Thursday, August 28, 2008

Onward to Chengdu! (August 29, 2008)

This is an adventure! I arrived in Chengdu on Wednesday evening (August 27) via China East Airlines, accompanied by my “waiban” (an assistant from the University’s International
Office). A driver from the University picked us up at the airport. He was a bit grumpy at the sight of my luggage, but otherwise the arrival was smooth, if strange and a bit overwhelming.

Breakfast time on Thursday morning came before I knew it. I dressed and went downstairs to the dining room that is part of the guest house. There was a buffet spread on the center table. I had a bit of everything, though I must admit that I didn’t know what anything way. I pretended it was chopped peanuts mixed with celery strips. I don’t think it was. But, pretending gave me a sense of being on top of it all, something I definitely was not.

The parts of Chengdu that I have seen seem to live up to its lovely reputation. The campus of Sichuan University is mostly built of brick -- so it immediately reminded me a little of Carolina, right down to the red bricks used for many of the paths across campus. There are many trees and fewer cars than in Shanghai. At the north and south gate to the University, there is a policeman who makes it his business to enforce what the stop lights already say. But his presence does make it much safer for pedestrians to safely confront the sea of bikers and cars.

My apartment is small, with a living room and bed room and small balcony. The bathroom has the necessities, including a washing machine. The kitchen … well there must have been a page missing from the Orientation handbook! Not a pot; not a pan; not a dish or a knife, fork or spoon. Not even a pair of chopsticks! There is a refrigerator and a gas hot plate, but no oven. How will I bake those brownies that I brought along? All of this is fixable – stores have many of the identical pots and pans that we buy at home, at a half to a third the price. My “waiban” was surprised that I planned to do any cooking while I am here – after all, Sichuan cooking is known all over China. I guess these different assumptions were the first of many cross-cultural moments I will have.

The apartment does have quite a good internet cable; a high speed cable replaced the earlier version just a year or two ago. This will certainly come in handy.

The Orientation for the Fulbright Scholars and families in Shanghai on Monday and Tuesday was very well done. We had speakers from the Consulate and the Embassy, from the Fulbright Program and from among past Fulbright Scholars. There was a separate program for the children – about 10 in all. They went to the Aquarium and a number of other places that kids would enjoy. Both they and we became quite good friends in even this short time. We were spoiled – there is a new complex in Shanghai, where many of the Consulates are housed. Part of the complex is a hotel, the Portman Ritz Carlton. Our rooms were lovely and each had a wide screen TV for us to watch the Olympic Closing ceremonies and the Theatrical Spectacle Opening in Denver, aka the Democratic National Convention. Just outside the main door of the hotel, to the right was a Starbucks. A good relatively inexpensive start to the day.

There are lots of curious things about China – one of them is that the entire country, from east to west – is in the same time zone. As a result, in Shanghai, in the east, the sun comes up at about 5 or 5:25. Here in the west, or southwest, the sun doesn’t rise until closer to 7:00 am. Yes, in fact, the hours of the work day has been adjusted in parts of the country to adjust for this particular curiosity.

There will be more to tell, I am sure. I am grateful that the Internet enables us to keep in touch, even across 12 or so time zones. I hope you are all well. My best wishes to each of you.