Hey hi hello there, I’m going to be living in Hengyang, China for the next 10 months and I’d love for you to follow my adventures here!
First off, I am SO thankful to all the friends and family that have supported me, encouraged me, and/or put up with me talking about China for the past year. Each one of you has been such a blessing and you helped make this dream possible for me.
Secondly, let me just say that packing for 4 different seasons with only two suitcases is HARD. I also like procrastinating, so it took me until Sunday morning to finally have my bags ready.
I’ve been thinking about the day I would leave for a long time – there were so many emotions my mind kept running through. I was nervous, sure. Sad to be leaving family and friends for 10 months. Unsure of the future and what would happen in China. But more than anything, excited. I think I knew a year ago I wanted to do this, and now that it was finally here it felt surreal.
My first flight was from DFW to San Fransisco on Sunday, August 23. At the gate I met up with other people from my group – there were many of us who took the same training class, and although many of us are teaching in different cities, it was awesome to see them again.
The flight left at 5p.m, was 3.5 hours long, and then we landed in San Fran around 7pm (just the beginning of weird time changes) and had a 6 hour layover until our International flight to Hong Kong. I’ve never been to California or seen the Pacific Ocean so it was cool being able to see glimpses from the airport (we debated leaving the airport for a few hours, but we would have to take a bus or something to get anywhere and didn’t want to risk it.) Also I really love airports, so it was fun just hanging out together.
Our 14 hour flight began at 1a.m., and they fed us dinner at 2a.m. Jon, a guy from our group, and I were super excited because no one was sitting in between us which meant more room and an extra blanket. ALSO: thank you Cathay Pacific for putting USB ports on backs of your seats so I could charge my phone, you da real MVP. I spent the rest of the time watching movies and sleeping a few hours. Time got real wonky after that because we were flying for 14 hours, but going ahead in the day 13 hours, so suddenly it was night time all over again and by the time we landed in Hong Kong, we had totally skipped Monday and it was Tuesday morning at 6:30a.m. (but who likes Mondays anyways.)
Hong Kong was fantastic! I ‘d love to come back and actually visit for awhile. It was fun seeing all the different signs in Chinese and having to buy food and compare the Hong Kong Dollar value to USA value (1 USA dollar equals 7.75 HKD) We weren’t there long before we had to shuttle over to another terminal, say our goodbyes to our friends teaching in other cities, and then jump on our flight to Changsha.
Our next flight was only an hour and a half, but we still had a plane that played movies on the seat in front of you (praise). Once we went through Immigration (another stamp in the passport makes me super excited) we picked up our luggage (none of it was lost!) and saw two guys holding a sign with all four of our names on it. (I’m with 3 other Harding graduates, Lauren, Drew, and Brittany!)
We then played the funniest game of beat your way to the elevator. Everything I’ve been told about Chinese culture was so true. They were aggressive in line, not in a super rude or violent way, but if they saw you hesitate for one second they would take your place. Our two Chinese friends weren’t having it though. One started aggressively guarding the elevator button, continuously clicking the down button to take us to the parking lot downstairs. They pushed us into the elevators one at a time whenever they saw a chance, and after 20 minutes we all finally made it down and loaded our luggage in the two vans they brought.
Our new Chinese friends didn’t know much English, so we communicated mostly through hand gestures. One started acting like he was eating out of a bowl and then led us to the KFC outside the airport (I thought they picked KFC because we were Americans and that’s probably part of it, but it turns our KFCs are HUGE here. The Chinese people love em.)
They grabbed menus for us and gestured for us to point out what we wanted. I gave my order to the lady and then decided to try out what little Chinese I knew by saying thank you. The two Chinese guys with us thought this was hilarious and started laughing with the lady and snickering at me. I didn’t understand why at all, and Drew, Brittany, and Lauren had no idea either.
Brittany looked up the word “thank you” and other words similar to it. (We have this awesome app called Pleco and it is literally going to be my lifesaver over here. You can type in any English word and it will show you the characters and pinyin in Chinese. And it doesn’t require internet hallelujah). She started laughing and showed me her phone. So apparently I told the lady to DIE instead of thanking her. Literally I just told her to die. What the heck Rachel, this is why we can’t have nice things.
As embarrassing as that was, cut me a little slack because Mandarin is HARD. There are four different tones you can use for a word, and each tone changes the meaning of the word. So if you say something with the wrong tone, your sentence comes out totally different.
We had a two hour car ride from Changsha to Hengyang, where I discovered another Chinese culture trait was true. The Chinese drive totally different than Americans. They throw caution to the wind and change lanes when they want to, drive on the side of the road, and speed like crazy. No blinkers, no waiting for pedestrians. They also honk ALL the time. Honking is their way of communicating, like hey I’m here, hurry up, or let me through. Honking can be kind of offensive in other places, but its totally normal here.
We pulled into the University of South China around 3p.m. and were met by Miss Fu (English name Sunny) and Mr. Yen. Fu is our go to person from the university. Fu gave us our apartment keys, gave us 500 yen to start with until we convert our money, and then she told us we would be joining another foreign English teacher for dinner that night at 6p.m. They told me my apartment was being cleaned, so I explored Lauren, Brittany, and Drew’s apartments with them.
These apartments are the best thing ever.
We have THREE bedrooms each, a living room, a laundry room, a kitchen, and two bathrooms (one with a regular toilet and one with a squatty, like a hole in the ground). Like I need to take in other roommates or throw a big party or adopt 50 cats because there is so much room. (shameless plug inviting you to come visit me in China)
There are some things that need to be fixed, like the air conditioning and we can’t read the remotes because it’s all Chinese, and my toilet doesn’t work at the moment, but I am SO excited to be here in my own apartment in China.
I showered before dinner (because 30 hours of traveling makes you feel gross) and then we met Robert, the other English teacher in our building. This will be his 5th year teaching here and he’s just a wealth of knowledge. We picked up Miss Fu and then drove to a restaurant called Lu Fu Jiu Lou where we met Mr Yen and Helen, who also works at the University of South China. We were led upstairs to a private room where there was a table with a spinning platter in the center. Food was already being brought in and placed on the platter.
Mr. Yu explained dishes as we started to eat – there was spicy squid, duck, a special local dish with fish and pork fat, spicy chicken, a soup with oysters, watermelon, these potato-y sweet things, and a whole cooked fish that stared at me as I ate. We had tea, bottled water, and corn juice to drink. Think of a can of corn, and the juice in the bottom of the can. That’s what we drank and it was strange, but not terrible.
Because I was so tired I didn’t eat much, and Miss Fu said to all of us, “Please eat more! There is so much food left!” and Mr. Yen said “Many hours go into Chinese cooking!”
We learned many things during my training about Chinese dining – you don’t want to eat all of your food off of your plate because they might think you’re still hungry and didn’t get enough to eat. But you don’t want to eat too little and insult them either. They also save their rice for the end of the meal as a filler in case you’re still hungry. Also, it’s totally true that authentic Chinese food is very different from the American kind. The flavors and spices and cooking style was very foreign to me. I really enjoyed the spicy squid and potato thing (Mr. Yen wasn’t sure what it was either), but the other things will take some adjusting. I never had duck before so that was new.
After dinner, Robert drove us around town a little bit in his car. This week is special to the Chinese – they are burning fake money on the sides of the street to honor their ancestor’s ghosts. Robert pointed out lots of shopping malls, places to buy phones, and places to eat. We were all so tired though and the streets all blended together so I’m not sure I remember much. Once I slept I knew I would be ready to wander the streets of Hengyang.
Sorry for the super long post! There’s so much more I want to write and tell you, but I’ve got 10 months to tell you all about it. My goal going into this year is to keep an open mind and just try things. Try everything. Make embarrassing mistakes and learn from them. Embrace the Chinese culture.
And figure out how to say thank you without telling someone to go die.