Leaving Pandaland

I think I realized it was time to leave Chengdu when the oranges went
up in price by 30%, to almost $0.15/lb. You see, juzi are the world’s
most amazing oranges, and yet I had been taking them for granted as
they are available on every street corner, back of cart, outdoor
market, and supermarket. Friends bring them by the bucket as a
friendly gift. They are everything you could want in an orange:
sweet but not saccharine, juicy but not messy, their skin peels off of
its own accord with just a mere suggestion from your eager finger
tips, and best of all, in the whole juzi there is usually only pit.

But one day a few weeks ago, I hit the market and they went up
dramatically in price, like an MTA subway fare hike, from 1 kuai to
1.3 kuai. When I asked for why, the woman told me simply, “Juzi
season will soon be over.”

My life in Chengdu has been really good so far — the right balance of
challenging and interesting and effortless and fun. It has become my
home. And yet, standing in the market with seemingly outrageously
priced (10 cent/pound) juzi in my hand, I realized that sometimes even
good things come to an end. Seasons change. It’s time to move on.

So the plan now is to head to Beijing for another semester, to
continue study Chinese and look for a part time job in the clean
energy sector. My first impression of China — the pollution — has
become an enduring one, and a problem I feel passionate about. The
ever-grey skies over China’s cities isn’t a joke; Chengdu makes L.A.
look clean, and it’s not even the worst. You can’t ignore pollution
in China, not when it gives many people chronic coughs, turns a blue
sky into a murky grey/yellow puddle, and obscures the sun. I have to
wash the leaves off my plant twice a week so it won’t be covered by

And of course, it’s pretty clear that the US and China are on a
collision course, hustling after the world’s energy resources.
There’s no silver bullet for these problems, but I would love to be
involved in cooperation between the two of them as they put their
mutual resources and talent behind the problem.

Then lastly, you see how much energy improves lives when it’s not
virtually free like water. How people don’t run heaters in the winter
because they can’t afford the electricity, or have elevators.

(On a related note, I continue to realize how incredibly wasteful
America is of electricity; do you know almost no one outside the
great old US really uses clothing dryers? And that there are these
very energy efficient things called hot water bottles that you can
fill with boiling water and carry with you or throw under your sheets
to keep you warm, instead of turning up the heat?)

So in order to pursue clean energy as a field, I am going to take the
good advice I’ve gotten to head to Beijing. The plan is to return
next summer to New York and get a job related to China/clean energy,
so in the meantime, I have to figure out what I need to do to get
there. Chinese language skill is high on the list, so I will be
enrolling in a third semester of Chinese there. I am also looking for
an internship, and just advice from people knowledgeable in the field.
(If you know anyone in China, Beijing or elsewhere, interested in
this question, I’d be thrilled to chat.) I’ll be able to send you
something more thoughtful later, but that’s where I am for now.

In the next two months, I’ll be circumnavigating China one or two
times. Something like Shanghai to Hainan to Chongqing to the Three
Gorges Dam to Xi’an to Qingdao (Tsingdao) to Beijing to Harbin
(perhaps) to Beijing to Shanghai to Hong Kong to Chengdu to Beijing.
But I will always seek out those beacons of connectivity and video
gaming– the Internet bar.

I leave Chengdu this afternoon, and will miss it dearly. The friends
I’ve made, the streets I’ll diligently learned the names of, the foods
that are only authentically available here, and of course, the pandas.

Happy New Year!