There are some places in our lives that are difficult to escape. Or perhaps it’s the other way around, and they have trouble getting away from us. Whether it’s an unconscious drive to return on our part or the seemingly supernatural magnetism of these places that draws us back, we eventually find ourselves there again, even if we thought the last time was indeed our last. For some, it’s their hometown. Or it could be as specific as a particular barstool. For me, it’s Daqing, China.
I never really intended to go to China. It’s just something I never thought about. Teaching English in China was a way for my wife, then girlfriend, and I to be together without dealing with the scrutiny of the US or UK partner visa process. We both had a thirst for adventure - it’s how we met after all - and China provided both convenience and a new adventure for us to share together. Why we settled on the cold, desolate reaches of Daqing is still a mystery to both us.
What began as a loosely researched, almost dart-on-a-globe solution to our transatlantic divide quickly turned into a home. I never thought I was cut from teacher cloth; I was actually terrified for the first few lessons. It turns out both of us are pretty good at it. We met several amazing people who we still consider great friends, and it really hurt to finally tell them goodbye. Although Kate had to return to the UK a couple of times to get medical help for her back beyond cupping therapy and sincere recommendations to avoid spicy food, we both racked up a few years in the Qing.
After 3.5 years, I finally said goodbye for the last time. It was time for Kate and I to work on us. That we did. We got married. Kate finally had surgery to hopefully end years of chronic pain. I started freelancing full time. Now, we face our final hurdle of getting me a spouse visa for the UK, good for three years and with a possible path to citizenship. China is quickly receding in the rearview mirror of life, just like Iceland did and Sweden before it.
Or so I thought.
It’s going to take some time for us to qualify and acquire that coveted visa, possibly in excess of 6 to 8 months. Life at home is good but slow. Most of my American friends have dispersed to Atlanta or elsewhere, as any progressive person in their mid-20s living in my area would. Teaching in China takes up 25 hours a week, which, theoretically, would leave me enough time to tend to all of my freelance clients, giving me a tidy nest egg to take to London when we finally get to that point. My school has extended an open invitation to both of us. My friends, the noodles, the wild west that is China - it’s all starting to look really appealing.
I have a mind to accept that invitation. And to dispel any suspense, I already have. I’m going back to China! I'm starting the visa process soon and will do a write-up on how that's changed since my first application many years ago. I want to make my time worthwhile in the Middle Kingdom, so I will be studying for the HSK 1, the first certification level for learning Mandarin. I have a project in the works that will run parallel to my studies...more on that later. For now, 我要回家了!