Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Life: Moving to Chengdu

Moving to Chengdu
I've been a volunteer for five years, so why in the world would I want to remain an additional year?  In Chengdu, there are higher playing jobs!  Instead of a 1,500 RMB living allowance, having to budget and resist temptation, I could be making 6,000-10,000 RMB living a comfortable life, mixing a local Chinese lifestyle with a Western one.  It doesn't make sense to be a PCV for only one year in Chengdu.  In my opinion, one year isn't enough time to build community and start secondary projects.  The reason I stayed in Peace Corps for one more year was to get exposure to the Peace Corps office and to see how thing are run from a Peace Corps staff's point of view, a type of internship to broaden my skills.
There is a hiccup to my plans though.  Originally the PCV leader position was going to be a part-time teaching job then work in the office twice a week.  Due to complications, there is no longer a PCVL position and now I have to be a regular PCV with a full time teaching load.
My Host Family
I had a great four day homestay with my Chinese host family.  I stayed with a newly wed couple where the wife is a teacher at my new college.  We lived in a new flat, beautifully decorated with wood floors in an apartment complex that had an outdoor swimming pool.  I slept in the only bedroom while the couple went to the building next door and stayed with the husband's family. 
The mother-in-law cooked us three delicious meals.  Sichuan food is absolutely amazing!  There is such a variety of vegetables and flavor.  Plus the father-in-law loves meat. 
We drove everywhere, but I kept a mental check on the bus lines so I'd know how to get places on my own.  The teacher took me to see Harry Potter in 3D and we drank tea and played Mahjong for a whole afternoon before having hot pot while watching a Sichuan opera show.  It was an enjoyable host stay, chill, relaxing, plenty of time for myself, and extremely informative about Chengdu's local customs.
My New Flat
It is HUGE!  The living room feels like a classroom that can fit 20 desks except the room is completely empty except for a telephone and a black leather couch.  The dining area is empty except for a fridge.  The kitchen is well stocked with a microwave, stove, and dish drying machine.  The washing machine is high tech.  Push one button and it automatically runs through four cycles compared to my old machine which was more manual. 
The bedroom has a closet, two desks, and two twin beds and an air conditioner.  It is a smaller room than the living room making it easier to cool and to heat.  It is where I'll live.
The bathroom has a bathtub and I am not too excited about having to keep the grim clean.  The college provided a computer but there is no Internet so it is hard to have an online presence.  I am back to handwriting letters and blogs posting them whenever I visit the PC office.
My New Neighborhood
My college is in the middle of office buildings with a few restaurants, the cheap 6 RMB meals mixed with the fancier 30 RMB meals.  Then after a 10 minute walk, I am in suburbia America with its Ikea parking lots, Auchan (French supermarket), and an upscale shopping mall with a movie theater whose tickets are 120 RMB, a Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut, a Tex-Mex restaurant, and Starbucks.  Then if you continue walking for another 10 minutes, there is a more typical Chinese neighborhood with tea houses, massage places, barber shops, a farmer's market, parks with people dancing, doing Tai Qi, and playing with their grandchildren.  Mixed in with this local color is the upscale imported Western food supermarkets of Sabrina's and Carrefour.  My old sitemate described it perfectly, "Best of both worlds."
My New Lifestyle
It took a couple of weeks to adjust to the big city, but finally I'm enjoying it!  I grab a 6:30 am bus and after 20 minutes arrive at the West gate of Sichuan University and then walk 20 minutes to the office.  I work for a day by helping PC staff and by helping with various sessions of PST like a PCV panel or helping the trainees with their semester course plans for the start of school.  At around 6 pm I leave the office and head home to crash.  Rush hour traffic is heavy but on a bus with AC it isn't too annoying.
It is exciting being in a bigger city, exploring neighborhoods feeling less isolated mentally and physically compared to traditional Gansu.  I am excited to explore the things that I've missed for the past 5 years- concerts, shows, films, an international community.  Being in a bigger city I am often not initially assumed to be Chinese.  During a morning run, I overheard construction workers say, "Hua ren," meaning a person with Chinese heritage but not necessarily a citizen of China.  When getting ID photos taken, the photographer asked, "Japanese or Korean?"  It is nice to feel part of a more international city that is exposed to diversity.
I am even enjoying the heat of humid Chengdu.  It reminds me of Africa as I sleep on a bamboo mat cooler than cotton sheets.  Compared to brown Gansu, it reminds me of Alabama, the smell of grass and trees.  Having a fridge, a fan, and running water makes life so much more comfortable than living on the dirt porch under a straw roof in Burkina.  China makes the heat nostalgic and more bearable.
Processing and Adapting
My initial reaction to Chengdu was culture shock... I left America to live a different lifestyle in a different culture, but in Chengdu I was thrown right back into Western food and stores.  After some time, some processing, some psychological adjustment to the idea, my reactions shifted and in the place of resistance, acceptance started slowly forming.  I realized that this is where I am stuck, so try to focus on the things I like about the place.  Accept the idea that Ikea will be my neighborhood coffee shop instead of resisting and hating the idea. 
Am I too flexible?  Not having my own values, ideals, and type of lifestyle to hang onto?  Maybe after five years abroad, I have learned that the only way to be happy is to adapt and accept whatever I am given.  Instead of focusing on the things I don't like, try to find the pleasures in whatever environment I am living.

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