I thought I wouldn’t have to graduate again, but I was wrong. I’ve just completed a 4-year stint in China. No degree this time, but I have had some moderate accomplishments.
- Meals consumed at the canteen: 860
- Hours spent teaching students: 1,440
- Students taught at China University of Petroleum: 1,800
- Cities visited in China: 25
- Distance spent riding a bike: 8,000 km
Now some of those figures may not be the precise amount, but they’re fairly close. Probably 90% of the meals I ate were either malatang (basically a noodle soup) or fried jiaozi (dumplings) with eggs. If I had known how many students I would have had to teach, I may have quit after that first year. I do wish I had traveled more in China. Since I first arrived in the Middle Kingdom, I dreamed of going to Tibet and camping at Mt. Everest’s base camp. I never went to Xinjiang, a province that’s like a Middle Eastern transplant in China. And I never did travel to Shangri La, a fabled place where some say you can find heaven on earth.
I’ll miss my bike. It was a Trinx, 21-speed mountain bike with a black and blue stripe along the frame. I replaced the tires multiple times. My speedometer’s life cycle was about one semester each year. And the brakes sounded like squealing, screeching tires whenever I used them. It has taken me to the mountains and sea, to cities and villages, and to work and home. I think my 900 RMB ($150) investment paid off. Somehow I convinced a student to buy it for 300 RMB ($50). It may have helped that he test rode it at night when he couldn’t see the rusty chain and battle scars crisscrossing the frame. At least he doesn’t need a bell. The brakes will do just fine.
I’ll miss the Chinese people. They are certainly not a uniform people indistinguishable from each other. Rather, they are nearly as diverse as America in their personalities and worldviews. I’ll miss teaching my students (some classes more than others). Overall, I was impressed by their language abilities and their dedication to learn. Of course, not everyone was a model student, but most were intelligent and clever. With over 1.3 billion people in China, job hunting will be fierce. Their future may not be easy, but I believe they will be rewarded for their perseverance and diligence.
I’ll miss my teaching community at China University of Petroleum: Alex and Vera, Steve and Amy, and Mike. Some other universities seemed to attract unpleasant, anti-social teachers, but our group was great. We often ate meals together, and we would have dinner parties twice a month at each other’s apartments. Vera’s cooking was delectable, Sun Yu’s music was inspiring, and our Charades were quite entertaining. Sometimes after a few drinks, Steve would heartily sing “House of the Rising Sun” as he strummed his guitar. Most Wednesdays we would eat dinner at a small family restaurant across from the north gate of our campus. Even during the cold, windy winter, we rarely skipped our weekly meals. Vera would go first to the restaurant and order our usual dishes (honey-glazed eggplant, fried green beans, tender pork and peppers, and chicken cubes with peppers and onions smothered in a sweet sauce). Later, we would all arrive and consume the food while swapping stories about teaching, news, and daily life. I never got tired of the food, and I’ll never forget some of the stories we shared together.
I’ll miss my church in China. Every Sunday the women would prepare a tasty dish for breakfast (cinnamon rolls, muffins, quiche, etc…) and a hearty lunch after the service. Occasionally the guys would attempt to cook (Nate was our only real contender). Brian and Jeff would accompany us on their guitars, and our pastors would preach the Word. Their diligence in preparation and passion to preach was a blessing and encouragement to me. Some of my favorite memories were the annual soup parties in the fall and our Christmas parties with innumerable desserts and cutthroat White Elephant. The Mennonite Mitts game, which involved attempting to open a heavily wrapped gift with oven mitts, was another memorable one. We may have been a small international church, but we were a close community. I will miss them all.
It’s funny, but “home” really is a nebulous term. Is it a physical place? Is it the people who live at that place? Or is it the fond memories you have? Perhaps it’s all those. Whatever the case, China did become my home, and now I am leaving it. Life continues, and a new adventure awaits. But wherever I end up, a part of me will never leave China. It’s part of my blood. It’s part of who I am. I have consumed its food, drunk its water, and breathed its air. And now I must say goodbye.