Being merry has to be a natural follow on from eating and drinking.
Being merry for me is connecting with people – making friends. Ironically, I starting writing this on a morning when I felt low, probably because I was coming down from the high of a wonderful weekend seeing our kiwi friend Diana (and her mum and daughter) and playing tourists in Xi’an. But, as I knew would happen, I bounced back. Being here has been a roller coaster from the start, and my experience is that what comes down must go up (even though this does not follow the laws of physics).
Initially, I took comfort in the knowledge that everyone moving to a new country has had to work out how to make new friends, yet tend to be positive about their ex-pat experiences, so it must work out ok. I have already blogged about team neal and I take my hat off to those who do this on their own – Raymond is such a support and companion in this adventure.
Initially, after Raymond started work, I felt very lonely, but I now have several connecting strategies in place – accept that I need to take the initiative in reaching out because without work I do not naturally connect with any other humans, continually reach out, and never say no to an invitation. I do miss our friends and family and I want to thank all those who have wechatted, emailed, skyped, or posted on Facebook and this blog – it means a lot to know others care and are interested, and I am glad we are adventuring when technology makes this all so easy.
My new connections fall into three categories – Raymond’s colleagues – primarily ex-pats, but a couple of Chinese too; ex-pats with whom we connect, mainly via rugby or my job-hunting; Chinese with whom I connect for language learning or job hunting.
It is an advantage of working at an international school that there is a changing of the teaching guard each year, so teachers tend to be open to building new friendships. Each day, Raymond travels on a bus to and from Leman with ten other teachers from our apartment building, plus local Chinese staff who live along the route. This means he is getting to know others during the half hour trips each morning and afternoon. He often sits next to Damon, the IT support guy, and is enjoying getting to know a local.
Leman teachers live in three areas – Lux Hills close to the school, Century City in the middle, where we live, and Tongzilin which is close to the city centre. The Tongzilin crowd tend to be singles and couples who socialise regularly together. Families tend to choose Lux Hills and our group is a mixture – those who like more value for money or want nice scenery. but to be closer to town. Our apartment group does not regularly socialise together, but we are initiating some connections. Last night, we had a lovely meal out with two of Raymond’s kiwi colleagues, Richard and Maude – being kiwi is an immediate connection and we are finding others, including that Maude and I have the same birthday. Each Saturday (that we are not gallivanting away from Chengdu), we go to the market with Richard. Also, in October, we are off to Tibet for an eight day tour during National Week, with four American teachers from our apartment block.
We already find ourselves gravitating towards some people. I really enjoy the company of Elaine, Leman’s new English teacher, and she seems to feel similarly. We are not able to spend as much time together as we would like because she is 20 minutes drive away in Lux Hills, and she and her husband Julian (another trailing spouse) have to fit their social life around their two daughters (unlike the footloose and fancy-free Neals). However, we had a great time rafting together (the wet look below is entirely due to their good aim with water pistols) ,have socialised a couple of times, and are planning more get-togethers. I am going to catch public transport out to Lux Hills tomorrow, so that we can all have dinner together after Elaine and Raymond’s PD day at the school. For me, it is really nice to have someone with whom I can laugh and go deeper – my two favourite things.
Raymond clicks with Jonathon, his chemistry teaching colleague, and I enjoy his Chinese wife. Wei wei and I socialised together when we were both unemployed and lonely. An added bonus for me was that she helped me understand the local culture and gave a bit of language support. She has now found work, so is less available during the week, but we plan to hang out with them in the weekends.
Initially, I was very active networking to make connections for possible jobs. First I met Gavin, a kiwi who has been here 23 years, and is highly visible as Mr NZ Chengdu on the web. Yay for LinkedIn where we connected before we got here. He then introduced me to the kiwi rugby watching crowd through whom I met Alistair, NZ’s consul-general here, and through him his colleague Michael. Another Mike, an Australian who works for the British Chamber of Commerce, was also at a rugby game, and is a link into the British community. Then, when Raymond and I went to meet some people at a bar and ended up joining the tail end of the Australian Chamber of Commerce meeting, I met Digby who later introduced me to Jeff from AusTrade and Andrew an Australian entrepreneur here. Kiwi drinks was another way to meet people, and so it goes on. The Chengdu ex-pat community is relatively small and everyone is generous with knowledge and connections for a newbie seeking work. From all of this, my most promising work connection is through Gavin and his wife Xiaomei (later blog on work stuff to follow).
However, through these job-hunting connections, we are also making friends. Last weekend, we went for a walk with Gavin and Xiaomei followed by coffee and a lovely afternoon back at their place chatting. Waan, Alistair’s wife, is not working, so we have hung out a few times, and I have met several of her Thai friends.
My other social contact tends to be Chinese language learning. While I pay for my online lessons and do not control who will teach each lesson, I have several regular teachers who increasingly feel like friends. We are getting to know each other and we laugh together – learning Chinese is definitely amusing – and it feeds my ‘I need people contact’ soul. A highlight in our recent trip to Xi’an was that we met one of my favourite teachers. She, her sister, niece and mum took us to the Muslim quarter, shared lots of interesting information about culture, advised on food, and bartered for us at the market.
I have joined a language exchange website to find Chinese speakers who want to practice English. Through that I have linked via wechat to several Chengdu locals wanting to improve their English, and happy to help me improve my Chinese. A couple of weeks ago, I met the first one at the large shopping mall near us, where he regularly goes to the gym. We managed to communicate well, more thanks to his English than my Chinese, but I did string together some basic sentences and he could understand what I was saying. He seemed keen to meet up again.
So, I do not feel lonely anymore. I see an interesting array of growing friendships and am struggling to fit in all my social interactions. This will be even harder once I start working more, and explains why blogging has become less frequent – being merry takes priority!