A Thought on Leaving China

Travel

So we finally got word last week that we will be leaving China, with a date set for July 18th. I am so excited to get this news because for a long time we have never had a definite date, and now there is an end in sight and we can actually plan for it.

If we had known when we first arrived here that we would be staying for almost 11 months there’s so many things I would have done differently. But for the past 9 months we’ve been thinking that we’re leaving in just a couple months and I don’t feel as though we ever really settled into China fully. For example, I would have gotten a job that was going to last longer, and I would have started taking Chinese from the very beginning.

So I am happy that we finally have something we can count on (fingers crossed). But I was talking to some friends of mine who live up in Nanjing the other day and we were trying to make plans to meet up in Shanghai. While we were talking it dawned on me that it might be the last time I ever see these two girls again (one is from Dublin, the other England). And it also occurred to me that we are actually leaving this place that has become our home.

In some ways I still feel like we’ve just arrived, but in a lot of way I feel like we’ve come so far. It’s no longer daunting to walk into a restaurant that doesn’t have an English menu. As we’ve both learned so much Chinese, and in doing so life here has become so much easier. This place that made me frightened to leave our apartment has really become a place I truly love and is now one of the few places I find myself calling home.

This is such a foreign place in so many ways. Sometimes I absolutely despise things about it makes me so glad I’m from the West. But some things about China are very liberating, and it feels good to know that we’ve come to one of the most foreign places to the Western world and have found ways to navigate life here. I will miss China when we leave, and I hope that our travels bring us back here someday. I have wonderful photos, friends and memories from this place but none can actually replace the feeling of being and living here.

Here’s the Top 10 things I’ll miss about China:

10. Finding new ways to communicate with people other than using verbal skills. i.e. drawing pictures, pantomiming, making sounds and eventually consulting a English to Chinese dictionary.

9. Talking to the security guards at our apartment complex. Since we got here they’ve always been very eager to talk to us, and as I’ve learned more and more Chinese I’ve been able to talk back.

8. Not driving a car. It’s a very comforting feeling knowing that I don’t have to try and operate a vehicle in Fuyang town. The driving here is crazy and there’s been a number of times I wasn’t sure we were going to make it out alive. But just not driving in general has made us both realize that we don’t need a car to get around. We’ve traveled to smaller towns than Fuyang without getting a taxi and made it back just fine.

7. Having to be creative and find new ways to still enjoy the foods that we can only get at home. Ingredients are not always easy to find. It’s not that China doesn’t have them (although sometimes they just don’t), but a lot of times it just goes by a different name. It’s been really fun creating grocery lists half in English, half in Chinese so that I can ask the store clerks to help me find it.

6. Finding new places to explore that not every westerner that comes here knows about. Fuyang is pretty isolated little town as it is, but it’s been really cool going to places like Yellow Mountain and Green Mountain Lake that most foreign tourists never even hear about.

5. Not being able to understand what people are saying around me. At first this really bothered me as I never knew when people were talking about me. But now it’s so nice just to be able to tune out all that extra noise. I’ve found I really don’t care what other people are saying or talking about. When I went home I almost found it annoying hearing other people’s conversation.

4. Studying Chinese and being able to practice it every day. I still plan on studying after we leave China, but it’s true what they say, there’s nothing like being totally immersed in a language and culture to really learn it. It amazes me sometimes how much Eliot and I have learned and it’s going to slow way down once we leave.

3. Being told I’m “so beautiful” wherever we go (ni shi hen piao liang). I’m not sure what it is about Western women, but we tend to get a lot of compliments on our looks. I believe it’s just because we look so different and also most famous actors and actresses are Western and although we know we look nothing like them, the Chinese think we look a lot like them. Also, all women here are often referred to as “mei nu” which means pretty lady or “xiao jie” which means little miss (also if used in a different context can mean prostitute, but most of the time it isn’t used like this). I always feel well respected when someone calls me one of these things even though I’m not Chinese.

2. The food. Although it took some getting used to and mostly just searching for the types of things I liked, I am really going to miss authentic Chinese food. As many of you know I’ve become a vegetarian since living in China, which has created a whole new set of challenges. But there are so many vegetable rich foods, and not only that, but the Chinese have perfected the art of cooking tofu. I never liked tofu before coming here, but there are so many different kinds and different ways to cook tofu and I really hope I can find what I like when we get back.

1. Probably what I’m going to miss most about being here are the friends and people we’ve met that have made this experience so wonderful. People in China have such great attitudes and outlook on life. It’s amazing to me how you can meet someone who may be very poor, but they’re so excited to buy you a beer to welcome you to China, and they always want to show you something new to help make your experience all that much richer.

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