The Year of the Tiger: Chinese Explorations

After graduating in May from the University of Minnesota, many people warned the graduating class of 2009 that our opportunities would be few and far between. For some, that may have been the case, but I decided to prove them wrong. I became certified in teaching English abroad and started searching for employment in South Korea. China never came onto my radar until an amazing opportunity fell into my lap.

Martha Aurelius intends to fill The Year of the Tiger with many explorations and adventures around China and Thailand, including a stop at this Catholic church in Dali.

Over this past summer, Jeanee and Brian Linden hired me to home school their sons in fifth and eighth grade. The family splits their time between Ellison Bay and Xizhou, China, where they have created and restored The Linden Center – an ancient, yet elegant, center with 14 rooms, four courtyards and breathtaking views of the land. I recently moved with them to their home abroad to teach, explore, and become immersed in a new culture. Although I will be living here for the next eight months, I feel like I am living in between the reality of the Middle Kingdom and magical daydreams of Neverland.

People always ask me if I am nervous or scared to travel abroad by myself or to move to another country. Yes, of course I am. There are always butterflies in my stomach; but, I always find comfort and protection in the new places that I discover. Just the other day while I was on a walk through the farm fields, I came across a hidden treasure, which was surely a sign for me to go out and explore the area. I happened upon a small temple, where burning incense and rice were placed on colorful tissue paper around the temple as offerings. By treating every walk as if a new aspect of my new home will be revealed, I find comfort.

“It’s not the destination, but rather the journey,” echoes in my head as I turn down new paths, walk along rice drying in the sun, move out of the way for speeding tuk-tuks and horse carts, and watch farmers plant winter wheat and garlic. I find comfort in the locals’ smiles, knowing that even though there is a large language barrier that may never be crossed, we can still greet each other and see eye to eye.

The farm fields of Xizhou, China will be the backdrop for Martha Aurelius for the next eight months, as she home schools the Linden children while abroad and explores the rich history of the region.

Another aspect of travelling abroad that I welcome is the unexpected moments of cultural awakening. For instance, my feeling toward time has morphed from a quantitative value into a qualitative life. I have no cell phone nor watch to tell me the exact time while living here, and at first, I thought it was going to drive me crazy. It has actually had the opposite effect. My day is filled with teaching the boys from 9 am – 3 pm with an hour break for lunch, enjoying afternoon coffee on the rooftop terrace while either sketching or reading, and heading into town to look at the markets. My watch is no where to be found, yet the beauty of it all is that I am filling my time with meeting new people at the Linden Centre, who like myself, are curious about the area and learning from Brian and Jeanee everyday about the area and Chinese culture. Every inch of the Linden Centre and every corner that I turn in the town has a story to tell about the region’s rich history.

I am still discovering what Xizhou has to offer and finding my niche in my new environment. Throughout the year, I will be traveling around China and Thailand, which means more adventures in the Year of the Tiger are still soon to be had.