After spending a year in China my Chinese was still pretty rubbish. I could say a few basic words and I could ask for some things in a shop, but I wasn’t going to be having in depth conversations about the merits of Confucian philosophy. Taxi drivers would ask me questions and I’d just nod having no idea what they were saying. You can get by in China without learning Chinese but it makes your life a whole lot easier if you can speak the language. Although English is taught in every school and is required to do so by the government, most Chinese can’t get speak more than a few basic sentences.
For my first term at the university I was a good student. I only missed one lesson and by the end of the term I could have a reasonable conversation in Chinese, although looking back at it, I couldn’t really say that much at all. A lot of people who learn Chinese don’t bother learning to write it. It’s understandable because it’s difficult and takes time and repetition. Chinese school children are still learning new characters up until they are in secondary school. I’d sit there at night writing them over and over again, it was like being a child doing your homework.
After about three terms there my Chinese was pretty good, the shopkeeper just outside the university would offer me cigarettes while I listened to him tell me stories about the other students. This guy lived in his little shop, that was his life. He wasn’t married for some reason which is unusual in China. He had every nationality worked out and would spend ages in the evening telling me what he thought about Americans, the English and Germans. I was Irish or English depending on whether or not he liked the English that day.
I was teaching English part time and still hating it. You’d go into a school and they’d give you a book and say teach these children for an hour and a half. Little kids don’t have that kind of attention span and I’m impatient. It was a chore but it as the only way to make money. I was asked to stand outside a bathroom shop one day dressed in a suit which made me look like a Hassidic Jew which they gave me eighty quid for. They didn’t ask me back though because the manager saw me smoking a fag on a break and said I didn’t fit the profile. Wanker.
About two terms in everything started going wrong. I couldn’t find any work, I didn’t want to teach kids because I wasn’t very good at it and I don’t fit the stereotypical profile the Chinese have of foreigners of being a clown who’s there to entertain. I had job interviews lined up, one of which was to teach adults who were learning IELTS which is the English exam used for immigration purposes. I passed the interview, they were offering me crazy money and fitted into my schedule. They then phoned me up and said because I was on a student visa they couldn’t employ me. That happened another three times with another three jobs.
I was completely broke, I was eating a plate of rice a day and if I was pushing it I’d have an ice lolly in the evening after my bowl of rice. The guy in the shop used to give credit to some of the other students but I was too proud to ask. I’d sit outside in the evenings wondering what I’d got myself into, I was on the other side of the world, was completely broke and every time I thought I was going somewhere something came along and fucked it all up. The thing which kept me going was my desperation to see learning Chinese through, it was an achievement and not something I was prepared to give up on.
Eventually I found a few jobs and was backing to earning decent money again. I very nearly did go home during that time but I’m glad I persisted. Just before I got the jobs I hadn’t eaten for nearly two days before I called my mum and asked her to send me £50. When the money came through I went to McDonalds and bought five bacon and egg McMuffins and ended up making myself sick.
It wasn’t something I thought about at the time when everything was going wrong but afterwards it hit me that at no point did I think about having a drink or using. You have to accept that life is going to throw things at you which aren’t going to be easy. I’ve seen far too many people go through therapy who suddenly think life will become a breeze and there’ll be no more struggles. Of course there will be, that’s life and struggles aren’t something which are exclusive to addicts. Going through life with a victim mentality is only going to lead to more struggles because you’ll never accept responsibility for the part you’ve played in your problems, no matter how minor they are.
From the moment I left rehab I didn’t want to be defined by addiction. If you define yourself by a single thing, that thing has control of your life and I’d already spent ten years being controlled by substance abuse. If I could give one piece of advice to people who are in treatment or are battling addiction, it would be to find out who you are and what you want in life. Recovery doesn’t have to be an everyday battle, it’ll only be a battle if you allow it to be.
I spent four terms at that university learning Chinese and by the fifth term I decided to do a degree in Chinese Language at another university which was in Chengdu. I was pretty much fluent by then, I spent a lot of time with Chinese friends and was speaking more Chinese than I was English. It’s one of my proudest achievements, mainly because I stuck it out when times were hard. I’m not exclusive in learning a new language but you have to take the things you achieve in life and be proud of them.
Once I went to the new university I had some money saved up and was able to concentrate on studying and didn’t have to worry about teaching. I’d moved out of the dormitories and had my own flat where I was living with my girlfriend at the time. I started to write more in my spare time but I wasn’t posting it anywhere because I for some reason I didn’t have the confidence. I wrote about 10 chapters for a book about myself, I dropped my laptop one day and the hard drive broke so it’s lost forever.
People had been telling me I should write a book about myself. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t really want to write it about me. While writing this, it’s emphasised to me that, yes, I have lived a remarkable life but I still don’t feel entirely comfortable giving it out to the world. Not just because I am quite a private person but I still have that feeling of why would anyone want to read about me? I’m not the only person to have been through hardship and make it through the other side.
I’m of the mind that anyone can achieve whatever they want given the opportunity and I’ve been lucky enough to get those opportunities, but I know there are people out there who don’t have or won’t ever get those opportunities. If I were to ever make it as an author I would endeavour to try and give more people from underprivileged backgrounds opportunities because there are so many gifted people out there who we will never hear from.
I was beginning to become tired of China and was looking for something new. I wasn’t enjoying studying anymore, Chinese teaching methods are old fashioned and soon become boring. The pollution was also becoming a problem. I had problems with my sinuses, the air quality in Chengdu was awful. The problem was I didn’t know what to do. When you stay somewhere for a long time you become too comfortable, life was easy but I wanted a new challenge.
I started to post more on my old blog and the comments I was getting spurred me on to finally try and write a book which is when I came up with the concept of The Unwashed. I spent my time between England, Ireland and China and finally started writing seriously. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I’d said I wanted a challenge.
Tomorrow will be the final part, I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading it. To those who have followed my blog recently I will take some time this week to look through your blogs, I feel rude not having followed anyone back or looked at their blogs but I’ve been completely overwhelmed with work this week. There’s a possibility I might not be able to have Angels Pop Pills Too ready for Tuesday. I need to read through it again and make sure I’m happy with it. Whatever happens, as long as you follow this blog or the Facebook page you’ll get the link to download it for free in within the next week or so. Apologies for the delay again but there aren’t enough hours in the day! If you’ve not read it you can read the first chapter here and there’s another chapter here.
I don’t like saying thank you all the time because it starts to sound insincere but thank you to all of you who read this blog, it’s gone from less than a hundred views a week to over five hundred. I almost gave up not long back, my books weren’t selling and things in my personal life were a bit mad. This self publishing business can be a bit like banging your head against a brick wall at times but comments and messages of support I’ve had have kept me going. Take care and I appreciate the support, if you’ve any friends who would like the blog or my books remember to point them in this direction.