Jilin, my second hometown

Update: 2014-10-16
By: Sarah Nixon

Destination Jilin City, August 18, 2010

It is three years, nine months, three days and counting since I first arrived in the delightful northeastern city of Jilin. Driving from Longjia International Airport I was struck by how similar the landscape was to my home in Alberta Canada.

In the distance I could see the promise of mountains and I smiled at the rows of tall corn plants growing on the side of the rolling hills. Every spare centimeter of farm land put to good use nurturing crops to feed a vast population.

A lot has changed since that sunny day in August and I have garnered some remarkable experiences. I have observed, from my office window, a washed out bridge being magically rebuilt in a matter of months. The flood of 2010 was devastating to the population of Jilin, but there was work to be done and the bridge was needed. I have also watched, from the same vantage spot legions of tree planters digging in the frozen -23 degree soil as they plant trees in January. When questioned, I was told that planting then helped the trees because they would be “sleeping”. A reasonable, sensible response but I still shook my head in disbelief when spring arrived and those dormant trees woke up and produced buds followed by green leaves.

I have shared this practice with countless Canadian friends who were equally amazed as in Canada it is unheard of to plant trees or bushes after late October or before Mid April. Constructing bridges and expressways are also long, drawn out processes in Canada, so the completion of that essential bridge or the underpass to relieve traffic congestion in the center of the city within such short time frames is truly remarkable.

I have been fortunate to have acquired so many memories, too many to recall, but there are a few standouts:

• The lovely "blue market" vegetable lady who digs behind the counter for "better" potatoes when I visit and also knows my love of cilantro and automatically throws in a bunch with every purchase. She doesn’t speak English and my Chinese is embarrassingly limited, yet we understand each other. Smiles go a long way in Jilin!

• The faces of proud Grade 10 parents who simply “beam” when their sons and daughters are introduced in school uniforms at the annual "Meet the Teacher Evening" in September of each year. Their hopes and dreams are very visible.

• The wonderful, wonderful international department at Jilin No.1 High School who dress up for Halloween, Canadian Thanksgiving, Earth Day and contribute dumpling making lessons during our annual St. Patrick’s Day staff party. We are a great team!

• Honors and awards that have been bestowed on me….….Outstanding Foreign Expert, Honorary Citizen of Jilin and No. 1 High School special Bridging Award. Awards that I find humbling as I feel I am simply “doing my job”.

• Lastly…the students! Brilliant, respectful, accepting young adults who have touched my life. It is my only hope that I have touched theirs as well.

I consider Jilin my home away from home. Yes, Canada calls as I have three fabulous grandsons who are growing up without me, but I think that they can wait a little longer.

Sarah Nixon is an Canadian teacher in a high school in Jilin.

(Opinions of the writer in this letter don't represent those of ejilin.gov.cn.)