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I Never Take the Easiest Route from A to B

2017-02-15 16:45:27 Natasha Edwards

Lena loves the Chinese traditional qipao dresses.

Twenty-five-year-old Lena went to China for the first time in 2011. She now lives there permanently and studies at the Communication University of Beijing. In 2011, like most high school students, Lena was uncertain about what career path to pursue and felt lost. One day, she won a book at a school competition entitled “Under the Stars”. The book told the story of a young girl’s adventure in China. Lena was intrigued and wanted to go herself. A friend from her hometown in Denmark set her up with a travel agent who helped Lena plan her first trip: a month in Beijing learning how to teach English as a foreign language, and then a further six months teaching in Dongguan, Guangdong. Although her experiences have proved tricky and she didn’t set herself up to have an easy time, Lena has fallen in love with China and now wants the whole world to as well. She promotes the culture, country, and people on her Youtube channel Lenaaround, blog, and Instagram profile.

Lena’s China adventure started a month after she graduated high school. She moved to Beijing with no cell phone and no computer. With no access to social media, she found herself often drawing outside of the dorm. The security guards would come out and talk to her using the translators on their cell phones. At night, her friend called Simple would take her to get cake in the city centre, and point at signs to tell her their meaning and pronunciation. She recalls meeting a boy in Dongguan who spoke no English, but who still took her out for a date hiking up a mountain the following weekend. “He even went through the trouble of asking for a fork and knife for me at the restaurant. This made all the other clients laugh.” During her first visit to China, Lena couldn’t believe how friendly and helpful the Chinese were towards her. For those six months, Lena said yes to every opportunity she was offered and immersed herself in Chinese culture and society.

Lena often films Taobao hauls, the very Chinese version of clothing hauls.

After moving back to Denmark to attend university, she would travel back to China every chance she got to spend a couple weeks to months there learning the language in various locations. “People often ask me what keeps me going back. Every day is an adventure. Every day is different and a struggle, but I love it,” says Lena, “I feel special there. In Denmark, I am just like everybody else. In China, no matter how hard I try to fit in, I will always be an outsider, but I’ve learned to embrace that.”

The West’s perception of China made her angry. “I’m not OK with international students who come to China for a semester or two to stay with people from their own countries, go drinking, and talk badly about Chinese people. I have to distance myself from that negative energy.” Furthermore, she doesn’t believe pollution in Beijing is that as bad as Western news sources say it to be, “I’m not affected by the pollution. Most the time, Beijing is all blue skies, blue skies. When there is pollution, the Western media makes a big deal of it.” In her mind, China is her life and her future, she knew she had to do something to change the West’s opinion of this place she loved so much. She originally started blogging, but when she went on holiday to Malaysia, she learned about Youtube and the potential online career she could have, so she decided to have a go at vlogging.

At home in 2015, Lena found she had a lot of time on her hands while writing her bachelor’s degree dissertation. She started making videos about living in China, and when she moved back in 2016, she filmed her travels and funny days in Beijing. “Making videos is very different from blogging. I blogged for four years in English but always struggled to make my personality shine through the text. With video, the footage is raw, there is no hiding behind a screen. Your personality and story-telling skills are what the viewer falls in love with.” Lena has uploaded 260 videos to date, using her videos to discuss intercultural relationships, cultural differences, teaching in China, interesting Chinese sayings, and more. Her favourite videos include “What I can do in China that I can’t do back home” and “Five things I do after I’ve been staying in China for too long”.

As much as she loves Youtube, China’s censorship on Western social media platforms is a burden to her work. Posting new videos on Youtube involves sending her friend in Denmark videos on Dropbox for her to upload. “Even though my work demands it, I try not to use VPNs. Instead of spending hours trying to watch television using my VPN, I watch Chinese TV dramas to improve my Chinese. It can be annoying at times, but I just have to accept it as part of life in China and the whole experience.”

Now, studying International Journalism at the Communication University of Beijing, she sees her future in media and hopes to build her online career over the next few years through more experiences and stories to share and tell. Inspired by her first trip to China, she is also writing a book about her adventures in China.

Lena uses her favourite word mafan (a pain in the neck) to describe her everyday life. “Nothing comes easily here, but I personally choose to take the long route from A to B; it’s more interesting that way. For instance, I argued with my Chinese yeye (pet name for grandfather figure) the other day that the milk goes in the fridge and not in the cupboard. This would never happen in Denmark; that’s what is so great about China.”

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