Finding Love in Shantou, China
For many, summer travels entail a short-lived romance; however, when I embarked on my first solo summer adventure, romance was far from my mind. I was, of course, looking forward to meeting all these new people, but most excited to learn more about myself and to grow as an individual. I had just finished my first year at university and I was feeling more lost than ever. So, in a bid to ‘find myself’, I jumped on a plane and travelled to Shantou, a port city in South China.
To foreign tourists, Shantou is an invisible city, overshadowed by its well-known neighbours, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. However, unlike its neighbours, Shantou is much less Westernised and unaccustomed to tourists. Despite the lack of tourists, locals are incredibly welcoming and show a genuine interest in why you are there. Although, I must guiltily admit, if I hadn’t been randomly allocated this city on my teaching abroad scheme, I never would have thought to go there.
As a city, Shantou is filled with natural charm, boasting numerous mountain ranges which overlook temples as well as the ocean. The city exists in perfectly squared streets, housing in one grid and shops in the next. The city is rigid in structure yet in constant flux. Shops regularly change as families swap businesses, altering their stores from chicken restaurants to cafes to convenience stores. The continuous change echoes the city’s rapid expansion and the country’s consistent development.
So, in a bid to ‘find myself’, I jumped on a plane and travelled to Shantou, a port city in South China.
It was during my first visit to Shantou that I met my partner, Ben. We had both applied for teaching positions in an English school named BOB and hit it off immediately. We would stay up until the early hours of the morning divulging our histories. Then the next day, we would tiredly tease one another about the secrets spilled the night before. I told him how lost university had made me feel and, in return, he recollected the similar experiences he went through during his first year at university. We loved the same music and films, but what really cemented our bond was the intense sense of friendship we formed.
About a week or two later, we began seeing each other exclusively. As a group, we had all decided to go out to alleviate the encroaching stress of teaching in a new environment and, like most of our nights out, it quickly got out of hand. On one side of the club one of the girls was crying about being disliked by the group and on the other someone else was upset because of an emerging love triangle. Somehow as the chaos unfolded, we had been separated.
Wondering where he had gone off to, I looked around the dance floor and bar area. Despite being such a small club, the fact that it was jam packed with people made it impossible to find anyone. Let alone one person in particular. It was then that I saw him. From across the club, I saw Ben lean in towards the girl who had been crying and my throat closed up. Had I misread the signals?
Had I misread the signals?
Perhaps I was mistaken and he just saw me as a friend. Feeling embarrassed and hurt, I tried to distract myself by discussing other people’s romantic endeavors. It was easier to focus on other people’s love lives when mine was clearly not working out. It’s almost comical that while romance was the last thing I hoped to get out of this trip, it was the subject of most of my thoughts and conversations.
Not long after I rejoined the group, Ben walked over towards us, beaming from ear to ear. My ears turned pink and I couldn’t help but look away from him. I quickly made up an excuse to avoid him, moving outside to get some air. Outside, the dusty streets of Shantou radiated an intense heat which was suffocating. Despite it being well past midnight, the temperature showed no signs of cooling; it was nauseating.
Worried, Ben followed me outside to check-in, asking if I was okay and wondering where I had been all night. At first, I tried to ignore the knots in my stomach. To pretend that I had been with the group the entire time, but he saw straight through me and encouraged me to explain why I was acting strange. Like a crumbling wall, the words began to tumble out. I explained that while we hadn’t known each other for long, I felt a connection between us, but realised that I must have read into it because I had seen him with someone else earlier on.
Finding Love in Shantou, China.
Confusion washed over his face and the cogs in his mind slowly began to turn. Understanding suddenly flashed across his face and he erupted with laughter. He hadn’t been making out with her, he leant forward because he’s half-deaf and couldn’t hear her. Cocking a coy smile, he questioned why I was jealous and edged closer. I flushed pink and suggested we go back into the club. From then onwards, we were inseparable.
Many were doubtful about how long we would last, assuming we were just a fling. Two and a half years later and we now live together. When I moved to South Korea on exchange for a year, he didn’t hesitate to join me, and when we began to prepare to move back to the UK, we didn’t need to talk about moving in together. We automatically began looking for coupled accommodation. I am beyond grateful that I was randomly allocated a place in the rustic town of Shantou because if I wasn’t I never would have met Ben.