Tai Chi and Feeling Included

I felt better because despite my clear lack of knowledge, they helped me feel included in the activity.

I wanted to talk about an experience I had this morning. I woke up around 5:30 and went for a walk, resolved to find a group doing Tai Chi (太极拳, or Taiji quan) so I could observe and practice (I studied Tai Chi for a while when I was living in Maryland and it feels counterintuitive to be looking up Internet tutorials for Tai Chi while I’m in China). At first, I didn’t find anyone practicing when I was walking around my campus, so I decided to try again later on in the week. On my way back to my apartment, however, I found a group of three people doing Tai Chi—an older couple and a middle-aged man standing in something of a line to practice together. I stood off to the side to follow along as best as I could, and after they finished the set they were on, the middle-aged man left, and the older man gestured for me to get into line with them for the next set. It’s been years since I did Tai Chi regularly, so I was rather rusty—I was heavier on my feet than I would have liked, and I didn’t know the set they were doing—but I felt better because despite my clear lack of knowledge, they helped me feel included in the activity.

In my experience with mainstream America, such an act of inclusion is rare, especially since these people had never met me before and I was very obviously a foreigner (I imagine they also assumed I don’t speak Chinese). It has been my experience in America that society focuses so much on the individual that we don’t know our neighbors and we are automatically wary of strangers. I imagine because the group and I had a shared interest (in this case, Tai Chi), it was somewhat easier, but I wonder how many problems in the world we can solve by showing people that they belong.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Tomorrow I start teaching, so hopefully I can post later this week with how that goes. See you then! Zai jian!

Why I Decided To Stay

The adventures with Carry On My Wayward Soul are far from over!

Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed in this article are my own, and do not represent those of WorldTeach and its affiliates.

I have decided to stay in China for another year!

As I’m typing this, I have sent off a signed contract with the Hunan Institute of Science and Technology in Yueyang, just north of Changsha, and am working to extend my visa for another year. I will still be teaching English, only this time at a university level in another part of Hunan.

There are a few reasons why I decided to stay. The first one is about the language and culture. I feel like while I’ve learned a lot of Chinese while I was here in Cili, I would do best in an academic setting where the learning is structured and I can then apply the lessons in daily life. I feel like I’ve let myself down with the amount of Chinese I could have learned if I had taken classes, but if I’m taking classes at the institute as well as teaching, I hope that will change. I also feel like with a year of being in China, I have spent a lot of it dealing with culture shock; now that the culture shock has been manageable, I feel like I’d be better able to appreciate the culture of China.

I knew I wanted to stay in China, but I didn’t really want to stay in Cili. The good part about being in Cili is that I was away from the chaos of the major cities; that’s also the curse of being in Cili, as being so far away from major cities is a nuisance when I’m trying to travel. In Yueyang, I can easily take the gaotie (high-speed rail) to Changsha in half an hour, as opposed to three to four hours by bus or slow train from Cili. Also, while I feel big cities are really chaotic (in this case, Changsha falls under the category of “big city”), I need things to do to get out of my apartment like coffee shops to work in and hangout spots similar to the archery range we went to for orientation in Changsha. I did not have many options in Cili, and I hope that being in Yueyang will help me get out more and get the most out of living in China.

Also, while I’m ready to visit home after being away for so long (this is by far the longest I’ve ever been away from home), I’m honestly not ready to return to the U.S. for the long term. Ever since my month of traveling, I have been enchanted with living abroad and going on more adventures. I already have planned some adventures for the future, and I’m hoping I can bring you along with me!

This feels like such a small article compared to others I have written, but I wanted to let you know what was going on in my life and the future of the blog. Hopefully I’ll be back soon with another article! See you then! Zai jian!

Guilin: An Unexpected Journey

I took an extremely last-minute trip to Guilin, Guangxi Province, for the Qingming Festival holiday.

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

Last week was the week of the Tomb Sweeping Festival (Qingming Jie), so that meant that we get classes off while the students were observing the holiday. I had hoped to travel to Guilin for this holiday, but since we were told we only had three days off for the holiday, I decided it was not worth the stress to travel anywhere far away, and grudgingly decided to stay in Cili. With that in mind, one might easily understand why, after learning on Tuesday morning that I had no classes that day (effectively lengthening my holiday from three days to four), I decided to throw all my essentials into a backpack and travel to Guilin anyway for a last-minute vacation.

Spoiler alert: That decision was SO WORTH IT!

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The 20-yuan bill scenery

Guilin is in northern Guangxi Province, a province southwest of Hunan Province that shares a border with Vietnam. The mountains surrounding the Li River are featured on the 20 yuan bill, so it’s no surprise that’s considered a jewel of Chinese scenery. Another cohort went to a lake that looked almost identical to the one from Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life (for fellow Tomb Raider buffs, it’s the scene where Lara and Terry Sheridan enter China by pod and they crash it into the lake); I don’t think I was able to find it, but the scenery on the Li River and in Guilin still made me feel like we would turn a corner and see the Argonath (the giant statues of old kings) from Fellowship of the Ring.

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The view from the Li River on our way to Xingping from Guilin

Guilin is three and a half hours from Changsha by bullet train (gaotie). Little did I know when I booked my ticket at the station, that—ooh la la—I got the business class option (not what I expected, but I’m not complaining, since it was one of the last tickets available for that train; after my train ride in Inner Mongolia, I would have rather avoided a standing ticket). It definitely made the three and a half hours go by faster.

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The view from Laozhai Hill, Xingping

Based on photos and feedback from my cohorts that had already been to Guilin, I spent a lot of my time in Xingping (20 minutes by gaotie from Guilin to Yangshuo station, which is technically closer to Xingping than Yangshuo but that’s a separate issue). On a cohort’s suggestion, I stayed at This Old Place (老地方) International Youth Hostel in Guilin Tuesday evening, before heading over to Xingping on a river boat the next morning and staying at their sister hostel there. When I stayed in This Old Place in Guilin, the dorm rooms available were coed, which I have yet to feel comfortable with, so I went with a private room. The rooms I had in Guilin and Xingping were minimal, but clean and comfortable. They serve breakfast for 20 yuan (you have to order that one the night before), and they have really good English. This is not meant to be a review on This Old Place, but I would love to stay there again.

 

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View of the river near Tengjiao Nunnery

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View from the pier in Xingping

In Xingping, I visited the Tengjiao Nunnery with other hostel guests that I met, and I also hiked Laozhai Hill, where I was able to get beautiful pictures of the Li River scenery. I also met up with another cohort back in Guilin, and we were able to get some beautiful photos and have dinner before I went back to Cili Friday morning.

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Sun and Moon Pagodas in Guilin

I feel like I could have stayed a day or two more in Xingping to see everything I could, and an extra day or two in Guilin to fit in a day trip to the region’s famous rice terraces. Hopefully, I’ll be able to go back to Guilin, and I’ll be able to go to the spots I missed and be able to appreciate the scenery there more. Even though this trip was extremely last-minute, I’m really proud of myself for making the choice to go on an adventure!

We’re slowly starting to wrap up here in China; I’ll be going back to Changsha later this month for the end-of-service meeting with WorldTeach, and I’ll be preparing for my next adventure. What will that next adventure be? I plan for that to be my next article. See you then! Zai jian!

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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In Need of a Latitude Adjustment

Thus far, I’ve spent about a week here in Changsha, Hunan Province, China, but honestly, what with everything I’ve been doing, it feels like I’ve been here much longer. I’m still working on my article about how I prepared for the trip, but right now I have what’s been on my mind the most these days:

Things I took for granted while living the U.S.

  1. Clean tap water. One of the first things we were told when we first got to Changsha was “don’t drink the tap water”. While it’s probably safe to brush one’s teeth with water from the tap (by some accounts), I don’t want to be sick my first week here. Regardless, there have been moments in which I’d go to brush my teeth and instinctively reach for the tap. It’s the little things that we as Americans (or any other first world country, for that matter) take for granted, that I think make the biggest impact.
  2. Cooler weather. I joke about Florida being one of the only places where you can die of heat stroke outside and hypothermia inside on the same day, but that’s nothing compared to Changsha. Changsha has a subtropical climate, and is known as one of the “furnace cities” of China, so the summers are very humid and HOT. According to the Weather.com app, temperatures for the next week are expected to range between 83 and 91 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity ranging between 50% and 100%. Compared to last week, this is amazing weather (apparently, it’s supposed to cool down even further around October). Needless to say, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, an umbrella, and a fan are necessities for me now.
  3. Safer roads. To put it plainly, there is no such thing as “pedestrians have right-of-way” in China. It’s not uncommon to see people driving mopeds on the sidewalk, beeping their horns to alert people to their presence (side note: honking horns are a constant sound in Changsha; bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper), and even people driving the wrong way on a one-way street. All that said, the roads here are generally safe for pedestrians, but it’s an extra thing to be aware of when you’re walking down the streets.
  4. English everywhere. The beauty and the curse of being a waiguoren (“foreigner”) is that if a restaurant or a food stand has an English menu, they will automatically take it out for you. The curse is that it can be very easy to use those as a crutch, especially when you go out of the cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and even Changsha. I’m curious how I’ll fare when I get to my placement in Cili, near Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province.

Things I’ll likely take for granted while living in China

  1. Yummy, inexpensive street food. Especially with the conversion rate, a healthy breakfast is super cheap here in China. I can get a couple baozi (steamed buns), noodles, or (my favorite) a shou zhua bing (a pancake with egg, meat, lettuce, and sauce) for about six or seven kuai (the currency of China, used interchangeably with “yuan” or “RMB”), which would roughly equal one US dollar. Be advised, though, that if you go for McDonald’s, KFC, or non-instant coffee pretty much anywhere, you’re inevitably going to be paying more (an iced coffee at a café is at least twenty kuai, while an iced green tea is nine kuai).
  2. Safer streets. For the most part, I would consider China much safer than the U.S. in terms of being out and about. Obviously, this doesn’t give one leave to abandon common sense completely, but when I’m walking down the street in Changsha (even at night), I’m not as quick to hold my bag close to me or look over my shoulder (unless it’s to look for oncoming mopeds or bicycles) as I would in U.S. cities.
  3. Public transportation. We’ve been using the bus system in Changsha, and it’s been very efficient. Even between cities and towns, there are buses and fast- and slow-speed trains. Back home in Florida, you need a car to go pretty much anywhere. As a person who despises driving in cities, I definitely appreciate this!
  4. Friendly people everywhere. The couple who runs the shop I go to for iced green tea, the woman who cooks lunch for our orientation group, even young children who like to show off their English skills by calling out “hello”—everyone in Changsha has been so kind to us thus far. It’s refreshing compared to my experience in the U.S., where hardly anyone says “hello” to strangers, let alone a compliment like “you speak very well”, unless they work in retail or hospitality, or are otherwise particularly outgoing.
  5. Public or group events. Maybe it was because my circle of friends was scattered after college and high school, but especially in Changsha, I’ve been doing a lot of group activities, including going to movies, English conversation, group dinners, and even archery! Even walking around downtown Changsha, I’ve noticed that the social dynamic is heavily based on group activities, from KTV (karaoke) all the way to evening dancing or early morning Tai Chi in the local parks. It develops a strong social network that I hope I can continue when I go to my placement in Cili.

I’m sure I’ll observe more as I spend more time here, and I’m really looking forward to the days ahead! With my current schedule, I’m hoping I can be back here next week with another post! See you then! Zai jian!

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