As my plane was landing into Xiamen Gaoqi International airport, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a similar situation that happened exactly 5 years prior. Me, a backpack and a suitcase arriving in a place I had never been, ready to start a new life.
But this time was different. I wasn’t a nervous newbie. I knew the culture, the language and it was a place I had been eagerly looking forward to returning to all summer.
But first more similarities. 5 years ago, someone from the school met me at the airport, filled me in on the drive to my apartment, helped me move my stuff, and treated me to lunch. But then, that was it. 5 years ago, the first few days were a flurry of activity. I had to do things like, get a cell phone, hook up internet, go to meetings, have meals with the other foreign teachers to meet them.
But at this school? Nothing.
Partially because I’m organized (I have a bank account and cell phone), partially because they’re organized (internet was already paid and set-up). They gave me a sheet of everyone’s name and room number (we all live in the same building). But that was it. No meetings, no dinners. Some of the other teachers hadn’t even come back from their travels yet.
So what to do with all this alone time? Wander of course. The most logical place to go in this town is the mall. It’s a huge mall, and I saw it all shiny and lit up almost the minute I stepped out of my building that night. Like a moth to a porch light, I was drawn.
It’s so close, actually right across from the school gate, and it is as fancy as most of the malls in Shanghai. There’s lots of food places, a cinema, supermarket, and worse of all, my two favorite clothing shops. (H&M and Uniqlo–pretty much the only shops in China that carry my size. I’m going to have to show some serious restraint if I want to save money.) My first night I just walked around in a sweaty, jet-lagged haze and bought a few essentials before crashing for the night.
The next day I met the woman that hired me and we had a nice long chat. She told me where I could go to get a local SIM card and I walked around town and managed to do that complicated process in Chinese all by myself. I rewarded my hard work with lunch at a muslim restaurant, one of my favorite kinds of food in China. I also walked around town a bit, but I was sweaty and disgusting and finally went back to my air conditioned abode.
Meanwhile I had run into a few teachers in the buildings entrance and one offered to show me around. So, on my second full day I got shown the campus (a huge sprawling complex made up of 2 schools) and the area immediately surrounding it. I fell in love. At my old school we had one fun part outside the gate. The area known as the west gate, with little shops and restaurants and such.
Well, the area around this school is even more immense with hundreds of fruit sellers, hair cutters, milk tea places and small eateries. There is even a store called ‘cheap street’ which opens late to the wee hours of the night. I loved the hustle and bustle of it.
I also got to meet a few other teachers, one of whom I actually knew. He is a friend of a friend I met several years ago. I also met my next door neighbor who is not only from the same home state as me, but also a writer. What a coincidence.
I also got to check out a few other apartments. Each one has an identical layout, but other people did a great job decorating it. They got rid of the furniture from the school and did their places up nice, with sofas from Ikea and standing desks. It kinda made me a little jealous because I’m too cheap and lazy to spend the time/money to fix up my place, but I loved their places.
And that brings me to another point. The teachers here all seem serious. Like, not serious boring people, but serious about teaching, serious about speaking Chinese (I’m not the only one anymore!), and even serious about having a good comfortable night. No staying up all night and rolling into class hungover, or banging students. Several told me this was a great place to work, and everyone kind of lives up to the job to stay here. What a shocker.
So, while school hasn’t started yet, and I don’t know what level my students are at (though I apparently lucked out in the teaching departments. Some teachers have a 15 minute bike ride to their classrooms, while I have a 5 minute walk. I can see my teaching building from my window) but so far I’m really digging it.
The city is a small place, easily accessible by walking, filled with cute little coffee shops I’m going to make use of, as well as other convenient shops. There’s even a western owned microbrew bar down the street in which the owner makes his own buns and pizza crust from scratch and sources his meat from America. I’ve already gotten to know him and I can tell I’m going to
waste spend many an hour in that place.
It hasn’t even been a week yet, but the reviews are in: two thumbs up!