Goodbye China

I’ve always embraced new experiences, new challenges, new cultures and lifestyles and moving to China for a year has probably been the boldest move I’ve ever done.

Bold but wise. Taking my chance to be an English teacher for young children in China is a daring move that I knew would get me on the right path to my goals. But more than gaining some professional teaching experience (which is already amazing!), I have allowed myself for the biggest doses of personal growth.

My time in China has been challenging, enriching and filled with memorable and special moments. I’ve experienced daily life through a different lens. I’ve pushed myself far out of my comfort zone and everything that I’ve ever known. I’ve had all my habits, familiarities and ways of thinking challenged. There is nothing more humbling and stimulating than throwing myself into the middle of a country and culture I know nothing about.

I have learnt to appreciate the beauty of connecting with someone with whom I speak zero mutual words with. I’ve learnt how to enjoy someone else’s company on the most basic fundamental human level. I’ve had to use all unimaginable resources to make myself understand and to be able to communicate. I’ve learnt how to push my limits and deal with it.

The most interesting part of my adventure is that for a year I’ve been experiencing the authentic and local Chinese life. Not the fancy and glamourous expatriate life that foreigners live when they move to major international Chinese cities like Shanghai or Beijing.

The first city I settled in when I moved to China was Fuzhou. Fuzhou is the capital of southeastern China’s Fujian province. This “small” city of 8 million inhabitants has remained quite traditional and very few people speak English. Compared to the madness of Beijing or Shanghai, Fuzhou is pretty chilled and relaxed. I like it for its temples, its green mountains surrounding the city and the beautiful urban sunsets I never get tired of. [Read more about the life in Fuzhou]

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In the beginning, it was really hard to get used to living in China and after two months I seriously considered going back to Sydney! The feeling of isolation and alienation was very strong. I felt completely lost and helpless not being able to understand my surroundings and not being able to do the most basic things by myself. Without the help of my Chinese best friend Yance, I would have never stayed that long! Adaptation is a long process and it took a lot of patience and wisdom to get through it and see the bright side of it.

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My teaching job helped me to feel better. Wherever you go, it’s not the place that matters the most but what you do. Doing something that I am passionate about every day reminded me of my goals and why I was here. [Read more about my teaching experience in China].

I held on to it and things started to get better. I met wonderful people along the way and I focused on the great sides of the whole experience, the big picture. I have fond memories of my time in China.

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The second city I moved to and where I currently live is Shanghai. When you say Shanghai, everyone thinks of the highly international city, the New York of China, its magical skyline, and its vibrant atmosphere. Which is all true. Every time I go to the city, I forget that I am in China. Everything is so international and open. I love the combination of the historic Shanghai and the strong European influences that bring an “air de déjà vu”. [Read more about the Shanghainese life].

But when you live in the suburbs of Shanghai, it’s a completely different experience. Living a Chinese provincial life has been my biggest challenge since I have been in China. It’s even more challenging than Fuzhou where I had an urban life.

For some reasons, I’ve ended up living in the most improbable place in China. An odd Dutch town of Shanghai called Holland Village. They have recreated a little Holland and all its charming treasures. There is a canal that weaves through the town and is bordered by beautiful weeping willows. A windmill stands in the middle of the river on a little island filled with trees and flowers. Along the main street, the building facades reflect the architectural style of a quaint Dutch village.

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It’s a strange sensation when you walk around. It really looks like Holland but something is missing. There is no life, no soul. Holland Village is mostly abandoned. There are very few, if any, places to eat or get a drink. No one is around except for newlyweds, using the windmill as a backdrop for their wedding photos.

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Although the scenery is picturesque and lovely, I can’t stop thinking that there’s something a little strange about it. It got me to do more research.

How did this Holland town come out in the middle of an old suburb of Shanghai?

I found out that in the early 2000s, the Shanghai government launched a renovation plan to develop and modernise a few suburban districts. Each of these districts was assigned a new town, each with their own country theme. British, Spanish, German, Italian. The place where I live has obviously been assigned with a Dutch theme. You can find today many districts in Shanghai with a complete European design.

The goal of bringing Europe to China was to unclog Shanghai’s urban sprawl and appeal the population to move to the suburbs. However, the Holland village project has not been successful as the place is mostly deserted, but the Dutch architecture remains.

There’s not much to do around but I enjoy the bike rides alongside the canal and wander in the park, watching Chinese oldies dancing and doing yoga.

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I’ve ended up living in this district because of the school where I teach. It’s a brand new school and the competition is less tough in the suburbs compared to the city. This school is actually an English training center designed for children aged from 3 to 12 years-old. The brand is called Cinostar and is present in major Chinese cities.

It’s been a unique experience to be part of the launch of a new school in China. I’ve experienced it twice and observing how Chinese people do business has been very interesting. It will definitely help me with my future plan when I open my own creative school.

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The first time I came to visit the school area, I freaked out. This part of the suburb is called ‘The Old Town” which says it all. Everything around is old and ancient. Like the people living there. There are no foreigners here, the area is typically Chinese and the pace is very slow. It does not feel like Shanghai.

Everything is authentic and very local. The little food shops, the hairdresser, the barber shop. The oldies sitting in front of their old shops smoking cigarettes. The kids playing around in the dirt, the multitude of empty shops selling bric-à-brac, food, animals, clothes, starving dogs rummaging in the bins. It feels like another period of time and we’re very far from the extravagance of the city.

Luckily the area where we live is more modern and lively, probably the busiest part of the suburb, close to commodities, restaurants, and shops. There are a few good places to eat and hang out. Our apartment is spacious and comfortable. I ride my bike every day to go to school, it’s a nice and quiet lifestyle.

Once a week we fulfil our need for excitement by going to the city which is about 45 minutes by train. The fancy Bund, the busy Nanjing road, the lively and lovely French Concession. It’s like living in two different worlds! The authentic Shanghainese countryside vs the flamboyant Shanghai city.

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I am leaving China soon and I feel very grateful for having had the chance to live there for a year, doing what I love and opening my mind in big to a different world. I have definitely learned more about myself and my abilities to adapt to a new environment. My Chinese adventure has been a whirlwind of emotions, the happiness of meeting all kind of amazing people, the fulfilment of teaching the love of learning to young children, the excitement of discovering something new but also the frustration of not being able to understand or communicate.

To me, this is what traveling is all about. Traveling is not just about going to fancy touristic places and taking beautiful photos. It’s about experiencing a different lifestyle, challenging myself to open my world to a new one. Live, eat, act like a local and see what the everyday life is about. The real life. What I love is the fact that travels consistently challenge me to rethink what I think I know. And it’s the biggest dose of personal growth I can get.

In a month, I am back in my country of heart, Australia, [Dear Australia] ready to start my new venture and still chasing my dreams, more than ever.

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If you’d like to discover what’s fascinating about China, read my article: 10 Random Facts about China you need to know! 

 

 

 

 

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Hit the Road Jack!

There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars. On the Road – Jack Kerouac

Have you ever done an epic road trip in the far-flung lands of a country with nothing but a backpack, a camera, and complete freedom?

From all the great life experiences, hitting the road and living like a gypsy is probably one of the most memorable and fulfilling adventures. The feeling of freedom is priceless and it’s worth every little misfortune happening along the way.

Road tripping for a year has been my best therapy after running away from 29 years of a comfortable life and quitting an office job in which I buried myself for 7 years.

I’ve tasted the quintessence of liberty being on the road, with no roof over my head but a blazing sun or a sky full of shiny stars. I have never felt so free and happy. I had the best time living an oblivious life, meeting extraordinary people and experiencing things I have never done before or could not even imagine achieving.

I was desperately in search of freedom, of authenticity, and excitement. Sometimes, the feeling itches me: the urge of hitting the road again and live exciting adventures.

What is the point of your life when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events are waiting to lurk and surprise you? Something else much more exciting was waiting for me and the time has come to pursue the crazy adventures I dreamed up while I was a young whippersnapper.

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1st of October 2013, Mission Beach, Queensland, Australia, 5:30 am. 

A soft ray of sun tickles my face. I open my tired eyes, lulled by the song of the waves. A  pink light dazzles me. The sun awakes and offers me its most intimate moment. A stunning sunrise that I contemplate in silence with a smile from ear to ear.

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I shake my sleeping bag covered with sand. I fell asleep on the beach, the embers of last night’s campfire are still crackling. I look around and see the shape of my traveling companion Aurélien a few metres away, his entire body buried in his sleeping bag.

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After spending a month at the farm in Carwell, we have decided to go up north and stop by Mission Beach. Mission Beach is a little beach town of 5,000 inhabitants and well-known for its stunning 14 km long beach bordered with coconut trees. A real heaven on earth.

We have found the best spot to camp. 3 steps from the beach between two palm trees. I feel like living the adventures of Robinson Crusoe. I literally sleep, eat, cook, and live on the beach. Read a good book, have a rest in the shadow of a coconut tree whose perfect shape reflects in the golden sand. Some simple pleasures that make me forget about everything.

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Being on a road trip is a limitless freedom to enjoy to the fullest.

Hit the road, get lost, retrace your steps, find your way back and get lost again a few miles away. Stop to take a photo of the scenery, have a bit to eat, make a campfire on the beach, hit the road again and get carried away by the wind, listening to your whims and living in the moment. Wake up on the beach, lulled by the sound of the waves, or in the middle of the jungle woken up by the birdsongs. A priceless freedom that I will always treasure.

But driving thousands of miles across Australia has taught me that a road trip is a rock solid logistics organisation. It’s a daily logistical brain teaser to enjoy with true joy, lots of laughter, and a little bit of irritation sometimes!

Here’s my random list of the little things about what’s a road trip like. Please feel free to leave a comment if you wish to add any ingredient from your own recipe 🙂

A 5,000km road trip is…

* To check every two days that the car is in good condition;

* To look desperately for a petrol station because there’re only 2 litres petrol left;

* To do your accounts every day;

* To try to remember what you bought the week earlier because you forgot to do your accounts;

* To wonder where all your money went;

* To wear the same old outfit every day and not care about it;

* To appreciate the simple pleasures of life;

* To look for a free spot to spend the night;

* To have a policeman knocking at the window in the middle of the night because you’re parked in the wrong spot;

* To wake up with the sunrise and watch the sunset every day;

* To take off the bags on the back seat, put them at the front to set up the bed at night;

* Do the opposite in the morning and hit the road again;

* To wear your swimsuit every day

* To stop to change a flat tire;

* To do the groceries every day and buy the same cheap food because even on a road trip you still create your own little habits;

* To have drinks and snacks on the beach every evening;

* To see epic scenery every day;

* To live a simple but beautiful life;

* To get lost in the middle of nowhere;

* To encounter some wild animals;

* To fall asleep on the beach;

* To get the food and the gas cooker out, holdalls and plastic containers full of everything three times per day;

* To have barbecues nearby the beach;

* To play endless card games;

* To get a fine because you parked in the wrong spot;

* To lose your stuff along the way;

* To cook and eat anytime anywhere;

* To eat inside the car/van because it’s pouring outside;

* To do the dishes in the sink of the public toilets;

* To sleep on a wet mattress because it rained and the window was down;

* To smell bad effluvium of food in the car that you end up getting used to;

* To spend the night in the middle of heavy trucks at the petrol station so you can shower;

* To get lost for miles and miles without noticing it;

* To make fire camp on the beach and eat grilled marshmallows;

* To cry out of joy while driving because the scenery is incredible and you feel grateful to live this adventure with your best friend;

* To push and challenge yourself;

* To discover deserted heaven of peace;

* To enjoy nature to its fullest;

* To have no privacy;

* To shower every time you find a shower and shower in public;

* To stop and ask for directions;

* To unpack and pack, unload and load over and over again;

* To constantly look for something and not finding it or finding it when you don’t need it anymore.

* To argue and fight with your traveling buddy because even though you love each other, living with someone 24 hours a day is super challenging!

* To listen to the road trip playlist songs and sing like you’ve never sung before

* To feel as free as a bird and live the most incredible experiences

* To put things into perspective and forget about the futilities and turpitudes of life

* To live an extraordinary human adventure, full of memorable encounters and friends for life;

* To create the most epic memories that you will tell your children and grandchildren one day!

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Now, pack up your stuff and hit the road 😉 !