Keys to success as an expat in China
09.02.2012 - 15.02.2012 25 °C
View from our apartment in thick fog: Do you see the two boats on the river? They are there, I promise!
After a massively long break that both Roger and I were very thankful to get so we can make it home to see our family and friends, we have returned to China. I have to say that once back in my home comforts, I was totally dreading the thought of coming back and at moments I briefly contemplated why I had even signed up to stay another year. I think it's really easy to fear coming back because you are leaving everything 'normal' that you know behind... nothing is normal here. And most of this 'unnormalness' can seem really uncomfortable and unfamiliar when you've had your chance at westernisation again. But it's something I'm so glad I've done because it's a challenge- you have to be super adaptable, flexible, open minded, and be able to relax.
Adaptable because you change your lifestyle so much- coming from having hot water whenever you need to lying in bed at 7:40am and suddenly realising that you only have 20 minutes until the water gets turned off and you badly need a shower.
Flexible because things change last moment. We were told we had to be back for the opening ceremony for February 10th, but on our return to the school on the 10th, it was ghost-like with absolutely no students and only a small handful of teachers. Turns out we didn't start until the 12th and even that morning it was unknown what anyone's schedule was- whether it was different from last semester or if we had regular classes that day.
Our Valentines Day meal at a Hunan/Sezchuan restaurant in Xiaohuangpu. A delicious tofu dish with peppers and spring onion
Open mindedness is something you cannot go without here. In my motivational (or what I think is a motivation- the sleepy students might think otherwise!!) New Years Resolution lesson, when asked what they would want in their lives to make them happy when they are 80 years old, I had answers such as 'having communism in every country in the world'. This would, perhaps, not be on top of my list!!
And being able to relax. You can't do anything about it- so there's no point in worrying! When Roger and I got the bus (which routes had changed, unbeknownst to us) and it had passed the high speed rail station that we both know, we thought it would continue onto 'Lucky City' in Roggui (where there is a Tesco- don't get excited, its a chinese tesco. AKA Chickens feet, noodles, and rice, and the 'international' section has some weird chinese brands that they've tried badly to translate into English). But the bus never passed Lucky City. Instead it winded into smaller and smaller villages, along a river lined by traditional houses, farmers selling vegetables on the street, babies in little baskets on their grandmother's backs and people squatting on the side of the road shovelling rice into their mouths. Eventually we ended up at a bus station where we thought we'd take our chances and get off in search for another bus that we know goes back to the school, where we could get off and start the journey over. But our plan was stopped shortly after as, after asking the policeman where bus 329 was, he answered 'mei you' (don't have). hmmmm...
So we ventured out onto the road insearch for the taxi's. It was only a matter of second before people who were going about their daily lives stopped dead in their tracks and did a U-turn to come gawk at the two weigoren's (foreigners). Everyone was so happy to see foreign faces. I don't think anyone was more happy than the 20 some taxi drivers who simutaneously piled out of their cars and begging us in chinese to get in their taxi's and laughing away saying that we don't understand what they're saying. They were surprised when we answered them back! Things got confusing when neither Roger or I could remember how to say 'Lucky City' in Chinese. The best we could do was to say 'the middle of Ronggui', which to help my point I made a cross with my arms. Quickly the crowd of taxi's drivers all shouted '10 kuai 10 kuai!' (kuai=renminbi, about 1 GBP). I was getting a little frustrated with why they kept yelling prices out when I hadn't explained to them where I was going when Roger pointed out to me that crossing my arms means 10 here so they all thought I was saying 10. After keeping my arms to my side, we were thankful when our chosen taxi driver took us to the right place!
Funny printed on apples (I don't know how they did this and I'm not sure I really want to know. It's put me off eating those apples for while!
It's not so easy to relax, though, when you are going 100kph down a 6 lane highway and you come to an intersection which does, thankfully, have traffic lights (something that is not common in my area) but instead of lighting up EITHER red, amber or green... all 3 lights were lit up for all lanes of traffic, going in every direction. In times like these we found it's best to close your eyes, hope for the best and try to loosen your tight grip on your seat, whilst pretending that the car does have seatbelts. Oh, and relax!
Our HIGH humidity problem. This is a paper on the wall, and a photo of the WALL... dampness everywhere! Our windows and mirrors are permanently fogged
China does not come without its comedic moments. After we returned from lucky city, we go to the teachers block to get in the elevator, the doors open and there is a man squished to the side with his motorbike being brought down from his flat. Not a small motorbike- a real, life size, motorcycle! Of course they would be a motorcycle in the lift.
And I have one side note to add to everyone out there reading this: You do not need to save loads of money or be paid for by your parents or family to do what I'm doing. I only say this because I didn't realise until this Christmas at home that many people think that
A) You need to save a lot of money to be able to do what I'm doing. In fact, that's no excuse, anyone can do this if they want to, you don't need to have a big savings account. I came out here with just 100 GBP and, being here, I am 100% financially independent from any bank accounts back home
B) That I am here on a voluntary basis and that I eating into my bank account (or other family members). I am not here on a voluntary basis! And, again, being here I am completely independent from all my bank accounts at home.
In addition I had a some comments along the lines of 'next year I should return to the UK/USA because I need to get a real job at some point'.
I realise that my blog's mostly talk about my travel experiences, and I leave out the daily ongoings of work. To be honest, work is work no matter where you are and, quite frankly, its a little bit bland to be talking about it in blogs so I tend to focus on the exciting trips and experiences we have because Roger and I try to make the most out of every weekend and holiday when we aren't working to get out and see new things while we are here.
To all those people who still think this isn't a 'real job' ... I challenge you to come out to China, teach classes of 60 students who don't speak any English, have 2,400+ students, live in a community without ANY home comforts or anybody that speaks English, not being able to escape and go out to restaurants and order food you want because the menus aren't in English. Don't be fooled by other international experiences- China is the only country I have ever been where you are truly in a 100% non-English environment. You cannot get by without understanding Chinese outside of the tourist trail. I personally think this is more than just a 'real job' - on top of the normal work pressures that you would get in any country with any job, there is also massive, inescapable cultural factors that you have to deal with.
On that note it's an experience that I will always look back on as a time in my life that I have learnt an awful lot and I encourage any one out there who is thinking of doing this to go for it!