Thursday, December 25, 2008


its the first time in my life my whole family hasnt been together for christmas. so. regardless, last night was great, drinking out with friends, festive and wild and decadent. today was lazy, watched like 3 movies, ate some great food (we cooked twice today!) and hung out with my roommate and his girl. spoke some chinese, drank some wine, opened presents from the rents. so yeah, not bad. new years should be a blast. ill post some pictures soon as well.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

realizations about china

so most of my direct interaction with chinese people happens on my bike (a 21-speed mountain bike) or on the football pitch (yeah i use international english). some of my conclusions:
unlike Americans, chinese do not learn to look both ways before crossing the road
there is not a uniform rule for which side to pass on
bike lanes usually (de facto) go both ways
people love to walk in the bike lanes, pull handcarts, overload their bikes with tables and any other furniture they can, deliver computers, etc. this is quite annoying
i seem to be the only one with somewhere to go, im constantly passing people
in football, (these are generalizations, by no means true in all cases) chinese hate contested headers, think they can score from distance like steven gerrard, love to beat people off the dribble and cant stand up to a physical challenge.
i love my football team here, its a great mix of foreigners and chinese. last weekend we had a xmas dinner, with many toasts, way too much drinking and excellent camaraderie. i really felt at home and loved chatting with my teammates in their native language. my semester is almost over, cant wait to have some time off and learn a lot of the words in my notes, maybe find some kids chinese book to read or something. characters are great though, like the character for the verb to count is the character for rice over the character for a woman, ie what does a woman do with rice? well, she counts it. its cool to see how the characters combine and also what they reveal about chinese society and culture. time for me to go have a social class about education, then a small class, bike home, and go out for drinks with friends who are leaving. thats all for now.

Monday, October 20, 2008

time flies and weather changes

so yeah. since my last update, ive flown to guangdong, crossed to hong kong, went to vermont for my brother's wedding, flew back to hong kong the eastern route (over europe and russia, thus flying around the world in less than a week - take that, phineas fogg!), spent a night in shenzhen and taught english the next day. since then, for the past two weeks, ive been studying like mad to get caught up with my chinese classes (almost there) and still teaching. the weather in chengdu is now solidly fall (which means i wear a hoodie a home but still bike in shorts and a t) and i can feel myself settling back into the rhythm of my routine. additionally, having been paid once, i am rationing my cash carefully, thus not eating western food, going out, or drinking nice coffee - thats right, i have been reduced to drinking instant coffee. such is the destitute life.
other than the cash situation, everything is good, the friends are great, wont be able to travel for a while but that will also be good on the bank account. im really loving chengdu and living abroad, still very much in the honeymoon stages. i think in about 2-3 weeks it'll start to get cold and ill be missing that beautiful austin non-summer weather. im in for an afternoon of studying, re-reading kavalier and clay, and maybe some video games or a movie. gotta keep it on the cheap, yo.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sometimes there are just too many things to do

So I havent updated this in a while, largely because updating a blog is something one does when bored and life has been far too busy for that recently. right now i should be getting ready for work, so this will be a list update. complete sentences don't belong in the 21st century:

1. school is awesome, my chinese is a lot better and improves daily, i practice characters for about 1-1.5 hrs per day and write and recognize better than anyone in my class (sorry, gotta floss sometimes)

2. work is good, sometimes stressful

3. bikeriding in china is amazing and annoying at the same time. i bike about 1 hr per day, maybe 10 miles or something

4. chinese food is great and without even trying ive lost 20 pounds. probably the smaller servings, lack of dairy and exercise and sweating all the time.

5. its still summer in chengdu. there have been 2 great storms the last two nights and this morning i had to ride my bike thru rain and flooded streets (about 1-1.5 ft of standin water).

6. i love china and plan on being here for a long time. at least that is the thought for the present.

7. im off to visit a friend in guangzhou friday, then shenzhen sunday, usa tues for my brother's wedding for a week, then back thru guangdong (the province shenzhen and guagnzhou are in) before coming back to chengdu, then back to the grind until sometime in january. itll be intense but day to day life is great and itll allow me to save some money.

8. stay in touch. email me at

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Studying and Teaching...the Beginning

Tuesday Sept. 9 2008

Well its been a while. Let me think what I did last week.

Wednesday I don't remember doing a whole lot, other than playing poker and again making some money. My white, soon to be pollution-colored, Red Sox hat has proven itself a totemic luck charm. Nate, Rick and I got xao kao (BBQ) after the game and then went home.

Thursday I think I was also pretty lazy, I think I watched a couple movies and went to bed pretty early.

Friday I met Ken (the translation guy) at a job and we did about three and a half hours of work on the Tibetan horse racing video. He then took me out for lunch, we had some really good Sichuan food, and talked about his business, Chinese generational differences and a little bit of politics. He has become a good contact and I look forward to doing work for him in the future.

Friday afternoon I came back home and relaxed, hung out with Alex and Rick a bit. We went out for dinner with Eli, who has lived in Chengdu for a while and will be working in Kunming for 3 months as Captain Morgan. We went out to Dave's Oasis for a drink and then went to Cafe Paname, where I tried to meet up with a Chinese girl I met a couple weeks ago. She was busy so I hung out at Paname until way too late, it was the most crowded it's been that I've been there.

Saturday I slept really late, was wait-listed for soccer and it was really hot and gross, so I ate at Pete's Tex-Mex, which was better than I expected, about the same quality as an airport burrito. I went home and watched some Trailer Park Boys and took a shower. I basically wasted the afternoon waiting to go to Kevin's party at his place. I went over to Alex's and chilled with Eli, Callum and Alex for a while, then met Rick and Kari to grab a cab to Kevin's.

The party was on the roof of an apartment building that houses the foreign English teachers. There were quite a few people there and the breeze was nice on the 7th floor. There were some pulled pork sandwiches, a large bowl of punch and we all brought beers. After socializing for a couple hours, Rick, Kari and her friend and I went to meet Eli and Callum at Zoo, a club that Eli's girlfriend works at. We hung out there for a while and everyone else was going to go home so I called Dwayne and had him meet me out for another drink. Another late night, in large part because I knew it was the last weekend I had before school started.

Sunday I woke up tired and laid around pretty much all day. I had some Western food delivered, watched some more Trailer Park Boys and did some laundry. I met up with Alex and Eli and we got Rick on the way to the bowling alley. Alex and Eli have a deep-seated rivalry in bowling and it was pretty fun to watch. Rick and I played a few games (on our own lane) and bowled pretty average. I broke 100 one game. There will be more bowling in the future. We went back to Alex's house and chilled after that and I noticed it was 1 so I went home.

Monday was my first day of school and work. My class has six students, including me, 3 Americans, 1 German, 1 Philippino and my friend Andy from Scotland. Monday I had class from 10 to 12 and then from 2 to 4, so I walked to school (about 25-30 minutes), had reading and writing class, walked to Alex's, ate lunch, walked back to school, had listening class, walked to work (about an hour). I work in downtown, on the 25th floor of a huge building. I taught three classes, one of them was a one-on-one, the other two were 3 and 5 students. The kids speak English well, and are between the ages of 16 and 40. After work, I took a cab home and talked to my parents for a little while before falling asleep.

Tuesday I walked to school, class from 8 to 12, reading and writing then pronunciation class (very difficult, a real task-master of a teacher), then Andy and I walked back to his apartment (just down the street from me). We ate some jiaozi, played winning eleven for a while, then I talked with Dwayne about his bike and tried to unlock it. It appeared rusted shut, so I had the bike repair guy add some oil (ja yo! Ja yo! - same as the cheer for Chinese teams), which also didn't work, so he offered to cut it off, borrowed an electric saw for cutting metal from next door and had the lock off in about 3 minutes, then he sold me a new lock (35RMB), pumped up my tires and off I went. I went home for a bit, Rick came by and we chatted for a while, then I rode my bike to work. Riding to work takes 20 minutes, riding in a cab takes about 15. The bike riding was really fun, tons of two-wheeled traffic in the bike lanes, it also helps to get to know the streets. Classes are good, I really enjoy the teaching, getting better at it already, etc. I biked home then met up with Eli at Middle Bar for a drink. We had some beers and chatted about music, listening to my ipod on the bar stereo, then went to Zoo. Rick came as well and we had a couple beers and then ate some shao kao (Rick corrected my spelling on this one) then slept.

It's good to be busy, I really love my life in China right now, a good balance of learning and teaching. The old adage about living abroad (you learn something every DAY) is proving true. Chinese is improving, social life is great, etc.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The mountains and cold weather!

September 3 2008
I grabbed a cab around 720 and met Rick, drove to the bus station up north and bought our tickets. The bus was nice and uncrowded so I swiftly drifted off to sleep, aided by my ipod. I woke up as the road became rough, about two and a half hours outside Chengdu. We had hit the earthquake zone. We were traveling northeast and took the eastern way around the epicenter of the earthquake. The roads were torn up, hit by rock slides, bridges knocked out and temporary ones caused severe bottlenecks. We made it to Pingwu in five and a half hours, passing tons of blue-roofed temporary housing. Pingwu lies in a valley in the Minshan mountains, on the way to Wanglang and Juizhaigou. The Minshan mountains form a bridge between the Tibetan plateau and the Sichuan basin.

Once we arrived, we made contact with the local office for the reserve and then ate some lunch. We eventually found a hotel and dropped off our bags and it was too late to visit the temple so we decided to scout out a hike. We climbed up a ramp through the forest on the hill behind our hotel and made our way to a small temple, surrounded by refugee housing. We found another trail from there, a staircase climbing the ridge. Five pagodas stood along the way and after about an hour of climbing up the hill we reached an electricity tower. An old man came up with us, who lived on the hill among his fields. I'll post a picture of the terraces in the hill. Also, a guy selling magazines marched up with us, talking with Rick a lot. He also thought I looked like an immigrant because I'm tan.

At the top, the old man left us and we talked with another old guy leading his bull. We walked down the mountain road and asked the magazine-seller to come have dinner with us but he refused. We got dinner at a Hui/Sichuan place and then went back to the hotel room to sleep. Pingwu is a city of 20,000 people and tons of refugee housing. They're the buildings with the blue roofs. The air was cleaner and cooler (slightly) but not too much higher than Chengdu.

Saturday we woke early and ate baozi (dumplings) and walked around to the temple (pictures posted). We caught a bread car (a van) to a Baima village on the way to Wanglang. The Baima are a minority subgroup of Tibetans. They are known for bright dress and have recently tried to develop tourism in the region but the earthquake has been terrible for them. We waited in the village for twenty minutes trying to hitch a ride, then decided to start walking. We walked along the road for 45 minutes before hitting a dam and climbing up the hillside. We saw a car and hailed it, got a ride all the way to the reserve compound, a little under two hours more in the car. We rode along an artificial lake in the mountains, created by the dam in 2003. It had beautiful green water, lying in the lee of the green, forest-clad hills. Rick and I were very glad we caught a ride.

On arriving, we found the park empty and the employees largely unhelpful: no nature guide, no advance notice we were coming, etc. So it seemed there was a disconnect in communication between the office in Pingwu and the park employees. Oh well. We hiked a short eco-trail and came back to our room.

Wanglang is interesting in that it was created in 1965 as a nature reserve, making it one of the oldest in China. Wanglang sits between Juizhaigou and Huanglong, both National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage sites. They are far more popular tourist destinations than Wanglang and the three parks sit on the spine of the Minshan mountains in a unique eco-system in the world.

WWF helps provide some of the funding and surely had an influence in the eco-trails. Unlike most nature trails in China, an eco-trail is made of wood, not concrete, and when trees fall over the path, they are left to lie there and decompose. This is pretty cool for the ecosystem but a bit of a pain when having to crawl under fallen trunks. The park was wet from days of rain but a lot cooler, about 65 in the forest during the day. The trees are mixed-conifer forest in the valley, as it was partially logged earlier this century. The forest felt a lot like the Pacific Northwest.

We ate a quiet dinner with the employees, no other guests, played some cards and went to bed early, reading and then sleeping for a long time in the quiet, cold mountain air. Our room was awesome, 60RMB per night, with a great bathroom (better than in our apartments in Chengdu), tasteful wood furniture, separate bedrooms and electric blankets on the beds. The beds were also super comfortable.

On Sunday we ate lunch, then got a ride to the end of the valley, where we saw the craggy mountains, hiked a couple trails and then walked about 10 km along the road back to the compound. It was a tiring afternoon and we were glad to eat a good hot meal. We saw a vole, horses (the Baima have grazing rights in the park), a lot of birds and a field-mouse. The forest at the end of the valley is virgin forest. Most of the tall conifers are over four hundred years old. We had dinner back at the lodge, played some cards and saw the stars, then slept like the dead.

Monday we ate lunch then paid a guy to drive us past the Baima villages and to a main road. We hitched a ride in a cabbage truck back to Pingwu. It took about 2 hours and I read the whole way, following the same river that ran as a stream through Wanglang. In Pingwu we walked around a while, ate some corn with some local farmers and chatted with them, mainly about boxing, then at dinner and got a massage. After that, to bed in an awful hotel room (but only 30 RMB for the night).

We grabbed the bus yesterday, overcrowded and lots of Chinese puking both on and off the bus. We got back to Chengdu around 2, then cabbed home and played soccer at 530. My electricity was off in the building, so I went over to Alex's before soccer. We beat the Chinese pretty well and had a couple French guys play for the first time. We grabbed a beer at the Leg and Whistle afterward and had pasta from next door (not bad), then I went over to Alex's after a shower and watched True Romance.

This morning I got up and took the bus to the university to get my books and schedule. It went well, I met another American who will be in my class and then walked back towards home. It'll take about 20-25 minutes on the bus and 30 if I walk so I'll be looking into buying a bike soon. I grabbed a coffee and chatted with Terry at the Coffee Beanery, then came home. I watched Hot Rod, which was pretty funny, then got my work schedule: 6 to 9 pm, Monday thru Friday at Web. So it'll be rough but I'll make enough money and stay on a serious schedule during the week. Unfortunately, no more Tuesday soccer for me but I'll still have Saturdays. I guess you've gotta work sometimes. More updates as things progress, but I'm excited for a week with structure. Maturity.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Parties, Becoming a Voice Actor and More!

Well, my interested readers, I suppose this will be the only update this week. Let's see how well I can remember all the fascinating happenings in Chengdu.

Monday Rick, Sam and I went to an outdoor souvenir market, it was pretty crap. I did manage to buy a second towel, which is really a necessity. Then we went to the PSB, I got my visa, it all went smoothly. Then we went to Web English School for me to do an interview, which really just ended up being me scheduling a demo class. Then we went to their friend Dodo's shop across the street. It had all the typical American-style hippie acoutrements: rasta t-shirts, pins, floppy hats, bowls, posters, cds, Bob Marley everything, etc. It was a pretty funny sight in China. Then we got some fish for the piranhas and came home. Later that night we went over to Oz and Callum's for poker, I didn't do as well as last week and Rick was the big winner.

Tuesday Rick and I played dou di zhu with Lorna at Middle Bar, I enjoyed a great iced coffee and we took the bus to soccer. We walked all the way across Sichuan University, probably like a 20 minute walk. We passed some lotuses in full growth, towering a good seven or eight feet out of the pool, flanking a massive old-style building likely from the late 19th century. It was very scenic and the weather here continues to cool off, which is very nice. We crushed the Chinese opposition this week and I didn't have to slide-tackle once. After football we grabbed a cab to the Bookworm for trivia, our team came in second place yet again. I had a great dinner of penne pasta there. Sam went out with a couple Chinese girls and then called me to come out with them, we hung out for about 30 minutes at Cotton Club, then they had to leave, so we caught a ride to Cafe Paname, which was dead, then went over to Dave's Oasis. Andy, one of the owner's and my football teammate, was there, as well as Heather (a Canadian on our trivia team) and Jeff (an Aussie also on our trivia team). They are 3 of the six new owners. We sat around and drank beers and played trivial pursuit. It was very reminiscent of some Grinnell memories of mine.

I've been sleeping a lot recently and Wednesday was no exception. Maybe it's the whole 1-time-zone thing. Who knows. Wednesday I got up, ate lunch with Rick and Sam, went to teach my demo class at Web. Essentially, they said, try to get 25-30 students to talk for an hour about a subject. I decided to do mine on relationships, so I gave a quick intro on myself, where I was from, and drew a map of the United States to show them the different places I've lived in. Then I had them name different types of relationships and then we wrote down the roles within those relationships. I then had them describe the personality qualities that they liked and didn't like about those roles (teachers, mothers, fathers, etc.). I also found out that only 2 of the students had siblings. The students were aged 15-25, generally spoke quite well but it was a bit of a challenge to get the quieter ones to speak up, so I called on their table and tried to encourage them that way. I had them split up into groups to do an activity where they describe someone, how and when they met them, if the relationship changed over time, etc. I went from table to table and at the last one looked at the clock and 5 minutes had flown by. So it went very well and I will start teaching there part-time next week.

I walked a while, as it is impossible to find a cab at 515, crossed over the river and then finally caught one. I had my longest conversation with a taxi driver, maybe a total of a dozen or so sentences we both understood. It was starting to rain and I was glad to be home. We played some dou di zhu then went out for dinner with Andrew, a kiwi, for some Hui food. Hui people are Chinese Muslims, unlike the Uighurs, who are essentially a Turkic people living in NW China (Xinjiang). We had a great meal of skewered lamb, chicken curry and beef and potatoes. We walked to Dave's Oasis and threw Sam a going-away/birthday party and split a bottle of Jameson. I got the bright idea to go to the Leg and Whistle to watch the late Liverpool Champions League qualifier, which ended nil-nil at 90 minutes. At that point I decided it was time to go home.
Today I slept in, then got up and went to meet a new contact about dubbing a Tibetan documentary on horse racing. There were some technical issues and after about an hour I got a ride back home. But I met a good contact, Ken, from Chongqing, who runs a translation firm. So he gave me his card and I'll do the narration for the movie next week after I get back. It would be pretty sweet to get into the entertainment industry, and this would be a hilarious way to get started. Anyways, I'm sitting in the AC waiting for some Western food, later we'll go to Sweetlicks for dinner and tomorrow Rick and I go up north, into the mountains, trying for the fourth time to make it to Wanglang. More exciting news to come.

Oh and if you wanted to, ya know, send me a letter or something, here's my address:

Reid Wyatt
sichuan sheng

cheng du shi

bai yu xiang

5 lou 10 hao

Saturday, August 23, 2008

And today the Olympics end. Time flies.

Sunday August 24 2008

Friday I got up early and caught a cab downtown to my job interview. It went well but they want me to work Sunday mornings. We'll see how things develop. After the interview, I went to Starbucks and got an Americano, then cabbed home. I got some lunch with Sam and then Rick and I went to the pool. It was really sunny and hot, I swam 1km and then we chilled and talked with some Chinese girls at the pool. It was a great afternoon.

Then Rick and I came back to my house and we met up with Sam, Iona and Fran for dinner in the neigborhood. They're both English girls who have been here for 2 years. After dinner they came by our house for a beer and we watched the USA-Argentina basketball game, by far the worst game of the tournament, because it wasn't close enough to be exciting and there were almost no dunks.

After the game, Rick, Sam and I went to Cafe Paname and had some drinks there and then walked over to Panda Bar and stayed out far too late.

Saturday I slept in and then ate some noodles on the way to the bus. Rick and I bussed over to the Sports University to play football with a bunch of other foreigners. We played 10 on 10 on a turf field. I slide tackled and got a great scab on my elbow and knocked Gaven out of the game for a while. When he came back in, it was on our side.

After the game, Terry, Andy, Rick and I all went down to the Shamrock, an expat bar that supports the football with free beer. So we sat around and traded China stories for the afternoon. Norman, a Canadian guy who plays soccer with us, was also there. Rick went home after a while and Andy, Terry, Norman and I stayed until the beer was done, then went to the Leg and Whistle to watch the football matches. Simon was there and watching the rugby with his wife and some other Aussie friends. Liverpool won on a 94th minute winner and I bet Andy 100-to-1 odds that Liverpool would win the league this year, on 100RMB. So if I'm right, he's out 10,000RMB. We'll see what happens in May.

Kevin, an American who also plays football with us, came by the Leg and after the Liverpool match he and I went across the street to another bar, owned by Chinese guys, to watch Arsenal. I started falling asleep during the halftime so I decided it was probably just a good idea to go home and sleep in my bed. It's been a good weekend and I've got a job interview, so there'll be more news soon.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chinese singles bar? Or: How to get a number without knowing Mandarin

Friday August 22, 2008
A one day update! Damn, my ego just got a boost!

Yesterday I slept for a long time (I don't know why but I seriously feel like I need 10 hours of sleep here – not tight) then got up and Sam and I went to get a bite of lunch (zhong shue zhao – dumplings in sweet-n-spicy oil) then I went to the coffee shop for a while and read. I also called a contact about a teaching job and set up an interview. Then Rick called me and he, Sam and I played dou di zhu (I misspelled this one before – pinyin zh is pronounced as j) at the tea-house midway between our houses. It was nice enough to sit outside during the day and was probably somewhere in the high-70s, low-80s.

Sam and I went to Green Dragon for dinner, got an amazing tofu dish, a sweet potato dish and an oily beef dish. It was way too much food and we stuffed ourselves before taking a nice stroll home. Yulin is a great neighborhood for people- and girl-watching, sitting in front of the glass windows of the restaurant, looking out at the constant streams of people walking by. There are, like, lots of, like, people in China.

We got ready for the night, Oz having alerted us of a good bar/club to meet at. Rick came by and met us, then we met Oz and his co-worker Justin, an American. The bar was alright, exceptionally overpriced (30RMB for a Bud Ice – 3x as expensive as a big Tsingtao and much worse) but the girls were beautiful, so I guess that's a plus. It was really busy and when I went to the bathroom I got a back massage as I washed my hands, and for me, that made the whole experience worthwhile. It was a first.

Sidenote: Height. In the US, I'm pretty tall. In China, I'm gigantic. I've seen seven Chinese people taller or about my height since I've been here. It'd be hard to quantify how many Chinese people I see in a day but it's a lot. I feel like in the US, I see at least a couple people taller than me every day. Additionally, it's not like in the US, where there are lots of dudes who are six feet tall. I'm, on average, six inches taller than Chinese guys, probably eight to ten inches taller than Chinese girls. I'll try to keep this count going for as long as I can. The main reason I bring it up is that yesterday I saw two guys my height or taller. Nuts!

So we sat around for a while. This bar was funny because there's an electronic board that posts singles ads, complete with the table number of the interested party. Rick wrote up an ad, I don't know if it was posted, but it was a pretty funny situation. Oz and Justin ended up joining the table of a couple cute Chinese girls but after a while realized they couldn't talk to them. It is very important to know Chinese in order to pick up Chinese girls, much less to communicate with them. This will be a large motivation for me. So they left, Sam and I sidled up and I had a good incomprehensible conversation with the girl next to me, but I was able to tell her my age, find out hers, learn her name and get her phone number. So I figure, after a couple weeks of Chinese class, I'll call her and see if we can get together. Gotta start somewhere.

The girls left and we figured we'd do the same. We took a cab home and played some dou di zhu. When we play dou di zhu, we bet 1RMB per hand. The profits from the game go to a general pot for a bottle of Jameson. As we grow nearer to Sam's departure and the pot gets closer to fruition, we have been playing more and more dou di zhu. It has quickly become my favorite card game. I stayed up way too late and got up early for an interview and got a job offer. But you'll just have to wait...until the next update.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Visitors and Poker

Thursday August 21, 2008

Monday I went to lunch with Rick and Sam, then got a coffee and went to the university to finish my registration. I paid and then grabbed a cab home with the proper paperwork and let the sweat cool in the nice air conditioning. Then I went over to Andy and Dwayne's apartment, which is about 10 minutes walk down the street. We played some Winning Eleven and watched soccer highlights. Then I went to Sweetlicks' to meet up with Rick and Alex and Sam for dinner. Alex's two friends, Spencer and Rebecca were here so after we ate, we took cabs downtown to walk among the lights and in Tianfu Square. Then we went to Jah Bar for a beer, Alex and his jet-lagged friends left early, then we played some do di ju and came home and watched Hancock, which was moderately funny.

Tuesday Sam and I got up and went to the PSB (Public Security Bureau) so I could apply for my student visa. There was no real complication and they accepted my passport for processing and I'll go back on the 25th to pay the fee and finalize everything. After that, we went to McDonald's and then came home, watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica and got changed for soccer.

Rick and I took a cab to the university and met Nate as he was coming through the gate. We walked to the field and had a good turnout but we kept getting beaten by one Chinese team, which played in an un-Chinese manner: they won headers, they were tall (almost all above 5'10”), they attacked well and as a team. We got pretty discouraged but I was able to make a great slide tackle on their best player, getting all ball, and have a nice tender spot on my leg to show for it. Slide tackling on turf sucks.

After the soccer, Rick and I grabbed a cab back to Yulin and we met Maggie Connolly (Grinnell, '07) and Felix Zhu (Grinnell, '05) for hot pot. We went to a nice place, it was really good. Hot pot is essentially a giant bowl of oil and spices that is heated from below. It is very spicy, not quite as spicy as I imagined, but the spice didn't overthrow the other flavors. We were a table of ten, with Maggie, Felix, Sam, Rick, Alex, Spencer, Rebecca, me and two Chinese friends of Alex. It was a great meal and afterward we walked back to my apartment, I took a shower and then we went out to Hemp House, seeing a giant spider in the stairwell en route.

We hung out at Hemp House for a while, played some pool and foosball, then they decided to close so we came back to Yulin and went to Middle Bar for a while. The party broke apart piece by piece and Sam, Rick and I ended up playing do di ju, then went home.

Wednesday I slept late and watched some Battlestar Galactica with Sam, then took a nap. I left the house for dinner, when we ate in the neighborhood, some okay Sichuan food. Then we came home and watched the USA basketball game. After that, we went to Oz's to play poker and Maggie and Felix met us. We had 8 players and I won a few early hands and was the big stack for most of the game. I put Felix all in and knocked him out and wound up winning 535RMB from my original buy-in of 30RMB. So it was a damn good night for poker and I paid for the cab home.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Rest of the Weekend

Monday August 18, 2008

Saturday I got up and went to the coffee-shop, walked home and then Sam, Alex and I went to KFC. It was good, pretty much like in the US, except a lot more hot girls were hanging out there. After that, we walked around computer city for a while, then went back to Yulin. Alex went home and Sam and I watched some Olympics, then Rick and I walked over to Alex's to watch Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, one of the stupidest comedies I've ever seen. Completely idiotic and sprawling, it was still moderately entertaining. The key to stupid comedies is to have extremely low expectations.

After the movie, Rick and I went down to the Leg and Whistle to watch football (soccer) and we ate some Korean food next door to the pub. I hung out with Tony, the owner, who supports our football team that plays Tuesdays. Sam came by and we watched the USA basketball team whoop Spain, then he and Rick went over to Panda Bar and I stayed to watch the Liverpool match. Simon came by, I met his wife, Liverpool won 1-0 on a late Torres goal. Then I met up with Sam and Rick and Alex at Panda Bar (conveniently just down the block), had a drink and then went home.

Sunday I slept in, met up with Rick and we walked to touch rugby, on a real grass field just off Renmin Lu. It was ultra-tiring, there were ten of us and the heat was tremendous. Rick had never played before and in my out-of-shape state, I was mainly gasping for air and slowly following the play, although I did manage to score a couple tries. My rugby skills aren't great but they haven't disappeared completely, which is nice. After the rugby game, Rick and I walked back to his place and dropped off our stuff, picked up some towels and went down to the pool. It was really nice, very crowded and outdoor but it felt so good to wash the sweat off. After about an hour hanging out at the pool, we walked to a restaurant near Rick's house and had some good Sichuan food. Then I took a cab home and showered and was prepared for a quiet, early night. Andy, a Scottish dude I play football with, called me up and asked me if I wanted to go down to the Leg to watch football. As I've been trying to hang out with him for the last week, I decided to go out. Another team-mate of ours, Terry, also Scottish, was there. We drank some pints and watched Chelsea win 4-0, then watched Man U tie Newcastle 1-1. After that, we took a cab home and I passed out in loads of bodily pain, which I still feel this morning. It's a good pain though.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Chinese Date and some Clubs

Saturday August 16, 2008
Thursday I got up and got coffee, went over to Alex's with Sam and hung out for a while, listened to some music, etc. Sam and I had baozi (dumplings) for lunch. We came back over to my house later and we ordered Sichuan food from our neighborhood spot and ate in the apartment. Then I went on a date with Ling Ling, a Chinese woman I met at a club a week ago. I got a cab and met with her at the Dubai Club, where her friend sang. He was a very good singer and we talked and had some drinks, I met her friend the singer and her brother. Then we went to another couple clubs and ended up at Hemp House, where we saw Alex, Sam and Oz.

Friday I slept in, Sam and I got lunch then ran some errands, including going to the fish market and buying goldfish for the piranhas. We came home and chilled, fed the starving piranhas a huge fish, it was pretty bestial to see them feast on a big fish. Then Sam went over to Alex's to watch The Dark Knight, I went out to dinner with Howard and his English tutor. We went to a very nice restaurant in downtown Chengdu, had some great Sichuan food, drank tea and talked about education and working in Chengdu.

I grabbed a cab back to Yulin and went over to Alex's, caught the end of The Dark Knight, then Alex and I watched the end of the USA-China women's volleyball match, it was very exciting and we won. After that, Sam, Rick and I met at Middle Bar and played do di ju for a while, then Sam and I went to a couple clubs looking for people to hook us up with drinks. We had a good time, didn't spend any money but also didn't get hooked up like we had hoped. Ah well. Tonight I plan on spending a lot of time at the Leg and Whistle, watching football (soccer) and drinking some brews.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Beginning of the Week

Thursday August 14, 2008
Monday I slept in, then Sam and I went to the dumpling place near the Coffee Beanery. We ate way to many dumplings, then got coffee and then walked home. We chilled at the house and watched the Olympics and were generally boring.

Rick, Sam and I went to a place near Rick's for dinner, had some great ribs and crispy rice stew, then Rick and I went to Hemp House because Sam wasn't feeling well. We hung out there, played some pool and saw Yeshi, Rick's Tibetan friend who was with a friend. They had some drinks with us, Rick went home, and I stayed out with them. We left the bar and went downstairs to a good shou cou (bbq) place and ate and talked and then took a cab home.

On Tuesday I got up and walked over to Rick's. We took a cab north to a wholesale market, which is one of the most incredible shpping experiences I've ever had. Essentially, it is blocks and blocks of stalls, set off of roads, in mazy courtyards and in basements. The stalls are not organized in any way, and sell everything from kitchen supplies to soap to water fountains to ashtrays to posters to athletic equipment, etcc. And the best part is that bargaining is allowed. So I bought 3 knock-off soccer jerseys, a soccer ball, some pillowcases, a tea cup with strainer, a half-pound of rubber bands, a bunch f double-A batteries and a retro Montreal Expos baseball cap. It was a good afternoon of shopping.

Then we caught a cab down to Sichuan University for soccer, arrived about half an hour early and warmed up. We trounced the Chinese again, although I once again failed to score given a great opportunity. After the game Rick and I high-tailed it to the Bookworm for trivia. We met a few other expats on our team, mainly Brits, and took second place. Trivia is every other week so it should be a good activity. After trivia I was exhausted, took a cab home by myself and showered before bed.

Wednesday I got up and watched No Country For Old Men, Sam and I ordered food and then watched some Olympics. Then we went to a neighborhood tea-house and whiled away the afternoon playing do di ju and sipping tea – it was a very Chengdu afternoon. Then we hung out at Rick's place for a little while and met up with Pete for dinner, walking through the rain. I bought an umbrella, as a basketball jersey doesn't keep the rain off too well. We went to Sweetlick's (as we call it) in Yulin and got some great food, including some great sweet n sour chicken (the first time I've had it in China). Oh, also, there are no fortune cookies in China.

After dinner we grabbed a cab to Oz and Callum's for poker. They live at the 29th story of an apartment building downtown that afforded great views of the river and the other skyscrapers. We had 8 players (Adam – English, Oz – English, Callum – Scottish, Pete, Rick, me, Sam and Nate – all Americans) and played til late. Oz, Adam and Nate went to go to shou cou and Sam and I took a cab home and fed the piranhas.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Weekend Update

Friday Rick and I left the house early (he stayed here to watch baseball with Sam the night before) and made it to the bus station by 8:10. Unfortunately, the bus was sold out so we went to another bus station and caught a bus to Ya'an. Once there, we took a van to Shangli, a village on a river. Ancient Shangli is just a couple minutes up the road but we walked through the modern village and then down a track through some cornfields. It was hot and muggy, especially with our packs. We came out on a hillside track and walked straight into a pagoda. It overlooked the plain, filled with rice paddies and cornfields running into each other. A line of white houses stood out on the horizon in front of the hills rising through the mist. It was a pretty incredible sight. Rick and I took a breather there and then walked toward the town, crossing a pretty bridge and then walking along the main street, paved in large stones and with tables in front of the various tea-houses, restaurants and guest-houses. We walked around for a bit, found a tomb of the Han family and ate lunch. We then got a room in a guest-house for 40RMB/night, with two single beds. Our room opened onto a balcony overlooking another old brick bridge and the main street.

We walked out along the river for a while and then followed a road into the hills. The road became a gravel road, then dirt, before ending in a pile of rocks and becoming a paved footpath. We wound our way through a hamlet, with occassional houses on either side and the common cornfields where the forest had been cleared. Luckily we didn't have our packs with us and the afternoon light was beginning to drop behind the hills so it was a nice little hike. Our trail followed the stream faithfully an d became a muddy track dotted with rocks. As we turned a corner, a woman with a small hand scythe told us we had to turn around. After trying to explain to her that we were just following the path, she menacingly gestured with her scythe and we decided to just turn around.

As we walked back into the dispersed hamlet, she asked us to her house for some hot water. Never one to decline a drink, Rick and I followed her across a small stone bridge to her house, a modest yet sturdy building standing amid a copse of trees. The hills began to rise almost immediately behind it and the property was ringed with corn. The woman pulled out a couple of stools and we sat outside while she brought us bowls of hot water. She also pushed some cucumber on us, peeling the skin off and then handing us each half of a giant cucumber. It was a pretty funny moment, sitting on this woman's porch, drinking hot water and eating cucumber like an ear of corn.

Soon her husband came out and we were introduced to his mother as well. Then his twin brother showed up, introduced himself and we found out he lives in Chengdu but just came down for the weekend. At this point they demanded that we stay for dinner and offered to walk us home in the dark with flashlights. It was very nice and soon we all came inside to watch the opening of the Olympic Games, sitting on short stools and watching on a new, large TV inside a house in the woods in a hamlet outside an ancient town. You literally would not be able to get a truck within 500 yards of this house. It was pretty cool.

So we watched the opening ceremony, which was really terrific, ate a massive meal (there's a picture of it on my photo page) and drank many toasts of beer, again drinking out of bowls. I also understood the Chinese habit of throwing trash and bones under the table – the cats and dogs get to eat that way. Even in the city, it is absolutely customary to spit and drop bones under the table. It's totally a holdover from a rural existence, where those animals also serve other purposes (dogs – security, cats – kill mice). The twin brothers walked us home and we fell into a deep and peaceful sleep. It was a great first day in the country and the air quality difference was awesome. Also, it was great to see beautiful hills with the characteristic Chinese mist.

On Saturday Rick and I got up, ate some lunch, walked along the river and then hitched a ride up the road to a spring. We hiked up to a few shrines on the hillside and walked around the complex, taking some pictures. A couple of Chinese mothers took pictures of their kids with Rick and I and then we got a ride back to Shangli with them. Once back, we played some mah-jong with them and drank tea as the rain started. They went back to Ya'an and we walked back to our guest-house.

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading on our balcony, overlooking the river and listening to the waterfall. Rick taught me a new word – bishu – meaning to escape the summer heat by chilling in the mountains. It was so rainy and cold that we put on pants and sweatshirts and enjoyed the downpour.

We ate dinner at the guest house and then walked around town, checked email and ended up playing do di ju with some Chinese guys, who ended up videotaping us as we drew a crowd of onlookers. Then we walked to another bar, in search of cold beer, found a place and talked with the owners, who gave us the beers on the house. A quiet day but a good one, complete with rainy chilling.

Sunday we woke up and caught a bus to Bifeng Gorge, or to the entrance. We started hiking up a winding mountain rode and after about fifteen minutes we caught a ride with a couple and their young son. At the top we bought tickets and walked to the scenic spot and took a long elevator down to the bottom of the gorge. There's a picture of this huge elevator on my flickr page.

We hiked through the gorge, walking around waterfalls and the stream, passing vendors camped beneath small overhangs. We hiked all the way out of the gorge and then walked to a temple. Or to what we thought was a temple. We hiked about 40 minutes straight up the mountain, walking through a pine forest and up an endless series of steps to a beautiful temple on top of the mountain, overlooking the plain below. We chatted a bit with the caretaker and then hiked back down. We took a bus to a panda research station and then walked around a bit and actually saw some pandas outside of their cages, in the forest. It was nice to see them that way.

We waited for a bus for a while and went back to the main entrance and took a bus back to Ya'an and bought some bus tickets. To waste the time before the bus, we ate lunch and watched the Argentina-Lithuania basketball game and drank a beer. Then we took our bus back to Chengdu. As we were pulling in we could actually see the sun setting behind the mountains, a rare sight from cloudy Chengdu. It looked just like I imagined it would, like the Rockies, a jagged chain rising from the plain. We even got home early and watched the US destroy China in basketball and then played some do di ju before bed.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Rain and sleep

Wednesday August 6, 2008

Man I've really fallen off in terms of writing. Must be more diligent. Now I can't even remember what I did on Monday. Uh, yeah, I called a woman at the university where I want to sign up for classes and she told me what to bring when I come to meet her. I think I mainly stayed home, slept, stayed out of the rain and the heat. Although, the rain has been making it cooler, so that's nice.

Yesterday I went to Rick's house and we walked around the market near his apartment. We walked through a nice little park on the way, which Rick said had been packed after the earthquake with people sleeping outside. The market is basically two floors lined with booths and makeshift booths. We got there a little late (around 1 or so) and walked around, bought some stuff for lunch including some spicy buns, dried sweet potatoes (really good), a honey-roasted duck (excellent) and some cake that tasted like zucchini bread. The market was dominated by meat, spices and vegetables. Also we saw the tofu sellers, with large gelatinous blocks of tofu in lots of colors. I'll post some pictures of the market and stuff soon.

We ate lunch back at Rick's house and then watched the beginning of The Assassination of Jesse James, which is both long (almost 3 hrs) and boring. I fell asleep about a dozen times watching the first half on Rick's couch but the duck could be to blame for that. Then I walked home, got changed for soccer and grabbed a cab and picked Rick up. We walked through a different gate of Sichuan University, this one was a scenic walk, I wish I had brought my camera. We played badly, losing 3-2 to the Chinese we played against. I met a few new players and then came home and showered, then spoke with a Linfield College student named Howard who was going out with his friends. He really wanted me to go so he came by in a cab and he, Sam and I rolled out to Club 88.

“Mao would be rolling over in his grave” - the Chinese club experience is unique to me, for a couple reasons: 1. live performances of songs in both Mandarin and English, including rap music. This is sometimes good and sometimes bad. 2. No dance floor – that's right, the huge club (half the size of a football field, the size of a huge bar) is all tables, with waiters coming around in sailor costumes to mix your drinks and bring you very overpriced beers. I'm not really complaining though because I wasn't allowed to pay for anything – when someone in China asks you to come out with them for beers or dinner, they refuse to allow you to pay.

So the club was packed, we met up with some of Howard's friends from Chengdu who also study in the US. They were very nice and pretty young (19-20), so it was culture-shock in a couple of ways. I had a great time, Sam and I left around 1 after about 3 hours of hanging out with these kids. We went back to Yulin and went home.

The real reason why we didn't stay out late was because Rick and I were supposed to catch a bus to the nature reserve this morning. I got up in time and was downstairs at about 820 and Rick was waiting with a cab. We tried to get to the other side of the city but the traffic was abysmal. We got more than halfway there but by then it was 9 and that was when the bus left. The place we're going is not very touristy or well-populated so there is only 1 bus per day. I kept falling asleep in the back of the cab, exhausted from soccer and the club. I got back home around 945 and fell back asleep. I got up around 2 and walked over to Alex's, played some Halo and read for a while. Then we went to get Hui food (Hui are Chinese Muslims, but a separate people from the Uighur, who live in Xinjiang) and came home. I'm utterly exhausted so I'll go to bed soon and be more prepared for tomorrow's cab ride. I think we're planning on leaving at 730 to get a jump on the traffic. I'm very excited for a few days in rural China, the bus ride is like 6 hrs north so Rick and I will probably be gone until Saturday or Sunday. Should get some sweet pics/stories while I'm gone.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Weekend Update

Sam and I went to brunch on Saturday with Alex and a friend of his from Kunming. We ate at Grandma's Kitchen, a Western-style breakfast with French Toast, scrambled eggs, etc. It was great. Then we came back home and stayed out of the heat. I did some Chinesepod lessons and we went out for dumplings with Rick for dinner. Then we walked to Middle Bar and I saw a place where all kinds of old dudes were playing Go, marked it in my memory map. At Middle Bar we met up with a friend of Sam's who writes for More Chengdu, a Westerner magazine, and an American named Van, who works in Shanghai and has a girlfriend here. We sat around and had a couple of drinks, the weather was just cool enough that it was nice outside. After that, Sam and I walked home and got food from a nice place on the walk home that he hadn't tried before, it was really good. Then we came home and went to bed.

Sunday I got up and went to the Go house in the back alley. I watched for a minute and then was able to tell one of the men that I wanted to play Go with him. We sat down inside and set up the board. After about 5 minutes in which he had effectively killed more than half of my groups, we decided I should play someone a little worse. So a guy about my age sits down, who also trounces me, but not as bad. Then I play against him again, but with a 4-stone handicap. I lose again. A third dude sits down, probably late-30s, early 40s. He gives me a 9-stone handicap. This is the longest game, at the end they count up the points and give me a thumbs up, indicating that I had finally won. At this point, I decided it was a good note to go out on, so I packed up my things, told them thank you, and walked back home. The heat by this time (130, 2 PM) was awful, so I went back to my apartment and didn't leave for the rest of the day. Sam and I watched the USA-Russia game, sat around, he reinstalled windows on his laptop and I sat around and read. I went to bed at 930, feeling tired and sick. My allergies here have been ridiculous, even worse than in Austin. I have not been able to get rid of this congestion for the life of me. Other than that, things are pretty good, just trying to keep learning and see new things everyday, which is hard in the heat. My chopstick skills are off the hook right now though, and the food is still great.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Seventh Day Chengdu

I didn't do much on Thursday other than watch the USA trounce Turkey in basketball and go to bed early. I also read a lot, studied Chinese and enjoyed the air conditioning. It was hot. And I said hi to a cute Chinese girl and smiled at her. I didn't really know what else to say so I left it at that.

Yesterday I got up early, decided to take a new route to get to the coffee place. I took a wrong turn on the main street (Fangcao Dongjie) and didn't realize for about 15 minutes, then took another wrong turn and by the time I got to the coffee place I was soaked with sweat even though it wasn't yet ten o'clock. So the ten minute walk became about 40 minutes as I got lost on the streets of Chengdu. Then I ordered my coffee in grammatically correct Chinese and looked up to see Alex at the table next to the counter. We chatted for a bit, then I walked back home and did some Chinesepod lessons.

I met up with Rick for lunch a bit later, then went back to my house and hung out with Sam for a while, finished my book and then we walked over to Alex's.
EDIT: There was also a 5.8 earthquake. It was the first of my life and just kind of weird. Dogs started barking and it was just like everything was wobbling a little bit. Very hard to describe what it feels like but I was sitting down so it was prob. less intense. It's always interesting in China!
We went outside to see the eclipse but it was too cloudy so we didn't really see anything. Then Alex and Sam and I went to dinner someplace near Alex's, it was really busy and loud, which is to be expected at more normal dinner hours (around 6-7, but we usually eat later, around 8 or 9).

We walked back to our apartment after, watched the piranhas eat and I took a shower, then we went out to Cafe Paname, a more Euro-centric Westerner bar. It's right near the Leg and Whistle, across the street from the new Hooters. It was a cool scene, we met up with a Scottish guy named Andy who lives in the neighborhood who does music stuff and told me if I wanted to come check out his equipment to come by. Also, I talked to the owner of the bar, a French dude named David, about possibly DJ'ing there and he gave me his card. It was nice to hear some hiphop and popular American music for a little while. After the bar we got some late-night food then took a cab back home to Yulin.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fifth Day Chengdu

July 31, 2008
Yesterday I got up, went to the coffee shop, studied Chinese for a while and saw Alex for a minute, then walked back to the apartment. It was really hot so I put on Brazil (1985), which was pretty weird but good overall, a bit drawn-out. Sam and I ordered some food delivered, spicy Sichuan food. Then we went to the police station to register, got really sweaty in the process, waiting outside after a really hard rain, hot and humid and sunny. Then we went to a computer city on the first ring road.

“Computer city”, as these buildings are called, are multi-story electronic malls. They sell more high-cost goods on the lower floors (video cameras, digi cams, laptops, monitors, etc.) and these are all grouped by manufacturer, with their own little display area of glass cases and tons of advertisements. The upper floors sell videogame systems and other hardware, as well as bootleg games and dvds. We were eventually led into a room on the eighth floor and looked through some dvds, then we went out onto the first ring road and waited for a cab or bus for about 20 minutes, but it was rush hour (about 6 or 630), so we started walking back to the apartment, stopping in a fake-Nike store on the way and talking with the girls who worked there. Then we continued our walk back to Yulin and cooled off in the house.

We met up with Alex and Rick for dinner, walked somewhere in Yulin for more spicy Sichuan food. It was pretty good, I went home and took a shower then we went to Jah Bar. We talked for a while with the owner and a middle-aged Chinese couple about the changing face of China and the new generation of “little Emperors.” We hung out there for a while, listened to some James Brown and petted some dogs, then we went to Hemp House, which is in the second story of an apartment building overlooking one of the rivers. It's a sometimes more-Chinese, sometimes more-Westerner bar (apparently these things go in cycles). We met three Americans there, one of whom, Nate, played pool with us and is from northern Illinois. We talked with them for a while and then the bar closed so we went home. Sam and I watched Kill Bill 2 then went to bed.

For the first time I was able to understand an entire sentence I overheard – Alex asked for the bill – women yao maidan. The Chinese is coming along slowly, as is my internal map of the city. The ring road concept makes things hard sometimes because they curve, but the naming of streets is beginning to make sense, as middle roads become north and south or east and west at either end.

The process of learning Chinese is definitely a process of building by small increments, like assembling a wall of Legos. Once the first walls are put together they can be reassembled to create more and more sentences. I'm at the absolute low end of the spectrum but it is beginning to become easier and my ear is starting to begin to discern more and more.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fourth Day - Chengdu

Wednesday July 30, 2008
Yesterday I slept in, Sam and I got some lunch delivered to us (pseudo-mashed potatoes, kung pao chicken and fried rice) then he came with me to an interview at an English school for professionals called New Dynamic Institute. It was in the eighth floor of a mall, but it overlooked a beautiful rooftop garden with a square building set above a circular pool. The interview went fairly well, I learned a bit about how to answer the questions talking with Sam after the interview. It seemed like a good, formal place to teach professionals but it seemed like they were looking for more hours than I am ready to commit to right now.

Sam and I went home afterward, he met with the landlord to sign a new lease and I got ready for soccer, then met up with Rick to go play on the public field at Sichuan University. We took a bus from Yulin, it was really crowded, not too surprising as it was about six o'clock. The soccer field is surrounded by a track so we warmed up a bit while waiting for the other team members to show up. Once we had assembled a nine-man team we took the field against a team of Chinese university students. They gave us one of their players so we had even sides. Our team is made up of Westerners, mainly Scots, Aussies, English and Americans. Chinese players are fast, good on the ball but very selfish and flashy. They cannot create space or pass the ball effectively and they don't contest headers. So we won pretty handily, about 8 or nine goals for us to 2 for them. It was a lot of fun, very tiring and we all got super sweaty in the heat. Then we walked to the Leg and Whistle, a British pub. We walked across the campus of Sichuan University, about the size of a major US university campus like Texas or Wisconsin. When we got to the bar, Tony, the owner, gave us all a free beer (which I guess happens every week). Rick and I stayed around for another one, talked with Andy (a Scotsman who owns a bar called Dave's Oasis) and Dwayne (a Canadian English teacher). Then Rick and I got dinner and took a taxi back to Yulin, I took a shower and read a bit before bed.

Most transportation here in Chengdu is by taxi or bus, lots of people ride bikes but it's really hot and humid so it's a little more comfortable to take a taxi or bus, about half of them are air-conditioned, about the same proportion of restaurants and bars as well.

Things don't seem especially crowded, which is surprising. There are always people around but it's rare to be in a crush or a huge shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. Chinese people are very noisy, vendors walk through the neighborhood and into the courtyard yelling services (like knife sharpener was an example Sam gave). But overall, it's like a big city: traffic, rich food smells, etc. The streets themselves are very clean, they're washed every night, and businesses are in a constant state of cleaning.

Rick and Alex run an eco-tourism company, and Rick teaches a bit on the side. About half of the other ex-pats I've met are teachers, some work remotely.

I don't really have much of a take on the pollution because it is naturally cloudy here all the time. We're in the Sichuan basin, so we're basically surrounded by mountains and rivers. So Chengdu sits in the bowl of Sichuan, probably holding in the pollution. So far, traffic hasn't seemed very bad and while I've spent most of my time in Yulin and the other southern parts of the city, it seems very manageable.

The city largely consists of seven-story apartment buildings like mine, with shops on the outside and a courtyard on the inside. Buildings over seven stories are required to have an elevator so more modern buildings are quite a bit taller and have an elevator.


The stupid server isn't allowing me to upload them, so I'll just post a flickr account. Here's the address:

Also I am now on skype - username is reidwyatt. holla at me!

Third Post - Chengdu

Sam is a friend of Max Berson, a friend of mine from Grinnell. He has lived in China for two eyars and went to Berkeley for undergrad. He, Alex, and Rick, are all 25 y/o Americans who live here in Chengdu. You will hear about them a lot.

Yesterday I woke up early, around 7, and read in bed til 9, wrote a bit and then walked to the coffee shop to meet up with Alex. It was great to have 2 americanos, which cost a little bit less than a dinner for 3 people (40RMB), first coffee in three days. I started studying mandarin from a book I borrowed from Sam, read a few chapters and started to put some things together. Coffee is conveniently a cognate (kaifei) and the tones are slowly coming together. Then Alex and I went back to his apartment, he did some work and I played some video games, then we went to Subway with Sam. Subway was alright, very expensive in contrast with most places, I got a meatball sub, which they put lettuce and american cheese on, and the marinara was really thin so I had them add some bbq sauce which turned out well. Then Sam and I went to Trustmart, which I think is owned by Walmart. I bought a set of sheets, a lamp, a converter, toothpaste, etc. I also had to buy a plastic bag, a small step towards environmentalism in China. Then we came home, it was really hot so we just hung out in the living room for a while then we went over to Alex's house and played some Halo, I started writing chinese characters, which brought back memories of the chinese calligraphy class I took with Andrew Hsieh's wife back at Grinnell. Then we went out for dinner in the neighborhood and went back home to shower. Alex and Rick came over around 11, we drank some baijaio (firewater) and then walked down the block to Little Bar, where we had some drinks with some nice Tibetan ladies. We talked there for a while, Alex went home soon after, then we went by the convenience store and bought some beers and came upstairs and listened to music and talked for a while. Rick and the two Tibetans left around five and Sam and I stayed up talking til 615, the sun was coming up and I heard a rooster crow twice. It was the first day that I felt really glad I'm here, that my friends here are great, and that as long as you keep an open mind and a smile on your face, shit will be well. Also, keeping an ever-open ear for Chinese is crucial, as is keeping up the diligence of writing and studying every day. I try to use my new words more and more, and I know now that I made the right move. But the first day was a huge culture shock, and last night at the bar, I busted out the meditation I know the two Tibetan girls dropped their jaws and Rick and Sam were just as surprised that I knew some Tibetan. So things are really good, it was a bit uncertain at first but I think it's going to be great.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Second Post - Chengdu

Monday July 28 2008
Day 2 in Chengdu was pretty good. I managed to sleep until about 1030, then read in the apartment for a while. Sam and I got some lunch, then went to the bank to change money. We then took a bus into downtown, walked around a bit, saw the huge Mao statue in the square from the bus and lots of new buildings. The cell-phone mall was a bit crazy, especially the prices the Chinese will pay for phones – a lot of really nice models are over $400. Per my instructions, Sam just asked for what their cheapest phone was, a new Nokia, pretty basic, so I got that. My Chinese number is 13666249331. Then we walked to a pet store near there and got some goldfish for the piranhas at the apartment, looked around at some really cute baby turtles, then caught a cab back to the apartment as it started to get a lot hotter (around 4 pm). We listened to some music back at the apartment and played some Wii, then Alex, another American our age, came over and we went out for Muslim food, passing the new Hooters on the way. Alex and Sam were pretty excited about that prospect, especially because the massive sign out from just says Hooters Chengdu. They said it didn't even have signs up a week ago so that is a new American business here in the city.
After the Muslim food (they used some other word for it but it's escaping me now), we went back to Alex's apartment and just chilled out, we were all pretty tired. The high humidity really takes it out of you, and the constant stimulation of being in a new culture is taxing as well. I was, however, able to walk Sam and I home from Alex's, based on landmarks and my internal compass, and got us home the most direct way, so I was pretty happy about that. Now that I've got a phone I feel a lot more comfortable just going out and exploring along with my camera – walking a city is definitely the best way to get to know it so over the next few days I think I'll try to hit some of the sites in Rough Guide by myself and see how that goes.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

First Post - Sun July 27 2008

Well here I am in Yulin, Chengdu, Sichuan. I'm in my apartment, on the fifthfloor of a walkup (ie no elevator, the more traditional style of Chinese apartment living). The buildings are like tenements, with a central courtyard which the apartments look down into. The windows are enclosed in cages, I would imagine so one could grow flowers or herbs on their slats. The apartment is a lot bigger than I expected, I have my own bedroom with an air conditioner which is very necessary in this summer heat and humidity. I'll just talk about a few things today, so as to save some fodder for the coming days.
1.Chengdu – Chengdu is a major city, the fourth or fifth biggest in China. It is the capital of Sichuan Province, in the southwest, where the earthquake was. Apparently the city has not been effected too much but the shock of the earthquake was enough to send some expats packing. I live in the southern area of the city, just outside the first ring road. My neighborhood, Yulin, is up-and-coming, with a lot of boutique clothing stores, restaurants and bars, and even a local cafe (founded 2005) that supposedly has okay coffee. More on that to come, once I've experienced it. China is roughly the size and shape of the US, and if you overlay a map of the lower 48 states over China, Sichuan is in about the same position as Texas, and about the same size. To give a little context in terms of population, Texas has about 25 million inhabitants, Sichuan has 90 million. Chengdu is the largest city in Western China, a major intellectual, cultural and manufacturing center. It is known for tea-houses and a laid-back population.
2.Chinese and Chinese people – Unlike the other countries I've been abroad in, I came to China with virtually none of the local language. The lack of cognates and the disconnect with Western verb roots has been hard so far but will force me to learn Mandarin. Additionally, unlike in Western Europe, it really is not possible to go up to someone on the street and ask them if they speak English, in English. So the necessity to learn Mandarin should serve me well and help to encourage me. The unintelligibility of Chinese characters is also a major hurdle, especially for someone like me who is a compulsive reader. So it is a good thing that I have a well-experienced hand as my roommate, Sam, who has been here for two and a half years.
3.Tea – I just had my first experience with loose tea. I figured I would just sort of add hot water and then wait for a while for the tea to settle to the bottom. After about thirty minutes of waiting, I discerned that wouldn't work too well. So, after a little google searching, I discovered that the key is to strain the loose tea. Needless to say, I'm drinking some very strong green tea but thinking of all the antioxidants my body is enjoying right now.
4.Expats – Sam came and picked me up from the airport, we went to a local cafe to hang out and played do di jo, a brilliant Chinese three-player card game. After a couple hours, Rick (another American) showed up and then his friend Nancy came (a Chinese woman). Rick and Nancy proceeded to do some translation for some business proposal on a meat company, while Sam and I sat around and I asked him some general sort of questions. I also discovered Tsingtao Black at this time, a malty, brown, stoutish beer. Sam and I got some dumplings and came back, only to find they hadn't even finished the first page. Chinese characters are very dense in text, I surmised. I'm getting a little off topic here, but Sam and I went back to the apartment and chilled for a while. Nancy and Rick met us for dinner, some Szechuan food, fairly spicy, somewhat sweet, along with some deep-fried corn kernels and some green vegetable, as well as some smoked ribs. The food here is awesome, by the way. So then we went to a new expat bar near the second ring road (about 10 min in a taxi, cost about $1.25) called the Leg and Whistle (est 2007). It was packed, with a number of Brits with their shirts off in the steamy night, celebrating a friends birthday. We sat outside and chatted with an older Aussie for a while, drank a beer and ended up meeting the captain of the football team I'll be joining (as Rick told me, we speak international English here, so henceforth football=soccer). He came up to me in my Celtic jersey and we chatted for a while, a very friendly Scot from Glasgow. After a couple hours we came home and Sam and I fed the piranhas. It was a good show. So the expat community is live here in Chengdu, always a strong possibility for an escape if thats necessary. But so far things are good, happy to be settled and unpacked.

EDIT: Chongqing, not Chengdu, is the biggest city in Western China. It was formerly a part of Sichuan Province and became an autonomous municipality in 1997.