When introducing herself on her blog Hebei. Fresh back from her nuptials—her new hubby is a hiphop and Inner Mongolia—Kelly takes some time out to chat with China Travel about the trail that led to her adopted home and some of the fun things to do in Hebei once you get there. (And if you're the intrigued and want to know how she met her husband, read about it here.) >>>China Travel: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be living and working in Hebei.
Kelly: I'm a farm girl from Saskatchewan, Canada, and am also a certified teacher there. After I finished university in 2004, I decided I wasn't quite ready to settle down, so my boyfriend at the time and I made the choice to teach overseas for a year and ended up here in Hebei, China. We moved back to Canada after that year was up and I taught for a few years.
That relationship ended, and then in 2008 I became dissatisfied with my job and handed in my letter of resignation. I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I still loved teaching and interacting with students, so I contacted my former employers here to see if I could return for a year and get my life back in order and figure out my next move. I came back in March 2009 and have been teaching here ever since.
China Travel: Did you blog back home or was it something you started doing here?
Kelly: I just started blogging at the beginning of this year—it was something I had thought of for a little bit as a way to share funny stories from my life with friends and family back home without having to type the story out every time! I actually still find it amazing that strangers read what I've written and enjoy it too. As I'm sure a lot of other foreigners can attest to, China can be utterly ridiculous at times, so I have no shortage of stories. But as I have said on my blog, despite the challenges, I truly love China—I wouldn't live here if I didn't!
China Travel: You've recently wed your lovely Chinese husband (congratulations by the way!)… how has it changed your experience of being a foreign girl in China now that you are married to a local?
Kelly: Thank you for the congratulations! Marrying him was the easy part; holding the weddings was the challenge (trust me, there are stories coming up about that).
I'm not sure how, or even if, my experience has changed all that much—I still get stares and shouts of "Hello," and I still get offered the 'foreigner price' when shopping. My husband, on the other hand, has gotten a tiny window into what it is like to be a foreigner, since he now also receives the attention and has to answer questions about us.
One perk is that if I want, I can have a running translation of what other people are talking about around us (especially when they are talking about us)!
China Travel: Have you had the chance to travel very much in China? Tell us about your best experience so far.
Kelly: I have had a few chances to travel here in China, but not as many as I would like (darn work, always getting in the way of my fun!).
The best experience was probably the first time I went to my husband's hometown for Spring Festival. His uncle took us out of town to visit a Buddhist temple. I had no idea what to expect as we drove for half an hour through the countryside of Inner Mongolia in February. We wound through several small farming villages filled with more donkeys than people, it seemed. Suddenly, we turned a corner and I saw a huge, white Guanyin (Guānyīn, 观音) Buddha statue standing tall over the countryside. It was so beautiful and so unexpected! We've made a habit of visiting that temple each time we go to his hometown.
China Travel: And your worst?
Kelly: I've been lucky to not have too many terrible travel experiences here, but traveling by train during Spring Festival is never at the top of my list of fun things to do. When I lived in China in 2004, my parents came to visit for Chinese New Year. We toured Beijing and Xi'an, and then had a few days to spend in the city I was living in. But we had to get there from Xi'an first.
[pullquote]My mother refers to it as "the train trip from hell."[/pullquote]We managed to get train tickets with seats, thankfully, but the trip was nine hours overnight in the dead of winter with a lot of heavy luggage, crammed into a train car with hundreds of other people in the same boat. While I know it could have been much worse, it still wasn't pleasant (did I mention I find it nearly impossible to sleep anywhere other than my bed?). My mother refers to it as "the train trip from hell."
China Travel: Though the blog doesn't specify where exactly, you're currently based in Hebei... what are your top 5 must-see destinations in the area?
Kelly: I'd been purposefully vague about exactly where I lived before, but I'm not sure I can avoid it anymore, so the cat's out of the bag—I live in Handan, in the southern part of Hebei Province. These sites are well off the beaten path for most tourists, but my top 5 destinations for my area are:
Xiangtangshan Grottoes in Fengfeng (a town near Handan). Two sites of caves housing carvings of Buddhas, dating from the Northern Qi dynasty, it's a neat little site nearby that isn't too tourist-y… yet!
Jade Buddha Temple in Handan. A small, probably quite run-of-the-mill temple in my city, but inside, it feels like such an oasis from the chaos outside the walls. It's over 1,400 years old, and supposedly houses some of the largest jade Buddhas in China.
Wuling Congtai Park in Handan. A large park in my city, containing a big stone terrace. Handan was the capital of the Zhao state, and the terrace was built by King Zhao Wuling to watch military drills and enjoy singing and dancing.
Yinxu Ruins in Anyang, Henan. The ruins of the city of Yin, which was the capital of China during the Shang Dynasty. It's also known as the "cradle of Chinese writing" because of the hundreds of thousands of oracle bones discovered there.
Youli Townlet (I'm not even sure if this is the correct name, but it's what I found) near Anyang. In the Shang dynasty, it was a prison, and one of the prisoners was King Wen. During his time here, he deduced and wrote the I Ching. Oh, and there's a cool maze.
China Travel: What is the one thing you wish you'd known about China before arriving?
Kelly: I don't think I would want to have known anything more than I did. My experience here has had its ups and downs, but I wouldn't change it. Learning all I have has been a part of the fun and frustration!
China Travel: What do you miss most from home?
Kelly: CHEESE! And other food-related things; I could go on and on (turkey, a good steak, chocolate cake, Tim Horton's… ). Oh, and English text—not only books (I've got an e-reader now, so I can satisfy my book cravings), but silly things like being able to read food packaging or scanning the trashy magazine covers while waiting in line at the supermarket check-out.
China Travel: What would you miss most in China if you were to leave tomorrow?
Kelly: My husband. And the food.
China Travel: What three words sum up your China experience?
Kelly: Surprising, challenging, lucky.
All photos by Kelly Sandor.
If you've enjoyed meeting Kelly then head to her blog for more great Tales from Hebei.