It is hard to believe that it has been one week since I left China. According to my body clock anyway – it was last Thursday evening that had me flying to Tianjin on my first stopover of a very long journey to Santiago! It seems like a lifetime ago.
Andy, giving the peace sign
One week ago, I was a “superstar” in my neighbourhood – shouts of “Louisa!” were music to my ears because I knew young kids would be running up to me and giving me a hug. I miss that. I miss seeing Andy, who was always so willing to hug me and tell me he loved me. I miss Leo, who would playfully poke me in the leg, arm or belly, just to make me run after him. I miss Shirley, who would want to show me how well she was doing with her dance lessons (and stretch her leg way up over her head – oh to be young and agile again!). I miss Lucy, the shy young girl who would barely talk to me when I first met her and who I discovered knew so much English, we could talk for almost an hour in English. I miss Judy, who despite only being in the second grade, could easily have been in grade 4 or 5, so advanced was her English. I miss the kids a lot.
A Brazilian couple I met
However, I am now in a country where I fit in. I may not look Spanish, but I blend in a lot more here. I don’t get the stares that I did in China. I don’t get pointed at and laughed at (at least that’s what I presume they were doing – what exactly were they laughing at anyway? I never wanted to know). I can walk down the streets of Santiago and not feel self-conscious that I am “fat” and will be told that. I am aware of my weight, and didn’t like being told that by any of the Chinese. It’s nice to be blending in and not a strange sight for people to see. Of course, they haven’t yet seen my colourful tights – I may get stared at then lol.
I am enjoying Santiago very much. For me, it’s a walking city. I have walked for hours all over the city. Barrio Lastarria, Barrio Bellavista, Providencia, Barrio Italia – so many areas to see all with their own unique qualities. Would I want to live here? No. It’s a city I would definitely come and see again, if, God willing, I am granted that privilege. I don’t feel enough of a connection though to want to live here. Perhaps I haven’t seen enough of the city. It’s possible there is an area I would like to live in. For now, I am enjoying the wondrous beauty of this city that lies at the foot of the Andes. I am enjoying the food. Completo hot dogs with a bebida. Empanadas. Pastries (that’s something I need to STOP enjoying haha).
On Saturday I head to my next destination in South America – Valparaiso! I am looking forward to being near the ocean, and to explore a new city! In the meantime, I have one more full day in Santiago and will make the most of it!!
I am an outgoing person.I will strike up a conversation with anyone, pretty much wherever I am.If I see someone who looks like they probably speak English, I always say hello!And that in turn has the person saying hello back, and we start a conversation – where are you from?What are you doing here?Almost always it is another teacher!I have met people here in Changchun from South Africa, Australia, Morocco, USA, Canada and of course China.
Chinese people can be very friendly once they get over their nervousness of trying to speak English.About a year ago (end of August 2016), I had decided to explore Changchun and got on a bus not knowing where it was heading to. I stayed on until the end, and discovered a beautiful park. I wandered through it, and hoped my GPS on my phone would help me find my way back. No such luck. I did find a street that I recognized, but I had myself so turned around that I had no idea what way to go.
Instead of panicking, I decided to wing it and just wander around until I found someone who might be able to help me.I knew where I wanted to go and I knew the Chinese name for it. So off I went. I remembered in the Czech Republic, my instincts always said ask a younger person because they will in all likelihood be studying or have studied English – and they will understand. Well, I approached a young man at a bus stop, and asked him which bus I should take. He understood me enough to be able to point me in a direction that would get me there. I said thank you, and crossed the street to the other bus stop. About two minutes later, he was there tapping me on my shoulder. He had found an easier way for me to get to my destination, and walked me to the right bus stop. We exchanged numbers and off I went.haha
Well, this very nice young man has become a very good friend of mine.Zero is his English name (I cannot pronounce his Chinese name). He introduced me to Cinderella and Nancy, and the three of them have all become very good friends.
Tonight we all got together and had a nice dinner together and then went to KTV, to say so long (I never say good bye!), and enjoy each other’s company one more time as a group.They are all wonderful young Chinese people. The two ladies are Chinese English teachers, and Zero works with computer software for schools (that’s what I understand anyway!). The generosity (and I use that word a lot here in China but it’s so appropriate) of these people is overwhelming. I am going to miss the three of them very much. Zero wants me to come back next May for his wedding (sorry but I don’t think that is in my plan!).
It’s amazing how getting lost in a foreign country can help you find lovely people that become close friends! I am very grateful for becoming friends with these three people.It has made me enjoy my time here very much!
In less than a month, I will be leaving China. Am I excited? Yes! I cannot wait to explore more of the world, and to be honest, I am excited to leave China. I have learned a lot about myself while here, and I know I will be taking with me some newfound knowledge of China and of myself.
So what have I learned? And what have I not learned? I have not learned Mandarin, or at least not very much of it. It is a very difficult language to learn. I have learned to count. I can understand, if they speak very slowly, how much things cost. I can say hello (ni hao), and I can say good bye – this is the easiest because they all say Bye Bye! (ha – easiest Chinese lesson ever!).
I have learned that authentic Chinese food is amazing!! So many dishes – chicken dishes, jiao zi (dumplings), bao zi (which is a steamed bun with a little bit of meat inside it), tofu (dof), noodles, rice. So many delicious foods, so many names I don’t know how to pronounce or write. I have had a few dishes that I have not enjoyed, but I would say 95% of what I have tried here has been so good. I have even enjoyed the cauliflower concoction (for lack of a better word) that they served at the school. With hot peppers in it. Hot peppers and cauliflower together – two things I would never eat in Canada – and yet here, so good!!
I have learned that the Chinese people, where I live, are some of the most generous people that I have ever met. From helping me find somewhere (actually taking me there, even if it is a 15 minute walk out of their way), offering me drives (people I know have done this), buying me meals, and just being patient with me while I try to understand what they are saying. I will never forget the generous nature of the people in Changchun.
I have learned patience. Not just from my teaching either. This country has tried my patience on many occasions. Between miscommunication and non-communication about work matters. About salary issues. About times for meetings. I have learned that being patient is the only way to deal with it.
I have learned to live in the moment. This relates to the patience as well. Does it matter that I am early and the others are late? No not really. Does it matter that it starts to rain while I am out with groceries in hand and no umbrella? No – it’s just rain. I will dry off when I get home (this happened yesterday haha). Does it matter if the bus is overcrowded? No – I can wait for another one or take a cab. Patience, living in the moment – it all works together. I am now at a place in my mind that getting upset over some things really isn’t worth my time or energy. I just now go with the flow as much as I can.
I have learned to overcome my fears. My fear of eating in a restaurant where I don’t know how to read the menu. Fears of unknown food and how I will react to it. Fears of being lost in a foreign city. Fears of not being understood. I understand now how it must feel for foreigners and immigrants coming to Canada for the first time, trying to read signs or menus, or just trying to communicate on how to get somewhere. It is daunting and, as a solo traveler, it can be scary. Overcoming my fears has been my biggest challenge here. When I first arrived in Changchun, I was scared. I was looking at the signs, and only seeing Mandarin, I thought – my God what have I done? I can’t read anything, I have no idea where I am – it was the scariest moment in my life. But I overcame that – and for that I am very proud of myself.
I think what I have learned most during my time in China is how strong I am. And how brave I am. It was not an easy decision to do this, and while it was very scary, I did it. I know I can go anywhere now and survive.
Don’t be afraid to get out there and try new things. You will not be disappointed!
One month TODAY, I will be landing in Santiago, Chile!! I have enjoyed, for the most part, my time in China but I am SO excited to be heading to the southern hemisphere and a brand new continent!
My South American journey has many places to see, and things to do. I cannot wait to get started on this next chapter of my life!! Here are just a few things I want to see and do!
1. The Atacama desert – I have been doing research about the desert, and this is something I cannot miss while in Chile!! San Pedro de Atacama looks so charming, and there are reasonably priced tours to go and observe the stars, and be mesmerized by the sky. I cannot wait to be there!!
2. Eat empanadas from a street vendor in Santiago – there are many street markets in Santiago, and I want to see everything, and inhale all the delicious smells of Chile, and enjoy a freshly made empanada.
3. Enjoy Chilean wine – I am not a big wine drinker but I do know that Chile has some of the best wine in the world, and I am going to try it while I am there.
4. Valparaiso and Vina del Mar – these ocean cities are a bus ride away from Santiago. I want to be by the ocean, enjoy fresh seafood, and take a walk on the beach.
5. Ride a bike through the countryside of Chile, near the Andes.
There are so many things I want to do and to see in my life. These are just a few that I know I can accomplish this year. Any suggestions of other things I shouldn’t miss?
Forks and knives are not easy commodities to find in China. If you go to a Western restaurant, then they will provide you with them (ex. Pizza Hut).
But usually you are given chopsticks. Wooden ones, disposable ones ~ I have even used metal ones! Only once though ~ they are NOT easy to use!
When I first arrived, I was very self-conscious about using them. Was I holding them right? No I wasn’t haha. Were people staring at my ineptness? Yes and taking pictures too! That doesn’t make one more self-conscious at all! One day I will ask why they insist on taking pictures of foreigners eating. It is very disconcerting!
After a few weeks of eating at the school with only chopsticks available, I became much more comfortable with them.
So now, 10 months after arriving in China, I can say that I can eat everything with chopsticks! Except soup… haha. I can pick up a single piece of rice with my chopsticks! I can pick up a piece of chicken and easily eat it.
One more thing I have succeeded at while in China ~ eating with chopsticks!!
I will miss some things about China ~ the children, the teaching and the FOOD!! Today I ventured over to a new restaurant that opened close to me. I presumed, correctly, that the owners were parents of one of the kids I taught and I was right! Two of my favourite Grade 1 students!
It was a new style of restaurant for me. You have a “buffet” where you can add whatever you want in a bowl. You then take it to the counter, they weigh it, cook it in hot water and serve it with a side of rice (good thing I love rice haha).
I made the choices of tofu, glass noodles, mushrooms, mystery meat (it looked like bacon), corn, crab meat and some greens (it was a mixture of unknown greens). It was delicious!!! They added some peanuts to it after it was cooked. All of this for the equivalent of $2 Canadian!
I have broken through the fear of the unknown food and I am really enjoying discovering new food!! Now if only I could get used to the loud eating..
There are many unusual things to eat here in China, some more unusual than others (BBQ scorpion no thanks!). The fun part of traveling is leaving your inhibitions aside and trying new things, if you are brave enough!!
Chicken gizzards ~ no. BBQ scorpions ~ no. Unknown meat ~ well maybe. Unknown seafood fried on a stick ~ yes and it was delicious!! I know I ate chicken feet at one point unbeknownst to me. It was okay but doubtful that I will have it again willingly or knowingly!!
One of the more unusual fruit here is dragonfruit. Its skin is bright pink, it has spikes all over it and doesn’t look like fruit at all!!
Inside it’s white with little black seeds (?). It has a nice light fruity taste. It is not overly sweet, definitely not sour, and is quite refreshing. It has a soft texture similar to a ripe pear. I had tried it back in Calgary and thought it was tasty so I knew what it was like. Of course, being in the country where it’s from, I had to try it!! And it is more delicious here!!
Next thing to try ~ octopus in Chile!!
I have many fears, as I am sure most people do. Some of my fears are common (war is on the top of that list) and some are not so common, I think.
I have overcome many fears since my traveling life has begun. One was traveling alone ~ could I do it? Could I be happy being alone in a foreign place? I have conquered that fear. Being alone in a foreign country is more liberating than fearful. Its an amazing feeling walking through European cities or Chinese cities and having a feeling of belonging, despite being stared at. Taking in all the sights to see, the smells, people watching. Experiencing a whole new way to live. Adjusting as well as you can to the language. I am happy to say that the fear of this unknown was a good one to overcome.
Last night I conquered a personal fear. Eating out in public. I have eaten in restaurants here in China ~ I don’t always like doing that but I have done it (the noisy eating I will never get used to!). But there is one thing I have wanted to do and couldn’t work up the nerve to do, until last night.
BBQ is very popular here. There is a BBQ place near my place but I didn’t know what the food was. That’s another fear! What am I eating?? I don’t usually ask, until last night. I was walking by, on my way to get my usual chicken and rice dish when two of my students and their parents asked me to join them. So I did. I sat down, ate delicious food outside, with people watching, taking pictures and talking about me. (I know the Chinese word for foreign teacher ).
My usual chicken dish that I love!!
What did I eat? Grilled tofu (I love tofu!!), a seafood skewer (no one could tell me what kind of seafood it was but it was good!), pork skins (yummy!), chicken (what part of the chicken is unknown but it was really good), chicken wings and a huge bottle of beer. I overcame the fear of the unknown food and enjoyed a lovely evening with these very generous people. And now I know I will definitely sit down again and enjoy the food there.
So when you’re traveling, take the plunge and try local food. Don’t be afraid. You may be pleasantly surprised!! (I did say no to chicken gizzards though ~ I had to draw the line somewhere!)
Quirks, oddities, translations gone askew. There are so many unique qualities of China, its hard to narrow it all down to one category.
Wearing velour sweat suits in 29 degree weather!!
From the constant spitting, to the use of the sidewalk as a toilet, to the incredible generosity of the Chinese people. It’s interesting to see the many faces of China.
Translations are my favourite. They really want to embrace the Western way yet have no clue that the way they translate does not make sense. I make a point now to look at the signs, the food labels and the clothes.
The authentic Chinese food is truly incredible. Some of the best food I have ever had. But I steer away from street food because pigeon isn’t at the top of my list to eat!
They have unique choices to food that is common I am sure worldwide. While I have had cucumber chips and lime chips, some flavours I won’t try (squid flavour? No thanks!)
There are so many odd things I see here, but some things are rather disturbing.
This is a child (2 year old) size tshirt. Scary!!
It is definitely interesting to see all the unique things here!!