I have an announcement to make. Are you sitting? Well, probably, since you’re at your computers. OK. Here it is:
I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer and no longer live in China.
In fact, I am currently 30 minutes away from boarding a Shanghai-LAX flight (ni hao Jialifuhiya ren!). And I could not be more delighted by that fact.
Most of you readers (other than those dozens of you who are referred here daily by your searches for “Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure”) have probably learned this already, and are probably fairly clear on why this came to pass. I don’t want to go into it all here, but suffice it to say that I decided that living not-in-China was going to be the Best Thing for my health and sanity. That I foresee more personal and professional growth opportunities in the US than in China for me now. I’m confident this was the right decision, although it was of course a bittersweet one. I’m hard at work with Job Search 2011 and have never been anywhere this excited to write cover letters.
Trying to evaluate my time in China is impossible. But I can say that, although it has been a bumpy road, I’m always going to be glad that I did it and had this year’s experience. At the end of this, I’m more patient and flexible—dealing with the kinds of unexpected setbacks that are commonplace: break-downs (yes, just stand on the side of this highway, perhaps another bus will come at some future point), last-minute requests (oh, your teaching start date? Either the day after tomorrow or next week, maybe), etc. will do that to you. I’m heartier physically—I will never complain about any weather ever again (mark me on this) after spending two months wearing a coat 24/7 in Chongqing winter, and after sweating all day and night during Chengdu and Chongqing summer. My nice, pointy elbows and I can push through any crowd, and I can pop a squat anywhere. Plus, I morphed from being a teacher who had learned a lot of theory but not had a lot of practice into one who felt confident and successful in the classroom.
Oh, and China. I learned so much about China. An “old China hand” who spoke during our first few days of training last summer told us that he thinks that the more one learns about China, the more one realizes one needs to learn. I can’t say China/Chinese culture and I were a good fit, but at least I experienced something so different and survived. And I got some Mandarin skillz out of the bargain. Which I hope to keep up.
But perhaps the best way to sum up the last year of my life is to look at the numbers. Hopefully most of you know what an avid list-maker and spread-sheet-aficionado I am. It’s like I always say (or have maybe said a couple of times): an experience isn’t worth anything unless you can quantify it as data. So let’s mine some of my favorite spreadsheets to get another sense of what has actually happened in the last 14 months, by the numbers!
I visited: 8 provinces and 21 cities in China. The famous ones: Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macao, Xi’an, Qingdao, Guilin, and Yangshuo. The not so famous ones include, in Chongqing: CQ city, Beibei, Dazu, Yongchuan, Wushan, Jiangjin, Zhongshan, and Wulong. Sichuan: Chengdu and Neijiang. Gansu: Pingliang. Shaanxi: Baoji. Guizhou: Guiyang.
I spent: a median of about 250 RMB per week ($35).
I taught: Around 500 students total.
I read: 46 books since coming to China.
I watched: the same ten or so shows I watched before I came to China, plus perhaps five additions to my annual line-up. Now that’s an accomplishment.
I enjoyed: giardia, gastroenteritis, an eight-month-long wrist rash, some sort of asthmatic/allergy problem, and more cases of “spicy stomach” than I care to count. Oh, and it’s possible I had an intestinal worm issue at some point, but that’s unconfirmed.
I would be happy if I never had to eat again: hot pot of any and all kinds, soup noodles, chicken feet, baozi (bread-y dumplings), chao shou (soup dumplings), huajiao (numbing Sichuan peppercorns), Chinese corn, and shao kao (BBQ). (Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the weirdest thing I probably ever ate in China was bull penis).
I’m maybe going to slightly miss eating, from my local places: kung pao chicken, sweet and sour pork, dry-cooked green beans, fish-sauce eggplant, and the fried noodles they served in the alley behind Leora’s school.
…So, China, I can’t say I’ll miss you and I definitely can’t say I’m sorry I left…but it’s been real. Maybe I’ll see you again some day, but let’s deng yixia (wait a moment) before that happens.