Ni hao from Chengdu, the quite pretty tree-lined capital of Sichuan. I’m studying Mandarin starting on Monday at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics. There’s a lot to learn, but I should be fluent in a few days 🙂
Since I have a tendency to drone on and on in emails, I’ll share some initial impressions Chinese style — in numbered outline form:
(1) It’s really smoggy here. You can never see the sun. Not even on a bright day. The sky is always grey.
(2) It’s otherwise really quite pretty. There are trees all over campus, and along most streets.
(3) People are intensely friendly. I haven’t felt odd being here. People don’t gawk like I thought they would at a foreigner.
(4) I’m definitely a foreigner. I am runing a tally of “dogs v. foreigners” (in the spirit of the favorite summertime Central Park game, “pugs v. brides”). Yesterday it was 4-3. I saw a St. Bernard, which struck me as odd. I’m not sure why. Today I went to a poorer district, and the tally is now seriously skewed: 10-3. Random dogs spook me out, so I didn’t stay long though.
(5) They have all the same stuff here you have back home — Nivea face cream, Renu contact solution, Head and Shoulders, Coke (of course), McD, Starbucks… Chengdu is a pretty major, modern, western city. You can even get Pimms, but drinking in Western bars is pricey! (Like $4 or something outrageous.)
(6) My shower has hot water! I’m jazzed.
(7) No one drinks the water. You have to boil it first, so often you drink warm plain water. I am quite lucky to have been given an electric water heater in my bathroom. Most students have big thermosts they bring to the Cafeteria to fill up with hot water.
(8) It’s really cheap. Okay, you knew that. But seriously, lunch at the cafeteria is like 1-2 yuan, which is about 20 cents. Awesome! Cabs across the city are about 20 yuan, or $2.50. Which means you have full license to wander anywhere and get lost, as can always jump a cab home.
(9) The drivers weave like basket makers. Or basket cases. But you never really feel out of control. There are so many people here that there’s no other way to do it, it seems. There are major bike lanes on the side of the road too. It’s like watching a chaotic yet choreographed ballet at intersections.
(10) A billion people is a lot of people.
(11) The two predominant sounds are music and hammering. They didn’t build Rome in a day, but it looks like they are trying to build Chengdu that fast. There is construction EVERYWHERE. As for the music, they play it on campus like DisneyLand, and many stores and even street sweeping trucks play some nice classical Chinese music. Just in case you forgot you were in China.
(12) The streets are lined with shops only about 20 feet deep and 15 feet wide, if that. These stores don’t have fronts, so you can just walk right in to whatever the place does: restaurants with steaming pots of noodles, or stacks of dumplings, stores with cigarettes in cases or Fanta or Coke or little pastries or ice cream, hard-hat and construction boot shops, bike repair shops, travel agencies, offices with a couch (not sure what they are), clothing stores (though those tend to have doors), Chinese pharmacy shops with a host of boxed items in glass containers manned by white jacket wearing vendors… There are about 20 kinds of stores, and 4 banks, and they repeat by the 100s thoughout the city. I feel like I’m on a repeat loop when I take a bus down a street.
That’s it for now. Link to pictures should hit your inbox in a few minutes…