From Germiston to China

From about the tender age of eight, I have always wanted to visit China. I had an aunt who was a librarian and 40 years ago, her job entailed traveling to book conventions all over the world. And then she would return home and tell us of her travels. I was born in Germiston and China was the place that captivated my imagination. So, it wasn’t much of a stretch that when offered a job in China, I jumped at the opportunity.

I am a Durban-bred girl, born in Germiston, Gauteng. I completed my Food Technology Diploma and got  married to Peter. We have three daughters and after being an at-home-mom for a number of years, I decided to study to become a teacher now I teach English as a second language.

We came to China in 2017, to a small city called Wendeng, in Shandong province. We were amazed by many things – the mass of fresh vegetables at the open markets, the fresh seafood that abounded everywhere, the crazy lights on the buildings and even the scooters on the roads. Everything was an adventure.

We found ourselves in a city that had a canal running through it, and we would walk it twice a day, to and from work. I’m a teacher and got a post at a training center. At weekends we would adventure further afield, to Rushan, Rongchen and Weihai.

One of the most endearing experiences for us was snow. We had never seen it like we did in Wendeng and Weihai. At first it was magical and clean and exciting, but we soon learnt that it very quickly became cold, slippery and dangerous. Roads were closed and schools and business shut down for a day or two in severe weather. The cold lasted longer than the excitement and soon we discovered we wanted to move to a warmer climate.

Another aspect of winter that totally bewildered us was the migration of whooper swans from Siberia. To think they came south to Rongchen because its warmer, was not very comforting when the temperatures plummeted. But we did enjoy watching them each year as they flew in around November and left again in February. Swans mate for life so every now and again, a single swan would stay in Rongchen instead of flying back with the flock, because it had lost its partner. We witnessed the growing of babies into teenagers and the fights between dominant males. All including their flying across the sky and landing in the bay. They live on the sea and forage in the salty water.

On one of our weekend outings we went to a fish farm and discovered how many of the shell fish are actively farmed off the calm Shandong coast. I got to hold a giant puffy fish and have come to the conclusion that they are my favourite of all fish species. When at the safari park, we saw a buck give birth and the staff helping. We have seen beluga whales, a whale shark and my husband even went diving in an aquarium.

We went on holiday to nearby cities, one of which is called Linyi. It is the burial place of Sun Tzu, the writer of the book The Art of War. We saw his excavated tomb and the original bamboo slips that he wrote all his ideas on. These are beautifully preserved in the Bamboo Slips Museum. The information from the slips was then transferred onto paper, published and has since become the famous book it is now. From such humble beginning to the World Wide Web, and still used today by many military leaders.

We later moved to Hangzhou and find this city breath taking, with all the river ways and canals. We regularly ride our bikes along the streams and monitor the changing of the seasons – from pinks and limes in spring to the deep purples and greens of winter, the oranges of autumn and the red and yellows of summer. We have really been part of this amazing colour change from the very first day in China.

We visited a mountain village in Wuyuan. It was like a mysterious hideaway, walking in and out small narrow streets between the houses and the shops. A stream runs down the center of the village and that’s why people settled there. To get to the village, you need to go up to the top by cable car, and when you’re done, use the cable car to come back. There is no other means of transport to the village.

We have been to Chongching – a crazy city built in levels that defy sanity. There are highways that tower above buildings and staircases that leave you exhausted. They seem to never end. You book into the hotel at street level on the 11th floor and can get a taxi on the 4th floor to go sightseeing. And crowds of people, which we had never expected. Everything and anything for food is hot and spicy, they even have chili ice-cream. What an experience. I would never live there, but a visit is worth a thousand words.

In all our travels we have met interesting people and discovered diverse ways of living and traditions. And all this adds to the diversity of life in China. There is a uniqueness about the country as a whole when compared to the West as well as the similarities within the country with other Eastern civilizations. All in all, we are happy living and working in China and hope to be here for a long time yet.

Lee-Anne Waddell was born in Germiston and grew up in Durban. Lee-Anne obtained a diploma in food technology and later studied to be a teacher. She is now an English teacher.

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