Last week I wrote 10 things I’ll miss about living in China, so to keep it balanced I figured I should also talk about things I WON’T miss about living in China. This post could easily be renamed, “Things in China that drive Emily Absolutely Crazy,” but that’s mostly because it’s nearing the end of the school year and I’m ready to go home! Overall, Tommy and I agree that moving to China was 100% the right decision for us, and we’ve had an absolutely incredible year. So please, don’t take this post as me being a Negative Nigel (I really do enjoy China) – but do keep these less-than-awesome factors in mind in case you’re considering taking the leap yourself or are simply getting a little jealous after hearing about our 13-hour workweeks!
Thanks to the magical powers of the internet, we can video chat, call, or text our friends as often as we want! We’re so thankful to have communication (literally) at our fingertips, but as awesome as this is, it just isn’t the same as physically being with family and friends. Being a 16+ hour plane ride away for the past 9 months means that we’ve missed out on lots of family events and hang-outs with friends. We love hearing about them and looking at photos, but we can’t wait to see everyone and make some memories in person this summer!
This is, without a doubt, the number one thing that I will miss about living in China. To get just a vague idea of how much time we have off, check out Where We’ve Been – this has all been without asking for ANY vacation time. It simply comes from a lot of national holidays and school testing days. Even when we have a normal workweek, we aren’t actually working very many hours and have tons of free time. I am scheduled to teach seventeen 45-minute classes per week (a total of about 13 contact hours), but these are cancelled quite frequently. Thomas’s school is more demanding and he teaches twenty 45-minutes classes per week (about 15 contact hours) with very few cancellations. Of course, our classes are not consecutive, so we do spend a decent bit of time sitting around the office. Still, when you consider America’s 40-hour work weeks and lack of lengthy holidays, we are living the dream, my friends!
After our short, activity-packed trips to Xi’an, Harbin, and Seoul, we were ready to slow things down a little. Luckily, we had 5 days to explore Tokyo! During our week in Japan, we were again amazed by how different the culture was from China despite their relative proximity. Almost everything about their lifestyle seemed the opposite of China’s. The streets and buildings were immaculately clean, and the people were always polite and orderly. No one was spitting on the street or trying to jostle their way into an already-full subway car. Instead of throwing their litter on the streets, the Japanese carefully tuck them into their purses or briefcases to be disposed of at home. And the toilets!!! No more filthy squat toilets for us! Instead, Japanese toilets gentle ambient noise when you sit down and are equipped with adjustable bidets and dryers. Such luxury. The only downside to Japanese culture was that we constantly felt like we were committing some unknown faux-paus, but who cares when everything is so clean! We took on Tokyo at a little slower pace than the rest of our trip, but still got to see a lot of this insane metropolis. Keep scrolling to hear about our highlights!
“You’re going to Harbin? It’s very, very cold there!!!” We heard variations of this (and advice on what to wear) over and over again leading up to our trip. Tommy and I just brushed it off. “Oh, we’re from Minnesota. It’s very cold there, too.” Little did we know… Harbin seriously is next level cold. Our faces constantly hurt. We layered up like chubby Chinese babies for even the shortest journeys outside. Our fingers and toes were always a little numb. And yet, it was completely worth it – because we got to explore the magic that is the world’s largest ice and snow festival! In addition to this, Harbin has a unique Russian culture due to its proximity to the border which was really interesting to experience.
Xi’an is an ancient city in central China famous for its terra cotta warriors, Muslim Quarter, and historic wall that still surrounds the original citadel. We saw all this and more (read here), but what really stands out in my memory from this part of our trip occurred not in Xi’an itself but in a small town a short train ride away. There we completed “the world’s most dangerous hike” (a dubious, but catchy title) at Huashan (Mount Hua) and found ourselves stranded on top of the mountain with a night train to catch!