I actually wrote this while on the plane home; we are now back in Vancouver and enjoying catching up with friends and family and drinking tons of water!
Here we are, at the end of our adventure. It’s hard to believe it has gone by already. As I sit on the plane heading for my Canadian home, I think back on all of experiences and feel bittersweet. We are happy to be heading back to see our family and friends, but feel that we are leaving a family behind. How do you explain all of the things that we have been through, happy or sad? We had a rough start to our journey, but in the end, I am glad we stayed. We have both grown, I think, in our own ways through this whole thing, and that is what I will be taking away from it. I conquered crossing the street – probably the scariest thing I have ever done…….it may even beat the 6 day hospital stay due to an annoying appendix problem! We both became more adventurous in what we ate, or tried to eat, hahahaha! Bruce learned so much Chinese that I really didn’t need to, since we spent 24/7 together! We became each other’s best friend, no matter what came our way. When you are in a foreign country, you don’t speak the language, and you don’t know your way around, you have to rely on each other, or everything falls apart. Ultimately, that defeats the purpose of going on adventure together.
We have definitely learned that as Canadians, we take so much for granted. Just the simple act of the freedom of communication with family and friends, or watching your favourite television show becomes all the more important when you can no longer do it because of government restrictions. China is waging a war with google, which hampered our attempts at using the Internet more times than I can remember. Having clean drinking water, and breathing clean air are things that are so natural for us in Canada but in China, it’s not much of a concern. In the past year, we had smog levels reach record highs ( we had a couple of days where we were not able to go outside), 16,000 dead, diseased pigs dumped into the water supply, 20,000 chickens culled because of the Avian flu, restaurant owners and street vendors passing cat and rat meat off as lamb, and finding out that the bottled water we were drinking was actually coming from a drainage ditch! Did the Chinese people cry and complain? Not much that we heard about; they seemed to laugh it off and just keep going. That is another thing I will take from China: perseverance. Nothing seems to phase them, they pick themselves up and keep going. Never has the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff” meant more to me than now. We took it all in stride, and had some great laughs over these experiences. Laughing kept us going when we got homesick, when we got frustrated and when we just couldn’t do anything else but laugh. The Chinese have far more patience with government red tape than is humanly possible. There is a chain of command for information, and most times we were at the end of that chain, getting tidbits here and there of what we needed. It’s an amazingly frustrating sequence of events which were filled with the 3 favourite answers of our liaison when we asked for details on things we needed: someday, maybe and not exactly.
Now don’t think we are taking away only the negative sides of dealing with a foreign government. We became quite close with our Chinese staff, having them over for a dinner party a couple of times. We collaborated on many things at school, and they included us in some of the things they were doing. We also got to know our students so well that I have every single email address for them all! We will miss them terribly and it saddens me that we won’t see them grow further with their English and their other achievements. Their personalities really came through and we had a lot of fun with them. I hope to see some of them going to university here in Vancouver when the time is right.
Shanghai is an amazing, vibrant city, and very international! We met people from Germany, Poland, Australia, France, and Denmark, just to name a few! My favourite place to go walking was along an area called “the Bund”, a huge boardwalk of sorts along the river. It is a great place to people watch, and there are also people from all over China there too, all wanting their picture taken with us…..real Canadians! We made friends almost everywhere we went, even, or should I say especially, when we were the only Caucasian people around! One of the things we liked most was that it didn’t matter what time of the night it was, the whole city felt safe. We walked some nights at 10pm or later, and never felt like we shouldn’t have been out and about. They have the most amazing subway system I have ever seen, and taxis are plentiful and very cheap! Surprisingly, I truly haven’t missed driving a car for the past year. It will be strange to get behind the wheel again!
We also got the chance to travel to Thailand……I almost didn’t come back. Although we didn’t really enjoy Bangkok – the smog, the traffic…..- we LOVED Koh Samui. It was as if someone flipped the switch, and we went from hustle and bustle to laid back, relaxed and learning to enjoy the small things while the rest of the world kept spinning. The people of Thailand have to be the most welcoming people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Even though they may not have much in the way of material things that we consider essential, they smile all the time. As we say in Chinese, ” Mei wenti” which means, ” no problem”.
All in all, I am so grateful we had the opportunity to do this. Yes, at times it was scary, but the good times far outweighed the scary ones, and we come away richer for it. I could go on for days about all of our experiences, but hopefully our blog has given a sense of what life has been like for us the past little while. It also serves as a great reminder of those things for us, since some of them became common place for us and run the risk of being forgotten. For all of our friends staying longer in our “second home” city, we don’t say,”Goodbye”, we say “See you Soon!”