I’ve been in China for a week now and nothing is like I expected it to be since I’ve been here. The first five days have been incredibly difficult. After flying into Qingdao Airport and being picked up by our liaison at midnight, we were met with our first major surprise: we discovered that our school found it appropriate to set us up with a male roommate. Now, I’m pretty sure by Chinese cultural standards this would never fly; yet, they found it acceptable for us to be put in such a living arrangement. After attempting to relocate to a different apartment with Amy, my other teacher friend from NU, they told us it wasn’t convenient or cost-effective. However, they said they could make him move instead and send him off to God knows where, even though he had been living there longer. Ultimately, we decided that we would stay and deal with it since it wasn’t what any party would have chosen and we might as well make the best of it. It has worked out so far and we are starting to feel a sense of unity from being in the same sucky situation.
Another thing we soon found out once we got here that we weren’t aware of beforehand is that we aren’t actually in Weifang, or anywhere remotely close to it for that matter. We are actually in Xia’ shan, a little rural development that’s about two hours away from the city. Really, that didn’t seem like pertinent information to divulge before we got here? Rather than being in a city that boasts a population of 9 million people, we are in a town of about 15,000 and because we are in the BF middle of nowhere, of course there was nowhere I could go to exchange currency or even withdraw money from an ATM. So I was ultimately stuck without any money for five days.
All there is here is literally just the school, a supermarket, a hospital that incidentally, has an ATM, though it has inconveniently been out of service ever since I got here, and a couple other shops. That’s it. Well, actually that’s not true. The town actually has several dozens of other half-built and completely empty buildings (I guess that’s where the term development community comes from). Honestly, I was pretty frustrated when I first got here. And I still am to an extent, which is a major reason why I didn’t want to write anything for the first couple days. However, now that its been a full week and we are beginning to settle in, I find it easier to be more balanced and open-minded in my perception of this place (kind of.) I think it is more that I have just resigned myself to the fact that this will be my life for the next year and I might as well get used to it.
However, after dealing with those significant setbacks for the first five days we were here, such as the airline losing Amy’s luggage and myself being left penniless, things have started to turn around. Amy’s luggage was returned to her fully intact and with everything accounted for on Monday and I was able to go to the city with her to get money out of the ATM at one of the bigger national banks. We’ve also been able to finally eat some real Chinese food after nearly a week of only eating from the cafeteria. I’m pretty sure it’s a universal principle that cafeteria food is always horrendous, no matter what country you live in.
As it stands now, I feel like my entire life will be centered around work and my apartment, which is really upsetting if that is actually the case. I mean, I could have stayed home to be stuck in the 9-5 grind, at least then I could have gotten better pay and had a social life. I’m just worried that I’ll be here for a year and have nothing to show for it by the end of my term. I understand that I did move here to work and that teaching should be my priority, and it is. I definitely don’t want to or plan to use this job as just a means to travel at the expense of my students. That is not at all what I am getting at. I just hoped I would be able to truly experience the richness and vibrancy of the culture and as it is panning out, it doesn’t seem like this will be happening like I hoped. I guess I just have to be patient and resourceful, and try do everything I can to make the best of this experience whether that is by taking advantage of the long breaks and traveling when I can and meeting everyone that I can. However, very few teachers have even attempted to befriend us, which has also been a huge letdown.
Although it is not the ideal situation and I am disappointed that my ability to travel around China will be seriously impeded by the a lack of accessibility to just about everywhere, and that I am one of only six foreigners in this entire town, I’m still
going trying to keep an open mind and find the positives (try being the operative word.)
For one, with limited opportunities to spend money, I am certainly going to save a lot (lunch today only cost me a mere $1.50). Another positive is that being surrounded by middle and high school aged kids who are in class from 7 AM to 10 PM (that’s insane, right?!) makes the crime rate practically non-existent. The other five foreigners here are really nice and I do look forward to getting to know them more. Also, My roommates and I made a friend who would be willing to teach us Kung Fu and so that coupled with having to climb 12 flights of stairs everyday to get to our sixth floor apartment will definitely ensure that I stay in shape. Finally, I’ve been getting to know the students I’m teaching and most seem to be eager to learn, so I’m sure that will prove to be a rewarding endeavor. Our school campus is also very modern and probably the nicest building in this town, as you can see from the picture above.
We actually have a week-long break coming up at the end of the month for a holiday called, “Golden Week” and I am using that time to get the hell out of dodge. Amy and I are planning on taking a trip to Mount Tai, which is one of the five sacred Taoist mountains here in Shandong, so that will be a nice getaway that can hopefully allow us to refresh and gain some perspective. As it stands now, I feel like the next 10 months are going to go by very slowly.