Today is my third day in Changsha, the capital of the Hunan Province. John and I traveled here to enjoy the MidAutumn Festival holiday. While I still am unsure exactly what MidAutumn Festival is or what is being celebrated, I am extremely delighted that we have the opportunity to explore a bit more of China.
For those of you who may not remember, or even have known in the first place, Changsha is the city in which John and I were originally supposed to live and teach. After complications with our visas, we agreed to move to Yueyang, a decision that is in hindsight bittersweet.
Yueyang, a city of 600,000 people, is the American equivalent of a smallish town/city like Bowling Green, Ohio. Western culture has not yet established a strong presence in Yueyang. And it has established no presence in Changlian, the town in which the college we work for is actually located. While the lack of foreigners and Western culture is fantastic for a total immersion experience, I often feel stifled and oppressed there – like I am being asked to deny being an American and to become totally Chinese. Yes, I am slowly but surely learning Chinese. And I do think that the total immersion experience without any real Western culture to go hide in has been beneficial. We have learned a lot about culture and living in China. But I never feel a total sense of peace there. I can never truly feel at rest.
I do, however, feel a sense of peace and rest here in Changsha! This city inexplicably feels like home. I pray that God leads us to move here when our current contract expires. The city has a population of 6 million, with roughly half of those people living within the city limits. While the culture is still undeniably dominantly Chinese, Western culture has its own little corner. There is a Walmart, a KFC, a Pizza Hut, a Papa John’s , a McDonald’s, a Haagen Dazs, and a just recently opened Starbucks! There are also actual other foreigners here. In addition, the Chinese people themselves speak more English and are eager to forge connections with foreigners. I feel free and happy here! I can be an American learning Chinese and adapting to the culture. (I even learned some more Chinese from some friendly people who just sat down at our table in Starbucks and talked with us!) I do not feel a pressure to deny who I am. While I will no longer ever be wholly American, I will also never be entirely Chinese either. And here, I can just be me.
All in all, I am excited to be here! I could settle here and live for a while before moving to yet another country again. I will post some of our adventures here soonly! Please pray that God opens a door and leads us to the perfect place in February… even if it isn’t Changsha.