Expat Life: Elaine in China

Elaine is an old school friend who happened to do the same thing that I did after graduation, moving to a foreign country.  I thought I moved a long way away, but Elaine moved to China and then Hong Kong where she is currently teaching.  I asked her similar questions to my previous interviewee and these were her responses.

1) So what brought you to Hong Kong?

Well I moved from Dongguan, China to Hong Kong. So for me it was an upgrade. I had moved to China in 2008 for work, but I have always had a keen interest in China since I was 16. Reading various books and asking my Taiwanese Aunt to help me learn some Mandarin, of which she begrudgingly did not. Then in college I studied Chinese history in Beijing for a Spring break. It was fantastic and I longed to go back. I did return to teach English in a University for a spring. I wanted to stay longer, but grad school called my name. After an intense year of working on my masters in education I was attempting to get a job in the land of the North west and it was not happening. I had a goal before I graduated with my Ma to have a job so since none of the school districts were biting I decided to expand my horizons and looked to international teaching. I’m so glad I did, because it has opened up endless possibilities. So work brought me to China and work brought me to Hong Kong, but ultimately there is a desire to be in Asia, living here with the Asians. I feel lonely without them…the millions and billions of them.

2) How has living abroad changed you?

Hmmmm changed me….well I have learned more of how to be alone. I have learned how to stand up for myself, yell at people when I’m being cheated, walk away from bad situations, feel completely helpless and vulnerable more so than living in the US, where you know how to get around and how to communicate with people. Overall living abroad has made me a tougher person. I’d say I’ve developed a thicker skin.

3) What has been the best thing about living in Hong Kong? The worst?

Best thing about Hong Kong is living on the 50th floor. I love being up high and overlooking the mountains and the water. I can see the sunset everyday over the water. I can watch the hawks flying past my window. I can see lightening outside my window. Worst thing is probably the pollution and well I don’t like being a single unit, but that is where I am in life. I think living internationally would be much better if I had a life partner. Oh another best thing is having my own vespa and driving through the intense, crazy traffic and then being out on some open country roads that twist and turn along the ocean.

4) How has the language adjustment been for you? Is the language in China (where you used to be) to Hong Kong any different? Have you started having dreams in the language?

Well Hong Kong people speak Cantonese. Where I was living in China Mandarin was the main language. I had learned enough Mandarin to survive in China. But Cantonese has 9 tones verses Mandarin’s 4 tones. I’m partial to Mandarin and think it sounds much prettier.

5) What's the food been like? Have you had any weird dishes that you care to share.

Well I love American food. Nothing like a good wholesome meal of mashed potatoes, fresh garden salad, corn on the cob, and lemon chicken and rice. (To me that is American food.) I love Chinese food, but I don’t really care for Cantonese food. I can’t really get into cooked lettuce and macaroni and fish soup. Just not my style. But mainland has some amazing Chinese food. I miss my favorite restaurant in Dongguan. Yum, yum.

6) What would you recommend to those who are looking to move to a foreign country?

I would say do it. Get out of your own country and live some place else. There’s so much more to life than the status quo. I think people are too afraid of leaving what they know, but sometimes you just have to break out of it. I think people know in their hearts if they feel like there is something more they are supposed to be doing in life. I would highly recommend having a job… hehehe. Do it, but have a job lined up for yourself before you go.

7) You have had quite an opportunity to travel since living in Asia. (Please list all the countries you've visited). How has traveling inspired you?

Wow well living in Asia really opens doors for traveling. Sometimes I am trepidatious to travel as a single woman and try to think through what would be the safest way to travel. My first big trip by myself in S.E. Asia was on an Italian cruise that stopped in the Philippines, Borneo, Brunei, Singapore, Ho Chi Min (Saigon), and Da Nang, Vietnam, and Hainan Island. It was a great way to travel safely and in style and see so many places in Asia in a much more economical way than if I was to have flown to each place and stayed in hotels. On this cruise I was the token American and surrounded by Aussies, Europeans, and Russians. I loved meeting people and hearing there stories and enjoying their company.

My second Chinese New Year I traveled to India with 5 other teachers. We toured New Dehli, Jiapur, Udiapur, Pushkar, and Agra. India was completely and utterly amazing. There was a part of me that fell in love with India, but I doubt that I could ever live there. Mostly because it is a male dominated society. Woman are not treated with respect. You are looked upon as an object of sexual lust. I actually started to cover my head, because I received so much unwanted male attention. India is not a place a single woman should travel alone to, but must be accompanied by a man or a group. My favorite city that I saw was Jaipur…the colours, the shopping, the scenery is completely exotic. It was the first place that I was awaken at 5 am by the Mullahs calling people to prayer. Jaipur is in Rajistan which is next to Pakistan. I didn’t realize how Islam had so much power over India. I had thought they were mostly Hindus and Buddhists.

During my October break for school I traveled to Cambodia. I had longed to go to Cambodia and see Angor Wat, one of the world’s largest ancient ruins. Siem Reap is a wonderful place to visit. I fell in love with the people and the city. The people are extremely poor and are recovering from a terrible holocaust.

This past Christmas I traveled to Bali and the Philippines. I was not as impressed with Bali as tour guide books and other people have talked it up. It was dirty, dark and rather boring. I had been hoping for exotic beach life, but the beaches were dirty and gross so I didn’t even hang out on the beach. My friend and I rented a car and drove all over the island that was probably the best part of the trip—road tripping Bali. The Philippines were amazing. I absolutely loved these Islands. I visited Pandan Island, which is a tropical island oasis..palm trees, white sand beaches, amazing coral reef surrounding the island, hammocks waiting for people to lay in them. If someone was going to Bali hoping to find nice beaches you will be disappointed. I would highly recommend the Philippines over Bali and it is much cheaper and economical in the Philippines.

My next trip planned is Israel for Easter. We were going to also go to Egypt, but because of the recent revolution there I think we will pass.
Traveling has inspired me. I feel much the richer, because of what I have seen and experienced. I think traveling is important to living. Humans are about change, as a Hebrew mystic might say, it’s about becoming. Becoming what exactly? Hmmm well I hope it is our goal to become better and not to lead toward entropic tendencies. Traveling has filled my heart with more imaginations and wonder. To see how other people live. To see the smiles and faces of people around the world. To smell, smells that are quite honestly not always pleasant, but it is the reality of life. To hear sounds that can quiet your soul or fill you with a sense of dread. To eat a taste of peace and contentment. To be filled with a quest for more zest in your life. There is a famous English poem…not too famous by Matthew Arnold, about a Gypsy who is a scholar, who travels through life learning. I think those who like to learn and like to travel are gypsy scholars.

8) What's next for you?

What’s next in my life???? I’m not sure, but I’m going to live every moment to the fullest. I have been blessed and I am blessed by God and very grateful for where I am. I currently plan on staying in Asia until I feel called to move somewhere else. There are parts of me that misses my homeland, but I don’t think I’m supposed to be in America at this time of my life.

9)  How are the Chinese and Americans similiar?

- Chinese people are very family oriented. I really value their sense of family. In one household you have grandparents, parents and grandchildren living together. I really like this since of unity and fidelity. There are reasons for this in their society…Confucius roots have a strong identity in family. Also spiritually Chinese believe it is filial duty to offer sacrifices to your ancestors; therefore it is important to have children so you will have someone to offer sacrifices to you and take care of you even after you die. Where I was living in China I was surrounded by more babies than ever before and usually the grandparents are the ones raising the grandchildren as the parents are out in the work force making money.

- In China like in America woman are treated with more respect and dignity. Or shall I say given more of an opportunity verses other countries or cultures in the world. I greatly value a society that respects woman. This is my opinion and communism has helped to even out the gender divide; whereas during the days of the dynasty woman didn’t have much value.

-Chinese greatly value money. In fact they worship money much like American capitalists. Making money is the goal of almost every Chinese person. Chinese New Year is a time of traditional sayings about becoming rich in the new year.

-Chinese people love America and Americans. American culture is greatly valued and respected by the Chinese. Many university students try to learn as much as they can about American culture often memorizing quotes from America’s great leaders like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

-Education is greatly valued by the Chinese. Even though most of the Chinese don’t have an education beyond 8th grade, education is seen as the door to improving your status.

10) If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God to say when you reach the pearly gates?

I do believe in heaven and I do believe there is a Creator of Heaven and Earth and I believe that in my mind, heart and spirit that I walk in His Kingdom. His Kingdom is a Kingdom of peace, mercy and justice. His Kingdom is one of walking in the spirit and not the flesh. I am a pilgrim on this earth eagerly waiting for when I will be called home. When God calls my spirit to Him I want to hear him say welcome home my precious daughter enter your inheritance.


All pictures are from the blog:  Elaine Teaching in China and can be credited to Elaine Ray.

P.S.  Apparently this is my 500th post on this little blog. Wow, this week I'm hitting lots of milestones. ;)

1 comment:

Jamie said...

What a great interview! I love hearing about experiences similar to mine living abroad and those that are unique to her situation!