Monkey Abroad

A blog about the life abroad. Asian culture and cuisine. Videos, stories, photos, advice, teaching ESL.

small city China
small city China

Itchy Feet Again

| 9 Comments

I’ve worked in Asia for more than a year, and up to this point, I’ve lived in obscure towns and cities far from the heart of lights and activity. After visiting the oriental metropolis of Shanghai for six days then returning to a small city like Rizhao, I feel like there’s nothing left for me here any more.

When I left Thailand for China, I chose the coastal city of Rizhao in the Shandong Province. Seven months later, I understand that Rizhao—a city that nearly matches Chicago in total population size—has the heart and soul of a small countryside village, and I’m losing my muse here. For the sake of this blog and for my soul, it’s necessary to migrate to a city where the lights stay on after 7 pm.

small city China

Last week I told Rizhao Polytechnic College that I don’t wish to renew my contract for another year. The whole endeavor was like breaking up with a good girlfriend that just wasn’t quite good enough. The job is perfect in every way—short hours, good students, decent pay and accommodation—but the catch is the location. This city is giving me itchy feet.

small city China

Rizhao Polytechnic College

Rizhao is the type of city where Chinese start conversations with foreigners just because of our foreignness. I just want to be another face in the crowd for a while, not the face that every 10-year-old shamelessly points out as the laowai. It’s time to move on to bigger, concrete-ier pastures where the locals don’t approach every white face to ask the same five questions in archaic English.

small city China

Busy day at a Rizhao beach

Huge cities like Shanghai have a way of anonymizing people. That can be a blessing for out-of-towners. When physical personal space disappears, people have a greater respect for others’ inner personal space—as in, they don’t abruptly start conversations with strangers just because they’re standing within licking distance on the subway.

As a (sort-of) tall white person, one odd thing about living in a small Asian city is the constant latent reminders of my inherent differentness. Strangers either talk about me and my friends quietly nearby or nervously approach us to ask personal questions on a semi-regular basis.

small city China

Another important factor in me wanting to leave Rizhao is the dating scene. Chinese girls in this city generally don’t speak any English, and the ones that do are more often than not confined to a curfew of 9pm lest they upset their parents. These are adult working women I’m talking about.

My Chinese hasn’t developed to the point where I can have a conversation longer than five minutes without depending on Google Translate. That’s my fault, but still. It’s like being trapped in a bad Chinese dream where all the elite hot girls exclusively speak Mandarin and only date Chinese dudes with emo peacock hairstyles and skinny pants.

small city China

Under construction is the new black in developing Chinese cities.

Rizhao isn’t a bad place to live. It’s honestly a great small city by the sea with comparatively low pollution. It’s a place where a foreigner can lead a peaceful life, learn some Chinese, and save a little money, but not a place for nightlife junkies. Maybe in ten or fifteen years it’ll be more interesting, but for now it’s just a developing city where curious locals and cranes abound.

[Edit - July 5, 2014: It's ironic what happened. I have really made an effort to improve my Chinese communication skills these past three months, and now I have a Chinese girlfriend in Rizhao. Her English is very poor so we speak almost exclusively in Chinese. Being with her has helped my language skills significantly, and now I'm a little bummed that I'll be leaving this small city soon, but I think it'll be worth it because of what lies ahead.]

Author: Kevin Cook

I post stories, videos, advice and photos about living abroad in Asia. I also eat bananas.

9 Comments

  1. I second your comments about life in a smaller city. I’m in Haikou, capital of Hainan Province, which is an island way in the south, parallel to Vietnam and about 25 miles off the Mainland. It too is a coastal city, about 2-3 million. I took my job thinking I would be spending all of my free time working on a killer (mild) tan and gallivanting around China and Southeast Asia. Domestic airfares are ridiculously expensive on a teacher’s salary, same with International (unless you go on a low-cost carrier like Jetstar Asia or Tigerair, but you have to change planes in Singapore to go anywhere else).

    Also, based on media reports of how much the Chinese want to learn English and marketing materials for schools that over promised the level of the students, I was under the impression that i would be leading lessons with students who could speak to me in some form of English and understand my instructions. Um, no. And the locals anxious to practice the English they know? “Hello” is the sum total of English spoken by about 99.5% of Haikou’s residents.

    Haikou is a pretty lonely city for an expat to be in if you don’t speak Chinese. Warmer weather than many other parts of China? Sure, (except for the higher temps and humidity that have returned for the Spring-Fall) but IMHO that’s about all that’s good. As I replied on a recent post of yours, I’m headed to Shanghai myself for the next teaching year. Visits to Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore made me realize that I really am a big city boy at heart.

  2. Kevin, I live in Shanghai and I have a great teaching job for a full time kindergarten after-hours program. Very popular school. Excellent pay. 30 hour work week. Great program. Contact me if you need assistance in your move, want to talk about Shanghai or job connections…. I. LOVE. IT. HERE. So glad I left Thailand a few months ago. Shanghai is where it is at.

  3. “emo peacock hairstyles” – lol, too funny!
    What about a stint in the Middle East?

  4. I’m a former expat. Processing the thinking you laid out in this post, I’d say you’re right on schedule, for an unattached guy just past the one year mark. The basic circumstance of living somewhere foreign, the thrill of it wears off, even if where you are is quite nice. A pretty local female smiles at you, with a language barrier, you realize you can’t proceed in any real way. Borderline tragic. For what it’s worth, I see you as pursuing the right track, not accepting a limited life for too long a time, requiring a city where the possibilities are greater. Keep posting please, if only just because your experiences help me remember some cool and interesting times of my own.

  5. Kevin,

    Hang in there buddy, it will get better. I have the same feeling as you right now here in Dalian. I will be off to Thailand for a month and then Shanghai for a week. I am sure I will have the same feelings as you upon my return to Dalian in August. What was the coolest thing you did while in Shanghai? If you could, give me a top 5.

    Kind regards,
    Ben

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