Beijing: One Month In

Six months ago, I had no intention of ever visiting China, Asia, or anywhere in the remote vicinity. My life was so strange and confusing, and I actually thought I would be moving back to Chicago from San Francisco. Out of the blue, something popped up in SF that offered me the stability that would surely cure my troubles. I started making friends and enjoying the city for the first time in a few years. I did things that I had been meaning to do because I finally could. Yet the happiness I was expecting never came. I felt ashamed for betraying the situation around me just like I had in the past and for considering something so detrimental to the career path I had barely stumbled onto, but I needed something dramatic that would stop this stuff once and for all. I considered trying weird medicine that would miraculously put my life on track, but I decided that seeing the world might be the cure for my enigmatic ailments. Before giving up a good thing, however, I needed to find something specific to care about and work toward.

So I did a Google search for jobs that require travel and applied to teach English in Beijing, and I had an interview the following week, and I got offered the job the following day, and I had to jump through hoops and revisit burned bridges just to get the extremely complicated visa arrangements in order, and I lived dual lives for an insanely stressful two months until I knew for sure was going, and then it became a reality, and then I had to tell everyone, which included my employer, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I had to look at myself in the mirror on a daily basis and ask myself how stupid could I possibly be?, and I started to finally feel at home in my quiet little SF neighborhood, and I started having second thoughts, and everything started having a “last supper” feel, and I knew I couldn’t go, and then I went, and now here I am.

It’s been a month now. No revelations yet, but I’ve been so busy with training, finding an apartment, doing visa stuff, and hanging out with the amazing girlfriend that I still don’t feel like I have arrived. I’m teaching about 90% full-time now, and by the end of the month, I’ll be at 100%. They really throw you in the mix right from the start, but I actually like that. Each class topic is pre-arranged, and the lesson plans are partially planned with plenty of room for creativity. Some of the lessons are really cool, and other ones are a little more interesting… There are two main types of classes: workshops for up to 25 students and “face-to-face” classes of up to 4 students that have more of a tutoring feel. I struggled with the workshops at the beginning because I am so terrible at speaking in front of people, but I have definitely improved. Some classes have gone really well, and I pat myself on the back for accomplishing something in a field I never ever dreamed of entering in my life. Oh, I teach adults. In my interview, they mentioned they preferred kids’ teachers, and I said absolutely not. I am happy with that decision because the adults (usually in their 20s and 30s) are pretty cool, but the downside is that they usually work in some capacity, meaning night and weekend classes. My hours are definitely not conducive to doing things like learning Mandarin, seeing the city while things are actually open, and hanging out with the girlfriend. It’s difficult, but it’s a one-year contract, and I will just “play it by year.”

I’ve tried lots of new foods already. I’m quickly getting used to the cultural differences, but the one thing that still confounds me is the madness that happens at intersections.

Also, it’s true that everyone thinks Americans are handsome. It’s nice at first, but it’s already lost meaning. I get weird looks in some parts of the city and in my apartment complex, especially while wearing the smog mask, but there were times when I felt like a foreigner even in the US, so I’m used to it. Speaking of the apartment complex, I live in a cheap 4-bedroom place that’s actually pretty nice, but the shower is not divided in any way from the rest of the bathroom. You just turn it on and go, and after you’re done, there’s an absolute mess of water everywhere. It’s pretty common here, but I don’t know why.

Also, there’s no dryer. It takes like three days for pants to dry.

I thought I saw crowds in big cities before, but it’s truly hard to imagine such a large amount of people in places like the subway and tourist sites until you see it with your own eyes. It’s crazy.

This is honestly the first piece of writing I’ve done in China. There’s other stuff to write about, and maybe I’ll have more time to share my experiences going forward. I’m still getting a feel for my surroundings.

Talk to you later.

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