I’m finally getting around to doing the last blog post for Amy’s China Adventure. I’ve been home now for more than a week. It took about a week to get over the jetlag and reverse culture shock.
My final trip in China – to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) in Anhui province – didn’t disappoint. Daisy and I took the cable car to the top of the mountain, stayed overnight and walked down the mountain the next day. Luckily, we managed to catch Huangshan’s famed sunrise, although we were told there was only a 40% chance we’d see it due to the weather. From start to finish, Huangshan was one big money grab, but the sunrise, the haunting mists and the spectacular views were worth it. And I can say that I got out into nature at least once in China! Actually I’m very proud of myself for undertaking the 2.5-hour trek down the mountain. I’ve never been an “outdoors girl”, but maybe that’s changing, if only a little. As I approach my 30s, I’m trying to incorporate more physical activity into my life. I enjoyed the hike down the mountain, though it killed my knees for the next few days.
At about 5 am, the sun emerges from Huangshan's famous mists
After Huangshan, the whirlwind of activity happened as predicted – along with sad good-byes – and within days of my final trip, I was home. Already, there are aspects of China I miss. Obviously, I don’t miss everything! I’ll use this final blog entry to reflect on the best and worst of my China Adventure.
First, the top 5 things I will not miss about China, many of which I’ve dealt with in past blog entries:
1. The staring: I forgot how nice it is to be able to walk around in public without becoming the main attraction. I am a laowai no more!
Too serious to put in a top-5 list is the lack of freedom. You can never really forget in China that the message is always tightly controlled by the Communist Party. There is no free press. You cannot access certain web sites (the number of which grew during my time there as the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square approached). I am happy to be back in the True North Strong and Free, where I can buy a copy of Prisoner of the State off the shelves (and I have). I am happy to soon be moving to the Land of the Free. No more anonymous proxy servers for skirting the Great Fire Wall. China is a land of contrasts and perhaps the biggest contrast of them all is the lack of political freedom coupled with a raging free enterprise economy. It is possible to see echoes of late-80s China in the situation that is unfolding in Iran – and I hope they are not on course for a Tiananmen Square type crackdown.
The frustrations of life in China comprised maybe 10% of my time there. It is hard to encapsulate the remaining 90% into five neat bullets – so I won’t. I have absolutely no regrets about walking away from an excellent job to make a life – albeit a temporary one – on the other side of the world. Life as an ESL teacher was more rewarding than I possibly could have imagined sitting in Newfoundland. I believe when I look back at my time in China years from now, certain memories and images will remain crystal clear. I’ll see the smiles of my Tuesday night Oral English students when I told them how proud I was of their progress. One of my favourite classes, I had no problem reminding them that during our first class together, I was constantly telling them to stop speaking Chinese! But by the end of the term, here they were... performing skits, speed dating and debating - all in English.
I’ll remember Andrea in that same Oral English class. Despite language and cultural differences, something about her reminded me of myself. One of the quieter ones, she blew me away with a poignant speech about how when she was a little girl, she’d only talk to her mother. And I remembered my mom telling me that when she took me to kids’ birthday parties, I wouldn’t leave her side. Andrea went on to describe the efforts she’s made to come out of her shell and get more confident. She said she never dreamed she’d be speaking to a class in English… kind of like how a little girl who couldn’t be left overnight at Brownie Camp never thought she’d be teaching English in China!
I’ll miss English Corner, both at the University and Web International English, my second job. I’ve talked about English Corner in several other blog posts.
I’ll also miss my Chinese lessons with Steve and Connie, though I’m continuing my Chinese study at home – and will make every effort to continue it in DC, though no doubt the demands of an MBA program will make that difficult. I have to keep my eye on the big picture. I’m about to do an MBA with a specialization in international business. China is the market to watch. Those who speak Chinese will have a huge advantage in international business. ChinesePod has been a phenomenal resource, though obviously it can’t beat the face-to-face interaction I had with my tutors. My Chinese language progress in China was far from linear. The first 3 months or so, my learning was very incremental, much to my frustration. But it’s like when May hit, things starting clicking into place. My conversational ability suddenly improved. On my last night in Changzhou, I had dinner with Steve and his family. His wife, Spring, only speaks Chinese. Previously, I hadn’t been able to understand anything Spring said – and I wasn’t able to say much to her. But things were different my last night. I definitely still needed Steve there as a translator, but I was able to understand more of what she said and, just as importantly, could make some comments back to her. Imagine if I was staying longer!
I’ll remember the little things too, like the walks back to my apartment after my evening classes. As a laowai, I found walking at night more enjoyable, as the darkness afforded some protection from the stares. Walking back to my apartment around 9 pm, I’d go past Market Street, where all the restaurants were still open. Couples would be sitting or strolling around, holding hands. People would fly past on bikes, sometimes with a friend perched precariously on the back, side saddle style. In good weather, guys would still be on the basketball courts. Turning the corner from Market Street, the hotel's giant, illuminated pen would come into view.
My time in China confirmed what I started to suspect during my two terms in Europe during University: I love the international life! I love the lack of predictability. I love the challenge of adapting to a new way of doing things. I love getting on a train or a plane on the weekend and seeing another new place.
This is a complete about-face from the way I used to be. As a child, I hated change. I didn’t want our family to get a new car or move into a new house. I hated to be away from my parents. I was scared of everything from the dark to dogs, to speaking in class to the Thriller video (I have to pay homage somewhere in this post to my first favourite singer). Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve made a point to push myself outside my comfort zone - to live my "what ifs" - and China was the biggest stretch yet. It's scary to pack your bags and immerse yourself in a completely different culture, but for me the rewards far outweighed any initial culture shock.
China is not the end of my adventures. In less than a month, the next phase of my life begins as I move to Washington, DC to do my MBA at George Washington University. I hope you’ll follow me over to my new blog: amy-warren.blogspot.com.
See you in the District.