Monday night I was spontaneously invited to a small gathering by the westerner in town, who is the ‘man of the moment’. I was told about this guy on the first day of being here. He’s the one to know and the ‘essential connection’ you need, when living in Jinzhou. His name is Leif (pronounced Lafe), he’s from Seattle in the States and has been living here for more than 6 years. He’s worked himself up to be bank manager of one of the main banks in the city. A pretty big accomplishment, when taking into account that he didn’t speak Chinese when he arrived and he too started out as an English teacher.
It was such a great night. There were around 10 people; a few from England, Belgium, America and…. China... hahaha… They welcomed me in and were delighted to meet the ‘new girl in town’. Even though it’s a city, the community of westerners is only made-up of around 100 people. So everybody knows everybody… It’s like there’s this tiny village of white people, within 800.0000 Chinese… So the word gets out that there’s a new kid on the block and everybody is suddenly curious as to who this person is, why she’s here and if she’ll stay or not…
To stay or go? Is that the question? Since first getting here, I’ve been hearing many stories about teachers who have arrived from faraway lands and who have booked a return flight within a few days or weeks because they couldn’t handle being here in either Jinzhou in particular, or China in general. As I’ve been getting to know more people and have been hearing their stories, I’ve realized those who stick in Jinzhou are of a particular ‘breed’. This city doesn’t offer what other Chinese cities offer. The cities that attract the westerners and where they tend to settle, are the cities offering exactly what China is known for throughout the world; millions of people, a large western community (usually made-up of 1000s of foreigners), a thriving economy and comprehension of the English language by the surrounding environment. These are aspects that aren’t really found in Jinzhou. So, to feel welcome and at home yet always in awe and inspired by the Chinese life, this city could very well offer stable foundations and an adaptability that can be used when settling anywhere else in the Asian world.
There have been teachers who have started their journeys here and have gone on to make it big – writers and artists have been known to have settled here too! Some of the current foreign university staff speak 7 languages each, and have lived in places that are unheard of. Travellers who have taught at this English school have continued to venture everywhere and have landed themselves in increasingly better life-situations, as they moved on. It was so eye-opening and exciting to hear of what holds people to this place, and what opens-up for those who eventually leave.
Also, the response I got on Monday night was something that told me I’d fit right in and not be urged to get the next flight out of here. The new people I met all wondered why I didn’t looked freaked-out by being here (which is something new-arrivals would usually be)… I simply sat there, in ‘Bell Air’ of Jinzhou, surrounded by friends and it was like a scene from a movie but real-life all at once.
So to stay: yes most definitely… After realizing this, I had a dream last night. I was supposed to be catching a plane to Thailand. I had only a few more days left in China and I had to leave. When I woke up, I felt so relieved that it was only a dream… I was relieved I didn’t have to catch a plane! I was awake and I wanted to stay! For the first time in my life, I wasn’t trying to get myself to the next place. There wasn’t anything pulling me from the inside or outside world… not yet anyhow! It’s not like it was, when I've been travelling before. Always, I’ve been thinking of where to go next, once the job was ending. Always I’ve been wishing to be elsewhere. And in my dream last night, yes I wanted to go to Thailand, but in my waking hours, I didn’t want or need to leave. Yesterday I spoke the words for the first time: I’ll be here for as long as it takes. What do I mean by ‘it’? The thing that’s brought me here… The ‘thing’ I’ll become aware of, as time passes. This is a first for me… I know I’m travelling differently this time round…
I’m travelling and settled, all at once. What a change and what a relief. It means I can do all the work I need to do, from this one place… Only 2 weeks into my China experience, and so much to process. But it’s all good processing: feelings, thoughts, impressions and adjustments… all to benefit the on-going journey, wherever it may lead.