Friday, 22 September 2017

Where Hast I Gone?

The answer to that question, dear reader, is that I have wandered my way across the globe. From small-town Alberta, I now find myself in major-city Asia after having spent a brief stint in the Holy Land.

In summary, Canada is taking in immigrants at such a rate that we cannot fund them all as we have been doing up until this point. As a result, our government-funded ESL classes got slashed, leaving me in a position where going somewhere else to teach looked attractive. Some of my former classmates connected me with a reputable teaching organization, I utterly aced passed the interview (mostly by repeatedly asserting that my one friend once told me "Carla, do it your way; you're smart."), and next thing I knew, I was applying for a visa.

Now I'm in Asia. As I write this, I'm sitting in my little apartment, which sometimes smells like rotten eggs because I haven't been able to figure out what's wrong with the bathroom plumbing. I'm on the top floor of a building without a fire escape (and my shower has a ventilator fan plugged into an electrical socket), but if I look out the window into the night, I can see the city lights on the horizon glowing in a dozen colours and below, the fluffy darkness of the trees that give our residential complex its natural ambiance.

I'm told that over 30,000 people live in this complex. That's more than twice the number of people that lived in the town where I formerly resided. There are at least two other westerners among the population in this complex (I know because they're my colleagues), and on one occasion there was a random white guy going up the elevator of my building at the same time as me. He had headphones on, though, and seemed dead set of listening to his music, so I didn't interrupt him to say hello. But I discovered that I am developing a habit of gawking every time a white person or a black person walks by and I wonder what on earth brought them here and is their Chinese better than mine?

My many neighbours seem pleasant and try to make conversation whenever we're on the elevator together. Inevitably, the conversation begins with me saying in Chinese "Hello" and "Eighteen" (because that's where I get off the lift). This gives them false hope for my communicative ability and they begin plying me with questions. Eventually I say in heavily accented, tone-deaf Chinese, something like "Ting bu dong; wo shi Jianadaren," which means "I don't understand; I'm Canadian." This causes them to chuckle and repeat "Ting bu dong, ting bu dong," and then they point up to the nineteenth floor, where I live. On one occasion, the woman in the elevator with me happened to speak good English. She told me that she had "heard from the community" that I was there. Word on the street is that I'm a beautiful Canadian girl who lives on the nineteenth floor.

It's been about a month since I arrived. In that time, I have avoided being run down by the multitudinous scooters all zipping along the sidewalks and I haven't been eaten by the vast, labyrinthine metro transit system, or been kidnapped and sold for ransom by a wanton taxi driver.

I have survived an unexpected test of the city's air raid sirens, and oriented myself on the university campus where I will be doing most of my teaching. For the first time in my life, I find myself inexplicably starting to think in terms of the four cardinal directions instead of "left" and "right". This week marks the end of the first week teaching: I have just shy of 400 students. Most of the guys have named themselves "Eric" and most of the gals have named themselves "Sunny", with a few students here and there calling themselves things like "Zard" or "Cactus" or "Twinkling". Based on our first get-to-know-you lessons, they love pop stars and spicy food.

I intend to revive this blog somewhat in the coming months, but it's not always wise to be frank on social media when taking one's students, local and global politics, and the permanent publicity of the Internet into consideration. So please, be mindful of what I will and perhaps will not say, and in your own welcomed correspondence with me, please choose your comments carefully.

Who knows how long I'll be here? But for now, dao le!

At the risk of turning this beautiful quote cliche:

"It is a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." J. R. R. Tolkien

5 comments:

*Holly* said...

Love this update, Carla! It's fun to hear what you are up to and what your experiences are! I look forward to your next post!!!

Aimee said...

I was scrolling through my science RSS feeds when I saw your blog is active again! Hello once again! I look forward to reading more about your life abroad!

SandraA said...

Hey adventurer! Good to hear about your life in China. I told someone the other day that you were in Japan! I will have to develop a strategy to remember this. (Maybe by reading your blog.). Take care Carla.

ajve said...

Thanks for reviving your blog. Looking forward to reading more funny stories as well as life in the big Chinese city!

Carolynn said...

So glad you are reviving your blog and making these posts.. so interesting always and even more so given your exotic location.

As a side note: Uncle Art drummed it into us young to always use 'the four cardinal directions'/ north/south/east/west when giving directions. As well, he made sure we always knew where north was. Also, when I was young "we" gave dad a car compass for a Christmas present, so that when we were travelling with the trailer he always knew the direction. Both your grandfather you never met & your great Uncle Art would be so proud of you! (And not just about using these directions either.) Love you!