When Oliver told me that he had a job prospect in China, the usual cool cosmopolitan suspects popped up in my head: Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong.
Wrong, nope, not even close.
The name he told me rang no bells at all. When I Googled Changchun, nothing much popped up. This proved to be an entirely appropriate foreshadow. It took a few days before we even figured out how to properly say the name of the city. The only thing I read that made sense to me was that this is where the last Chinese Emperor (aka The Imposter) was set up in a puppet regime by the Japanese around the first World War. I dredged up my memories of the The Last Emperor. In my memory is a hazy scene where Puyi gets off the plane and walks a reception line in a dust storm.
Everything we did manage to dig up told us that this place was 100% pure Chinese. Few sites are in English and even fewer are of any help at all in shedding light on the city and what life there could be like. Is there a lot of industry? Could I find a job? What’s the ‘new’ communism like? Is dog a mainstay of the cuisine? What is there to do on the weekends? Asphalt streets or donkey carts on dirt roads? Where is this place in relation to the “known China”? My favorite source of information about the city came from (of course) a government sponsored site which describes the city thus:
If territory of China is in a shape of rooster, therefore Changchun is one eye of this huge rooster. You can imagine its important position.
Well thanks very much, that explains it then.
Pressing on, we did manage to uncover a few expat blogs in Changchun. They are all English teachers, mostly on Chinese work contracts, given the salary and lifestyle differences they weren’t much help in figuring out what life must be like there for people in our situation. I found a few mentions of turtle consumption but not much dog. All of them talk about how you have to learn at least some Chinese.
Despite the sparse information, we were intrigued. Moving East. We’d known that we would be faced with this question at some point. It had become this warning I would repeat to my parents, you never know, at some point a job out there will come up and we might go. Be prepared. Of course I’d always had pictured Shanghai in this scenario. Or Cape Town.
China is scary and attractive at the same time. We know almost nothing about the country, its politics and the news first came right after the pet food scare in the US. We’d never even considered going there on vacation and yet here we were facing a decision to move there for several years. How the hell do you make such a decision?
Oliver’s company has a good policy about posting people abroad: No pigs in a poke. You’re not allowed to accept before going there once and checking it out in person. Seeing that we were interested but entirely unsure about whether or not we could hack it over there, we decided to go see for ourselves.
I told my boss that I had wanted to follow my often-absent husband on a business trip, the company got us our visas, tickets and hotel, and off we went to Changchun.
End Part One.