Making the leap: How We Became Cube Abandoners

bamboo lauren

Chengdu’s Giant Panda Research and Breeding Center, China 2006

How We Became Cube Abandoners:

There is a certain dread that washes over a student when she realizes she will graduate within a few months. The dread starts subtly so that it can easily be ignored. It creeps up like a chilly breeze until all of the sudden you are shivering with worry and anticipation. The dread was extreme in my case because I was studying history—and therefore knew I would be unemployed when I graduated. After more than twenty interviews (brought about after sending out hundreds of resumes) I found myself lying on my air mattress in Illinois, listening to the cicadas and wonder if adulthood was supposed to be this full of rejection.

I contemplated my alternatives to the sounds of mating insects. There was always the military, and, having been a military brat I knew the advantages as well as the drawbacks.I had applied for various teaching positions with my MS in history, as well as researching and writing positions—but to no avail. With only two weeks until graduation I had no leads whatsoever.

The First Destination: A Chance of Glance

I went over to Mike’s after an evening of brainstorming possible occupations. We split a bottle of Jack, a tray of ice cubes, and watched Arrested Development as we talked about how hard it was to find jobs. Mike had a big map of China on his wall, having travelled there the previous year. I gazed at it while I chewed an ice cube. “I guess I’ll go to China,” I said. “Want to come?”

We found a teaching service in Beijing online and arranged to meet with a representative of their office when we landed in Beijing the following month. Once we’d said goodbye to our families, packed two suitcases full of snacks, water purifiers and flip-flops, we boarded a long flight from Chicago, and were on our way.

We unfurled wrinkled attire from our backpacks and rolled out of the hostel bunks, jet lagged and stunned by the brightness of the sun. We met the rep over lunch; he told us we were hired. We ate a massive lunch of chilled cucumber in garlic and fish heads in oil, drank black tea and listened to our stomachs protest as we talked contract terms. We finally agreed to work 20 hours a week for 8,000RMB a month. That was somewhere in the ballpark of 1,000 US dollars a month.

Our First Epic Adventure: Whirlwind China

Mike and I had decided to take a whirlwind month-long tour of China by train and bus before settling into teaching. Hoping to go from Beijing to Xian to Chengdu and then up through the desert to Xinjiang and then shoot across to Beijing again—no problem. We informed the school that we would be back in July, and we checked out of our hostel and headed for the long- distance train station. We left our bags with the headmaster of the school as collateral, “of course we’ll be back!”

Mike had studied Chinese in college for three semesters. I had taken one semester and earned a B (my only non A). For the first two weeks of travel Mike did all the talking in Mandarin. However, by the time we would reach Sichuan those skills would become useless, and my amazing charades skills would come into play as our primary means of communication with the Tibetans.

-posted by Lauren.

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