Sunday, October 19: I spend this entire weekend not talking to a soul. So, I feel pretty depressed and lonely as I go out for a bicycle ride and a walk around the East Campus this Sunday morning. I want to walk around the grounds of the Agricultural College because there’s a lot of farmland on this part of the campus. The residences look different as well, and several somewhat scenic ponds dot the area. I already made a long trek yesterday to the Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden, so today I want to stay close to home while having a little change of scenery.
Luckily I did speak by Skype to Mike, plus I had some nice back and forth “comment” banter with fellow blogger Dai of An Englishman’s life in Kathmandu and Jo of Restless Jo. I also shared some Facebook comments with people. That’s kind of sad when your only communication is through a computer screen.
I’ve found it hard to connect with anyone here in China, other than on a superficial level, for several reasons. The other teachers certainly seem friendly enough. That’s not it. It’s more just an inability to find people with the same interests and energy level as me.
It seems that the younger teachers gravitate toward their cohorts; I can’t say I blame them for that. I did the same when I was their age.
All of the other teachers, bar none, have been in China for years; I am the ONLY teacher here who has just arrived in the country. Those expats have traveled extensively and seem to be content to just hang around close to home on weekends.
A lot of people work part-time jobs outside of the university, doing online teaching or teaching kindergarten or private students. Other people are involved in work that doesn’t involve teaching English. Many of the older men here have Chinese wives and the younger men have Chinese girlfriends, so they’re occupied with their partners.
Sometimes I ask my colleagues what they did on the weekend, and they say they worked all weekend or they “did nothing.” Or they are trying to complete a graduate degree and had a paper due. Some people have told me they’re here to make money and don’t want to make any friends or go out spending money.
If someone is trying to make money, I honestly can’t figure out why on earth they came to China. I make less than half of what i made in Oman. Even Korea and Japan pay better than China, if the Middle East is not someone’s cup of tea.
Because of this lack of connection with anyone, I’m becoming increasingly frustrated. I feel isolated and disconnected. It doesn’t help that we have offices at the university that no one uses. Sure, I can go use mine, but no one else will be there. We go to class and then we sometimes go have lunch after class, and then everyone disappears into their own worlds.
It’s a paradox that I’m happy to NOT have to keep office hours, yet I’m disappointed that I’m missing the socializing that often occurs in the office. At this college, much like at Northern Virginia Community College, no office hours are required. We do our preparation and marking at home, show up for class, and go back home. In Oman, I had to come into the office every day from 8-4. Though I hated having to keep office hours, especially when I didn’t have enough work to fill my time, I did like the opportunity to socialize. I made my closest friends in the university office: Mario, Kathy, Anna, Tahira, Mona Lisa. We became friends by hanging out and chatting in the office.
In Oman, it took five months before Mario and I became friends. And it took even longer to become best of friends; of course every friendship needs time to develop. I keep reminding myself it took that long. I don’t even really hope to find a friend like Mario; friends like him in life are very rare indeed. But I do keep hoping to find a partner in crime, someone who is not desperate to save money, someone who likes to go out and explore, someone who enjoys photography, someone who guards their free time and doesn’t let work encroach on it. Someone laid back, yet with a sense of adventure. It hasn’t happened yet.
I don’t understand people who say they don’t want to have friends while here. That makes for a lonely existence. Sure, it’s great to be here to save money, but what about a life? I’ve always been a person who likes to balance work and pleasure. Just like everyone else, I have a lot of preparation and marking to do, but I’m determined not to work on weekends. I’m certainly not interested in taking on extra work.
I could be happy here, despite missing my husband and family. My job is actually one of the better jobs I’ve ever had. The students are sweet and hardworking, and I like the way the teaching schedule is set up. I don’t have much of a commute. I’m finished at noon three days a week, and one day I don’t go in until 2:40 and finish at 5:00. I only have to prepare four 80-minute classes a week, because I repeat the same classes for different students.
The only negatives really are the isolation, the hot and sticky weather, and the oily food that sometimes makes me sick. Oh, and the fact that sometimes the air conditioners don’t work in our classrooms; this makes me very grumpy. 🙂
This weekend, even though I had work I could have done, and I had plenty of free time on my hands, I didn’t do any work. I went on two outings, I took and edited a lot of photos, I wrote 3 blog posts, I watched Mad Men, which I’m now addicted to, and I spent hours researching places I could explore in Guangxi province over the coming weekends. I don’t have a long break until February, but at least twice a month, I could go on a weekend trip. If I have to go it alone, then so be it. I’m no stranger to traveling alone.
Tonight, I am feeling pretty melancholy, and it doesn’t help that I had a big glass of wine and watched one of my all-time favorite movies, Cairo Time, which tends to make me cry. I have no idea how many times I’ve watched this movie. I love it because it reminds me of my time in Cairo during the month of July in 2007. That was the first time I’d ever been to such an exotic place alone, and I never felt so alive, so aware of every moment. In all of my travels since Cairo, 16 countries in 5 years, I’ve always hoped to recapture that feeling of overwhelming awe that I had in Cairo. I’ve never experienced anything to match it since.
I just have to keep in mind my goals of travel, and forge ahead alone if necessary. I have plenty to blog about and plenty of pictures to take. I can watch TV series like Mad Men, watch movies, and read. I have a lot of books on my Kindle. And I can keep going out for walks and bicycle rides. I’m also due to start a free Basic Chinese class this Wednesday evening. That will be a fun challenge.
And of course I’ll look forward to having Mike come to visit in February, when we can travel around together. Though he’ll only be here for two weeks, I really hope someone else will come to visit, like my sons, or any of my friends. Anyone is welcome to visit while I’m here in China. I would love to have visitors!
I doubt I’ll never find a partner in crime like Mario, but at least I hope there’s someone here in China who I can connect with on a deeper level. Otherwise my time in China will be an awfully lonely time.