Last year when I signed up to teach English in China through AYC (Ambassador Year in China) program, I did not realize what I was getting myself into. I jumped into large spiders, wasps, language barriers, moments of identity confusion, squat toilets and much more. I also jumped into a town filled with amazing students, kind coworkers, delicious food, clean air, and a comforting vibe. The wonderful part about Lishui, the town I was placed in, is that it is a small enough city where you do not have to deal with the pushing and shoving of crowds but is big enough to have everything you need.
I always loved telling my students the story of how I got placed in Lishui. Huiqiao, the incredibly nice person I contacted from AYC, asked me if I wanted to be placed in Changsha 长沙 in Hunan province or Lishui 丽水 in Zhejiang. I was about to pick Changsha because it is closer to Guangdong province, where my dad and grandparents are from. I thought it would be easier to visit their hometowns if I was in Changsha. But then I realized 丽水 (Lishui) means beautiful/clean water. I reasoned that some old Chinese guys must have walked by and saw how picturesque the environment was around the area and named the town Lishui. The story goes, I chose the town I would be in for a whole year based on its aesthetically pleasing name. The town did live up to its name as it had a great mix of beautiful mountains, rivers and meadows.
From September 29 to October 1st I got a three-day weekend from my current job in Hong Kong because of the National Day holiday. My journey back to Lishui started with me getting off work at 9PM after invigilating Diagnostic English exams and submitting the Marshall Scholarship application for funding to study in a master’s program the UK. I quickly walked twenty minutes to a bus stop, took 44A express green bus to Sheung Shui metro station and then rode the metro into Luowu. After crossing the Hong Kong/Shenzhen border into Luohu, I took the green metro line 1 to arrive at a Space Capsule hotel at 11:45PM. The capsule itself was cool but I was not the biggest fan of the shared restrooms. However for $12, it was a decent transit stop.
The next morning, I woke up at 5AM to catch a taxi to Shenzhen North Station and rode the high-speed rail to Wenzhou for seven hours and caught another forty-minute high-speed rail to finally reach Lishui. It was a long and tiring journey but the moment I exited the train station, I immediately felt a wave of familiarity like I did when I returned to Hawaii. Waiting for me at the station was Steph, an AYC teacher at Lishui Experimental Primary School! I missed her a ton!!! She was nice enough to drive me around on her e-bike all weekend long, and oh boy it felt so wonderful to be back on the bike.
I spent the rest of the weekend surprising my students, eating all my favorites such as my chipped yogurt at Xicheng 西城广场 and the fresh hot pot place 食全食美, and catching up with friends.
I only had a short amount of time with my students at The Affiliated School of Lishui University (Fugao), but they seemed to be ecstatic when they saw me.
The couple who owns the chipped yogurt booth instantly remembered me when they saw my face and asked how my life in Hong Kong was. I did not think they would remember me and it touched my heart that they did. I also realized how often I ate that chipped yogurt for them to remember me so well.
My coworkers were kind enough to treat me and Steph to delicious local Lishui food for lunch. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Cantonese food but I did miss the sweetness and sourness of Lishui cuisine a lot.
I got to see Dani and Rachel who are going into their third year with AYC in China (teaching at Lishui No. 2 Secondary School) and after getting hot pot at the newly renovated location of Shi Quan Shi Mei, we met up with Doris, Oscar (owners of ACE English Training Center in Lishui) and Reid (the AYC foreign teacher before me at my old school) at DuoDuo beer garden for some drinks and laughter.
On Sunday morning, Steph and I endured the long train journey back to Hong Kong. When we got to Shenzhen at 11PM at night, we stayed at the Ocean City Hotel near Shenzhen Bay Port. It was gorgeous. However the next morning we had to rush through the border and take the bus into my school. I barely made it to work on time but luckily, I did!!! That was an anxiety filled time but everything is good now.
I was only there from Saturday evening to Monday morning, but I feel the journey was worth it. Going back to Lishui made me realize how much it has become home for me. I knew all the streets and felt it was as if I never left. I love Lishui dearly and still have strong connections with the people there. I plan to attend my coordinator/former coworker and friend Jessie’s wedding in December. I will be back to visit my students and friends throughout the year so it is comforting for me to know I have a familiar place to go back to. Lishui is indeed a special gem in China and I thank AYC for the wonderful community it has given me during my first year after undergrad. Even though my family is from Guangdong province, I believe Lishui is my “hometown” in China. However my former AYC coworker and good friend Steph (you can follow her blog) told me, “if you are too comfortable, it’s time to move, because you are not being challenged. You have to push yourself.” I agree with her statement and feel moving to Hong Kong presents me new challenges and opportunities that will make me grow into a stronger person. However I feel I have already done so much, but I know my life will unfold for me to accomplish so much more.
Special thanks to the supportive community at AYC for the opportunities of growth I have experienced here in Asia.