This year has involved a lot of soul searching (and a fair bit of job searching). The experience we had in China left a lot of scars that needed time to heal and part of that process was questioning EVERYTHING we thought we ever wanted.
We entered this phase of “what’s next?” with an open mind and few expectations. Sometimes that kind of detachment from a specific outcome pays off by bringing in exactly what you’re looking for.
We are moving to Thailand this summer and couldn’t be more excited. We had the privilege of experiencing Thailand quite a lot last year when we were trapped outside of China and cannot wait to get know this beautiful country better.
Ah, January 2020. When things still felt sort of normal and we were relatively unconcerned about coronavirus. We felt hopeful, even. We were finally starting to sort of get into a rhythm with our new school and city and were looking forward to an awesome trip to Japan, somewhere we had wanted to visit for years. We ate warm bowls of ramen, indulged in otaku culture in Osaka, and saw fabulous Shinto temples in Kyoto.
Sh*t got real in February. The virus was spreading quickly. China was going into lockdown. Our school advised those of us who were out of the country to stay out and prepare to teach online for two weeks. Like many of our colleagues, we made the move to Thailand since we couldn’t really afford two more weeks of Japan. We were pretty happy about this….at first. Two weeks of teaching from the beach while things calm down? That won’t be so bad!
Two weeks became a month. What was really going on? When could we get back? How long is this going to last? Our visa for Thailand was only good for 30 days…where were we going to go? Things were already getting bad in both Japan and Korea. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before the virus would reach us.
That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy some of that time. We split our time between Krabi and Chiang Mai, both of which exceeded our expectations.
We spent most of March in Cambodia – Siem Reap specifically. We had friends who worked at the same school who were also there, so that made the experience feel a little less insane…at least we had others who were going through the same thing. We also LOVED everything about Siem Reap. Amazing restaurants, amazing people, and Angkor Wat was a dream. I definitely plan to go back when the world is normal again.
Towards the end of March, we suddenly got a message from our school saying “COME BACK NOW”, just two days after a message saying “DON’T COME BACK” and at the same time as the American embassy said to get back to the U.S. A lot of mixed messages with very little explanation or transparency. In the end, we couldn’t get a ticket back the U.S. as many countries were closing their borders, so we took the chance on China and got in just days before they closed the border to all foreigners.
April was strange. We spent 15 days in a tiny quarantine hotel, half of which was supposed to be our “spring break”. When we finally made it home, it was nice to be in our own apartment for the first time in over three months. Living out of a backpack had definitely taken its toll. Life was seemingly more or less back to some sort of normal in Chongqing, save for the ultra anti-foreigner attitude and people in masks everywhere. Still, we were ready for some kind of normality.
May suuuuuuuuucked. The whole school got an email on a Monday evening telling us we would be informed by email the next day whether we had jobs for the next year or not. Enrollment was down and they were planning to cut 50% of stuff. We got the email the next day that we were both being laid off. It was terrible. After everything we had gone through, it felt like a slap in the face. Neither of us had ever lost a job before…and what a time to be suddenly unemployed. All travel between China and the rest of the world was shut down. Where were we supposed to go? What were we supposed to do? Looking back, I realized I should have been way less trusting of the school and demanded more transparency. You live and you learn, eh? Anyway, it was pretty rough being laid off towards the end of the school year, just a couple days before my birthday.
June was a lot of negotiating our termination contract and severance, while also trying to enjoy the last bit of time with our friends in Chongqing. We did a lot of touristy things around the city. We had decided not to bother with another school in China. So many of them were laying off teachers in droves. There were opportunities in Chinese schools, but I was sick of being at the mercy of schools in China. Very few of them were being honest with their staff. Yes, the U.S. was faring worse with the pandemic, but at least we wouldn’t be deported. The only issue remaining was a complete lack of flights, but our residence permits were good through August, so we knew we had a little time at least.
We made it home! We got to my sister’s house in Kansas City and I dyed my hair turquoise, because why the hell not!
Takeout tacos. Yoga. Art. Repeat.
We celebrated our 12th dating anniversary with a little outdoor date in downtown KC (since we had to spend our wedding anniversary in quarantine). Switched to purple hair. Got my yoga instructor license and mastered headstands (woohoo!)
Happy Halloween! Celebrated all month with crafts, treats, art, and costumes. Even with social distancing, it’s so much easier to feel the Halloween spirit in America. October is such a magical month.
YAY NEW PRESIDENT! Also, we moved to my mom’s, I started grad school, and the rigamarole of international job hunting began. Quite a busy month after such a relaxing summer! At least we get to hang out with this kitty.
Christmas at home for the first time in six years! It’s a little sad that there are a lot of people we still can’t see because of the pandemic, but it is nice to have a traditional Christmas for a change after so many years in places that don’t celebrate. I am grateful for this time to get back in touch with my roots a little and enjoy all of the hygge vibes.
2020 has certainly been a strange year of ups and downs. It certainly did not turn out how I expected it to, but it has taught me to be grateful for the little things and to get comfortable living in the present (and with uncertainty). I’m grateful for the lessons, experiences, and relationships that have gotten me through it. Here’s to hoping for a brighter 2021 and new adventures on the horizon!
It’s been almost a year since I’ve written anything….probably because I’ve been grappling with the nightmare that is COVID-19 for about as much time. Having just stepped out of Turkey, which – although a lovely place- was in the grips of economic downturn and political turmoil, we had hoped China would be an era of stability for us. Turns out we were really, really wrong.
Four months in, at the peak of culture shock and just before a much-anticipated Chinese New Year break, the news of a deadly epidemic was spreading like wildfire. Reluctantly, we went on our scheduled vacation to Japan…just days before we were to return, our school and the American embassy sent out a warning not to come back. What was supposed to be two weeks turned into to three months of e-learning, running out one visa and then another (we stayed in Thailand for about a month and a half and in Cambodia for a month). We were dealing with a school that was giving as little information as possible; one day, they would say “don’t come back to China” and the next they would say “buy a ticket and come back now!” When we did eventually go back, we endured a horrific quarantine, replete with anti-foreigner sentiment, being separated from my husband without being informed in advance, and not being fed or given water consistently for the first several days. The whole experience ruined China for me, frankly, which has been hard to deal with after falling in love with being an expat in Turkey.
To add insult to injury, just two weeks after we finally made it back home to Chongqing, my husband and I were laid off for the following school year, along with several other staff members due to declining enrollment.
I didn’t love the school or Chongqing, but it still felt like a punch to the gut. We really only had two choices: take another job in China, or go back to the U.S. to figure things out and be with our families. In the end, we chose the latter. Neither of us could really take much more of China or its schools.
And now here we are in America…which really can’t seem to get its shit together in this pandemic. We had initially toyed with the idea of teaching here, but seeing how political schools have become in all this -using teachers and students as sacrificial lambs for the economy- we just decided to take a year off and live off of our savings. It isn’t ideal, but we are lucky to have that option.
We’ve been back home in Kansas for about four months now, and it’s been pretty boring for the most part. But boring hasn’t been all bad after over a year of frequent turmoil.
2019 has been a strange year. A year of change, transition, ups, and downs. A year I’m ready to let go, but a year to remember nonetheless. I am hoping 2020 is a little more settled, a little more cheerful, but no less adventurous. Happy New Year.
These last few months have been dark, cold, and difficult for a number of reasons and I haven’t been in the right headspace to say much.
I still don’t feel at home in China just yet and culture shock has been a daily reality. The new job has proven itself to be quite stressful and time-consuming. The pollution has been worse since the seasons changed. The sun rarely shines here in winter. You get the drift.
I’m holding out hope for the best, but I know the only thing that will help this season pass is time and patience.
That’s not to say it’s been all bad. I am in a very cool Dungeons and Dragons campaign here, I’m sticking with my yoga class, and I got to see Disney on Ice (albeit in Chinese). I’ve hired a tutor and am taking private lessons, though I can’t say I’ve fallen in love with the language just yet.
This is all just to say I’m still alive and weathering the storm.
First term has come and gone. I can hardly believe it.
Back in Turkey, we spent most of our fall breaks in cold European cities, trying to find traces of autumn that would remind us of home. This year, we took a different approach, instead opting for summery island paradise. While I still long for colorful leaves and pumpkin spice everything, I can’t say I minded spending a week on the beach.
In the end, I had pumpkin spice anyway.
Adjusting to a new job and a new country is exhausting; often, so is traveling. We didn’t want to put too many expectations on our first vacation after a couple of stressful months, so we kept it low key: 1) Hotel by the beach 2) No plans.
Days went by with nothing but swimming, lounging on the beach, drinking out of coconuts, sipping on a few beers, and eating delicious Thai food. In other words, paradise.
After several joyful lazy days, we decided it was worth our while to book a tour and explore more of the island. We joined a half-day Phuket city tour and were the only ones who booked it, so we ended up getting a private tour for the same price as the group tour. Score!
Our first stop was Big Buddha, a monument dedicated to Buddha that overlooks the whole island and can be seen from most of it. As if the statue itself wasn’t enough of an attraction, the views from its platform were stunning.
Stop #2 was Chalong Temple, which was also gorgeous.
Last but not least, we had a couple of hours to explore Old Phuket Town, which is a delightful neighborhood full of beautiful pastel buildings, cool cafes, and interesting shops.
This rainbow building was my fave.
In the end, I may have had one too many Singha beers, bought more souvenirs than I really needed, and definitely left with a sunburn, but I can’t recommend Phuket enough. Is it touristy? Very. Is it fun? Absolutely. The Thai people are wonderful, kind, and friendly and English is widely spoken. The food is cheap, plentiful, and delicious. There is literally something for every kind of traveler, whether you want to be a beach bum, hike, or party until you drop. We chose to stay in Kata Beach, which is a quieter part of the island more suited to couples and families to avoid some of the more obnoxious crowds.
I left feeling refreshed, relieved at having survived my first couple of months in China, and excited to explore more of Thailand in the future.
Hongyadong, or Hongya cave, is an architectural oddity and key landmark of Chongqing. Though it is a modern building, it has been built to resemble traditional Chinese market halls. Each floor boasts a series of winding, narrow walkways filled with shops, restaurants, and stalls selling everything from carved wooden Buddhas to Dairy Queen Blizzards.
As an aside, there is a rumor that Hongyadong inspired the bathhouse featured in Spirited Away. I don’t think I buy it, but I do see the resemblance, which only made it feel more magical to walk through.
As you move to the upper floors, you can take in excellent views of the Chongqing Bridge as well as the meeting point of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers. It was lovely enough by day, but the view becomes even more spectacular at night, when the whole city lights up.
While we enjoyed the luminescent skyline, we decided to try the local specialty – hot pot. Hot pot is a sort of spicy fondue, except instead of cheese, everything is cooked in hot chili oil. It was pretty tasty (great with a cold beer!), but definitely not a quick meal, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re hangry.
After dinner, we walked along the bridge to get a view of Hongyadong from the river. This was easily the highlight of our visit. I’ll let the photos do the talking here.
It is a nice change of pace to be living in a city with so much to do and see. I’m looking forward to more local adventures.
We’ve officially been in China for two weeks and my head is definitely still spinning.
In a nutshell…the city is huge, the food is spicy, the weather is very hot, I am still processing a lot of information from our orientation, I start teaching next week, I also start my own classes next week, I optimistically joined a gym…and…that’s it so far.
Though we have been spending most of our time working, settling in, and trying to prepare for classes, we have tried to get out and explore this gigantic city a bit. We walked through the Expo Gardens (didn’t even scratch the surface on that place) for a bit of exercise one afternoon and we recently took a taxi into the city center to get a feel for some of the main squares.
I am very happy to report that I LOVE our new apartment and there is plenty to do in our neighborhood, including a fabulous gym and a great local cafe that sells good coffee and craft beers. It’s only a five minute walk to grab groceries, which is LIFE-CHANGING after living in the middle of nowhere in Turkey.
It is still taking some time to get used to everything being unfamiliar again. The language, culture, and landscape are all still alien to me, so I am looking forward to getting to know it all better.
Yes, we are here and settling in, but before I talk about that, I feel compelled to talk about our hectic, brief summer in the U.S.
We knew this summer would be unpredictable. International moves always are. I’ve learned by now that the visa process is usually one big question mark until it isn’t. It makes it difficult to plan much because everything has to revolve around the visa timeline and (of course!) you can’t make appointments.
Amidst the chaos of moving from Turkey to the U.S. and then packing again for China, 5 weeks of rapid couchsurfing around Kansas, and going to Chicago for our visas, we did manage to enjoy ourselves a bit.
Indulge me as I go through the highlight reel:
Hanging out with my grandma’s adorable cats!
Eating my grandma’s peanut butter pie!
Enjoying a beautiful Chicago summer with my partner in crime while we waited for our visas to be processed
Trying aerial yoga for the first time (loved it!)
Drinking wine in the Flint Hills
Drinking more wine…this time from the wine box we sealed at our wedding. As it was our 5th wedding anniversary, we got to open this bottle and replace it with another (to be opened on our 10th.)
Saying goodbye (for now) to the U.S. and hello (or nihao, rather) to a new adventure.
So there you have it. A very brief recap of an all-too-brief summer. More to come on China soon!
As I type this, I am sitting in my grandmother’s air conditioned house on a hot Kansas afternoon, trying to find the right words. To be honest, I still haven’t processed it all yet. Leaving Turkey felt like stepping through a portal from one universe to another. There is a piece of me that still thinks it will all be there waiting for me exactly as I left it, even though my head knows I won’t be going back for quite some time.
I didn’t sleep the night before I left. The day was filled with tearful goodbyes to students, colleagues, and dear friends, followed by an epic Turkish party at night. We were packing until the very last second. I wouldn’t have left any other way.
I am so tremendously thankful for the memories, the people, and the life-changing experiences.
Her şey için teşekkürler, Türkiye. Sizi özleyeceğim.