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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New Leaf - 2

I pushed myself through that stage, I went to my classes, I struggled and the next day, for some reason I was back on top of the game and life was amazing. I had 2 brilliant days of teaching and I truly felt my classes were fuelled by a deeper strength. The only thing that got me to enjoy myself so much was something deeper that was pushing me through. That’s the only way to describe how I felt throughout the 2 days that followed. Then another breakdown… a social event that I was unable to deal with… I felt so lonely sitting in a restaurant with the group of foreign teachers… and I was lost. I was miserable… Again I was forcing myself to be in a certain way, just to be accepted and to do what was expected of me… I can’t describe how I felt throughout the following 12 hours… again breakdown… Thankfully I had 2 days off to get through things…

On the last night of the weekend, I was speaking with Helen. And the conclusion: I’ve got too much going on inside of me and I’m about to explode with the energy; and this energy has no outlet. There are barriers all around me: language barriers between myself and the people in china and barriers between myself and the only group of foreign teachers who were ‘meant’ to become my life here in Jinzhou. I’m restricted, I’m limited and that’s where the feeling of being lonely, whilst surrounded by others, comes from. When I’m alone, there’s no sense of loneliness at all!

I’m at a point now, where I know I have to plan where I’m going AFTER this contract ends in February… Because if I don’t plan something concrete and put my focus towards moving on to better things and needing this time in Jinzhou for the purpose of moving forward AFTER the contract ends, I know it will be too easy for me to say: I’m leaving. The impulsive me will get too powerful, and I’ll be gone. That’s where I’m at right now… If this situation isn’t making me happy and if I don’t have anything to keep me here, then I know I’ll too easily leave… So this is my challenge… For some reason I have to stay… I need to constantly place myself around people who don’t recognize or appreciate the things in my life that I so passionately choose to live for. I need to stay in this situation… if it’s because of my amazing apartment, or for my book, my writing, the kids, the teaching or the lessons I myself will learn… I don’t know for what reason… But I know I can do this. I know I can create my own sense of freedom. I know that I need to focus on the people who do enrich my life and who are open to seeing, recognizing, accepting who I am and what I have to give. Those people are Helen and Sophia (she used to work at EF too, a Chinese teacher, with brilliant English. She’s since left the company but we’re still in contact… she’s so special). The other Chinese teachers either aren’t fluent enough in English and so, any real connection can’t be formed – even though they are all really lovely girls…

This post wasn’t meant to be so in depth… but hey-ho… there you have it! This is me for now… I’m thinking of planning where to go after my contract ends… and thinking what I can do in the meantime so more people come into my life, who I can form some sort of connection with…

Having said all of this… Really, I don’t resent the group of teachers, not at all. I don’t want to change them, I don’t hate going into work… I love being with the kids, I love the teaching in general and I’m happy – even when I’m venting all of this ‘wasted’ passion here on my blog… Hummm…. I have to trust that things are changing, always and only for the better… Focus on the good and only good will be experienced… it’s the start of a new week, a new leaf, a new chapter in my Jinzhou story… and it’s opening with the phrase somebody said to me on Monday night: “Niamh, you’re positive energy is good for Jinzhou…” … Now, all I have to do is feel that Jinzhou is good for me too… as I am (apparently) good for it…

New Leaf - 1

There have been changes in the team at work. 2 weeks ago, a new girl from America arrived. Talia. Friday a new guy from England arrived. Michael (yet another one!) and Monday night I went to Laurens goodbye party. She’s since left Jinzhou after being here for a year. So, the group of foreigners who I’m ‘meant’ to be associating with, has changed quite a lot. The dynamics are shifting and at the moment, things feel very much up in the air. Which is actually where I wish I was now too… up in the air, on a plane heading to wherever…

I can’t explain what exactly has been happening with me and this experience. Or probably I could, but it’s far too much to put into writing... So I’ll keep this brief… There have been a few incidences over the past week that all been a sign I’ve been forcing myself to fit in with the group of foreign teachers who I’m surrounded by. By coming to Jinzhou and choosing to work for a language school like English First (or EF, as we call it) I was being placed within a group of teachers. These teachers were not only ‘meant’ to be my colleagues - they were also ‘meant’ to become my life outside of work. As this was expected of me, I went with this way of thinking for the first 2 months. It was fine. But then, things changed. I moved into my apartment and chose to create my own space. Since living by myself for the past 2 months, I’ve been spending more time with people who I want to spend time with… and slowly things haven’t been revolving too much around the group of foreign teachers who are ‘meant’ to be my whole life here in Jinzhou. This was my personal choice and I’m happy with it.

So I’ve distanced myself – because I need to focus on myself right now. The hours in the office have been getting more and more difficult for me, because of this. I feel as though I'm going against everything the majority expects of the foreign teachers, when they come to Jinzhou. And what does this lead to? When there’s a close-knit group and one person in particular who once was ‘fitting’ and slowly has become less a part of the ‘togetherness’, then the group could label that person as being ‘weird’, airy fairy and overly emotional… Maybe I'm being judged for the fact that I choose to focus on the things I want and need in life, instead of what others consider to be a necessity.. Do I let it get to me? At times I do, at times I don’t. But generally I’m strong enough to know that I can be who I want to be in this current situation in order to keep myself in touch with positivity.

But what IS starting to actually feel pretty painful is the fact that who I am and what I do, has no outlet here in Jinzhou. It’s like the real me, isn’t being recognized. I’ve known this for quite some time and have been forcing myself to create my own sense of freedom and expression, regardless if it’s being recognized by those around me or not. But over the past 2 weeks, as I’ve seen the changes in the office, I’ve seen the changes in myself more too. In the past, I would have sucked up my pain and forced myself to go with what the people expect of me. But now, I can’t. Even if I try and push myself to be fitting, I simply cannot go against what I feel anymore. I’ve been trying to do this and it led me to breakdown on Friday afternoon… I was lost amongst these people… the group of foreign teachers. Nobody is really harming me… But I was miserable… it was intense and I couldn’t be in the office. I went into an empty classroom and I cried my eyes out…and the only thoughts I had were of leaving this place and getting to the sea. But all I could see out the window were high rise buildings, apartment blocks and traffic…

From that moment I knew something had shifted. I knew something cracked within… It was so strange, because nobody was doing anything to hurt me… But maybe because I’m forcing me to be in this environment, I’m hurting myself. That could be it… Nobody is hurting me, only me… Hummm… I don’t know…

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nightmarket talking - 2

On Sunday, during my last class, I had a difficult moment. The class was pushing me to my limits, one boy in particular. He has behaviour problems. Some classes he’s almost unable to contain himself and Sunday he was having one of those moments. He was pushing and pushing and because I was drained myself (it was the very last class of the week) I exploded. I then felt to have been sucked from every bit of love and life I had, and I was left with nothing – no smile and no desire to teach.

What did I do, when I was feeling to be an emotional basket-case on the inside? I gave everyone a worksheet, just to give myself a minute to get back into gear again. They were all sitting quietly, working away and I sat, staring into the nothingness waiting for my energy to come back, so I could smile and show the kids that really I wasn’t angry at them. Once I was feeling a little better, the student in particular who was more difficult to control, came up to me, he gave me his work…and there was this moment, when I wanted to hug him and tell him I wasn’t angry with him. But there were 13 other students… I couldn’t single him out as being more important than the rest… So I bent down, took his work, told him everything was okay (even though he can’t understand me properly) and instead of hugging him, I put my forehead to his… and it were as if we were both saying sorry for ‘acting up’. There was such a strong connection and I felt so emotional. Especially as it had taken him at least 2 or 3 months to warm to me and to feel happy in my classes…

After class, I can’t describe how I was feeling (or I probably could, but I won’t go into detail). Then I realized afterwards, as Helen and I sat down at the night market half an hour later, just how passionate I am about connecting with the kids. I learnt that teaching isn’t the way in which I want to be apart of their lives. I already feel so strongly about how I need to help them and be closer to the kids, whilst travelling – if teaching isn’t the long term position I long to fulfil. I know I can bring together the travel, the writing and the creation of deeper connections with the kids I come into contact with. I know where I need to travel to next, even though I’m only just in China. I can even see how travels will be in aid of the sequel to my first book too and how this present position is already playing a big part in keeping me on the road to where I feel I must go. It’s like every single thing in my life is supporting what it is I’m willing to experience; the people I’m surrounded by, the job I have, the apartment I live in (as it gives me the settled feeling so I can focus on making things happen). Even the fact that I FINISHED DRAFT NUMBER 2 has made everything even clearer in my mind! So, yes it’s all happening. I’m 4 months into my year in China. And it’s not passing me by. On the contrary, I’m taking everything I can from this experience, so I can grow as much as possible. I feel things are changing still, or they’re about to change even more. Having said that, I don’t think, at any point since arriving 4 months ago, have ‘things’ stood still… so the upcoming period won’t be any different. And so, it’s all good change – as people arrive in Jinzhou, leave Jinzhou and stay in Jinzhou…

Nightmarket talking - 1

With the temperature rising and the humid summer just approaching (it’s around 30 degrees everyday), the atmosphere in the city has been ever-changing. I can’t say that the heat is getting to me – not at all really. I love that I can walk at night, in a t-shirt when it’s dark and still feel the heat of the day and the fresh breeze. The thing I actually love most about this time in Jinzhou is the night market. Up until September or October, there’s a particular street quite near the school that probably homes at least 100 stalls every evening come 6pm… There’s everything on offer from clothes, to household goods, from accessories to stationary, from dogs (!!!!!) to toys, from shoes to food… You name it, it’s there. A shoppers’ paradise, especially if you can haggle. For me, it’s not really a paradise because of all that’s available, but it’s more because of the routine that’s evolved since the market has opened.

It’s so close to work (and also within walking distance from my place) that me and some colleagues have made it a regular thing to wander down the market street after work, a few times each week. It’s not really to buy, but instead to sit on the sidelines, take in the atmosphere, the people, the weather and the pearl milk tea (a yummy drink that I’ve come to crave everyday). It’s so cool. I’ve been doing this mainly with Helen… After work, we’d make our way there. We’d sit at the dirty tables, right next to the tens of food stalls where the famous Jinzhou bbq is being prepared. We’re the object of observation - to which I’ve totally switched-off and the stares never stop the talking we could easily do for hours at a time. It’s strange that this bustling street promotes the conversations we have, which are nearly always regarding where we’re at in life, how we can benefit more from what we’re currently doing so we can move towards the things we’ve always wanted to do. For some reason, we both always come away from out chats, having learnt or realized something new and feeling so full of life…

I’ve learnt over the past month or so, that teaching really isn’t what I long to be doing. Well, not long-term anyhow. It’s something I enjoy, really I do. And I do my best to be a good at it. But I know it’s only temporary. And I say this, not because of the contract, but because I can see ‘clearly’ in what direction I’m heading. Although I know how much this position in china is giving me right now and it’s really amazing to see just how much I’ve gained by taking this step; the school has been the biggest contributor in giving me such an amazing experience and lifestyle – without me feeling to have done anything big at all, to receive so much.

But, the more I take time to stand back from what I’m doing, the more I realize that this position is bringing me forward to the next experience. When and how it will happen, I can’t really say. But I know what the teaching is giving me, in terms of realizing what I was to pursue in life. Because there’s something of a strong passion to not only travel and write, but to be more involved with kids too. This is something that has been coming out, during my classes. I’m standing there, teaching these kids English, enjoying my time with them, but feeling a little saddened that the only way I get to form a bond with them, is through teaching English. It’s like I want to get closer to these kids, but I can’t, because we can’t fluently communicate and because of the fact that I’m ‘only’ the English teacher who sees them 2 hours a week.

I’m the teacher who is meant to be strict, fun and active at the same time. I’m giving them ‘knowledge’ of the English language… Is that really what I want to be giving them? Hummm… I actually want to be giving love, more than anything else! I wish to be helping them on a less ‘superficial’ level. But I do see how special this experience is, if this is the only contact or connection I can form with kids in general, at this point in time. So I’m grateful. And I take so much from being in front of the class – even when the pressure can get too much.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Errors when editing

Up until last week Thursday I was adamant that draft 2 HAD to be complete by this week. But, man oh man, the pressure I’ve been putting on myself to get it done, has been so… unbearable almost. Last week Tuesday I just about cracked, for forcing myself so much. It was the last day of the ‘weekend’ and I’d put such high expectations on myself, for what I had to finish on that particular day.

After a few hours of editing, I found myself so deep in the story, at probably the most painful part of the whole script and that’s where I blocked. I was reliving the past, as I was editing and I BLOCKED at the most crucial stage!!!!! By getting so emotionally swept away by everything I was reading, the block was massively intense and it just about brought every past issue to the surface and it exploded in my face. I was deep down in my own ‘shit’ again. I thought I was never going to get passed it.

I almost ran from my apartment, the walls were coming down around me and I charged my way through the streets of Jinzhou to the nearest coffee shop. I had to get away from the book and into the present day… And that’s what being in the coffee shop forced me to do. I sat there, with my journal, looking like a heap of sh*t and feeling even worse. I had a cup of milk tea with honey beans and sat and wrote and wrote and wrote… I spilled all of ‘guts’ onto paper until I was able to unblock myself and step out of those past fears and see what exactly I was doing in life, where I was going and what I’ve become, since experiencing the contents of my book some 3 years ago. Man oh man. It was an intense day. And it wasn’t until Thursday I realized that I need to approach this editing process far different than I have been…

After I completed draft 1, I closed the book and it felt to be a done deal and so I figured I needed to aim to do the same with draft 2. I wanted it complete, so I could close the book and offer it to all. But, I’ve realized that by having this as my target, I was putting on far too much pressure. Regardless of the fact that I actually AM nearly done with draft 2 (apart from a few final touches and a couple of ‘rereads’), I need to keep this version OPEN. I’m not going to be closing it as though it’s a done deal. Because it’s only going to be a done deal, when an outsider has taken a proper look and when it goes to print! Haha..

Following Tuesdays disruption, I realized by Friday morning, that 30% of my story is almost too delicate for me to have the mental ability to go into that painful depth on a regular basis. For many different reasons it doesn’t feel right to force myself into that part of my past. Working 40 hours a week and having to deal with teaching, even outside of these 40 hours, is the biggest part of why I don’t always feel able to deal with those depths. Yes, my weekends are my free time. But reliving something so painful means I need time to get over it again. And there is no time, because the weekends fly and suddenly it’s time to teach again. And when I’m done with work, I need time to get over that too. Teaching may be ‘only’ a 40 hour work week, but it’s a job that’s all-consuming and physically, emotionally and mentally draining – if you don’t take time to recuperate.

So, Friday morning, I felt I needed to distance myself from that deeper part of the book. And with that notion, I contacted the agent in Dublin; the guy who I’d been in touch with, just before coming to China (the publisher who has set-up his own agency) and who also advised me to edit the first draft, before possibly choosing to hand over the book to a professional editor. It had been 10 weeks since I last got in touch with him. So I wasn’t too sure whether or not it was the best step to take. Especially as I still have a few finishing touches to apply. But I sent him an email, telling him I’ve finished most of draft 2 and wondered if he was still interested in taking a look. And yesterday (Monday) I checked my email. He’d replied straight away, with the simple answer: Send it on!

Well, I was delighted of course… and yesterday and today (my weekend) I’ve been working to get the first half into tip top shape. I’ve distanced myself from the deep stuff for a while, and have been giving the main focus to the part that needs to grip the reader. I emailed the first quarter today. And I feel so good about it. I don’t know what he’ll think of course, I don’t if anything will come of it. But at least I’m trying. I’m not going to force myself anymore. I might struggle in going against that force, which is something I’ve always struggled with. Because when you want something so badly in life, isn’t it okay to make some sacrifices? Isn’t the only way to get things, by working hard? Nothing gets given to us without putting in the time and effort – in a healthy and balanced manner I guess… that’s probably the key that I’ve not been using over the past weeks… hummmm…

Yesterday I was chatting with Helen from work, and she had some sound advice; “Niamh, you’re in CHINA! Don’t let this experience pass you by, no matter how much you want to get your book ‘out there’… Yes, the book is apart of your life, but so is LIVING THIS PRESENT EXPERIENCE! Let yourself enjoy CHINA….” This was sound advice that definitely struck a cord! As well, I sometimes foret just how stressful life in China for a foreigner already is… especially with the teaching, the language barrier and ALWAYS being the object of observation wherever you go and whatever you do without bringing on more stress to… for example… EDIT AND PUBLISH a book!

How revealing… can’t wait to find out what happens next ;)

Monday, June 6, 2011


Today, Monday (the 6th), is my day-off. So me and Lauren decided to, at long last, take a daytrip and visit the most famous tourist attraction in the whole of China… yes, it was THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA! I’d always known just how close it was to Jinzhou – when taking into account just how huge China is - but I never actually took it upon myself to bite the bullet and make my way there, to see what all the hype was about. Not until today that is.

I was more excited about the journey we had to take to get there, instead of what was waiting for us once we arrived. This was probably because I hadn’t left the city since first arriving nearly 4 months ago. So I desperately wanted to be sitting on a moving bus or a moving train that was moving away from Jinzhou… towards nowhere in particular, just somewhere other than here.

And what can I say about the train journey and the scenery? Hummm… Well, the train was NOTHING like I’d expected it to be. And what had I expected? Something of an exciting adventure! Yes…and instead it was… CONVENIENT and EASY… with the inevitable language challenges of course (but Lauren can speak basic Chinese, so that meant there was less hassle). But man oh man, if I were to travel in China, it would be a breeze! I’d just need to know a few basic words, phrases and sentences and it would be like travelling through Australia or anywhere in Europe – just with 2 billion Chinese people staring at me, instead of a few million westerners getting on with their lives and not being phased or shocked by seeing… niamh!

Anyhow, the train was clean, everything was so well organized. There was no chaos, no fuss, no commotion, no delays and no extreme harassment from taxi drivers or tour companies trying to sell the ‘lost tourists’ their services. It was all so normal. I’d honestly hoped that venturing out of the city would bring up the feelings I’ve had before when travelling through other parts of Asia. But it didn’t.

Probably a good thing because I wouldn’t have wanted to come back to Jinzhou so soon without properly ‘fixing’ the travel-bug that could have been brought to life today. It’s the bug that’s always in need of more attention. So, not being tempted too much, kept that traveller slightly inspired to able to contain herself and return happily to Jinzhou to get on with work!

The 3 hours we spent at THE WALL, were brilliant! Seeing it, brought home the reality of where I am. I realized I’ve truly made it in China! Walking along one of the wonders of the world, on my day-off and knowing that 5 or 6 hours later I’d be back at home in my own little apartment… was so strange! And it was probably the location of the wall that sparked-off the inspired reflective mood I had today. Because it was by the sea!!! This was the surprise I hadn’t expected. I didn’t realize the part of the wall we were visiting was the end of the wall, and thus the part that ‘tumbles’ into the ocean.

After an hour or 2 of walking, sightseeing and taking pictures, I was delighted to say to Lauren that I was going for a walk down the (tiny but very clean) beach by myself. I found a little secluded spot, away from the tourists and sat there for maybe 20 minutes. I was facing east; my back was facing the wall and my front was facing the sea. Millions of people travel across the world, year after year, to see this wall, and here I was, more eager and impressed by the sight and sound of the waves! Very odd 

I didn’t care though. Instead of caring, I wished in that moment to pick up my apartment and place it right there on the beach – so I could be in the fresh air and write and use the sea for whatever purpose it could serve. Or I wished to bring some of the sea back with me to the chaos that Jinzhou suddenly felt to represent, in my mind. Could I bring back the sea instead of the pictures I’d taken of me and the Great Wall of China? Impossible! But what I could do was make a promise to myself instead. And that’s what I did, in those precious 20 minutes on the beach today – the minutes for which I felt to have sat for 6 hours in total on a ‘luxurious’ Chinese train for the first time in my life. I promised that, one day, I’ll own a little hut by the sea and no matter where I travel or what I do, I’ll have that little hut to retreat to and it will be where I can write in peace with the sea just at my front door. I don’t care what inconveniences this hut will have. If the climate is warm and there’s some electricity to connect my laptop to (!!!) then I’ll happily sleep on bamboo mats and ‘shower’ with buckets of cold water everyday. It doesn’t matter. Not when the sea is always on hand.

That’s my little dream and that’s what visiting this ‘must see’ wonder of the world gave me today. Afterwards I left the beach, headed back to Lauren and we made our way to the train. It may have been a short outing, but it was oh oh oh so sweet! This made me happy to return to Jinzhou with the nicely contained travel-bug sitting inside. It’s patiently waiting for the time to come when the search for that hut can start – or maybe it already has started, I just need more travels to put it into practise!

Okay, I’m gonna lay-off on the dreaming for now! Because, there’s a life here to be lived – says she who’s sitting at her desk again, writing and STILL dreaming (7 hours after those 20 minutes of sitting by the sea!). Yes, there’s a life right here, there’s a book to be edited and there are little kids that need to learn English! So, on that note, I’ll be signing off… What an adventure is this life! 