This blog from China has been created to tell the daily news of myself, Connie, and my dog Xiao Hua (she-ow hwah) or Little Flower. I have worked in mainland China as an English language teacher for 9 years, most recently at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College, located along the Yangtze River in Luzhou city, Sichuan Province. My work as a language teacher here is through a Chinese NGO, the Amity Foundation, which is solely Chinese and works out of Nanjing (www.amityfoundation.org).
This year, however, I have moved to the capital city of Sichuan (Chengdu) where I am a full-time Chinese language student at Sichuan University. Because I have never formally studied the Chinese language, I felt it was time to hone my pitifully poor skills with a bit more seriousness. The past semester has proven quite useful in helping my reading and writing ability, as well as giving me some control over Chinese grammar and syntax.
Now, my one-month Chinese New Year holiday has begun. While so many of my overseas classmates are traveling about the country, I have opted to stay put in Chengdu and enjoy the surroundings of community and city life with my Chinese neighbors and friends. I have never lived in a Chinese community of this sort so this is proving to be a new adventure for me.
When searching for an apartment in Chengdu, I happened upon one of the many apartment complexes near the university which fit me perfectly. Very much like any other old building complex, this one contains 10 separate concrete buildings composed of 8 floors each. It is surrounded by walls which cut us off from the bustling sounds and high traffic noise of the main city roads that surround us. To create a pleasant atmosphere within, we have many grassy areas with flowering trees, bushes, and a variety of well-tended plants. There’s even a little sitting park with concrete benches. Many of the elderly gather there on sunny days, as do the many pet owners who live here.
Wide walkways around the area allow for strolls and even haphazard parking for those who have cars, and there are a lot of them. On weekends, the walkways are crammed with cars squeezed in tightly. There’s a small fee for car parking, collected by our young gate guards who hold a 24-hour vigil over who enters and exits the 2 small gates leading into our compound.
Located in one dark corner of our complex is the bicycle parking area. For a fee of 12 yuan a month ($1.50), residents can lock and park their bicycles or motorbikes under a long, plastic canopy. These are watched 24 hours a day by an elderly man and his wife who live in a closet-sized shack there with the bikes. Inside, there is a single bed piled with bedding, a TV set, a small burner to cook food, and a shelf for their cooking utensils. Wires dangle about everywhere for plugging in appliances they use. Our strangely cold weather has also caused them to buy a tiny electric coil heater which gives off enough heat to warm their legs. Mostly, they take turns curling up in the tiny bed to keep warm while the other sits in a chair, rocking back and forth for warmth.
I mostly chose the compound because the apartment available was newly redone and on the ground floor. Most apartment complexes don’t have elevators unless the building is over 8 stories. I personally didn’t care climbing up and down stairs too high, especially with a little dog who loves to go for walks several times a day. Also, the many other furnished apartments I had seen were disgustingly filthy, containing old molded furniture and smelly bed mattresses left behind in the scramble to move into a new home. Especially nasty were the kitchens, where former residents had left it caked in grease and grime with rotting things glued to the inside refrigerator.
Chinese are very good about taking care of their own privately owned places but those who rent have a different idea of home living. Since the apartment doesn’t belong to them personally, why bother putting any work or upkeep into it? This concept is one I find quite prevalent in the mentality of the average Chinese.
Aside from the lovely, clean and newly refurbished apartment and the ground floor level, this complex also offers easy shopping along the side streets and back alleyways just outside of our gates. There are a number of fresh meat and vegetable shops as well as hair salons, convenient stores, family run restaurants, banks, trendy trinket stores and even a McDonalds, KFC and a major Chinese chain grocery store (the Hao You Dou) all within a few blocks of where I now live.
Evenings are especially fun as sellers come out in carts to sell local specialty items to the university crowds or just to those strolling along the sidewalks. Spicy, hot-peppered meat and vegetable kabobs, grilled squid or octopus, egg custard cups, gooey glutinous rice balls rolled in crushed peanuts, freshly roasted chestnuts warm from the coals . . . . These are the favorites of those in Sichuan. And since Chinese cities never sleep, our nearby streets are never empty with those out late, buying from food venders or sidewalk sellers whose jewelry, cheap clothes, kitchen ware and other nick-knacks line the sidewalks.
I hope this introduction to the area is the beginning of a great blog which will be read by those interested in China, the Chinese culture and the life of a foreigner in the country.
Until next time, as we say in Chinese, “Zai jian!” (z-igh gee-uhn) Bye!