Hello from Chuzhou.
When I was moving to China I called it “a new chapter” in my life. It’s really like a whole new book.
And the book is upside down.
And written in Chinese characters.
And sometimes the book is on fire.
And I ask people for help and they just smile and nod.
I live in Chuzhou, China. Where is Chuzhou? It’s near Nanjing. You don’t know where Nanjing is? Well, one day when you want to be depressed look up the Nanjing Massacre. Do you know about Shanghai? Chuzhou is about a two hour train ride from Shanghai.
Fun Chinese lesson time: “Jing” means capital so “Beijing” means “Northern Capital” while “Nanjing” means “Southern Capital.” Here’s a handy dandy map from Google. I’m the blue dot.
Chuzhou is a small city that has no Starbucks but one McDonald’s, a Dairy Queen, a Pizza Hut, and three KFCs. (KFC is pretty much the coolest thing in China. No joke. You can even have your birthday party there!) (I’m going to make a whole blog post about KFC in China. Don’t worry).
I teach “Oral English” at Middle School No. 8. I was told Chinese students are shy but my students are just like my students in NYC- lots of eye rolling and attitude and so much talking but also lots of laughs, jokes, and great discoveries.
On August 26th I arrived in Chuzhou horribly exhausted from a thirteen hour flight. I was excited to finally rest in my apartment. I remembered in the emails saying it was on the second floor and the pictures I showed that it was nicely furnished.
But in reality my apartment is on the sixth floor. And it is barely furnished.
This basically explains my experience of Chuzhou in nutshell.
“Nanjing is only twenty minutes away!” Yes, twenty minutes on the fast train. That does not include the forty minutes it takes on two buses to arrive at the train station. And because of the train schedule and my work schedule I can only go to Nanjing on the weekend.
“You will have your own classroom!” But the classroom is literally falling apart and I can’t hang anything on the wall because they are so dirty.
“There are lots of foreigners in Chuzhou!” I’ve seen maybe two and those were very rare occasions. They don’t live here.
The best word to describe living Chuzhou for me is “isolated.” I’m living in a world where I don’t belong, a world where I will never truly belong, and in a world where I don’t feel welcomed. There is the constant mocking “hellos” everywhere I go. There is the staring and pointing every time I go out to grab a bite to eat or get toilet paper. A simple task like “buy groceries” ends up being extremely difficult and frustrating because for some reason you can’t buy the garlic this time even though you’ve done it five times before. It’s exhausting. I’m worn out. I think if I had another person to complain with it would be fine.
(I’ve felt more welcomed in the large cities and also in a village of 180 people. No hate for China at all. I really just don’t feel welcomed in Chuzhou at all.)
People tell me “make friends.” I’ve tried. The one genuine person I met is a student too busy with studying to go to grad school. The other people I met treat me like an entertaining foreign monkey.
“Wow! You are so charming!”
“Wow! You use chopsticks so well!”
“Wow! You are so white!”
After a long dinner of not talking to me they all drunkly want to take picture with “the foreigner.”I’d prefer eating by myself.
My only human interaction is from my middle school students. We can’t speak the same language but we make it work even though at times its extremely frustrating. (Teaching “Heads Up, Seven Up” took 35 minutes!) Whenever I walk on campus I get a million “Hellos!” and “Hello Ms. K!” They are pretty much the only thing that is keeping me somewhat functioning right now. But having your only human interaction be middle school students is truly not ideal.
I’ve had some great opportunities to travel around Nanjing, Shanghai, and Guilin. Those have been some of my favorite moments and memories.
Spending so much time alone though has really allowed me to think and reflect. There’s a ton I need to work on and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. All my reflections have lead to “I love going to new places and I love teaching” so I need to keep doing more of that.
But life is Chuzhou to be honest has been a shit storm. The reason I am even somewhat hopeful is that I am leaving my contract early. Surviving till the end of June is an impossible task for me. Living here till January is totally doable though. On top of the isolation my two year relationship ended. I think I could deal with living in foreign city alone or healing from a break up but both combined is overwhelming at times. There’s been lots of loud sobbing, so loud that I really hope my neighbors don’t hear me.
I moved across the world from all my loved ones, my two year relationship is over, and now I am living in a city I hate all alone. I feel like I really have nothing to lose. I plan on taking more risks and going on more (international) adventures after this one.
Having now less than three months in Chuzhou is making me enjoy it. There is such little times! I look at my students and know in a few months I will never see them again. (Maybe if they end up in America they will find me on Facebook. I hope? I dream?) I am walking down different streets just to see what it looks like and trying a bunch of food because its all so good and all so cheap! There is nothing to do in Chuzhou and everything is ridiculously cheap so its the perfect place to save money for the next adventure…
Also, thanks to the “China diet” I am losing weight without even trying (and I still have fast food often because I like Big Macs and friend chicken on the occasion). And my addiction to coffee is over because basically all coffee in China taste like shit.