My Reflections On 2 Years Spent In China

“Goodbye may seem forever. Farewell is like the end, but in my heart is the memory and there you will always be.” 

                                                ~Walt Disney

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A man is rawing the boat

Dear China…

Goodbyes are always the hardest parts of our lives. They might be even harder if you say goodbye to people you spent amazing 2 years with, the beautiful places you will never forget and the country that has changed your life forever.

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I’m at Hong Kong International airport waiting for my flight back home. I was here a couple of times before to catch my flight to various Asian travel destinations such as Japan or to get back home for summer or Christmas. Today’s different. Today I’m saying goodbye to China and I’m not coming back, at least not in the near future. This time I’m leaving for good. This is it and I can’t believe I’m saying that. With tears in my eyes and smile upon my face I’m writing this goodbye letter to China.

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I spent here 2 years, 2 amazing years full of adventures and memories – the good ones and the bad ones. This was my very first backpacking destination I fell in love at first sight. This is the country I was passionate about as a little girl. This is the place where I have learnt how to be a blogger, traveler, explorer, teacher, listener, dreamer, fighter and culinary adventurer. The place I sometimes hated so much and the place I adore and admire. The place whose scenery left me speechless and then turned me into a storyteller…

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During these 2 years of my expat life, firstly living in Huayuan and Xiushan and afterwards in Dongguan, I have managed to travel to 15 out of 22 different provinces, I have eaten thousands of Baozi, learn around 300 different Chinese sounds and spoke to hundreds of locals who, in some ways, inspired me, made me smile, made me proud of myself, helped me out or left me speechless. I loved every second of it and I will miss these moments and people a lot.

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Things I will never forget:

1. Long, exhausting and uncomfortable train rides.

Believe me or not, but long distance train rides with standing tickets were one of my favourite China things. I not only met amazing people who I could practice my poor Chinese language skills with, but also saved a lot of money on transport cost.

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Me and Cez wanted to travel as much and as cheap as possible when in China. Getting a standing ticket was a great opportunity to get a train ride for about $5 (16 hour+ journey). Of course it was dreadful and uncomfortable (back pain guaranteed), but sometimes you need to make some sacrifices in the name of budget travel, right?

During these long distance train journeys we met truly special and unique locals. We spoke to them, we had some food with them, played chess, listened to music and laughed a lot. I’ll cherish these moments forever.

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2. Stunning landscapes.

China’s landscape took my breath away too many times. I was blown away by the incredible floating Hallelujah mountains in Zhangjiajie where the Avatar movie was made, stunning Yangshuo river or Tibetan mountains.

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China, without a doubt, helped me discover my passion for trekking, hiking, climbing and cycling. I became more curious about local places where ordinary tourists never get to and I’ve learnt how to observe and interact with nature.

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China gave me this opportunity to visit one of the biggest, busiest and most developed in terms of technology cities in the world. I was lost in cold Shanghai where I had a dinner on top of the Pearl Tower and felt posh in glamorous Hong Kong where I craved world’s most famous Hong Kongnese dish called dim sum.

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On my China journey, I explored an enormous number of local temples, parks, UNESCO spots, Buddha statues and hot spring spas.

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The places I will never forget are these little hidden ones not listed in Lonely Planet books or travel guides. The small towns like Fenghuang, Huayuan or even Xiushan – charming and lovely, undiscovered by tourists with authentic cuisine and real warm smiles of locals.

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3. Baozi!

I’m absolutely obsessed with Chinese dumplings called baozi. I love their smell, thick texture and rich filling. Maybe because I’m Polish and pierogi are our traditional dish, I don’t know. There is nothing better than grabbing a fresh and soft veggie baozi in the morning from one of food vendors. A morning without baozi meant something bad or unlucky was going to happen, no joke!

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During these two years I discovered my passion for food. I started cooking traditional Chinese dishes at home and experiment with different flavors by mixing different herbs and spices.

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I’ll never forget my and Cez’s food binges on jiaozi, fried rice, you tiao, tropical fruits and some other (disgusting) dishes such as fried bees or grilled cockroaches.

4. My cute, adorable and always smiling students.

I came to China not only to sightsee but also to work as an English teacher. My aim was to get more teaching experience, find out whether teaching is what I really want to do for living in the future or not, improve the English speaking capabilities of Chinese students, inspire them, gain their interest and motivate them to speak English.

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It’s been a long journey with hundreds of high school and kindergarten students, but we made it. We studied hard every day. I enjoyed every minute of my class with my little monsters although they did make me angry and furious sometimes! I gained a lot of teaching experience in Huayuan Public High School as well as Dongguan Bowen Kindergarten.

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I will miss my morning English classes, warm-up activities, my students’ smiles and their funny gestures. We had a lot of fun, indeed!

5. Locals and their hospitality.

One of the things I’ve learnt when in China is that Smile speaks any language. It’s not about the language, it’s about your personality, hospitality and generosity. You don’t need to speak the local language to show your respect to foreign culture and traditions, to make someone feel loved and adored.

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When I first came to China, I didn’t speak much Chinese, but the language barrier never existed for me. I always managed to express everything I wanted to and still make friends with locals. We smiled, we used our hands to explain what we meant, we looked silly and stupid, but who cared!

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During these two years, I met amazing and generous people who I hope to keep in touch in the future. We met in different places and clicked right away without speaking the same language. We shared our travel passion together, talked about cultural differences between our countries and shared a couple of stories of our lives. Tibetans were, without a doubt, the most hospitable people I have ever met.

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I have collected many amazing and unforgettable moments during these 2 years, not including all of the photos and souvenirs I’m taking home with me. Time flies and we should enjoy every moment of it. Some things come to an end, so the new ones can happen to us. I don’t regret anything. China was truly inspiring to me and there is a special place in my heart for this country.

Farewell China. You will be truly missed!

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89 Comments

  • I have enjoyed these postings from China so much – it was almost (almost) as if I was there myself. But because of these articles and photos, I really want to visit China! My short trip to Macau and Hong Kong does not count! Thank you so much Agness for taking me on your adventure.

  • Wow, you definitely had some incredible experiences in China, I can imagine it’s a bittersweet feeling leaving for good! Where are you off to next? Excited to hear about the next chapter of your journey!:-)

  • Aww, why leave for good if you had such great time there? Dont tell me you got close to triad so the governement denied you coming back :P It’s nice to see that you two dont have any regrets and I will support you in your next yourney(s) :)

  • It feels like a very momentous occasion for me (and I guess all your readers) to see you leave your home of 2 years. (Feels a bit like when I left Saudi for the last time. I’m not sure if I’ll ever return but I hope you get a chance to revisit your overseas home someday.)

    Thanks for sharing all your China adventures which I hope have inspired others.

    We look forward to following the next exciting adventure in your life.

    Safe travels and I await your reunited with Europe perspective :-)

    • I’m kinda scared to be honest. Everything is so different in Europe, but I’ll easily get used to everything. Slowly, but surely!!

  • Goodbyes are always hard, but when you feel so strongly for a country, you will always return. Maybe not in the nearest future, but someday. I’m sure the future holds great things for you, Agness, and I will be rooting for you from the sideline.

  • Lots of awesome photos and incredible experiences here! Well done for two years in China! China is a hard place to travel for a long time, let alone live.

  • Agness – this was a fantastic post! What an incredible journey it’s been for sure, but I can’t wait to see what other adventures you have in store!

  • This is a wonderful and touching love letter to China, Agness. It must be hard for you to leave this country after two years which is associated for you with loads of unforgettable experiences and memories and so many wonderful people. So far I have only visited China as a traveller three times, but the Middle Kingdom has soon replaced Thailand as my favourite country in the world. My best journeys were across China and Tibet and I had my best two guides ever there. My funniest and most memorable train experiences was an exhausting 18-hours train journey on a sleeper train from Shanghai to Xian together with five chinese locals (including a grumpy old Grandma and a baby)and a danish guy. I really hope that I can go back as an expat and experience China, its culture and the locals more in depth, even if I won’t stay as long as you did.

    Btw, Abu Dhabi is great, you will have an amazing time there.

    • 18-hours train journey on a sleeper train from Shanghai to Xian? That must have been a great experience. I will really miss Chinese trains! I slept on the floor most of the time, but it was so cool!

  • I hate saying goodbye too and it’s always the most tough part of travelling. Anyway you must be incredibly excited for the new adventures awaiting you and for the start of a new chapter of your life. Best of luck! :)

  • wow, seems like you are truly embraced China for the past 2 years! Although I have never been there and I have heard plenty of negatives about the country but you made China sounds pretty amazing adventure. So what are your plans after 2 years in China?

  • Wow. This is such a sweet post. It seems like y’all had a really amazing time in China!

    But I’m sure you will make a “home” out of anywhere you go!

    Let me know if you’re ever (back) in Japan – I can show you all the best cheap spots!

  • I remember finding your blog when I first started thinking about coming to China and how your posts inspired me to take the leap and come here. I’m sure wherever you go in life you’ll have adventures. Good luck to you!

    • Oh Rebekah, bless you!! :)x I also enjoy following your current adventures in China! Keep being awesome xxxx

  • “Smile speaks any language.” Love it! I’m so glad you had the opportunity to experience China and really get to know it. I can’t wait to see what you’re up to next!!

  • What an epic experience you’ve had over the past two years, Agness! I’m not sure I know any expats who love China as fiercely as you do, and I know that I have enjoyed reading about your many adventures (both good and bad) while there. It’s been really exciting to follow on your journey and I’m really interested to see what you do next… I’ve no doubt it will be fantastic!

  • What a beautiful post! As someone who’s a native of China (I was born there and was there for 6 years), I was very touched and it made me miss my hometown! Your love for China just radiates out of your writing. I wish you the best of luck on your next adventure and I’ll be looking forward to following along!!

  • Though I’ve only followed you for the past year I can’t tell you what a thrill and honor it was to “go along” virtually with you and Cez!! The two of you have made a huge, positive impact on the travel blogging world. Now, your next chapter begins with as much excitement and an irreplaceable life experience to help you evolve into all the beauty and wonder you both will always be, Agness! Most of all…thank you for the lifetime friends that Phoenix and I met, love and adore daily :)

  • Agness, I have enjoyed reading about your time in China. In fact you and Cez have been a inspiration to me. I wish you both all the best in your next endeavour.

  • Leaving after a long time in a place can be strange, difficult, even a little heartbreaking. But we can see the connections you’ve made and the amazing journey you’ve taken, and importantly – not only has China left its mark on you, but you’ve left your mark on Chine – in a good way that is! SO what’s next?

    • I agree! I’m spending some time in Abu Dhabi, then Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, etc.! Can’t wait for my Europe trip!

  • What a lovely post! It is never easy to say goodbye to a placeyou have fallen in love with. I felt the same when I left Cambodia after 2 years. But China will always be in your heart and don’t forget that there are new adventures to be had and new countries to be discovered. :-)

  • Congrats on 2 years in China, guys! I’m with you on the baozi. It’s quite possible to consume thousands of these delicious things in just a short time. You guys are so funny- I love that you listed 16 hour standing train rides as one of the highlights. I can totally see why (meeting people, the challenge of it and the cheap price) but I’ll have to stick with a sleeper myself. I’ll blame it on being close to 30- you are still young haha! Best wishes for moving back to Europe! :-)

  • This post is so well written Agness. I can totally put myself in your positon. I never lived abroad for such a long time as you did but I can relate to all your feelings. It always feels like a goodbye as you never really know if you will return to the place you called home for such a long time. I’m so happy that you enjoyed your two years in China so much and wish you all the best for your time in the Netherlands. A new chapter has opened and I’m sure you’ll make the best of it. I look forward to further following your journey! Have a great summer at home and if you happen to be in Germany in the next 1.5 months, let me know ;)!

  • Agness, that is awesome! 2 years sounds like a long time, but even when I stayed over in Bangkok and Jakarta, it went in a flash. I neary died 3 times in my South East Asian travels, all from different situations! I am going to China soon as Taiwan is coming up. I’ll have to get your input on Taiwan as well. It sounds interesting.

  • Wow, such a beautiful post, sounds like you have had an incredible couple of years living and working in China! I am really excited to visit China for the first time next January for a friend’s wedding (it is going to be freezing!). Your post has me inspired to try and spend more time there and explore more parts of the country!

  • Beautifully written post! Thank you very much. I have been following you for some months now and I think you are doing an amazing job with your blog.
    Keep up the good work! Happy life to both of you! I am looking forward to read about your future adventures!

    :-)

    • Of course! I’m just about to get back to Dusseldorf, Germany —> Lisbon and Fatima —> a bit of Spain —> Amsterdam and Leiden —> Poland —> ?

  • Well said Agness! I can’t imagine what it must be like leaving after two years there, we were there for 13 months and it was SO HARD to leave and say goodbye to China. Such a magical place that will hold a special place in your heart I’m sure. Check out our farewell China video here (we couldn’t put it into words!) http://www.goatsontheroad.com/video-good-bye-china-a-compilation-of-our-memories/

    Enjoy your future travels, I’m sure you will make some more fantastic memories in Europe :)

    Cheers.

  • What a lovely love letter to China. It’s always sad to be leaving somewhere you’ve made your home. The foreignness of it all becomes familiar and strangers become friends. Even the things which annoyed, you look back on lovingly. Those photos of you sleeping on the train was hysterical though. It said a lot. ;)

  • As the saying goes, “time fly’s when your having fun”. What a very sad day for you but as one door closes another one opens and I am sure you will have many many more amazing adventures in your future. Where to next?

  • I felt emotional for your goodbye just reading this so can’t imagine how emotional it must have been for you!! I’ve loved your blog from my first days of blogging last year and look forward to seeing more of your updates in Europe! If you’re ever in London, come and say hello :) Good luck Agness!

  • Agness this is beautiful, and it’s honestly a bit too soon for me to be reading this, after having just left Pakistan for a while myself.

    “With tears in my eyes and smile upon my face I’m writing this goodbye letter to China.”

    Such similar sentiments wot what I felt just 2 weeks ago, and I’ve got tears in my eyes now as I read this. Please be strong – I’ll try my best if you try your best xx

    • Thanks Tim! I’m finally home. Still missing China, but I try not to think about it. There are too many things going on right now!! :)

  • I am sad that you have left China too. All those dumplings – lucky you – I love Chinese dumplings. I didn’t know they were called Baozi. :) I laughed so much when you said a morning without them meant bad things would happen.

  • Hi Agness,

    I just discovered your blog and I love the way you write. It’s heartbreaking to leave a country you have come to know and love. Part of the joy of living in another country is discovering the quirky things and places that tourists never visit. It’s really getting to know the heart of a country and its culture. I think you’ve conveyed this really well in your post and have given us an insight into China that we wouldn’t usually have.

    Your post was particularly interesting to me, as I qualified to be a TEFL teacher but haven’t taught English yet. I think I will a bit later on, but I’d also love to teach somewhere completely different (I’m from the UK), so maybe China, Japan or Thailand.

    Thanks,
    Gemma

    http://www.fleetingplanet.com

    • Hey Gemma! Thanks for the message. You should definitely make it to Asia and try to teach the kids. It’s a great adventure and amazing experience!

  • Agness, this is such a beautiful tribute to a place I know you loved! And it makes me miss it, especially the delicious food!!! I’m sorry our paths never crossed when we were both in China, but hopefully it will be easier to meet up now that we’re both in Europe. Good luck with your studies! xoxo

  • Wow! What a lovely letter Agness. To me, you’ll always be there “that girl who lives in China.” On a serious note, I think you’ve had an incredible journey and it shows in the maturity and interest of your blog. We love the topics you write about, and we like you too.
    Don’t say “goodbye”. Say “see ya later.” If you love a place, don’t be afraid to go back, even for a short while.
    ‘Glad to have you on European shores. :)

  • I really hate goodbyes, but it looks like you had the most amazing two years there! Great photos as well! Can’t wait to visit there hopefully sometime soon!

  • What a beautiful post. It almost brought tears to my eyes. I have never been to China, but I know it is difficult to say goodbye to a destination you have come to love.

  • What a fantastic experience. I always thought that to really get to know the place and people you have to actually live in the given country. I bet you’ve learnt a lot not only about the Chenese culture and customs but also about yourself :)

  • What a brave girl you are! We’ve been in China for three years and can’t even imagine what saying goodbye to this awesome country is like!

    Are you interested in guest blogging about your experience here?

  • Which program did you teach in China through? I’m looking into teaching English in China and am curious as to which program would be the best.

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