Putian – My Life in China

Putian. Note it down: one word, transliterated from Chinese “Pu 莆 Tian 田”. Now, spread the world map across your bed. Take the ruler. Draw the line with the pen, left from Taiwan. There! See it? The name of this “small” 3-million people-town in south-east China is like an Abra Kah Dabra on the world map , sometimes is there, sometimes not! But it better be there if you’re just about to pack that huuuge suitcase weighing 30 kilos for the longer stay in the Far East!

Consulting the Internet pages, Lonely Planet books and “Oh, I often drop by to China” friends is naturally more than welcome. But, as you set off for this long journey to the East, better leave all you’re “I would never,ever I mean EVER, do such a thing!” oaths and principles at home! For, trust me, it’s one time in life adventure! It’s gonna take you right there at the Shanghai airport, spin you around just like that and, as you wonder “Where have I arrived, for God’s sake?” push you further. And, just like that, you are getting exactly what you’ve asked for – a lifetime EPOCHAL change!

The long distance bus is coming! Better get ready- it’s show time!

Long distance between Shanghai and Putian

Standing on a dirty road in an improvised bus station, I try to stay away from the strong sun and summarize the day events. Calling the bus driver to get the bed-seat wasn’t easy, no, no! After reassuring him that I am “for real” and this is not a joke, I had to answer some completely unnecessary questions at that moment like “Why do you want to go to Putian?”, “Why would anybody want to go to Putian after getting off the plane from Europe?” “Why do you..??”, “Why…??”, “??” and such. No choice, had to be patient and got to know my so far completely undiscovered PATIENT (oh my god!) side.
It was in the end a big question mark if I got the seat at all or not, so believing God, Heaven or anything from above would take care of me and send me somehow (like, ANYHOW!) to Putian, I stood there. On the dirty road. A Chinese kid aproaches. Smiles at me. His mom is scared, seeing me talking to her child – in Chinese. Opps! I remembered. Chinese speakers out of China were called “the devil foreigners”…Flashback. Chinese lesson at the university and a song “Not afraid of the Sky. Not afraid of the Land. But afraid of a foreign devil speaking Chinese language”. Ah, devilish me, managed somehow to convince the lady that I don’t bite little Chinese babies right before the bus got to the spot.
“Lao wai!”, “Lao wai!” “Lao waaai” like trying to make me finally understand I am an outsider in this novel (“lao” equals “old” and “wai” outside, translated – informal word for a foreigner) and literally stalking me with wide eyes open! Their surprise, curiosity and fear (don’t know who was scarred more – me or them!) were expressing non-expressed announcement: “A girl from the OUTSIDE is going to Putian. Stop. She speaks Chinese, thus there must be some devil in her. Stop. Maybe she works for Coca-Cola? Question mark. She is coming from Yugoslavia. Stop. Valter. Stop. Tito. Stop. Ok, she deserves a green mandarine. Stop. We are getiing tired of staring at her. Stop. ZZZZ…”
Finally, I got some space and with knees almost under my beard, tried to calm down and welcome this night’s ride. Looking in the dark landscape through the window, right there, almost across Taiwan, in the end of the world, so far away from my family and friends…I am finally aware that Putian is getting closer, while the bus wheels slowly approach Fujian province in this warm September night…

Finally arriving..

Buzzz! What’s that noise??? Oh, so THIS is Putian! I’m finally here! After short and everything but convenient sleep on that tiny winy bus bed, I got awaken by all this crowd suddenly rushing towards the door! Shouting in almost non- articulated dialect, they put on their shoes and jump over all those bags and suitcases and… Then come I! Laowai in the van! Taxi drivers in the number of thousands in the second occupied the bus and simply wouldn’t let me get off in peace! And foreigner has devilish dirty foreign money, but it’s MONEY! It’s like in cartoons -you could almost see dollars in their eyes! God!

But what to do? My direction aim was the place I would stay in and foreign school and I have absolutely no idea how to get there! So I grabbed the first driver and got into his car, allowing him at the same time to “rob” me – for this 5 minute ride I paid10 Chinese yuan, my God! Its almost like one euro!!! Uh, this man is expensive. Well, I know it sounds hilarious, but after a year living according to PUTIANESE PRICES, uhhh! You get the touch, trust me!

The next few hours flew like the Coyote Bird run! Meeting this teacher and that teacher, only God knows which one is Jane which one is Annie, was that the one from England? Oh, My room! Wow, MY OWN bathroom Quick shower then DUM! Sleep after almost 2 day journey! I sank into the pillow…

Welcome! Welcome!

Knock-knock! AM? PM? What…? Where…? Oh-my-God-I have slept whole day! I should meet the teachers. Getting dressed quickly and opening the door…Few foreign faces, some other laowai looking at me smiling. “You have just skipped together’s dinner. We knocked at your door but you were fast asleep”.

Shaking hands. Nice to meet them. They are happy to meet me too. Meeting room introduction I see the two PCs and can’t resist! Open my yahoo inbox and send the first email to my closest ones about the journey adventure! Wuh! Felt good, Serbian language is not dead! My English guide, later to be one of the best friends I made there, shows me the kitchen. I open the can of sardines I brought with me and have the first meal after ages. Real meal. Like, at the table.

It’s September but hot tropical air is coming through the open window. I ask what the time is and immediatelly forget the answer I got…8 PM? 9 PM? It doesn’t matter – it is so far away PM! Some Chinese girls come to meet me and show me around. After making new Chinese friends, among others our boss, I climb upstairs in the neighbourhood building to check one of the classrooms. Then I have a look at my feet! Ooops!~ I have slippers on! No matter, I see sleepers are apparently latest fashion in the school! Because of the really small but sooo itching (the smaller the more itching!) mosquito bites, it is impossible to be in the shoes all day! And its, like, 35 degrees! So I stept almost barefoot into the classroom and first thing I saw was the painting on the wall. Confucius and his saying 三人行必有我师…Flashback again. Having no idea what’s waiting for me there on the road, the Confused Me goes through Chinese grammar part I then, in 2001, and see it. And LOVE it. It was my “pushing” moto along the whole way to the Bachelor degree. And right there…to remind you, at the end of the world…when the studying journey was finally over…four years later…it was still there, reminding me…”There is always somebody who will teach you”….

Work created a man

It gets so dynamic once the planning is replaced by the real actions…That’s how it was for me in Putian as well. Therefore, get your mind busy and even in the end of the world, the obstacles would disappear in time. Speaking of which, it wasn’t so extremely smooth those first days, as I recall. First of all, I had to MAKE myself – hungry! Still recovering after those forever flights, I had troubles with my rioting stomach which wanted to remain empty (!) and, again, was expecting me to get it filled at meal time!

So the picture was: nice local restaurant, round “spinning” table and around it Australian girl 1, English girl 1, Australian girl 2, English girl 2, Australian boy, American girl, English boy and me. Laughing and joking, retelling the classroom stories…Them yes, me not, for I was still waiting for the teaching schedule to be announced…work made a man, and I grew up believing so, so as I tried to enjoy really tasty food in front of me, this huge thing grew in my troublesome stomach…this… this…”What am I doing here?”, “Who ARE these people?”, “Help! Help!”, “I want to go homeee!” stone sat there, deep in me, pressing me, pushing me to yell, to scream, because it was new. Because I was somewhere else. And because I was terrified, frightened till my bones.

However, still sitting there, on the top floor of the Putienese restaurant and smiling at the remarks about local dialect, I knew that -cross my heart, for I am a believer- I am going nowere, this is where I am staying and I am going to – have to make it…

20 thoughts on “Putian – My Life in China”

  1. Hi there! Just read your post. I am looking for employment in Fujian, and might be offered a job in Putian. I was wondering if you were still there, or know any foreigners living there who I can talk to about life in Putian.

    If you have any advice or information for me, moving to China, could you please email me? Thanks so much. Anything is appreciated.

    1. Dear Heidi,

      So nice to receive your inquiry – I will be happy to share my pleasant experiences from Putian. You will receive more info via email from me in the next few days! Stay tuned! 😉 Dragana

  2. Hi!
    I’m moving to Putian with my husband in autumn and I’m also very curious about this city. I really like your post and it made me even more excited about moving there 🙂
    I would be grateful for any information. Thanks in advance

    1. Nihao Ola! 🙂

      Your already positive attitude will surely contribute to all the fun that is awaiting for you in Putian! Let me get back to you via email very soon, as this comment reply might be too long otherwise! Dragana

  3. Hello!
    I just got a job offer in Putian and I am very excited! I however, have not found many information on the internet and was wondering if you would mind getting in touch with me? Is there a big expat community there? Thanks!

  4. I am so delighted to hear that you taught in my hometown before. I hope this was an amazing experience in your life, I love my hometown Putian too much, I have been away for several years. I miss it.

  5. Dragana,
    kako interesantan tekst! Hvala mnogo što si podelila sa nama svoja iskustva.

    Ja sam se iskreno potpuno iznenadio kada sam usred čitanja teksta shvatio da je autor prikaza Srpkinja, pa dozvoli da i ja tebe iznenadim sa komentarom na spskom 🙂 Nadam se da je to u redu (pošto je ceo ovaj sajt na engleskom).

    Ja sam takođe dobio ponudu za posao predavača engleskog u Putianu. Ipak, moja agentica mi je odjednom rekla da ipak nisam dovoljno dobar za taj posao!? Ja sam već video sebe u Putianu, pročitao sve na internetu o njemu, i sve mi je delovalo kao da je to idealno mesto u Kini za mene da budem:), tako da mi je to odbijanje delovalo kao pravi hladan tuš i sad sam zbunjen jesam li ja uopšte kompetentan da predajem engleski deci u Kini (iako mi je to izuzetno važno!)

    Dragana, bio bih ti beskrajno važno ako bi mogla da mi pomogneš, ako imaš neke direktne kontakte sa obdaništima/školama u Putianu ili okolnim gradovima, tako da mogu da pitam za posao direktno školu, a ne agente. Možeš li mi, molim te, pisati na i-mejl? Sada je početak februara, pa ne znam jesu li kineske škole već na raspustu, pa i time jedva čekam da te čujem, da vidim da li mogu nekako da nađem posao za martovski semestar.

    Hvala mnogo još jednom na bilo kakvom odgovoru (i na ovom divnom putopisu), želim ti mnogo sreće tamo gde si sada (ako je to Norveška, interesantno je da je to upravo drugo mesto gde sam hteo da tražm posao, posle Kine:)

    1. Cao, Mario! Hvala ti na komentaru; uvek se obradujem kada pise neko od zemljaka. 🙂
      Sto se tice tvojih pitanja, poslacu ti email sto pre sa informacijama koje imam.
      Pozdrav iz Osla! 🙂 Dragana

  6. Hi Dragana.

    I’m also moving to Putian soon.
    I know it has been a while since you left but I still believe the info is valid. Since there are many of us interested in this city, why don’t you create another post talking more about it.

    Would appreciate if I could ask you some further questions



    1. Hello Marco. Thanks for the tip regarding the new Putian post; will think about it. Putian has actually changed a lot since 2005, but do post any questions you might have and will try to answer them the best I can. Dragana

  7. Hi Jake and Dragana,
    I know this link hasn’t been used in a while but just wondering if you could give me some info. Myself and my friend are coming to teach in Putian over the summer and would love some local knowledge. Areas to live, easy of transport, as in getting to the nearest airport, clothes to wear in July and August. General living really, I’ve never been to China and would love to hear from you.


    1. Dear Alva,

      I believe Jake is the right person to turn to. I have seen that Putian has changed A LOT since I was there; it has grown into a big city, changed infrastructure, got speed train etc.

      Dear Jake, hope you can give Alva more detailed info and that you two can meet in Putian:)

      All the best from Scandinavia!

  8. Great to see Fujian covered, not a lot of people seem to know the province still to this day! Its one of the guides on teaching English in China would you recommend it as a place to TEFL?

    1. Hello, Ben!

      Yes, Fujian is a very exciting and beautiful province of China! I would recommend everyone to visit it and see possibilities for TEFL over there.

      All the best,


  9. Hi Jake/Dragana,

    Not sure if you guys are still following this thread, but i work in a hotel in Singapore and theres a new branch open in Putian looking for someone to lead the new team there. Im not sure if i should make this career move to Putian bcos everything i see on Google about Putian is temples, temples and temples. Please share your thoughts if its a big city now, and if i dont have to take a bus from the airport to Putian or if theres an easier way now. Im lost. Looking forward to your email.


    1. Hi Vin,it is definitely a big city now and not just temples.:) LOTS has changed in the last ten years. They have built a lot in Putian and traffic is way easier now, with modern infrastructure (no more long-distance buses or at least these are less used then faster trains “dong che”). The Internet says there are direct shuttle buses between Quanzhou airport and Putian bus stop, which takes around 1.5 hours, thats not too bad. I visited Putian in 2015, so I guess there might have been even more changes in the last four years. Best of luck in future! Dragana

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.