Dájiā hăo (Hello, everyone!)
The sky is bright and I may even see a spec of blue shinning through. Here in Nanchong, when asked what color the sky is, the answer is white. When asked what color the sun is, the answer is red. The cause of both of these is pollution. Thus seeing a tiny spec of blue in the sky is a great surprise.
We started school this week at China West Normal University and this is how a normal School day goes:
-wake up at 8:00 to shower and eat breakfast (which my host mom leaves out for me because everyone else is already gone for the day)
-catch bus 35 to the university (its about a 15 minute bus ride)
-2 hours of Chinese language class from 9-11 with a 15 minute break in between
-2 1/2 hour lunch break
-Chinese history and religion class for 1 1/2 hours
-Tai Chi for 1 hour (I love it! So relaxing)
-calligraphy class for 1 hour
-get home around 6:30
-dinner with my host family every night at exactly 7:00… it’s so funny!
-shower, homework, and bed (It is a pretty long day of nonstop stuff, so by the time I get home I’m exhausted and ready for bed.)
For lunch we have been enjoying street food from this really popular street called yi xué jíe. The food is AMAZING. At first I was kind of sketched out eating food made on the street, but man it’s good and cheap! You can get this huge bowl of noodles made for 5 kuài (yuan), which is not even $1. And when I say a huge bowl, I mean huge. I never can finish. We also found this awesome bakery on the same street. It’s not like our bakeries at home; it honestly might be better. Oh, and let me add in that it’s so cheap! I got this egg and cheese bread thing (you never know what you’re ordering; normally you can’t even take a guess so you just kind of pick something and hope for the best) that was the size of my face for 2.50 kuài. I seriously could go on for days about how cheap stuff is here.
This past Wednesday, I went to a high school in town and taught 4 different classes English for 1 hour each. I walked away really considering a change in my major at EMU. I fell in love. The kids were wonderful, and so eager and excited to learn. I didn’t want to leave. I was in tears. You could just see on those kids’ beautiful faces how much it meant to them to have me there, and the same for me. I would be so content to stay there and teach those kids for the rest of this trip. I could go on forever. I really loved it. Even though I didn’t totally love the part where they made me sing Taylor Swift BY MYSELF and dance around the classroom. But I got some smiles and some laughs, so that’s what matters! Luckily, I go back every Wednesday for the next 3 weeks!!! YAY! Also, today I went to my host sister’s middle school and taught English to her class. And I signed up to volunteer with this children’s English program they have here in Nanchong as a teacher. So, once a week, I will go there and teach younger children English. I am trying to take every opportunity I can while I have the chance.
So I have been with my host family one week, and man do they catch on fast. Their English has improved so much in one week, it is crazy and kind of sad considering I am taking a Chinese class right now and haven’t gotten any better. Chinese is hard! Like, no joke! You have to learn tones, words, characters, and pīnyìn. It’s insane. I think I will come home with no Chinese learned and my English worse than when I left. I am getting a lot more comfortable with my host family but not so comfortable with the bathroom. When I was teaching in the high school the other day I walked in the bathroom to find myself facing probably 6 or so girls just squatting and peeing. No doors or stalls, just holes in a big open room. They probably thought I was insane because I screamed and ran out so fast I almost tripped on the disgusting pee floor. It’s so—ah I don’t even know what word to use. It’s just different. The showers are too. They are literally just a shower head on the wall with the squat pot underneath you. So while trying to shower you have to try not to fall into the squat hole. Its pretty difficult, I might add. Malika and I have our own room, although we do have to share a bed, but we don’t mind. We live in a 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment. It overlooks the beautiful park but not so beautiful singing (wait, that was mean. It’s not bad, its just not really what you would consider singing. More like screeching into the microphone but with a pretty band playing behind it). Every day, and I mean every day, from 3-6;00, this lady comes all dressed up and sings and dances out in the park. A ton of older people come out and it’s totally fun, but extremely loud. We’re on the 7th floor right beside the park, and from 3-6:00 we have to scream to one another just to hear. It’s pretty hilarious.
I help my host sister with her English homework every night, and she helps me with my Chinese. It’s pretty great. She is 13 and will be 14 on October 9th. She is in the 9th grade, but in China that is still middle school. She speaks English very well, although she says she is no good. She has grown up learning English because they start them at a very young age. My host mom is the sweetest but speaks no English. Well she didn’t, but she has learned some this week. She is a kindergarten teacher. And my host dad, well, I don’t really know… he isn’t around a lot. He randomly brings kids by that I don’t know. So, I kind of think he has a second wife, but that’s probably just my too much TV brain playing with me. Our apartment is nice. Nothing fancy. But getting to the apartment and the building is kind of sketchy. I saw a rat in the stairway and about died. And like I said, we’re on the 7th floor, so that’s a workout. Especially when trying to carry my suitcase up 7 flights. I have to wear slippers all the time. Walking around barefoot inside someone’s home or anywhere is considered rude. China is very different than home, but I am really loving this experience. But maybe a tiny bit missing America, American food, and of course all of you.
My chopstick skills are improving so that’s an extra bonus. And if I wanted to, I could learn how to cough loogies like a man. Because everyone and their brother does it here, and I mean everyone. I saw a man spit one right onto the floor in the middle of a nice restaurant. Let’s just say my appetite was gone fast. And for any of you who know my love of clothes, you need to feel my pain right now as I say I am so sick of my 5 outfits and it’s only been 2 weeks. Ah! Especially when everyone here is dressed super nice and wears heels and I’m over here chilling in my Chacos, sport shorts, and a wrinkled t-shirt. They probably think I’m a bum. Well I am sure you’re probably tired of reading this ridiculously long post. There is just so much to learn and share about my experiences.
Zài jiàn (goodbye)
Guó fú (My Chinese name. It means beautiful Lily)
China has been wonderful so far! We’ve seen and experienced so many things already that it feels like we’ve been here much longer than we have. We visited an art district in Beijing. This is basically a small town inhabited only by artists and their studios. There is something to be said about an intentional community dedicated to artists. I, and several other people, said we would love to live in place like that. The language barrier between us and the artists made it a bit more difficult to understand what they were trying to say though their art. I know that art is supposed to speak to everyone and you shouldn’t need words to understand it, but it is hard to take meaning from something created by someone who lives such a different life than mine. I wish I knew more about the artists, and I had a chance to learn more about them, but was too scared to ask questions.
We climbed the Great Wall! I’m still a little amazed that we climbed such a feat of mankind. It was odd, though, because we had some local farmers with us (they followed us, we didn’t invite them) and they were very nice and helpful until we said we wanted to buy t-shirts. Once the words left our lips, the farmers descended on us like vultures and we were the road kill. They wanted 120 Yuan ($20) for the t-shirts, which was a huge rip off. Myrrl talked them down to 40 Yuan and we all bought shirts that said “I Climbed The Great Wall.” I said the farmers’ following us was odd because one minute they were our friends (pengyou) and the next minute they were ripping us off. I wanted to buy something from them because that’s how they make their living, but they used such false pretenses, and were so rude about it that I didn’t want to anymore. That is actually how I feel about most vendors I’ve come across in China (unless their goods have fixed prices). They’re so aggressive that I don’t want to buy from them. The vendors that let me be are the ones that I want to buy from.
Back to the Great Wall: It was kind of surreal climbing something that I’ve seen so many pictures of and heard so many stories about. It was beautiful and huge and amazing! It was sobering to think of all the people that died making the Great Wall, though. How many other “feats of mankind” have required such sacrifices to be made? The question that I found myself asking was “Is it worth it?”
My legs are insanely sore from climbing the Wall. Most of the steps were as high as my knees. Did I mention that I wasn’t expecting the Wall to be so up and down? Pictures always make it look like a smooth, rolling walk. Reality, how you have fooled me! The rest of that day was filled with small comforts: pizza, cats, and good conversation.
So ends our first week in China. I haven’t really felt culture shock yet, although that’s not to say that I haven’t been shocked by some of the cultural norms. Some of the habits in China really surprised me at first; for example, people spit everywhere! They even spit inside, where they work. Many children walking around the streets can be seen wearing pants missing the crotch and butt area. This was a bit shocking, but I suppose it makes sense: the children can easily relieve themselves anywhere, but it still freaks me out when I see a little boy peeing onto a tree on the side of the street.
Traffic is another thing that is very different from America. It’s actually a little terrifying. Unlike in America, vehicles have the right-of-way in China. This does not make sense to me because it causes so many more pedestrian casualties and is just so dangerous. Myrrl says not to run across the street because it confuses the drivers, but I don’t know what else to do if you need to get out of the street.