Last week my student Jake told me, “My new English name is Puck.” With the help of my translation app we discussed how Puck is the name of a character from a Shakespeare play. I was looking forward to having him in class on Thursday. I would bring my copy of A Midsummer’s Dream in Mandarin and we would have a conversation about Shakespeare. I might never get my drama club but at least I would get to talk about Shakespeare with this delightful student. Thursday morning came and I got the text that read, “Class is cancelled today and tomorrow because of bad weather. The term is over.” I never got to say goodbye to all my students and now all I have is some money from the job, some pictures of the students, and lots of memories.
I came to China to teach English and start a drama club at a public middle school. The drama club never happened and I have felt more like a babysitter than a teacher. I thought the term would be over the 29th and I didn’t learn that the term would actually be over the 22nd till last week so with my extra week I am going to Xi’an to see the Terrocotta Warriors, a dream I have had since I was a kid. After I will come back to Chuzhou for a short view days and then I’ll be off to Beijing to enjoy the Lunar New Year and my final days in China.
And then a new adventure begins. For the next seven months I will be a “digital nomad.” I’ve always had a bit of a nomadic soul. After high school I moved to San Diego and then back to Los Angeles. After college I moved back to San Diego for a short while and then moved across the country to New York City. In about three and a half years I lived in about seven different places and I enjoyed the whole process. It kept me from owning too much and allowed me to see different sides to the city.
I will leave Beijing and go to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia by train. I will spend a few days there and then will go on a way too long bus ride to a village in the northern part of the country. For a little less than two months, I will do a work exchange where I will teach adults English, live in a ger, and hopefully see some reindeers and two hump camels. I am interested in Mongolia and what better way to learn than by living and teaching there for a short amount of time. Yes, the timing isn’t perfect and the weather will be horribly cold but life is a daring adventure. When else am I am going to go live in Mongolia for two months with the nomads? Now. And where else is better place to start my nomadic journey than with the nomads! After I will spend some time in Vietnam and then Thailand. I am still figuring out all the details in between but the goal is to make it around the world by going to Morocco and then back to New York City in the beginning of August.
I am not going on a vacation. I view this as a lifestyle change and part of my lifestyle will be living in different countries and “traveling” (and I put that word in quotes because travel can have many meanings). I have an online teaching job that is going very well and will be working anywhere from 30 to 40 hours a week. The hours are “flexible enough.” I work weekday evenings and can work full days on the weekend if I choose too. It is not perfect but its pretty damn close as it will be allowing me to live a life I never even thought of doing. Plus, my favorite time to explore a city is 7:00am to 10:30am so I will still be able to do that!
Yes, I have lots of pretty pictures on my Facebook and Instagram accounts but that is such a small slice of my journey in China. It’s such a small sliver. There was way more bad than good. I mean, I am leaving in the middle of my contract. That should say something. There were too many tears. There were lots of times I couldn’t get out of bed and couldn’t eat or was barely functioning. It got to the point of if I didn’t get better I was thinking my best option would be moving in with one of my parents. Things did get better thankfully but it took some time and things are still slowly falling back together.
There was so many things going against me in my time in Chuzhou. I was fighting an uphill battle with a plastic straw. Teaching 32 students in an “oral English” class is a daunting and almost impossible task especially when you see them only once a week for forty minutes. Plus, one of the biggest issue was the school not keeping students accountable. There were no grades for my class or even an attendance sheet. Students were constantly late and would ditch my “not optional class.” But even more so, there is no point of them learning English. Their Chinese teachers teach them how to pass English exams but learning how to speak English is really not needed. I mean, the principal of the school speaks absolutely no English. You can only do some much motivating with student who don’t need to learn what you are teaching them. Since students weren’t kept accountable in my class they did whatever they pleased: constantly talking, pushing and shoving, throwing objects, flipping off other students and flipping off me. Yes, I had the student on Wednesday who said she loved me and I had some touching moments but once again it was a lot of bad. I didn’t look forward to going to work which is something I had in NYC.
Plus there was the other side of life in Chuzhou: the culture shock, the language barrier, and even basic things I had to figure out like “how to say bathroom” and where to find toilet paper. And I had no support doing it. Yes, they helped two times in the first week and then all contact was just gone really. I guess it was naive of me to think that this school would help the teacher who moved across the world to teach at their school. In fact, I was told flat out the teachers didn’t like me cause I am a “foreigner.” (And the way the Chinese use this word is really an insult.) I didn’t make any friends like I thought I would and ate all my meals alone. My human interaction was my middle school students who speak barely any English and whoever took my food orders. Everytime I went out of my apartment I was uncomfortable from all the stares and people shouting at me. And the cherry on top was dealing (and still dealing with) the break up of a two year relationship. It honestly was just too much to handle all at once.
I feel like I can’t give a proper reflection since I am still in the mist of “Life in Chuzhuo.” I need physical distance and time to truly reflect on my experience here. Maybe in five months I will try to write about it. Its been a lifetime yet its rushed by so quickly. I have been ripped out of all my comfort zones and had a ride of a lifetime.
Chuzhou has been my home for five months, even though its been less than ideal. So its odd when people ask, “When you are coming home?” I am home. After work I go home. After a weekend trip to Shanghai I enjoy coming home. Sure I am uncomfortable here but this is where I live and I do also have things that bring me comfort. This is where I go grocery shopping. This is where my toilet clogs. This is where I wake up. This is where I am. Its home for now. In August I will be “coming back to the states” not “home.” Home is such an odd word but for me its more of a feeling. I think I might feel more at home when I get to eat some goat cheese or get to take a bath or get a monthly metro card. But there are pieces of home in Chuzhou too. I feel at home when I get to snuggle in my bed with my eletric blanket or when I eat at my favorite noodle shop.
One buzzword in the travelworld is “slow travel.”
With Slow Travel you experience a deeper type of travel by staying in one place longer and seeing the things that are close to you. It is an easier, simpler and slower way of traveling.
This is the travel I love. And I even view my time in China as “slow travel” really. I have realized I would rather spend a month in one city in Vietnam that try to see the whole country (or all of Southeast Asia!) in a month. It just doesn’t make sense to me to rush through trying to see it all. I met someone in Guilin who said they “want to see everything.” and yet there were only there for less than 24. They didn’t experience Guilin at all or see anything really. I think if you try to see everything, you really experience or see nothing.
I look back at my short time in Guilin and one thing that stands out to me, besides the sights and the beautiful scenery, was that I became a “regular” at Starbucks and a small noodle shop. They recognized me and knew my order. I want that same experience in Vietnam. And in Thailand. And in Morocco. And so many other places. Sure, I am not seeing “everything” and won’t have a long checklist of countries I have been to or a passport full of stamps but that’s not what I am searching for. I’d rather get to know three or four cities in seven months than visit a bunch countries by rushing through them and just scratching the surface. And even a month in one city is really not a lot of time. Yes, its more than most American will ever experience but you really still don’t know the place or the people. My five months in China wasn’t that long at all. I’ve only seen such a small slice of China as its such a huge country and there is still so much I don’t comprehend about Chinese culture and life.
Life in Chuzhou has become more than lonely. It’s isolating. For a while it consumed me but now I have come to peace with it. My path right now is alone, lonely, and isolating. And I am okay with it. In fact, I am starting to really enjoy all the loneliness and alone time now. If I waited for someone to do stuff with I would have done nothing. I would have never gone to Guilin. I would have never seen the many side of Shanghai. I wouldn’t have done or seen a lot.
At first I wanted to travel indefinitely but once I made the decision to come back to the states in August I felt a sense of relief. I guess the idea would be I would stop when “I feel like it.” I would go as long as I could until I either burned out or just felt I was ready for the next step. My decision kinda of just happened and one idea that hit was thinking about “future goals.” I am going back to NYC to finish up my teacher certification. I just can’t imagine another year with no theatre in my life (though its been nice to have a break to reflect and try to find other sides of my artist self). I know getting certified will open more doors for me including the possibility of working overseas again but at a better school. Plus, I can’t think of where else I would want to live. I want visit Mongolia and Nepal but I really don’t want to live there. I would love to live in Portland, Oregon but getting certified in NYC is really the wiser and logical choice. I know I can find work there too.
Travel to me has become more of a state of mind and view of the world. I can bring it with me wherever I go. Some of my favorite memories in China are my weekend adventures to Nanjing and Shanghai. Surely I can have some weekend adventures when I move back to NYC. There is also so much of New York and America I haven’t seen or experienced yet. I don’t view my choice as “the end of all international travels for the rest of my life “but I view it as the next and new chapter. I do see myself moving abroad again someday but will be able to make a better choice with all that I have learned. I got burned pretty bad.
Plus, “New York 2.0” will be so complete different. I will be super single and living in an area of NYC I never lived in before. I have discovered new sides to myself that I know NYC will help continue to flourish. I am determined to finish my certification even though it will be painful and difficult for me. I already daydream about my very unromantic return: I won’t be able to afford a taxi so I will have to ride the train with my backpack to either my friend’s or stranger’s couch while I search for an apartment. I probably won’t be able to eat all the food I miss as I will need to save money for a mattress. I try not think of how will I manage to find enough work and make enough money to live in NYC again because the anxiety just fills my body.
But for the time being I am still in Chuzhou. My hot water hasn’t worked in days so my last shower lasted about twenty second and I haven’t washed my hair in over a week. I eat noodles twice a day and teach classes online in the evening. I am looking forward to my time in Xi’an and Beijing but in the meantime I am really enjoying the noodles in Chuzhou. If there one thing I will really miss about Chuzhou, its the noodles.