Yongchuan weekend

Probably my best photo from Dazu Rock Carvings
Probably my best photo from Dazu Rock Carvings

I’ve been in China for a month. I haven’t got enough perspective to really write about it yet, but I’m working on it. I’ve been busy preparing lessons and teaching–on paper it’s only a few hours per week, but it takes a lot of prep time! For now I’m just going to write about what I did this weekend.

My first day here I met a few people from my placement agency. They, and a few others from that group that I hadn’t met, got together last weekend to watch rugby and go out, and we talked about visiting Dazu caves. Kate arranged for us to stay at her home in Yongchuan (which is technically Chongqing, but it’s about 90 minutes from where I am, and I’m at the end of the subway line) and go there together. I was a little anxious because I am kind of a loner and don’t do well if I don’t have my space. But I know these people and like them, so I went.

Friday night we took a shuttle bus from Chongqing University campus to Kate’s school. Yes, CQU is where I work, but this is a different campus than the one where I live and work. It’s not exactly far, but it’s not exactly near. The bus got to Kate’s around 10 pm. That’s also known as “bedtime” around my house, but once I saw everyone and had a few cheap Chinese beers, I was fine.

After a little talking and drinking and eating of peanut butter (!), we went to Yongchuan’s Bar Street. China shuts down early. Hardly anyone was there at 11:30 pm on a Friday. It was a cute little area with a walkway on the water, but where were the people? We ended up at…Hooters. It wasn’t bad–they had pool and some cute Tibetan guys. (Young Tibetan guys; I pinched their cheeks and gave them a Werther’s.) I should note that the waitresses wore sweatsuits, not traditional Hooters gear. Assume nothing in China, I always say.

After that, we headed back toward Kate’s house, but stopped for shao pao (I’m guessing the spelling) on the way. And more beer, I think. There were some Chinese guys who were really into our friend Brennan. Like, Chinese guys are a little more touchy-feely with their male friends than Americans are, and they decided Brennan was one of the boys, to the point where he almost got a lap dance. So they were speaking Chinese to some of us, and one of them asked me if I speak Chinese. I said, “Look, guys, I don’t mean to brag, but I can count to ten.” So I showed them and we all counted to ten together. I’m sure they thought I was ridiculous, and they were probably right.

We had to get up early in the morning because the water was going to be shut off and we needed to take showers. My friend Tahina and I stayed in Kate’s friend’s apartment, since they were out of town, but the other 5 were packed into her place. We made it to the bus station and met The Canadians. The Canadians are teachers at a Canadian school in Yongchuan. That’s a thing, as the kids say. We weren’t able to get a bus to Dazu until 12:30 pm, and the bus took about 90 minutes to get to Dazu, so we shot the shit for a while and hung out at a weird park and got stared at. Once in Dazu we caught a city bus to the caves.

If you get a chance to see the Dazu Rock Carvings, do it. I think I will go one more time before I leave China if I can, despite the expense and long trip. It was really beautiful and tranquil, and the carvings themselves were spectacular. I am a terrible photographer and my pictures don’t do it justice. I also felt a little rushed because I got separated from the main group because I went to the bathroom when they were buying tickets and a bunch of other shenanigans.

After we got back to Yongchuan, we went out for hot pot. Hot pot is a Chongqing specialty. I’ve been asked several times since I’ve gotten here if I’ve had hot pot, and I can now say yes. Apparently, Chongqing hot pot is different than other Asian hot pots, I think due to the spices. A pot of broth is put on the table and cooked to a boil (there was a burner built into the table; a smaller restaurant near my home uses a hot plate, I think). Then you throw whatever you want–vegetables, raw meat–in. When it’s cooked, fish it out and eat it with some dipping oil you have added custom spices to. This place was buffet style, so we could grab whatever and chuck it in and not have to risk random brains or buttholes in the pot. It was good, but the place was about 88 degrees and humid. Fortunately, beer is included in the price (!). The imitation crab, bacon, and shrimp dumplings were really good. But hot pot gets spicier the longer it simmers, so I didn’t eat as much as I might have.

The others went to da klerb after that, but I was way too tired. I instead woke up early and left around 7:30 a.m. to head home. I was pleased that I was able to find the correct bus to get home (with help from friends). I did have a little trouble in Chongqing proper. I was on the city bus on my way to Shapingba station when the bus driver said something and everyone got off. I don’t know why, but I thought it was prudent to just get off, too, even though I didn’t know where I was.

I found a taxi and asked for the subway. I couldn’t understand why the driver had so much trouble with my request. I even used my phone app to translate. What’s the deal, Chinese taxi driver? Well, he drove me 100 feet and pointed: There was the subway entrance. Oh, OK. I tried to pay him but he refused. It took me about an hour to get home and the subway was packed, but I made it.

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assume nothing here

A photo from Shapingba district, just a few subway stops from where I live.
A photo from Shapingba district, just a few subway stops from where I live.

In the words of Barenaked Ladies, IT’S BEEN…one week. It feels like a month. I feel like I’ve been here for a very long time, but I still have a lot to learn and do for the first time.

I betta’ work!
I haven’t started teaching yet. I arrived on the 27th. October 1-7 is National Holiday (celebrates the founding of PRC), so I haven’t started teaching yet. Also, the freshmen I teach have 4 weeks of compulsory military training, so they haven’t started classes either.

I will be teaching Level 1 freshmen. They have had English in school, but they did not test into a high level of college English. Did you know that all college freshmen in China take English? Can you imagine if all American college freshmen had to take Chinese? (Seriously, though, monolinguists are going to get left behind. Teach your kids a world language.)

Interesting note about the students I observed: They know a lot about the world. They’re informed. One student referenced Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. There is a stereotype that China is isolated from the world in the way that North Korea is. It’s not true. I think it’s more that China is, like the United States, big enough that they don’t have to pay as much attention to the outside.

I have no idea what anything costs
Some things are so ridiculously cheap. 100RMB is about $15, just for reference. A can of Coke is 2.30-3.00RMB. A short cab ride is 10RMB. A bowl of soup at a hole-in-the-wall place is like 12RMB. But I wanted to buy nail polish today, and it was 210RMB! Bare nails it is. The more Chinese you can live, the cheaper you can live. I’m still getting used to learning what’s a normal price and what isn’t.

I am huge and weird-looking
The first day I was here, the program coordinators took us on an outing to a really old part of the city. We got stared at a lot there. One of the women is fairly tall with blonde hair and blue eyes, and people were calling out “Hi!” to her; one person asked her to pose for a photo. Later on, some teens came up to me and were saying, “Hello. Beautiful! Beautiful!” I’m like, yeah, I know, but nobody at home is stopping me on the street to tell me that.

For the most part, nobody gives me a second glance on campus. The students don’t care. Sometimes I’ll get looks from older people, especially women, if I wear something that shows my legs, which are pretty chunky by Chinese standards. Older guys will stare sometimes. I just smile, which doesn’t seem to do anything.

I know that China is much more homogenous than the US (although it’s 8% minority groups, so maybe not as homogenous as we normally assume). But I guess I thought there would be more diversity on campus. I was in Shapingba district today. I must have seen a few thousand people today, and I was the only white person. And believe me, I looked. Being a minority is a good experience, but it can’t be fun every day.

I am illiterate and a huge dumb-dumb
I studied Chinese in college, but it didn’t really take. I’m doing some self-study, but it’s slow going. I think learning Chinese isn’t so much difficult as time-consuming, so bird by bird. We will have free Chinese lessons after the holiday, and I think I might be able to get a tutor as well.

I had a volunteer help me last week with things like setting up internet, buying a phone, etc. But he’s busy and has his own life, so I’m mostly on my own. I can buy food at a supermarket–just grab stuff that looks not-too-weird and hand it to the cashier. Ordering at a place with counter service is a bit more complicated. Truthfully, I avoid it, although I have gathered the courage to look foolish and do it a few times. I just point and take what I get. So far, so good.

When people say things to me, I just smile and shrug. I can say hello and thank you. Thank you gets a lot of play. People mostly just keep talking in Chinese, even though I obviously don’t know what they’re saying. Not unlike what I do at home. But you can get pretty far with pointing and holding up fingers. And I’m damn lucky that I speak English.

Truly, everything I assume turns out to be not quite true. I still have a lot to learn about this place, even though I’ve made huge strides this week. It’s really, really difficult, but it gets easier every day.