“Wo shi Hengyangren” is like a little joke I like to tell Chinese people when they ask me about living in Guangzhou versus my previous experience in Hengyang, Hunan.

It means “I am Hengyang people” or “I’m from Hengyang.”

It’s been almost a year since I left Hengyang, and going back always gives me a fresh perspective of life in China. Hengyang was my home for two years, where I learned about Chinese culture and food, where I fell in love with my Chinese students and China itself. When I go back and visit Hengyang, the feeling is like returning home. I consider Hengyang my Chinese hometown.

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View from building No. 1 in the middle of campus
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I miss wearing fake cat whiskers with these guys

Hengyang is a relatively small city, and my world was centered around Nanhua Daxue, the university I worked at. My life was mostly inside a two mile radius here, all the shops, restaurants, bars, and coffee places nearby my apartment or a short 10 RMB taxi ride away.

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North campus road
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English Corner last year

I feel lucky that I had such a close community in Hengyang. While Hengyang didn’t offer things that big city life does, I had so many special experiences at the University of South China – the feeling of walking across campus and bumping into tons of people I knew, teaching a class of university students and having them all message me on Wechat and going to dinner together.  It was a magical combination of the right people and right place, when everything aligns in an organic and beautiful way in a way that can’t be expected or imitated.

I went back this past weekend and saw so many friends and old students.

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It’s always bittersweet returning to Hengyang because I know things will never be the same as when I was actually a teacher there, meeting with over 200 university students and sharing stories and having class together every week. Going back reminds me that I’m not the same as I was when I lived here and when I first came to China. I needed to move away from Hengyang and try new things and have a different experience in China. But I’m grateful for staying connected with many of my friends and being able to visit and remember these special times.

I didn’t know what living in Guangzhou would be like. I knew it would be hard to build that community of friends in a city that big, and it has. Everyone is spread out. You can meet lots of people, but unless you all teach and work nearby each other it’s hard to see each other often.

But Guangzhou gave me a huge feeling of independence. Of big city life. The opportunity to see many things, to do a lot. And I love that feeling, too. Everything in Guangzhou feels fast and busy. You can’t move slowly (like you literally can’t or  you’ll be trampled on the metro). I’m closely connected to everything in Guangzhou by bus or metro, and the train station is 15 minutes from me so the rest of China is just at my fingertips.

I love both Hengyang and Guangzhou in different ways.

Hengyang is hot pot with my university students, English corners and judging speech contests, movie nights and hanging at 17 Mile with friends, late night chaofan at the dongmen, 39 excursions, the unique experience of being one of a few foreigners and being stared at on the bus and in the grocery store.

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Throwback to a hot pot party in my apartment in 2015

Guangzhou is early mornings, exploring new places, Chinese lessons, working part time, teaching kindergartners, meeting more foreigners, hopping roofs, go go go. I always feel this push inside me that makes me want to do more. I don’t have many lazy days in Guangzhou. I feel weird sitting inside my apartment more than a few hours. I feel like I’m missing out on something. I feel like Ariel, I want to be where the people are, see the action, be part of the world!

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My little Guangzhou babies

I realized that in China I need a balance between community and a big city full of opportunities – but at this point it would be hard for me to move back to a small city. I think one day I would like to, to build another close community like I had in Hengyang. Hengyang will always be special to me, and I treasure the chances to visit and reconnect with old students and friends and eat some spicy Hunan food.

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Even though I may not visit often, a part of me will always be Hengyangren. Until next time Hengyang! 

Check out some old posts from my time in Hengyang: