1st week

Note: this post is originally from 6/20 but due to annoying VPN issues it was not posted until today, 7/1

So its official, I landed in china! What a ride. There are 83 of us, many hailing from parts of America I have never visited- texas, ohio, Alabama, Missouri, north and south Carolinas, arizona. This makes the gang seem incredibly nice and warm, especially when contrasted against all the no-nonsense new Yorkers ive been hanging around with for the past 9 years 🙂 I look forward to meeting all of them, but also know that realistically it is impossible to become good friends with everyone when there are so many of us, and after 2 weeks we will be split across four separate campuses for training, and after 2 months we will all head off alone to our individual college sites. Still, I expect to become very close with a handful of them after 2 years of living in the same country.

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my  go-to squad, Jess, Hugo, and Iliana. The boy in the middle is a sichuan opera singer we befriended (more on this next week, quite the story!)

Chengdu is hot and humid in the summers, and a lazy slightly yellow smog hangs over much of the city all hours of the day (the exception is after a rainstorm like the one we had this evening, when the cityscape sparkles and from pedestrian overpasses, headlights and taillights whizzing by below look exceedingly sharp and clear.)

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chengdu after the rain

luckily its not the lung stabbing pollution you find in other parts of china, so as long as you don’t get too hung up on not having truly blue skies, the city is quite enjoyable. We have a lot of health and security training ahead of us over the next month or so- this is peace corps’ top priority for us. to my surprise, all of the local staff have a very strong sense of sarcasm, which they may or may not have picked up from the American volunteers over previous years, and that definitely helps move things along when there are hour long discussions on mundane topics such as avoiding pickpockets, or tips on how to not get hit by truck drivers, or the different ways to wash and peel vegetables and fruit to avoid stomach problems that have come to be part of every foreigner’s journey in china. One woman seemed to relish in the fact that many of us cant use chopsticks, and informed us that breakfast would be served 20 minutes early tomorrow, so we could practice using chopsticks to pick up noodles! “imagine what your principle will think of your intelligence when he invites you to dinner and he sees you are struggling to eat!”

From all my poking around it seems I am the only Chinese American in this year’s batch of peace corps volunteers! Though there are a good number of volunteers that have studied Chinese for four years in college and definitely understand the language better than I can, my charming good looks and one syllable last name have made me the unofficial go-to translator for many of my acquaintances. This is a role I don’t mind for now, as I am also slowly getting to know the city and its people (plus as a peace corps volunteer, its my job to help others..) Though I will say: earlier today I was mildly annoyed with a girl who took too long fussing over cherries and grapefruits so I walked out on her as she was trying to finalize her purchases and pay for the fruits. It wasn’t the nicest thing to do, but hey – now she thinks she knows how to bargain for – and buy – fruit on her own! Sometimes its better to throw people into the deep end of the pool before they learn how to swim

*literacy is the great equalizer* I can pretend to be a local in china until I am required to read anything- street signs, billboards, notices posted by local police, and.. menus without pictures at restaurants! Ordering dinner is pretty funny when I am handed a photoless menu and I pretend to thoughtfully look over what I want to eat, before I order dishes for the group, not based on the scribbles I couldn’t read, but rather memory of what my parents would order in china town.

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the dish in the center is made with preserved egg (pidan, or thousand year egg)

Other observations:

hotpot restaurants are all the rage here (hot pot is a type of dinner that consists of platters of raw vegetables and meats, with a large pot of ever-boiling, spicy red broth placed in the middle of the table for everyone to dip their foods in, sort of like fondue.) it is common for men to eat in these restaurants shirtless, since they are sweating from all the spices and the physical heat of eating such a meal in the middle of the summer. Women however must be fully clothed throughout the duration of the dinner.

some men will also walk down the street shirtless, or half shirtless (where they roll up their shirts to cover just their chests, like a male sports bra) to help escape the heat. I may pick up on this sometime soon. Again, women are excluded from this highly effective heat reducing maneuver

also im already learning where people stand on china’s many border disputes across islands, seas, oceans, mountain ranges, and autonomous regions (hint: they side with china)

example of a brief conversation with a security guard I had while waiting to turn in my medical papers

guard: hello! where are you from?

Me: I was born in new York

Guard: and where are your parents from?

Me: both of my parents are from taiwan

Guard: OH! We are brothers and sisters! COUNTRYMEN!

I responded with a forced, joyless smile, the type I wore at work with increasing frequency when I saw people in the elevator that I felt had wronged me

Disclaimer: All opinions shared in this blog are the author’s own, and do not represent the views of any outside organization, including but not limited to the United States Government and the Peace Corps.

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