The halls of Livon

The United Experimental School of Ahsju and Livon is the name of the school I have taught at this year.

36e9cc5f06b5ace27e4e1b9d080a43e8436c91de

This school was amazing for so many reasons (the students, the teachers) but the sheer size of this school was incredible.  It looks like a shopping centre.

f604e4fd9036153bd20a0d375ad3043448555fa9

From the cafeteria that can seat at least 800 people to the auditorium that seats over 1,000 people, to the size of the classrooms ~ I have never seen an elementary school this size before.

9f661896a3bb9b7bb2cd4a79ed71c45509f3a817
There are 5 floors, the first being the library, the offices, the cafeteria, auditorium, and the special classrooms. The remaining floors are all classrooms for grade 1 up to grade 9.
It is only two years old so it mostly comes with modern amenities (except modern toilets ~ thank goodness they have handicap toilets for those of us who don’t like squatting).

5307d8120b72bff299e73246a9db9f3041cbbdac

It really is a sight to see!!  I am so proud to have been part of this school!

 

Saying so long to new friends

I am an outgoing person.  I will strike up a conversation with anyone, pretty much wherever I am.  If I see someone who looks like they probably speak English, I always say hello!  And that in turn has the person saying hello back, and we start a conversation – where are you from?  What are you doing here?  Almost always it is another teacher!  I have met people here in Changchun from South Africa, Australia, Morocco, USA, Canada and of course China. 

 

Chinese people can be very friendly once they get over their nervousness of trying to speak English.  About a year ago (end of August 2016), I had decided to explore Changchun and got on a bus not knowing where it was heading to.  I stayed on until the end, and discovered a beautiful park.  I wandered through it, and hoped my GPS on my phone would help me find my way back.  No such luck.  I did find a street that I recognized, but I had myself so turned around that I had no idea what way to go.

 

 Instead of panicking, I decided to wing it and just wander around until I found someone who might be able to help me.  I knew where I wanted to go and I knew the Chinese name for it. So off I went.  I remembered in the Czech Republic, my instincts always said ask a younger person because they will in all likelihood be studying or have studied English – and they will understand.  Well, I approached a young man at a bus stop, and asked him which bus I should take.  He understood me enough to be able to point me in a direction that would get me there.  I said thank you, and crossed the street to the other bus stop.  About two minutes later, he was there tapping me on my shoulder.  He had found an easier way for me to get to my destination, and walked me to the right bus stop.  We exchanged numbers and off I went.haha

Well, this very nice young man has become a very good friend of mine.  Zero is his English name (I cannot pronounce his Chinese name).  He introduced me to Cinderella and Nancy, and the three of them have all become very good friends.

 

Tonight we all got together and had a nice dinner together and then went to KTV, to say so long (I never say good bye!), and enjoy each other’s company one more time as a group.  They are all wonderful young Chinese people.  The two ladies are Chinese English teachers, and Zero works with computer software for schools (that’s what I understand anyway!).  The generosity (and I use that word a lot here in China but it’s so appropriate) of these people is overwhelming.  I am going to miss the three of them very much.  Zero wants me to come back next May for his wedding (sorry but I don’t think that is in my plan!). 

 

It’s amazing how getting lost in a foreign country can help you find lovely people that become close friends! I am very grateful for becoming friends with these three people.  It has made me enjoy my time here very much!

Community gardens

After a very rainy day yesterday, with temperatures dropping to the mid-teens finally, (and a decent sleep last night), the sun shone brightly this morning, and I decided to head out for a coffee and then a walk. 

 

The area of Changchun that I live in is very nice.  It’s a new community, with new buildings going up, and new shops opening.  The school I taught in is only two years old, and they are already improving it.  The population is exploding.  I enjoy walking in this area and feel safe at night walking too.

 

Today, I was on a mission.  I had seen the community garden back in May and it was starting to grow.  Some small unknown plants (a gardener I am NOT!) were sprouting at that time, and I had kept telling myself I needed to go back to see it.  Well I was not disappointed this morning!!

 

The growth in just two months is incredible. The sunflowers are tall and beautiful.  The corn stalks are up and there is corn for picking.  Eggplants are still small but they are coming along nicely.  And the tomatoes!!   They are all still green but my goodness there are hundreds of tomato plants!!!  I hope to get back to pick some fresh tomatoes before I leave, but I am not sure if they will be ripe enough for picking by then.

 

This community garden is a fantastic idea!  Anyone can come and pick produce from there.  You don’t need to pay for anything.  It is there for everyone.  And while I can recognize corn, eggplants and tomatoes – I have no idea what else is growing but there is a lot growing there and in abundance. 

 

This is a project that should be undertaken in all cities around the world in my opinion.  It is a great community project, everyone gets involved.  I saw at least four families there today weeding, and cleaning up the area.  Some were picking the eggplants – although I don’t think they were quite ready to be picked.  But who am I to say that – like I said I am not a gardener.

 

It is a fantastic idea to make the community stronger, and healthier, and to get the children participating in something that is good for them, their neighbours, and the environment!!   The children love telling me about it when they see me – they tell me what they have picked or planted and that they spend their time there with their grandparents and parents.  It really is an incredible thing to see. 

And this is another thing that I will miss about the area that I live in – the community and family feel.  The generosity and kindness that I see in these people to each other. 

In search of myself

When I first started traveling three years ago (which seems more like a lifetime ago!), I never really thought that I was in search of myself.  I just knew I needed a change in my life, that my job was making me feel stagnant, and that I was ready to discover more about the world.  I thought I was a well-grounded person then, who knew what she wanted and what she was going to do with the rest of her life.  What has happened in the past three years has definitely changed all of that thinking.

 

A friend asked me recently if I felt I had been “living a lie” before I started out on this new life.  If I had noticed a change in myself after a few short weeks of my new life.  I answered pretty quickly and said that while I didn’t think I had been living a lie, I think what I had been doing was living a life that everyone else was living.  A predictable, safe life.  Working 9-5, paying my bills, hanging out with friends.  Don’t get me wrong – I had a fun life in Calgary!  I worked at a great company, I had the best friends (and still have them!), and lived in a nice area in a nice house.  It was safe.  It was what everyone expected someone of my age to be doing.  And I really loved my life in Calgary.  So what made me want to leave such a great life?   I wanted to travel.  I wanted to live in another country. 

 

I never considered my life BP (before Prague) as an unhappy life.  Was it an unfulfilled life?  Yes, I believe that now.  My job, while it was a really good job, was just that.  A job.  Not a career.  Not something I could see myself doing for years (even though I had done it for almost 30 years).  I knew in my heart that there was something more that I wanted to do, and that I just needed to find out what it was.

 

One month after arriving in Prague, I graduated from my TEFL program, and was officially a TEFL certified teacher.  I knew right then that my life had changed.  I knew I would never go back to my old life.  I knew that Europe was where I was going to be for a while.  Prague was amazing.  I found my self-confidence grew while I was there.  I found out that I loved teaching – that teaching was not a job but a career.  My self-esteem improved.  I no longer felt awkward.  I no longer felt like I was in the shadows of someone else, trying to show that I was just as good as they were.  I no longer felt that I needed to be in a relationship to be truly happy. 

 

So, almost three years later, I can answer that question my friend asked me honestly.  No, I wasn’t living a lie.  I was living my BP life.  I was living the life I needed to then.  I am now living the life I dreamt of, and am happier than I have ever been!  I don’t regret a moment of my BP life, nor do I regret any moment I have had since leaving Canada.  I am happy.  I am content.  And I am strong.  That is the biggest thing I have learned about myself.  The strength I have inside.  And I am now ready for my SA life!!  (South American life haha).

Sun coats and sun umbrellas

Summer in Northeast China – I had thought, incorrectly, that being so far North that the summers would not be too hot and definitely hot humid.  I was VERY wrong!!

 

Last August when I arrived, the heat and humidity were shocking.  I just thought maybe it was a fluke.  Nope. This summer, the heat and humidity started in early June.  I live in an apartment with no fridge and no fan (which I have wanted to buy but have had no luck in finding!). At least with a fridge, I could stick my head in for a few minutes to cool down but no such luck!  It is even unusual to find a shopping  centre with air conditioning to escape to.

When I lived in Canada, I would notice Asian women walking around with umbrellas in the summer. I always thought that was very strange and could not understand why they do that.  Now that I have been living here for a year, I understand.  They want to protect themselves from the heat and humidity.  They also want to make sure they do not get tanned and are protecting their skin.  The women who see me walking around without an umbrella or a hat on (yeah yeah I know – I should wear a hat – I just hate hats) will come up to me and gesture to my head, and my skin.  Some have even pointed at the freckles I have on my chest from too much sun in the past.  They appear very concerned for my well-being (or perhaps they are pointing at me and talking about me to each other – which is of course very possible!).  I have not succumbed to buying a hat or using an umbrella (I have started using sunscreen though!), although the umbrellas they use to protect them from the sun are beautiful!!

Suncoats are something new for me to see.  I had seen people wearing them and had asked one of my Chinese friends about them – and they are thin coats with UV protection in them.  I am not even sure how that works – but when looking at them at a store, they had an English label confirming that it had UV protection.  They are popular with the younger generation.  I still find it quite odd that when the temperatures are in the mid- to upper-30s (as they have been the past two or three weeks every single day), there are so many people covered from head to toe!!  Yes wearing hats is a sensible thing to do.  I understand the umbrellas.  But being completely covered up and clearly sweating profusely doesn’t sound like much fun to me!  I am a menopausal woman – hot flashes and ridiculously high temperatures are enough to make me want to walk around naked outside!!  I could not imagine wearing so many clothes during a heat wave.

This is just another Chinese thing that I find very interesting!!

 

 

Lessons I have learned in China

In less than a month, I will be leaving China.  Am I excited?  Yes!  I cannot wait to explore more of the world, and to be honest, I am excited to leave China.  I have learned a lot about myself while here, and I know I will be taking with me some newfound knowledge of China and of myself.

So what have I learned?  And what have I not learned?  I have not learned Mandarin, or at least not very much of it.  It is a very difficult language to learn.  I have learned to count. I can understand, if they speak very slowly, how much things cost.  I can say hello (ni hao), and I can say good bye – this is the easiest because they all say Bye Bye!  (ha – easiest Chinese lesson ever!).

I have learned that authentic Chinese food is amazing!!  So many dishes – chicken dishes, jiao zi (dumplings), bao zi (which is a steamed bun with a little bit of meat inside it), tofu (dof), noodles, rice.  So many delicious foods, so many names I don’t know how to pronounce or write.  I have had a few dishes that I have not enjoyed, but I would say 95% of what I have tried here has been so good.  I have even enjoyed the cauliflower concoction (for lack of a better word) that they served at the school.  With hot peppers in it.  Hot peppers and cauliflower together – two things I would never eat in Canada – and yet here, so good!!

I have learned that the Chinese people, where I live, are some of the most generous people that I have ever met.  From helping me find somewhere (actually taking me there, even if it is a 15 minute walk out of their way), offering me drives (people I know have done this), buying me meals, and just being patient with me while I try to understand what they are saying.  I will never forget the generous nature of the people in Changchun.

I have learned patience.  Not just from my teaching either.  This country has tried my patience on many occasions.  Between miscommunication and non-communication about work matters.  About salary issues.  About times for meetings.  I have learned that being patient is the only way to deal with it.
I have learned to live in the moment.  This relates to the patience as well.  Does it matter that I am early and the others are late?  No not really.  Does it matter that it starts to rain while I am out with groceries in hand and no umbrella?  No – it’s just rain.  I will dry off when I get home (this happened yesterday haha).  Does it matter if the bus is overcrowded? No – I can wait for another one or take a cab.  Patience, living in the moment – it all works together.  I am now at a place in my mind that getting upset over some things really isn’t worth my time or energy.  I just now go with the flow as much as I can.
I have learned to overcome my fears.  My fear of eating in a restaurant where I don’t know how to read the menu.  Fears of unknown food and how I will react to it.  Fears of being lost in a foreign city.  Fears of not being understood.  I understand now how it must feel for foreigners and immigrants coming to Canada for the first time, trying to read signs or menus, or just trying to communicate on how to get somewhere.  It is daunting and, as a solo traveler, it can be scary.  Overcoming my fears has been my biggest challenge here.  When I first arrived in Changchun, I was scared.  I was looking at the signs, and only seeing Mandarin, I thought – my God what have I done?  I can’t read anything, I have no idea where I am – it was the scariest moment in my life.  But I overcame that – and for that I am very proud of myself.

I think what I have learned most during my time in China is how strong I am.  And how brave I am.  It was not an easy decision to do this, and while it was very scary, I did it.  I know I can go anywhere now and survive.

Don’t be afraid to get out there and try new things.  You will not be disappointed!

 

South American Dreams


One month TODAY, I will be landing in Santiago, Chile!!  I have enjoyed, for the most part, my time in China but I am SO excited to be heading to the southern hemisphere and a brand new continent!

 

My South American journey has many places to see, and things to do.   I cannot wait to get started on this next chapter of my life!!  Here are just a few things I want to see and do!

 

1.       The Atacama desert – I have been doing research about the desert, and this is something I cannot miss while in Chile!!   San Pedro de Atacama looks so charming, and there are reasonably priced tours to go and observe the stars, and be mesmerized by the sky.  I cannot wait to be there!!

2.       Eat empanadas from a street vendor in Santiago – there are many street markets in Santiago, and I want to see everything, and inhale all the delicious smells of Chile, and enjoy a freshly made empanada.  
 

3.       Enjoy Chilean wine – I am not a big wine drinker but I do know that Chile has some of the best wine in the world, and I am going to try it while I am there.  

4.       Valparaiso and Vina del Mar – these ocean cities are a bus ride away from Santiago.  I want to be by the ocean, enjoy fresh seafood, and take a walk on the beach.

5.       Ride a bike through the countryside of Chile, near the Andes.  

 

There are so many things I want to do and to see in my life.  These are just a few that I know I can accomplish this year.   Any suggestions of other things I shouldn’t miss?