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Day 1 in Yuyao, China

If you had asked me a year ago what I would be doing now, I would never have replied “teaching kids in an obscure small city in China”- it was a spur of the moment decision to apply, which kind of stuck. I’ve never had a spontaneous personality, and the thought of pushing myself right out of my comfort zone filled me with dread. But now I am here, sitting in my bed in my 17th floor apartment in Yuyao, China and feeling pretty damn good about it.

Goodbyes in England.

I’ve never been one for a big celebration, and I find goodbyes very awkward and generally try to avoid them by saying “see you soon”. It wasn’t quite that easy when I knew I would be away for 15 months in a city the other side of the world. The hardest part was seeing family and friends upset and feeling those pangs of anxiety and the desire to cling onto people and take them with me on my adventure. Leaving for an extended period of time certainly makes you appreciate the people you have in your life, whilst also looking forward to the next time you will meet (there I go again, avoiding the goodbyes by concentrating on the reunion in 15 months time).

Some things I made sure I did before I left:

  • Went on LOTS of walks with my dog (and parents/friends) making the most of the beautiful English countryside.

  • Eat and drank a lot of my favourite foods which I knew I wouldn’t be able to get out in China- being a vegan I had become accustomed to the vast amount of choice we have in England- whilst China does have potentially some of the best food for vegans (tofu heaven right?) I knew things like soya yoghurt and vegan cupcakes would be much harder, if not impossible to get in China. In my last few weeks in England I probably eat out at more vegan restaurants than I have for the entire 2+ years I have been vegan!

  • Made sure I dedicated time to seeing family and friends- skype calls just aren’t the same as a real life conversation and a hug!

  • Cuddled my dog

  • Read lots of books I had been meaning to (this was actually before I decided to buy myself a kindle). I had been worrying that I wouldn’t have any literature available in English for 15 months so made a point of reading books I had been meaning to for months.

  • Cuddled my dog some more

  • Played my piano a lot- I’m hoping I will come across a public piano in China, but I’m yet to find one.

I think the weeks running up to a big move really made me appreciate the people and places around me. It was so important to me to be able to say goodbye on a high note, feeling grateful for what I had, but excited for what was to come on my new adventure.

The 20+ hour journey.

20+ hours of travelling is never going to be a fun experience, and by the time I reached Yuyao I felt completely drained. I flew from Birmingham to Amsterdam (approx. 40 mins), on to Beijing (approx. 9.5 hours) and after a 5 hour wait at Beijing airport, onto Ningbo airport where I was met by one of the staff from the school, and driven to Yuyao. Planes are uncomfortable, even if you have short legs like I do. The 5 hour wait at Beijing airport was boring and extremely tiring after a 9 hour flight, and I would recommend anyone to avoid this when travelling to China if possible. My first squat toilet experience happened at the Beijing airport and left me baffled and flustered after the toilet wouldn’t stop flushing due to the motion sensors. I will have to conquer them at some point but for now I’ll avoid them when possible.

First Impressions, initial culture shock.

Arriving in Yuyao, I faced an instant culture shock- the surroundings were so different to what I was used to. In a way, my delirious jet lagged state probably helped me to accept it and get on with it. The first thing I did on arrival was go to the school to meet some of the staff who are all very friendly people. I was then shown to my apartment (more on this to follow) before going out to an Italian pub/restaurant for drinks (apparently the only pub in Yuyao).

The Apartment

I didn’t realise how much I relied on home comforts until I was shown into my apartment. Located on the 17th floor of a towering block of flats, I admit it does have a pretty great view (minus the smog). The initial thoughts that ran through my head were “wait, there’s nowhere to cook- anything- not even a microwave or hotplate”. For someone who absolutely loves cooking, and relies a lot on it with my often awkward diet, this was pretty disheartening. Shavings filled the leaky bathroom sink, furniture was broken or damaged and the bed is pretty much like lying on the wooden floor. However, I soon realised these are all issues easily overcome and my mindset has definitely improved after just a day of living here. Seeing how some people live in China, it definitely humbles you and forces you to be grateful for your fairly large apartment with double bed (a luxury I wasn’t used to back home). It’s just a matter of making the most of a situation and working with what you have. I’m sure in a few weeks I’ll have the place feeling homely and more comfortable, but for now I am just happy to have somewhere safe and warm to lay my still jet-lagged head at night.

The people

Chinese people are very friendly and often very curious of foreigners, particularly in a small city like Yuyao. It’s only my my first day here and already I have been approached by people who speak no English (and I speak no Chinese, yet!) keen to have a conversation with me or to get their kids to say hello to me, and even to have photos taken with them. You are kind of treated like a celebrity here, which is something that will take a little getting used to for me being the kind of person who tends to like blending in and not make a fuss. People are happy to help and to be of service to a boggled looking foreigner – even if communication is near impossible at times, it’s nice to know people are patient and well-meaning and to have a smiling face when you feel a little lost.

The staff at my school are all very upbeat and welcoming. Although I haven’t met everyone properly yet, I am happy that I will be spending the next 15 months working and socialising with such nice people.

Chinese Supermarkets

Today I had my first introduction to bizarre and wonderful Chinese supermarkets. Maybe it’s a novelty because I have no idea what any of the signs and labels mean, maybe it’s because everything is SO cheap (I bought a trolley full of stuff for my apartment for the total of 160yuan which is equivalent to around 18 GBP. The selection of fruits and vegetables is vegan paradise- I have already started planning what I want to try to cook once my kitchen is better organised. The only thing you have to be careful of is washing (using bottled water) and peeling vegetables, and cooking everything well (boiling point, to avoid getting sick). I can already see how easy it will be to save money in China. Speaking of cheap prices- I went to the cinema tonight to see Fantastic Beasts 3D and paid 20 yuan = £2.90GBP. Compared to back home, that is insanely cheap. So it’s not just food- everything seems to be vastly cheaper. Even the new phone I bought cost me 1090 yuan including top up for the first month. China is definitely the place to come if you want to save money!

So I think that is it for my first post. There is so much I could keep on waffling on about, but I’ll save it for my next post. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and feel free to comment with any funny experiences you had when moving abroad for the first time- I’d love to hear from you.

Have a great day!

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