Before we begin present day blogs, we'd like to share the story of how we came to China - misadventures and mishaps included.
Chapter 1: May(hem)
It was the beginning of May – a month brimming with new beginnings: an impending graduation, procrastinated wedding plans, and a looming 22nd birthday.
As an accomplished procrastinator, I was scraping together the remnants of my final semester at MSSU. Sleepless nights spent frantically hacking out 10-page essays and downing pots of oolong tea were the norm. To-do lists were tacked like cheap wallpaper all about our apartment. In the midst of the mental mayhem, I even misplaced my planner – the holy tome which served as home to any stranded thoughts met with “no vacancy” at the door of my over-stuffed mind.
As if the wedding planning, graduation prepping, and what-am-I-going-to-do-after-college worrying weren’t entertaining enough, Jake and I were gripped by the sudden desire to live in China for a year.
It was my Communication Issues instructor who planted the idea, but my own travelling itch served as the fertilizer. He told me about an opportunity to teach English in China…all expenses paid.
Chapter 2: Roving Duo
For vagabonds like Jake and me, such as opportunity is much like dangling a plump rabbit within reach of a starving viper. Though, in our case, no furry critter need suffer.
As a child, I used to stare at maps and globes, envisioning places so far from my grasp. Within the past few years, however, those faraway dreams have begun to blend with reality. Last year, we returned from a semester spent in Taiwan. That experience proved travelling to be more feasible than I’d ever thought. Seeing the world is often something people hope to do; for us, it is what we intend to do.
Though eye-opening and irreplaceable, our Taiwan trip was tossed together like a bistro’s house salad. We swore never to jump into a trip so spontaneously ever again. We wisely agreed to carefully, slowly plan our next trip over a reasonable span of time. Because of this, I hesitated to tell Jake about the opportunity. We already had a trip to Japan in the works, and a jaunt to China was everything our newfound intentions were not.
But, anyone with even a shadow of the adventurer’s spirit knows such a thing can’t be silenced.
So, of course I told him.
Chapter 3: Up in Arms
After celebrating the early retirement of our previous no-more-spontaneous-abroad-trips policy, we made contact with Mr. Chen.
Owner of the company Ameri-Can, Chen places English teachers in Chinese schools. After a brief e-mail correspondence, we met with him at MSSU, along with 3 other college students.
Now, one must understand we assumed Chen need a limited number of teachers, making the other 3 students our supposed enemies. So, we prepped for battle and entered the meeting in full regalia. Resumes and cover letters were tweaked to perfection, and outfits were selected with all the care of a painter mixing his hues.
We arrived early, to scope out the battlefield. The other students trickled in, followed by a grinning Chinese man donned in spectacles and suspenders. Straight-backed in my chair, trying to appear like the most capable English teacher, the meeting commenced.
Chen brought along a veteran of the field, Linda, who had taught in Qingdao, China for years. The better part of the meeting was spent with her offering up experience and personal advice. A strained tension clung to the air, its claws digging into my confidence. We all took turns asking questions, doing our best not to sound like the ignorant Americans we likely were.
Finally, after the tension had brewed into a goopy soup, Jake asked, “So, are we all hired?” Chen smiled and said, “Of course!” as though there had never been any question of it. Suddenly, we were all the best of friends. Jake and I slipped our armor quietly to the floor, packed away the artillery, and wished our new friends luck in their capacities as English teachers.
The first hurdle was cleared.
Chapter 4: Shucking attachments like sweet corn
China preparations began and correspondence with Chen continued. Jake and I met with him the very next day, set on covering details of our departure.
The mood of the meeting was considerably more relaxed than the first, since we were no longer prepping for WWIII. As the discussion breached the topic of our departure, a potential problem wedged itself snuggly between gears which had otherwise been spinning smoothly. The volley of negotiations which ensued played out like a world-class fencing match. Chen, with lightening quick thrusts, and Jake crouched low, en garde. When asked when we needed to be in China, Chen quipped, “The day before yesterday,” before letting forth an uncontained chuckle. I smiled, old chums with his wit by that point, before informing Chen of the upcoming graduation, wedding, and honeymoon. “Could we leave around June 15th ?” Jake asked, saber set to parry. Slipping his glasses up the bridge of his nose and leaning forward with hands clasped atop the table, Chen said, “How about June 7th?” His attack slapped us like a saber across the face.
Jake and I exchanged an alarmed look, my own surprise mirrored by the furrow of his eyebrows. We hadn’t expected such an early date. Leaving in early June would give us about 3 weeks to shuck all attachments, pack, and be ready for China – a feat much like being pushed from a moon-bound shuttle and being told to fly.
“That’s really cutting it close,” Jake said. “I mean, after we get back from our honeymoon, we wouldn’t have time to prepare.”
“China could be your honeymoon,” Chen exclaimed, negotiating cozily from his chair. Laughing nervously, saber at our throats, Jake and I exchanged a glance of pure understanding.
“Actually, June 4th would be even better,” Chen said.
The match came to a close, and Chen was left with our forfeit and any hope we had had of post-graduation-wedding R and R.
Chapter 5: Gowned in Mud
Like a carnival juggler twirling fire through the air, I did my best not to get burned. Our apartment was ransacked, residence of chaos itself. And I settled into the eye of the storm, fashioning end-of-semester papers like the miller’s daughter spinning golden thread in Rumpelstiltskin’s sweatshop.
Gowned and tasseled, I became a Missouri Southern alumna May 22nd, 2010. For the first time since entering kindergarten, I was no longer enrolled in any sort of educational institution. I breathed deeply, enjoyed the thrill of accomplishment, and then slinked back into the storm’s eye. I had a wedding to attend to.
The next morning dawned sore and bleary-eyed, after a night spent gluing endless flowers to an infinite number of centerpieces.
My family and I crammed dresses, decorations and frozen food into cars, slamming doors shut before unwanted avalanches could ensue. Then began my date with the Green Warden.
Time for a brief aside. You see, months previous to the events being recounted here, Jake and I borrowed an old van from my parents. Affectionately dubbed the Green Warden, ol’ Green was the first mode of vehicle transportation we’d had in years. Before that, Joplin was measured by our feet. After chugging along merrily for several months, our green friend began spewing smoke – after one particularly painful coughing fit, we rendered him undriveable…and we became walkers again.
Not long after, we came across a reasonably priced Ford Explorer and purchased him, gaining yet another green comrade. After a brief courtship, the Explorer died suddenly on the interstate: cause of death unknown. And we became walkers yet again.
With a honeymoon imminent and no way of getting to it, we needed to fix one of our green allies. Luckily, we had the assistance of a mechanically-inclined neighbor: John. Though unable to resurrect the Explorer, the Green Warden was back in commission. Our relationship was rekindled.
Fast forward to 7 days before the wedding. The day was drenched by continuous rainfall. Warden and I had visited my family for the weekend. After a round of good-bye hugs, I packed the Warden, shifted into reverse, tapped the gas – and went nowhere.
Here’s a helping of Becky’s finest advice, on the house: don’t park in the grass if the forecast calls for rain, and your vehicle is sans rear-wheel drive.
Warden’s engine churned, and his tires spewed, but we only dug a pre-mature grave in the mud. I called in familial reinforcements, and we spent an hour trying to free the green beast. We pushed this way, that way, packed the ground with straw, wooden boards, and anything else to gain traction. But, all we gained was another foot deeper in mud. An hour, and we were drenched, muddied, and as crazy-eyed as the Lost cast post-plane crash. And the Warden was as immovable as a beached whale.
A week passed, with hopes of the Warden’s muddy grave drying. After fruitless attempts at towing him, the day of the wedding arrived and our efforts were laced with anxiety.
Déjà vu hit without remorse, and I found myself sweaty and decked in mud. Clawing, shoveling mud as the clock gobbled minutes like a greedy mouse with cheese, and still the earth clung to my trapped friend.
Realized mud might clash with my wedding attire, I retreated to the bathroom, leaving my father with the reins of the rescue mission.
I emerged from a hurried shower to find our neighbor attaching his tractor to the Warden’s bum. Though the mud proved a stubborn prison, Warden finally broke free to the cheers of everyone present.
Moral of this aside: never take for granted the aid of helpful neighbors.
Chapter 6: Casting Off
Despite (or perhaps because of) the struggles which led to it, the wedding was beautiful. Without the tireless, selfless aid of my stepmother, the event likely would have taken place in a ramshackle courthouse. Instead, we were married outside, in front of loved ones, by our friend Jerry Myers. Our wedding vows expressed our love, friendship, and lifelong partnership. That day I not only married my soul mate, but my best friend.
The wedding was Asian inspired and reflected our fascination with the culture on many levels. Red cherry blossom branches set in rice-filled vases adorned every table. Zodiac scrolls and chopsticks accompanied each place setting, and a buffet of Chinese food awaited rumbling bellies.
The cake, a red velvet and cream cheese affair, featured a black and red cherry blossom branch snaking up the front of the top two tiers. The base was formed by rows of cupcakes topped with delicate blossoms. The groom’s cake was a perfectly formed yin yang, an obvious throw-back to Asian culture.
Cheeks sore from grinning, eyes glazed from a tirade of camera flashes, we spent our first married moments laughing and chatting with loved ones. It is an oddly surreal feeling to attend a gathering celebrating your love. Such an occasion is much like standing at the bow of a docked ship, waiting to push off into the unknown – the precipice of adventure.
Chapter 7: Invasion
With the Green Warden as our vessel, we set sail for our honeymoon. Destination: Wyndam Resort at Fairfield Bay. The 4-hour journey was fraught with curvy, swervy, winding roads, and an ambush from a surprise enemy.
The sun had retired for the night, and we were carefully scouting the darkness for our final turn off. Flashlight in hand, the better to read road signs with, Jake dropped the beam to the van’s floor and let out a sound of alarm. With darkness as their shield, pirate ants had climbed aboard. Droves of them feasted greedily on discarded McDonald’s cuisine. Remember the straw used to free the Green beast in Chapter 5? It seems it housed a nest of ants who ninja’d their way aboard the S.S. Warden.
Exhausted, road-weary, and ant-covered, we finally arrived at our 2-story condo. Our stay at the resort was just the recipe for relaxation we craved. Carefree days brimmed with Jacuzzi sessions, Fairfield Bay exploration, and catching up with the cast of Lost.
There wasn’t a to-do list in sight.
But, perhaps we were merely blind.
Chapter 8: Consolidation
With June 4th looming and endless preparations waiting at home, our honeymoon was sliced in half. Though we had until June 1st to move out, our landlady insisted on inspecting the apartment 3 days early. We tumbled from our road-faring vessel, legs stiff, backs sore, and dove sponges-first into a cleaning frenzy.
The toilet, tub, sink, stove, oven and floor tiles were scrubbed to such perfection they could have hosted Thanksgiving feast. I emerged from the glistening bathroom, fresh from a 409 bath, loopy and giggling uncontrollably. Everything was stored in boxes, adopted by the dumpster, or shoved into suitcases.
We collapsed near dawn, like twin marionettes forsaken by their master, and woke to greet our landlady.
The long-anticipated inspection took all of 5 minutes.
Chapter 9: Vagabonds
If the absence of a home makes one “homeless,” then Jake and I became such after the events of Chapter 8.
Bags packed, goodbyes said, and excitement building, we intended to stay with my parents until June 4th. Ol’ Green chugged his way to Rogers, Arkansas, and we set up camp in their spare bedroom. Little did they know we would become as permanent as the warm cream splashed across the walls.
Just before June 4th hit, we received an e-mail from Chen. Negotiations with the Chinese school had gotten rocky, and our original departure date was scratched.
Having become quite flexible in our old age, we took the news stoically and optimistically. More time to prepare, look for teaching materials, and visit family. No biggie.
We hopped from house to house, like bunnies on pogo sticks, and stayed with various family members. Days were spent murdering time until a new departure date was set. We lived from our suitcases, slept on floors, and had more free time than the universe has stars. It’s amazing how one longs to be productive, when faced with a never-ending stasis.
Another date was set, bags were re-packed, goodbyes were re-said, and excitement was rebuilt … as was disappointment. Again, negotiations hit a brick wall, and we remained the homeless vagabonds, Green Warden our vessel.
With the tail of June in sight, our exasperations hit their peak, while our optimism reservoirs went dry. Our frustrations were relayed to Chen, and another date was decided on. After taking the news with a large grain of salt, we re-enacted the previous we’re-going-to-china efforts. With a battle tank and full battalion guarding our optimism, we weren’t surprised when the date was cancelled yet again.
“We are now looking at the end of July or beginning of August,” Chen said via e-mail.
We had reached our shattering point. Having quit our jobs, shortened our honeymoon, hurried from our apartment, and cut all financial obligations in order to leave by June 4th, our patience was battered, bruised, and blistered. The idea of another month in limbo was not one we could swallow easily. Such a pill would need to be downed with a drink stronger than mere water.
Traitorous thoughts marched through our minds, such as scrapping the entire trip altogether. But, after all we had sacrificed and suffered, paired with our desire to live in China, we refused to give up. Following a not-so-minor breakdown, a frustrated phone call to Chen, and long talks to hash things out, we let go of our frustrations and prepared (mentally and emotionally) for another month in the U.S. We relaxed, spent a couple nights camping, and returned to find several e-mails and voice mails from Mr. Chen.
The negotiations had succeeded. The contract was signed. Within 24 hours, we would leave for China.
Chapter 10: The Long Road to….where?
So, we landed in Korea, and that was that.
Chapter 11: Okay, Serioulsy
Just kidding. This tale isn’t titled, “The Long Road to Korea,” after all.
Below is the itinerary for our trip.
July 10, 2010, 08:40, departed XNA for Chicago
July 10, 2010, 12:35, departed Chicago for Seoul, Korea
July 12, 2010, 09:40, departed Seoul for Guangzhou, China
Departing the 13 hour transcontinental flight from Chicago, we entered into a 17 hour layover at the Seoul Airport. A brief scouting of the airport showed we weren’t the only passengers stranded for the night. People curled up for a few winks of sleep anywhere they could lay their heads: benches, chairs, random floor space.
Eager to be mobile, after 13 hours of being crammed like chips in a Pringles can, Jake and I ventured through the airport. The place had everything imaginable: massage parlors, showers, restaurants, nurseries, shops, and snack bars. After sampling over-priced coffee and fresh from much-needed showers, we settled down in our own little nest. Though neither of us had slept since before our first flight, we managed only an hour or two of restless slumber.
Morning hit, and we basked in yet another round of showers, gluttonous in the luxury to do so. We boarded our flight, waved goodbye to Korea, and hit the sky.
Chapter 12: Finally
Our flight landed at about noon China time, and the humidity-drenched air hit us hard. We plucked our bags from the luggage carousel and lugged them through customs. According to Chen, his associate would be holding a placard with our names on it. After a few minutes of confused searching, pushing through herds of milling people, we spotted our quarry. Donned in a bright yellow shirt over zebra print leggings, she stood out as clearly as a foreigner in a Taiwanese night market. This was Amy, our deliverance into China.