From Cape Town, South Africa to Vietnam to Kunming, China, Corlie’s journey has been one of adventure, challenge, and self-discovery…
Please share your story… what was your leap?
My husband and I are where we are today not because of one giant leap, but more because of a long series of medium-sized leaps. Not ever once along the way did we know exactly what the future would hold for us, we could hope and guess but there were no answers or guarantees.
Nor were we very certain that we were making the right decisions, so we went with our hearts and hoped the rest would catch up! And it did catch up!
We left Cape Town, South Africa at the end of 2009, and we have come through many personal hardships and tests of our relationship but we kept on trying and have eventually made new lives for ourselves in Kunming, Yunnan, China. We are still trying to make our lives here work before having to make the next big decision. We have found that life really is a journey, and as super clichéd as it sounds, if we don’t enjoy life for the ride it offers us, we are missing out on a whole lot of adventure. So for us the experience of life is absolutely about the journey, not the destination.
What inspired you to take this leap?
We wanted to see the world, we wanted to travel, we wanted to try work somewhere else and we wanted to do it while we were still free enough of life’s major responsibilities to take our leap into the unknown relatively easily. Pete leapt first, all the way to a little island in Vietnam where he worked for a few months before I went over to join him. Life on an island can get pretty small and as idyllic as it was we left after a few more months to see what else Vietnam could offer us. After trying out Hanoi City for a few more months we decided to keep moving and went to Laos in search for a place that suited our lifestyle a bit better. After many, many hours on busses and vans and taxis and airplanes, with detours and delays we ended up in Luang Prabang in Laos having come to the conclusion that China should be our next destination. Getting into China proved far more difficult than we had anticipated and after numerous attempts to get visas for China, with our nerves raw and our wallets very empty we finally got our visas to enter China in the middle of 2010.
What is it that made this a leap for you?
Coming to China was a plunge into the unknown. We knew virtually nothing about the country and the culture and had no guarantees that we would find work once we got here. We made a list of pro’s and con’s trying to decide between Korea, Thailand and China. China won and we took the plunge hoping that our list of pro’s would prove to be true.
We were faced with making the decision to finally leave Vietnam in the space of a week. It felt like we spent a long time trying to decide but in reality all the arrangements were made within a few days. Part of the reason we chose China was because we both prefer milder climates with lots of rocks to climb, and Kunming has a temperate climate and an abundance of rock climbing. Bangkok might have had a chance if it wasn’t for the Red Shirt riots at the time, and Korea’s visa requirements would have meant we had to stay on in Hanoi for much longer, so I guess you could say the Red Shirt riots and complicated Korean visa requirements pushed us into China.
What was the hardest part before you took the leap? Was anything challenging after you did it?
When we made our list of pro’s and con’s we completely neglected to factor culture and language into our equation as we expected China to be much like the rest of South East Asia and so it was with a great shock that we entered China and found that in this fairly remote corner of Yunnan English speaking Westerners are the exception rather than the rule. Despite the culture shock I would say that the most difficult part of coming to China was the fact that knowing once we got here we would have to make it work. We had left South Africa intent on making it abroad and our finances were looking quite grim after our happy travels in Vietnam and Laos. That pressure of coming into China with no other option but to make it work was really stressful.
How did you keep yourself motivated to stick with the change as it was happening?
This was by far the most difficult part of our first year here, staying motivated to make the move work. The shock of having to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese just to buy food, even in restaurants that served Western food, or to open a bank account, to post a parcel, to rent a flat, to go see a doctor and really all of the daily tasks we needed to do was much more difficult than anticipated. Adapting to a city where there were still relatively few Westerners, adapting to being stared at a lot, to change our speed of life, our habits of eating and commuting and dressing, doing work that we didn’t really enjoy, all of these things took a toll.
Pete found his ideal job within the first few months of us being here and was offered the opportunity to create and run his own research group with his own projects shortly after starting. For him this was a unique opportunity and the advances his career would take compared to being at home was great motivation to make the change to China work for him.
I found it more challenging to stay motivated and so I had many meltdowns in our first year here because I was not able to find what I needed to make my life here work for me. And so I ended up leaving China midway through 2011. I came back a few months later after Pete had asked me to marry him and move back to China, and this time I left South Africa with a new attitude and more determination that made the return journey much easier.
After arriving back to Kunming I went to language classes and slogged through 10 hours of class and 10 hours of private studies a week for a year and half, coming out the other end being able to communicate effectively albeit not fluently. I found a clinic in which I could volunteer and so still be able to use my Occupational Therapy training to help people improve their live. This also played a big role in making my return to Kunming easier. I love beautiful crafts and so in order to fund the volunteer therapy I started the Red Buffalo Trading online shop in which I share the hidden treasures of Yunnan with the world.
What was the best part of the experience?
Looking back on the last three years in China for me the best part of it is how easy it all seems now. How much more satisfying my interactions with people are now that I can understand them. It is a fantastic feeling to know we have come from absolutely nothing to this point where we have made it work, and we know that it can only get better. Surviving and conquering the challenge of adapting to life here has made us believe that we can do anything if we put our backs into it.
Looking back at the leap you made, is there anything you’d do differently if you were doing it again?
I feel like I should say yes to this, I feel like I should say yes we should have learnt Chinese, we should have had a bigger financial buffer, we should have been more sure of where we were in our relationship. But I am not going to say any of these things because if any part of our journey here would have been different the experience of getting here would have been radically different and I don’t know if I want it to be different. As hard as it was I would want it to be exactly how it was because it shaped us to be who we are today.
What did you learn about yourself from taking this leap? About the world around you, if anything?
I have learnt that people, that I, that we, are capable of great things even if the future looks bleak.
With the flame of hope inside our spirits we have the ability to believe we will achieve anything. I have learnt that I need people to pick me up when I feel like I can’t go on, I need the kind words and encouragement of friends and family, I need to know that even if I fail in my own eyes I have succeeded in theirs. I have learnt that there is a lot more love in this world than that what you see on the surface, from where I stand now, people are inherently kind and patient and eager to help if you allow them to.
If you had to describe what making this leap has done for you in one sentence, what would you say?
It has made me believe in the future.
Is there anything else you want to share about your experience?
Don’t give up. Believe and hope and dream and don’t let go of what you want. Decide what is important to you and go after it. In our wedding ceremony the minister said something that I will carry into our futures forever. I will end with her quote because it sums our journey and life thus far up beautifully, she said:
And now – go after a life of love as if your lives depend on it, because it does.
Check out more from Corlie here at her blog: http://blog.redbuffalotrading.com and find her on twitter at @redbuffaloroad.