My first night in Hohhot!

Finally! Internet hasn’t been put in my apartment yet, but I had a class cancel so I can update my blog!

My beginning in Hohhot has been hectic to say the least! So far I’ve taught a dozen classes, been to Baotou (a city 2 hours away from Hohhot), visited the Baotou desert, tried Chinese beer, hung out at a few bars, tricked some German tourists into thinking I was a Chinese student, biked on the streets (always a life-or-death situation), learned a few key words in Chinese, been to the vegetable and fruit market, tried Chinese BBQ (delicious!), and made a lot of friends! But I’m going to take you guys all the way back to when I first arrived, because that’s when I wish I could have updated you!

So my plane left Toronto at 2:00pm on Tuesday, May 31st and arrived in Beijing at 2:30pm China time on June 1st. The flight was very long (12 hours), but I watched about 4 movies and a bunch of episodes of Modern Family, so that kept me occupied and helped distract me from the pain in my lower back that developed while sitting for so long. I had a 5 hour layover in Beijing, so after I went through customs I had a lot of time to meander. The Beijing Airport is beautiful! And very big. I had fun looking at all the stores and I was very glad that I had brought a Tim Hortens muffin on the plane with me to eat once I got to Beijing’s airport because I was too afraid to buy food with my Chinese money!

After catching maybe an hour of sleep in the airport (I only managed about an hour on the plane), I boarded the plane that took me to Hohhot at 7pm (7am in Thunder Bay). It was a short flight, but a beautiful one. I sat in a middle seat on the way to Beijing, but luckily I got a window seat for my final flight. The landscape was amazing! Through the window I could see brown and green fields, misty mountains with dirt roads winding around them, tiny rivers and I even got a glimpse of the Great Wall on my way out of Beijing! The flight was only 50 minutes, but the flight crew gave out food to the passengers, food which I almost missed because I had dozed off in the middle of the flight! I’d describe it as an extra breaded hamburger, as there was meat (I’m guessing pork) in the middle of two pieces of bread, but the bread wasn’t like bread we have at home. It was layered, as if someone pasted 50 thin pancakes together. It sounds weird, but it was tasty (and free)! I landed in Hohhot Airport, breathed a sigh of relief that none of my bags were lost, and headed to the exit hoping that this wasn’t all a scam and someone was actually there to pick me up.

Just a side note about my luggage: I packed a lot coming from Thunder Bay to Toronto. I had 2 suitcases, a backpack, an extra carry-on, and my purse. My backpack must have been 30 pounds, the carry-on 15, one suitcase was 5 pounds over, the second was 9 pounds over (each suitcase is allowed to be 50lbs). But after serious consideration, the process of elimination, and organization (I had bought even more stuff in Toronto), I managed to fit a years worth of terribly-important-absolutely-cannot-live-without-stuff into 2 suitcases and one backpack to bring to China with me. Both suitcases were exactly 50 lbs (*HIGH-FIVE*) and my greatest fear was that the airline would lose one of them on the trip. They didn’t. Good job Air Canada…for once.

Scott, the Director of Studies at my school and a fellow Canadian, was there to pick me up, along with Candy, the woman in charge of all teacher accommodation and VISA information. They even made me feel important by holding up a sign that said “EF School: Stephanie Chow” on it. We got in a van and they took me to my apartment.

Now, I wont lie to you. My first night in Hohhot was spent fighting the urge to burst into hysterical crying, crawl into fetal position and never come out, and/or turn right back around and get on the next flight back to Canada. This is because of a few reasons:
1. I was going on 24 hours with little to no sleep.
2. I was obviously distraught about the abrupt abandonment of my life in Canada that I love and have never been so far away from.
3. I was taking in the sight of my new Chinese neighborhood and the outside of my apartment for the first time. And it was not a pretty sight. More on this to come.
4. Scott informed me that I would have no roommate for a few months. A huge problem, as I was counting on having a roommate to help me adjust to my new life and so I wouldn’t feel as lonely or afraid.

 So we drove into Hohhot, and there were huge buildings with lots of lights, lots of interesting signs to look at, people on bikes zigzagging in all directions, and I was pretty amazed at my surroundings. But 15 minutes later came the turnoff into my neighborhood, and that’s when my troubles began to bubble to the surface. The first time I saw them, the streets surrounding my apartment building left me speechless with incredulity. Garbage piles here and there, random brick piles, locals gambling on street corners, street meat being sold beside them, stray dogs, bars on windows, graffiti, lots of noise and yelling, random *bang* noises … I learned very quickly over the next couple of days that this is China and this is the norm. But on my first night, this was extremely overwhelming.

When I saw the outside of my apartment, I swear to you my first thoughts were “I have to live in a slum!??! I have to live alone?!?! Are you kidding me?! I’ll probably get mugged my first night!!!” The van turned into a gated entrance that leads into a confined quad. My apartment building is behind a long wall of little shops on the main street, shops that (from the outside and at first glance) look like they have recently survived a hurricane, and the backyard of the shops are a part of the quad. Brick walls and other apartment buildings surround and enclose the rest of the area, and there are a series of brick pathways leading into each building. All of the first floor windows have bars on them, and outside there are personal “yards” where locals do gardening, laundry, and funny enough there are many mini-tables set up here and there because the locals enjoy gambling in small groups during the day and into the night. We parked and I was taken deeper into the fort, down one of the back alleyways into what I considered the furthest, darkest, gloomiest door, and entered one of the brick buildings. Inside, the first hallway light didn’t work of course (making me even more apprehensive!) but once we got to the second floor the lights turned on (you have to stomp or cough to turn it on, its noise detective) and I was introduced to the door of my apartment! After playing with the key momentarily, Candy opened the door and I braced myself for the tears that would most definitely explode in a sea of distress from yours truly.

SURPRISE! The apartment looked decent…nice…normal. Scott assured me that all apartments in Hohhot look like that on the outside, that the streets look intimidating but are actually very safe, and I would get used to them soon. This news came with a load of doubt, but I was extremely relieved that the inside of my apartment did not reflect the outside. My apartment is very quant: you walk in and there’s a small lounge with a table, fridge, water cooler, TV, 2 chairs and coat rack. My bedroom is to the left, completed with a big bed, cupboards, shelves, curtains, cactus, air conditioner, and rug. The second bedroom is to the right, beside the bathroom (which has a bathtub!!!!!!! You have no idea how rare/awesome that is! But more on my bathroom and Hohhot in another blog entry, because my bathroom deserves its own, it’s THAT awesome). The kitchen is behind the lounge, and I was given a few essentials (food for a few days, rice cooker, wok, bowl and plate, and big spoons for cooking). All in all, I liked my apartment at first glance but was still feeling scared and alone. I’ll see if I can add a picture along with this post.

Scott was prepared for this though, knowing what its like to be a new teacher in a new country. He said that many of the teachers at EF School were eating dinner then, as 9-10 is a typical time for the teachers to go for dinner following classes. He invited me to come meet them, said they were excited to meet me, and I agreed. Even though I was exhausted, I knew that I would be a mess as soon as I was left alone, so avoiding that and meeting some nice people instead sounded great. Scott took me to a small restaurant to meet the other teachers. There were about 8 of them eating, all from different parts of the world, all between 22 and 32 years of age, all fantastically friendly and nice. I’ll talk more about them in later blogs, this ones getting lengthy!! But they fed me, made me laugh, made me feel very welcome, and were sympathetic, knowing what I was going through because they had done the same! Tamlyn from South Africa was particularly helpful, as she had arrived a week before me and knew exactly what I was feeling.

After dinner, Scott and Matt (from New York) were walking me home and they decided they wanted to have a beer on a patio close to my apartment. They asked if I wanted to join, and I agreed, wanting to avoid the wave of misery I would feel once I was on my own for a bit longer. At this point, it was close to 12am, meaning I had been awake for almost 30 hours, but I persevered and Matt and Scott gave me a lot of information about living in Hohhot, which I appreciated.

Finally, around 1am they walked me home, and the second I closed the door I curled up in a ball on my bed, hugged my pillow and had myself a good cry. I had my Canadian cellphone with me, but it wouldn’t let me make any calls. I had no internet connection either. So I texted my sister and told her I that I had made it to China and was safe (though I didn’t feel it at the time!). I felt completely alone! I put away a few of my things, but eventually fatigue got the better of me and I fell asleep and didn’t wake up again until 3pm the next day.

So that is my first night in Hohhot! Rereading it, it’s a bit sad/pathetic/depressing, but that’s the honest truth of what I was feeling during my introduction to China! I’ve been here for a week and a half now, and things have changed so much, I promise you! Can’t wait to fill you in and catch you guys up on how I’m coping now! It truly has been a new beginning!



7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marilyn Hanstead
    Jun 14, 2011 @ 23:26:43

    Dear Steph:

    First of all – HAPPY BIRTHDAY and all the best and warm wishes for an exciting time in Hohut. Your latest update was soooo interesting. What an excellent writer and storyteller you are. We could visualize everything as you were telling us. It was also good to hear how you are slowly adjusting to your new home and everything seems to be falling into place.

    Today is sunny again. It seems we are getting a sunny day followed by a cooler day with rain and clouds, etc. The yard chores are almost caught up now so hopefully the flowers burst with blooms for the summer…..Swimming in the lake is also close to happening soon.

    It is 10.30 a.m. so it must be around 11:30 p.m. your time. We will have to use skype once you get it set up in your apartment.

    Enjoy your special day tomorrow and we’ll be keeping in touch.


    LOL Auntie Marilyn



  2. Ben Babcock
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 04:52:03

    Wow, that’s a ridiculously detailed and awesome update. I can’t wait to hear more, and maybe see some photos when you have time to take them and put them online.

    Thunder Bay continues to be Thunder Bay, although this week we get actual sun. It’s weird and confusing and I’m not sure I like it, but whatever.


  3. Lee
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 06:27:34

    Great work on making me feel like I wanted to be there with you! Can’t wait to hear more.


  4. Cat
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 07:13:04

    So happy to hear something from u Steph! I’ve been missing u! Glad things are training out great in china!!! I hope things work out for me too. And p.s u should definately go into writing when ur done this adventure. Luv yah girl 🙂


  5. Chow
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 11:35:20

    Wow! I would’ve thought that’s a normal reaction – no doubt I would’ve probably done the same! You are so brave, I am so proud of you!!!
    Oh… I think you’re awake now too and its June 15th there… so Happy 23rd Birthday!!! I LOVE YOU!

    I will try to call you from the house – hopefully we can get international calls!!



  6. Holly
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 03:22:10

    i loved readign this one becasue it reminded me of my journal entried the first couple days in Guyana… i was a mess too… and sooo sweaty adn uncomfortable.. but I ended up falling in love with the country!


  7. My-Tien Nguyen
    Jun 28, 2011 @ 12:52:06


    I’ll start off saying I forgot you had a blog. And was concerned that I did not know how I was able to get information about your stay and every single detail possible.

    I was just Skyping with Giancarlo and we realized omg Steph has a blog! WE NEED TO READ IT.

    This is the furthest I’ve gone so far into reading your blog as I have to go to bed.

    It made me cry. I actually cried and got really sad.

    I cried right after you said you texted Sara. When you left no one had heard from you at first and I for one was especially concerned. Then the only thing we heard before you posted on Facebook was that you sent Sara that one tiny little text.

    Now that I know all the history and moments leading up to that text I literally felt your pain and it hurt me to have one of my most cherished friends be upset and I cried.

    I’m so happy things aren’t terrible and they seem to be great so far from the sounds of it. I plan on thoroughly and religiously reading your blog and hopefully we can schedule our time to Skype very soon.

    I’ve never meant it to more to say that I miss you. I wish you were here but I am filled with joy knowing you’re out there doing exactly what you wanted to do.

    I love you!



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