It had been two weeks since I landed in China in the middle of a humid, sweltering Beijing summer.
And it would be today that I would begin a 5 hour journey through unknown cities with limited sleeps to my new home for the next 12 months: Wuxi.
I sat with three other language assistants assigned to a city that not even the Lonely Planet guide cared to write about, and although we chatted fervently through the entire journey, we all carried nerves that only we could unpack in our own individual ways.
I was only 23 and I’d be alone for a year. I would meet friends, but ultimately I’d be alone. My friends back home would ultimately forget about me. I’d be alone.
I met the head of the English department on the platform at Wuxi train station – a short and cheery man with thinning hair, the slight outline of a potbelly through a crisp white shirt and an infectious smile.
I exchanged kind parting words with my new friends and greeted Mr Xu. I can’t for the life of me remember the entirety of that conversation in that black hire car he directed me to, but I remember making out tall buildings and long stretches of road in a seemingly small city. Wuxi seemed unassuming, tentative and kind; it put me at ease.
The door was opened to my apartment, which sat uncomfortably in the surrounding school campus, and after pointing out my fridge packed with food labelled with an illegible script, a wide-screen TV in my new bedroom and a walk-in shower in my new bathroom (facing a mountain), Mr Xu placed a house key in my hand and told me to rest up as I had two weeks to settle in before the real work began. And then he left. And then I was alone.
*names have been changed
Photo © Elisia Traveller