“Ni hao.” “My knees are fine, thank you.”

Before coming to China, I had zero skills in Mandarin.

Z. E. R. O.

In New Zealand I was still riding the high from purchasing plane tickets, packing, and all round “adventure time!” I “knew” from the history books English was a powerful language worldwide, and the school I would be working at was very famous in the city for language development, so I thought, “hey this is neat, communication will be pretty stress-less, English is everywhere!”

In the first month I had three major breakdowns, all of them including language barriers.

Now I’ll stop here before you think ‘oh god I haven’t learnt anything either’ and say this post is not meant to dissuade you from moving and working in a non-English speaking country. Rather I want to tell you the most valuable word I keep close at hand (head?) whenever things start to feel out of control or above my understanding.

Adjustment.

(Hands up, who thought the word was going to be ‘change’?)

To adjust is to adapt or become used to a new situation.

Now for two short lists.

1. Things I quickly found different between China and New Zealand –

How being polite really works.
The amount of oil that is actually necessary for a human body.
The definition of hygiene.
Driving.
Life in every sense I had come to know.

2. Things I needed to adjust –

My mindset.

Once I adjusted my mindset, and consciously set my course to the land of ‘Culture Shock’, life became a whole new world again, as I started to train my brain to become bilingual. It was exciting to finally understand what the taxi drivers were asking me. It was exciting to learn that ‘careful’ translates to ‘small heart’ (which I find adorable). It was exciting to receive praise from my wonderful friend Lisa (a veteran in Mandarin, and someone who will be featuring a lot in posts to come) when I could figure out something obscure like ‘self help bank’ is ATM.

The adjustments will stretch further than the language. You realise that you don’t travel to experience what you know dressed up in faces you don’t. You travel to experience what you don’t know, dressed in the faces you’ve never seen. Now, you don’t have to let go of every ‘home ideology’ and change completely, but you will have to give up some areas of what ‘normality’ means to you. Yes, it will be difficult, possibly the most difficult adjustment you could ever put yourself through. But after releasing some of the ‘old’ the ‘new’ becomes addictive. You actively seek out adjustments. China is no longer to me a scary, backwards, disaster of turmoil and toil. It is an ancient wonderland, whose power is intoxicating and wondrous and unknown to many.

So I ask you, if you embark on any quest such as this, to always

Be curious.
Be thirsty.
Be not afraid of adjusting.
And don’t you dare close your eyes to any of it.

E.

Sidenote – there is a wonderful website Memrise worth its weight in Internets. A rare goldmine of language wealth, those who are aching for language skills should start here. Dedicate half an hour a day every day and you will be unstoppable.

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A little bit of NY in my life.

My first highlight, unsurprisingly, revolves around caffeine. That sweet, sweet, nectar that has giveth my degree and taketh away my sleep many a time. A good friend from England, Ollie, introduced me to this place, and I can safely say that when I learn the words ‘shut up and take my money’ in Mandarin this will be the first place I use it.

Hidden away in the relatively new SW developmental area known as Wanda Plaza (Wanda Guang Chang), is a dark brown, unremarkable wall, with the words COFFEEWE adorned in bold white. Underneath the signage is a glass entrance. So far, nothing special. Step inside though, and you are greeted with an interior that could only have been inspired from a New York Loft magazine. Industrial grey painted pipes and air ducts against metallic furnishings (some natural silver, some bright red), brick walls and wooden cork finishings. Comical porcelain characters are shown in cake displays, and the eco-fresh vibe that every coffee house needs is supported through a mountainous wall of vividly coloured keep cups. Towards the back there is a large techno-lit aquarium with the entire cast from ‘Finding Nemo’ contained within, who I hope are planning a just as elaborate escape as shown in the film.

Behind the glass cabinet by the bar is quite possibly the only real cheesecake you could find in China. I have no shame, or regret, in saying I have tried every flavour. The pumpkin and chocolate flavoured one is by far one of the best things I have, and possibly ever will, put into my mouth. The coffee is absolutely magnificent, and some varieties, like the ‘Four Eyes’, will probably keep most tame tea happy drinkers up for a good 48 hours, easily.

The staff here are a wonderful (possibly newly wed) couple. My banter has been mostly with the guy ‘Toto’. No, we do not talk about the rains in Africa. I reckon he’s been taking some sly English lessons though, because every time I come here, which is every day, he manages to convey more and more information about Coffeewe and life in general. Because many of us foreigners are quite (tragically) addicted to coffee, we recruit any and all we know when we find a good shrine. I can quietly boast I have brought many a foreigner here, which has secured me an ‘under the table’ discount for REAL FOREIGN BEER! Oh, the generous ways of hospitality are universally understood and respected. This commodity is worth more than gold, silk, or oil. Great success for me.

Photos to be posted soon.

E.

Hello.

I have been living and working in China for almost seven months now.

To say I missed the initial blogging boat would be an understatement. That ship must’ve sailed past a good half dozen times or so, and smacked me with its boom each time. However, living and working in China for this long has let me assess what information I want to people to know.

What I don’t want to write is another ‘backpack teacher’ type blog. There are already enough of those, and to be honest none of them helped me. Frequently I have said ‘I wish I had known that!’ and wondered why the vast Internet had not relinquished any answers. I feel the passing of said seven months, and experiences gained thus far, can back me up with what I will publish henceforth.

Now, let me describe the city I have lived in for these past months. Shijiazhuang is located South-west (or West-south as China would say) from Beijing, which is easily accessible by the new bullet train ‘G train’. It is a city of ~7-9 million people, double the population of my home, New Zealand. The rate of expansion is one of the fastest in China, as it is the city destined to protect Beijing should something happen (why did the chicken cross the road? To get out of North Korea’s missile range). This also means it is the most polluted city in China (read in the world). Underneath this layer of dust and soot do lie many delightful treasures that I promise to describe in depth very soon. Shijiazhuang has grown on me how fungi grows from that yoghurt carton you forgot was beside your bed and fell down the side. But without fungi there would be no penicillin, so it’s a good thing, I promise.

As this progresses expect topics such as –

The actual Visa process, and unnecessary love of stamps.

How to deal with not speaking a word of Chinese prior to arrival.

The places that feel surprisingly like home.

The places that remind you that yes, you are in China.

Q&A’s with foreigners who are not teachers.

Q&A’s with foreigners who are teachers (well, we are everywhere).

What I actually do in China and how you can do just the same.

Everything in between.

E.