Jamie is one stealthy Travel Hussy. You may not describe her as brazen, but she sure is bold. Since graduating from Franklin University Switzerland she has taken up residency in China as an English teacher for WorldTeach China. During her free time, she has been known to travel solo around Asia.
Like any self respecting literature major, she chooses her words carefully and often responds with her signature smile. Jamie’s reflections on travel prove that you don’t have to be an extrovert to get the most out of travel.
I shamelessly stalk Jamie on the Internet (you can see my screen caps throughout this interview). She has the most thoughtful status updates. Whether they’re written in English, Italian or Chinese, Jamie has a way of capturing the details and textures of her life in China that is always welcome in my newsfeed.
She took time out of her teaching schedule to answer questions about travel, food and books for Travel Hussies!
How did you find yourself in China?
At the end of my time in college, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I’d always assumed I’d go to grad school as soon as I was done but I couldn’t see what I’d be going to grad school for. With China, a lot of things seemed to line up: a chance to keep growing in public speaking, a chance to travel, a way to work with something related to language arts, and try out teaching.
Tell us about your job at WorldTeach China. What do you teach and to what ages?
I teach 17 different classes each week, all 8th graders. I teach oral English. Since they have regular English classes everyday with another teacher my class isn’t meant to be quite like their other regular classes.
What is the most important thing your students have taught you?
My students have taught me quite a bit, it’s hard to think of one thing. I know that as a teacher, I’ve struggled to realize what kind of power I have as a teacher and how everyone will follow what I do or where I’m looking. I do have amazing kids though, I’m always impressed by the obvious efforts they make to work on their English and determination to their best.
What’s your favorite/least favorite part about living in Zhuzhou?
My favorite thing about Zhuzhou: it’s a city and still offers a number of things, but it’s not super overwhelming. Some big cities in China just make me feel so lost. I love the street food, I like the perspective I get from being outside places like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, and I like wandering around the city. The best days are when you come across something that may not look like much from the outside, but then you find it’s full of antiques and paintings or it’s a small coffee shop.
The best days are when you come across something that may not look like much from the outside, but then you find it’s full of antiques and paintings or it’s a small coffee shop.
My least favorite part of Zhuzhou…I guess partly due to the language barrier I’m not always aware or able to participate in things going on around the city. We have a lot of shopping, but I’m not big on shopping so it can get pretty boring sometimes. I try to remember how much is out there if I try asking around. It’s also a little weird to be a foreigner without something giving me away immediately. It’s nice to be anonymous, but it’s also strange to be around people who assume you share their language and a better grasp on what goes on around you at times than you really know.
You have been traveling a lot within China and beyond recently. Walk us through your journey and the high points in your mind.
One of my favorite places in China has to Yuanyang county in Yunnan province where I went last year for Chinese New Year. It’s a bit out of the way, and I worried I was going to find nothing worth my time but I was so wrong. The people there have been living with these rice terraces for over 1000 years and they terraces are flooded with water around January. The mountains are just covered in pools of water and it’s amazing to see the reflections shifting throughout the day as well as see so many signs of people living with the earth and right next to the things they eat. I dream of hiding out there with nothing to do but write and wander.
This year, I made an effort to go north towards Beijing and Shanghai and sites better known internationally than where I went last year. Being able to make my way down to the Pearl River Delta last year felt like a must given its importance to Chinese-American history. It was also something of an adventure since places like Taishan aren’t found in Lonley Planet guides so I had to go online and look out for wikitravel or travel china or other websites for information, hope they weren’t outdated, and hope that the Chinese I knew would be enough to help if I got lost. It’s been long enough, that I was there as a tourist not someone coming home after a period of time abroad or with any known living connections. Still, after being inland where the history is a bit different it was startling to be in places where the stories of immigrants were recognized in museums.
Outside of China, I really came to like Hanoi which surprised me as it was more open than I expected. I also have a soft spot for Kyoto and its wide variety of temples. It’s hard to really pick one highlight. I tend to take the view that each moment and each place I go will tell me something about the place and time I’m traveling. It’s a lot healthier than getting lost in ideas about what’s “authentic” or “inauthentic”.
I tend to take the view that each moment and each place I go will tell me something about the place and time I’m traveling. It’s a lot healthier than getting lost in ideas about what’s “authentic” or “inauthentic”.
A lot of your posts are about food. How does eating help you connect with the places you travel to?
Actually, I played with the idea of being a travel writer once. Some of the advice I found was that you should know what kind of traveler you are, what kind of travelers you are writing for, and should pick some kind of focus for yourself. I avoided food for a while because it seemed like a popular one and tried to focus on literature, but the thing with traveling is that you still have to deal with your bodily needs, one of which is eating. So inevitably, when I traveled I ate. It was fun to read and write about and one thing I’ve always noticed about Chinese-American culture is how prominent food is. I wondered if it was because of the limited opportunities people had to work in jobs outside of restaurants: it was what a lot of Americans were most familiar with when it came to Chinese culture, it held some kind of value in identity and selling stories. Then I found out that food in Asia is very diverse and was big in China as well, it wasn’t just some publisher telling Chinese-Americans to include recipes and words like sweet and sour.
“Chifan le ma?” (Have you eaten?) is a pretty normal greeting and there’s just so many kinds of snacks. Snacking is kind of a hobby for me now that it wasn’t before.
“Chifan le ma?” (Have you eaten?) is a pretty normal greeting and there’s just so many kinds of snacks. Snacking is kind of a hobby for me now that it wasn’t before. And in China, food and medicine aren’t separate things. Traditional medicine often consists of eating the right foods to maintain a good balance in your body. One of my colleagues worried I wasn’t eating enough at lunch and bought me spicy pickled papaya. Another worried about my weight and told me to try drinking soup before eating my lunch. Drinking cold water is a no, it’s not good for your insides and it was a little tough when I first came to China in August to get used to getting hot water all the time.
I guess food is also big in regards to experience. I can read about Chinese history and go visit the Palace Museum/Forbidden City and think about what used to be there, but it takes my imagination and I’ll never really know what it was like to live inside the Forbidden City before it was filled with tour groups. Food on the other hand, is experience. Not only can I know Chairman Mao liked hongshao rou (a braised pork dish), I can go out and try it myself. I can smell it, I can see it. Chinese food in America is also quite different from Chinese food in China. It’s fun to see what makes the food of different provinces distinct and what things played into their development.
Tell the truth: Is the only reason you didn’t eat the “exotic fried scorpion” on Wanfujing street because it was too expensive?
The price was only part of skipping out on scorpion.
What do you mean when you refer to yourself as a “secret waijiao woman”?
“Waijiao” is a word used for “foreign teacher”. I’m kind of a secret foreigner because my physical appearance doesn’t immediately tell people I’m American. I’ve been asked for directions more than once while lost in China, had a man laugh and say something excitedly to me in Hanoi, watched a man look a little unsure about the proper way to interact with me in Kyoto when he saw how slowly I worked my way through a menu, and generally confuse people wherever I go. I have more fun running with it and answering people’s questions than getting burned out. The humor makes it easier for everyone and those who know I’m not a local seem to enjoy it when I joke about being the secret foreigner (as opposed to some who gets stared at and subjected to lots of pictures in an area where foreigners are still a rare sight).
Can we talk about Monochrome Man? (Who, What, Where, When, Why, How)
I’m pretty sure “Monochrome Man” is a neighbor. I’ve seen him about 4 times, always near my school, always around the evening. Sadly, I don’t know his face so I feel like I could be walking past him and just not know him without his white suit and black yin/yang backpack and his black and white dog.
You say, “I’ve often sensed I take in 400 or 500 pages of a book the same way some people marathon or binge watch on Netflix.” What are you reading now and what do you recommend to Travel Hussies?
In relation to all this food talk, I finished On the Noodle Road by Jen Lin-Liu not long ago. Since my reading for the past year has largely been China and East Asia related, I’d recommend Peter Hessler’s book River Town or Pico Iyer’s Video Nights in Kathmandu and The Lady and the Monk. I really like that they both make an effort to understand where the people they write about are coming from.
We’re both from California’s Silicon Valley. What have you learned about home by traveling?
What have I learned about home? A lot. Names in particular stand out to me more. In Italy I became used to strade and vicoli, in Spain and Mexico it was caminos and avenidas…as my ear got used to different patterns for streets and city names in Europe, the US with “New York”, “Ben Lomond”, “El Camino Real”, “Saratoga” and other such things became strange. American history came to have a larger context than previously (the nostalgia that comes with names taken from other countries and, the colonial context and push westward that gives the US such a mix of names). California’s diversity stands out to me a lot more, and I’m learning about California’s reputation for beautiful places and beautiful people as I travel around. At other times, I remember that though California has a lot of wonderful things, it’s not the world. I guess it’s not the center of things for me like it used to be, though traveling makes me think a lot about where I come from as well as where I’m going.
What advice would you give to aspiring Travel Hussies?
Always read, I think it’s rewarding to put the effort both to inform yourself about the places you go and to participate when you travel. Don’t get lost in authentic or inauthentic too much. Making an effort to go to major tourist sites as well as going off the beaten path will give you different views of a place and the people living there, and that broader view is valuable. It’s silly to think any of the people you see are more real than any of the others, they lead different lives with different circumstances but it’s all very real.
To follow Jamie’s travels, check out her blog, A Zhu in Zhuzhou!
Travel on, Hussies!