Now I’m in Chongqing

Every Facebook message, email or other form of communication always starts the same way. “Where have you been? It’s like you dropped off the face of the earth.”

Well, I’m not floating somewhere in the cosmos, I am now living in Chongqing, China. I could say I never planned on ending up here, but that’s not completely true. When my former international relations advisor first put a bug in my ear about going to China after graduation, Chongqing was the city he specifically mentioned. Go figure that I would end up here after the roller coaster ride of the last few months.

But I digress, and alas I think this story of how I went from Shijiazhuang (the land of dirt and disappointment) to Chongqing (the land of hot pot and hills) is best told from the beginning.

I knew I didn’t want to stay in the Shiz after the first month of living there. I’ve mentioned the dirt and the smog and all of that, but the biggest issue was the lack of opportunities for growth. I didn’t have much to write about or photograph, my Chinese language skills were stagnant and I didn’t think I was doing anything to improve myself. I was just living. Bleh.

Thus, I set out for a Beijing job fair in April in search of a new gig. I dropped resumes at news agencies, magazines and TV stations… but no one was interested. Why? Because despite working for newspapers for the last six years, including two years at the Des Moines Register, I had only graduated the year before. China has an arbitrary regulation that states foreign experts must have two years of “after college” experience before working in China. There are, of course, ways around this regulation (for instance, I was teaching in the Shiz thanks to my program director’s guanxi), but it’s still a stumbling block.

Dejected and ready to spend the rest of the weekend drowning my sorrows in Sanlitun, a university’s booth caught my eye on the way out the door. I sat down with the recruiter and he promised me the world. A salary increase of 150% at a well-respected university in a clean city with an expat population big enough to support two expat magazines. I wasn’t sold on the idea of moving to Dalian, but there were plenty of things to get excited about.

A month later I visited my buddy Ike in Shanghai. Ike is a remarkable man and quickly becoming Shamous (Shanghai famous). He turned a craigslist job listing into a salaried position with a party hosting company and he makes time for a Chinese tutor several times a week. He rocks, Shanghai rocks and I wanted a teaching gig in SH so I could get my foot in the rocking door. After a sweaty week of dropping off resumes and shaking hands I had an offer from a Shanghai university. Score! …right?

After submitting my paperwork and finishing my semester at HEBUST I returned to the states. I then didn’t hear from SH for several weeks. When I finally got ahold of someone we had this (paraphrased but accurate) conversation:

Me: Hi, this is Tyler. I thought all the paperwork would be finalized and I would know the details of traveling to Shanghai by now.

Representative: Oh, the government declined your application.

Me: But you said that wasn’t going to be a problem. When did this happen?

Rep: About a week ago.

Me: Why didn’t you tell me immediately? I’ve been sitting on my ass waiting to hear from you.

Rep: Ummmm…

Well, screw them. I then sent my stuff to Dalian, which thankfully had kept my spot warm. But the local government said the same thing.

So there I was, jobless, confused and angry. I sent out a lot of emails, but seeing as it was already mid-July most of the spots were already filled. I was doomed. Time to pick up a Starbucks application…

But then, though some sort of miracle, the director of the Drake Teach in China Program pointed me toward a position he had not been able to fill. He put me in contact with Reno, my new waiban. Within a month we had finalized everything and I was on a plane to Chongqing, the city I had first considered living in when this whole China idea made its way into my brain.

And it’s been great. Everything is better than the Shiz. Cleaner air, better apartment, great teaching gig, better pay, bigger expat community, more journalism opportunities… just everything is better. But my two favorite aspects have been my waiban and my new friends.

Reno–who incidentally studied at Drake and helped me with a Chinese project once–is responsive to requests, advocates for his foreign teachers and generally doesn’t screw us over like at lot of waibans I have known. Furthermore, myself and Miles (another teacher at my university), were a part of his wedding party this weekend. More on that later.

Then there are the weirdos I have met and now call friends. There is a whole cast of characters that I have met over the last few months but I was incredibly lucky to meet Miles and Charlotte on my first day in Chongqing. Both are teachers at my new university and studied here two years ago. They have been my constant companions and the key to my quick immersion into life in Chongqing. I don’t know what I would do without them.

Well, nothing like a long, boring post to regain readers, right? This was a bit of a necessary evil to bring everyone up to date on what I’ve been doing. But there are plenty of things to look forward to:

  • My sweet new apartment
  • My awesome new campus
  • Tyler’s first Chinese wedding
  • Some travel pictures
  • So we hear you play rugby now?

Furthermore, I want to know what you want to know. What are you interested to learn about Chongqing or China or expat life?

And no worries, I’ll try to keep the next one shorter.

    • Megan O
    • December 5th, 2012

    So excited! I checked your blog obsessively everyday for those seven months.

    Miss you!

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