Consulate intern finds
beauty in the small things

Asia New Zealand Foundation business intern and Leadership Network member Mabel Ye reflects on interning at the New Zealand Consulate-General Office in Chengdu, southwest China where she gained insights into international diplomacy and what it means to live in mainland China in the 21st century.
Mabel Ye

Mabel: "The rise of China is an unstoppable force and whether you are scared or excited there is a need for New Zealanders to better understand China in the 21st century."

“你住在成都,你习惯了吗?”Living in Chengdu, are you used to it yet?

Local friends and strangers asking this question to me had something to do with how unique China is as a country to live, work and be in. China is a fascinating place that is complex to navigate, with its own set of rules, social norms and expectations.

I am fortunate to have travelled around China in the past, visiting family in Guangzhou, exploring Tier 1 cities and studying in Taiwan. Along the way I picked up some Mandarin language skills, so it didn’t take long for me to get xi guan (used to) living in Chengdu, but there was always more to learn.

During my internship, I stayed with a kind host family who answered every single one of my questions about the logistics of living in Chengdu and ensured I was filled with ma la (numbing spicy) noodles and dumplings.

The question I was often asked by friends in New Zealand was, “So, what does a diplomat or consulate do?”

At the Chengdu office, it's about advancing New Zealand interests in southwest China across a range of sectors –business, trade, education, tourism and culture – and building a greater understanding locally of what New Zealand is all about.

My focus was writing research reports to inform and shape future cooperation for the Consulate and its work in southwest China.

I wrote about doing business in Chengdu and Chongqing, education patterns in southwest China and tourism trends between Sichuan and New Zealand.

I did interviews with relevant stakeholders and attended conferences/meetings organised by the local government that related to the work of the Consulate. I also provided assistance with events organised by the Consulate such as ANZAC Day and English media updates on southwest China.


Mabel Ye looking out across a mountain lake

While living in Chengdu, Mabel took the opportunity to explore some remoter parts of China

The opportunity to live overseas gives you the chance to understand and appreciate the beauty of another place in the small things.

I drank fragrant jasmine tea in a bamboo forest park, listening to the sound of seasoned ma jiang (mah jong) players shuffling tiles while I read a book. I had rich conversations over dinner with locals about the hopes young people in China have as well as the expectations that are being placed on them.

Four hours by high speed rail took me to Xi’an to appreciate the beauty of the terracotta warriors and Hua shan mountain. Five hours by bus another way took me to Kangding, a city filled with warm Tibetan culture, yaks grazing in endless grasslands and bright religious artwork and architecture.

I learnt something about China every day and found myself surprised about all sorts of things.

The intensity and high speed that China functions at is to do with the sheer number of people and pressure to succeed and produce results.

I learnt that reputation and face has far more importance than I ever understood before and that navigating bureaucracies means that something that takes five minutes in New Zealand might take an hour in China. Having an open attitude and patience are key to living in China.

A fascinating question a guest university lecturer posed to my class was, “Regarding the rise of China, are you scared or are you excited?”

The rise of China is an unstoppable force and whether you are scared or excited there is a need for New Zealanders to better understand China in the 21st century.