One pastime in China that is unfamiliar to me is the dancing.
There are a variety of parks all around Fuzhou, my teach-abroad destination, where the older generation gather to listen to music and dance.
There are many different styles from traditional to ballroom, and not a single hesitation from anyone to dance as though no one is watching. It’s a very moving experience, to be granted an invitation to watch a joyful expression in motion.
Watching older Chinese people dance is a moving experience for English teacher Sarah Bucknall (pictured).
This just wouldn’t happen in the UK. You wouldn’t see it and if you did it would be sneered at and considered weird. It is these experiences which take you from feeling like an expat on the outside to becoming part of a community.
Of course you are quickly reminded that you are in fact an expat when you realize how you took for granted the simple things in life. Like asking how much to pay for anything, ordering a coffee and being able to request no sugar, or being able to ask the person next to you if you are on the right bus.
The challenge of communicating
The immediate loss of general communication isn’t something I’ve experienced so profoundly before. In Europe I’ve always got by knowing only English; China is not the same.
I smile and point and hope for the best a lot of the time. I keep my address laminated in my wallet for those moments I find myself completely disorientated. And when it comes to Chinese food, I’ve stopped trying to guess what I’m eating and just chew and swallow!
The Mandarin language requires serious dedication. Learning the tones and how to read pinyin and then moving on to characters is a challenge no other language has presented to me before.
Considering there have been days I’ve barely spoken when out exploring solo, I have by no means felt invisible.
Curiosity killed the expat
Fuzhou is not a cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong and Shanghai. Many locals here haven’t seen or interacted with a foreigner and so there is an obvious curiosity surrounding the expat.
Back alleys of Fuzhou, southern China.
My first time being filmed at a bus spot was an uncomfortable moment. I had become used to the staring and the random ‘Hellos’ that would be audible in many different directions, but being filmed felt like a violation and to be blunt, rude.
Over time I have found it easier to ignore this and accept that it is a curiosity and not an intention to be offensive. Besides it is mainly my height that draws the attention – my build and dark hair often allow me to blend in without being disturbed. Not so easy for my blonde friends, I can assure you!
So far with all the ups and downs, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to call this ancient country, steeped in history, my home for now. The locals I have met here, and the insight my family has been able to give me in the variety of lifestyles here in China is an enriching experience I will never forget.
Moving to another country changes you. You move through the world differently, enlightened to the world outside of your individual life.
I am further reassured that to stay in one place is a detrimental and conscious choice to stay ignorant to the world and its people, for me personally. It is not easy to leave everything you know behind, though I am fortunate to have little ties and no responsibility that cannot be fulfilled from anywhere I choose to be.
Although wanting to take everything I can from teaching in China, I am also looking forward to my next destination. Wanting to live life as a permanent expat calling the world home.
This article originally featured on The Solo Pursuit.
What has your experience been like as an expat in China - is it similar to Sarah's? Have you found communicating a challenge? Please comment below.