Rewind back to 2008 and my husband and I were on our yearly vacation – this time in China. Past vacations had taken us to different corners of Europe (Italy, Greece, Spain, Germany) and even to Asia (India, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia). Every time I thought I could get the better of the travel bug, but it just seemed to be getting worse. Every year for the past 30 years Dan had asked me the same question – do you want to renovate the house or travel? And of course my unhesitating reply – TRAVEL of course!
So again we packed our suitcases and hopped on a plane to Beiing. It was the spring of 2008 – the year of the Beijing Olympics. Everywhere there were posters proclaiming it and beaming, with the Chinese determined to show the world what they could do. We travelled around and over the course of 3 weeks we saw Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an (the famed Terracotta Warriors), the Li River and Lijiang, the beautiful Unesco heritage city in Yunnan province. And everywhere we were welcomed by smiling locals who said “Oh you are an English teacher? Why don’t you come and work here? We need so many teachers here”. And so the idea took root…
How did the dream become reality?
And so I began musing… could we do it? HOW could we do it? Hey, let’s do it!
I began reading online voraciously. I discovered that lots of other people were teaching in China and loving it. Achieving the dream became an obsession. But I never totally believed it could really happen. Finally my husband and I both applied for early retirement and got it. We found a job at Zhejiang Forestry and Agriculture University which offered us employment, a free apartment and free air fare. And then finally in September 2011 armed with the “Letter of Invitation” and a temporary visa to enter China we found ourselves on a plane headed for Shanghai, and from there we continued on to Lin’an a small city in Zhejiang province, 3 hours ride from Shanghai. We were picked up at our Shanghai hotel by a driver from the school who drove us to the campus where we were met by a smiling reception committee, who escorted us in the pouring rain to our very own campus apartment , complete with microwave, a/c and television only in Chinese.
“Are we completely insane?” we repeatedly asked each other, then bursting into laughter. “Well if we don’t like it we will just go home” we reassured each other. But we did like it. We liked it a whole lot. And we ended up staying another 2 years in China, at a different university in another province.
Living in China
Naturally living in China has its challenges, not least that you suddenly become illiterate. However, this is less of a problem than it sounds because living and working in a Chinese university means there is always someone on hand to help and take you to the post office, the shops or the hairdresser. And everything you do becomes an adventure. Actually just walking down the street is an experience here. You never quite know what you are going to see. Every day we learn something new about the culture and the customs.
Since we only work two days a week we have a lot of time for exploring, and we have gradually been to many different corners of the country – we stopped off in Macau the Las Vegas of China, visited the glitzy economic powerhouse of Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Qingdao both popular beach destinations, and Shenzhen which is often called the factory of the world, most likely all your clothes and electronics were manufactured there. We have been over to Taiwan for a 2 week holiday and to South Korea for a 3 week holiday too. We also visited the world famous UNESCO heritage site of the Hakka Earth houses in the province we live now, Fujian.
But maybe the best thing really has been to move beyond the “tourist” label and to sometimes feel that we somehow belong here, that we have Chinese neighbours, and our local supermarket and that the man downstairs in the convenience store knows and welcomes us even though our vocabulary is very limited.
We have been overwhelmed by the acceptance and friendliness of the people we have met here. Beginning with the students, who are much more respectful and polite than their Western counterparts, and up to our colleagues and neighbours. It seems that being a “Laowei” or foreigner makes you at once weird and fascinating. It can be overwhelming but generally we find it pleasant that people want to have their photos taken with us and want to bombard us with questions about “our home town” and ask us what we think about China and the Chinese, especially Chinese food of course.
So what now?
Well of course the travel bug is now well and truly an integral part of me.
I am never going to be cured, but now I like it that way. And fortunately for me my husband supports me and maybe has a little bit of the bug himself. This summer we are going to travel overland from Thailand to Laos, on our way back to Israel. Then we will spend some time back at home with our family and then … who knows? Maybe Spain. Maybe elsewhere. Our new mantra is “The plan is we have no plan”.