My name is Marc Alexander, and I am from Leeds, in England. I am working in China as a teacher, and am about to start studying a masters degree as well.
The screams, the terrible screams. That’s what I heard the first night we had with our newborn baby. Or at least that’s what I would be saying had I woken up. As it was, I, perhaps somewhat ironically, slept like a baby, only to jump up at 8 am, frantically wake up my exhausted wife, and ask her to feed the baby. She calmly informed me that she had fed the baby at two-hour intervals all night, whilst I danced through the fields of slumber.
I’ll admit I have tried to wake up more, but as Emil Cioran once said, ‘We are all geniuses when we sleep.’ In that regard, I’m Einstein.
So it was that 7 months and some days ago, my son was born in Xiamen, a place 9,570 kilometres away from where I was born and raised. My ‘home away from home’ is simply my son’s home. He hasn’t ever been beyond the city limits, and with Covid hotspots sporadically springing up around the country who knows when he will.
就这样，七个月零几天前，我的儿子在厦门出生了，这个地方离我出生和成长的地方有9, 570公里远。“我在中国的家 ”仅仅是我儿子的家。他从来没有离开过厦门，而且随着全国各地新冠疫情的不断反复，谁知道他什么时候才能踏出这座城市呢。
It is saddening that he still hasn’t seen the rolling green fields of England, nor the snowy winter plains of Siberia where my wife is from. Even more heartbreaking are the conversations through a phone with his grandparents, who are missing every ooh, aah, and waah that he produces.
However, the downs are offset incredibly by living here in Xiamen. When I first arrived here 5 years ago from the north of China, the first thing I noticed were the palm trees lining every road and community. It is a balance that Xiamen has fine-tuned, with nature permeating the city in subtle ways to create a harmony between people and the natural world.
Balance is what we all hope for. As a Libra, I guess it is what I am destined for. My life in China is all about finding that balance between being a foreigner with different views and ideas, to accepting the local culture and tradition.
Living here, it is easy to find that balance. There is a strong expat community that supports and offers some familiar home comforts, coupled with vibrant local scenes and events that help to integrate with the local community.
That really is what helps to make Xiamen, and China in general, a home rather than a place that I live – the people. Personal relationships aside, the generosity and hospitality of the local people are unparalleled. As two foreigners raising a child in China, there are a lot of expected and unexpected hurdles to overcome, yet every time we attempt to tackle a new obstacle, we are helped by anyone and everyone.
It definitely took work on our part, though, to help make this place a home. Learning the language was the first, and hardest, step. To anyone wishing to feel a belonging in China, I sincerely suggest that you learn the language. It is not only a way to communicate with the local people, but also an insight into Chinese culture and their way of thinking.
I would like to say a wise man, but in all reality, he was a drunk in a bar who somehow stumbled upon an insightful combination of words amid the slurs, once told me that learning the language is like being on a train, and only once you have mastered the language can you say that you have reached the destination. On the train you can enjoy the view, see things from afar, but only once you are there can you truly understand. Then he started talking about different brands of baijiu and I swiftly exited the room before drunken chaos ensued.
His words stuck with me, though, and there have been many more wise people – and not so wise – along the way that have opened my eyes to a completely different world than the Anglo-centric one that I grew up in. For that, I am eternally grateful as it really has helped shape me to be the person I am now. I am also thankful that this is what my son will be blessed with too.
For the Chinese, Xiamen is often quoted as an idyllic, sleepy seaside town. Place Xiamen in England, and it would be the second-biggest city by population behind only London, so it still has the sprawling metropolis feel to it. Despite this, one of my favourite things about Xiamen is its tendency to always surprise with pockets of tranquility amidst the bustle of the city. Whether it is a stretch of beach to relax upon and drift among the sounds of the waves on the shore, or atop one of the many mountains adorning both the island and the mainland, there is always a chance to find some serenity.
When standing in one of these places with my small family, I also feel a kind of inner peace that a simple traveller would not. It is that peace of belonging, a sense that I am actually home, and a quiet excitement for watching my son grow up in such a beautiful and blessed place.
Luckily the screams have died down, and are now replaced by bright eyes taking in everything that Xiamen has to offer. Every single thing my son experiences here in Xiamen is for the first time, and as far as first times go, I have to say he is incredibly lucky.
My Hometown, Leeds is a large city in Yorkshire, in the north-east of England. Leeds is home to about 1 million people, and is considered one of the ‘northern powerhouse’ cities in the UK. It is a vibrant city surrounded by some of the most beautiful nature in the UK in the form of the Yorkshire Dales. Were someone to visit, I would heartily recommend taking a trip in one of the water taxis along the canal to soak in the sights of the city.