Whatever my expectations here were, it’s really hard to say. I didn’t know what I would find, but it’s not really like I would have guessed. The city of Chengdu, at least in the area we are in, reminds me a lot of Taipei and Guadalajara. I stand out, but not in a way that I’m unfamiliar with. I probably wouldn’t even notice most of the time if it didn’t come up in training so often.
The one time I definitely noticed it began when i saw someone following me and a couple other volunteers after we finished playing basketball. I didn’t see a threat, his body language was all wrong for that, so I brushed it off as someone who was just headed in the same direction as we were. Then he stopped us and asked to take a picture with us. It was amusing, and something i experienced with people in Taiwan from time to time. Typically they were friends, but when in Rome…
The food here is amazing, in some ways equal to Mexico, but with more heat and less aguacate. Everything is cheap and I’ve yet to have a bad meal here. The people are often friendly, and little things that I’ve learned about Chinese customs go a long way to smooth the way. I have trouble with the dialect here sometimes, but with how fast they will be pushing us to learn it wont be long before I can get through most of a day without English.
The classes are nothing new, the real difference is that we have more teachers and a lot of hours lined up. The teacher I have now is really good, and clearly has a lot of experience. Were focusing on spoken Chinese more than anything, making it easier for us to integrate into the community, but I still want to learn how to read and write the language too. Dedication and time, as always. Were supposed to have a lot more time once we get to our sites, and I plan to work on my language skills as much as possible.
The one downside to being here is the air, but it’s not as bad as I expected it to be. I walked for an hour or so down the back streets and alleys near the hotel, and I can smell the dirt on my clothes. It reminds me of the days when I was a plumber, going home stinking of sweat and dirt, but it’s not having the effect on me it did in Taiwan. Maybe it’s all the burning spirit money there, I have yet to find anyone following that tradition in Chengdu.
The city is strange, a mix of aging concrete among massive construction sites. Repairs, renovations, demolitions, and new construction surrounds us, and the sky is often grey, but there have been some good days. I like it here, and I know I can call this place home for the next few months. I may get placed here, and I think I would enjoy that as much as anywhere I might find myself in this country. And my time has only just begun.