After a decade of teaching, accumulating debt, paying some off, and visiting a lot of countries and states, I’ve landed here. And by “here,” I mean a place both physical and figurative.
Physically, I’m outside of Hangzhou, Jack Ma‘s hometown, and the World Heritage Site of the West Lake. Hangzhou, in turn, is less than an hour by high-speed train from Shanghai, a city with which most Westerners are familiar.
Figuratively, “here” means something a little different, and quite depressing: I’m more than $90,000 in debt. This is a car + student loans + credit card and personal loan debt–the trifecta of bad financial choices, owing to a myriad of factors that boil down to low pay, a taste of food insecurity and devotion to the “now,” YOLO! mentality over long-term goals.
But wait! MY debt’s come from travel and experience, and not just stuff?! THAT makes it good, right?
No, no, NO! Of COURSE NOT! Yet I have found some dignity in the fact that my job (teaching) contributes meaningfully to the world, and that I haven’t spent most of my money on things.
That doesn’t mean it hasn’t contributed to a negative net worth.
I’ll get into the details later, but the bottom line is that a couple of years ago, my poor financial choices left me so bereft that my best option was to take a job that offered cash in hand and housing on day one. My genuine desire to live again overseas, and my love for new cultures–or, really, for anything different, anything that forces me to learn–was an asset here. Yet the country and the offer I chose was determined by desperation, not joy. And I never want to be in that situation again.
That country was Kuwait, where an incredibly high cost of living and consumption made paying down my debt nigh impossible in the time frame I desired.
Thankfully, that job improved my situation enough that I could return later to the place I really wanted: China, where I’d taught before in Beijing. I knew from prior experience that I could absolutely live frugally and pay down debt here, while having a life I enjoyed.
Since I was a child, I’ve had a desire to live here. At age ten, I learned about the One Child Policy that took effect around the same time I was born in the eighties, and even as it horrified me, it fascinated me, too: what kind of country has that many people? What kind of government is able to exert that level of control? What would it be like to live in such a vastly different, ancient place?
In A.P. World History in high school, I was intrigued by the vast history and the different kingdoms that marked this part of the world. A myriad of books read on my own and growing up in the Disney era of Mulan also contributed to the obsession, and as someone who once spent a semester in Buenos Aires because of Evita, moving to China based in part on a Chinese legend–even Disney’s take on it–was not as crazy as it might sound.
This time, though, I didn’t want any distractions. I wanted a world where I’d have to work hard to spend “stupid money,” where going to chain stores like the Gap or out to eat for Western meals would be nearly impossible.
I also wanted somewhere warmer than Beijing in the winter. (I’m originally a Florida girl.)
I found that in my current home, one of two “Fuyangs” in China. And I haven’t looked back.
I’ve named the site after my new home for two reasons: one, because it’s alliterative. Two, because this whole experiment is largely tied to this place. I’m not certain yet how long I’ll live here, but my debt paydown schedule and ability to put almost 100% of my salary towards debt, and later saving and investing, is a big reason I’m here. In addition, the choice has put me in somewhat interesting situations that don’t closely mimic much advice I’ve seen online. I’m living cheaply abroad, a goal for some early retirees, but with debt. I’m diving deep into the well-known books, blogs and podcasts on debt paydown and wealth-building, but not in a place with typical American or Western tricks available.
Most importantly, I am terrified of failing again. I need to know in a deep part of me that when I leave here, I will leave a different person. I want to believe that when I’m ready to move on, I will no longer fear money. I will have abandoned the scarcity mindset. And I will undoubtedly miss this gorgeous, eccentric (to me, as a “laowai,” foreigner) place for the rest of my life. Thus, I apply the city where I will leave this fear behind.
On a lighter note, it doesn’t hurt that “Fuyanger” sounds a bit like “Foreigner,” which I also am here, as a high school teacher in this gorgeous place.
All that to say: I’m essentially living in a time capsule of my own debt paydown experience, and I figured there might be enough unique aspects worth sharing under the city’s name. So here goes.
DISCLAIMER: There are many, many people who have lived in China longer than me, who undoubtedly have more rich and varied perspectives. My life here in no way reflects the whole of this incredible country, and I will routinely remind the reader that my experience does NOT serve as an absolute on China as a whole. Thankfully, my experiences in Beijing the first time I lived here can serve as a nice foil to my current life, which does provide a little context, but still. Remember how varied the U.S. is, or your home country, and keep that in mind as you read. Thank you!