We are in Chengdu!
We spent our final night in Guilin last night hanging out with newly made friends in the common room of the hostel. It was quite a blast talking about life in other countries, our travels, and our mixed perspectives on China among more trivial tidbits. After several hours of drinking and sharing stories, I did a double take as a new guest made his way over to the pool table. To make the world even smaller (especially after our chance meeting at the rice terraces with the Baoding people), the guy that walked in was one of our CIEE orientation leaders in Shanghai in August. What a strange and delightfully surprising experience! We caught up briefly before heading to bed to catch some shuteye before our newest adventure (probably the most anticipated destination for me).
We woke up really early this morning, checked out of the hostel, got a cab to the Guilin airport, and, after a short and uneventful (though very characteristically Chinese) flight, we finally found ourselves in Chengdu city, Sichuan province.
We were dismayed to realize it was actually pretty smoggy here but fortunately it wasn’t as bad as we first originally thought while landing and it progressively cleared up as the day went on. At the hostel by noon, we settled in briefly, before heading out to fulfill a new-city tradition we’ve developed – Pizza Hut and Starbucks as the first meal. Our hostel (Lazy Bones) is smack dab in the middle of downtown and so we only had to walk about two blocks to find our lunch.
Seeing as it was noon (the time for lunch in China without deviation), the place was packed but we were happy to wait until a table was cleared. While we waited we discussed some ways in which our perspectives have changed since our arrival in China.
Before coming here, I had heard that Chinese people think Westerners, such as ourselves, have big noses and are really hairy. Before living in China, I thought that was ridiculous – I don’t have a big nose and I’m not hairy! But now, after almost five months here with limited and sporadic exposure to more Western features, I have to admit that, especially by comparison, we do have big noses and we certainly are hairier than the average Chinese person. Duncan and I have both caught ourselves looking in the mirror or at pictures and wondering, “has my nose gotten bigger? Surely my nose hasn’t always been that big!”
Also before living in China, I have to admit it was sometimes difficult for me to see detailed differences between Asian individuals. After living in China, where Chinese people are increasingly looking more Western/my “normal” to me, I don’t think I’ll say that I can’t tell people apart again. In fact, the longer we’re here, the more I think all Westerners look alike!
It really is amazing how important perspective can be in shaping your perception and understanding of the world.
While we were eating our pizza, a group of boys aged around eleven came up to us and wanted to talk to us in English. We agreed and they explained that it was a homework assignment of theirs to find a foreigner and have a conversation with them in English and then to have us write down something about the conversation and sign it as proof that they completed the assignment. The boys took turns asking us questions such as “do you like Chinese food?” and “where are you from” while their (I assumed) teacher filmed it on her phone as proof. We wrote them a message that their English was fantastic (it truly was better than any of my eighth grade students and almost all of our school’s Chinese English teachers’) and they were on their very merry way. It made me smile a lot and I would have gotten a picture had my phone not decided it was time to have no memory left.
After a quick coffee break, we set out to explore on foot our newest location (we’ve also developed the tradition of spending our first day in a new place exploring on foot to get a feel for the city and our bearings). We walked quite a long distance but eventually found ourselves over at Sichuan Da Xue (Sichuan University) where Duncan studied almost three years ago. Here, we spent a couple of hours visiting all the sites he frequented daily and now I (ecstatically) have personally-visited visuals to elaborate his stories and memories. It’s a gigantic campus and I completely see the draw – it’s astounding really. We had so much fun just walking around and exploring while Duncan told me more stories of his first time in China and compared what we saw to what it was several years ago.
Though much has changed, much hasn’t changed and we were even able to find the stands where people sell DVDs for very cheap – something I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard stories about life in China. It proved to be a successful venture with us walking away with seven movies and eight seasons of one of my favorite TV shows (Grey’s Anatomy) all for about $30. We could have haggled the price, we realized later, on some of them but figured it wasn’t something worth stressing about because it was still so cheap for us in US dollars.
After our wanderings we took the subway (now it has two lines!) back to the hostel and have spent the rest of the evening relaxing. Today I was the happiest I’ve been in a long time just thrilled with excitement and anticipation to see a city I’ve heard so much about. Duncan, too, has been thoroughly enjoying being back in one of his favorite places on Earth. We miss Guilin and the awesome people at Wada Hostel but are looking forward to our adventures here even more!
Tomorrow we will do some more city exploring and will figure out the rest of our touring for our time here.
Thank you for reading and until next time,