Hello, Hangzhou!

Hello from across the world in a new place that we’ve never created from!

In early March, we completed our Teaching English as a Foreign Language qualifications and after a single week of interviews we had an offer to join a company called English First in China. It was an opportunity too good to give up and after a few weeks of furious admin and planning we had gotten rid of all our stuff, booked our tickets and were on a plane with everything we owned in two suitcases . Finally, on the 23rd of April, Desmond and I landed in Hangzhou to undertake a whole new adventure.

We landed and got collected after a two-hour delay from Hong Kong and got to our new apartment on the 26th floor in a suburb that’s only existed for 15 years. The next morning we immediately left for our medical exam which was bizarre; we gave blood and urine samples and then went from tiny room to tiny room having our height and weight measured, our organs looked at through ultra-sound, ECGs attached to our bodies, eyes tested and full bodies x-rayed. Following this we went straight to our onboarding training at H4, the EF school in the Wulin West Lake district. Here we finally met our new co-teachers who were all getting ready to join the 8 different EF schools across Hangzhou. This was the first step toward Hangzhou starting to feel like home. Meeting local and international teachers who we could befriend and share experiences with whilst adjusting to this entirely new space and culture.

Now it’s mid-May and we’ve all completed our first week of actual teaching. It’s been exhausting but wonderful and our support group of co-teachers and new friends have made it a particularly easy adjustment. That and the fact that this city is really beautiful. Having spent 6 months in Johannesburg before leaving South Africa, I was anxious that a city of 10 million people would be a dangerous and overwhelming concrete jungle. It has been quite the opposite: every road is lined with trees and plants, beautiful birds are all over the city, there are mountains and bodies of water within 20 minutes of you wherever you are and you can walk or cycle around alone at any time of day or night without any danger to your personal safety. The only downside to China so far seems to be the air quality. I find myself checking the air quality daily before I leave the house in the morning and have some interesting observations. Being a cultural and new city, Hangzhou is particularly beautiful and clean and the only time we have bad air is when it’s blown in from more industrial cities in the North and East of here. Other than that, we have air quality between 20 and 80 for 90% of the time and considering that on an average day in London the air quality is 80, I’m quite content with this environment.

It’s been a busy few weeks and we haven’t done as much city exploration as we want to. What we have seen though has been wonderful. The attitude toward reusable and shared resources as well as the strong emphasis on recycling and the integration of nature into urban spaces makes the city tingle with greenery and life in a way that I haven’t experienced in South Africa. The attitude of sharing and appreciation of beauty is evident in the people who live here and the way the city has been planned and constructed and it’s wonderful to be submerged in this kind of space.

We also managed to get out to the West Lake and walk around the beautiful lake and gardens. We visited a temple there that was dedicated to the five kings Qian, a lineage of kings who have become the leading scientists and teachers in the contemporary era. The temple was filled with historical artifacts, statues and plants and was a great space for some insight into the history of China. We walked around the various segmented rooms and spaces, reading information boards and looking at beautiful and old things. In the front courtyard, tea makers were brewing traditional teas that were on offer which looked quite majestic against the backdrop of trees and temple roof tops. Tourists dead-set on selfies in each space, whilst giving very little time or attention to the objects, beauty or even information around them were slightly distracting but could not detract from the experience of the temple space.

I’m also absolutely in love with the food here and have found every dish that I’ve ordered fresh and delicious. Our daily dinner team that consists of three of us who live in the same complex have got a few favourite restaurants that we visit so often that the owners have begun to smile and wave when they see us approach. One bizarre things that happens particularly often in restaurants is that people take pictures of us. We are clearly foreign and often get stares but having people subtly (or not so subtly) taking pictures of us awkwardly learning to eat noodles with chopsticks has been a little strange. Not unpleasant, but strange, especially since we cannot figure out what on earth they’re taking these candid, in the distant images for. It’s a small price to pay and the food is usually so yummy that we hardly have the attention span to notice this local ritual.

Working at H6, which is based in a shopping mall, has also allowed us to explore some interesting spaces in the vicinity, such as the river or the weekend market where I bought the first plants to decorate the apartment with. Haggling and negotiating is a huge part of economic interaction here and we were told that we should not pay any more than half of the original price we are given for an object or trinket. This will become much easier once my Mandarin improves! One thing I’ve come to appreciate in a new light is how valuable gesture is as a part of communication. Between our three-person gang, we probably have a Mandarin vocabulary of about 15 words but gesture has filled the communication gaps and gone a long way.

Since arriving, we’ve switched apartments with a new best friend so that my fear of heights can be quietened by living on the 3rd floor rather than the 26th. It’s lovely to be low to the ground and to be able to see the tree tops and bird life out our kitchen window. Whilst our mandarin still leaves a lot to be desired, we can greet and thank people and order the delicious noodles we’ve come to love and have been warmly welcomed into the community here. This crazy beautiful mystical city of mountains, tea, and dragons is one that is quickly starting to feel like home. I can’t wait to learn how to navigate the bus systems comfortably and to get outside the city and start exploring the surrounding rural areas and cities. Stay posted for more blogs, photos and even video media from the JDBA team as we adventure around this incredible place for the next 15 months!