It’s been a whole month since I was trapesing my way through the rain in Manchester to the airport, to start the biggest adventure of my life so far.
I’m going to be brutally honest; getting to China has been one of the most stressful things I’ve ever gone through. I’m not saying that to scare anyone, but if you’re serious about teaching or working abroad in China you need to seriously do your research and be 100% committed to a lengthy process. Not only whilst still being in your home country but also once you get here, there are many hoops to jump through. There’s been a few ups and downs, mostly downs before I got here! But luckily, I have had support throughout the process! (Which isn’t always the case as I’ve found talking to others) ALAS! I’m getting the negativity out of the way because genuinely, over the past weeks that I have been here, I have grown to love Beijing.
Whilst on my second plane from Abu Dhabi, earphones in listening to my music, the emotional songs come on and as I’m sat there next two random gentlemen dozing off (I could not sleep at all) I got overwhelmed. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Holy crap balls. I’m actually doing this! I had banged on and on for over two years at least that I wanted to teach and travel, and finally, after a couple of setbacks I was on a plane to China. Not my first, or second choice to be truthful. Yet… there I was. Thrilled and apprehensive about what lie ahead. When flying over China, it really is unbelievable how vast the country is, and how dramatic the landscape can be. Flying over Beijing the first thing I noticed was, luminous green squares of land below, not like the patchwork quilts you see back in the UK though… I realised that they weren’t patches of farmland but areas with large sheets of material over them. Honestly, Beijing looked exactly how I expected; a huge vast industrial city landscape with endless tower blocks and roads going on for miles.
Tired doesn’t cut it. I was knackered. However, I had someone to meet me at the airport and guide me through the day and the foreseeable future. The government led teaching programme has been good so far, my contact has been super helpful when I’ve needed it. All the registration to do with visa/work permits/residency issues were sorted by the programme. Setting up a bank account, getting me a Chinese sim card and number, as well as a transport card was extremely useful! I also can’t speak highly enough of the school I am at. They have really looked after me here. Although there are obvious cultural differences between us, in general I have found that the Chinese people I have met are very caring individuals. Especially ensuring that I get fed!
One of the main issues I have had really, is that whilst I have been living in the school dormitories (as I didn’t have the finances to move into an apartment straight away) I am slightly restricted with times of being home, as well as being here for meal times. I tend to not want to miss these times as, one, I don’t want to feel inconsiderate and two; there is a security guard who cooks for me on the weekends and I don’t want to be back too late, because she has to stay up late to then let me in!
Major differences; people do spit in the street, it’s an unpleasant thing but it is what it is. Considering the pollution (when the weather is warm it’s 10x worse) it’s understandable to an extent. The weather here is also so strange; I arrived in the middle of March and it has varied a ridiculous amount from 12 degrees one day to 26 degrees the next.
The toilets; squatting toilets are the thing here. Now, I think they’re better for your body, it’s just not all that fun if your wee is shooting out so fast that it sprays back at you. It’s laughable and it’s happened to me. Haha. Honestly, if you’re not the type to just get on with things, be unafraid and stepping out of your comfort zone – China is maybe not for you. People will stare at you, probably talk about you (unless you know Chinese, then who really cares?) people will smile at you too. It’s all a huge learning curve.
Getting around I have found is so easy. Although, I haven’t had the best experiences with taxi drivers; they often haven’t wanted to take me or drive to my district, I think it tends to just be luck. There are share bikes that are also handy which I haven’t yet used. *Side note* everything is pretty much done via phone; payment/transactions (all sorts) so make sure you have a decent phone… the digital world is prevalent here! The subway is fantastic, and the buses are generally on time but like anywhere; traffic can be bad. Transport and necessities are very cheap. But as I sometimes I forget; Beijing is the capital city and one of the biggest cities in the world! Coming from Sheffield and more recently the Isle of Wight where there is a large aging population (where life is slow), the living cost and going out for a coffee or anything like that is around the same price.
Food. Food is love; food is life. Beijing has not disappointed at all on that front. The array and quality of the food has been excellent. Honestly haven’t had a bad meal here. I have been lucky enough to sample home cooked food here and it’s fabulous. Simple but delicious. I was told I may struggle here being a pescatarian. I don’t think it’s that horrendous, you just have to watch out for some dishes that seem like veggies, but they’ll sprinkle some bacon or some type of meat in there for flavour and it won’t be stated. You just must live with it. So; if you don’t eat meat – don’t worry too much! You will have to seek places out though and maybe learn the phrases for “I don’t eat meat”.
A lot of places you find out about through word of mouth in Beijing. I love spending time with people and one of my main concerns was making friends. I have some lovely work colleagues, some who I play badminton with on Saturday mornings (they are unsurprisingly good at it). Although, sometimes we crave similarity and having someone to vent to and I was lucky enough to meet some solid friends at a cultural day held by the BIEE. You just need to put yourself out there too, seek people out. I’ve also started rugby training. Have I played rugby before? Nope. Am I glad I’ve started? YES. It’s a great way to keep fit and meet people. I’ve also been on Tinder… *eye roll* honestly, coming here, the last thing I want to do is ‘hook up’ with someone, but previous experiences on Tinder have been positive and again; it’s a way of meeting people and exploring the city. Open-mindedness is key I think, if there is clarity as to what you’re wanting it usually is okay.
There are some fabulous places to visit in Beijing. The Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Art District 798 to name a few. It really depends on where your interests lie. The one thing coming from Sheffield that I’ve missed is the green spaces. So, I spent most weekends seeking out parks and coffee shops. If you’re happy traveling an 1hr-2hrs depending on where you reside then there are a ton of places to visit. Wandering around the hutongs is also a lovely way to spend they day. The mix of modern and ancient is worth seeing. Beijing is that big that there will always be somewhere new to go and explore.
In terms of teaching; it’s a mixed bag. I have had a lengthy amount of time to myself before I start. I have observed classes and generally enjoyed them. I have just been conscious that the teachers feel at times intimidated by my notetaking, when in essence; I’m trying to take as much from them as I can to improve my teaching! Also, there’s not a great deal of structure and things tend to be last minute; it somehow comes together in the end (the Chinese way). I’m a creature of habit and structure, I have been given a bit more freedom than I would’ve liked… but we shall see how that goes.
Right now, my feelings towards me coming here are positive. Do I feel overwhelmed at times? Yes. Of course. Numerous people have told me that I’m “brave” but honestly, when it really comes down to it; we’re all the same. No matter where you are. It’s not that scary. Of the five weeks that I have been here, I’ve maybe had around three ‘what the bloody hell am I doing here?’ moments. It’s just how it is. I miss home of course! I miss cheese and delicious chocolate, I miss the comforts of; family, friends and familiarity.
However, in the grand scheme of things… What is a year? It’s already April, nearly May. Time flies and we just get on with it. Experiences are to be had, and it’s the memories we have that make us what we are; what we cherish and what makes us; us.
Whatever you’re thinking of doing; something you’ve always wanted to do or jumping on the next flight out seeing where it takes you. Do your research and just go. For. It.
Written for The Fewer Things by Kate Darby - Check out Kate's adventure on her Instagram page @darbaay and Kate's blog https://beansontoastweb.wordpress.com