María Elizabeth Soto had never traveled to Asia before her office sent her on a three-week business trip to China. She wasn’t prepared for the culture shock she’d face there. But the real surprise wouldn’t come until she returned home to Chile.
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Martina Castro: Work trips can be rather monotonous. You might go to exotic places but it’s hard to really experience your surroundings. Well, this was not the case for Maria Elizabeth Soto. When her office sent her to China, in 2014, it was her first trip to Asia.
María Elizabeth Soto: El choque cultural que sentí al viajar a China fue muy grande.
Martina Castro: She also never imagined that in her search for familiar experiences in that unfamiliar country, she would change the course of her life. Welcome to the Duolingo Spanish podcast, where we bring you true bilingual stories of travels with unexpected turns, plans unraveled, and destinations unknown. The Spanish in this story is for intermediate level learners, but if you get lost, don’t worry, we’ll be chiming in throughout the story. Here’s Maria.
María Elizabeth Soto: Mi viaje en Air China fue de 11 horas. Yo estaba feliz y tranquila. Pero cuando llegué a Wuhan, en China, empezaron las sorpresas inesperadas.
Martina Castro: Before leaving the airport, María experienced her first setback. Her suitcase had gotten lost, and the paperwork to find it was in Chinese. Fortunately, a translator helped her with the claim and he assured her that her luggage would arrive later. In China, without a fresh set of clothes, and a full day of work ahead of her, Maria already felt lost.
María Elizabeth Soto: Tuve que ir a un centro comercial para comprar ropa de trabajo. El centro comercial era una construcción enorme y muy ostentosa. El edificio era de color oro, con letras gigantes doradas. Todo me parecía excesivo.
Martina Castro: She ended up buying clothes at an American store she recognized from Chile. But the culture shock didn’t stop after she left the mall.
María Elizabeth Soto: La comida fue mi problema más grande. Era muy diferente a la comida china que venden en Chile. Además, tenían ingredientes muy extraños para mí, como la lechuga en la sopa o los escorpiones.
Martina Castro: María also remembers being affected by the poor air quality. She was struck by the colorful air pollution masks people would use, including the children. And then there were the bathrooms.
María Elizabeth Soto: La taza del baño está abajo en el piso y no es nada práctica. Por suerte, yo estaba en buena forma física pero me preguntaba, ¿cómo usan las abuelas el baño en China?
Martina Castro: So-called squat toilets are traditional throughout much of Asia, and in some areas are still pretty common. But of course, very different from what María was used to back home.
María Elizabeth Soto: Después de 15 días en China, necesitaba mi cultura chilena: mi lengua, y los olores y sabores familiares de mi país.
Martina Castro: And that’s when Maria arrived to Beijing. Maria’s job during the trip was to manage communications for a group of Chilean entrepreneurs who were visiting various of cities across China. But this time, instead of visiting the modern part of town, she opted to explore some ancient sites and this was a refreshing departure from what she had seen up until then. And when she was done for the day, she found herself in a strangely familiar place.
María Elizabeth Soto: El nombre de nuestro hotel era Andes Resort. Tenían muchos productos y decoraciones típicas de Chile. En el restaurante, tenían un menú con mi comida chilena favorita: empanadas de mariscos y carne.
Martina Castro: Those seafood and beef empanadas were such a welcomed surprise — making Maria feel instantly at home.
María Elizabeth Soto: No conocí al chef, pero en ese momento me sentí enamorada de él. Obviamente, era chileno.
Martina Castro: One day, Maria took a stroll near the hotel and saw a tour guide with a nice camera. She had lost hers with her luggage, so she asked if she could use his instead.
María Elizabeth Soto: Él dijo que sí, y hablamos un poco. Sorprendentemente, también era de Chile. Su nombre era Daniel, era de Santiago, la capital, y llevaba tres meses en Beijing.
Martina Castro: María spoke with Daniel for a long time — about Chinese culture, photography, and of course, traveling.
María Elizabeth Soto: Le pregunté a Daniel si me podía enviar las fotos que habíamos tomado por email, pero él me dijo que el Internet en China funcionaba mal, y que era mejor comunicarnos por teléfono móvil. Le di mi número y me despedí.
Martina Castro: María’s days in the Andes Resort really marked a change in her trip — walking around taking photos with Daniel, the delicious Chilean food, even the typical decorations she recognized from home, all gave her a sense of comfort that she clearly needed at the time. On the last day, as María and her coworkers were leaving the hotel, the owner introduced them to the chef.
María Elizabeth Soto: Para mi sorpresa, ¡era Daniel! El fotógrafo y guía turístico. Pero ya estábamos saliendo, entonces solo me dio tiempo de decirle hola y adiós.
Martina Castro: In that brief moment, María recognized that the chef was Daniel, the photographer from the other day… but as she realized he was the one who had made that delicious Chilean food, her coworkers were already walking away. So she quickly said goodbye and left. After Beijing, Maria and her group moved on with the rest of their trip. The modern and cosmopolitan city of Shanghai was their last stop. That’s where María finally received her suitcase from the airline.
María Elizabeth Soto: Las diferencias entre Chile y China empezaban a parecer menos difíciles. ¡Qué maravilla de ciudad era Shanghai! Era casi navidad y las calles estaban decoradas con muchas luces y nieve artificial.
Martina Castro: María walked and walked through Shanghai in wonder. Just as she was starting to enjoy her trip, it was coming to an end. She remembers stopping on a bridge as it started to rain, and tears of joy sprang to her eyes.
María Elizabeth Soto: Lloré porque era el final de un viaje inolvidable.
Martina Castro: A few days after she was back in her office in Chile, and returning to her routine, her phone started to buzz. The Great Wall, the Spring Palace, Tiananmen Square… The photos kept streaming in from Daniel, the chilean chef.
María Elizabeth Soto: Daniel me escribía: María Elizabeth, acá están las fotos de tu viaje — espero que estés bien. Sorprendida, respondí: ¡Oh, súper, gracias!
Martina Castro: Daniel then wrote back. He told her it was his birthday, and that friends were sending him good wishes from afar… he told her about his work… about the the book he was reading. He also confessed how lonely he felt after living three months in China without anyone to talk to in his own language.
María Elizabeth Soto: Nos escribimos mensajes por horas y horas, día tras día. Él por la mañana, yo por la noche.
Martina Castro: A month of countless texts went by, and with each one, it became obvious they were slowly falling in love.
María Elizabeth Soto: Yo pensaba en los mensajes con Daniel por WhatsApp, en su perfecta ortografía… Trataba de recordar su cara, su voz…
Martina Castro: Even though María’s feelings for Daniel were growing, she couldn’t help but be conscious of the fact that an ocean separated them. María was willing to date long distance, but China? It was just so far away. She couldn’t imagine moving her whole life there. Until one day, out of the blue, Daniel told her that he was returning to Chile.
María Elizabeth Soto: Cuando él llegó a Santiago, decidí viajar a visitarlo. Yo vivía en una ciudad a seis horas de ahí. Me fui en bus. Cuando llegué, Daniel me dijo que había una fiesta en su casa. Yo fui y hablamos toda la noche.
Martina Castro: There, surrounded by his friends and loved ones, María realized she wanted to be one of them.
Martina Castro: In other words, she wanted to be with him. The next day, on her bus ride back to her home in Concepción, she couldn’t stop thinking about this. And that’s when, without even looking for it, María got a great opportunity — a job offer in Santiago.
María Elizabeth Soto: En un mes organicé el cambio de casa, de trabajo y de vida. Los dos estábamos sorprendidos de lo rápido y fácil que fue todo. Buscamos un departamento y construimos un hogar juntos.
Martina Castro: Since they met, Daniel and María have created many memories together. They’ve traveled across Chile, Perú and Bolivia. Soon, they’ll have one more travel companion: María is awaiting the birth of their first child.
María Elizabeth Soto: Aquel viaje a China cambió mi vida. Queremos regresar algún día, pero esta vez todos juntos.
Credits and media
The music and sound effects used in this episode include compositions by Creo, Jahzzar, Nctrnm, kunze and arturobat under the CC Attribution License from FreeMusicArchive.org and FreeSound.org.