It is the beginning of June, and for me this marks an important anniversary. It is now more than six months since I escaped from China. The time has flown by so quickly that I can hardly believe it… It seems only weeks ago that I was trudging to and from work, dodging piles of human excrement and being stared at by every one of the thousands of people whom I passed by on that miserable twenty minute walk.
Despite the difficulties of living in China, I was worried before leaving that I would come to regret it. In fact, going back to 2015 I had actually given serious thought to quitting and moving elsewhere. The problem was that I had a good job and a nice house and my life, though I was undoubtedly in an awful place, was overall pretty comfortable. I complained… but I was also aware that it could have been worse.
Six months ago, however, I snapped. I had been signing a new contract each year, extending my stay in that hellish place, over and over and over… I had lost respect for myself for not having the balls to leave. I was constantly stressed, and getting sick from the pollution and the filth of urban China. All the things that once seemed so curiously bizarre were now just aggravating. The government restrictions were becoming tighter, the country becoming suspiciously like Nazi Germany just before World War II.
I couldn’t bear to be there another week, never mind another year.
I bought a ticket home, handed in my resignation, tossed away all my things, and got the fuck out.
For the first two weeks, I honestly didn’t think about China. I got home and just forgot about it. I put every single ghastly detail of that place out of my mind. When a China-related thought came floating my way, I pushed it calmly away. I deleted every Chinese app and ignored every bit of Sinocentric news that appeared. When people asked me about my time there, I politely declined to comment.
Over time, I let myself slip back into those thoughts to deal with it better. I reconnected with a few friends from China, allowed myself to read the occasional news story, and generally stopped trying to block out that whole area of my life. As time has gone by, it’s come back more and more, particularly as I now live in Thailand, which is destination #1 for many Chinese people.
I don’t look back and regret leaving, though. Sometimes I look back and wish I hadn’t stayed as long as I did, but that doesn’t really matter. I got out with my life and sanity – although the latter was a close call. I learned a lot in China, particularly about teaching, and so it was not a total loss. I sure as hell wouldn’t dream of going back, but I don’t regret leaving at all.
The funny thing about China is that it really is the very worst place imaginable. You sometimes forget when you are there that people can be decent or that things can be beautiful. It is a land of pure ugliness, sneakiness, cruelty, and idiocy. When you get out – regardless of where you go – you land some place with decent people and interesting surroundings. Soon enough, you come to take for granted the little things like people not blowing up fireworks outside your window at 4am or not honking their horn 200 times a minute for no fucking reason. Everything in China is dumb and terrible and evil.
Well, perhaps I exaggerate a little bit.
Nevertheless, it’s been six months and I feel better for it. I live in Thailand now, where the people are good and the land is beautiful. Going to the supermarket is not an agonizing process, I can surf the internet freely, and nobody stares dumbly at me or screams LAOWAI every two fucking seconds. (Although there are plenty of Chinese tourists at particular spots around the island, and I could go be stared at and revel in their stupidity if I ever felt the need.)
I am glad to be gone from China, and I have no plans to return. This six month anniversary is a reminder of an important lesson in life – that you need to do what’s right instead of sticking with what’s easiest. Sometimes you need to make that big change in order to move on to something better.