Lately, as I’m sure those who are friends with me on Facebook know, I’ve been contemplating what my future holds.
I’ve been here in China a shade over two years, which is the longest I’ve ever lived in any one place that wasn’t my family home. While Korea did rack up 2.5 years over the course of four years, it was never consecutive and never at the same employer.
My time here in Nanjing has seen me employed by the Jiangsu College for International Education since March 2012, and while I’ve griped from time to time, it’s been a hell of a ride.
With my contract up this coming September and a wedding to attend in Australia in August, I was torn between ending my contract early and avoiding a double flight to Australia (one in August and one in September) or extending my contract for another year.
I consulted friends and siblings. I even made a long Skype call home to my mother to see what she thought I should do.
You know shit is serious when you ask Mum for advice.
When I first came to Nanjing, I wrote the 5 reasons why I was loving life in Nanjing. Those reasons got a bit blurry over the course of a failed relationship and the involuntarily social exile that coupledom can sometimes entail.
Since last October and joining the Nanking Nation, I’ve started to love my life here. My easy-going 10 to 20 hour a week job, the eight weeks holiday a year, and most importantly, the friendships and social circles I’ve become a part of since coming out of my shell.
While Nanjing is a polluted and sometimes frustratingly racist city to live in, it’s come to feel like home.
I like my daily sandwich from Skyways German Bakery.
I like my regular watering holes like Talking #2, Jimmy’s, and Brewsell’s.
I’ve come to love my role in organising and participating in the monthly Nanjing pub crawls through NKN.
Where else in the world could I help run a foreigner party organisation, write a Chinese sitcom, get paid to visit different parts of the country, tour with a cricket team, and feel like a celebrity everywhere I went?
Much like Gwangju began to feel during 2008 and 2009, Nanjing has become to feel like someplace I feel at home. People know me in the street, and that’s a feeling I never seemed to be able to find ‘at home’ in Australia.
I don’t love Nanjing as a city. I find myself frustrated by Chinese administration, racist taxi drivers, and the ever present pollution on an almost daily basis.
Although I haven’t yet explored China in the detail I’d have liked (I still haven’t made it to Beijing or Yunnan), I’ve gotten to that point of comfort where I no longer see and feel the exciting newness of things. I’m more likely to shake my head at a bit of local weirdness than marvel at it and want to take its picture.
Most crucially, I’m not inspired by China. I find no inspiration in its tall, grey buildings or its hazy skies. I don’t feel motivated to create by its crowded parks and dirty streets.
Lately, I’ve come to wonder if being away from my family and dear friends for extended periods of time is truly worth it if I’m not still marveling at the experiences I’m having.
That is to say: if I’m going to be away from my family, I should be away from my family somewhere new and exciting.
After weighing up and pros and cons, and discussing things with everybody who cared to listen (and even a few who didn’t), I decided to do the ‘grown up thing’ and renew my contract here.
It just didn’t make sense to throw away a life I (mostly) enjoy and a job that I find fulfilling and that offers me the freedom to pursue my other passions in favour of an unknown quantity.
With mind made up and plans for another year in Nanjing in my head, I went to my boss to discuss a new contract.
And then the universe stepped in…
I’d noticed the ever-shrinking student numbers at our school, of course. From 7 or 8 classes in 2012 to 5 or 6 in 2013 to our present 4 classes in 2014, I’d noticed.
I’d also noticed teachers leaving in droves and not being replaced. The power couple that is Cortlin headed back to Australia, Jenny of the long dead Menstruation Nation heading home to Canada, and others heading off to other schools in search of better opportunities.
So, I guess it wasn’t a surprise when my boss informed me that with them having hired a new English teacher specifically to take my place when I left this coming September, they couldn’t justify extending my contract by another 12 months.
I’d be welcome to go out to one of our partner schools in sleepy rural cities like Lianyungang, Suining, or Binhai; but I couldn’t stay here.
As exciting as I might find being the only foreigner in a sleepy town with no night life, I respectfully declined. I’ve done my time as the only foreigner in Lianyungang and presently spend a few days every fortnight subbing in even sleepier Suining, and it’s not for me.
If I’m going to go stir crazy in a small village with no pulse, I might as well do that with my family while I scout potential homes for 2015.
The New Decision
So, with the grown up decision no longer one I have to make, I can do the immature thing without feeling quite so bad about it.
I’ll be heading home to Australia in August for my best friend’s wedding and the opportunity to play best man. I won’t be flying back to finish the final month of my contract, as I’ve given notice. It just seems stupid to fly to Australia for three weeks, fly back to China for three weeks, and then leave again.
I’m not sure how long I’ll be home. I’d like the opportunity to spend time with my niece and nephew, and to help my brother and his girlfriend renovate their first home.
I’d like to be home for Christmas (I’ve spent Christmas in China the last two years), and if I’m being honest, I’d just like the opportunity to clear my head and write away from distractions like a social life and work.
I’m not home for good. I’m not sure I’ll ever be.
But I’ll savour the time at home as I prepare to head someplace new. Maybe I’ll finally take the plunge and teach in Turkey. Maybe I’ll look into South or Central America, or even the Czech Republic. Maybe I’ll finally head to Japan, or head back to my home away from home in South Korea.
I don’t know, but it’s kind of exciting not knowing.
In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my remaining three months here in China.