Summerside, P.E.I. - A silhouette of a man stands on the Summerside boardwalk that overlooks the harbour covered in a blanket of snow.
Ricky Jamer acknowledges that it contrasts to the land where ancient sites built by powerful dynasties sit amid skyscrapers, and where mountains shimmer against vast deserts.
Both lands are beautiful, but one has captured his heart.
“I was studying languages for two years, and originally I wanted to go over to China for just one year to study and teach English, but I fell in love with the place and decided to move,” said Jamer, a former resident of Kensington.
He set foot in the bustling city of Zhangzhou, located in the Fujian province of China, to study the Mandarin language in the summer of 2014.
“When I first got there I couldn’t speak any of the language. I could just say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you,’ so the language was a barrier. Food was different, too, because I had to learn how to use chopsticks. Even the way they socialize is different,” he said.
Despite the initial lost in translation feeling, Jamer quickly transitioned like a local.
“I go now for weeks without speaking English,” he said. “It was hard at first to learn Chinese. It took a long time, and it’s almost as difficult for them to learn English. It’s the way the sentences are structured.
“Now I will see something in Chinese and know exactly what it means, but I wont know how to say it in English just because of the sentence structure and grammar, it’s so different.”
One of the most liberating ways to explore China is on a motorcycle acknowledged Jamer.
“In October my roommate, from England, and I rented some motorcycles and hit the road for about five or six hours just travelling through the countryside. We had no plans. We just rode. I feel it was the first moment I realized this was something special.”
Jamer’s sense of adventure has even taken him hitchhiking along the Karakoram Highway, which connects China to Pakistan.
“There’s the Karakoram mountain range just west of the Himalayas, and I met a bunch of really interesting people from Pakistan as I was hitchhiking. To get to this place it took me about 40 hours by train. And it was one of the coolest things I ever did.
“I did it just for the sense of adventure, and stayed for one month in the province of Xinjiang. It was the most beautiful place I have visited,” he said.
Jamer plans to spend one more year in China as a student, before completing his language degree at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.
“I find that coming back now I am having a much harder time dealing with reverse culture shock than the initial culture shock when I first went there,” he shared. “I like living in a bigger city, and I feel like there’s a lot more opportunities for my interests.”
Study abroad has given Jamer a new lease on life.
“Someday I plan to open my own school in China and have other western teachers work for me…In China they have this test called IELTS, which is an English proficiency test, and recently I have been doing training to teach other people to do these tests.
“Long term I would like to open up my own training centre where I would teach this exam and have other Canadians and Americans work for me and teach the youth. That’s the dream.”
His New Year's resolution for 2018 is to pass the HSK 6, a Chinese language certificate for foreign students.
“It’s similar to the IELTS, and this year I got my HSK 5. The HSK 6 is the highest level recognized by the Chinese government,” he concluded, with a grin.