Bonding with the people here is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I can't even imagine trying to go this by myself, not knowing the language or anyway of communication. It is great having Sabrina with us all the time because she can talk fluent Chinese and it makes it a lot easier to order food, and communicate with the locals. She is amazing; I think I may be in love. At first I had major culture shock when we all first got to Tianjin, I mean honesty, the cars will run you over if you don't watch out. You will even get run over on the sidewalk by the electric carts and millions of bikes. Although the work ethic here is pretty amazing! One day you see roadwork and a closed off street and the next day, the street is paved and looks brand new. Ethics here are so highly regarded and held to the highest degree, whereas, in the U.S. there is more of an emphasis on leisure activities.
Recently in First Week in Tianjin Category
Went to the Chinese salon today! It was fantastic and one of the best experiences at a salon. I booked a facial yesterday and then went in for it today at 3 pm. It took 1 hour and 45 minutes, absolutely fantastic. They not only gave me a facial but also a back, neck, hand, foot, and head massage. It was a good experience for me because Sabrina was right there with me communicating what they were saying. It was so great; one woman worked on my face, while a different man came in and gave me a foot massage. Then the boss of the shop came into the room and talked to us for a long while about many various topics. I learned all about the school system and picked up on some more Chinese! Overall today was a total success!
Charlee: "We were told that in China you need documentation to show that you're married to be able to room together".
Allan (Friend of the coffee shop owner): "Yeah, maybe a hundred years ago".
Jue: "June 6 on the calendar is 6 - 6 which is lucky to the Chinese. Many people get married on that day".
Dr. Li: "This year is an unlucky year in the Chinese calendar. There won't be as many marriages as other years".
Apollo: "RMB is like saying 'U.S. dollar' where Yuan is slang - kind of like how you guys say 'buck'".
Martin: "Girls in China don't really drink or go to the parties - they mostly sit at home and watch TV or read books and magazines".
Me: "Why don't they just come along with the rest of you guys when you go out?"
Martin: "Well if they did stay out late and drink beer then they would be looked down upon by others".
Charlee: "Yeah - we did too".
Monica: "Fireworks are very commonly heard throughout the day on any day in China. They are for the celebration of things like starting a new business, moving to a new house, or having a baby".
Joe: "Silverfish are little tiny fish much like minnows - and they have no bones. We eat them quite a lot."
Thanks for that Joe - I might've been a little freaked out by the tiny fish in the eggs at lunch today but they were really good.
Me (to Amanda while shopping for scarves): "Ooh I like this one - the red with that pattern is very China".
Salesgirl: "Everybody says that! Red is very China - you know red is a lucky color in China".
Me: "Everything shown to us is said to be lucky".
There's plenty where these came from - but this is all I can come with off the top of my head for now. I've really enjoyed everyone's various anecdotes throughout the trip.
After three weeks in China already, Charlee and I just found out from one of our new friends, Jue, how to ask where the toilet is. Every other time that we had been out together we have been able to figure out where the bathrooms are from signs or people traffic - until one of our afternoons of hanging out at that coffee shop across the street from the Hanting.
Apparently, you don't have to say the Chinese word for bathroom or toilet (which would by extremely difficult for us to remember and pronounce correctly). Jue told us that WC means bathroom - which should have occurred to me after seeing signs for WC. Germans, the Swiss, and Austrians also use the term WC for bathroom - something that I became accustomed to during my trip there about five years ago. I don't know why I hadn't thought of that sooner. Now we know.
For those of you who carry a purse with you at nearly every second of the day, you know that there are basics that you always have in there - your keys, your wallet, cell phone, lip gloss, a pen, etc. After being in China for nearly three weeks, one of my new staples to always have in my purse is Kleenex or some sort of tissue. About seventy five percent of the time that you try and use a public bathroom here, the toilet paper is usually gone - if they had any to supply at all.
I haven't quite figured out why that is - I guess in a country as populous as China it would be very expensive for businesses and public restrooms to supply toilet paper - they would have to fund it somehow. If everyone expects to use their own costs would be minimal - you would only have to have help to keep them clean - which apparently, is another area where money is saved here. I'm not sure of any of this but if I miss anything from home, it's toilet paper.
Charlee and I have been frequenting a coffee shop across the street and around the corner from the hotel - they have the iced coffee that we've been looking for all over Tianjin and they even have guitars to play. Along with the best coffee we've found for a reasonable price is just a nice quiet place to hang out in the middle of this crazy city. We'll go to grab coffees and end up sitting there for a few hours while we write in our journals that attempt to record our crazy travels here, and I'll take small breaks to sit and play guitar and sing for a little, while Charlee hums along.
One of the times that we stopped in the café this week, the owner, this friendly, quirky, and stout Chinese woman, gave me about 10 minutes to relax before she put the guitar in my hands herself and told me to play. Her English is very limited but it's much better than any Mandarin that I could ever come up with. She'll give us free tea or coffee drinks and the occasional beer while she taps along on her little tambourine, clapping and saying how she likes every song that I finish.
Before we were leaving on that particular day, she told us that she had a friend who would be playing there that night at ten and that we should stop back so we told her that we would try. We ended up following other plans and missed him, though she said he would be back that night when we went there to hang out the next day - so we promised we would come back. I was expecting to go back to the café and see this guy play a small show, more or less, and as soon as we walked in I understood exactly what this lady meant for us to come back for.
The café must've been closed as there were only the owner, a friend of hers who only spoke Chinese and Italian, another guy who called himself Antonio who could speak some English, and Allan - the one she told us about. The four of them must have been sitting there for quite awhile, just hanging out before we got there - the table they were at was already filled with beer bottles and the ashtrays already overflowing with their spent cigarettes.
It turns out that Allan is an English teacher here and has also spent five years living in Germany and a year in New York City. They instantly invited us to sit and the owner went back to grab some American beers for us. Conversation flowed so easily between all of us - except for the language barrier, of course - though Allan and Antonio would translate for everyone so we were all a part of the conversation and song. We all had so much to talk about whether it was music, Germany, our travels here so far, - anything and everything. We knew many of the same songs so as we passed the guitar around the table we would take turns singing along to each other's playing. I play a lot of American folk music and bluegrass, which they had never heard before and they loved it. I loved being able to sit around a table with warmhearted people and enjoy some beers and guitar playing - and singing.
At that point in the trip the only things that I was really homesick for were my guitar and the chance to sit down and sing for about an hour or two a day and release through music. Sitting around the table with those people that night was exactly something that I would have been doing halfway across the world in Duluth. Had my friends been running a coffee shop and met some interesting people who also play music, they would have done the same and invited them back to hang out and enjoy. It's amazing to me how generosity and open minds are a common accompaniment to music. Charlee and I sat with that little crew of ours until almost 1:30 in the morning and loved every second of it.
I've been spending most of this trip noticing blatant differences in the ways of life here, though it was incredibly striking to experience the exact same warmth from people and music that I was missing so much from home.
I left Thursday afternoon and arrived later that evening after a 2hr 20min flight from Tianjin. First thing about Chengdu that I noticed was the weather. Chengdu is located in South Central China surrounded by many mountains thus making the climate very hot humid, and rainy. Chengdu at first glance seemed much like the other cities I have visited so far but after being shown around, the city has some very unique features. Chengdu may be a smaller city compared to Beijing and Tianjin, but in my eyes seems to be more clean and better kept. I got to visit a market similar to the Ancient Street here in Tianjin but this market was instead centered around a small river/creek. It was really amazing seeing all of the different shops such as people who clean your ears to ancient Chinese scrolls. The people also were very friendly and everyone seemed to be happy. I learned a lot about the city and its people here in my first night in Chengdu.
My first full day in Chengdu. Somehow this city seems to get more humid with every passing hour as making the slightest movement results in instant perspiration. Before I left everyone told me about how Chengdu is known for its amazing food and how spicy it is. This pleases me, as so far I have been disappointed with the spiciness of food in the Northern cities. My friend tells me that if there is one thing to eat while in Chengdu, it is hot pot. Hot pot is a Chengdu specialty that serves a large pot filled with spicy oils and large peppers, onions, and other herbal spices. You are given a menu with a lift of raw meats and vegetables to choose from that you can throw into the pot. Thankfully, my friend who is fluent in Mandarin knows exactly what to order. The pot is placed on a burner in the center of the table which eventually brings it to a boil. When the meats/vegetables arrive, you toss them into the boiling pot and wait a short while for them to cook. After about 5 minutes you start picking up the pieces of food that you tossed in and eat it. Instantly I become aware that this is the most spicy thing I have consumed while in China. I'm sure if it wasn't already sweating from the insane humidity I would be from the spiciness of this meal. I also learned that there is a tiny pepper seed in the hot pot that actually makes your mouth go numb and tingly. My friend orders a round of milk to soothe our mouths but not just any kind of milk, peanut milk. This milk has a very sweet but delicate taste but almost instantly cures any burning from the hot pot, if it were not for this magic milk this meal would have been a bit more difficult to consume. So far Chengdu has lived up to its hype.
Today's schedule entails a hike up a very famous mountain outside of Chengdu, the name escapes me at the moment but it is known for its Taoist temples and beautiful scenery. Though the mountain was beautiful and lush, but today's real adventure was the trip to the mountain. To get to our destination, it requires a 90 minute bus ride through the country side. Having purchased out tickets the day prior we were ready to go upon arrival at the bus station. All of the bus lined up look like the typical large travel bus, such as a Greyhound so we were thinking we would be able to enjoy a nice long ride to the mountain, maybe take a nap. This was not the case. Our bus by far was the smallest, oldest, and most worn down vehicle at the station. Just boarding it made me nervous as it made strange noises from the weight of the passengers getting on. Just taking a look at our driver and his crazy eyes made me instantly regret getting on the bus. The bus somehow started and we were off. Every time our driver applied the breaks the bus produced a horrible screeching noise that made me contemplate jumping out of the window. After getting on the highway in the country side our driver decided that slowing down at intersections was a waste of time and instead just honked the horn as we approached them. Taking wide turns was horrifying, there have only been a few times in my life where I genuinely thought I was going to die, this was one of them. The bus at times felt like it was on only two wheels, even other passengers, non foreigners had looks of horror on their faces when we turned wide going 55mph. Eventually we made it to our destination, but I think it would be safe to say that I did not get much sleep during the trip.
Sunday was a very uneventful day as it was my last day in Chengdu. In the morning I attended a Catholic sermon with my friend, though not a Catholic myself, I thought it would be interesting to see if there would be any differences on how Chinese ran mass. The church itself was fairly similar to those in the states, it seemed like it was recently built and had the stainless glass, alter and everything else that comes with a traditional Catholic church. The hymns and sermon both were in Chinese so my level of comprehension of what was going on was 0. Everything seemed almost exactly the same to the last time I went to mass which was many years ago. It was interesting to see that even the locals were dressed the same as someone in the states would dress on a Sunday. Though I didn't understand any of it I'm glad I went to experience something familiar to me from home in a foreign country.
Today we were discussing the lack of police officers in this town so far. We rarely ever see a police officer or any other emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks. This seems really odd to me because I see all kinds of this stuff every day in Duluth. It is almost a little scary thinking about if something did happen where someone needs urgent medical care, a building is on fire, or someone is harming other people. Who will be there to help and fix the problem? The police officers don't carry guns, so who will stop a criminal, or how does this not make people less afraid of the cops?
It seems like the overall safety standards are a lot lower here that in the US. Every time I walk next to the scaffolding next to the hotel I am worried they are going to drop part of it and hit someone. It is almost a little scary for someone who is used to having ambulances available within minutes to here where I have not seen one this whole time. I haven't heard any sirens at all yet. This is definitely different since I hear so many random things out of my window but no sounds from emergency vehicles.
The first thing I've noticed is the abundance of holes in the street but no yellow cones or tape to alert you to the danger. Sometimes the hole is accompanied by a Chinese man digging or installing piping. There are also missing street bricks all over the place. With all this uneven footing, you would think that all people would wear sturdy footwear. However, the Chinese women are interested in looking tall so many wear high heels and are quite amazing!
Another thing about the streets is that the sidewalks, the roads, the lines mean nothing. Cars drive on sidewalks and frequently park on sidewalks. Bikes travel the roads or sidewalks and weave in and out of traffic (or between) at all times. I'm not sure why this city has lines because cars frequently cross the center line to pass the cars and then cut off the cars when making a right hand turn. It is crazy and I expected that we would see many more accidents but it somehow makes sense to the residents.
A final thing that I've noticed is that many of the construction workers live in the middle of the street in tiny trailers. We figured this out last night when we noticed that a man in his underwear was outside the little hut standing holding the door open. It is all so interesting here!
Tonight for dinner I talked to Amanda and Curtis on Facebook. We decided to walk across the street to some Pizza and Sandwich place that I never even noticed. It was amazing.
When we walked in we noticed an all Chinese menu on the board. We instantly thought we were in for a traditional Chinese restaurant. When we looked at the menu, it took us by surprise when we saw that it was all in English. We finally found the first American diner.
We ordered typical American cuisine. You know, pizza, a BLT, a cappuccino, and a root beer float. What's to go wrong? It was awesome and they even gave is some weird hot lemon flavored water. I am so going back there. It was cheap compared to the states, but expensive when comapred to market food. The 3 of us (Curtis, Amanda, and I) ordered enough for 4 people and it only came out to less than 150 RMB. You gotta love China. TIC!
After that, we got ready and met in Eric/Sam's room. We then hopped in a taxi and went to the miniBull's dance club. That was insane. We danced, drank, and danced some more. We met a lot of cool people and even some kid that studied in France for 6 years. Tianjin is full of people of all origins and nationality. After that we came home and went to our rooms. This place is awesome and seems almost essential to be able to speak Mandarin. If you know the language, you instantly have an 'in' with the local community.