America – The Return

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

This quote, which is the motto of “Life” magazine, is one of the best I’ve heard in a while. I recently watched ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ for the first time–which is where I heard the quote–and loved it. It reminded me of why I decided to uproot myself and move to China over a year ago. I have a strong thirst for adventure that seems only to grow the more experiences I have.

I recently passed my anniversary of starting this blog and in doing so, I’ve gotten a fresh perspective of my life over the past year. The challenges faced, friends met, experiences had, and wisdom gained yet again have culminated to create the person I am today. And in doing so, I have, for the first clear time, discovered my purpose in life. I will be a world traveler.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been different from those around me. Growing up, I didn’t have many friends and I never quite knew why. But now I know myself much better and although I’m still socially awkward at times, I’ve learned to open up in a way that doesn’t make others uncomfortable. Still, I see things differently from most people I know and this allows me to have a unique perspective that I often share with others in their times of need. When I say I want to be a world traveler, what I mean is that I want to travel all over while helping people and making their lives a little better–a little happier.

Many argue over whether or not one person can change the world, but to me, that argument is meaningless as it doesn’t help anyone. So instead of trying to change the world, I will work to benefit the lives of individuals. Because that, I know I can do. For now, I’ll stay here at my school and teach children English, music, art, and gym so that they can grow up to be more successful in an increasingly interconnected world.

Now, I know it’s been a long time yet again since my last entry and as usual, I’ve been through so much. I finished my contract for my first year here and took 6 weeks off to heal my ankle, which I badly sprained doing parkour in the gym at my school, and to go back to America and visit my friends and family.

I first visited my brother and his family just outside Seattle and shortly after arriving, my new camera arrived from Amazon. This is something I’ve wanted for several years, but never bought. But now that I have it, I want to change the focus of this blog. Rather than writing long stories of things I’ve done out here, I will focus more on photography and let my pictures tell the tale. I took over 5000 pictures during the 5 weeks I spent in America and saved just over 600 of the best. Of those, I’ve picked the best ones to share with you all over the next two posts.

So, without further ado, here are the first pictures from my trip. I’ll share the rest from the other trips in subsequent posts.

 

 

What Will Happen Next?

Giving my podpoi a spin at Xiaoyaojin park.

Giving my podpoi a spin at Xiaoyaojin park.

It is said that through our greatest difficulties, we discover our true selves; we make the greatest strides in our characters during our most daunting challenges. Whether it’s illness, injury, loss of loved ones or material items, a new job or big promotion, a college career, or a new city or country. Such difficulties test our spirits while providing us with the opportunity to learn and grow.

It’s no secret that I’ve faced many challenges since I arrived here, but I cherish each one as they’ve pushed my boundaries of what I thought I was capable of doing. I feel a sense of bliss when I think about all of the changes I’ve made in my life.

I’ve written about change several times before and those of you who have read my posts know that I am a big proponent of having it in my life. I believe that my acceptance of and desire for change is a major part of why I’m here now. In an ironic way, change is the only constant in my life. And I’ve gotta say, some days I feel a little like Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“Who are you?” Asked the Caterpillar.
“I-I hardly know, Sir, just at present,” Alice replied, rather shyly. “I knew who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”

In the time since my last post, not only have I changed some more, but my circumstances have as well. I’ve faced difficulties, made new friends and learned a lot in the process. Let’s jump back to last week.

After some relaxing time during my days off Monday and Tuesday, I was invited to go out with our newest Chinese teacher, Elva, as well as her husband and former coworkers. So I hopped on my electric moped and parked it at a mall near the restaurant and met up with them. Among her friends was Carl, an Englishman who has been teaching here in Hefei for 4 1/2 years. We all had a good time together and it was refreshing meeting more people who speak English. Afterwards, Carl invited me over to his apartment to hang out so we headed back to my moped so I could drive us there.

Now, I knew that I had parked it in a safer part of town, but it was nearly midnight by now and the place was all but deserted. As I unlocked my bike and got ready to go, I discovered that my batteries had been stolen while we were in the restaurant. Now, I knew it would be fairly expensive to replace them, but surprisingly it didn’t really bother me and we just grabbed a taxi and pressed on. Since I no longer had to drive home, I ended up drinking quite a lot and was proud that I was able to catch a taxi and make it home with no more problems.

Since that night, I’ve gone to Carl’s apartment twice and met about 6 other foreigners, mostly from the U.K., but two Americans as well. Its great finally having some friends who are foreigners. I also have new batteries thanks to my Center, but they came with a 700 RMB price tag (Just under $120). These batteries last noticeably longer though.

One if the things I’ve learned since coming out here is that after arriving, most foreigners try to find other expats to befriend. This is great to help with the culture shock and homesickness, but it can seriously limit how much one experiences the culture. Since I had been out here for 4 months before making any foreign friends, I had the opportunity to jump in with both feet and I am very grateful for that. I’m more comfortable and independent being on my own here than I would be if I had built a bubble of friends right away.

Now, to make sure that doesn’t change as I spend more time with my friends, I’ve made a promise to myself to also spend more time with the locals. I’m telling you all this so I can remain accountable.

Playing guitar at Xiaoyaojin Park

Playing guitar at Xiaoyaojin Park

So far, I’ve done a pretty good job. Last week I went back to Xiaoyaojin park with my guitar, but this time I was joined by one of my fellow teachers, Winnie, who took pictures and translated. I brought my poi this time as well. We had a good time and made some new friends who joined us at the bar a few nights ago. I’m getting more and more comfortable pushing my boundaries.

Earlier tonight, I took my guitar and poi down to the courtyard in my apartment complex and made a few more Chinese friends. I even got invited to go on a road trip to hike up Huangshan (try googling Bridge of the Immortals), but unfortunately my schedule won’t allow it. Don’t worry, I will go there someday.

After the sky became dark, I put my guitar away and pulled out my poi. I always love people’s reactions when they see me spin my lights, I even had a Chinese girl tell me that I’m handsome and perfect, but I wonder if that’s all the English she knows. After I had been performing for about an hour, I had a 15 minute conversation with an elderly Chinese lady that consisted of her chatting it up and me repeatedly telling her that she’s talking too fast and I can’t understand her. After she left, I packed up and headed back home. I’m getting very comfortable with these little performances.

The more time I spend here and the deeper I immerse myself, the more at home I feel here. And while my future remains uncertain, you can be sure that I’ll keep my head in the clouds and my feet on the ground.

Let’s Celebrate our Adversities!

Change

As each of us grow older, it is essential that we grow and adapt with our changing circumstances. Some some of us do so more than others; and those who resist change will inevitably face the difficulties. Change is our nature. It doesn’t always have to be dramatic, however; it often happens very slowly. As the Chinese proverb goes, “Be not afraid of going slowly, be only afraid of standing still.”

My arrival in China nearly 3 months ago sparked some extremely rapid changes in me. I’ve changed how I eat, think, speak, and act. I’ve begun to see the world with newfound wonder and my view of the USA has changed. Not that I have negative thoughts toward my home country, but each day it feels more distant to me. I look back with nostalgia, but that is mostly directed towards my friends, family and past experiences.

For most of my life, I’ve World Travelwanted to travel the world, but it always seemed like a distant goal, one experienced only by “lucky” individuals. I now understand that it’s not that those people are lucky; they simply placed traveling higher on their priority list than comfort and security. It’s safe to fall into a routine of working a good job and ascending the hierarchy. On the other hand, it’s risky to take the leap and leave everything behind to see the world. I’m not saying one is better than the other; but with every decision we make, we will be sacrificing what could have been. I’ve been spending a lot of time in quiet contemplation about which direction I want to go in my life and I know that my travels are only just beginning.

— — —

It’s been a while since my last post and a lot has happened in that time. I’ll see if I can keep it somewhat short though.

Last time I wrote, I told you all about my experience playing guitar in Xiaoyaojin park and my missing tooth. Well on May 7th I went to the best dental hospital in the province and had an implant placed to replace my tooth. The operation went well with no problems, but I did have 4 stitches in my mouth and had to take some antibiotics and medication to prevent infection. They made my muscles feel weak and gave me drowsiness, which made it difficult to teach my classes. But with a little can-do attitude, I took it day by day and made it through.

Last Thursday I was asked if I would play some romantic songs for the mother’s day event being held on Sunday. I jumped on the opportunity of course and spend the evening deciding which songs to play. On Friday we decided on “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz and “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley. I knew the chords to Hallelujah, but not the lyrics. And I’d of course heard “I’m Yours” about a million times when it released in the U.S. So I spent the next two days practicing both in my free time.

By the time Sunday came around, I was off my prescriptions and my gums no longer hurt when I spoke. I taught my usual Sunday classes until 4pm when I grabbed my guitar and headed to Golden Eagle Mall for what I expected to be my biggest performance so far. You see, I was told that there would be hundreds of people there, so you can imagine my nervousness as  I approached. When I arrived, I was very relieved, but a little disappointed to see that there were only about 30 people there plus the people walking by the shops.

The kids of Romp n' Roll playing musical hoops

The kids of Romp n’ Roll playing musical hoops

Before my performance, we had some sweet games for the kids and parents to play for some prizes. It was the first time I’d seen many of my students outside of our center, which was a cool experience. When the time came for me to play, I silently reminded myself that it only takes a few minutes of courage to shine. Although I still had a missing tooth and some visible stitches in my mouth, I chose to let go of attachments and just have a good time. As my American voice echoed throughout the mall, curious eyes came to investigate, filling in the gaps surrounding me and capturing the moment with their phones. With the exception of some technical sound difficulties and some forgotten lyrics, both songs went well and I felt great afterwards.

Romp n' Roll instructors do a prayer for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake

Romp n’ Roll instructors do a prayer for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake. Gotta love the little girl copying their movements.

Following my performance, the other teachers I work with performed a traditional prayer for the victims of the earthquake in the Sichuan province last month. At the end of the event, I helped pass out the prizes to some ecstatic Chinese kids and then went on my way. A great end to a tough week.

Little girl with her Rompy prize

Little girl with her Rompy prize. She was so excited about it.

Yesterday I had my stitches taken out, which was awesome. But I found out that I now have to wait 5 months for my jawbone to fuse with the implant before I can have a full smile again. The reason for the name of this post is that through adversity, we are able to see what we’re capable of. Adversity inspires change within us. It is the slap in the face that wakes us up from our comfortable slumber and forces us to evolve. So I say we celebrate our adversity and see just how good we can be!

Here are my performances of I’m Yours and Hallelujah on Youtube.

A New Beginning

You can see my brother, Connor, on the left side of the picture. This was one of our last hikes together before I left to China.

You can see my brother, Connor, on the left side of the picture. This was one of our last hikes together before I left to China.

Well world, as many of us are already acutely aware, we as a species are at a crossroads. Its difficult to find a time in history when the future has been so uncertain and I think many of us can agree that the stakes have never been higher. Sure, I could go on and name everything that we should and shouldn’t be doing to secure what many would call the best possible future. I could systematically state who is to blame for the problems we face, as has been done repeatedly in the past. But I’m not going to do that.

What I’m going to do in this blog is share many of the experiences that I’ve had in life so far as well as experiences yet to come with hopes that the insights and wisdom that I gain might give you another perspective. I strongly believe that for us to change the paradigm in which we currently live, first we must change our perspectives and our expectations. Whatever it is you may take from my posts on this blog, I simply hope that it affects you in a positive way.

Ever since I can remember, I have had a desire to explore and experience as much as I can in life. I’ve adventured all over the Western United States and I’ve had a few adventures on the East Coast as well. But while each of those experiences emblazoned new memories and lessons within me, they didn’t quite satisfy my thirst for adventure.

But that all recently changed.

Now as I sit in my 12th floor apartment in Hefei, Anhui, China, I feel, for the first time, what I want to do with my life.

It all started back in December 2012 when I was living in my 1976 Dodge van parked in my brother’s driveway outside of Chico, California. I was job hunting on Craigslist among the many posts, when I came across one for an infant-preschool teaching job in China. Despite many of my friends and family members assuring me that it must be a scam, I followed my instinct and sent in my resume and cover letter Dec. 9th.

While I don’t have any formal teaching training, what I do have is almost 23 years of being around kids. You see, I am the 7th child out of a family of 7 boys and 2 girls and I now have 6 nieces and 4 nephews. The experiences I’ve had with them, plus some volunteer work I did at a local elementary school during college is about the extent of my teaching experience.

I had nearly given up hope on the position until I received an email Jan. 27th from Kate Troidl, the English Education Director with Romp N’ Roll China asking to schedule an interview. I hastily replied and we chose a date after I had gotten Skype to work on my computer. A few days later we had our interview when she offered me the position.

Fast forward to Feb. 20th. After two exhaustive trips to San Francisco with my brother, Connor, and painful work getting my passport and Chinese visa, I was packed and ready to head out. I said my goodbyes to my family and friends and began the greatest adventure of my life thus far.

As I sat in the Sacramento airport, worrying about everything that could go wrong during my trip, I was reminded of something a wise man once said, “A coward dies a thousand deaths.” I realized that worrying about my luggage being too heavy, getting lost or anything else that could go wrong wouldn’t help anyone and the best course for me to take is to simply relax and welcome life with open arms.

After 40 hours of traveling, and no major issues, I had arrived in Beijing and received a warm welcome from my first 3 friends in China, who picked me up from the airport–Dylan, Kelly, and Laura–two of my fellow Romp N’ Roll instructors and my new trainer.

After 6 hours of sleeping like a rock on a bed that might as well have been a rock in my hotel room, I awoke with new vitality as the scale of my decision began to sink in. My training in Beijing, while very intensive, was thoroughly enjoyable. Each day I felt like a tidal wave of culture and information crashed over me to the point where my mind and body was so numb that I would do absolutely nothing after work.

Each day did get easier as I became more accustomed to my new life. Outside of work, I made several great memories with the other Americans that worked in the center.

After about a week and a half of training in Beijing, Laura, my trainer, and I hopped on another plane to Hefei, the city that would be my home for the next year. It was there that she would help me finish my training and integrate with my new Chinese co-teachers.

I’m going to cut off my story right their for now and pick it up in my next entry for the sake of writing a blog and not a novel. This is my first blog I’ve ever written, so please feel free to comment with any questions, advice, or anything else you feel like saying!

Thanks for reading,

Josh