I realise that I have much neglected this blog over the past 8 months, but as my time in China comes to an end, I am prompted to take a step back and appreciate what an adventure it has been!
With just 2 weeks to go, exams are done, goodbyes have been said, and teaching has all but stopped. The weeks seem to pass with increasing speed as the 30th June approaches and I come to the end of my 10th month in the Orient.
The year has been bookended by trips from my sister Erin. She arrives in Hong Kong next Friday, where I will meet her to start our 2.5 month overland trip back to the UK via Mongolia, Russia, Greece, and everywhere in-between. Travel plans have been taking shape since I first decided to move to China early last year (see upcoming post on planning our overland trip).
I am both excited and apprehensive, happy and sad, about leaving China. I already dread the inevitable “so, how was China?” question, and am trying to work out how to best answer…
With 1.3 billion people, and an area 40 times bigger than the UK, it’s a tricky question to answer from my ‘tiny’ third-tier city. To give you some perspective… I live in Guicheng, an area of Nanhai, which is a district of Foshan, which is a ‘small’ city in Guangdong province, SE China. There are over 50 schools in Guicheng alone, I have friends that live 2 hours away but are still in Nanhai, Foshan has a larger population than London, and there are more people in Guangdong province than the whole of the UK and Ireland together.
So yeah, China was… where do I even start? Hopefully this blog will provide a better answer to the question.
10 things I will miss:
- The amazing group of friends I have made and all the fun times we have had. Despite what some may think, there are lots of expats in China, and almost all of my friends here are from the UK (whom I will refer to as ‘foreign’ forevermore).
- The students. They might be needy and annoying, but they’re kind, cute and funny, and I will miss them.
- Living a life of luxury: involves getting full manicure/ pedicure and gel nails every couple of weeks for £3 (!), and eating out most of the time because it’s cheaper than eating in.
- Getting paid way more than you deserve, and therefore being able to SAVE! For the first time since starting uni I don’t owe my parents any money, and I am clear of my overdraft! YAY
- Instantly making friends with any other ‘foreigners’ (i.e. non-Chinese) you see, be that in in the supermarket, in a bar, or on the metro.
- Getting special ‘foreigner’ treatment. Being so obviously non-Chinese, you will often be given special treatment such as: being assigned a personal chaperone at the train station, being let-off paying your fare on the bus, getting away with queue jumping, or be given VIP treatment in the bank etc.
- How SAFE I feel everywhere, all the time. You never get wolf-whistled, or feel uncomfortable wearing a short shirt or skimpy top. I will happily take taxis alone, and walk home in the middle of the night on my own without nervously looking over my shoulder.
- Travelling a lot. A surplus of money and time means that you are free to explore. I have seen much of China, been to Hong Kong ten times, and had trips to Japan and Dubai over the year. Every weekend can be a new adventure, and China has some beautiful places to explore (Instagram @keiramoudling).
- The honesty, trustworthiness, and generosity of locals. I can happily leave my handbag and phone unattended on an outside table, or trust that no one will nick the 100 note I left out for the water delivery man all weekend, or be given money for the bus by a random fellow passenger when my travel card runs out of credit. I have really come to appreciate these small gestures.
- WeChat pay. WeChat is the best app and I have no idea why the rest of the world has yet to adopt it. Paying people back – and anything involving payment for that matter – has never been easier; you can even use it to book flights and pay your utility bills!
10 things I will NOT miss… at all… ever: (brace yourself, here comes the rant…)
- The NOISE!! OMG THE NOISE. Arghhh (deep breaths). China is the LOUDEST place on Earth. A constant harassment of the senses, above all for my poor little ears. You might not be able to see the Great Wall from space, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you could hear China’s collective din. From the 6:30am school-wide waking up song, to the distinctive sound of spitting, to the street cleaners swishing their homemade stick brushes at all hours, to the incredibly annoying and repetitive jingles that compete with one another outside (and inside) every shop and restaurant, to the building work going on everywhere, all the time, to the excessive overuse of car horns, to the unsupervised children screaming while their grandparents yell aggressive-sounding language into their giant smart phones, to the entire population being apparently unaware of the invention of earphones while they watch crappy TV shows, on full volume, on public transport! OMG THE NOISE. When I leave I am going to lie in a dark silent room for a week to recover. I think I might have tinnitus.
- The smell and the dirt – no big surprise, China is dirty and smelly. Despite the street-cleaners’ best efforts there are still huge piles of rubbish all over pavements, and rats and cockroaches are an everyday sight. Soap and cleaning products are not a thing.
- The lack of manners, bizarre cultural differences, and (Western-perceived) rudeness of everyone. Culturally, China could not be more different from Europe. I will not miss the shoving and pushing, lack of appreciation of personal space, spitting everywhere, children going to the toilet (not just wee) in the street, noisy eating, and lack of consideration for others.
- Having several near-death experiences – per day – from near bike crashes whilst innocently walking on the pavement.
- Dirty, nasty, smelly, toilet roll-less, soap-less, squat toilets.
- The weather: NEVER chose to live in a humid place, it’s horrible! For most of the year it has been 30+ degrees and pushing 100% humidity. Everything is damp, you rarely see the sky or the sun, and you sweat constantly. I didn’t realise how much it would effect my mood and everyday life. Heat is very restricting. On the other hand, for the few months over winter that the temperature dramatically dropped, I never took my coat off and huddled under blankets in my unheated and uninsulated flat. Tropical weather is not fun (oh, apart from those days off we got for the Typhoon).
- The food. That nice sweet-and-sour you get from the takeaway on a Friday? Not a thing. Chinese food is not for me: greasy, oily, unhealthy, boiled to death, boney, tricky to eat and monotonous.
- Being pointed at and photographed everywhere you go. GET OVER IT. My tolerance for random people shouting ‘hallo hallo’, pointing and giggling, and whispering ‘waiguoren’ (aka alien, other country person, foreigner) has well and truly reached saturation point.
- Being called ‘tall, thin, and beautiful’. This may sound like it is in the wrong list, but no. It becomes an insult when all anyone cares about is what you look like – that and getting a good photo of you. In short, China seems to me to be incredibly superficial and materialistic.
- The slow, slow, oh so painfully slowwwww internet connection (e.g. I had to ask my parents to post this for me and my sister does all my Instagrams), not to mention having to use a VPN to access anything more useful than Bing.
- Did I mention the noise?
10 things I have learnt:
- To speak (basic) Mandarin. I am the proud recipient of a HSK level 1 certificate.
- A version of ‘teaching’: I am by no means an expert, but teaching English in English, to classes of 50 non-English-speaking 6 year olds, is no mean feat.
- A new-found appreciation of what real teachers do – especially my Mum and all my amazing friends who have recently qualified – they are incredible.
- I am surprisingly confident singing and dancing in-front of large audiences.
- I don’t care what people think about me, especially when I know they are talking about me, but have no idea what they are saying. Bizarrely, being continually photographed and stared at has made me even less self-conscious.
- Bras and make-up are entirely inappropriate and unnecessary in temperatures exceeding 25 degrees. Also, hair and nails grow really quickly in hot climates.
- China is still culturally distinct from anywhere else I have been.
- On the other hand, China is not as different and alien as I first thought.
- If you stay somewhere long enough, things that once totally shocked and repulsed you become completely normal.Wherever you go in the world, there will always be those things that you love, and those that you hate. I tried to keep it fair with 10 each.
- Patience. Wow I am so patient now, and I really wasn’t before (see previous point about slow internet and needy children).
3 reasons I think a year teaching in China is an amazing opportunity and something more new grads should consider:
- It is an amazing way to spend a year. The lifestyle is great, you will learn so much, make friends for life, and China will definitely change you (for the better, I hope).
- Its a perfect bridge between university and real-life adult jobs, and you will be in a much better position to apply after the year (or 2). Plus, you have tonnes of free time to decide what you might want to do, and to work on those applications.
- MONEY MONEY MONEY. Unbeknown to me prior to arriving, teaching in China can be incredibly lucrative and you can actually save significant amounts without trying too hard. It’s also free to do through the British Council.
One last thing before anyone asks: no I did not eat chickens feet, dog, or turtle, nor kiss or get anywhere near any Chinese man. Sorry to disappoint those of you who were hoping I would come back with a Chinese boyfriend and/ or adopted child.