I had decided, more than a year ago, that this year would be my last year. I’m not going to leave China, but I’m going to leave the city I’ve called home for the past five years.
So I made a plan.
First semester was all about my students. I had stayed for them. I was going to leave last year but I decided I wanted to teach my favorite students one last time, as they were seniors. I decided that I would stay in town, not go to Hangzhou or Shanghai as much as normal, and just really get to hang out with them one last time.
And it worked. My classes were amazingly fun, my nights were filled up with dinners and walks with them and everything was great.
They would leave second semester (to go find jobs, or go back to their hometowns for a bit) and I decided that second semester would be all about me. Second semester is always easier than first (less classes) and I had new students so I wouldn’t need/want to spend my free time with them. Instead, I’d would go travel to nearby places I haven’t been to like, I’d finally climb Yellow Mountain, go to Nanjing with my little hairdresser, spend a few days in Ningbo etc. I’ve traveled all over china, but I have been a little lax in the places close to my house (which tends to happen, doesn’t it?) My teaching schedule was also fitting for my “semester of travel” as I had a few days off in the middle of the week, so I could go to these places without the weekend crowds.
But the best laid plans….
The first week of classes I had a stomach ache and the second week I landed in the hospital. Little did I know that week in the hospital was going to be the last time I felt okay for the next 3 months. After I got out of the hospital I caught some sort of flu from hell, which then led to a series of various diseases that left me, literally, flat on my back. My school was kind enough to give me time off, modify my schedule and another foreigner teacher went so far as to take 2 of my classes to relieve me of more of my work load. I was only working two days a week, but I needed the other 5 days just to recover from those 2.
It was kind of a shit storm, covered in a clusterfuck, wrapped in a burrito. I understand that many of problems happened because of my weakened immune system, but I even had random problems, like breaking a tooth. It required several trips to the dentist which was just a fuck you cherry on the top of my shit sundae. My friends were trying to convince me that, “No Becky you aren’t cursed,” but I didn’t believe them.
Traveling was out. For a few weeks even reading a book was out because my brain was too muddled and exhausted to concentrate. I couldn’t even spend time with my friends. While I was going to Hangzhou every week to see different doctors I had no energy to meet my friends after. I barely even saw my co-workers. We have a tradition of going to dinner and then out to our favorite bar every saturday, and while I’d make it to dinner, I’d go home after so I could rest and go to bed early.
There’s no way to sugar coat it, it was a rough period in my life. But as the eternal optimist I am, I can see the positive things that came from it now that it is in the rear view mirror. I am now grateful that I didn’t spend my time traveling. I’m glad I was forced to stick close to home because I got to do things I might not have otherwise.
Like, my students. Even though my favorite students left there are still plenty of others here that I got to spend time with. My assistant Bazzi and I hung out a lot, and despite my best efforts not to, I ended up becoming friends with a few of my new students.
And I got to hang out with my co-workers more too. Honestly, in the 5 years I have been here, this is the best group I’ve ever seen. There are 4 of us that hang out often (a few times a week) and we get along great. All of them are serious teachers, friends with their students and like living in China. I’ve introduced them to my hangzhou friends and at times I would actually CHOOSE to hang out with them over other. (That’s almost a first for me. Usually I have to hang out with my co-workers, but I’m not excited by it.)
And I realized how involved I’ve gotten in this place. I was walking around outside my school with a friend and I was saying hi to people, people were calling my name, people from inside the buildings were waving to me. “I’m with a VIP” my friend said. “You know everyone!”
And I kinda do (although most of the people I know are bosses of restaurants or milk tea places if that shows you what my habits are, haha. None of the clothes shop owners know me.) And I’m glad I got to use this period of forced downtime to send more time here and just enjoy my life here.
I’ll come back to visit next year (my 3 co-workers are all staying) but in China, things change too fast and I know the memory of me will be washed away within a few years. I might be the big fish in a small pond now (or “The Becky” as one of my friends call me. “Who will be The Becky when you leave?” he asked.) But the places I know and love will have changed and the people will move on. In 3 years all the students I have taught will have graduated, the foreign teachers will have changed and very few people in Lin’an will remember me. It’s a sad thought, but one I accept. That’s why I need to appreciate my time while I’m here. And while I’m not happy I got sick, I am happy that I got to spend more time at home, in the city I love with the people that make life fun. I’m gonna miss them all when I leave.