This was a question I often asked myself the first two months when I was miserable without the creature comforts of the U.S.   It was also a question the students asked me frequently, “Why would you want to come here when you live in the greatest country in the world?”

The answer is that I was “called” to go, compelled, and believed that if I didn’t go, I would be missing out on something I desperately needed to further my spiritual journey.   I was casually sitting in church one Sunday, watching a slide show of upcoming mission trips and was intrigued to see Hong Kong as a choice.  I had never had any desire to visit Asia, but decided to check it out and go to one of the meetings.

I didn’t think I would actually end up going, because I didn’t want to ask people for money to pay for the trip and I didn’t have enough faith (at the time) to believe that God could make it happen, just because I was willing.  I only told a few people about the possibility, and the money began to flow in.  I was amazed and even received more than I needed, so was able to give some away to others on the team.

When I got off the plane in Hong Kong in July, I thought I had walked straight into a super hot, steam bath.   I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much in my life!  I also thought the city was dirty, crowded and smelly.  Then we went to a remote island to hold a camp for Chinese teenagers that was even worse.  No hot water and mosquitoes large enough to devour me (despite the mosquito netting that surrounded every bunk bed.)

After a few days, I began to have so much fun that I forgot about the physical environment.  Those kids were so full of laughter and contagious joy!

At the end of the camp, our group took a 3-day tour into mainland China.  You’ve never seen potholes like they have there; the ditches next to the road were more navigable than the roads.  I passionately vowed (within myself) that I never wanted to return there for any reason.  And the food…oh my goodness…if you are the honored guest at a banquet, you get the clawed foot of the chicken as a treat.  (I was so thrilled to not ever receive that honor…)  I did develop excellent chopstick skills from sheer fear of starvation.

By comparison, Hong Kong was absolute paradise.

When I got back to the States, I couldn’t stop thinking about wanting to go back TO HONG KONG (not the mainland)!  But the only opportunities were offered at schools in mainland China.  I finally sacrificed my will and chose to take on the pure adventure and challenge of giving it a shot.  One team of women teachers needed one more female.   So I packed everything I could possibly think of (including an electric typewriter) and headed to Nanchang, China to teach English at the Jiangxi Financial Institute.

The campus was actually pretty attractive, featuring a lake, complete with a pagoda-like gazebo with a bridge.  The homes for the foreign teachers were brick duplexes that had been built to look like American homes.

Some highlights: “western” toilets (instead of holes in the ground), 6-gallon hot water tanks for showering (you really should try showering, washing and rinsing in 6 gallons of water sometime; that’s one toilet flush here), boiled thermoses of water delivered to us every morning, a window air conditioner in each bedroom and a plywood bed to sleep on (I piled every blanket and soft thing I could come up with to make it softer, but it didn’t help very much.)

The university was located a few miles from what I called a typical village (of 3 million people) where I thought a concrete salesperson had made a fortune.  Everything was so gray and brown.   I feared for my  lungs – the brown air was much worse than California’s smog.

We had a driver every Saturday, who took us to town to shop.  There seemed to be no laws and bicycles ruled. Our driver honked and drove on sidewalks and anywhere else he could wedge between the bicycles.  I had to go to bed, with a headache, each Saturday afternoon.  The only other option was to take the local bus – with broken seats, pigs, chickens and standing room only.

I was glad that I was tall; I could see over the heads of 90% of the crowds.  One of my very favorite things was going to the fresh produce market.  I couldn’t speak Chinese, didn’t know anything about the value of the coins or paper bills, but liked the experience of interacting with the people.  I only bought items I recognized, since I needed to figure out how to cook it.  Made lots of soup.  I figured that if I boiled anything for 10 hours, it would be safe to eat.

I pointed to things, held out money and had no idea how much I’d spent.  I think they felt sorry for me, being so ignorant, because they always gave me more food when I didn’t bargain with them.  I always drew a crowd in that market – they obviously craved entertainment by watching me make my purchases.  When my students found out that I was going by myself, they were horrified and insisted on accompanying me.  They were certain that I was wasting lots of money by not bargaining.   I, and a group of 6 students, attacked the market one Saturday.  It took about an hour (instead of my typical 15 minutes), and when I got home and calculated what I had saved, it was about 10 cents in U.S. money!

As I said before, my first couple of months were absolutely horrible and I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  We had rats the size of dogs in our homes, and we wore 4 and 5 layers of clothes to keep warm.  No heat in the classrooms.

Then one day, I woke up (acclimated), and began to revel in the discoveries of each day.  I had fallen in love with these kind people, who were so eager to learn, welcomed me openly and treated me with such respect.

 

 

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