A Brown Girl’s Guide to the Tumultuous Roads of China
If America is the land of opportunity, then I guess China is the land of promise. The opportunities that this major global power player offers are endless. But, as many expats have come to discover, English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching is the simplest opportunity for someone who is non-Chinese.
ESL teaching jobs in China are plentiful, but this does not mean such jobs are easy to get into or simple to excel at. Before I even began the tedious visa process for China, I first had to swim through the sea of ESL schools and foreign language institutions in China. After a few months of research, I finally settled on working for a foreign language training center.
When I arrived in late 2017, little did I know that I would be placed in one of my company’s biggest training centers. In the heart of Huajing New Town, in Guangzhou, was GZ3, surrounded by food shops and stalls. My first impression entering my future place of work was not a good one. Noticing the symbols for restroom, I quickly made a beeline towards them, to check whether my nerves were showing.
Walking into the bathroom, I was definitely not prepared for what I would see. I don’t want to gross you out, but let’s just say that my ideas about what a public restroom should look like were blown apart. This bathroom had no soap, tissues, or paper towels. Chinese toilets, known as squatters or squat toilets, sat in place of the kind of toilet I was used to. If you don’t mind the sensation you get after doing 30 minutes of squats then you will love squatters!
In my vulnerabilities I found victories. In my weaknesses, I was made strong. Through my sadness and homesickness, I forced myself to make new friends and try things I never thought possible.
Although my first day was a bit of a challenge, I slowly began to feel better. After my first, second, third, fourth and fifth day, I started to feel that the chance that this small-town South Carolina girl had taken was not a mistake after all.
After getting through my first few weeks of ESL language center “Bootcamp 101” I slowly started to become acclimated to this new world around me. I began to explore. I discovered a history that was thousands of years old and fascinating. I learned that China fights to hold on to its traditions, and has been met with both resistance and compliance. In traveling the streets of Guangzhou, one is met with various symbols of the West, like the curved arches of McDonald’s and the sweet and savory smells from Starbucks. Along these same streets, one can hear haggling in both Cantonese and Mandarin.
Though I felt alone at times because I was surrounded by people with a narrow view of the world, I was able to find a small community of expats, like myself, who helped me navigate this life in China. I also discovered a little pocket of China known as “Little Africa”, which holds one of the largest populations of Africans outside of Africa itself. With this new discovery, I was able to find the right help to tame my mane of thick, natural hair and find clothing that I could actually fit without tailoring or altering.
Although I felt an awkward sense of traveling backwards on the roads of China, due to being thrust into a country so different from my own, with each passing day I was slowly being tugged forward.
In my vulnerabilities I found victories: being lost on the train led to the discovery of an Ikea store, of all places. In my weaknesses, I was made strong: being forced to ride a bike with my rental agent to pay my rental taxes helped me learn to navigate my way through the dangerous roads of China on a bike! Through my sadness and homesickness, I forced myself to make new friends and try things I never thought possible, like taking a chair lift through the mountains of Hong Kong and dancing freely through a flower market during Chinese New Year.
Although I felt an awkward sense of traveling backwards, due to being thrust into a country so different from my own, with each passing day I was slowly being tugged forward. The cloud of the unknown began to clear high above me. Once I realized that I had left predictability back in the USA, I began to grab the bull of life by the horns and forced it along a path of continual growth and self-improvement. No more traveling backwards for the young woman raised by a fierce mother, who helped her see beyond her hometown!
Photo credit for A Brown Girl’s Guide to the Tumultuous Roads of China by Unsplash.