My Oriental Life: Why I'm Grateful to Live in China
My friends and family tell me that I'm brave for starting over in China and that they admire what I've done.
This makes me feel like a bit of a fraud because I don't see myself as particularly special or courageous. It's not like I'm Ava The Great or anything. There are no slayed dragons or rescued Princesses in my life story.
I guess you could say, however, that after many years of hoping and wishing, the stars finally aligned and I took a step, a humungous leap straight into something which I'd always wanted to do; namely live and work for an extended period of time in a country other than where I was born. (I was born and raised in England to Jamaican parents).
I was spurred on by not wanting to get too old, or too set in my ways to make the change and then spend the rest of my life in regret, thinking that I should have at least tried.
This compelled me to finally stop trying to do it and just go ahead, because despite being such a heavy cliché it's true; life really isn't a rehearsal.
Initially I came out to China on a 3 month contract, with the option to extend for six months or even a year and now, I'm actually into my fourth year. Who'd a thunk it?
In retrospect there has been so much to appreciate during my time here and I'm including the many challenges that living in a foreign country brings. Yes there have been many negatives as well as all the positives, but the positives are far greater.
With hindsight would I change anything about my experience so far? Probably, but not definitely. I will, however, continue to do what I've always done, which is focus on gratitude and appreciation and be driven by the fear of having regrets when it's too late to do anything about it. .
Culture and History
Be Embraced by China
China doesn't just greet you when you step off the plane and walk out of the airport, it doesn't even just receive you.
Instead it wraps itself around you, unexpectedly and totally immersing you in it's sights, sounds, smells, history, people, foods and way of life.
To watered down, western senses, which are accustomed to the pastel coloured, diluted environment of weak sunshine and faded history, China is in a word; overwhelming.
Culture shock is probably not strong enough to depict what I'm trying to describe here.
But, despite it's negative overtones, Culture Shock doesn't have to be a bad thing.
The first city I lived in, Xu Zhou, on the eastern coast of China, about two hours south of Shanghai and home to 10 million people, was over 2,000 years old. The strength of its longevity pervaded the atmosphere and seeped into everyday life. Yes, of course it had modern facilities but it's civilization had been shaped by Dynasties who had left their mark in more than just the buildings.
Do you get what I'm saying?
China quickly gets under your skin and it's up to you to decide whether you'll accept or refuse the challenges it then offers you. Not everyone makes it. Honestly speaking, my first two months here were the hardest and many, many times I seriously considered getting on the first plane home. But not wanting to face the fact of failure kept me rooted in China and now, I'm glad I stayed.
I've writtten more about reasons to come to China here: http://hubpages.com/travel/How-to-Know-Youre-Ready-for-a-New-Life-Abroad-8-Signs-its-Time-to-Take-That-Step
And, also about reasons why China might not be for you (I've known people to go home after only a few weeks), http://hubpages.com/travel/10-Reasons-Not-to-Relocate-to-China
The Amazing Coastline and Beaches
China's coastline goes on and on and on and on...
Along with Russia, China borders 14 other sovereign states, the highest number in the world.
These states or countries include North Korea, Mongolia, Khazkstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and various others.This is in addition to its borders with Hong Kong and Macau which are also classifed as Special Administration Regions within China. Special Administration means something along the lines of same country but slightly different rules and governance. It's a bit confusing so please don't quote me on it, or ask me too many detailed questions.
This is in itself is obviously impressive, but the part that I like the best is the even more amazing super-vast coastline which covers over 9,000 miles or 14,500 km.
If you're from a country which is larger than the UK (not difficult, I know) then you're probably wondering why 'm oohing and aahing, but I'm pretty sure that if you tried to drive 9,000 miles along the UK coastline you'd have to turn the corner several times or risk falling into the sea as the whole circumference is only 11,000 something miles. In China, the 9,000 plus mile coast is only on two sides, the east and the south. Can you see why I'm impressed?
The view from my apartment on the 34 floor
More about China's beaches
I've moved house many times in China, each move designed to get as close to the sea as possible and now, I think I've cracked it.
The view from my small balcony and my bathroom is of the ocean and the hills. The walking distance to the sea is probably about 10 mins, five if I ride a bike.
I grew up in landlocked Birmingham, which is right in the centre of the UK. The nearest sea was in beautiful Wales, two to three hours drive away and reserved as an occassional summer treat.
That's why the sea is so special to me and still amazes me every time I'm near it.
Shenzhen has many picturesque walkways, cycle paths and beaches which are perfect for an escape from the city.
http://hubpages.com/travel/4-Great-Outdoor-Places-to-Visit-in-Shenzhen Has more information about the beautiful coastal areas of Shenzhen.
Hong Kong....the old....
Hong Kong Island
When I lived in England, Hong Kong was an enigmatic unknown brought to life by images on TV.
It was a place which dazzled, pumping with vitality. It seemed to be visited and inhabited by the rich and beautiful who arrived and left in helicopters, jets and luxury brand cars, their designer clothes sharp, their expensive-brand perfume hovering in the air around them. Their slender wrists decorated in expensive gold watches, their necks and ears draped in exquisite jewellery. Their money fuelling thriving businesses and filling countless bank vaults.
It was the home of Kung Fu and Martial Arts as proponented by the supercool Master himself, Bruce Lee and it was also somewhere I never thought I'd get to visit.
Now, that I live almost within walking distance of the city of 5 million people, my feet are firmly back on the ground and I can explain why I'm grateful to experience it in a more balanced and realistic way.
And the new...
My journey into China back in 2012 began with an overnight stay in Dubai followed by a week or so in Hong Kong before crossing the border into Shenzhen.
Dubai was too hot to be comfortable. We arrived at the airport at 2am and debarked the plane straight into 40 degree heat. In addition, travelling from one terminal to another across an airport the size of a small city with heavy carry on luggage and a sprained ankle was almost enough to make me go back to England.
Hong Kong, however, was another matter altogether.
It was British and Chinese in both language and attitude. It was fast paced, but calm. Spacious yet crowded. Full of tourists and locals jostling side by side. Crammed with designer shops and oriental street markets. It smelt of China but oozed Western confidence. It proclaimed its riches right alongside the space designated for some of Asia's poorest. It boasted some of the most expensive real estate in the world, whilst almost denying its tiny apartments subdivided illegally in order to provide cheap, but unsafe units to families and migrants living on the poverty line.
Handsome, rich young men accompanied by pretty young girls, bounced around the waterfront at Victoria Harbour in pristine white yachts and over-revved the engines of their luxury cars on Hong Kong's narrow streets.
These were my first impressions of Hong Kong.
Now that I visit on a regular basis I've seen the 'normal' side. The ordinary homes, schools, businesses and people who have nothing to do with the glossy veneer, but simply strive to do the best for themselves and their families every day.
This, of course, is the pulse of the city. This is what keeps it moving;humanity. This is Hong Kong's heart.
Chinese New Year Celebrations
Along with all of the other Chinese Festivals
...of which there are many.
So many in fact I keep losing track. It seems that as soon as one festival ends, it's time to get ready for the next one.
Eating dumplings (jaozi) is a big part of the festivities. Each festival offers dumplings with different fillings such as beef, minced pork, cabbage, garlic, chives and mushrooms and each filling represents attributes and wishes for wealth and luck. Even the shape of the dumplings is significant as the half moon is indicative of a coin and coins mean money, security, wealth.
Other wishes expressed to family members and friends during festivals include, luck and long-life and happiness every day.
In the last four years I've met and made friends with people from almost everywhere. At least that's what it seems like! I could give you a list but it might be a little long.
Let's see..... South Africa, Australia, Sweden, Israel, Nigeria, Cameroon, France, Korea, Japan, Egypt, Russia, USA, Canada, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia, Ghana, Thailand, Germany, Ireland, Brazil, Finland. How many's that? About 20 or so? There's probably more but you get the picture.
Although I can go for weeks without seeing another foreign person, when we do meet we quickly find that we share the commanalities of trying to find our way in a very different world, coming from very different backgrounds.
Sure I had friends from overseas when I lived in England but this is unique, because we've all left our home countries. It's an experience I couldn't imagine having until it happened.
Green, serene, pretty clean
Are you following your dreams?
Too many of us put off living our dreams. We forget that life isn't a rehearsal.
Scenes from around town
A Few Last Thoughts on Gratitude
On top of everything else I've described in this article, I'm also very happy to have had the following advantages;
- An opportunity to learn a new language in its natural setting, albeit very slowly. Every day brings another chance to practice and I know I'll never be an expert, but that's okay. I'm already in China, I can go at my own pace.
- The level of pressure and stress is so much lower here compared to the west. CCTV cameras don't watch my every move like they do in England and I don't need to get permission to sneeze, think, or live - again, like I do in England. It's also much cheaper here for everything apart from designer goods and alcohol. Live like a Chinese person and you'll soon find that on ex-pat wages it's possible to have more money than month.
- The firm realization that regardless of language, customs, beliefs and social norms, humans all want the same thing no matter which country they're from. Mainly; peace, health, safety and security and a chance for themselves and their loved ones to thrive.
I'm still unsure how much longer I'll be in China. Somedays a longing for England is very strong, but most days, not so much.
China is such a vast country with so many differences that it would take time to experience more than a few at surface level, but will I be here long enough for that? We'll see.
If you're thinking that you'd like to try life in a new environment then maybe you could explore the possibilities and opportunities. People always say to me, 'oh, I don't have enough money to do something like that,' but believe me I've never been rich. Money is just a tool but it's not the only method to help you make a change.
Any journey starts in the mind and they do say that where the mind goes, the behind will follow.