Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Goal, The Plan, The Result

The goal: A minimalist life

I came from nothing: a welfare baby from a 'broken' home. My parents divorced when I was very young. My childhood was fraught with uncertainty, living first in this country and then in that one, my mother always seeking some financial advantage: first on the welfare rolls in her home country, and then by marriage to a military man. When my siblings and I, in turn, reached adulthood, there were no nuggets of wealth set aside for us, either for education or to start our lives – not that we expected any.

Early adulthood was equally hardscrabble. For quite a few years, there existed the real possibility that I would follow in my mother's footsteps and have nothing to give my  own kids, to launch them successfully into their lives. That all turned around when I earned a government position. More money than I dreamed of, and financial security for as long as I wanted that job.

With the kids successfully launched, I found I wasn't fulfilled by a healthy bank account. I certainly didn't want to be poor again, but surely there's more to life than earning money, right?

Right around the time I was plagued with that restlessness, America suffered a terrible economic downturn. While I should have been fortunate to have such a secure income as I had, instead I wanted to do what many others were doing out of necessity: reducing their needs. Living on bare minimum. Uncluttering their life. And that's what I did. It was the start of my China adventure.

The Plan: Get rid of nearly everything I own: house, cars, most material possessions save for a trunkful of books and a handful of sentimental value tokens. Live as bare bones as possible, while taking in as much of the world as I can.  

The Result:

Here is where I take a break from the narrative. What brought me to this topic, anyway?

T'is the season for contract renewal. All over China and, I suspect, other parts of the world that welcome ESL teachers, those worthies are holding their breath in anticipation of signing on for another year. Or, they're making arrangements for another position. Some might even had had enough of being away from their home, and are planning a grand celebration once back in the fold of their kith and kin.

Me? I'm looking around this place I've called home for the last 5 years. What if I had to pack up and move on? And why haven't I moved on before now?

I've gotten comfortable here. I've settled in. Nested. I think of this place as my home.

There's the new mattress I bought at Ikea last year, because trying to sleep on that hard Chinese bed with my broken leg left me sleepless and crabby. And my oven: can't imagine not taking it with me when I leave. And I had bought myself 2 chairs: one for my office and one very comfortable one for my living room. Where I go, they both go. And my beloved bike! No way I'm leaving it behind. Other things, like my space heater and crock pot, I've long gotten my money's worth out of and, if I had to leave them behind, it wouldn't bother me to do so. But why leave them when I have so much else I'm not yet willing to part with?

Clearly, I'm not leaving Wuhan then, even if I have to leave this school. I have too much to move, and it would be too expensive to hire a truck for all of my things, to take them to another city.

Where would I go?

Probably another school in Wuhan. Or, maybe teach business English in a company? I've heard that a good foreign teacher can make quite a lot of money. That might be the way to go.

WAIT A MINUTE!!! What happened to my goal: live a minimalist life, money isn't everything, see as much of the world as possible?

I might have exaggerated my desire to continuously adapt, when I was formulating that plan. On the other hand, essentially since the outset of this adventure, I've been plagued: first with bad health, and then with a newly finicky stomach, and finally with broken bones. Well, in reality, just one bone, and I'm quite lucky it was just the one, considering that, during my 2 years of ill health, I was falling down a lot. Still, these bouts of health-related concerns have nearly convinced me it would be best to stay where I know what to buy and do in order to take care of myself.   

In light of that, is my original goal still feasible?

In theory, yes. I'm much wiser now about the ways of the world. I have experience as a teacher, something I didn't have when I started this gig. I'm still adventure-minded enough to be able to start over again, somewhere else – either another school, or another city altogether, if I had to.

Another country? That's debatable. I'm still learning Chinese – I'll be learning it forever. I don't think I'd like to transplant myself into another culture and language, and really: there's no need or desire to. China is so vast, and I have such a deep love for this country and her people! And then, there's the small matter of what I'd eat. My stomach is so picky these days, trying to get used to another cuisine might just undo me. I'm all for traveling to other countries, but I don't think I'd want to permanently relocate there, even if the Internet services there would be better/more accessible.

What would I be willing to give up in order to continue this adventure?

That is a really good question. As it is, I have relatively little, compared to my family and friends in the west. In fact, some of them would be appalled by how little there is in my home – let alone that which is actually mine. However, I have more than I intended to amass; certainly more than I can fit into 2 travel trunks. Bottom line: I can't seem to construe what I might be willing to live without because the need to do so hasn't yet hit me. Intellectually, I could say: I can live without most everything I have (I don't want to, though).

I still have some time to think about such things. Sam hasn't come by yet, offering a new contract. And, he might not: this might be the year I get the boot. There are no guarantees in life! I may well have been loyal to our institution and gone above and beyond what was expected of foreign teachers, I might have a following and hordes of devoted students, but in the end: nobody ever said this gig was forever.

Maybe I'd better get back to the plan, to ease the eventuality of leaving. Or, just because it was what I had planned all along.

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