The water below the plane appeared solid enough that I could bounce a ball off of its surface and have it returned to my grasp in a matter of minutes. The blue of the water met with the blue of the sky at the horizon in an almost indistinguishable line. As the water shimmered in the sunlight, I wondered what creature was swimming amidst those waters so many thousands of miles below.
And then - Alaska! Like a vision, mountains laden with snow filled my window and the city of Seward lay directly below. I was shocked to see land when I had been convinced the water extended forever. I was glued to the window as we flew over Alaska, but I was fused to the window as we flew over Japan. Sapporo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nagasaki; I tracked the cities one by one as we flew down the entire length of the country.
As the plane prepared for landing, I had my first look at Shanghai – from a height that made it appear to be a city for dolls. The miniature houses and trees were intricate three-dimensional models, complete with rivers running through the hills. On our first day in China, we enjoyed a delicious lunch and a bus tour of the city. Although it’s muggy, Shanghai is quite a green, lovely place. Our Ambassador Year in China (AYC) cohort is a diverse group of about 40 people from many countries around the world including the United Kingdom, India, South Africa, Canada, and America. We spent the week in Shanghai for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) training, and enjoyed the time we had to spend as a group before being transferred to our individual host schools.
I have been placed at the Yunhe Experimental Primary School in China’s Zhejiang province. Yunhe (pronounced “Yuween-Huh”) is a county in the southwest of the province, about an hour drive from the city of Lishui. Yunhe is famous for its beautiful rice terraces and for producing wooden toys. By Chinese standards, Yunhe is a “small” city of about 125,000 people (which is still five times larger than my hometown).
Klara, an AYC cohort, has been assigned to teach at a middle school in Yunhe county and we have happily banded together as fellow Americans. To accompany us to Yunhe, Yè Xiǎoyàn and Yáng Sī Yù arrived in Shanghai a day prior to our departure (their English names respectively are Ano and Sissy, whose use they kindly respond to). After enjoying lunch with the two of them, all four of us took a taxi to the train station. That was my first car ride in China and as we weaved and dodged through many pedestrians on the crowded roads, I experienced a strong reminiscence of India. When we reached the station I asked Ano if it was connected to an airport. She smiled and said, “No, it is this big because we have a lot of people.” What an understatement.
Although, while walking around the streets of Shanghai, it did not feel as crowded as I imagined it would. It’s amazing that in a city of more than 25 million people, it can still feel so spacious. I was surprised to see everyone walking at such a leisurely pace, especially since I expected to be packed into the sidewalks like a tin of sardines. Mothers and fathers held the hands of their children who were often riding along on small scooters. The whole city seemed as calm as though they were all on holiday.
The train speeding along at 300 kilometers per hour felt as smooth as driving a car on the most recently paved road you can think of. Building after building, field after field, and row after row of crops sped by at a pace never experienced in a vehicle that still remained on the ground. After we rode through a tunnel, everything changed. Suddenly there were hills filled with trees whose leaves were so deep a green, there appeared nothing more beautiful in sight. They had the air of a tropical forest by summer day, and foggy cold wood by night. The atmospheric perspective turned the distant hills blue and grey as the emerald trees creeping closer to our train became ever more vivid.
Eventually we arrived in Lishui and Ano drove us the remaining distance to Yunhe in her car. Night covered the city, but, even so, it wasn’t hard to see that we were lucky to be placed in this area. As I laid down to sleep I could already tell that when the time comes it will be difficult to leave. The thing about time is that it tends to run out quickly, and though I felt far from home on the plane here, I am eager to make China my home for the next 10 months and enjoy every moment I am given.
All for now,