Tuesday was pretty uneventful; wake up early, pack up everything, check out, and head to the airport. I wanted to write one last blog as more of my thoughts on my experience in China as a whole, rather than try to fit this in somewhere in my chronological account.
It's been a week or so since I came home. I've had time to reflect on my experiences, and settle back into my daily routine. Although I was only there 4 days, it felt like longer, in a good way! Before I left, Erin, my coworker, told me "You're going to become addicted!" She meant addicted to traveling alone. I was very skeptical of that. I was so nervous to go and do the whole trip solo. Now that it's over and I'm home, I can definitely say that I'm glad I did.
About China: it's a wild experience. I've been in Asia for 6 months, but Korea and China are so different, in so many ways.
Etiquette: While Koreans can be a bit rude at times, they have nothing on the Chinese. Every single queue I stood in, I was cut in front of. I cannot think of one time I wasn't cut. There is no courtesy for strangers whatsoever. In Korea, if I'm struggling with something or looking confused, I can usually count on someone to help. In China - you're on your own!
Friendliness: Beyond having no manners about queueing and politeness the Chinese just struck me as generally unfriendly. In Korea, when I go in a shop or a restaurant, the old ladies at least smile at me, even when we cannot communicate except through hand gestures. On the street, not so much, but one-on-one in Korea, they're pretty friendly. In China, no such luck with the people I ran into (except Barry and his dad!)
Appearance: Westerners who have no traveled much might say that all Asians look alike, but I know different! I could definitely see a difference in the facial features between the Chinese and Koreans. For the most part, I think the Chinese have a wide variety of "looks" whereas there are about 4 different "Korean faces". Chinese features seem to be rounder, whereas Koreans are flatter and sharper. Generally, I find Koreans much more attractive.
Security/Government: This is kind of a "duh" factor, but the fact that China is communist is extremely apparent. I don't think there was a moment, except maybe on the Great Wall, where I was not more than 100 yards from some kind of guard or government official. The uniforms looked so ... old school. I'm not really sure the best way to describe them, but I felt like I was in the 1940s or something. They're everywhere, and security is very strict. You can't go in the subway without going through security!
Architecture: Maybe it was because I was in Beijing (which I've heard is faux-Chinese), but everything actually looked Chinese. In Seoul, you can only really see "Korean" stuff at the designated part (like the Palaces, etc). In general, you could be in almost any city in the world (minus the Korean words on signs). In Beijing, everything was colorful and looked just very Asian and Chinese. It made even restaurants look interesting.
Language: Another "duh", but Chinese and Korean languages are SO DIFFERENT! Once again, lots of Westerners just lump all Asian languages together, but Chinese is so much more difficult than Korean. I don't even speak Korean, and I know that it's easier than Chinese. For one, the characters in the alphabet are so much simpler in Hangul (the Korean alphabet). There's like 500 Mandarin characters. I kept catching myself about to say "annyeonghaseyo" (hello) and "gamsahabnida" (thank you). By the time I left, the only thing I felt confident to say in Chinese was "Ni Hao" (hello).
Beyond all the differences and unique things I noticed about China, I had an interesting experience. Traveling alone is very different than traveling with a friend and extremely different than traveling with family. I suppose this wasn't my first time going solo... England (the last 2 times) I didn't go with friends. But, I did meet a group and have things planned for me. China was the first time I've done the entire process alone: planning, traveling, exploring, etc.
It's a freeing experience. You 100% truly must rely on yourself. You make the decisions where to go, how to get there, what to do. Even when you have a good friend who is easy-going, you still keep them in mind when making plans. When you don't know what to do at some point, you have someone to ask "What do YOU want to do?" Alone, you have to make a decision, or else you end up doing nothing!
There is also the freedom to take as much time as you want doing something. I enjoyed the fact that I could just sit on a bench in the Forbidden City and people watch. Or climb down the hill in Jingshan Park and find a quiet spot to rest. On the Great Wall, if I wanted a rest, I could just sit. Even with the most easy-going of companions, it's still so different to be alone.
At times it's a bit lonely. Of course, I met some amazing people and made some good friends, but there were moments that I felt the enormity of being in CHINA by myself. But it was an enjoyable aloneness. During some of the lonelier moments, I found myself thinking "I can't wait to go home," and when I realized that the 'home' I was thinking of was Korea, I couldn't believe it.
As to being addicted: I think I am! I've been in Korea for 6 months and going to China was my first real traveling I've done. I hadn't planned to do much traveling, since I need to pay on my student loans. But I now feel like I've wasted time by not having gone other places on my previous vacations! There are so many incredible places on this planet, and I have renewed and refreshed excitement to see them all!
In the past week, I've thought a lot about my time in China and all the reasons I loved my experience. And I've also been thinking and considering the question I get asked so many times ("What will you do when you get back to America?"). I've come to the conclusion that I'm not finished yet. In 6 months I won't be finished. I am not ready to end my adventures abroad. I want to see so many other places!
So, friends and family reading this, I don't think I'll be moving home just yet. My tentative plan is this: when my contract ends in early September, I'll get a multi-city ticket that goes first to Europe, spend a few months with Erin in Germany and traveling to all the places I've wanted to go, then take the flight on to Houston/home for the holidays (November-ish). And in February, I'll head back to Korea to take another year contract, but I'm hoping this time to get a public school job (so I can have many more vacation days!). So, we'll see where things take me, but that's the current plan. :) I actually do enjoy my job, and teaching, and Korea is a really great place. I think if I went home for good, I'd miss Korea! And of course, miss the freedom to just get up and go somewhere!