Moving to a new home is exciting, especially when your move is to a new city. There’s nothing like it. Thoughts of new streets below your window, and a new chance to see the world from a different vantage point. That’s the romantic side of it, but as anyone who’s moved house knows, it’s not all romantic. Consolidating your junk and shipping your important belongings can be stressful and bothersome. Add on top of that the house hunt, in which much of the communication is done in a language not your own, and what can start as a fun transition in your life can turn into a month of toil. Recently, I moved home. I transferred from EF Chongqing to EF Kunming. Parts of this I loved, but I also took some lumps. Here’s an overview of my experience over the past month - some observations and commentary. Take from it what you will.
For two and a half years I lived and worked in Chongqing. I became accustomed to the absurd mound of peppers in nearly every dish, the social life built around scolding hot pots, the steep and meandering roads, crazed cabbies and daily fog. Chongqing was my introduction to China, Chinese people, culture, the pace of city-life and English teaching. I made many local and foreign friends - some left, some stayed. Then, some months ago, I discussed interest in moving to Kunming. Time passed; big moves don’t always happen quickly. In the back of my head, I knew the time would come eventually, but in the time of COVID it’s easy to think of everything as later. Before I knew it, later arrived. “Still interested in moving to Kunming?” the region’s manager asked. “Yep!”
Any teacher who’s moved to China from abroad probably remembers those butterflies you get shortly after you’ve accepted a position with EF and have committed to leaving home. Not all, but a few of these butterflies returned on the word “Yep!” The next day it was: “Oh, what’s next?” I should’ve sat down and made a list. I didn’t. Instead, I took the whatever’s-top-of-mind-do-that method. Don’t do this. It caused a lot of unneeded stress and last-minute searching. I should’ve followed up making a list with buying my ticket. This would’ve given me a visible deadline on dealing with all of the stuff in my apartment right from the start. I would’ve had a longer runway.
Do the difficult things first, while they’re easy. Somebody smart said this. I find difficulty in cleaning out drawers and closets. I hate stuff. I have to see and throw out all the junk I didn’t need in the first place. I laid my biggest piece of luggage open in my living room and started emptying my closet, rolling up clothes and tucking them as snug into the corners as I could. I like to think this saves space, but I’m sure if my mom were to see this method, she would wonder why I still can’t fold my clothes like an adult. I knew I wouldn’t be taking everything with me on the plane and that’d I’d want to ship some things ahead of leaving with a moving company. "Hey, I need a...””Yeah Alipay.” I couldn’t even get the question out. Two years in and I’m still surprised at the convenience of every service. 德邦快递 offers pickup within two hours of ordering, no matter how little information you provide them. They weighed everything at my front door and I paid on the spot.
Goodbyes should be staggered. I did well with this. I had some goodbyes weeks out from leaving and spread them out from there. Formal relationships require formal goodbyes, informal relationships shouldn’t have forced goodbyes, they’ll happen the way they should. Living abroad I made friends different than any I’d made at home. Some friends are reminders, some friends are challenges, some friends pick me up when I feel lost on the other side of the world. Some friends teach me about China, some want to know everything about the United States. I wanted to remember everyone as I’d known them. Perhaps I’ve got to get far away to know what a friend is worth. What I think is that every time I move, I’m closer to some friends and farther from others. Nonetheless, having my closest friends all together for a big goodbye was my best move. My family of teachers all met for hot pot on my final night in Chongqing – there’s no better final meal if you’re leaving Chongqing.
Ten o’clock Monday morning, following a Sunday night of hot pot and KTV, I caught my flight to Kunming. This is early. I didn’t sleep much because it’s quite a long ride in a cab from Yuanjiagang to the airport and I didn’t want to be pushing it with time, knowing I’d be checking luggage. This is not an advertisement for early flights, but I maintain in this situation it’s the right move –I had my fun and said my goodbyes, no need to linger. In my experience, this flight included, I’ve been allowed to carry on almost any amount luggage, avoiding checking most of it.
Both when I arrived in Chongqing the first time and when I arrive here in Kunming, EF had a hotel reservation ready for me. The song-and-dance exchange to explain how I’m here in China during the pandemic is one in which I’m well versed, and besides I had a lovely staff member from my school to accompany me. I’m one to take advantage of all the conveniences that come with staying in a hotel, so although it was a hair past noon, I brewed a coffee before heading out the door to meet my new EF family.
My default advice is to always try new things when given the opportunity. But this philosophy isn’t so straight forward with new food, so know your own stomach. In all my travels about China I’ve found that every place has presented some cuisine new to me, Kunming being no exception.
I feel strongly one cannot get a proper sense of a city and its layout without passing its sidewalks beneath one’s feet on a long walk and taking to the streets via cab or bike. For this reason, I didn’t begin my search for an apartment until I arrived. I spent two days covering as much ground as possible, matching what I took in with the grided Baidu maps. I found a few neighborhoods with the right vibe. I purposefully ventured out without a realtor, knowing they’d choke the experience, telling me what I want in a home before I or they had any clue what I want. While this attitude and approach served me well in that I wandered into some lovely nook-and-cranny neighborhoods I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, I met not a single landlord nor any individual with the authority to rent-out an apartment. Instead, I chatted with retired grannies and gate keepers, who were more than happy to show me about their grounds, but could offer me little in regards to open rooms. I scribbled my phone number on scrap papers and wrinkled hands and was promised that I would receive phone calls when they discovered which places were free....no phone calls came.
I arrived in Kunming on a Monday and come Thursday I submitted to my fate and met with an 18-year-old in suit. To the agent’s credit, I’m now in a place I greatly enjoy with an open balcony through which I can enjoy the Yunnan sunshine.
Whether back home or abroad, there’s an adjustment period after you’ve moved to a new place. I was cognizant of this when the time came, but in a weird way adjusting to Kunming a longer process for me than when I first moved to China. When I arrived in Chongqing everything was unique to my experience and therefore exciting and worth trying. I didn’t care to find the right grocery store or restaurant, and the quickest route to work was neither here nor there, so long as got there, because more of commute meant more to see. I wanted to hit the ground running here and instead I struggled to find my rhythm. Things have worked out since and I’m certainly better for the experience. I wrote this blog not to give advice, but hopefully to give future EF teachers a peek into part of life in China. Still, I want to offer a bit of advice and that is this: a bad day abroad is worse than a bad day back home, as you’re without your comforts, but any bad day is still just that – one day. It’s worth paying those bad days now again for the good ones to come.