Queer Lodgings


            Sorry for posting so late, these last three weeks were more eventful then I thought they’d be. Starting two weeks ago, life was uneventful so I began personally debating my opinion of pollution. Smog is ever prevalent in China and one of the biggest concerns I hear foreigners discuss. But how can we discuss this matter without thinking of our own history involving pollution? The only difference now is that we can measure and report the levels. It’s just a discussion point. One of those topics that there is no black and white answer. Should modernizing countries know better now that science has shown us the result of pollution and thus stunt their growth because they cannot afford “green” items? And should countries that have already modernized to the point that they no longer need to pollute and can afford “green” items, condemn others? Is the environment more important then mankind?

            Anyway, my biology lab finally allowed me to work in the lab which was the result of a painful discussion about culture. In America if we do not honestly believe that someone can contribute, we tell them. In China they hate to say no, so they say yes. For the last few weeks I’ve been reporting to the lab only to be told there was nothing to do and I was beginning to feel like I was wasting my time. I didn’t want to bring this up because I didn’t want to insult anyone and didn’t want their efforts to include me to be in vain. However, I eventually reached my limit and had to say something. It was the most delicate conversation I think I’ve ever had; how to express my feelings without showing frustration to my partner’s culture. I’m just so use to my culture being so straight-forward that the passive discussions I’ve had with locals sometimes feels like we talk in circles. However, after our discussion I think I understand how he thinks and how to express my opinion.

            After our first day in the lab my partner took me and his peer out to eat at a local restaurant. They both have been living in Chengdu for several years and are therefore much more use to the spicy food, so he ordered dishes that he didn’t think were too spicy but because I’m an inexperienced foreigner, I ate the wrong part of the dish. They add some vegetable that actually absorbed excess spice so that the meat (the part you’re suppose to eat) isn’t extremely spicy. I ate the vegetable. At first it was fine so I kept eating it, but after a few minutes the spice began to burn. I could feel my face grow hot and every time I tried to cut it with a different piece of food it only burned more. I sat back, let it burn out, and at one point teared up and my partner asked if I was okay. Nothing will ever be as spicy as that dish.

            In addition, I finally found the answer: Since Americans have the expression ‘digging to China,’ does China have the expression ‘digging to America?’ Sadly, no, they do not.

            The next week we also had a USAC Shanghai student visit out humble city. Just the one student… Apparently Shanghai students didn’t want to see Chengdu, but I believe this girl had quite a lot of fun. She accompanied us to Leshan and Emei Shan, she held a baby panda, and went to the Sichuan Show! On Wednesday we all went out to see the Sichuan Show which featured traditional Beijing opera, Sichuan dance, traditional disappearing masks, and many other forms of performing arts including shadow hand puppets. But I want to focus on the disappearing masks. Now, the performance was mostly on stage, but at the end two performers came out into the Imageaudience and began to shake people’s hands. He eventually got to me, shook my hand, shook my neighbor’s hand, and returned to me. He pointed for me to touch his forehead where a slightly darker strip stood out. As soon as I touched it, his mask disappeared and I was staring right into his face!!

            Once the weekend rolled around I needed a break from not only the city but from my homework. Thankfully USAC had already planned out a trip to Mt. Emei and Leshan. These two locations are about two hours out of the city. I never thought air could smell so sweet! As we drove through the countryside I finally got my glimpse of China’s farmland and the view was spectacular! So beautiful I wish I could have de-bussed and taken pictures of everything. Every few feet we would come across something new but because of the trees and traffic I hardly got any pictures to show. As it seemed, Chinese farms do not have the same combines and tractors that we do back in the States, so villages all worked together to tend the crops. I even saw a few water buffalo working!


            Leshan was our first stop of the weekend. We all gathered on a boat and floated out to see the big Buddha carved into the side of Leshan. As impressive as he was we were only there for a short period of time to take pictures before we set off to Emei Shan. Emei Shan is known for its Buddhist monasteries, beautiful scenery, monkeys, and stairs. So many stairs. When we arrived we hiked a little way up the mountain to two different monasteries. That day wasn’t too bad. The next our goal was to simply wander. Several of us decided to take the cable car up to the first low peak and the view was spectacular! However, we still had to climb stairs, so many stairs. We all rendezvous at a restaurant for lunch and from there we had the option of climbing higher to see the moneys. Three of us had a fear of moneys, especially since there were so many ‘rules’ about seeing them that we decided not to go. The Emei Shan monkeys are not afraid of people and actually bully them into giving them food. If they find a person they don’t like they will bite, sometimes the leader will lead an attack, and sometimes they just jump onto your shoulder without warning! They take your things too! Our director told us that if the monkey doesn’t like you, they some times take something of yours and destroy it. Like your camera! They make eye contact with you and then drop it off the suicide cliff. Those jerks.

            So then the three of us slowly took our time climbing down the mountain, enjoying each other’s company and the view. We passed several waterfalls and followed the crystal clear river down stream. At one point we decided to jump to the other side of the river and sit with our feet in the water; however, the water was freezing! So we jumped back to the sidewalk, except, one girl was afraid to because the sidewalk was higher than the ledge. This chaos ended up attracting a crowd. People were laying down their walking sticks for her to walk across, lending her a hand to encourage her across the stream, and eventually she rounded up enough courage to leap across. YEAH!

            Now, last week we had our second round of final tests, but on the side of good news, my gate guard who has been determined to have a conversation with me, finally had one 🙂 My chinese is indeed improving. Yay for having four semesters of class in one!


Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire

2013 03 08_1255_edited-1These last couple of weeks have been a blur; spring festival, finals, a job interview, a short break, and back at it. Spring festivities went on for over two weeks ending in the lantern festival. For the lantern festival we headed down to the river after filling our bellies at Pizza Hut. The lake was beautiful; trees lit up with lights, buildings and fireworks glittering back on the smooth river which carried paper lilies with candles, people lighting lanterns and releasing them into the sky. It was like that scene in Tangled were people light the lanterns, but not so serene. Actually, those lanterns were illegal where we were, so people had to do it in secret before the cops saw them. In one case the police snatched it out of the sky and stomped out the fire. Another person was carried away by police. Literally, one cop on each limb as his mother cried/screamed in the background. Later that night when we finally made it home, fireworks shot off into the night until dawn.
As for the job interview, that fell on the inconvenient week of finals, yes, finals already. We are fitting two semesters (two years for me) into one semester of Chinese, so regular tests = finals. The interview was at the Chengdu Institute for Biology doing research on alternative uses of Duckweed. The whole process has waked me up to Chinese culture and navigating the confusing labyrinth of conversation. So far, I’ve found it interesting but now I’m really busy, 18 credits and now a job… we’ll see how this ends….
Last week was mostly just me being busy running between the job and school, but on Thursday my art class went to two museums. One largely centered around historic artifacts and the other around the ancient craft of shu embroidery and brocade. I loved the later of the museums, but what I thought was the most amazing part was how much the final pieces cost. One was worth the same as my parent’s house! Honestly, I think they just ran out of space on the tag and started using 9’s ($99,999). That’s not even in Chinese currency!
I mentioned in my last post that vegetables are really cheap and easy to get here, so my diet has been mostly fruit and veggies with the occasional side of noodles or rice. As a result, my pants are too loose. As a curvy Scandinavian woman there aren’t a lot of pants here that fit me. Pants vary between American sizes 00-4, with the occasional 6. I figured I’d go to H&M because they’re a European store that would maybe have my size. Out of all of their pants I found two pairs that fit.
Despite not fitting in most Chinese pants, Chinese people are always an ego booster. Although I don’t speak Chinese very well yet, I do hear “Your Chinese is great!” or “You’re very pretty” on a daily basis. Thank you, China.