In the mid-1990’s I was a secretary at a major university in Michigan, owned a small home, and was no longer needed by my now adult sons. I was bored. Restless. Tired of reading mysteries, romance novels, action/adventure thrillers and then going to work, doing my laundry and washing the dishes. I yearned to stand at the helm of my ship, albeit a sailing ship, a star ship, or even a sinking ship, but darn it I wanted to plot a course and get out and discover the world I knew was out there beyond US-23 and I-94; and so one day I disgustedly threw down my latest National Geographic, get off the sofa, sold my stuff, quit my job, and bought a ticket for the Orient.
China to be exact. Beijing to be precise.
Of course, while on the plane flying over the Pacific, I found myself hitting my head against the window with the horrible knowledge that I was an idiot.
I most certainly did not know how to speak Chinese.
I didn’t know anyone in China, or even in Asia.
And since I was not independently wealthy, I had very little cash in my pocket.
Moaning quietly over my fate – a somewhat rather dramatic first-time-mid-life-crisis – I knew I was stuck. The plane certainly was not going to turn around and head home.
Days after landing in Beijing, I found myself wandering along Wangfujing Street, breathing in the scent of leather as I passed by the Tongshenghe Shoe Shop, inhaling the sweet, yet sharp, aromas of jasmine, green, and black teas drifting from the Wuyutai Tea Shop, stopping to admire the jade and pearls softly glowing in the window shops – oh, and carefully doing a two-step-hop-one-step-skip to avoid the globs of spit marking the sidewalk. Well, nothing is perfect.
Within two weeks, I had signed a teaching contract at the Beijing University of Science and Technology. By the end of the first year, I had explored the faded beauty of the Forbidden City, climbed the crumbling ancient Great Wall, and stood in awe and sadness before the thousands of stalwart stone clay soldiers at Xian and all while absorbing all the sights and sounds and tastes of this exotic world.
I began to realize I was somehow evolving. My world view was changing, expanding. I wondered why I was reading, learning, and caring about news from all over the world here in China when I hadn’t in the U.S., then it dawned on me that here in the P.R.C., the newspaper was crammed with news from all over the globe and I had to hunt for any items about the U.S. Every day I was meeting people from Sierra Leon, Turkey, Oman, Thailand, and Germany and their home countries grew in importance to me as our friendships grew.
For four years I lived as an expat – two years in Beijing and two in Tianjin. I became trusted by my students and fellow teachers and as a result I was taken to places forbidden by the government and was able to gain insights that I will be forever grateful for because it altered my life irrevocably – for good and for bad. Ultimately, I developed a solid world-consciousness.
I will retire from my position at the University in October and I am planning on my return visit to China. China is growing and changing and I want to experience as much as I can as long as I can.