A Warm Welcome             Sorry, again, that this posting

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A Warm Welcome

 

            Sorry, again, that this posting is late. Chengdu was uneventful at the beginning of this period because I fell ill. But after that it picked up pace.

            So as I said, I fell ill so I spent the first week, the beginning of our spring break, laying around my room eating noodles and blowing my nose, whereas a lot of my classmates went out and about in Chengdu. Some students even went elsewhere; Beijing, Korea, Sichuan Bana, and even Cambodia. Before I got better, Nancy, Tong, and I went up to Jiuzhaigou for our vacation. Both my roommates had gone before and they described these beautiful clear lakes and waterfalls that just entranced us. So the three of us decided to go.

            The bus left at 7:30 am on Tuesday and for the first hour we saw nothing but city scape. Then suddenly mountains sprang from the horizon and for the remaining eight hours we drove through Sichuan mountains. I was the only person awake for the whole thing, mostly because I was the only goon who’d never seen snow-capped mountains and didn’t know how to contain myself. ImageOur driver had scheduled stops, but he stopped nearly every two hours and at each stop someone met him at his door with a cigarette. China doesn’t care about side effects of cigarettes, they smoke them everywhere; even the plumber lit up waiting for me to pay him! It’s my apartment, don’t smoke! Anyway, we arrived at the park at around 5:00pm and began looking for a place to stay. We had a list of about four, the first one we visited was definitely not what they advertised on the website. The area we were in was under construction and there was an ten foot hole in the front of the building…. we moved to the next one on the list.

            That hostel still felt a little unnerving… Not because of the location, or the inside quality, but because there were swastikas plastered everywhere. It took a random encounter with an Australian to finally understand why. Jiuzhaigou is largely a Tibetan settlement and that particular symbol means ‘purity’ in Tibetan. Hitler actually ripped this off and used the symbol in his war. So, in a way, they were swastikas, just in the original form without all the negative connotations. 

            The next day we set off early to visit the park. We only had one day before we left and everyone suggests two days. We chose to hike along the east side because there were more lakes and waterfalls to be seen. Naturally, as foreigners we are usually gawked at, but I’ve never experienced it like Jiuzhaigou. Not a lot of foreigners go there… actually we probably met all of them; Nancy, Tong, Australian, the couple from the bus, and me. I was definitely the most different looking. Everyone else in that list has dark hair, I’m as blond as snow is white. As soon as we entered the park, I felt all eyes fall on me. Before we got on the bus to go to the fist waterfall (Approx. 3miles from entrance) people were leaning over the side rails. At the first stop, I began to understand, this was going to be a long day. I was pulled aside for nearly five minutes, before my friends got tired and began to move on. I had to run after them! Because we don’t know what we were doing, we missed the next bus and were on the wrong side of the lake for the hiking trail, so we walked along the road and even jumped the barrier into the valley. No one was there to stop us…

            After many minutes of hiking we came across the second waterfall, one you could only get to by hiking! And a little while later we finally came across our first lake. Clear blue water surrounded by mountains. The view was spectacular. The further and further we walked into the park, the deeper the lakes and the more elaborate the waterfalls.

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            The next morning we boarded our bus for the return journey. The park had just received a thick layer of snow and the longer we were on the bus, the more and more snow we saw. However, at about the third or fourth hour the snow vanished and we were left with just the view of the mountains.

            That following week I did nothing. Studied a little and sat down to write this; however, I was stuck with a bad case of writers block so everything I did manage to write was very bland and only factual. “I was sick, but when to Jiuzhaigou. It was pretty.”  After a week of class I sat down on Saturday, around 8 am, to see if I’d overcome my block. I was just settling down with breakfast when my room began to shake, violently. I hit the floor trying to remember the ‘triangle of safety’ I read about before leaving and waited. It felt like thirty seconds but everyone keeps telling me the quake continued for five. Only a few things knocked over; my dresser mirror, a glass bottle I have in my window, and my empty water bottle. As soon as the room stopped shaking, I saw people evacuating the building so I joined them outside. Clearly the early quake woke a lot of people because most men had come out in their ‘tighty-whities’ but women were all dressed, not wanting to go outside looking indecent I suspect. Most people on the way down didn’t even lock the door behind them. I met up with a few of my peers and we waited for the aftershocks to stop. After about three hours we deemed it okay to go back inside.

             I found out that we had a 6.6 magnitude quake with the epicenter in Ya’an which is about two hours south of the city, their casualties and damage are much worse than Chengdu’s. So far I believe the fatalities are around 160 and injured 5,000. I’ve heard we’ve had somewhere around 2,000 aftershocks which means it almost always feels like we’re in an idling car, with a few strong enough to shake the building.

            As this is my first earthquake, I was and am still very unsure what to do. That weekend I spent most of my time outside reading. The Hunger Games actually. I found it helped curb my anxiety. In addition to all this, this week has been nicknamed “presentation week.’ All my classes with a presentation are having them this week, so I’ve been a ‘little’ preoccupied.

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Queer Lodgings

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            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!

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            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!