On August 15th a large chapter in my life will come to a close. I will leave behind my life in Ningbo, China, for another life all together.
In a way, I did a similar type of move when I left American for a life in Ningbo 5 yeas prior. Ningbo was my first experience of leaving my home country for something altogether different. I remember the unique combination of excitement and apprehension as the long flight first came to a rest in Lishe airport.
At that time I had no idea of what it took to live life abroad in Asia. Everything was new, scary, huge and bustling.
Looking back at him stepping off that plane, I barely recognize him. The road ahead he has ahead will peel back the layer of mystery surrounding China, and reveal a multitude of opportunities, friends, landscapes, and experiences that will mold him into the person I am today. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In a lot of ways, Ningbo was the perfect city to indoctrinate me into the Expatriate way of life. Its size is big, but not the biggest. This means that you can get a unique combination of bustling Asian city and traditional rural community. Its proximity to the water also gives it a palatable feel that welcomes people from overseas. That is… as long as you like seafood. Its proximity to larger cities as well as other countries make it a great base of operations from which to travel from. Using Ningbo as a central location, I made trips to
Indonesia, the Maldives, Malaysia, India, Thailand and New Zealand. I was able to go from ignorance of the world to a connoisseur, eager to explore it even further. Its presence as a hub of international trade also insures that there is enough sprinkling of English around that you don’t feel completely lost. And a creative mind can carve a job opportunity out almost anywhere.
I have been luckier than most here in Ningbo. I have been involved with some of the most amazing and eclectic people I have ever met. Relationships that have been sparked here will burn for as long as I live, and have shaped me in ways I never thought possible. I have had career paths that at times careened around like one of those bumper car rides at the carnival. Moving from trading to teaching, from party planner to television host and producer. And with each new opportunity more possibilities were spawned.
Compared to that man stepping of the plane in Ningbo 5 years ago, my eyes are wide open to a world of possibilities. Things I once saw as obstacles have now become positive forces. Things I once feared have now become valued. Situations that I thought were game killers, now are game changers.
Language, for example.
When I came to Ningbo, I thought my lack of Chinese language skills were going close doors to me. Now, that is not to say that understanding the Chinese language has not been an important process since I have been here, but being a “blank slate” coming to China actually worked out to my advantage. Not knowing forced me to ask questions. It pushed me into situations where I needed to interact and speak with people in the best way that I could. Had I been comfortable in the Chinese language, I may not have ask many people mundane questions that I know the answer to now, and I may have missed the connections that those questions created. Also, not knowing a language puts you in a vulnerable state. This is often appealing to people who may want to interact with you. If
someone feels they can help or assist you, they are more likely to approach you. Lack of language skills also force you to think of creative ways to communicate. My repertoire of gestures, movements and visual cues are so much more developed now, that I feel you could drop me almost anywhere and I could get the basic necessities of life taken care of, without making a single sound.
Yea, Ningbo has been good to me. It has been the training ground I needed to take on my next big adventure, a 5-year cycle trip around the world. In essence, I could never attempt such a tour without first living and
learning here in Ningbo. Here I got the taste in my mouth. The desire to venture. The want to explore. The need for something greater.
And it is from here that I will take those first steps into that next world. I wonder what I will say, 5 years into the future, looking back at that guy that took those first few turns of the pedal into this wholly new life. I hope he has good things to talk about.