I have been living and working in China for over two and a half years and by far the most difficult part was not being able to communicate with other people. However, at the beginning it didn’t really matter too much because I had my new wife (now my ex-wife) to do all the communicating for me; she is a local girl from Zunyi but as time wore on, I began to get lonelier and lonelier. Now of course, at this early stage I should have started learning Chinese but I didn’t. From time to time my wife would try to teach me some words but often ended up laughing at my attempts and so I never got into it seriously.
Teaching oral English
After being here two months, I started teaching oral English at Hangtian Middle School (Aerospace School) but most of the teachers kept away from me and so I didn’t make any new friends. In hindsight I feel that many of them were not confident in speaking English and perhaps did not wish to ‘lose face’ by not speaking well to me. Of course the students were delighted to talk with me as best they could and some wanted to be my friends but as any teacher will know, you can’t really be a close friend with a student; at least not on the same level as you can be with an adult. Because of this I remained without friends and anyone to talk to; so life got even more difficult for me.
Life in Zunyi
Now I need to point out that Zunyi where I have lived all this time is a classed as a small city with a population of over a million living in the actual city. And working in this city, there were only around ten or twelve foreigners. There were of course no western bars and as I couldn’t sing Chinese karaoke or play mah-jong, I did not develop a real social life. I did manage to make friends with one American guy and we socialised from time to time, and he too was struggling to learn Chinese.
As time went by I felt even more isolated. I felt that people were very cold toward me (no one ever seemed to smile) and this was not helped by the fact that I was not accepted by my wife’s parents who would have nothing to do with me because I was a foreigner. I did not feel comfortable living in China because I felt invisible and so often I wanted to return home for good. From time to time I thought about learning Chinese but the prospect seemed all too much because the language was so difficult for me and I had no proper teacher. One Chinese person offered to teach me but she was not a proper teacher and it came to nothing. The truth is I didn’t feel motivated to learn because I wasn’t happy here. I knew it would take many years for me to be able to communicate effectively and make friends with locals and because I felt I didn’t want to stay, what was the point?
Struggling to survive
Being so isolated here put a strain on my married life and small cracks began to show. I was desperate to see my family and went home during the winter and summer holidays but even this did not seem enough for me. Can you believe that in two years of living here, I didn’t have one Chinese friend? Strangely enough, it wasn’t until I was on my own again that I began to find Chinese friends, mostly English college students, who were all too willing to speak to me in English.
New friends – new optimism
At the time of writing, I have been living in Zunyi for two and a half years and now have quite a lot Chinese friends, and life seems almost normal. My dilemma now however, is that I must go home in the summer. The reason for this is that my daughter and my son never wanted me to come to China in the first place and were not happy with my decision. Even though they are adults and have families of their own, I know they want me home and so home I must go. As you know, family is very important! But I will be leaving behind so many kind friends now. China’s heart has finally opened up to me but now I must go. There will be some sad farewells I am sure. I hope I can come back to China some day and renew old friendships or make new ones.
So that is a brief account of my life in China so far. At times it has felt that I had lost over two years of my life and worse than that I would have to start a new life again back in England. I gave up my home, my friends, my car, motorcycle and hobbies etc. to come here, now I will have to start over. However, living in China despite all its difficulties has been a wonderful part of my life and I don’t really regret the time here, I just hope I can come back sometime. Have you got any suggestions for me?