The first time I found myself leaving China it was for good. My wife and I worked as teachers at York English for over a year, and it was an incredible time. We travelled, made lifelong friends, had wild new experiences, and lived a type of carefree existence few will have the pleasure of knowing.
We were also able to save enough money during this time to fund a journey that would take us around south-east Asia, Italy, Scotland, England, and France.
It was for that second leg of our journey that we packed our bags and said a fond farewell to China, knowing we would never step foot in our cherished Zhong Guo again…or so we thought.
That was in 2014. It’s now 2019, and I’m about to make another final farewell as I’m leaving China.
Picture this if you will (sadly, if you’re a millennial, it won’t be hard). It’s towards the end of 2017. I’m back living in New Zealand. My wife and I rent a small one bedroom apartment that somehow absorbs most of our paychecks. We are comfortable, but struggling to save. Saving seems pointless though as the housing market is so bad that home-ownership is less likely than my arts degree becoming valuable to employers.
We needed a change. We needed to drastically improve our chances of buying a home before we turn 50, and honestly we just wanted a better quality of life while we saved for a pipe-dream of a future.
It was with these thoughts that we ventured back to China, looking to recreate the magic we found 5 years earlier.
I was working as an editor for a TV station in Auckland. Because of these skills I fortuitously got a job back with York English as their video producer. My wife convinced her bosses to let her work remotely.
It was a smooth transition back to a company and city we knew well and loved. Fuzhou was our home once again; A 3rd tier, tropical city of 7 million people, on the east coast of China. A city where, as a foreigner, you can live a life so comfortable you’ll forget about your worries back home. Much had changed in the time we’d been away, and honestly so had we.
The first time I came to China I was in my mid 20s.
I was bright-eyed and bushy tailed, ready for any new experience no matter the form they took. Often it took the shape of late-night bars, the trading of stories with new friends while eating questionable street-food, and viewing teaching as a stepping stone from one crazy adventure to the next. I was practically made of rubber, bullet-proof, and able to make it through every day and night with youthful abandon.
Now in my early 30s, it’s a much different, but just as enjoyable existence.
I love my job and know it’s the reason I’m here. My body has become brittle and bemoans any late night shenanigans by making me feel awful for two days after. China’s new found love of craft beer has coincided with mine (I promise I’m not a snob), and I’ll trade a night at any loud club for a quiet one on the couch with my wife. That’s what’s amazing about China, it can indulge just about anyone’s way of living. That goes for the food.
I gave up eating meat when I turned 18, my wife likewise. So, our first time in China was a meat-less affair, which we were to learn wasn’t the easiest thing to achieve in a country that LOVES to eat animals. ALL the animals. Even some we had never heard of. We were just naive though. Once we learned what to say, where to eat, and where to shop, it wasn’t a huge issue. Now Fuzhou is much better at catering to vegetarians. You can even find stores stocking vegan and gluten free items. What a world.
These new initiatives were not much of a concern for my wife and I as we returned to China with our new found…meatism? We made sure to make up for lost time by devouring every dish that was previously off limits.
I could spend a lifetime in China just eating.
However, you can’t just spend all your time in China eating (no matter how much you want to). The country also contains some of the most stunning sights you can see on this little blue rock.
Even though our goal has been saving, we’ve still managed to rack up plenty of travel around the regions: Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin, Xiamen, Hong Kong (Thrice), The Great Wall (Twice) have all been ticked off, along with Taiwan, Phuket, and Boracay outside of China.
When a low cost of living combines with a job that offers plenty of holiday you really can have your cake and eat it too (I need to move on from food).
What hasn’t changed through the years is how hard goodbyes can be.
We’ve made new life-long friends, both local and foreign, and know we are unlikely to see a lot of them again. This time we also have the experience of knowing just what it is we will miss as we are leaving China for the second time. Of course we will miss the lifestyle, the abundant travel, the delicious eats and ability to save stacks of cash…but mostly we will miss the friends we’ve made along the way. It really is the people here that makes this country so special.
No matter what stage of life you’re currently at, I would highly recommend making China your home for a good portion of it. I feel like I’ve had two bites of the cherry (food again), and had the best time of my life, both times. Leaving China is hard, but it’s been a blast!
This blog post was written by our Video Producer Rob.We’ll miss you Rob!