The day I became an illegal alien.

Some lessons I learnt about the trials of coming home.

  • Check your visa status. My visa for legally being in China expired June 24. My ticket home was split across two journeys, one from Beijing to Guangzhou at 1730 – 2045 on June 24, and one from Guangzhou to Auckland at 0030 – 1600 (+1) on June 25. Already Chinese Customs saw a slight mathematical problem. I was going to be an illegal alien for half an hour.  I was warned to go through Guangzhou Customs very quickly, as once you’re in no-mans-land you’re technically out of such jurisdictions.
  • 7kgs overweight check-in baggage equals NZD $200 fine. I wish suitcases came with a built in scale in the handle to show you how much it weighs as you pack.
  • Travel pillows are the difference between passing out on a plane and genuinely sleeping for at least two hours. Beer also aids the sleep process. Abuse the free alcohol.
  • Free wireless in airports is great, but don’t mess with the password system or it will lock you out and you will be forced to people watch in airports. TIL: people in airports are the epitome of weirdly dressed individuals.
  • Pack your carry-on with laptop accessibility in mind. You will feel like you are the one individual who holds up the entire security line if you don’t. Tip: cameras are also another tech accessory that need special security scanning. (Why you would make a camera shaped bomb is another question entirely).
  • Chinese security are genuinely very nice and don’t make you feel like a hindrance.
  • Unless you have scissors in your bag. In which case they become very protective.
  • Always clean out backpacks you use on a daily basis before packing. There could be a sneaky pair of scissors. Or eighteen (inside joke).
  • Chinese do not understand space. We were herded onto a bus that connected us to our place (BJ-GZ flight) and naturally they all head for the first of three doors. I walked to the end door of the bus and stood in the back as I watched the first third of the bus become more and more like a sardine can. Finally the driver said something in Mandarin I can only think is the equivalent to ‘you idiotic morons, move down to the very back!’ And finally all was well.
  • Delayed planes can really mess up an already sticky visa situation. The first plane was grounded for as long as the film ‘Great Expectations’, the one starring Helena Bonham Carter, takes to screen, which was almost three hours (terrible choice China Southern, terrible). Finally after four hours from original take-off time it finally taxied onto the runway and took off.
  • Chinese kids are too damn smart. One six year old wunderkind whooped his mum in xiangqi (a chinese variation of chess that has cannons!) and was always five moves ahead of her.
  • It is totally acceptable to stand and watch people play cards/chess/any game on any Chinese domestic flight.
  • Four hour flight delays means you definitely miss your connecting flight.
  • All English supplied in China is purely courteous. To my knowledge (and from my limited Google searches) English is not a registered official language of Greater China. So for all you foreigners (I’m looking at you large obnoxious Danish man I encountered), who complain about the service provided (which I thought was exceptional given it was 1am and hotels are hard to access at this time), remember what country you are complaining in and that there is no one language to rule them all.
  • Being a solo white female traveller has its perks – you are the only one allowed a room to yourself in the hotel the airline provides you with when you overstay your welcome (silly weather).
  • A good way to kill time in a hotel – slow mo videos.
  • Smiles are a universal currency, and also a good way to score free breakfast lunch and dinner courtesy of the friend I made at the front desk.
  • Sometimes being a solo white female traveller sucks, I’m looking at you random Nigerian guy who approached me asking what flight I was on. ‘Err, I’m from Paris’ (bolt).
  • China is a stickler for the details, almost detained because of visa, finally allowed to board the plane I PAID FOR TO GO HOME because the manager actually thought it was a good idea.
  • China doesn’t believe in duty-free alcohol. Much sadness was felt.
  • Airbuses don’t always come with in-flight entertainment.
  • If you are on a Chinese airline and can speak some Mandarin, use it to talk to the flight attendants (for food, drinks etc). They genuinely get a real kick out of it.
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Homesick.

“Excuse me”. An elderly gentleman of about a metre distance from me says these two words in my direction, as he walks towards the bread in the distant back area of this particular supermarket aisle we are both standing in.

Wait, what did I just hear?

Was that…manners?

What a foreign concept this is to me. When did that surprise me?

Reverse culture shock is the process of re-adjusting to the area you used to refer to as ‘yours’. That place which used to be comfortably natural, and a good reference to what the base definition of the word normality is.

That place that just made sense.

I honestly cannot call any place my own place with certainty now. And I quite enjoy admitting that.

There is a difference between a place of your own and a home though. I do have a home. It is filled with my wondrous family, who are graciously putting up with my broke 22 year old ass for the two months I am living there. This is the place I learnt life, and will forever be a valuable nostalgic place with which I can remember all the beautiful and terrifying emotions when the words ‘grow’ and ‘up’ are mingled together.

But it is not my own.
I am still looking for that place.

This is a very interesting and unusual transitory phase I am experiencing now. Because I am in New Zealand for two months (in between contracts) I will have time to explore and write about these new feelings, and get to know my home all over again. It has only been four days as I write this, so I feel the best is yet to come. Or maybe I’m still in shock about being back in New Zealand. Ten months in China really flew by.

What do you call a home? Is it different from what you call your own?

E.

Throwback Friday.

I have booked my plane tickets home. June 24th I will touch down on that sweet, sweet, soil called New Zealand. My lungs are bursting at the anticipation of fresh air. Or maybe that’s the sweet sinus infection in me talking.

However, as I reflect on going home, and knowing I will be back in China for (at least) one year, I decided to look back on the very first thing I wrote when I came here. Before I started this WordPress I wrote occasionally to a .doc document for personal use. I figured it would be nice to have some recollections of what I was doing and learning. Reading it now has made me chuckle something amazingly, so I thought why not share with you all to see just how overwhelmed I was about China, and to show that even someone like me can figure out how to proceed from there.

So without further ado I present the first piece I wrote about China in all its un-edited glory –

22nd August 2012

What have I gotten myself into?

21, finally moving out of home, and moving all the way to China. It was hard not to cry. Held it in until I lay on the bed here in Shijiazhuang, my new home for ~10 months or so. What a sook.

Boarding the plane I was probably one of ten ‘foreigners’ out of a relatively full Airbus bound for Guangzhou. If there had been a black light illuminating the Airbus I can safely say I would’ve stood out in that rave party like nobodies business.

Walking down to my seat I was selfishly hoping there would be no-one next to me, but alas I was met with a very ancient Chinese gentlemen who proclaimed (after I whacked him with my bag/general body parts to get across and into my seat) he proclaimed ‘I know no English’.

And I being the amazing traveller know no Mandarin (I know, I know). So for a while we sat there awkwardly. He did try to teach me how to pronounce ‘Arrival Card’ in Mandarin while I sat there filling out the alien forms.

God (or whatever) loves a try-er.

But something pretty cool did happen aboard that 12-hour flight.

Air China, for the record you have the most ridiculous in flight operating system I have ever had the patience to use. Who seals their remotes into the armchair? Who does that? I sat there like a half retarded chicken, my elbow out to the side, trying to get the arrows up and down to my film and the poor gentleman beside me watched with a sadness, generational technological issues welling up behind his eyes. Looking at this sadface I ‘Chinglished’ my way into asking him to direct me to what he wanted. Our favourite gesture was the double thumbs up when he finally got to sit and watch his film. Our not so favourite gesture was a double slice across the arms when I stuffed up (for the record his remote electronics were up the creek and only wanted to arrow down for EVERYTHING, not my fault).

Next was my relatively short jump from Guangzhou to Shijiazhuang. Basically sleeping through that one I was informed by a lovely fellow that my already broken zipper was broken. We started chatting, as two strangers do, and after learning this is my first time to China he bestowed upon me my official Chinese name. Pass on the pronounciation at the moment but he did write it down on his business card. I will upload a photograph of it when I can. It’s quite a pretty script.

After a car ride from hell I arrived at the school. The school is currently under construction so it’s a wee bit of a mess. My room however on first impression sounds a little like this –

One working powerpoint, out of two that I have found in the entire place.
No hot water to speak of (which I found out just after dinner, so sad).
A bed that has a mattress most likely constructed from granite.
Scary toilet of doom, with a hole in the floor.
Mould city bitch mould mould city bitch.

However the couch is comfy, so if I somehow can’t wrangle my way out of this room at least I have something to sleep on that won’t dislocate every joint in me.

I was then taken out to lunch by the Foreign Affairs Department – two women, one Luanne and one ChinDow (pronounced not spelt like that). Official Peking Duck can be crossed of my list. Successful use of chopsticks needs a lot more work. (Edited: I later found out that Chinese will always invite you to come eat with them with no intention of actually enjoying your company if you’re stupid enough to say yes. Explains the awkwardness now).

After lunch I thought it would be a brilliant idea to get some cleaning stuff for the absolute mess of a bathroom, before I was to ever consider cleaning myself in there. So with a natural assumption in my step I went to the supermarket.

Worst. Idea. Ever.

I think that was when it really hit me that I have absolutely no idea what I am doing in China, for the next few days at least.

Trying to contact home was a mission after that debacle. First I text them to ring me, but my cellphone was then disconnected/blocked due to ‘limited funds’. Then I tried the schools Skype in their office but they had no microphone or camera so I could only type to my parents who didn’t figure it out till the very last minute. Luckily Dad rang Emily who gave them another number and they got through on my ‘home’ phone in my room. Reassurance from home definitely felt good.

Later this evening I had the loveliest phone call ever – from Lisa. She said stop panicking and that she would come pick me up. Soon enough a taxi with her in it showed up. We went back to hers where I instantly developed flat jealousy. She has the best room in Shijiazhuang I swear. She was just about to start tutoring a lovely boy, William, and even asked me to help (silly girl). William was such a delightful character though, and because he was the age group that I will be teaching in a few days time I actually started to like this idea a lot more.

In the evening Emily rang and said we should have dinner with her. Being as tired as I was I still said yes because I really wanted to physically meet her. Giving the taxi driver the instructions (well Lisa did, I sat there like the typical foreigner – stone cold silence) we ended up at ‘the best restaurant in all of Shijiazhuang’ according to Emily. She probably wasn’t far off either it was so very, very good. And I learnt the custom of ‘cheers’ing (gambe I think it sounded like) your drink for everything. It translates to ‘finish the glass’ however and after three ‘cheers’ and a plane trip round the world I was lucky enough to not plant my face in the fish while falling asleep at the table. Emily’s husband Taylor is amazing as well; their connection is just wonderful. And their daughter is so cute.

Overall for a first day experience I feel like across 24 hours I have gone from complete stranger, to someone who just might end up belonging here after all. Maybe.

Zaijian for now.

Sidenote: I’m afraid to say that the stereotype of asian drivers is well and truly….true. I think lanes are just painted on to give the road some character, not to be obeyed whatsoever.

Wow. From that (terrible) writing to now feels like a lifetime ago. Leave a comment if you found it funny, tragic, or both! I’d be happy to discuss anything.

Thanks for the read.

E.