This might come as a surprise to some people, but I’m an ESL teacher. It says so right there in my ‘Meet the Author’ widget on the sidebar, but I wouldn’t want to presume anything – not when it comes to the transient nature of The Internet (yes, capital letters and all).
I first caught the teaching bug when I did some Actual Classroom Work at a high school in rural Spain. Turns out I’m a natural and I’m really good at the teaching that I do, so once school ended and summer started up again, I thought to myself ‘why not’ and applied to teach in China.
The entire process leading up to my boarding a flight at Heathrow was an adventure and a half (and I’ll definitely type up a post about it soon enough), but today I’ll focus on my journey from Kent to Chengdu. It was certainly different from my previous intercontinental experiences travelling back and forth between the UK and the Philippines. But where to begin?
Let’s start with the disaster of leaving my hometown in Kent and see where that leads us.
LiberaTarts Goes to China
To quote John Denver whose song ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ somehow became the background music of my childhood years, all my bags were packed and I was ready to go. And it would have felt like Mother Nature was sending me off in good spirit, what with a rainbow showing up and all that, if not for the fact that the reason I was able to see the rainbow in the first place was because I forgot my wallet back home and didn’t realise until I was already at the train station.
So anyway, my plans to leave for China didn’t go off to an auspicious start. I ran back and forth between the train station and home, sweating up a storm despite my intentions of being chill and relaxed AF as I buckle myself in for a 10 hour flight east. I was wearing joggers and an oversized hoodie and everything! If I learned anything from the multiple long-haul flights in the past, it’s to forgo skinny jeans and embrace the athleisure style.
Arriving in London
Despite the rushing back and forth, I was able to make it to London with plenty of time to spare. I checked two of my large suitcases into a Left Luggage facility and spent one last dinner (in a long, long while) with my brother, who was kind and gracious and filial enough to accompany me to the airport.
We went to Nando’s, as it’s our usual haunt, and afterwards we reluctantly dragged our feet towards the underground. We picked up my two suitcases from the lockers, and somehow managed to navigate through London-in-rush-hour with two frankly overweight suitcases and a small carry-on. The lifts were also out of service at the St Pancras / King’s Cross station, usually known for having step-free access, so we had to ask a very helpful station attendant to help transfer my suitcases from the train station level down to the underground level. (It was a nightmare, but lowkey fun.)
This can all have been avoided, of course, if I checked the TfL website beforehand for any issues. Silly me!
At Heathrow Airport
Once we were through the underground barriers and free to roam Heathrow, my brother and I didn’t have to walk far before we found the Air China check-in counter. I used the self-service machines to print out my boarding pass (because I’m anti-social like that), but had to talk to an Actual Human as I dropped off my luggage. They were overweight, which wasn’t a surprise. For the life of me, I can never pack light and I’m slightly proud to say that one large suitcase was filled with British snacks.
I’ve lived the expat life before, people! I know myself enough that a few months into a new country, I’d be missing my favourite snacks like a, well, a missing limb. When I was in Japan for my year abroad, I somehow convinced my family to send me three giant 200g blocks of Galaxy chocolate and a handful of Walkers Thai Sweet Chilli crisps.
I live to this day with no regrets. Regarding snacks, at least. I paid a hefty amount for my overweight luggage, but that’s a problem for past and future me to consider. Present-me is having a blast in a hotel room that her new work has paid for.
Boarding My Flight
The plane I was due to take arrived late at the airport, which meant it was late in boarding my fellow flight passengers on; it wasn’t late for long, but it was enough for me to grumble about things needing to be on time. A funny thing that happened, though: an airline employee announced that my flight was delayed, and just as as she uttered “The flight XXXXX is…” a bunch of overeager passengers jumped to their feet and began queueing. It was like watching meerkats pop out from the ground.
The other airline staff checking passports at the waiting area exchanged looks and were like “that was funny”, but only in a more professional manner than my retelling makes them out to be.
Flying from England to China
Now this. This was s o m e t h i n g.
10 hours of recycled air, no WiFi, and oversalted food to compensate with the high altitude.
I won’t say it was fun because I actually have a semblance of sanity left, but the seat next to me wasn’t taken and I was free to stretch out my legs as I catnapped in the air.
I made the executive decision not to sleep during the flight, because I wanted to conquer jet lag as quickly as possible given how I’ll be set to work within a week and my relationship with a regular sleeping pattern is something teenagers laugh at. Anyway, I was grateful to have thought ahead and have downloaded Series 9 of ‘Doctor Who’ on my phone using BBC iPlayer – I’ve never seen it before even though it’s 2019 it was released in 2015.
I’ve also downloaded some library ebooks on my phone (can’t figure out to sending loaned books to my Kindle), and I had plenty of non-fiction reads to tide me over on said Kindle, so it wasn’t like I was bored to tears as I flew from Europe to Asia. Still, I would loved some access to the Internet. Maybe if I flew business or first class in the future…
…one can only hope.
Landing in China
My heart was racing and, for once, it wasn’t due to the pre- or post-flight jitters. There’s something about a plane revving up or preparing to land that scares me. Anyway, I was super nervous to land in China. It’s not because I’ve never been before – I’m a traveller at heart and I like experiencing new cultures – but because I know I’ll be spending at least a year in this place and I do not speak a word of Mandarin. At least with Japan, during my year abroad, I spent the previous two years studying Japanese as part of my university degree.
Working in China was a relatively spur of of the moment decision. Aside from 你好 (ni hao, hello) and 谢谢 (xie xie, thank you), I know next to nothing. Everyone, even those who have no intention of living semi-permanently in any Chinese speaking countries, know how to say hello and thank you. It’s just basic courtesy. My fears that I will somehow insult somebody or break the rules somehow is entirely founded in something real.
I gotta learn how to speak Mandarin. I will learn even if it kills me.
Anyway, I land in China and was greeted by a large placard bearing my full name, which was held by representatives from my new company. It was both mortifying (because it was bright pink) and endearing (no one has even made an airport placard for me before!). I see myself keeping that placard for the time being. I’m a huge packrat, afterall…
Less than 24 hours later, I wake up in my hotel room and visited the Head Office to sign my contract. I leave with a welcome bag filled with well-meaning gifts and two work uniforms. But I suppose that’s a story for another time. Keep an eye out for the second part of the ‘Where the Pandas Are’ series! The plan is to document my time here in China, from the ups and downs, the enjoyable and the downright absurd.
Feel free to join me in this adventure. Let’s have some fun!