China MapBefore I delve too deeply into life in China, I think some background information would be helpful! I live on the east coast of China in a "small" city of approximately two million people. Out of these two or so million, there are probably 100 foreigners. The population of the greater Linyi area, including outlying villages and suburbs, is around ten million. You read that right! Linyi is considered a second-tier city, unknown to the majority of Chinese. It is just a small city in a sea of thousands.

Victoria is a very small town on the China scale. When I tell my students that my hometown of Goliad has about 2000 residents, they are always shocked and consider that a small village! I honestly do not believe that they can understand what cities and towns are like in the US since you are constantly surrounded by people in China. I am not joking when I say that in the eastern portion of the country, you are never alone. Even in the so-called countryside, there are people everywhere.

Linyi is located in Shandong Province. Shan=mountain and dong=east. Thus, the province is east of the mountains. As you can see on the map, we are about half way between Shanghai and Beijing and three hours south of Qingdao. I mention Qingdao because if you have ever drank a Chinese beer, it probably came from there (Tsing Tao, but that's a whole other post!)

Linyi may have a population of > two million, but it can still be considered a rather rural place. Many residents here have never seen a foreigner in real life. Many have never traveled out of the greater Linyi area. Many were raised on small farms in small villages and are only now experiencing the growth and change that is transforming China. Because of this, my fellow foreigners and I are treated like celebrities. Everywhere I go, people stop and stare. Some people follow me, others just yell out the only English they know, usually a robust "Hello!" I often find myself in impromptu photo sessions with children, teens and adults alike! No matter how uncomfortable this might be, I always feel safe and I generally feel welcomed by everyone. I am beginning to think, however, that the popular English phrase, "curiosity killed the cat," might serve me better as "curiosity killed the elderly Chinese lady," since they are the ones who like to rummage through my shopping cart.

Any expat will tell you that living abroad is both exciting and challenging. What that really means is that some days you love it and some days you hate it. Some days you have insightful interactions and pleasant encounters. Other days you can't believe how inefficient and crazy everything is. Some days you admire the culture and the language. Other days you feel frustration over the dirt, pollution and strange hygiene habits. An expat experience will be most successful if the good days outweigh the bad. My experience in China has had its ups and downs, but overall I am so happy to be here!

Got a question about life in China? Please leave a comment!