“Please put all tray tables and seats in their upright and locked position. We are preparing for landing.”
I’m blasted by pure white light as I opened my window. Inside my body was asking how it could possibly be daytime.
My eyes adjusted. I saw that we were beginning to emerge through a thick layer of clouds. As we descended below the clouds, I saw nothing but a brown haze making the land below look like a distant blur. “Gross! Maybe I can see better from the flight view cameras,” I thought. I turned the screen in front of me to the outside camera view to see what we were flying over. It was like looking at a blurry Tetris game of concrete roofs. I now started to realize how big and sprawling my new home would be.
Six months earlier, when I accepted the teaching position in Guangzhou, China, I was told that the school is not in the middle of the city. The principal was very clear that it is about a 45 minute drive from the city center. Nonetheless, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse.
The next few months were spent trying to find out more about where we would live. The one correct thing I learned was that researching about China in English and on western sites like Google provides little to no information. All I could find was incomplete maps and YouTube videos posted by westerners. The HR department told us the name of our apartment complex yet, it was something that didn’t exist in any search engine or map that I could find.
The looming question of what our living quarters would be like was still a complete mystery as we touched down on the tarmac.
As the plane slowed and began to taxi many of the passengers stood up and started filling the aisles. The flight attendants announced, “Please stay in your seats and buckle your seat belts!” in both Chinese and English. The passengers ignored the direction and continue getting their carry on luggage. The flight attendants stopped trying to control the chaos, and looked at Whitney and me with a shrugging expression that read,”China”.
After gathering the six large bags we had checked, we passed through customs and security and found S, one of the people who would help us settle into our new home. We walked out of the airport. We are in China! I could feel sweat drip down my back and legs while we waited for our driver. Three minutes later a small sedan pulled up. Our stuff is never going to fit in there with us. I look at Whitney who was clearly thinking the same thing. It gets worse as the driver opens the trunk and we saw that it was already half full with boxes of fruit.
Against all odds the driver managed to fit our many large bags and us into the car. We may have had some suitcases on top of us, but we fit. With luggage digging into my legs and butterflies in my chest, we began the drive to our mysterious new home.
A series of unanswerable questions swarmed in my head. How far is it to our apartment? What is it like? Is it like these buildings we are driving by? Is there anything around it? Why have we been driving for so long? Will this become a familiar area that we are going through? How will we get food and water? How will we get money?
While these questions amass in my head, I took in the surroundings of the area we would be living. We went down a big street filled with helmet-free motorbikers and lined with random open shops selling everything from auto parts to food. We cut down a small back road lined by small farms, worn down houses, and abandoned half complete buildings. Later, we turned into a highway filled with trucks and nothing but trees to the side. I saw some random high rises in the distance, and thought, I hope that’s were we get to live. I’ve always wanted to reside in the top of a high rise.
About 45 minutes into our drive to what would be our home for the next two years, we got closer to these buildings, turned towards them and went through a gate with security guards dressed in white. I crossed my fingers as we drove by modern houses and sure enough, we turned into a parking lot below the high rises.
Finally, the car parked and we got out to meet the rest of the HR department who had been helping us with the move. They introduce themselves and helped us with our many bags. I could’t help but notice the smirks on their faces as they looked at how much stuff we have brought. This was the first hint at how different life would be here.
We had so much luggage that we needed two elevators, so Whitney gots into one and I got into the other with the HR team. I’m now desperate to find out what floor we would be on. One of the HR team hit a button and the number 20 lit up. “Your apartment is on the 20th floor,” she said. I’m beyond excited as I imagine the views we would have.
Moments later, the elevator doors opened and we took a few steps to the door of our new apartment. It was a silver gate with red decorative banners and gold Chinese characters attached to the sides. The doors are opened and we saw a large, pristine tile floor, dinner table, and a large couch in front of us. The table was covered with food and water. Great! We won’t starve! Beyond the couch was a sliding glass door to a large balcony. As we walked in we look to the left to see a hallway with four doorways. Wow, three bedrooms and two bathrooms?! Looking out the windows and off the balcony, we saw the other high rises in this massive complex surrounded by green mountains and a lake in the distance. Beautiful!
I stood on the balcony for a few minutes enjoying the view and pondering what was next. For now, I was excited. My questions for today were answered, but little do I know that everyday ahead of me would be filled with questions. Some answered, and some left unknown.