Charlotte's Web

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I am not afraid of many things.

Not sharks, snakes, or mice. Not walking alone at night. Not being alone in the dark. Not moving alone to a new state or country I've never been to. But I have always had a fear of spiders. Until now...

Shall we go back a few weeks...

Nearly six weeks ago I left my home to begin my journey to China. If I had a Chinese Yuan for every time someone asked me, "Why choose China?" I would have been able to furnish my little flat fully by now. But once I began my departure, I did for the first time start to ask myself the same question.

When I began making my plans to become an English teacher overseas I had to make enormous preparations and financial advances just to earn my visa. It took months of preparations and then a couple of other amazing opportunities God threw my way. In the middle of prepping for China, I completed an online course for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). Then I went to Mexico for one week with my church and fell in love with a community of people I then had to say goodbye to one week later. The next day I set off to live with family in a larger city where I would earn my certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL). This entire process happened in less than three months.

Just shortly after finishing that program, I flew to San Francisco and lived for five days in an international hostel for my first time. While I spent half the time enjoying the beautiful, chilly city, the other half I waited standing in an enormous line outside the Chinese consulate to finalize my visa. I left my home still blazing in the summer heat but while I stood in that line, I clearly remembered one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes and wished I had brought a coat...

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." - Mark Twain

Looking back on it now, I think God knew I needed a "dress rehearsal" to prepare me for the reality of China life. My time in the Green Tortoise Hostel was fun and enlightening. (If you ever need a hostel in SF, I highly recommend it!) I shared a four bed room with three other women, and almost every day they changed. I never shared the room with another American woman. They were either German, Swedish, Norwegian, British or Korean. And I loved it. Some of us shared a giggle before bed and then went together for breakfast in the morning. Some of us only simply shared a key to the room and a smile when passing. All of us travelers were on our own mission and if we had the time to share it, we did. If not, the smile was enough of a wish of good luck for both of us.

After working in tourism so many years, I didn't want to spend my time in those kind of destinations on my short trip. Instead I took to walking around the neighborhoods and admiring the architecture. Tall, skinny houses all in a line. I ate the most delicious food and silently listened into the most interesting conversations on the street. While the amount of people around me had grown almost uncomfortable, I enjoyed being a fly on the wall and just observing my new home for a few days.

While I did want to stay mostly away from tourism activities in San Fran, I did have one thing on my bucket list. It was to go to the Walt Disney Family Museum. After loving this man's dream my whole life and working for the company for a short time, I just had to visit this place. And it was magnificent. I stayed so long and read every article in every exhibit that I had to go to the cafe for a lunch break and return for the rest. I was there for over six hours. 

As I finally left the museum, I was as fulfilled as much as I had been at Disneyland itself. Each room reminded me of the power of a story. The power of love and acceptance of those who are different than you. And how embracing those things can take you on the best adventures of all.

The next morning I flew to China...

After five busy days, I stretched my feet out in the the exit row on AirChina and fell asleep for nearly the whole flight. When I came to, we were almost to Beijing. My connection. This is when the real culture shock set in.

There was no clear direction where to go, no signs to direct me in english, and no english speakers around to help. I simply followed the majority of the people off my plane and pointed to my ticket to the airport workers and asked "Where?" I only had an one hour layover and by only God's good luck I made it to my gate five minutes before the gates closed. One hour later, I was in Shanghai.

When I arrived in Shanghai I was told a driver would be sent to get me. I was first to go to baggage claim then find him at the exit gate. As I descended on the escalator I just prayed my baggage had made the transfer in that short time. I could have died of relief when I saw it come across the turnstile. Now to find the driver...

Okay which exit? This is an enormous airport. Thus leading me to walk up and town a huge exit terminal at 11:30pm and not see anyone holding my name. On my third lap back, I found him. He didn't greet me or more than grin, but he did take my bags and lead me back to the car. I asked, "Do you speak English?"

"A little"
"When will we get to the hotel?"
"40 minutes"

I sighed and tried to stay awake see my new world through the windows. So many lights. So many cars.

While checking in, I was told I was getting a "family room" as it was all they had left this time of night. The clerk said I could change it in the morning if I wanted to. Not caring what that meant and just assuming it meant I would have an extra bed to throw all my stuff on, I gladly took the key and lifted up to the 16th floor. I found my room, opened the door and it was pitch black. I tried flicking on the lights and nothing was working. I lodged my small suitcase against the door to keep it open and as I turned I saw against the light switches there was a slot to place the key for power. Never in my life I have I seen this in a hotel...

As I turned on the lights, I understood what he meant my "Family Room."

Hello Kitty. Hello, China. I stayed happily in that room for two weeks.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago...

My dear new colleague and I arrived to a city on the outskirts of Shanghai. Kunshan, the place of our school. With the help of amazing local and expat women at our school (which you will hear a lot more about very soon) we were both able to find flats and begin to settle in. My flat is on the 23rd floor and while it is small, it is comfortable for now.

A few days after moving in I opened my window to see a huge spider web in the right corner with Her Highness still slowly and carefully building it. Six weeks ago I would have grabbed a shoe, a broom, anything to whisk it and her away. I would have wanted the fresh air and no fear of her coming in to crawl into my veins.

But I didn't run for the broom, or my shoe, because I was entranced by her web. This small thing had made it to the 23rd floor and made her home in a very strange place. But this is where she must learn to survive. In the days following we had high winds and rain and I always checked on her. Her web got a bit broken, but every time she built it bigger and more beautiful.

She has accepted her place on this 23rd floor, in a land very far from the ground she is from. And while she is just a spider, Charlotte inspires me. And she has been here every day. Sometimes in a new web if need be. But she has never let go or given up, no matter how small she is.

In my six weeks in China, I have often felt small. That my own home I am trying to build is slowly being torn down. By smog, rain, and enormous change. But I have two choices. To give up, or to keep building.

Sometimes life is learning to love and appreciate your fears... even if they are just spiders.

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