I think I can speak for both of us when I say that these past two years have flown by really fast. At times, our ride in China was like being unstrapped in the back of a speeding car, weaving in and out of traffic while you’re at the whim of physics as you pinball around in the backseat. There were other times when the speed of life was much more calm and relaxed as we watched people paint pictures in a park or play Chinese instruments or just sit on a bench and socialize. All in all, it’s been a great couple of years. We’ve had many grand adventures, made lovely new friends, and ate our way through more dumplings than should be humanly possible.
As we wrap up our time here, we felt it important to reflect upon this experience. As you can imagine, it’s wasn’t all gravy. There were difficult times spread out and mixed into the traveling, adventuring, and working. So, as is our custom, we made a little video weighing the pros and cons of living and working in China. Bear in mind, these are our perspectives and certainly not all are true for everyone. But we hope you enjoy nonetheless.
The last few months have been an absolute whirlwind. While COVID-19 was spreading fear, death, and toilet paper shortages worldwide, we headed back to China from our extended holiday in New Zealand and put our noses to the grindstone of learning how to become efficient online teachers of good quality. (Not to mention surviving each others company locked in our tiny apartment for a 14-day quarantine!) But before long, we were back out socializing with friends and trying to stay safe during these trying times. It was very interesting to see how different countries and communities of people dealt with the epidemic (and still are).
Here in China, everything is monitored through your phone. Once you’re given a clean bill of health and are COVID-free, you get a health card digitally attached to your phone that you need to show upon entering the subway, buses, malls, bars…everywhere really. If It’s green, you’re all good. Any other color means you’ve been near or exposed to someone who has tested positive with symptoms and you’re not allowed to get into anywhere really; until you get checked out again, and get a green health card. It’s basically like this, you go to the park for a bit and meet with some friends. After the park you go to the bar for a few drinks. You get hungry and decide to hit the supermarket for some late night snacks. Then, you head home. Sounds like a fun day. But let’s say at the bar your phone (i.e. YOU) was near somewhere who tomorrow gets COVID symptoms. Well, now your health card turns yellow because you were, in the past 24hrs, near someone who developed symptoms. Anyone who’s phone came in close contact with you later on the grocery store also gets a yellow health card on their phone. It’s crazy efficient but also very big-brother. It makes me laugh when I see the conspiracy theorists back home with their homemade signs about how the potential COVID vaccine will have a microchip in it to track everyone’s movements. Remember Edward Snowden? He blew the whistle on the Patriot Act showing how the US government was doing exactly that, and let’s be honest, is probably still.
A few weeks ago, our school got the “go-ahead” from the local government to re-open. This was mainly done in an attempt to have our end of year exams done in person and not online where it is much harder to monitor. The drawbacks of returning to school include increased security with 3 separate temperature scans before we even entire the building each day and loads of policies that seem to change daily, but the obvious advantage is seeing our students face-to-face again. It definitely made us appreciate the time we put in the classroom in front of our students and the reduced screen time that comes with it.
In the past few weeks, we’ve been trying to visit our favorite places here in Qingdao. Sometimes we went it alone, but most of the time we invited our friends who were still here to join us in the festivities. Our favorite restaurants, pubs, and hangouts all did quite a double-take when we walked in 15-20 expats deep at times. It was great to share our last few weeks with our friends and show them some of the places we’ve found during our time here. This was especially helpful for the few of our brothers-in-arms who just started teaching this past year and still have another year or two in their contracts. Now they can continue the tradition with next year’s (slightly less cooler) recruits. Some of the highlights included delicious Indian food from Dilli-6, the smokey, dive-y Opera Brew, a pub with kittens running around in it, our last really great Chinese meal at a place we all call MacBeth, a hike up Fushan Mountain where Alison and I both got a decent sunburn, our End of the World Qingdao Pub Crawl, the boys night-out for Korean BBQ, cigars, and whiskey, the special and amazing city-wide scavenger hunt Alison sent me on for our belated Valentine’s Day, and our last trips to our favorite pub Strong Ale Works, a walk up our favorite street in Qingdao Daxue Lu, and Trio Tacos for dinner. Aaaand it wouldn’t be complete without one last dance session at Angelina’s. Oh, what a night!
Saying goodbye is never easy; it’s always hard. And sometimes it fucks you up worse than gas station sushi. But in the life we lead, goodbyes are as inevitable as sunsets. No matter how long and stretched out you wish the day was, sooner or later it gets dark. We’ve met some wonderful people in the past two years and have been fortunate enough to form some lasting friendships. It’s remarkable how this lifestyle lends to quickly creating strong bonds amongst likeminded people. Personally, I’ve made friends here that are as close as my closest friends back home whom I’ve known for many years. It’s not that my friendships at home are worse, just different. The people you meet abroad shape that experience of being abroad. Anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to share a long car ride with some they don’t jive with can relate, I’m sure. In the case of traveling or being an expat, both people have come to this new place for something…whether it be adventure, an experience, food, whatever. And your sharing of that moment leads you to get to know people on a sometimes deeper level than the loved ones you leave at home. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. There are no yesterdays on the road. All you have is what’s in front of you and the people around you. Jack Kerouac said, “the road is life,” and I tend to agree. Selling everything we owned, saying goodbye to our friends, our family, our dog, and our comfortable life was scary. It was honestly one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. But I knew that if I didn’t do it, I’d regret it later. So here we are; saying goodbye to one chapter and cracking the book onto a fresh page to start a new one.
We’ve been very fortunate to have meals bought for us, homes opened up to us, and received more hospitality that we could ever repay. (But we’ll certainly try!) Thank you to all those who have made our past two years so special. I can safely say there is magic in the world and it comes from people like you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you and we hope to see you again soon.