Jul 26, 2013

The next step: A wider world beckons

Or, why Luzhou is a great first home in China

The Tuo River
Luzhou is ChinaLuzhou is ChinaLuzhou is China
Our beloved Luzhou has been good to us, and wonderfully, unrelentingly Chinese.

We had a plan when we moved here. Or a good guess at least. We’d start someplace small and remote, get settled and comfortable, learn the new life skills we need, and hang out with people who hadn’t already seen a thousand expats come and go. From there, world domination!

Two years in, the first stage is going swimmingly. Having put ourselves in a situation where we’re truly forced out of our comfort zones — without the temptation of taco nights and perfect pizzas — we’ve made even greater strides that we’d initially hoped.

We work hard, of course, but Luzhou works us even harder. There are days that I leave the house feeling sick or tired, or lazy or shy; or I don’t want to endure a hundred stares or get my picture taken with strangers; or for whatever other reason want to give myself a break from being a foreigner. But, too bad for me: someone’s going to speak Chinese to me, and I’m going to speak it back. And it’s always amazing.

It’s also difficult and incredibly stressful. In the beginning, we’d only rarely venture more than walking distance from the school because the taxis and buses were too much to handle. Buying vegetables at the markets, I’d just keep putting down money until the merchant said to stop. (I was very lucky that no one took advantage of us!) We ate dinner at the same place every night for an entire year. We’ve gotten braver and better since then, but I’d say that China’s still winning.

Each victory, however, has been worth it: realizing the woman at our bodega was our buddy, and cheering on each new word I demonstrated to her; the first time I told a taxi where to go instead of showing the driver an address someone else wrote; finding a new restaurant other than sticks, and then more new restaurants after that, and only once accidentally ordering chicken feet; recognizing words from my Chinese lessons out in the wild and being able to have conversations; actually being able to read a note a new friend had written to us.

While we’re not quite ready to leave this all behind, we can see that it’s time to start prepping for phase two. We’ve got a good grounding in the basics of living in China, and inoculated against the pleasures and temptations of the expat bubble, we can trust ourselves to mix and mingle in a more international city. Beijing and Shanghai sound like they exist in another universe, however, and we really like being in the wilds of west China, so we looked around a little closer to home.

When we started trying out Kunming — capitol of nearby Yunnan province — as a future destination, our friends here universally cited the year-round great weather and beautiful scenery as pluses. “It’s the city of eternal spring,” every single one of them said to us. That sounded perfect, especially coming off a second winter with inadequate indoor heating here in Luzhou. Further research promised: art galleries, multiple live music venues, fried goat cheese, a clear blue sky most days, good western-style bartenders, a walkable city with beautiful architecture, affordable apartments, plenty of jobs for ESL teachers, pizza …

We tried not to mentally move there overnight. Let’s be realistic, we told each other. We didn’t want to inflate our Kunming of the mind to a cheese-paved paradise that no real life city could measure up to. But we did book plane tickets.

Kunming is also China
Look out, Kunming. We’re coming for you next.