As I transition away from being an expat to being a journalist and then a pampered tourist for the next couple of weeks, I can’t help but look back on my time in Jinan. Yes, I know I said that I was going to do this for a year. However, things change, and now is the time to reflect on what I’ve learned here.
I will always remember the expats I grew close to and whom I laughed with during our crazy two-day trip to Weihai, which showed even more how different even a vacation can be in this country. Special thanks to Bob, Thais, John, Adrian, Paul, Matt, Earl, Kelly, Ray, Helen, Casey, Ian, Stephen, and Malena’s at Parc 66, Box Bar, Space Bar, Jenny’s Cafe and Bread’n Bakery. Without these people and familiar-to-me places and their kind words and support from time to time I couldn’t have done it.
I’ve learned that in the beginning of all of this, I would compare every little thing that was different from the United States. The fact is, overall, almost everything is different! Were there fun moments? Of course. Do I feel like fate brought me to Jinan? Yes. I never would’ve had the experiences and met the people I met and grew as a person without it. I will particularly remember our nights at KTV and the night at Pin Pub toward the end the most. So much fun and a great way to end my time here. Perhaps the biggest surprise of it all is that Jinan truly became home to me.
When looking back on this experience, I will remember my personal growth outside of the school the most. I took a city bus for the first time by myself. I braved a language barrier and absolute hunger and 10-lb. weight loss around the first month that finally drove my anxiety-filled self out of my apartment and into the city on my own. I stood on the Great Wall of China, part of traveling to more places I never thought I’d ever go as a child growing up in Perryville, Mo. I learned more about my own personal boundaries and where I absolutely draw a line in my own personal health and well-being (i.e., the bathroom and personal hygiene situation). I practiced forgiveness and grew leaps and bounds in patience. I experienced every emotion in the book: sorrow, heartbreak, happiness, dread, relief and true friendship.
The thing that surprised me the most about my neck of the woods of China was the utter opposite nature of the culture. I was reprimanded for chewing gum and allowing students to jump off a “dangerous” one-foot step that was designed to help them reach, yet they all drive away with their parents on ebikes going 800 miles an hour with no helmets and in cars with no car seats and sleep in the lobby couches on breaks right in front of the parents, which I view as really unprofessional.
Another opposite was simply the way of the people. Each child carried a thermos, and it was almost a demand on each break to drink plenty of water. I couldn’t be told to drink water enough. It was their cure for everything. If I would get hit by a bus and have my leg ripped off, they would’ve told me to drink more water, especially hot water. They LOVE scalding hot water here. However, half of the kids’ teeth were rotting, many kids and teachers had facial “issues” (I won’t say what it really looked like). I doubt drinking water cures ecoli, even if most of what they drink is hot water. I can’t wait for an ice cold glass of water—something so simple in the states but rarely seen in my five months here. It also amazed me that babies butts can be hanging out and people can pee on anything they want in broad daylight and men can tuck their shirts up and show their stomachs in the heat, but if I raised my hand and my stomach showed in class, I heard a gasp every time.
There were many only children, since China has restrictions on child bearing, however there is a serious lack of birth control options and sex education. Confusing. I saw many “rich kids” picking their noses and eating it in almost every class (this included older kids) and yet I was practically forced to high five them. The lack of personal hygiene and the lack of that type of education of parents, who were driving luxury vehicles and spending a lot of money for this private learning center, completely baffled me. Another note on that: Sun City Always wasn’t built that long ago, and the level of wear and tear and filthiness completely floored me at first, and I heard we had one of the nicer schools. I was saddened by the littering and the utter lack of respect for the people in my city and their property, however as time went on I got used to this a little more. I won’t ever get used to watching someone throw something on the ground when there’s a trash can 5 ft. away, however.
Women here are very childlike, I don’t mean that in a disrespectful tone—it’s just the way they are. They dress in what Americans would deem more “cutesy” and they hold hands and link arms in public. I found myself linking arms with Eileen and walking through the halls of Always, something I would NEVER do with a chick in the states, ha! I barely even hug! I will miss being able to comfortably do this.
I won’t miss the no line factor, and how the older generation just throws their stuff down in front of you at the store and demands to be waited on first. Or the pushing and shoving to get on the bus when everyone will eventually just get on it. I won’t miss getting stared at constantly. I will be happy to be able to use my debit card freely again and not depend on cash, but I will miss having more money than I’ve ever had before. China is so inexpensive! I will miss my CETs and my new friends dearly, laughing about pronouncing new words, having little to nothing to worry about, no rent and being skinny. (Gonna work on keeping that last one.)
I will miss the crazy art of the no-yield traffic and watching it all unfold. I will not miss the honking that serves as every mode of driving communication, however. I won’t miss the pollution and the constant itching. I won’t miss seeing butts, and I will never get used to outdoors being used as toilets. I also will never be used to squat toilets or the loud throat clearing noise and spitting everywhere.
And, I can’t forget about the hospital. A place that is supposed to be the epitome of sterilization and cleanliness? No toilets, no toilet paper, nothing to wipe your hands on, no soap in the bathrooms. I can’t believe there isn’t an outbreak here that wipes out the entire Chinese civilization. I did find some western toilets along the way, but for the most part it was bring-your-own-things-and-pee-in-a-hole-land.
They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and China certainly wasn’t either. That’s why it surprised me so much how “behind the times” Jinan truly is. I didn’t even have a garbage disposal or oven in my kitchen. I think the U.S. is appliance happy, however ha ha. I know if I can live here, I can handle anything, and despite all the craziness a part of me is sad to close this chapter and I will remember all of the good and laugh with fond memories of the bad.
Lastly, even though I knew this before coming here, that I have it enormously good. In America I work hard to make my living, love what I do and know in going home that I will be OK because I have the resources and the smarts and the drive to put myself in a comfortable position in life, with even more life experience than before. America sure as heck isn’t perfect either, we all have our problems, and I know that I was much more observant of things here than I may be back home, especially since I’m blogging about it. I didn’t want this experience to be something I just “got through” but I think the point was to make me a stronger person even more so in my “regular” life and I think I’ve succeeded. I feel a little like today I’m leaving my home. A part of me will be homesick for this crazy place.
I have the best friends a girl could ask for, a family who doesn’t always understand me, but who loves me anyway, and the absolutely best dog ever to have walked on four legs on the planet. I feel incredibly guilty and selfish for leaving him, but I always remembered that I would be running back home to him. I can’t wait for the moment I see his angel face in baggage claim in two and a half short weeks, in which will be the moment this blog officially ends.
With that, I’m heading to Hong Kong/Shenzhen and Bali for more once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I know that I am truly blessed and am really feeling like all the trials and tribulations and hard work are finally paying off. I’m ready to eat a ton, continue to pray and to hopefully learn how to love again.