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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]