June 16, 2014

I Miss China

Ten years ago on this day I came home from teaching English in China. I had spent 4.5 months roaming around China and my journey came to an end. I was happy to be home, but I still missed some things about China. My story about China really starts about a decade before that.

While lying on my bed, I listened to Tori Amos's song China. Tori Amos communicated such longing that I felt it too. In 1994, I watched Chen Lu figure skate in the Olympics. She exuded joy after having won the bronze medal. I felt chills when I watched her performance as a butterfly in the 1998 Olympics.

While attending BYU, I signed up for a Mandarin course, but chickened out after the first day. I received a letter soon after from International Language Programs about volunteer teaching English abroad. Fate was calling: I signed up to go to China. On January 29, 2004, I squished between hundreds of passengers on a plane headed to China. After no sleep, I practically sleepwalked into the Shanghai airport. Sally, the English teacher coordinator, greeted us and led us to a bus. In a sleep deprived state, everything seemed even more foreign.

Over the next four months, I grew to love the people, the culture, and the land. The kindergarten students I taught sometimes drove me nuts, but other times we had so much fun. I got to know some of the other teachers and the vendors on the street by the school. I believe the vendors made a bigger profit while my group and I were teaching there. Our group bonded through all our travels and going around the city together.

The other teachers and I visited Shanghai, Beijing, the Great Wall, Suzhou, Yellow Mountains, and Xian during some of the weekends. With some of the native teachers, I visited the grave of some 'great teacher' and climbed to the top of a mountain. I was so confused when the Chinese teachers called him Kongzi. When they called him a great teacher so many times, I realized they meant Confucius. So now I know we had hiked to the Temple of Confucius in Qufu, Shandong and visited his grave.

I saw people who were so poor and others who were richer. I felt so rich even though I grew up in the lower middle class. I saw very poor sanitary conditions and others that were better. I remember the smell of fermenting tofu and pollution mixing in the streets. I learned to use chopsticks and I still use them when I eat Chinese take-out. I can't waste such a valuable skill of wielding chopsticks!

I learned some Chinese--mostly bartering. I've since forgotten most words and I never knew how to spell them. Most of the people appreciated that I tried to speak to them in their native language. I sometimes used Spanish instead since I was mixing a second language with a third language I was learning.

My journey through China taught me so much. I'm so glad I went even though I was homesick at times for American food, toilets instead of squatters, potable water from the tap, clean air, and understanding everyone. I missed my family too, but it was worth it. On humid and smoggy days, I want to drag my husband and kids to China. They'd learn to love it like I do.