This is the last '303' blog I will write about Guangzhou as my wife and I are leaving in a few weeks. So it deserves to be double length. Naturally people have been asking us - so what have you liked and disliked the most about Guangzhou?
The 'dislikes' are easier to summarise, as they are physical and tangible. I could moan at length about the debatable notion of customer service and having to argue to receive what you pay for; the constant pushing on the metro as people act in survival mode; the times we have tried to ask for help or information only to have a hand waved at us and an indefatigable 'no!' said again and again.
No one can escape the problem of pollution, which some days is so bad that it is like there is a flameless fire smoking out the city, countless days ending with throbbing headaches and soar throats. On those days I cannot see the skyline from my classroom; it is utterly encased in smog.
I think of those I am leaving behind - the students and the millions of Chinese people who live here, who praise the 'good air days', unaware that such days would still be considered polluted in the West; the man who washes his hand in a puddle of oily water in the middle of a road. This is their reality and it saddens me deeply. But even in leaving, I cannot escape the problem, for this is an issue the whole world needs to address. European cities are waking up to the same clogging view, the same high PM 2.5 numbers. Unless we all act, the world will end up smothered in smog.
Having said all of that, I leave as a fundamentally different person. This adventure has been transformative. Everyone should come and live in China. It will make you question how you live your life, the things you think you need, the love you have for those you miss. The new Chinese friends I have made have taught me to totally disregard politics and culture on both sides, and to celebrate the countless similarities between us. Two years after I arrived, I understand why some colleagues stay, falling in love with the people and the country.
At every moment of the most intense frustration, when I was about to throw my hands in the air and despair, a Chinese person has shown me what I must remember to do for the rest of my life: help strangers in need. Whether it is a young man in a suit translating for us in the pharmacy to help a 4-year-old boy get hair lice medicine or an elegant young woman with hair as straight as train tracks giving us directions to the train to Shenzhen. We have found angels everywhere. Each of them showed us kindness and then disappeared into the crowds.
I haven't talked much about my work as an international school teacher (that story belongs elsewhere) but the dearest part of my time here has been teaching the students. I have learned so much from them all - Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Indian, Pakistan and German. Those students have taught me how childhood is a precious experience. Children really are the same the world over and teaching them requires the same humor, patience, inspiration, and openness. They love storytelling and Roald Dahl and Doctor Who just like English children, and it has been my privilege to share it with them.
So for the last time... I'm a tearful but excited MJF, this is Guangzhou and that's 606 words.