Lost in Translation – Part II

I am feeling fear as I’m standing on the corner of an intersection. A hundred of motorbikes are sitting there, waiting impatiently for the green light.

“Don’t hesitate, just go and don’t stop. They will avoid you.” says my Chinese friend Yance.  I grab his arm tight and dive into the madness.

I am still trying to overcome my fear when I cross the street in Fuzhou. Motorbikes are like pedestrians here, so they use pedestrian crossing…It is so impressive (and scary!) to see on the other side of the road, an army of motorbikes that literally ploughs into you.

China is a real cultural shock that I am still in the process of getting used to. It will happen in the end but it takes time. Everything is so different and it’s a big change from my western life.

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My life in Fuzhou is challenging. I am feeling a mixed bag of emotions that make it quite intense. I am so excited to discover a new culture and immerse myself in a new environment. But it is also alienating as the cultural shock is so strong.

It reminds me of the turmoil of Vietnam. Insane traffic, a hustle and bustle in the streets that never stops, a cacophony of horns and the smell of Asian food emanating from every corner.

Fuzhou never sleeps, it’s constantly developing and expanding. Buildings, skyscrapers, and massive shopping malls are popping up like flowers. Towers appear in no time and in a couple of months, a new suburb is born. China is like a giant tree whose branches keep growing.

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I have observed a curious mix of advanced technology, modernism, tradition, and conservatism. It’s everything and its opposite. They fancy the luxury of the Western world but forbid you to be truly exposed to the outside world (Google, YouTube, social media are banned). The access to information is restricted and controlled. If I am still able to update my blog and socials it’s thanks to a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that I have downloaded.

It’s for sure one of the most difficult things to cope with as a foreigner. I was born in a democratic country whose main principle is liberty.

But the most challenging part is definitely the language barrier. I did not really think of it before leaving. I was way too excited about the amazing teaching opportunity. I naively thought that people would speak English. At least a little bit.

The reality is no one speaks English in Fuzhou. All the signs are in Mandarin and I have no clue of what’s happening around me.

Luckily, my Chinese friend Yance is with me. He’s been guiding me so patiently but relying entirely on someone is somehow, alienating and frustrating. Not being able to communicate or understand people are the biggest frustration I’ve ever felt in my life.

I remember the first group dinner we had. I felt so diminished and powerless not to be able to interact with the rest of the group. It’s a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling. I have never faced a struggle like that before and I did think: “What am I doing here”.

I am so out of my comfort zone that it scares me. The thought of going back to Australia has crossed my mind many times. This natural instinct that pushes you to go back to what you know because it’s safer and easier…

I do miss my Western lifestyle, but I do know I need to put in the effort to build a new life in Fuzhou if I want to make the most of it.

I have to think about the long-term and I want to recall this experience 5 years from now saying:

“My year in China has been the most enriching and challenging experience in my life. I am proud to have given myself the chance to live over there and open my mind to a new world.”

 

 

Teaching in China

Fuzhou, China – Friday 3rd, November, 7 am,

The squeaking sound of a jackhammer brutally pulls me out of my sleep. I can’t recall a night since I am here without being awakened by these bloody machines.

The building and area where I live in Fuzhou are still being constructed and the noise has become part of my new world. Somehow I got used to it.

It’s time to go teach at the school.

“Wake Up Yaaanceee!” I shout at the door of his bedroom.

(Yance is my Chinese friend I met in Sydney. He helped me attain a position as an English teacher at the school where he works, which has brought me to China. Teaching a second language to young children has always been one of my aspirations).

15 minutes later we’re running late to the school. Thank God it’s only 200 meters away from our apartment. In Fuzhou, no one wants to be stuck in the insane morning traffic.

The school is brand new. A month ago when I arrived, it was still a construction site and I thought it would never be ready on time. I was wrong. In a month, the site has transformed into a beautiful school.

 

What really caught my attention is that this school is not a primary school or part of an academic system. It’s a creative educational school that offers 3 courses: English, Drawing, and Dancing.

When Yance told me about it, it sounded like a dream. I have always wished to be able to teach languages in a fun and creative way, using games, music, art and role play.

 

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The challenge was also to discover a new country. China sounded ideal. A real disruption of culture that would push me far out of my comfort zone. Again.

France, Australia, New Zealand and now China. I like to think that I have lived many lives in my life. I am a traveler at heart and there are so many things to discover about the world.

I have started to teach my own class and I have met so many different types of children with different personalities. From the shy little girl who does not want to leave her Mum to the exuberant boy who disturbs the class. I find extremely interesting and challenging the fact that no matter what, I need to engage with the children enough to catch their attention.

Once it’s done, it feels so good and rewarding to see the cutest happy smiling faces, having fun while learning another language.

 

I am discovering how to make teaching plans, curriculum for the year, and the greatest part is that we have the freedom to be creative. We incorporate songs, dance routines, games, art, role play. It’s so much fun. Way more fun than my old school memories.

Teaching and playing with children is a therapy to me. When I teach, nothing else matters. Worries and problems are gone. My only goal is to make the children happy and teach them the love of learning.

I do believe that Education is the foundation of a better future for humankind.

When I was a child I remember being so bored at school and not interested in the class. I used to daydream a lot and imagine crazy stories. I wish I had more encouragement from teachers to see above and beyond. And that it is okay to be different.

I want to encourage children to pursue their dream and I want them to feel great about themselves. Because that is just what youngsters are. Great.

 

 

Lost in Translation – Part I

I saw it straight away. My name “Julie Do” on a piece of paper at the arrivals of the international airport in Fuzhou, China.

“Ni Hao” I said to the driver and “Xie xie ” when he carried my two huge suitcases to the car. That’s about all I can say in Chinese.

“Do you speak English?” I ask the driver who laughs and shakes his head to say no.

On the way, with my eyes wide open, I look at my new surroundings. A misty chain of mountains, a few Chinese temples, then as we get closer to the city, a blooming industrial life.

I see huge towers spitting clouds of smoke, enormous boats transporting merchandise, monster trucks filled with construction material. Soon we get stuck in the most insane traffic.

The driver sighs and whispers something in Chinese. He is probably swearing. An hour later, we finally reach the city.

The landscape changes and I can spot big buildings and skyscrapers. The streets are busy and loud. The driver slaloms between motorbikes, pedestrians, cars, bikes and buses. It’s complete madness.

The car finally stops in front of a big modern building. It’s the library where I’ve planned to meet up with my dearest Chinese friend, Yance.

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I met Yance two years ago when I was living in Sydney. We soon became very close and I recall so many happy memories. His flamboyant personality got me the instant I met him. I can’t believe that just a couple of month ago, he contacted me to offer me an English teacher position at the school where he works.

And now here I am, after quitting my job and saying goodbye to my boyfriend in no time, I am standing in a giant Chinese city, my life packed into two suitcases.

To be continued.

#Day 14: Dear Australia

 Monday 25th September 2015,

“My name is Julie Do. I am 30 years old and I come from Paris. After years of a quiet and comfortable life, I have exploded, literally, like a volcano that has been asleep and has suddenly woken up. I have decided to leave everything behind me; my home country, a good job, a caring family, trustful friends, a loving fiancé, my small world and safe path…

This life may sound alluring and kind of what you are expected to do but it was not. A routine largely made of insane working hours, unhealthy rhythms and loads of stress. A routine in which you lose yourself, without any purpose, a routine that makes you unhappy and embittered, where quality time has become too rare. And sadly this is what is happening in France. People have lost hope in their own country, people are scared. Unemployment has reached its highest rate, insecurity is rising, politics are useless, the economy is going down, our ‘Douce France’ as Charles Trenet, a famous old-fashioned singer used to sing, is not sweet anymore but bitter and sad…

However, I have not decided to leave my country because of its decline, France will always remain my home. I have done it for myself, I have done it to see how far I can go into the great unknown, to be challenged and put myself at risk to achieve the best outcomes. I have done it to feel alive and breathe in all that life has to offer. I am trying to follow the great words of a very inspiring man who decided to be the master of his fate and the captain of his destiny. Someone special once told me that life is a birth, a death, and for the time in between it is our duty to make it count as we only live once. I do not want to get older frustrated, with my heart and mind eaten by regrets and remorse, with my adventure dream left unpursued.

I have been working since I was 22. Big international companies had trained me to be a very good asset, a hard-working, driven, team player, capable of performing to a high level under pressure and entirely dedicated to my job. Working 8 years in international firms like Deloitte or LVMH makes you tougher, ready to handle a huge amount of stress and committed to excellent customer service. It is a wild world where time is money and your position an ejector seat. But I held on and managed to adapt myself to a hostile environment, building my own happy world in a rough place. I found out it is the people that make it count. My job was not easy but the people I was surrounded by were great in helping me to like it.

But then came a day I realised that the safe path and safe choices were not a goal to fulfil anymore. What is the point of your life when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait to lurk to surprise you? Something else much more exciting is waiting for me and the time has come to pursue the crazy adventures I dreamed up while I was a young whippersnapper.

On the 14th of July 2013, I landed in Australia, ready to live those incredible things that I wanted to come true. Australia is an old teenage dream that I’ve always kept in a corner of my head. A mythic land of adventure symbolised by epic road trips, gorgeous landscapes, amazing quality of life, a land where wilderness and nature prevail on civilisation and human marks. A land where I could be far and lost enough to find myself.

It’s been a year now since I came to Australia and all I can say is this country is so easy to fall in love with. I have found my golden land. Somehow, Australia saved me. She pushed me to change my world, to question my past glories, to get out of my comfort zone, to try things I have never done before. I have adventured and explored so much and I am still following the path I choose to embrace. I have travelled, I have filled my epic road trip dream and I have discovered and learnt so many things being surrounded by the extraordinary people I have met during my journey. I have never felt so alive, so happy, but above all, I have rediscovered myself.

It is a true accomplishment to realise you are able to adapt yourself to a completely new environment, to give your utmost for the most honourable purposes, not for money or glory but for the true values we tend to forget; the happiness of helping people, the happiness of making people happy. We are living in such an individualist society, it just feels so good to get out of this world and escape a mediocrity of life I have always feared.

I have spent my year between travelling and volunteering. It’s as if all those years working in the bowels of a money maker pushed me to run away from it. I was desperately in search of authenticity, nature, wildlife, wilderness, breathtaking landscapes, new lifestyles and cultures but I wanted to associate something useful to it. Volunteering has appeared the best compromise to me.

And now here I am, 10 months later, living in a gorgeous organic farm, looking after kids in an Aussie family as an au pair. Who would have thought? Not me. This challenge popped up in my life out of the blue. From a project manager in France, I turned into a nanny chasing 4 hyperactive kids in a 20-acres farm nestled on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, on the outskirts of Sydney.

It may look like a big nonsense but it means everything to me. I needed to experiment with a new lifestyle, very far from my previous world, I needed a return to basics and true values. A simple life but beautiful and healthy, enjoying things I forgot to enjoy, my mind too busy with the turpitudes of my old life. Cooking, gardening, cleaning, doing sport, reading a good book down by the river, enjoying a 20-acre property of a self-sustaining farm chock-full of handmade treasures, animals, veggies, plants. Swimming in the river, playing with kids, riding motorbikes, chasing absconder pigs, fighting with turkeys, collecting eggs, climbing trees, making bonfires…I feel like Tom Sawyer living crazy adventures along the Hawkesbury River.

I am learning so much living with this family. What is interesting in looking after kids is the fact you have to act as an adult but be a kid as well. You have to be a big responsible kid taking care of young little whippersnappers. And I found out it is one of the most enriching experiences I have had so far and a full-time job. It is like being a mother. I am learning to cope with kids and I can tell that they are the most difficult clients to satisfy! They are merciless and push you to your very last limits, but they are at the same time filled with love to give. They have brought me so much just by being bright, smart, naughty sometimes and very, very funny.

Today I would like to get the chance to be a part of Australia, to be a member of its nation. In lots of ways, Australia inspires me, it’s a land of opportunity for people who know how to seize it and are eager to give their utmost. I am one of them. I have decided Australia will be my new home but it is not enough. I know that somehow I have to deserve Australia because lessons from history have taught me there is no conquered land, you must adapt yourself to fit with the country.

My parents are the best inspiration, in 1970 they fled Vietnam to run away from the war and start a new life in France. They struggled a lot but they have succeeded in building a respectable and honourable life, giving a good education to their children. I will always be grateful for that. I am a daughter of migrants and I am becoming a migrant myself.

I am proud of my family background and do believe that migration and diversity are a strength, as long as you respect the country, its values and its people. Australia is giving me so much and I have so much to give to her. I see the next chapter of my life in this country and I am so excited and look forward to writing it.

Who can show more motivation and eagerness than someone who had the courage of leaving a whole world to build a new one?”