TAIZHOU, China- I once thought that spending a large portion of each year in China would be part of my annual travel pilgrimage. For a few years between 2004 and 2007 I traveled in a big circuit encompassing China, Mongolia, Japan, Southeast Asia, and India. In the center of this great Asian circumabulation was the [...]
TAIZHOU, China- I once thought that spending a large portion of each year in China would be part of my annual travel pilgrimage. For a few years between 2004 and 2007 I traveled in a big circuit encompassing China, Mongolia, Japan, Southeast Asia, and India. In the center of this great Asian circumabulation was the Middle Kingdom, China, and I crossed through this land four times. I figured that this would be my traveler’s beat.
Upon my first visit to China it became clear that I would need a hearty supply of Mandarin to continue traveling here off the tourist trail and to be able to communicate with people. I then did two semesters at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou in ’06 and ’07, which were interspersed with good jaunts of travel around the country and region. My Mandarin became functional, and I found myself with the ability to speak, read, and write enough Chinese to travel well. My plan was growing to fruition.
But I then found myself sidetracted, lured by my curiosity for other parts of the world. I found myself back in Latin America, traveling through the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and north Africa. My intention to continuously cycle through Asia returned to my former intention to continuously cycle through the entire planet — Wade Shepard and VagabondJourney.com were again global.
But I have to admit that I rose with a start when I realized that it had been five years since I was last in Asia.
A lot had happened since the last time I was in China. I graduated from university, got married, had a child, and molded my work on VagabondJourney.com into a legitimate profession. During this time I wanted to stay within a quick and easy flight away from the United States as I tested the waters of family travel. I began traveling with my baby daughter and spent the past two years in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and Colombia. Now Petra is two and a half years old and is pretty hardy, the wife has acclimated to the parameters of lifestyle travel: it was time to return to China.
My wife, Chaya, took a teaching job in Jiangsu province. Going through Angelina’s — a reputable recruiter of foreign English teachers in China — she was offered various jobs around the country, such as in Jiamusi — on the Russian border in Siberia — and in Anhui province. She was also offered a job in a small city called Taizhou in Jiangsu province, which is roughly three hours north of Shanghai near the confluence of the Yangzhe river and the Grand Canal. Her job would be teaching at an international kindergarten, which is exactly what her previous work experience and education is geared towards. She jumped on this job, and a couple of months later I would be going back to China.
Flying to China
The fifteen hour flight from New York City to Shanghai went smoothly. I was worried that the long flight would be bothersome to Petra, but she took it well — sleeping, eating, watching cartoons on her DVD player, hanging out. The kid travels well. The flight was on time, and we soon found ourselves explaining to a rather friendly immigration inspector what our purpose was for standing in front of her.
“We have work visas.”
“Are you going to be working?” she asked me.
“No, I’m with her,” I replied, pointing to my wife.
I’m accompanying my wife as a family member, but there is a normal work visa placed in my passport as there is not a distinct family visa for China. My two and a half year old daughter has a work visa too, but I think she is still a little young to begin earning her keep — even in Shenzen.
This indestinction did not phase the immigration inspector: our case was normal.
“You are working?” she asked my wife.
“Yes, in Taizhou,” she responded.
“How did you get that job?”
“Through a recruiter called Angelina’s.”
“Angelina Ballerina!” Petra burst out.
Laughs. The immigration officer knew what she was talking about. She then turned to Petra and asked her what her name was. My daughter did not respond to this with words. Instead she stuck her tongue out at the official and rolled it into a perfect hot dot bun — a feat she had been working on for many months.
My daughter has the long terms traveler’s border crossing couth already.
China is the pinnacle of the travel experience
China is perhaps the pinnacle of the travel experience. In point, off the tourist trail in this country is as challenging as travel gets. This is not to say that traveling in this country is especially difficult, as just about anywhere on this globe can be traveled with virtual ease once you know and understand how to apply the basic moves of this game. But, I must admit, due to the writing system not being phonic and the big language difference, China can sometimes be a little challenging for the traveler. Not even in the Shanghai bus terminal is the Pinyin Romanization of Chinese words on signs — not to mention any English — and this is one of the most foreigner friendly places in the country. Add to the linguistic/ reading challenge the fact that being a foreigner in China attracts a lot of attention (i.e. people staring, pointing, yelling, tugging, trying to talk to you) and this country seems to overwhelm many independent travelers rather quickly.
But I love this place. There is something about China that I just love. I have no idea what it is — this country runs so incongruous to what I usually say I like about places — but when I’m in China I’m energized, smiling, and, it sounds odd, comfortable.
Perhaps Chaya put it best: “Everything is just so different here.”
Why would I want to travel anywhere that was the same?
Returning to China feels like some strange sort of homecoming. I intended to refresh my Mandarin before returning but this didn’t happen. I probably remember 1/10th of what I use to know and understand, but the words and phrases are coming back to me fast. I find myself spewing out sounds that I’m not completely sure anymore what their meanings are, but I’m finding that 80% of the time I’m correct and understood. But I have to admit that I’ve been saying some things that make absolutely no sense — the trials and errors of trying to remember a language that I’ve not used in five years.
Orders of business in China
1. Get and provision a place to live — done.
2. Get internet — done.
3. Catch up on Vagabond Journey work — in progress.
4. Get medical examination — done.
5. Get temporary residency permit — in progress.
6. Find food my wife likes to eat — potentially impossible.
7. Plan routes of travel and projects — in progress.
8. Catch up on current events in the country — in progress.
9. Find a Mandarin tutor — to begin soon.
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