Take me home, country roads, take me home.

 

I met a friendly University student named Dawn when I was in China in 2009. Well, Dawn was her English name. She was one of my first Chinese friends outside of my co-workers. She studied at Donghai University and I met her and her BFF Monica at my German friend Harry’s apartment one Friday night. She was the most outspoken young Chinese person I’ve ever met. She was full of questions about Canada, she taught herself English despite her parents protests, and she criticized almost everything about the Chinese system. Just talking to her about politics made me nervous that I’d get deported.

When Dawn told me her favourite English songs were John Denver’s, I was impressed. From what I’d learnt from my first month in China was that for the average citizen their knowledge of non-Chinese music didn’t go any farther back than Celine Dion. Actually, Michael Jackson. But then at the end of the year I went to Beijing and discovered that John Denver is adored. I heard him in bathrooms, shopping malls, bathrooms in shopping malls…places like that. John Denver and China are synonymous for me now. When I hear “Take me Home, Country Roads” (which is usually when I’m in China, but not always), instead of cringing I am uplifted. Similar to when I eat greasy food, wait an hour in the rain for a bus, or perhaps see some poop on the street, I think of China and I’m happy again. I don’t know if that means the Mainland is my home, but it’s certainly something to question. Isn’t home a feeling you get when everything around you is a disaster but you still don’t get depressed? When everything looks terrible but you can’t keep your eyes off it? That’s kind of like love. I don’t know. I’ll have to pray to John Denver.

In March of 2012 I returned to China. I had been on the road for just over a week and I was staying in a great hostel in Nanjing when I heard a piano bar rendition of “Take me Home, Country Roads”. I sitting in the back of the hostel bar and it was part of their “Jazz Fridays”. If you aren’t a fan of that song to start with, then you must go to Nanjing to hear her version because you will most certainly…hang yourself. But the city boasts a great museum, and some juicy dumplings, so the trip won’t be a total loss.

I smiled the whole time while listening to that song. I knew I’d come back to a special place. It was the first time I’d heard a John Denver song since coming back to China, and being there over a week without that song made me sad. “Where were you John Denver! I’ve missed you!” It was pouring rain outside. I was stuck in a hostel with a great bar and beautiful terrace, but I was the sole patron. It was March and the backpackers hadn’t arrived yet. And Nanjing wasn’t exactly the most travelled place. I was totally alone, my bank account was already dwindling and I had no job prospects and no inspiration to write. But I couldn’t have been happier.

Take me home, country roads, take me home.

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It’s now week number three with no job. I get up at 10, I get to eat a real breakfast, I get to watch late night TV. And I get to do whatever fulfills me creatively in between. Jealous?

A lot of that involves a lot of writing at Starbucks. Not on this blog, of course. By the way, would any of you be interested in reading a travel literature book about wandering around and teaching English in China? A kind of little girl meets big Communist world with Eat, Pray, Love-ish, self-discovery characteristics? If so, please leave me a comment after this post. I’d like to know if I’m wasting my time or not.

Unfortunately this creative pursuit doesn’t seem to pay, for now at least. So I have an announcement everyone…I’m broke! And living in this fickle little world where everyone who seems to win, wins big, and the rest of us just have to muddle through, I assume a few more of you are too.

Here’s what I’ve learnt so far from trying to live a frugal but fulfilling lifestyle. It’s only been a few weeks I know, but I have previous experience. Let me know if I’m missing anything.

 JEN’S TOP TEN: HOW TO LIVE WHEN YOU’RE PRACTICALLY PENNILESS

 1. There’s a reason cars suck: You can’t drive them if you’re poor. Gas is like gold.Don’t get behind the wheel if you are unemployed, only the passenger seat.

2. Always order the lunch special. Or the dinner special, breakfast special. Anything on special. You don’t have the luxury to order off the menu anymore. Why should you anyway? Are you the QUEEN OF ENGLAND? (I know, I shouldn’t be going out to lunch, dinner or breakfast. But I need to get out of the house or else my little brain will go crazy. I eat about one meal a day out of the house, and it’s a special, so it’s not so bad)

3. Bring an old tumbler and refillable water bottle with you everywhere. Coffee will be cheaper, and water should be free. Just look around for the fountain.

4. When walking the streets, always keep your head down. Not because you should be ashamed that you’re a jobless hobo, but there might be money down there.

5. Always have a date on Saturday night. You’ll feel like a normal working person who needs to unwind on the weekends, plus your date will probably pay.

6. Set up a Facebook group for dumpster diving in your area. You never know what’s out there, for free. You just have to dive for it.

7. Rummage through your storage boxes. You’ll never know what you’re gonna find. Old tote bags that match an old pair of shorts you haven’t worn in a few summers, sandals you forgot you owned, CDs, DVDs….the possibilities are endless.

8. Nothing says “romantic dinner” like homemade beans on toast!

9. Go for a hike instead of a cocktail. No mountains to hike? Then go for a walk. Bored on your walk? Bring your dog with you. Don’t have a dog? Sign up to be a volunteer dog walker at the animal shelter.

10. Just be true to you. And one day a paycheck will come your way that you’ll be proud of.

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I quit my job. I’m free today.

Since I gave in my two weeks notice at work I’ve been making all kinds of plans for myself. I fantasized about all the happiness I’m going to get and all the TV shows I can catch up on. I can write all day. I can spend nights in reading books that have been sitting on my Ikea bookshelf for months. And all of those errands that I’m too tired to do at the end of the day will have to get done. I can finally apply for direct deposit. File my receipts from four years ago. Maybe I’ll volunteer at an animal shelter. Look at the stars. Learn how to cook polenta.

I decided to leave because not only am I 29 and need to move on, but I am leaving the on-and-off job I’ve had for years. It’s basic in it’s tasks but with a big impact on my life. I’ve met some of my best friends there. In that building and amongst those bookshelves, I’ve fallen in love (a few times), gotten my heart broken, laughed at endless amounts of silliness, and grown up. People there have supported me with my moves along the way, and I’ve always come back with stories, and they always have a job for me. I’ve been able to get creative, become my better self, and developed into an adult that I’m not ashamed of being.

That store was like a crutch for me. I used it. I worked for it, and up until a few weeks ago, I thought it was also working for me. I realized it wasn’t. I had a nasty encounter with someone who is my superior; but we started out as booksellers together, and I remember years ago when she was just that introverted, quirky, tall lady who shelved the French books upstairs. When the group you grow up with starts disrespecting you, and truth be told, taking life a little too seriously, it’s time to move on. It makes me a little sick, thinking I stayed in one place so long. That I refused to move on from that job, that I kept on returning all those years.

I’d be making twice the money if I was still teaching English in Korea. I’d be working towards my career.
Life advice: Never let anyone get the best of you. They did. So I quit. I should never have returned, really. I’m a traveller and every traveller knows the struggle of wanting to return to a place they once loved, a little part of the world that holds a little part of their heart. Some places we do return to, and some places we don’t.

Another issue right now is…money. It’s kind of a big thing, I know. But I’m blessed to not be paying rent right now, and I will probably never own a car. So I’m free from any big monthly payments. I can make crazy decisions like not work and pursue my dream. But things still need to be bought. I have to leave my free house from time to time for my sanity, and for the pursuit of my dreams. I don’t live in Asia right now, so living isn’t so cheap. It’s nine dollars for a pint over here, for goodness sake. A bus or subway ride is three dollars. But I think I can do it. I’m gonna have to. If anything, this will be a test of my creativity.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Bust out five-year old sweaters that are still hanging in my closet.

Stop browsing on ModCloth.com. It’s torture. And a lot of beautiful but expensive things are only a few clicks away. They really should make that place illegal.

Use hand me down hair masks and lip balms. No, that’s probably unsanitary.

Go to every yoga studio in the city just once to do a free trial session.

Always eat in.

Nothing spells date night like cheap Tuesdays at the movies.

Drink at home (unless someone else is buying at the bar).

Don’t buy any plane tickets (for now).

Steal pens from work. Oh wait I can’t, I quit my job.

Give people big hugs for their birthday. I’m a good squeezer.

Any other suggestions?

On my first day as an unemployed lady, I had leftovers for breakfast, walked to Starbucks and used a free drink coupon from a survey I took (this happens to me about every six months…too bad I end up in Starbucks about every day) and got an extra-large soy something. I downloaded the torrent of a CD I liked that was on display at the cash. I skipped lunch and spent the afternoon writing. Made myself a dinner of asparagus (on sale, $1.29), salad and pasta, all ingredients that were already in the pantry and fridge. Put on an old outfit (with different accessories). Two of my favourite bands were in town that night but I pretended I didn’t know that and took comfort in my good company and cocktails. Grand total for Day 1: $1.29. So far so good…right?

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