I live in a city that contains double the population of my home nation, Scotland. That city is called Wuhan, and it’s so vast and busy that sometimes I can go days on end without seeing someone I know and recognise.
I work in a primary school that has classes filled with 40-45 students. Six classes make up each of the six grades meaning that, despite my mathematical knowledge being around the level of a Chinese toddler, I am surrounded by around 1,600 kids daily. At this school, I am not the only foreign English teacher – in total there are thirteen. At times, the working day flies by so quickly that I don’t even bump in to some of them. The point is, this place is so big, bustling, bizarre and unpredictable that the chance of experiencing life in anything other than a jarring and alienating way can be somewhat difficult.
And yet, in this place, I came across people who not only come from where I come from, but also studied where I studied, have been places that I’ve been and know people I know. Okay, one of them is my girlfriend – she came here with me. But the other two? I’d never heard of or saw them before in my life until I came to Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.
Since arriving back in this metropolis for a second year of working in the PRC, it has struck me more than ever how inexplicable a coincidence it is to have met, and got to know, two extremely good friends only after deciding to move to China. Having never crossed paths before, despite us all being from Scotland, despite us all having attended the University of Glasgow, how did we manage to converge on this city, in this country, and still become close?
I revel in this coincidence as a kind of nostalgic trip as I return to a long suffering quest to keep a regular blog, but also because I’ve started to think more about how the place that I live affects how I live.
Ultimately this line of thought stems from a touch of inspiration I stumbled across, late on a sleepless night, listening to podcasts. The podcast in question is the Longform podcast, a series which involves conversations with non-fiction writers about how they started out and how they write. The particular episode that struck me included Jessica Hopper – a music critic, writer and former editor at Pitchfork. Off the back of the release of her book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic (which I would very much like to read, hint, hint, send me it), the discussion turned to why she is now based out of Chicago, the opportunities it provided and the limitations it presented. She commented on how Chicago, whilst being a large, vibrant and important city, wasn’t as suffocating, professionally or financially, as perceived media centres like Los Angeles and New York City. She said that factors like affordable housing and the availability of part time and relatively easy-going work gave her the chance to focus not only on her writing, but exactly the kind of writing she wanted to do. Essentially, she rarely got caught up in the grind, having to make ends meet, and this allowed her the time and space to grow as a person and a writer.
Whilst I could only dream of achieving what she has, it inspired me. I live in a city with affordable rent, food and transport. I have the luxury of not worrying about these things. I have a job with generous working hours and a relatively small work load – I shouldn’t waste my free time! So, I am going to try, as best I can, to keep up this blog.
Thankfully, in the three months since I arrived back, at least creatively, I haven’t been totally wasteful. You know those two friends that I mentioned? And my girlfriend? We have started our own podcast together and it was this city that we live in, Wuhan, that pushed us to do it. It’s called Wuhan Weekly and, while the name is more of a memorable use of alliteration than a description of our recording frequency, we’ve dedicated a lot of thought, effort and time into making it funny and informative. We’re six episodes deep, have discussed Wuhan itself, what it’s like to be an English teacher here, our travel exploits, food and staying in good shape, and have no intention of letting up any time soon.
So until I check in with you here again, give us a listen…