On the first night in my new apartment, I sat on my porch with my new roommate. I ran my hands through my frizzy, distressed travel hair and I said “How the heck did I end up in China.”
Last year I was sitting in my usual corner spot, sipping coffee at Odd’s cafe while watching the usual traffic meander down Haywood Road. This is where I would go whenever I wanted some time to myself. I was at a weird crossroads and I wasn’t sure if my lifestyle was working out or if I was just pushing myself into another corner. I remember tossing my pen around my fingers and looking down at my empty notebook. The inspiration was non-existent and it has been this way for some time now.
That’s when I wrote down “This will be the year of me.” at the top of the page. Those seven words brought the creation of this entire blog and you can find it at the end of my original “Transparency” post. I was determined to make a change and follow my gut rather than my old, restricting expectations. If you would have told me that the “Year of me” included quitting my job, a cross country road trip with a stranger, moving to Oregon, witnessing an eclipse, flying to Europe, almost moving to Portugal, hitchhiking around the Balkans, moving to China, becoming a teacher and then writing a blog post in a Red-Riding Hood themed cafe in Thailand, I would have giggled and told you to shut the front door because that sounds exhausting. Simply writing that TLDR made me tired but here I am- alive and well in Thailand writing this post.
I spent 5 months living in Foshan, a small industrial city lying on the outskirts of the much larger, more internationally known city of Guangzhou. A quick google search won’t bring up much aside from a comment saying “Foshan is the Houston of China.” you can take that comment as you will. Foshan is known as the birthplace of Bruce Lee, Kung Fu and its ancient ties to ceramics. There is a very small, close knit community of foreigners, most of them are also here teaching English. During the day, you’ll probably find us eating dim-sum with locals. At night, you can find us having a “Gānbēi” at the divey, yet social DJ’s. Always remember the rule: Go out for one, maybe two but definitely no more than 5. Since the foreigner community is so small, its not uncommon for locals to ask to take a selfie and be your friend on WeChat. The locals love taking photos of everything. It’s also common to see locals taking stealth photos of you in the most random situations, or shamelessly taking a close up of your face.
Living in China is definitely challenging for a whole variety of reasons. China has created a huge block on almost all forms of Western social media and replaced them with their own domestic versions. Access to western sites like Facebook, Google/Gmail, Instagram, Western news outlets, ect. will rely on your VPN connection. China has created their own substitutes though, including Baidu and Wechat. If you ever plan to spend a decent amount of time in China, it might be worth it to purchase a VPN, get used to bing and sign up for Wechat.
The spitting.. dear god the spitting… This was the one cultural difference that I was unable to get used to. I’m not easily grossed out, and I’m usually very tolerant of gross habits but not this one. I always heard about the spitting culture but I never thought it would be this obvious or common. The locals spit everywhere and they are absolutely shameless. My biggest fear while living in China was that I’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Luckily, I avoided all airborne saliva. If only it was a quick 1, 2, phew! but that’s not the case and it happens when you least expect it. You hear that infamously common, deep gargling while on the bus, waiting for the bus, in a restaurant, on the streets, in a park, indoors, outdoors.. anywhere. There’s almost an angry tone to it, and it sounds like they’re pulling it up from the very bottom of their toes until they finally phgggeeeeahhhtttuu it to the ground.. You turn around to find a sweet looking old lady smiling from ear to ear.
Another hurdle in China meant living in an apartment with roommates. I was thrilled when the school informed me that I’ll be sharing a space rather than living solo but keep in mind that I have been working/living in hostels for the past 4 years. That means I’m used to sharing a house with about 20+ different roommates that are constantly changing so consistency is not something I’m familiar with. This living situation involved only two roommates that will be there for a lot longer than 3-7 days.
I was a little nervous moving in but I can honestly say that I hit the roommate jackpot! The three of us worked together, lived together and still spent a decent amount of time hanging out. Of course, we had moments where space was clearly necessary but seriously I couldn’t have been luckier.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I only picked up a few Mandarin phrases, including a few words that won’t ever prove to be useful. When I first moved in I was determined to learn but Mandarin is difficult. Learning the words wan’t the challenging part, it was learning how to say them and that’s just something that does not come easy for a tone-deaf lǎowài.
And my all-time favorite mix up!
- Xīguā means watermelon
- Xīguăn means straw
- Xĭhuan means to like
Luckily for us new aged travelers, there are a ton of translation apps you can use that help out tremendously so you don’t find yourself saying “I don’t watermelon to drink straw juice from a like.” I’m sure your preference towards drinking watermelon juice won’t be a hot topic while traveling, but you get the idea.
You always hear about people teaching English overseas but I never thought in a million years I would end up being a teacher. Becoming a teacher has been the most rewarding experience and I think this is exactly what I was looking for when I wrote down “This will be the year of me.” I found a job where I actually feel like I’m making a difference. I’m able to travel while giving back to the local community and it gives me a reason to stay in one place for longer than a few weeks. I will always be a traveller, but I’m starting to transition out of my backpacker phase.
Surprised? me too. I used to think that I would be a backpacker for the rest of my life but that lifestyle isn’t working for these old (I’m 24) bones. I don’t think any amount of travel will satisfy my wanderlust, but I’m realizing that I’d rather tip toe through a handful rather than dash across the globe. My long term backpacking days are coming to an end but thats a story for another post.
Interested in teaching overseas?