2016 and the first half of 2017, will be remembered as the kickstart to a dramatic life change. It was the year I finally acted on what, in hindsight, became a number of obvious signs encouraging my departure from North America.
First, while at George Brown, I applied for, and was accepted, to an internship program in Chengdu, China. I think that was around 2013 or 2014. I ended up turning down the opportunity because I'd have to leave working at Apple. There was also the issue of returning to Toronto and trying to find an apartment I could afford, which was near the downtown core. I wasn't willing to commute four hours each day again. I simply didn't have the faith things would work out back then, the way I do now.
The second time I ignored a clear sign from the universe was in 2015. Three random strangers each advised I visit Auroville, India when asked where I should go. What are the chances of that happening? I was really torn this time. The urge was very strong and there was a couple days I was about to cash out my investments and board a plane within 48 hours. One night, during this period, I sat looking at the Auroville website for over an hour, paralyzed about what to do. But this drive soon dissolved.
When a random woman came into the Apple Store in Jan 2016, happened to talk with me, and we hit it off she not only recommended, but pushed, rather insistently, I make the move abroad to teach, in 45 days. The long of the story is I did just that, my world changed, and a new, hopefully long chapter of my life has begun.
After a number of signs aligned so well I couldn't have planned the encounters, meetings, reservations, appointments, bookings and details so tightly, my faith had a supercharge. I think many don't realize how quickly and smoothly your life can not only operate, but change if we are open to it. The skill of recognizing when the time is ripe for seizing opportunity must be cultivated. It takes courage, trust and a desire to venture into unknown lands. A willingness to potentially make big mistakes, while having the understanding that even though mistakes can be made, there is always the chance to correct course.
There is no place in the world like China. It has such vast diverse natural landscapes, over a billion citizens, rapidly developing economy and a variety of cultures based on where you are in the country. Food, fashion, technology, sightseeing, travel and opportunities for the hungry are abundant. Yet such rapid development also means a lot of policy changes, and China rolls out new policies at a ferocious pace.
I went to this far away, misunderstood and dynamic land a newbie. For as much as I have seen, learned, experienced, discovered and grown, I leave a newbie just the same. Yet my time there was full of amazing experiences, China is a place I'd be thrilled about returning too.
A fellow Canadian named Kelly, who's been teaching art history and English literature abroad, and living in Tianjin before I moved there, accurately compared the current Tianjin cultural dynamic to that of America during the 1920's-1930's (though she supplied no supporting evidence). Where the tipping point of personal liberation is driven from increased economic development.
How is it like the '20's and '30's you ask? For those of you in North America, consider what life was like for your grandparents. The women stayed at home and raised children, while the male went to work and provided (at least financially) for the family. A car and a houe were seen the be all end all of "having made it". Women were displayed always wearing dresses and heels while being dolled up. Virginity was a prized component of a wife to-be, though for males no such standard was considered. While the economy transitioned from largely manufacturing to that of services and professional jobs. Trains and flying became increasingly popular means of travel. It's also interesting to observe the racism against black people in China is similar to the US in the 20's and 30's (not that it's changed much, unfortunately). Not surprisingly, the amount of Nigerians and people from other African countries continues to grow (at least in Tianjin). In particular, the influence of African jazz music seems to be helping to loosen up social norms.
Technologically, China is pouring billions and billions of US dollars into becoming a bigger, global powerhouse that will dominate the world. They're building their expertise domestically and doing so at an impressive rate before exporting it abroad.
They own a majority of the world's renewable energy product companies, have some of the worlds largest renewable energy projects including solar farms, floating solar farms, offshore wind farms. China's president, XI Jinping, has committed $360 billion US to further expand renewable energy projects, in the next four years alone! In the mean time, The Donald has pulled America out of the Paris Accord and is working tirelessly signing executive orders which undo the environmental feats Obama achieved while in office.
What China understands about renewable energy that America does not, is China will use this as a means of building favour with its citizens to clean up air and water (which are atrocious) and reverse it's global image as a dirty carbon emitter to a clean renewable energy producer. It's been instrumental in partnering with America to get countries to sign onto the Paris Accord; then strategically partnering with Europe, to keep other countries onboard after America "pulled out". Perhaps America just wasn't down to consummate? The take away here is that China is the constant who played a role in signing countries up and keeping them committed.
Here's why China has been so upfront about renewables. The Paris Accord is basically a mammoth business opportunity. In order for all the countries to meet the environmental commitments, there is going to be a unprecedented spending on infrastructure, on a scale this world has never seen, several magnitudes larger than the industrial revolution. With China already so invested in renewables, having cheap labour, racking up an impressive amount of partnerships with countries around the world, and newly committed funds for the next five years, guess who will want to be supplying, installing and maintaining this new world-wide infrastructure for dozens and dozens of countries? Yup. China.
They've already proposed a global electricity grid, re-establishing and modernizing the Silk Road, and have built a train which travels from Beijing all the way to London, UK. Among numerous other emerging economies, South Africa is of high importance when it comes to international infrastructure development. To do so, China and partnering countries who seek to circumnavigate the West entirely can do so by way of the New Development Bank, headquartered in, you guessed it, China. This allows the five founding nations to avoid the US Dollar, US oil, US corporations, US policy and US trade deals. To further boost it's international currency availability and exposure to fund these deals, China has become a member of the IMF Special Drawing Right currency basket.
Where America has saught global domination by force, building nearly 1000 military bases in 150 countries to instil fear, China comes bearing the gifts of schools, roads, infrastructure, clean energy, financing and a model of economic development that has brought millions of poor citizens into a global upper-middle-class force to be reckoned with.
Living abroad is something I'd encourage everyone to at least attempt. Though it may seem glorious, it comes with it's own set of challenges outside of getting a job, paperwork, visas, and costs/logistics of moving.
Of course, there is the distance from your friends, family and other close ones. It is challenging, because in the weeks and days leading up to your departure it all exciting farewells, claims of "we'll stay in touch", excitement and a bunch of good intentions that disappear the moment you're gone. Your true friends will emerge by way of regular communication while most will simply fade away because you aren't physically around to help continue building the relationship. FaceTime calls are surprisingly hard to organize given the time difference and formality they subliminally imply versus that of a one-line text message.
You will face periods of being alone, knowing that your new colleagues aren't your closest friends or family. While those in your inner circle won't be available when you need them because they'll be asleep or at work. There will be times when it seems like your social options have been severed and its frustrating trying to recognize new ones.
The search for a romantic partner proves even more challenging. At least in Canada everyone spoke English. Finding someone in Tianjin came with depressing estimated odds. Out of a city of 15,000,000, I can start by eliminating the males bringing candidates down to 7.5M. Eliminate those who don't speak English fluently (of all ages), conservatively reducing the group to easily less than 300,000. Next, find someone in those 300,000 who is 24-28 and isn't married/in a relationship, which everyone is in an EXTREME rush to be, due to parental pressure to marry. Voila we're down to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 200 to 1000 single, English speaking women aged 24-28. Great, now just find them in those 15,000,000. Kill me now haha.
With that said, when I returned from India, I did meet someone phenomenal. Admittedly though, I am cheating. She's from Beijing (not Tianjin), and was abroad studying so she was had strong Western influence. The thing is, if you're in the target age group, and speak English fluently, you probably go abroad to study. We met online, had a very high compatibility, and agreed to meet up within a few days. Both at her request which was a nice change from having to initiate all the time.
We met for dinner, toured around Beijing, conversed on numerous topics, shared our passion for yoga and travel; culminating in a magnificent bond. Interacting with someone whom you have strong chemistry with can be, and was, life changing. Engaging with someone who wasn't afraid to open up, build a connection and intertwine spiritually set the bar to new heights. This short interaction also taught me a lot about being present, living in the moment, having faith the right person will present themselves and being patient. As noted earlier, the right one will come at the right time. But the second lesson I've learned was they is the "right one, for right now". Life is a river that is constantly changing. Live in the moment with this person, not worry about the future, and accept the time we have together. Planning so heavily for the future ultimately removes you from the now.
I did travel a little in China, it was nowhere near as much as I'd have liked too. I'm ok with that though, my intention was for China to be a platform, allowing me to become debt free, which I accomplished!
I visited Beijing several times, saw a friend in Jinan on occassion, took a short trip to Luoyang and went to a few other small cities. China has so much to offer with its diverse landscapes. I'd like to return and explore for several months making my way through the South in particular.
However, I was able to make a couple trips outside of China during the year and those were amazing! My first trip was to India for a month of Yoga Teacher Training. The trip transformed my life and brought about at least one crisis which taught me a lot.
The second trip was to Singapore (SG) and Malaysia. Singapore was expensive and I didn't find the city very enjoyable. Admittedly, I was there for a short period and didn't have the chance to do much.
Malaysia was beautiful, I did some boating, camping on an island smaller than a football field, got a wicked sunburn and explored Kota Kinabalu. I'd love to return and hike Mt. Kinabalu which is one of the largest mountains in the world by topography.
At the end of my time in China, I stopped over in Hong Kong for four days. If you're considering SG vs HK, I'd definitely recommend Hong Kong. There's more diversity, very friendly people, many different cuisines, and some great beaches at the end of beautiful hiking trails.
It's been a crazy year. There were moments of strong frustration, inspiration, appreciation and learning. The entirety of the experience brought me to this moment here in Da Nang, Viêt Nam. Travelling abroad builds character unlike anything else. You see that no matter where you are the world, people are largely the same, race is just a social construct, at the end of the day people simply want a home, food and a happy family.