I don’t even know where to start since it is such a huge and diverse country. To tell the truth – me and China, we have a love-hate relationship let’s say and there are days where I swear I will never ever set foot on the Chinese ground again and then some days, all of a sudden, I feel like I could try my luck and maybe visit again.
I lived in China for more than two years (with some short breaks in between) and I’ve experienced everything I could there – love, hate, loneliness, stressing over money, total freedom, partying like crazy, good friendships, Chinese-style studying, heartbreaks and so much more… The first year and something was super exciting, as my base was Xiamen – (relatively) small island city on the South-East of China. It was the first time I left Czech Republic for a longer period of time and lived on my own in a foreign country. That was in September 2012. It wasn’t like I had to start completely from the scratch though – my University supported me greatly and my classmates were always around so I didn’t feel any loneliness whatsoever. And I loved it.
I loved everything about China and Xiamen in particular the first months – the climate, food, city life, Xiamen University, nearby beach, my new friends.. Everything. It seemed very magical to me, like I’ve entered completely new dimension of living, where everything fits perfectly and works in a seamless order that leaves everybody happy and content. It felt like I finally managed to escape the life full of struggles back home and that I was finally on the right path where nothing could go wrong. And when looking back at that time of my life, I think it indeed completely reshaped my future, which I’m very grateful for now. I think it was the best decision I’ve ever made and I really felt like I’ve escaped a possibly very terrible life (but maybe my decision wasn’t that accidental and everything was supposed to happen like this all along, who knows, right? 😉 ).
I travelled a lot back then and studied very little, so my grades were a huge disaster. I didn’t pass single subject, really. That bad. Add partying and love problems to the mix and you will get the picture. However, I was the happiest I could have ever been 😀 I didn’t care about my grades (at that time) and all I wanted to do was to enjoy what life was offering, what I never experienced in Czech. And so I did, to the fullest. Every day in Xiamen seemed like a miracle to me and I was taking what it was giving. I dreaded the day I would have to leave, though. And that day was coming, really fast.
And so at the beginning of January 2013, I took a train to Shanghai, crying all the way – 8 hours straight. I thought that I’m leaving my heart and soul behind. I remember the looks of those Chinese guys sitting around me. They were in utter despair and shock (because men in general don’t know how to handle women’s tears, especially when they are crying for several hours lol). They tried to smile and maybe talked some Chinese to me, but that didn’t work. Whenever they smiled, I was reminded of what I am leaving behind and started to cry again. When I looked out of the window and saw the nature around, it made me cry as well. I thought that life is so unfair and that the hole inside me will never be filled again.
But that wouldn’t be me if I already weren’t plotting how to get back there as soon as possible. And so I decided that after I finish my Master’s degree I will be studying Chinese language. In Xiamen. At Xiamen University. Period. And as Paulo Coelho says, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it“, and so 8 months later my friend and I boarded a plane to Hong Kong and another year-long adventure could start. The universe must have conspired a bunch because I also got the Chinese Government scholarship for students of Chinese language (that’s not the official name FYI) which (kind of) helped with my financial situation.
And as I expected, the whole ‘Xiamen magic’ started all over again. At least for a while. We found okay apartment quite soon after we came to XM, 珍珠奶茶 (bubble milk tea) and 西红柿炒鸡蛋 (fried egg and tomato) tasted as good as I remembered, I had great classmates and by the greatest accident of them all, I also found love – an unexpected boyfriend who made my year sometimes bitter, but mostly sweet. But life always happens and things never stay like that 😉
First semester passed by and many things changed – we were no longer friends with my BFF who came with me to China, school was getting difficult and some heartbreaks happened as well. Before the exam period started, my only regimen was to wake up at 6 to catch a bus to school (and 6 is way too early for me), learn Chinese, get some lunch and 12, catch a bus back home, go running (15k at least – I was training for Xiamen marathon) and go to sleep. And try not to think about my broken heart and that I will be spending Christmas alone. But then my family visited in January and we traveled across China for 3 weeks. And I was finally happy again.
And as it usually happens in times like this, lost boyfriends may be found again and by being happy, you start to attract more happiness into your life. Remaining six months passed by very fast and I was deciding if I should stay longer in China studying the language or start to work there as a kindergarten teacher. I applied for another scholarship and hoped that will be awarded one more time (since I managed to pass my finals). But that obviously wasn’t meant for me, so I was searching for a job. And I found one, actually. But my financial situation wasn’t that great and I didn’t know what to do about it for the next 2-3 months. I didn’t know if I will be able to get working visa in China or at least student visa if I apply to another language studies. But that would involve paying the tuition fees and as I said, I was on a tight budget back then. I felt really hopeless because I didn’t know what to do. It all seemed like suddenly everything is working against me staying in China. My boyfriend left to his country and didn’t want to study in China anymore. I didn’t get the scholarship, didn’t have a job, friends left Xiamen as well and I had to move out soon.
I called my mom, crying, telling her I don’t know how to continue. And she said the most simple thing that actually never occurred to me: ‘So then just come home, no?’ And this was epiphany for me.
I was so relieved and knew that that’s the thing I have to do. Come home, not to stay in China. I bought a plane ticket which was leaving at the end of July 2014, packed my things, said bye to those few friends that stayed in Xiamen and left. Happily.
Little did I know that I’ll be back really soon.
Being in Czech, I found a job in Prague after a while (which is still my current job) and in few months I was sent on a project… To China. So in October 2015 I landed in Wuhan. Wuhan is a pretty big city with bad infrastructure and heavy air pollution. It was the exact opposite of Xiamen – sunny island with fresh sea air. My new temporary ‘home’ had 10 million residents (the same like in whole Czech) and traffic jams were happening on a daily basis. Weekends were the worst though – driving 5km took us 30 to 60 minutes in general but to walk instead wasn’t a better option either. The roads were dirty and muddy, extremely huge crowds of people were blocking your way constantly and I felt more stressed in the streets than in the traffic jam. So the best thing to do was to leave Wuhan during weekends. I managed to visit many new (and also old and familiar) places and every month and half I was flying back to Czech for a week. Just to maintain some level of sanity 😀
In February/March I was moved to ever bigger shithole than Wuhan – to Wenzhou. Wenzhou is a city on the Eastern shore of China, close to Shanghai so one would think that the air and living conditions in general would be better. But nope. Even worse. The village I lived in until end of May had only around 200k residents (yes, it’s a village according to Chinese standards) and I witnessed the worst air pollution ever in there. It was the first time I realized my health was affected by it – trouble breathing, raised heart rate and some mild cough. Every time an opportunity arose I fled Wenzhou – to Shanghai, Xiamen, Hainan.. Anywhere. And so finally at the end of May I was released from my temporary prison and flew to Japan for another project. I thought I am on a different planet when I arrived, but that’s for some other time 😉
So my last time in China made me really sick of it. Literally. I started to hate the language, food, those people that follow their government like stupid sheeps and don’t do anything to improve their lives. Yes, there were some bright moments during those last 8 months but not that many. I was boyfriend-less (since the beginning of the project actually because there was no time for relationship, unfortunately. And kinda still isn’t until now 🙁 ), in a country I started to hate, with no friends around, eating this unhealthy Chinese food (because fresh veggies is a big NO for them), living in one suitcase and always on the move.
So I was glad when this period of my life ended. The brightest moment of this all was to visit Yunnan (I already blogged about it) because it led me to Himalayas. I started my blog right after and the Yunnan trip made me realize that it’s possible to travel to remote areas alone. Because you will always find like-minded people along the way so it won’t feel that scary the whole time. So I guess it happened again – everything bad is good for you in a way 🙂
That was my not-so-short introduction to China and I hope it gave you some overall picture of this country, from my perspective though. I decided I will split my stories based on the cities (or some small areas of China) I visited because that would be the easiest thing to do. Posts will appear here on the go and will write only when I have time, sorry for that in advance. The backlog I have is enormous and it will take a loooong time before I cover everything, so be patient 🙂