Japan: My Impressions Thus Far

After three days in Tokyo, I’ve had a few things to think about.

As I’m writing this, I’m on a train from Tokyo to Kyoto. I’ve been in Tokyo since Sunday, and I must admit, by the end of it, I was getting overwhelmed by the amount of stuff to do in Tokyo! I want to put my experiences in Tokyo into more articles, but for now, I’ve been thinking about my overall impression with Japan thus far, and some points come to mind:

  • Stand to the left, pass to the right. I noticed in the metro stations that people tended to fall into a pattern of walking on the left side of the station (I imagine that’s because in Japan, people drive on the left side of the road), and standing on the left side of the escalator so people can pass on the right. In America, and even in China, that’s not as likely to happen, if it happens at all, and the chaos that ensues seems inevitable. Regardless, I’ve been saying sumimasen (“excuse me”) a lot, mostly because I would be focusing too much on Google Maps, or I’d have no idea where I’m going.
  • Durable is not always practical. I knew full well that hiking boots were not a good option for taking on and off when entering a Japanese home; however, I didn’t realize just how often people take off their shoes in Japan. Fitting rooms in clothing stores, some parts of museums like the Samurai Museum in Shinjuku, some places like the cat café I went to in Harajuku—all of them required me to take off my shoes. At this point, I’m wondering if Japanese people can tell if people are tourists by seeing if they’re wearing shoes with laces. I was tempted to see what kind of cute, durable flats I could find in my size, but I wouldn’t have had enough room in my suitcase for my boots, so for now, I’m soldiering on.
  • Few trash cans. I know that Japan has a rigorous system when it comes to recycling and trash disposal, but I didn’t expect how few trash cans or recycling bins I’ve seen on the streets in Tokyo. In America and China, you’d have at least one trash/recycling bin per street block. Japan? I once had to keep a food wrapper in my pocket for hours before I found a trash bin. I imagine if there were a lot of waste bins, though, in such a big city like Tokyo, trash would inevitably accumulate (“if you build it, they will come” and all that), and Japan doesn’t have much space for landfills, so I understand why this is the case, but it’s still a bit of an adjustment.
  • Not many places to sit. When I was researching customs in Japan, I read that it’s generally considered inappropriate to walk and eat at the same time. That said, when I would order food at a place that didn’t have seating, I would want to find a bench so I could sit and eat, but there wouldn’t be any, so it felt like a bit of a Catch-22. I realize that as a foreigner, I could probably get away with making some faux pas, but I didn’t want to be that person. Instead, I just stood in a place where I wouldn’t be in the way of foot traffic and ate there. Was that the best alternative? I don’t know, but I was trying to make do.
  • Just how many foreigners there would be. After being in Cili (and thus being one of only a handful of foreigners in the county, to my knowledge) for almost six months, I noticed that there were so many foreign tourists in Tokyo, and I kind of didn’t know how to react at first. I imagine this is going to be similar to reverse culture shock when I return to America.

I’ve been having a great time here so far, and I hope I can have an equally good time in Kyoto! I’ve been thinking about posting a sort of food diary about the themed restaurants and other places I went to in Tokyo, but I’m not sure if y’all are interested in that. Let me know what you want to read about in the comments! Until the next article—well, it feels weird saying zai jian since I’m in Japan, so I’ll say またね!

Happy Holidays from Fenghuang

I talk about a trip to Fenghuang to celebrate the Christmas weekend

DisclaimerThe views and opinions expressed in this article are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of WorldTeach or its affiliates.

I hope everyone had a happy holidays, and that everyone has a safe and happy New Year!

My cohort Caileigh and I went to Fenghuang in western Hunan to celebrate the Christmas weekend. According to legend, Fenghuang (Chinese for “phoenix”—coincidentally, also the Chinese name I chose for myself) got its name because two phoenixes flew over the town and found it so beautiful that they were reluctant to leave (source). It’s known as a home for the Miao ethnic minority. Notable people from this town include Shen Congwen (a writer that has contributed to the development of modern Chinese literature), Xiong Xiling (the first premier of the Republic of China following the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty), and Huang Yongyu (a contemporary Chinese painter) (source).

I live a stone’s throw away from Zhangjiajie City, so I was able to get on a bus to Zhangjiajie and then get on a bus to Fenghuang from there. Be advised: Fenghuang has no train station, so trains are not an option. It’s about five hours by bus from Changsha, and three to three-and-a-half hours from Zhangjiajie. I felt like I was getting sick that day so it probably felt a lot longer than it actually was, but I was able to fit in some of Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses on Audible, so that’s good.

My entrance into Fenghuang was after dark, and each lamppost had a phoenix light display—it was then that I knew we were in Fenghuang. My taxi stopped at Hongqiao (虹桥), a pedestrian-only bridge with a lot of shopping. After I crossed Hongqiao, I was now in the old city, and I had to walk the rest of the way to my youth hostel.

Our youth hostel (AirBnB) was in a side street of the old city part of Fenghuang. The place is really clean, well-decorated in an old-world style (which I can appreciate), and—HOLY MEMORY FOAM—it had the softest mattress we’ve slept on in the five months we’ve been in China. According to the AirBnB site, the host spoke English, but since both Caileigh and I speak Chinese, we didn’t really push to see how much English she knew.

We spent a lot of time walking around the town, ducking into cute little shops (and petting some cute cats and dogs, in Caileigh’s case; we both recognize the health risks of petting animals in China, so proceed with caution). It was a really sunny day and even if it was supposed to be 17˚C that day (62˚F, which is a bit chilly for a Floridian like me), it felt really warm in the sunshine (but then again, I had a fever so take everything I say with a grain of salt).

Side street in Fenghuang with hanging decorations

We stopped at a café that looked like something out of a Studio Ghibli movie named 影子咖啡 (Yingzi Kafei). We spent a great time enjoying coffee and looking out on the Tuojiang River, not far from the step-bridge that is in all the photos of Fenghuang on Pinterest.

Yingzi Kafei

View of the Tuojiang River from Yingzi Kafei

In the evening, we went to a nearby restaurant (one of the perks of being in Fenghuang is that nearly everything is within walking distance) and went nuts with pasta, fries, and their take on garlic bread (which was like regular toast with roasted garlic but hey, we still ate it). There appeared to be a lot of bars and music venues in Fenghuang (which makes sense, considering its tourist appeal), but neither of us are bar-hopping people so we went back to our hostel and listened to the music they were playing there. Since it was Christmas Eve, our host gave us apples! (It’s apparently a Chinese tradition to give apples on Christmas Eve.) The next day was spent heading back to our sites, since we both had fairly long journeys home.

I think we could have spent another day here, taking in all that the town and the surrounding scenery had to offer, but I think we did a lot for the time we had there. I think we both had a really good time in Fenghuang, and I’m glad we were able to go!

I’m looking forward to winter break in the coming months! I have some ideas for traveling, and I hope that they can become reality. Once again, I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season, and I hope to see you in the new year with new content! See you then! Zai jian!

View of the Tuojiang River

Four things I learned in Inner Mongolia

I’ve put off this article about the lessons I took from Inner Mongolia for far too long.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of WorldTeach and its affiliates.

 

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One of my favorite photos I took out in the grasslands

Hello, everyone! I have returned! It’s been almost two months (!) since I got back to Hunan Province from Inner Mongolia, and I’ve had a lot to think about for what I want to write about my time there. I’ll probably write about what we did and where we stayed in another post, but I want to write about what I learned out in the grasslands, because quite honestly, I’ve put off posting this article for far too long. I know I hoped to have more articles after my last article, but the Universe had other ideas; we were without WiFi in our apartments for pretty much all of November. We are, however, now back online, and I’m hoping to make up for lost time and make good on my promise to bring y’all more articles! So here are the four things I learned in Inner Mongolia:

1.     I want to learn beyond the surface. It’s easy to just visit the tourist spots and say I’ve been to an area, but for me that almost feels like cheating, and it feels like I can’t say I’ve been to a certain place (e.g., I’ve been to the tourist attractions in Paris, but I can’t say I’ve seen France). When I was at Dazhao Lamasery in Hohhot and out in the grasslands, I could tell that the places we visited were old—very old—and I was curious to know about the history and the culture of the place. When we were out in the grasslands, I wished I knew Mongol so I could sit with our host families and ask about their story. There was one instance when I was sitting in the family’s kitchen, and I would have loved to be able to sit with who I assumed was our host’s wife, and talk with her about what she was cooking or how life was out there. The fact that I know Chinese is rather convenient for Inner Mongolia, but if I’m to travel to other countries like Thailand, Cambodia, or Nepal, or any other country where my language proficiency is less than ideal, an interpreter would be invaluable for this.

2.     I realized my privilege in America. I know that Pinterest and other social media platforms can make off-grid living sound really comfortable with the right tools and planning (when my parents learned we were living in a yurt, they asked if it was like “glamping”), but out in Inner Mongolia, we got a taste of no-frills off-grid living (AirBnB). When we were out in the grasslands, we had no running water, no paved roads, no power grid, no central heating, and no public infrastructure like police or medical centers. We depended on potable water, solar and wind power, a wood-burning stove in our yurt for heating, cars made for off-roading, outhouses, and a lot of hoping and praying that no one got hurt or sick. While it was easier than we expected, we were also staying there for only a few days. I imagine that there’s a lot of planning that goes into living out there, but they at least seemed to make it work. It just made me realize how much privilege I have living in America, not only to have that security of public infrastructure, but also having the opportunity to travel and have these experiences.

3.     I realized how much stuff I actually need.  When I was preparing to leave for a year in China, I realized how much stuff I had accumulated, even after only a year in my apartment at the time. I’m starting to begin my journey to minimalism as a result, especially if I want to travel somewhere else after my time with WorldTeach is over. In Inner Mongolia, I knew we’d be on the move a lot of the time, so I knew I had to pack light for the week we were traveling. I traveled with a small suitcase (my backpack wasn’t big enough) with all my warm clothes, which were only a few items like sweaters, a light coat, a leather jacket, and leggings I layered under my jeans (we were totally unprepared for the cold). Aside from that, I’ve realized how much I need certain things like my journal and my tablet, and how much I don’t need other things, and it’s been liberating to travel without lugging around a giant suitcase.

4.     I’ve questioned some of my views on traveling. Before I went on this trip, a lot of anecdotes I had read about traveling almost belittled the idea of youth hostels, claiming that they weren’t safe or they weren’t up to par with hotels in terms of cleanliness or service. That was not my experience when I stayed at a youth hostel in Hohhot near the East Railway Station (AirBnB). The woman was very helpful, she spoke enough English to have a basic conversation, the rooms were clean and comfortable, and I never felt that I or my belongings were not safe. Also, when I booked a standing (!) train ticket from Hohhot to Sanggendalai, strangers were kind enough to let me share seat space with them. I realized how lucky I was to have a place to sit down on a train, which was amusing to some of the train staff when they realized a waiguoren (foreigner) had to buy a standing train ticket. I never thought I’d do those things when I first came to China; I would be open to doing a standing train ticket again (but for a shorter journey), and I’ve stayed at another youth hostel in Zhangjiajie City since then.

I’m glad to be able to have this experience growing as a person, as well as being able to go out and see the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. If you want to know more about where we stayed and what we did, please leave suggestions and requests in the comments below!

A few life updates: I was able to win NaNoWriMo (*cue celebratory fanfare*) so it’s been good to work with my novel and hopefully get it published before the end of the academic year. Plans for the Christmas holiday are still up in the air; I get Christmas Day off (effectively giving me a four-day weekend, since I don’t teach on Fridays), so I will likely go and travel another part of southern China. I hope to get back into the routine of posting updates to the blog regularly after having no WiFi in the apartment for a month. See you then! Zai jian!

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Shifting Winds: My Introduction to Digital Nomadism

I’ve only recently heard of the term “digital nomad”—being able to work remotely from anywhere in the world and travel full-time—and I’ve been curious about it ever since.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates.

I remember watching Raiders of the Lost Ark when I was four or five years old, and watching Lara Croft: Tomb Raider for the first time when I was ten or eleven. I remember being in love with all the locations that they were traveling to and everything they did, and that’s a major part of what got me into my Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. Unfortunately, that also made me realize that my options for anthropology invariably required a doctorate, which I was not ready to commit to right after undergraduate, so that took that out of the equation (at least for now; I’m not saying “never” because anything can happen).

I’ve been thinking about graduate school as a possibility when I’m done with my fellowship here, but after all the changes I’ve experienced already, even a year feels too far ahead to plan in advance. Even before orientation was over, there was already a bit of talk among us cohorts of “what happens next”—what we may plan to do after we return to the United States. I think a lot of us (myself included) are still in the “wait and see” phase, which I see as a bit problematic because a lot of deadlines in the U.S. for opportunities like graduate schools are rapidly approaching. I was lucky that the deadline for WorldTeach was this past April, so I could apply for this year’s fellowship! So, what happens next? I’ve written down a few ideas, and one involves digital nomadism.

 

 

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Digital nomads usually don’t work from the beach. The sun, heat and sand make working with a laptop very hard. The Instagram pictures are only to show-off.”- Digital Nomad Soul

I’ve heard of people working remotely, but I’ve only recently heard of the term “digital nomad”—being able to work remotely anywhere in the world and travel full-time—and I’ve been curious about it ever since. I know I’ve been curious about the idea for a while about being able to live anywhere (one of my dream home ideas involves a tiny house on wheels), so this is not helping my imagination at all (I’m laughing at myself as I type this). It seems like that was what attracted me the most about the lives that Dr. Jones and Lady Croft lived—the fact that they could go anywhere they wished and still do their work.

I’ve had a writer’s callus on the middle finger of my right hand for as long as I can remember, and I go nowhere without a notebook and pen to write any ideas for stories, poetry, or blog articles. Being here in China has helped me become even more productive with writing for the blog and writing my stories, and with my writing, I feel like I’m getting closer to where I belong in terms of what I’m meant to do. I’m tempted, now more than ever, to make a career out of writing, and with the idea of digital nomadism, as long as I had Internet, I could possibly write from anywhere in the world.

 

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This is not to say that I’ve already decided this is what I want to do. This is just to say that this has been on my mind for the past week, and I’m wondering if this could be something that I can do after my time with WorldTeach is over. I hope to travel to Southeast Asia and other areas of China while I’m teaching in Cili, and I would love to be able to share my experiences and combine that with my passion for writing. Having adventures and writing about them sounds like an ultimate dream for me; I’ve joked with my friend that I’ve become Bilbo Baggins, “I want to see mountains and finish my book!”

If I chose to take this path, I understand that the reality of digital nomadism is likely not as glamorous or carefree as it appears on social media (but then again, one could easily say the same about any lifestyle—even a “normal” one, by societal standards). I have no illusions that hardship would be nonexistent, especially when I’d just get started. One common thread I’ve seen, however, is that despite all the drawbacks and sacrifices that the bloggers and location-independent freelancers have to make, the end result—being able to travel around the world, having the freedom to live the life they wish, with only what fulfilled their daily lives—is more than worth it. Hopefully if this is the path that I’m meant to take for the time being, that it is well worth the hard work that it will take to make it a reality.

As I’m writing this, my classes have been cancelled for today and tomorrow so I’m taking the time to plan my next lessons and keep up to date with what’s going on with Hurricane Irma (I’ve checked with my family and friends, and everyone’s okay thus far). Random update: a group of cohorts and I booked our tickets to the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia for the National Week holiday! I’m really excited to travel to a part of China I’ve never been to with other people in my fellowship, and I hope that I can bring you along with me! Hopefully, I can be back here later this week with a new post! See you then! Zai jian!

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Stranger from a Strange Land: Life as a Foreigner in China

My take on life as a foreigner in China. (Spoiler alert: it comes with a lot of being stared at)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates.

To my knowledge, as I’m typing this, I am one of two wai guo ren in Cili, a town of about 400,000. The last time I was in Zhangjiajie in 2014, I hardly saw any foreigners, so for all I know, I could be the first foreigner some of the people in Cili have ever seen. It makes getting around town very interesting.

Let me just clear up one thing first: even though the term wai guo ren means “foreigner” (“person from outside the country”), it’s (usually) not used in a negative context like English speakers usually use the term. (I’ve also overheard some people near the school calling me “wai jiao“, or “foreign teacher”, so I imagine most people assume I’m there to teach English.) When I was studying abroad in Beijing, I sometimes heard lao wai (literally, “old-outside [the country]”), but that hasn’t been as commonly heard in Changsha and Cili. It could be because Beijing had more foreigners out and about, even in areas outside of the tourist areas like Sanlitun and the area near the Forbidden City and Tian’anmen, but that’s just speculation on my part.

As someone who doesn’t like being stared at, it’s a leap of faith for me to be in Cili. I have to admit, sometimes I feel like Christina Ricci in the movie Penelope, wanting to hide myself whenever I go out and about, since I’m going to stand out no matter how hard I try otherwise. If nothing else, it reminds me to put on a bit of makeup and put a bit of thought into what I’m wearing; in my mind, they’re going to stare at me, so I might as well make it worth their time. I’m concerned, though, that one day, I might cause a traffic accident because someone was staring at me. That would be embarrassing beyond belief.

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I’d like to think I’m being a good guest in China. Interestingly, though, when it comes to how I come across to people, there appears to be some criteria for “how to detect an American wai guo ren” that I am not fulfilling. When I was in Zhangjiajie, I overheard people wondering out loud if I was French, Canadian, English, or Russian—never American. I never determined the logic behind their assessments, and to be honest, I didn’t feel comfortable asking. Either way, Cili is no exception; when I was getting my haircut this past week, the guy cutting my hair casually asked me if I was from Russia. Memories of standing on a Beijing subway platform and being asked the same question at random came flooding back. It’s almost incomprehensible for them that I could be American, and I’ve yet to figure out exactly why.

On a similar note to appearances, I’ve been told “You’re so beautiful!” as if that’s as common for them to say as it is for us Americans to talk about the weather during small talk. Part of me wonders if it’s because I, as a porcelain-skinned woman, fit an ideal beauty standard for China (it’s still considered beautiful for a Chinese woman to be fair-skinned). Another part of me wonders if it’s merely because I’m a wai guo ren—different, and therefore something of “exotic”. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

One minor annoyance is when people see me in stores and follow me around, whether or not they’re staff or fellow patrons. I imagine they either A) assume I don’t speak or read Chinese and hope to help, or B) are merely curious as to what I’m choosing, so I can’t be too upset about it, but it’s definitely something to have everyone stare at you (and/or take pictures of you; they’re not always sneaky about it, and I’m not sure how I feel about that either) when you’re trying to buy toilet paper or laundry detergent. I imagine this is close to how celebrities feel when they’re out and about.

I don’t let it get me down, though, because I imagine I would have to deal with it no matter where I went in China. If nothing else, it reminds me that I’m a guest here, and not to get too in over my head. I’m representing not only the United States, but also the rest of the world, in a sense, to these people, so I hope I’m doing a good job.

My first week of classes went well here in Cili, and I feel like I’m getting on my feet with teaching, slowly but surely. I’m expecting a week-long vacation coming up in October, and I’m hoping I can have some exciting articles about my travels! In any case, I’m hoping that I can be back later this week with another post! See you then! Zai jian!

A Long Way to Go: Musings on Being Forever Curious

So, here’s to being forever curious. Here’s to being explorers and students of life. I may have a long way to go, but I’m still moving forward, and that’s all I can ask of myself.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates. 

One of the first things that Chinese people tell me when they learn I speak Chinese is, “Ni shuo de hen hao” (“You speak very well”). Even though I’ve been learning Chinese for ten years, I still reply with “Hai cha de yuan ne” (I translate this as “I have a long way to go”). This is not just coming from a sense of modesty (although, based on their reactions, I imagine that wins points in their book); I still feel like I have a lot more to learn about the language before I’m comfortable using it.

I’ve thought about this ever since I first arrived in Changsha, and I could easily argue that I have a long way to go in other parts of my life too. One thing about me is that I love to learn; I am never satisfied with what I already know. This could work to my advantage and to my detriment, but either way, it’s who I am. (Maybe it’s the INFJ in me talking.) I’ve always wanted to be better at whatever I put my mind to, whether it be learning another language or learning how to paint landscapes. I can only hope that I can keep this going here in Cili, with my learning how to teach English and traveling throughout the rest of China.

When I was living in the Washington, D.C. area before I came to China, I began listening to different personal development podcasts like The Simple Sophisticate with Shannon Ables, and audiobooks like Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott. I was reading their work to figure myself out at the time, but one common theme that I picked up was an encouragement to be curious about the world around us, whether it be your favorite composer, or a new book that caught your eye in the bookstore, or traveling to a country that you’ve always wanted to visit. It just validated to me that I was on a good path, and it motivated me to keep going and make the decision that led me to teaching English with WorldTeach.

I found a quote from the website Adventure In You that reads, “Blessed are the curious for they will have adventures.”  Tying into that, another quote I love is by Andre Gide, “It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves—in finding themselves.” These two quotes sum up so well what brought me to China, and what I hope will keep me going long after my service with WorldTeach is completed.

So, here’s to being forever curious. Here’s to being explorers and students of life. I may have a long way to go, but I’m still moving forward, and that’s all I can ask of myself. Gan bei!

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This week is rather crazy for me (teaching six lessons almost back-to-back on Wednesday!!) but hopefully I’ll be back later this week with another article! See you then! Zai jian!
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Think like Kiki: Hayao Miyazaki and Culture Shock

One of my favorite movies growing up was Hayao Miyazaki’s KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE. Now as an adult living in China, I started to see a parallel to the arc of culture shock.

Disclaimer: May contain spoilers for the film Kiki’s Delivery Service. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates.

I think I was about six years old when I first watched Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the movie is still one of my favorites to this day. Earlier this week, upon reflection that I’m going through an almost-identical experience as an adult, I was tempted to go back and watch the film again. After thinking about it, the film basically goes through the general arc of culture shock. Even if it’s technically a movie for kids (although I would say that people of all ages can enjoy most of Miyazaki’s films), it provides a great lesson of overcoming adversity, and discovering purpose and self-confidence. Now that I’ve arrived at my placement in Cili, Hunan Province, it feels like we’ve gotten past the tutorial section of a video game, and now we’re getting into level one, and I have to admit that I’m a bit nervous. Here are the lessons that I got from Kiki’s Delivery Service, and what I can expect from culture shock over the next few months.

Stage One: Initial excitement and curiosity. Thirteen-year-old Kiki, accompanied by her talking black cat Jiji, goes out into the world to begin her training as a witch. She finds a new city to live in and makes new friends like a baker named Osono and a young flying enthusiast named Tombo (the story takes place in a world that just started to develop air travel), as well as starting her flying delivery service after a fellow witch asks her what her skill is.

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When I first came to Changsha, I was incredibly hopeful for the year ahead, despite my nerves about living in a foreign country for a year. We had so much work with lesson planning and working towards teaching practicum (four days in which we taught classes in a trial setting). I’m glad that we were all able to work together and we could ask each other questions about life and how to prepare to teach in a Chinese classroom.

Stage Two: Uncertainty and a sense of isolation. About halfway through the film, Kiki actually tells Jiji that she feels like an outsider, after having a brief “honeymoon period” of feeling great and meeting people. She feels estranged from Jiji after he starts a friendship with a neighbor’s cat (her name is Lily in the English dub).

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Even after spending a week in Cili, there aren’t as many crazy new things distracting me from what might be the beginnings of culture shock. In Changsha we had cafés that we could hang out in and we were almost never in our hotel rooms besides to sleep and use a Western-style commode. In Cili, I’m still in the exploring phase, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in my apartment. I’m hoping to make it so I’m out of the apartment more often, so I’m not tempted to sink further into any emotional funk I may have though self-imposed isolation.

Stage Three: Emotional crisis. Kiki loses her ability to fly her broomstick and her ability to communicate with Jiji. She says in the English dub, “If I lose my magic, then I’ve lost absolutely everything.” This is a low point for Kiki, and it requires her to step back and work through her emotions.

I would be shocked if I don’t have to deal with this during my time in Hunan Province. I didn’t bring any of my knitting or other art supplies because I wanted to have a full immersive experience in Hunan, but I can understand how I’d miss that in the times where I’m not feeling the greatest. I have a backup plan, though… :Cue fanfare:

I’ve decided to participate in NaNoWriMo! For those of you who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it’s a worldwide writing challenge that requires participants to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days during the month of November. It might be that I don’t know what a bad idea is anymore, but there is a method to my madness.

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I’m anticipating that the time surrounding October and November is when culture shock is going to hit me like a train, so if I did something like NaNoWriMo, I’ll have something to look forward to, plan for, and counter culture shock with, as well as being able to work through any emotional garbage I might be dealing with at the time. I’ll be tracking my progress with NaNoWriMo on here, as well as possibly showing what planning methods I use. Let me know in the comments what you want to see!

Stage Four: Rebuilding. Kiki reunites with Ursula, an artist living in the woods outside of town, and she invites Kiki to spend some time at her cabin to take a break from flying. Jiji stays behind to spend time with Lily. The trip is a change of pace for Kiki, and gets her out and about instead of having time to dwell on her loss. She also learns a lesson from Ursula, that she needs to find her inspiration, or why she wants to fly or train as a witch. Ursula also provides a lesson with the metaphor of her painting. When Kiki asks her if it’s worth the trouble to find inspiration or purpose, she mentions that she thought about scrapping an idea for a painting; Kiki mentions that the painting ended up being beautiful, and Ursula replies, “So then it was worth it.”

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In this scene, Kiki is away from any trace of home (including Jiji), so she’s only able to focus on her own personal growth and working through what’s going on. I imagine that in Cili, I’ll have to think creatively to work with how I deal with my culture shock. I hope that I can work with my culture shock through working on NaNoWriMo, and focusing on creating strong lessons for my students. Another piece of advice I received was traveling once every three weeks to visit a cohort in another city, or to visit another place in general; the logic was that once every three weeks was enough to change up the pace, but not so much that one would get burnt out from traveling all the time. The other cohorts are a big support system even now, and I imagine it’s going to be even more crucial for us to stay in contact when we’re all going through culture shock; we’re already planning to visit each other at our placements, and planning trips together for longer vacations.

Stage Five: Growth. Kiki regains her powers, reestablishes a close bond with Jiji, and becomes a strong part of the town. A final montage shows that Kiki’s delivery service flourishes, and Jiji and Lily start a family. Even though she admits to her parents in a letter that she still feels homesick from time to time, she loves the town that she now lives in, and that she is much more confident in herself and her role with her delivery service.

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I can only hope that this is the path to culture shock that I take. I have no illusions that I won’t have any symptoms of culture shock while I’m here, so I can let this experience change me for better or for worse. There is a sticker left over from the previous resident on the wall of my apartment over my desk. It reads, “If you believe in yourself, anything is possible.” I’m hoping that I can take those words to heart.

We start classes on Friday here in Cili, but hopefully I’ll be back here next week with another article! See you then! Zai jian!

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P.S. Despite all the Studio Ghibli merchandise here in China, I’m still trying to find a Jiji mug.

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Around the World in Fifty Pounds or Less

To bring or not to bring—that is the question.

To bring or not to bring—that is the question. Preparing for a trip is always the most nerve-wracking part of a trip for me, and my preparing for my year abroad in Hunan Province was no exception. Almost everything from a fancy formal dress to my knitting projects were up for debate. Ultimately, I decided that I would do my best to avoid my habit of being a serial over-packer, and packed only what I knew I would need for my adventure of teaching spoken English for a year in Hunan Province, China.

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This was me in my head when I learned I got accepted for the program
(GIF from Tumblr)

I purposefully packed lighter than I usually would for this trip for a few reasons: 1) I was going to be in China for a year so buying extra things would likely be inevitable, 2) this was sort of a kick-start for me to practice minimalism, and 3) I would likely be so busy planning lessons and going on trips with my cohorts that I wouldn’t have much time afterwards to do things like knit, paint, or cross-stitch. Along with the guidance from WorldTeach about what to pack, I used guidance from the blog Lauren Without Fear; the link to her post about packing for a year in China is here.

 

Things one can buy in China:

  1. Shampoo and conditioner. They have brands like Pantene and Head & Shoulders in China. Bring a travel-sized one to get you started, and then buy a full-size bottle while you’re here.
  2. Makeup/beauty supplies. For some reason, I was under the impression that I wouldn’t be able to find nail polish remover while I was here. I was able to find some at a local convenience store, as well as at a local Watson’s (a convenience store chain that sells Western products like Neutrogena).
  3. Laundry supplies. Most convenience stores I’ve been to in Changsha have some kind of laundry detergent for sale. I’ve also found a lot of drying racks at local supermarkets, so I’ll likely buy one when I get to my site (clothes drying machines, in my experience, are virtually nonexistent in China). If you must bring your own laundry detergent, bring a small amount of powder detergent; a little goes a long way. (Be advised, though: one thing I haven’t been able to find here are color catcher sheets like these.)
  4. Toothpaste. This falls under a similar concept to the shampoo and conditioner. Unless you have a brand that you absolutely love or need to use, bring a travel-sized bottle and buy a full-sized tube when you’re here.

Things one should bring with them:

  1. Deodorant. Roll-on deodorant is relatively hard to find in China, from the accounts I’ve read. I’ve seen some spray-on options for ladies’ deodorant, but I’m not sure how well they work. I took no chances and brought a year’s supply.
  2. Feminine hygiene products. Ladies, if you use tampons, bring them with you. From what I see in Chinese supermarkets and convenience stores, most if not all Chinese women use sanitary pads. I don’t even remember seeing tampons in the Watson’s nearest to us in Changsha. If you use a menstrual cup, you should have no problem; if you’re worried about washing the cup with tap water (which is not safe for drinking in China, though I’ve been brushing my teeth with it and have had no problems thus far :knock on wood:), use bottled water, which one can purchase for three kuai (about half a US dollar) at any convenience store.
  3. Dental floss. From the accounts I’ve read, decent-quality dental floss is not as easy to find in China as it is in the U.S. Again, I took no chances and brought some with me.
  4. Medications for digestive issues. If you’re going to be in China for a while, bring medications for diarrhea, gas, and other digestive issues. La duzi (“pulled stomach”, or traveler’s diarrhea) is common among travelers that aren’t accustomed to greasy, spicy food, and Hunan food is both. I remember having la duzi while I was studying abroad in Beijing, and that made homesickness worse (I remember I had some medications like Pepto-Bismol, but I was being stubborn and didn’t take them that much—that’s another issue). Worst case scenario is that you have it but you don’t need it; it’s better than the other way around.

After reflecting on my previous long-haul flights from China to the U.S., and also flights from the U.S. to other countries, here are my tips for surviving the flight to China (or any other long-haul flight you may take):

On the flight

  1. Stock up on entertainment. I don’t sleep easily on most flights (and if I do, I can’t do so for the entire flight), so for me, a full iPad with TV shows, movies, and Kindle books is essential. If you fell behind on your favorite podcasts, now’s a great time to catch up. I meant to catch up on “Welcome to Night Vale” on my flight to Beijing, but I forgot to download the episodes. Oh, well; it gave me the opportunity to finish Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. (As I’m typing this, I’ve just started A Court of Thorns and Roses.)
  2. Pack a good portable charger. Especially if you don’t have an in-seat charging station (or you do, but a not-so-courteous fellow passenger is monopolizing it), this is practically invaluable, especially on long-term flights, or if you have multiple stops and can’t take a break to recharge. My dad let me borrow his for my time in China, and it’s been practically invaluable with us being on the go so often.
  3. Bring slippers. To save on space and weight in my suitcase, I wore my bulky hiking boots on the plane. Sure, they were comfy and supportive for walking through four airports, but they’re not comfy enough for sitting on a plane for thirteen-plus hours—also, they’re not the most convenient going through security checkpoints, despite my reasons for wearing them. Slip off your shoes and put on some slippers (over your compression socks, if need be). Your feet and legs will thank you later.
  4. Layers, layers, layers. On a recent trip to Europe, I think my family expected the stereotype of a super-cold airline cabin. That was not the case; especially on our flight back to the States, we were miserably warm. Layers that are easy to take off would likely be your best bet, especially if you’re going from a cold climate to a warm one (or vice versa).
  5. Bring a bottle of water. Especially on long-haul flights like my most recent flight from New York to Beijing, hydration is key in the very dry airplane air. Get a large bottle of water to carry onto the plane with you, and avoid ordering sodas, caffeinated beverages, or alcohol on the flight. Some airlines might even refill reusable water bottles! If in doubt, just ask the flight attendant.
  6. Bring a sheet mask. This ties in with bringing a large bottle of water, but because I get really bad anxiety when I travel, it also ties in with the idea of reducing stress. I like to imagine that as my skin absorbs the moisture from the sheet mask, the sheet mask is absorbing my stress. If nothing else, your skin will thank you after a long flight of dry airplane air. My mind goes back to when I packed my lip balm in my checked luggage for a flight from Beijing to Houston, so I spent thirteen hours with dry, chapped lips. Oy vey.
  7. Resist the temptation to over-pack your carry-on. I didn’t know how much we were “expected” to pack for the fellowship, and I didn’t want to be that person that ridiculously over-packed (Galinda in the musical Wicked comes to mind). So, I ultimately decided on one rolling suitcase that would be my checked bag, and a large duffel that would go in the overhead bin. After lugging a decently-sized backpack and an at-least-thirty-pound duffel bag through four different airports, I regret that decision with every bone and aching muscle in my body. If I had to do it over again, I would have likely swallowed my pride and forked over the money for another checked, rolling suitcase.

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Galinda in Wicked (Photo from Pinterest)

Around this time next week, I plan to be in my placement of Cili, Zhangjiajie District. Until then, we’re practicing teaching in a Chinese classroom setting with trial lessons before we start at our schools, so my time is mostly spent planning lessons, having classes and group discussions, and exploring Changsha with my fellow cohorts before we all disperse throughout the province. I hope to be back here with another article next week! See you then! Zai jian!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates.

 

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