Why I Had to Leave China

Image of a small American flag. In the background is the ocean.

So, I had to leave China.

I’m back in the United States, and for good now.

This is much earlier than I’d originally planned–the plan had been to stay for a year then reevaluate whether I wanted to stay on for another year–, but I had to come back for health reasons that just couldn’t wait any longer.

Simply put, I became very, very ill over in China, and due to my rapidly degrading condition, my doctors all recommended that I come back to the States for treatment ASAP. It was a slow decline that gradually snowballed out of control. First it was difficult for me to eat certain foods, then I would need to rest more than other people or take the odd painkiller here and there, until suddenly I couldn’t eat at all, I couldn’t walk around for more than five minutes at a time, and was in such pain I couldn’t sleep for stretches of days. The only way I was able to endure teaching during those last few days was by using my breaks to cry in a secluded corner and/or discreetly find a place to vomit.

I resisted and persisted until my body quite literally couldn’t function any more. My work wanted me to tough it out, and I felt intense loyalty to my students and coworkers. My doctors however informed me that, if I didn’t leave now, things could get worse, to where my life may be in real jeopardy. At the time they even felt one of my organs might need to come out, (which it still might; they’re keeping an eye on it if/until things worsen again), which, frankly, scared me straight. On top of my pre-existing health issues, there was a very real possibility that I was putting myself in harm’s way.

So, I caved. I gave in. I kissed my dreams of travel and completing my contract and collecting that sweet, sweet end-of-contract bonus goodbye, and left China. And I’m glad I did.

Yes, I only lived in China for about 6 months, half of what I originally intended. But I’m alive, and I’m recovering, and I’m beginning to find normalcy in my life once again.

Some people have asked me if I’ll return to finish my contract in China, but I won’t be. I simply can’t go back for so long again without putting my health at serious risk. The combination of environmental factors have too great an effect on my health, and to do so would be risky at best. That, plus I was largely treated like absolute garbage by at least 80% of the people I encountered there, from stalking to slurs  (“foreign devil” was my favorite) to people literally trying to steal pieces of my hair and/or grope me.

So I think it’s easy to understand why I’m not abundantly eager to return anytime soon.

I’m still upset that I was unable to leave on my own terms and my own timetable. But, all considered, I’m lucky I had a safety net I could fall into, and lucky I left in time. This entire ordeal has made me reconsider my goals in life, but right now my top priority is getting better. And I’ve been recovering slowly but surely.

I’ll keep everyone updated, but please be patient with me as I begin getting back into the swing of things. I’m happy to be back at it!

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A Week in Hong Kong

 

When I initially booked my trip to Hong Kong, it was just some spot on the map to broaden my horizons, a place to visit then check off the list. But I had no idea just what I was in for.

Put simply, Hong Kong blew me away.

But why? Well settle in, because here I’m going to tell you what I saw, did, and loved so dearly in Hong Kong.

Day 1: Tian Tan Buddha, Po Lin Monastery, Victoria Harbor

For y first full day in the city, I went to Lantau Island, where after a both enthralling and terrifying cable car ride I arrived at Ngong Ping, home to the Po Lin monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha. Po Lin is a buddhist monastery, founded in 1906. With beautiful architecture and a deeply reverent atmosphere, it was a little oasis away from the mega-city just one island over.

Po Lin monastery.
Po Lin monastery.

The Tian Tan buddha, one of the world’s largest outdoor bronze buddha statues, is an extension of the monastery, and can be see from as far away as Macau on a bright day. Coming to the top for the view alone is worth it. (Plus, up here I got to try my first ever egg tart, and I instantly fell in love. I think I ate almost 30 in the 6 days I was there, and I still want more.)

The Tian Tan buddha.
The Tian Tan buddha.

Once I got back to where I was staying around Tsim Sha Tsui, I walked along Victoria Harbor, saw a particularly awesome street performers, ate yet more snacks (yes, including egg tart), and watched the sun set. Victoria Harbor is really where Hong Kong began to steal my heart. The abundance of life, the city skyline contrasting with the mountains and ocean, the romantic atmosphere, the food, all of it culminated into a really beautiful scene. And it was only my first day here!

Victoria Harbor.
Victoria Harbor.

Day 2: Macau’s Ruins of St. Paul, Monte Fort, and A-Ma Temple

On the second day of my travels, I went over on a day trip to Macau with zero idea of what to expect. Macau isn’t really a place I’d researched much beforehand, but dang, I am SO glad that I went. After driving around and seeing some of the skyline, I hopped off near the historic city center where a ton of cultural sites were. Considering that Macau is only 11.8 sq miles large, (or 30.5 sq kilometers for my reasonable, non-metric friends), there’s a very dense concentration of history here.

Directions in the city center of Macau.
Directions in the city center of Macau.

I made my way to St. Dominic’s square, got a snack or two, and took in the scenery.  It’s a place very thoroughly Chinese, but also definitely retaining colonial influences, a city that is new and sparkling, but also ancient. These things all blended together in beautiful harmony, not clashing or begging for attention, but there to be seen all the same. Nearby I visited both the Ruins of St. Paul Cathedral and Monte Fort.

Ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

After another jaunt on the bus, I got off in the old city to see A-Ma temple. A-Ma temple is a huge deal, and in so many ways. Right on the shoreline, this is thought to be where the Portuguese first disembarked in 1513, the first Europeans ever to make contact with China by sea. In the native language, the name of this temple is Maā Gǒk and thus, the Portuguese called it Macau. 

A-Ma temple.
A-Ma temple.

Even though I hadn’t seen everything, I’d had a fun-filled day, and eventually headed back to Hong Kong.

Day 3: Flower Market, Victoria’s Peak

By day three, I’d made friends with another woman staying in my hostel, and we get some warm breakfast drinks and egg waffles together. I tried the ceylon milk tea, but the real star was Mammy Pancake. I’ve heard about Mammy Pancake for years now, and, even though it’s a street food stand, this place has been Michelin recognized for three years in a row now. I got multiple egg waffles while I was in Hong Kong, crisp on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside, and each one was somehow more delicious than the last.

Eating a green tea chocolate chip egg waffle.
Eating a green tea chocolate chip egg waffle.

After this, we went to peruse the local flower markets. I’d seen flower sellers before, but the sheer size here blew my mind. This wasn’t just a street, or even an entire block, but multiple blocks of flowers, bamboo, succulents, and everything else spilling out into the streets in an array of color and smells. We spent a good amount of the day doing this, so it was already starting to get dark by the time I went on my next adventure to Victoria Peak. I have no words to say about Victoria Peak that would do it justice. Only experiencing it for yourself could ever convey the absolute majesty it holds. It was truly a wonderful way to end the day. 

The view from Victoria Peak at night.
The view from Victoria Peak at night.

Day 4: Man Mo Temple, New Year Parade

The next morning, I took the historic Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island, where things had become very crowded since it was officially the first day of the Lunar New Year. After fighting against the crowds I  made it to Man Mo temple. As is to be expected, the temple was PACKED, being a major holiday, and people want to honor their ancestors, pray for good luck, and start the year out on the right foot. 

Offerings at Man Mo temple.
Offerings at Man Mo temple.

It was already getting late by the time I left, so I went back to my hostel to nap in preparation for the New Years parade. I woke up from that ready to fight a crowd of people probably larger than my entire home town, but all in all though, the whole crowd got to see some interesting acts, cute balloon floats, and just some generally weird performances, but by far the Lion and Dragon dancers stole the entire show. It was simply beautiful and fun and the perfect end to a rich holiday.

Day 5: Ladies Market, Hong Kong Park, Sky100

The next day,  I toured around the Ladies Market off Tung Choi street, but didn’t buy anything since I’m not much of a shopper. I just like to take in the sights and sounds of a new place, y’know? Afterwards, I decided to try out the local park, easily one of the most beautiful green spaces I’ve ever seen. At the entrance there was a gushing water feature you could stand under, little streams lined with flowers, and yet more fountains.There was also an aviary, waterfalls, a tea house, and a sizable pond for koi and carp, peaceful and warm in the winter sunlight.

Hong Kong Park.
Hong Kong Park.

After watching the Symphony of Lights, a nightly light show put on in Victoria Harbor, I went up to the Sky100, the 100th floor of the International Commerce Center, to get yet another view of Hong Kong. I simply couldn’t get enough of that skyline!

The view of Victoria Harbor from the Sky100.
The view of Victoria Harbor from the Sky100.

Day 6: Bus Tour, Stanley and Aberdeen area

For my last day I bought a ticket for the Big Bus, a bus with three lines all over Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, which I figured would be a good way to see parts of the city I hadn’t yet gotten the opportunity to go to. After the Kowloon line, I took a ferry across to Hong Kong Island and got on the line to Stanley and Aberdeen. On our way we toured the glitzy finance and commerce district, and eventually made our way to the south side of the island, where you could see relatively undisturbed ocean, beaches full of people, and so on. 

 

All in all, Hong Kong was amazing, and as soon as I returned home I already wanted to go back. There the modern and the classical harmonized together, the rich Chinese heritage paired with western influences made for mouth-watering food and breathtaking sights, all of that and more has earned Hong Kong a special place in my heart, and I’m confident that I will be going back again and again.

 

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Nanhu Park

The first time I went to Nanhu park, I was astonished.

The parks I’d been accustomed to back home were nowhere near as scenic nor bustling with activity. They were more like patches of grass and a couple of trees, maybe a bench or basketball hoop at most. But at 2.2 square kilometers, Nanhu park is huge–and gorgeous. There you can see a beautiful lake, trees, gardens, etc. It truly has so much to offer! 

A chair-sled…thing. I asked at least 6 native Mandarin speakers what these were called, but no one could give me an answer!

In the summer it’s verdant and lush, but wintertime (when I shot this video) is beautiful as well. And there’s plenty to do. Ice-fishing, skating, sledding, people on these chair-skating-contraptions (I’m really not sure what else to call them) and hockey, are just part of what Nanhu has to offer. Depending on the time of year, you can see an abundance of ice and snow sculptures too.

Though winters can be difficult here, being so cold and with little sunlight, there’s a certain beauty to it that I’ve really found myself appreciating. I can’t wait to see this place thaw into the green of spring, and I can’t wait to share more of China with you. 

What is your favorite park you’ve ever been to? Why? Leave a comment below!
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Christmas While Abroad

Christmas is my hands-down, no-contest, favorite time of the year. This also means it’s a sentimental season for me, as it is for many people around the globe. But, being in China for it has definitely thrown my holiday spirits for a loop.

Did I at least get peppermint treats, you may ask? Christmas movies? Time with loved ones? Curling up with hot cocoa to partake in holiday traditions? Nope. Sadly, it was a regular day, wherein I tried not to focus on what I was missing back home.

Photo Credit: Toa Heftiba

But that’s how you make it through these periods. I knew what I signed up for when I came here–and I gained more perspective through it, too. What must it be like for Chinese people living in Kansas during the Lunar New Year? What must it be like for Indian people in Texas during Diwali?

Before I could only imagine their pain. Now, I’ve experienced it myself.

Regardless, I will move forward. I’m blessed to be living abroad, even if it is sometime difficult, and still am excited to experience all the wonderful things it has to offer.

Watch the full video above to hear more of my thoughts on the topic. What’s the most difficult holiday experience you’ve ever had? What made it so, and what did you learn from it? Comment below!

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Moving to China! | TRAVEL VIDEO

So, I’ve officially jumped. I’ve taken the plunge head-first into moving abroad, officially moving to China for a one-year contract as a teacher. I packed up my belongings, said goodbye to my family and pets, then got on the plane to China. And, honestly?

I was confident and excited–up until the moment I zipped my bags closed. Then, I was scared shitless.

“Who Does This?!”

Every way this scenario could go wrong played out in my head. Every fear I had about China plagued my dreams, both when my mind wandered and in my sleep. Who does this? I’d wonder, and it was a fair point. Who leaves everything and everyone they’ve ever known to go live overseas, in a place where they don’t fluently speak the language, they don’t know a single person, and they don’t know what’s waiting for them?

But, apparently, I do. After a lot of mental wrestling matches and talking myself out of buying a ticket home, I decided to stop. Self-doubt certainly wouldn’t make this any easier.

What Moving Abroad Has Taught Me

Moving abroad was a risk, but, these many months later, it’s one I’m glad I took. China hasn’t been perfect. No place is. But, it has thoroughly changed me for the better. It has taught me what I’m capable of withstanding and doing (like enduring the Christmas season utterly alone), as well as exposed me to new experiences and tested my spirit. Ultimately, I could make an entire separate post about all of this. (Keep your eyes open for it!)

For now, I’ll continue to persevere, foster self-confidence, and carry on.

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What’s one experience you’ve had where you experienced self-doubt, but finally overcame?

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Masterlist of Chinese Language Learning Resources

I’ve studied eight foreign languages, and the one I’ve gotten the farthest with is Mandarin Chinese. I minored in it, figured out what did and didn’t work for me, and have found which language learning resources are truly top-notch. So, here are my recommendations for just that!

***The first time I name a new resource, I will bold it so that you don’t miss out!***

 

TEXTBOOKS

I’ve come across a lot of terrible language textbooks in my studies, but thankfully I’ve found some great ones for learning Mandarin. My favorites are the entire sequence of the Integrated Chinese books, and, once you’re through with those I’d move onto the Princeton Language Study books. Specifically, A Trip to China is the next one I’d recommend! 

 

APPS & WEBSITES

When online, I’dc recommend switching all your sites over to Chinese; Facebook, Youtube, the whole deal. Additionally, join sites like Youku and Weibo to connect with Chinese speakers and learn what’s current!

The biggest recommendation I have however, is to download the Zhongwen: Chinese-English dictionary plugin off the Google store (which is free!) or some other text-to-pinyin plugin. When you hover your cursor over a Chinese character, it will give you both the traditional and simplified characters, pinyin pronunciation, and definition. This helps leaps and bounds in learning new words and understanding what you’re reading.

As for apps, my favorites for studying Mandarin are Decipher, Pleco, Memrise, LearnwithOliver, and Lang-8.

The most basic Chinese language app out there is ever-popular dictionary app of Pleco. Pleco has everything you’d want in a dictionary, from flashcard functionality, to stroke order, to audio, to hand-writing, and so on. This is the number one thing I recommend to Chinese learners of every level.

Decipher is another great app, and very different from others out there. It has daily news articles in Chinese, where you can click on words you don’t understand and add them to flashcard decks, see the HSK ranking (汉语水平考试, essentially a difficulty or proficiency rating) of each article, etc.

Memrise is a convenient app that drills vocabulary and sentence-building, where you can also hear the words spoken for you. This is good for pronunciation, which is very, veryvery important for Chinese since it’s a tonal language. 

LearnWithOliver is a website, not an app, but it’s one of my favorite resources out there. They’ll email you words of the day tailored to your preferred difficulty level, have drills from multiple choice to sentence construction, reading segments, and so forth, and is all-over just a great resource. This is a high-quality and extremely under-rated gem for language learning, Chinese or not.

For practicing your writing, I have yet to find a site better than Lang-8. There you can write journal entries, and native speakers will correct them to sound more natural. Plus, you can make friends and language-practice buddies!

HABITS

You want exposure to Mandarin EVERY. DAY. Wake up and, before you get out of bed, read a light news article in Chinese on your phone. As you’re commuting to work or school, listen to Chinese podcasts or music. Try to make friends and talk to people through WeChat and Lang-8 in your target language. Just make an effort!

The Great Hypnotist movie poster
The Great Hypnotist, a Chinese psychological thriller.

Watching dramas and movies is a great way to learn new vocabulary and colloquialisms; you can go use Netflix and YouTube, but a recent website I’ve discovered is AiQiYi, and it has almost every Chinese show you could ever want on it. (My favorite Chinese movie right now is The Great Hypnotist. It’s on Netflix, so check it out!) Great musical artists to listen to are Fang Da Tong, Zhou Jie Lun, and Qu Wanting, but there are many others as well.  Trying to copy what someone else is saying, whether in a movie or a song, will give you a more natural pronunciation, and also help you to achieve better fluency.

 

I hope these recommendations and tips help you on your language journey! If you’d like to stay up-to-date on my own studies, my move to China, or my other travels, you can subscribe to my mailing list or my YouTube channel, or follow me on my social media accounts via the sidebar. ✨

Until next time! 再见!

 

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Productivity Update: June 2017

It’s been some time, hasn’t it? Much has changed since my last update, with exciting new developments and more.

 

I currently have over 60,000 words written for this bad boy! Still pushing along, and I’m hoping to finish at 75,000 by early August. This is easily my favorite work I’ve ever penned, reaching from Alexander’s conquests to China’s Communist Revolution, from lost alchemic rituals to the bonds that thread us all together. I can’t wait to get this in the hands of readers! Obviously I have a great deal of work ahead, but I’m looking forward to it all the same. I’m hoping to be done with my first full edit of The Immortal by the end of 2017.

 

THE-STOLEN-SUN-BANNER

A magazine almost picked this up, but then decided it wasn’t for them. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Either way, I have this piece out on submission at two other places now, and if those fall through, I’ll take a step back to retool it. I mean, I wrote this two and a half years ago! The writing deities might just be saying it’s time to slap a new coat of paint on it, huh?

 

I was supposed to post a video at the end of May, but my old computer died, taking that (entirely edited! ?) video with it. However, I do have a different video that I am working on right now (5 Tips to Stay Sharp over Summer Break), so expect that soon! I’m also going to post videos on writing and language learning on my YouTube channel, so click this link and subscribe!

 

I have officially graduated with my Bachelor’s in International Security and minors in Mandarin Chinese and Asian Studies! And I’m moving! TO CHINA! I’ll be posting more on where I’ll be living, what I’ll be doing there, etc. in the near future, but regardless I am incredibly excited to make my way out into the Big Wide World as a Certified Adult™. In the meantime, I’m trying to get visa documents squared away, working, writing, building up this website, and so forth.

 

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What are you up to during these summer months? Any projects or travels? Leave a comment below! Thanks for stopping by, and until next time!

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