This is rather a long entry, over 2,000 words with some pictures of me from over my time here. It marks the beginning of the end of my time here in Changchun – This may take a while to read.
When I first got here in October 2004, I remember landing at the airport, looking out of the window and the first thing I saw was soldiers marching on parade and fighter jets. As the plane taxied in it passed a man in olive green uniform standing to attention and saluting the plane. I thought ‘Oh god what have I let myself in for‘ and I was rather concerned. – actually the military presence was there since I arrived just after the national day celebrations and due to the fact that the old airport in Changchun is also a military airport, but i didn’t know this.
The titillating wait for my luggage at the airport, then the walk out of the main door hoping that the person there to meet me was actually there. I remember being terrified about what would happen if he didn’t show up, I couldn’t speak, or read a word of the language, I was a duck out of water.
When I look back at this time I don’t recognise myself, I didn’t know anything about anything. I was eager –fresh-off-the-boat and pretty naïve.
Very soon I have to make a very important decision that will have an impact on my life for the next few years. There are three possible scenarios but I am only really seriously considering one of them at the moment. 1. Do nothing, stay here 2. Stay in China, elsewhere 3. Go back home.
For the last two years, like so many other foreigners here, I have decided to extend my stay here. However I believe the time has come for me to go back -if only temporarily- and buid upon my skills.
I believe that I should start to think a little more long-term. I feel that now I am 25, is the best time as if I leave it any longer I will have missed the boat and will be considered too old to train by many. There are some people who have been here too long and have become stuck, pigeon-holed and unable to advance their careers further. I don’t want this to happen to me. I am also well aware that the grass is always greener, I may look back in six months time and regret this decision but I would rather regret doing this than not doing anything at all.
I can still come back here. The door is always open for me to continue doing what i’m doing. I’ve spent 31 months here and I feel it is probably time to call it a day. I have reached the top of the pile in terms of teaching positions here, I have a very comfortable well paid job, I am treated very well but there is no chance of progression. I am not interested in opening my own school or pursuing any other educational related job, I’ve done enough. The big reason ‘why’, is that I know I can do more, I don’t want to be undervalued all of my life- for I couldn’t imagine how unhappy I would be if I was still here in 10 years doing the same stuff as now.
As any teacher can tell you, once your in it for too long you’re stuck -it’s a job for life.
Most importantly though, the time just feels right, as if a cycle has ended – most of my friends (Chinese and foreign) have left for pastures new and if there is as good a time as any, then it is now.
If there is one thing I come away from China with it is the unequivocal importance of networking and making friends. There is a certain sense of ‘being outside of the loop’ that concerns me, in that If I am working in a big city there are always opportunities that present themselves to those who are actually there. It’s difficult to do this when you are the other side of the world, and to this extent I am missing out. Here teaching is a real lone-wolf profession, you are basically left to your devices， which gives you maximum potential to create your own curriculum but it also means you seldom get the opportunity to network on the job.
So what would make me come back and stay here?
I would stay here if I was in a job that I considered to be able to give me long term opportunities and career prospects and that challenges me. In all my time here I am yet to find this, I do not have the connections in such fields but most importantly I don’t want to be stuck on a Chinese pay scale.
However if anyone is interested in my services give me an email!
Unfortunately, I believe what I am looking for is only available outside China, whereby one can be sent out here to work and live whilst still attracting the benefits a western salary brings. I am not overly concerned with money, but if I were to get into a job on a Chinese pay scale it would become very hard to go back home due to long-term financial restraints.
I have done other things in Changchun besides teaching and tutoring such as editorial and publishing work. Even this suffers the same problems, that is, no long term prospects. The only place this can be done in Changchun is working for a foreign company, and basically they are FAW and its associated companies and suppliers. The westerners working for such companies are sent here from their home countries as specialists, and as such the way to get these jobs is to be in a western country and come out here as part of the job. I believe I have an advantage over others in this regard as know the turf, can communicate and the cultural differences are not an issue. Unlike most westerns sent here, I like living here. I know how things operate, I can sort out problems, I am self-sufficient.
As I have said before, Changchun is a nice place but it is not a place to advance your career. This is not just for foreigners but also for Chinese, many (if not all) of my students will seek employment in the big cities after graduation. However, I am happy and content here, and if I were older and more interested in teaching, I would consider staying here for the rest of my days. In China, teaching commands much more respect than it does in the UK and if I were Chinese (where there is room for progression in teaching), I would probably keep my job and stay in the profession for life.
My quality of life is very good, I have free time to do the things I want to do. I can eat some of the best food in the world, every day. I can travel to so many interesting locations, meet people whom have had such different lives from me and study languages and cultures that are unheard of in the west. I expect once I am home, for my quality of life to decrease significantly and the next few years to be tough. I probably won’t like this but as I have said it’s the best place to be in terms of long-term career advancement and I think that is what I must aim for.
On a philosophical note, perhaps this all boils down to what do you want out of life and what are your priorities?
Many people have an idea of where they want to be in the future some even have plans – house, car, married, family etc. I don’t have such plans as I see them as constrictive at present, however I believe it is important to have some sort of goal, or it could become all too easy to drift and get lost. My medium to long term plans, is to be working in China for a foreign company, on expat terms.
Making tough decisions is just part of life and I just have to get used to that fact, sometimes I look for guidance, advice, suggestions from others, but that does not change the issue that I am the one who must ultimately decide what to do. Sometimes I wish I had a time machine so I could try out all the different alternatives and choose the most appealing outcome, but that would be too easy and would take away the element of surprise that makes life worth living.
旅途本身就是收获 The Journey is the Reward
For me there is something uniquely challenging about living abroad that is difficult to put into words and almost impossible for those never have done so to imagine. In many ways I like being out of the country and away from the things that annoy me back home. Many aspects of the culture and way of doing things I can much more relate to than here than in the UK. There is no such thing as a perfect place; everywhere has its ups and downs, its similarities and contrasts. Therefore it’s not surprising that I’m now feeling a certain amount of trepidation about going home, whereas when I came to China I never felt like this, Infact, I felt the opposite.
I’m also concerned that I may be going back to a place that I dislike and will find it difficult to relate to people, but I believe we all adapt, and that will only be a matter of time before things become ‘normal’ again. Life in the UK –for want of a better word – may be ‘boring’, that things will become a question of routine, ordered and straightforward
Overall, I will say that being here is, and has been, the most inspiring, eye-opening and interesting time of my whole life. I cannot emphasise enough how many new things I have picked up, how much I have learnt about different civilisations and cultures and how much I have improved myself as a better person. I have a lifetimes worth of experiences, memories and stories to tell. I have discovered new parts to myself that I thought I didn’t have within me.
My confidence has improved a lot since coming to China, If you can live here alone then you can do pretty much anything, indeed I’m sure things back home will seem so easy and simplistic in comparison. One of the more advantageous things is that this has allowed me to become a bit of a ‘china expert’ on so many things here and I’m sure this will stand me in good stead for future dealings, especially when I work out here again.
I am acutely aware that I have been very fortunate to be able to experience this; indeed most Chinese do not have the luxury of being able to live and work in another country. It is one of those injustices of life that the colour of a passport makes so much difference.
Those that do have such chances should grasp them.
Before I came here I was cynical about going to another country to live ‘Why should I go there?’ I said to myself ‘What can I learn from being there?’ and of course, the answer is a great deal. I can understand those who do not have the ability, whether it be physically, monetarily or politically to stay in another place but people who never leave their own country –but have ability to do so – I believe are failing to give themselves the best possible chance in life to improve themselves.
This may sound difficult believe to some, but I assure you that if you want to broaden your mind and improve yourself as a person, then coming and living in a place like Changchun can only help. It is at times, too easy to emphasize the cultural differences, in some respects things seem the opposite to the west- where white is the worn at a funeral, lilles are given at weddings, where north east is east north and where people row boats backwards, but actually, a great deal of things are pretty much the same here as they are in the west.
It is with great sadness and a certain degree of apprehension that I’ll say goodbye to Changchun (for the time being!) for when work/live in China in the not too distant future, it probably won’t be in Changchun, though I will always have a friendly holiday destination even if I only get to visit here once a year. I will always feel a part of me is here, rather like a second home and I have so many people to thank for making my stay here worthwhile. I have many good friends from here and I shall miss them dearly, it is the closing of a chapter in my life.
I thank all those that have spent the time to read what I have written and manage to decipher the poor spelling and grammar. There have been many ups and downs, but I only hope that you enjoyed reading the web log’s material as much as I did writing it.
I shall continue to post on this blog until late July/early August when I shall be leaving.