, things to learn, bills to pay. They’re more than one thing but creative is a word I would use to describe them.

“They’ve made a lot of inventions in terms of technology, food, clothes, services. etc. and that is one of the main reasons I like about them; that is their ability to come up with so many ideas and make things, which makes this country so great. Truly a blessing to be here and experience China’s lifestyle and culture.”
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