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Saturday, August 7, 2010

A week in Jiangyou

So all of this week I have been visiting the site of my future volunteer endeavors. In two weeks I will make myself permanent at Jiangyou in Northern Sichuan. This is the birthplace of Libai, one of the most famous poets in China. The town today is rather small (maybe 500,000) people- remember this is China. The town is mainly comprised of farmers and there is a lot of construction. The university in which I will be teaching is located on the outskirts of Jiangyou, maybe a 15 minute public bus ride into the downtown area. Oh, and the university I will be teaching at is Sichuan Preschool Educators College. The students I will teach will graduate and teach in primary schools, and mostly kindergarten. Most of my students will be girls. There are four student dormitories, and only one is for boys. There are a total of 4000-4500 students that will be attending school this term. I will be teaching Oral English and American/British Culture. I will have a total of 14 hours of teaching this semester. There are two other foreign teachers at this university. They are a married couple from Canada. They will be returning to the university, about the same time as I will, with their newborn son. They have been teaching at this university for a couple of years. The campus itself is small. I could probably jog around it in 15 minutes at most. Outside of the campus are farmers and some convenient stores that were built for students’ needs. The campus is silent except for cicadas making their noises and the shouts of neighbors to one another. There are two housing buildings for teachers. I will be in building one on the fourth floor. There is a track/soccer field, swimming pool, 10 classroom buildings, a library, a performance art center, administrative building, staff dining hall (with free lunch for teachers at 11:50!!), student dining hall, drivers’ education building, and lots of green space. It is a really nice and peaceful university.

Most everything I will need I will have to go downtown to get. I take the number 16 bus into downtown. It is the only bus number that goes across the railroad tracks and into the neighborhood of the university. I like this. It makes it really difficult to get lost, which many of you know I am quite susceptible towards. This is much different than Chengdu which has a multitude of buses that range upwards of number 500 something. The main shopping center is called Mall Mart. Here I can look at expensive clothes if I so choose and electronics, but most importantly there is a large grocery store on the bottom level where I will get most of my staples that I can’t pick up at the convenient stores near the university gate. The rest of downtown Jiangyou is made up of shops, restaurants, and markets. You can take a pedicab to get around, walk, take the bus, or take your bicycle. It really is rather small. I could probably bike around the city in an hour or two. I plan to get a bike once I get settled. My counterpart teacher says that he and the Canadians like to bike, and I need to fit in, right? Lol. It is also quite convenient to have a bike to get around rather than wait up to 20 minutes for bus 16 to arrive.

From what I witnessed this week, the people of Jiangyou are really laid back, proud of being from the same town as Libai, and very nice. Some are curious of me, of course. My counterpart Kerry made a joke about why the store would write the word SALE when I was probably the only foreigner in town to read the sign. So, being one of 3 foreigners makes people curious. I would be too. Oh there might be other foreigners, but I know for sure of 3. Me and the Canadians.

I will be uploading pictures of Jiangyou throughout my first semester, so that by January you might be able to see the whole town on my Windows Live account.

So what did I do this week? Monday I left Chengdu by train at 11 am (my host mom and brother here drove me to the train station, which is about an hour and a half from their apartment). It was my first experience on a train, and it wasn’t bad. There was a very cute 3 year old girl sitting in front of me making faces at me. It was very typical of a 3 year old, and very cute. I arrived in Jiangyou around 2, and my counterpart Kerry picked me up. A counterpart is a Chinese teacher in the English department that I can assist me in anything that I may need. Kerry, which is his English name, is also my waiban (foreign teachers office) representative, and he was my host during my stay. This made me feel as though I was walking on egg shells the entire week. At every moment of the day I was trying to impress this man and his wife, and show them that the Peace Corps is a good program to have at their school. This is the first time the Peace Corps has sent a volunteer to this site, so I am trying to make a good impression. So we went back to his apartment, and we chatted and looked at each others pictures to help break the ice. In the evening we walked around the university and I saw my first star in China. There were three visible stars in the sky, and I was mesmerized. In case I haven’t mentioned this yet, stars and the moon are rare sites to see, at least in Sichuan.

Tuesday I met the dean of the foreign teachers department, who incidentally does not speak any English. I also met the vice president of the university. The president was away on business. We also had a look at my apartment. It was really big. I was surprised. It was a lot bigger than my counterparts apartment. There are three bedrooms, a living area, dining area, kitchen, and bathroom. I have a couch, desk, tv, bed, western toilet, and some dishes. I don’t have any sheets, I didn’t see any pots, and I don’t have a table to eat at. But other than that, everything is nice. I will see more of what is needed once I move in. Later we took a bus to downtown, had lunch, saw the market and set up my Bank of China account so that the Peace Corps can deposit my monthly stipend, so that I can eat and pay my landline phone bill. The phone is there for emergencies, since cell phones are not as reliable). In the evening I met some of the other teachers at the university and played some Chinese checkers. Kerry does not have a tv in his house. It was destroyed during the 2008 earthquake, and he never got another one, so we did a lot of talking, playing games, and sitting in silence.
Wednesday I had breakfast of beef noodles with Kerry’s wife Eliam because he was tutoring in the morning. Then we went to Libai park to walk around. We had lunch and tea, and played cards. I taught them ERS and blackjack. Oh I forgot to mention that I also taught my host brother and his dad ERS and they LOVED it. It was so funny. Anyways, during lunch Kerry gave this cat some chicken and the bone from the chicken got lodged in the cat’s mouth. It was obviously in pain, and couldn’t get the bone out. I thought the cat was going to die, and Kerry found this whole thing funny. It mad me so mad. I wanted to help the cat, but the Peace Corps scared the living daylights out of us about rabies in China. But then Kerry came to the rescue and saved the cat. I have pictures to prove it. For dinner we ate food from Guizhou province which is where Kerry is from. Kerry is from the Miao minority group in China. Both him and Eliam come from poor rural farming backgrounds, but went to university and got out of that life. A lot of the students that Peace Corps focuses on teaching are from these rural backgrounds. Anyways, later that evening we played Chinese chess and cards.

Okay so around Wednesday I just got really tired of being in Jiangyou. Kerry has this bad habit of basically quizzing me on English the entire time I was in Jiangyou. This is not an exaggeration either. All day it was: what is this, have you heard this phrase, can you use it in a sentence, let me tell you how much I know about English. I was just getting rather irritated and tired about it. I started wishing to go back home to Chengdu. Then I thought, oh no, that’s not good. My host family has been way too nice to me, for me to be wishing to return home to Chengdu. But that was exactly what I was doing. Wishing to return to the comfort of my host family in Chengdu. I knew I was lucky to have the host family I do in Chengdu, but I didn’t realize how lucky I was until I left.

Thursday Eliam and I walked around the downtown area, and I saw some of the damage from the earthquake and a beautiful park area by the river. Later that afternoon I met the convenience store owner by the university gate. She was a student of Kerry’s. I bought Eliam some chocolate. That evening I took Eliam and Kerry out to eat to show them my appreciation.

Friday we took a pedicab around the downtown area, had lunch, and took a bus back to Chengdu. So in Chengdu when I arrived I had to go to the bathroom so bad, but bathrooms seem to be quite rare in China in public areas. Kerry said to take the number 1 bus and then switch to number 56. So I took the number 1. There was this Buddhist monk on the bus who captured a dragonfly that was hovering around the bus and released it out of the window. I thought this was a very Buddhist monk thing to do. Anyways, so somewhere along the line I got confused about where to switch the buses. Kerry said to call when I got into Chengdu, and I tried but the number wasn’t connecting. Having to use the bathroom, unable to speak Chinese, completely at a loss for where I was in Chengdu, I almost cried. But of course crying solves nothing, so I eventually found a taxi and told him where to head back and eventually got back to my host family’s house. A little tired, a little stressed, but relieved.

Okay so my host family’s home phone kept ringing, but I didn’t pick it up because it is not my home, and I don’t speak Chinese anyways to get a message. Well then my host mom’s cell rang, and the number looked familiar so I picked it up and it was Kerry. I was supposed to call him when I got into Chengdu, but the number wasn’t working. Then my host family said they had spoken with him, so I assumed that they called back to let him know I was in Chengdu safe, but they hadn’t, so he was calling now at 9:45 at night to see if I was okay. I hope this doesn’t leave a bad impression of me in his mind. AH!! I stress myself out so much. I will have to try really hard when I go back to Jiangyou in two weeks, just to make sure of that he doesn’t think ill of me or the Peace Corps.

Anyways, tomorrow I am going to my first, and maybe only, wedding in China. This is a family member of my host family. I will post pictures maybe Sunday from the wedding. That’s all for now. The next couple of weeks are going to be really busy. This week is my last week at my host family, and the week after is my last week in Chengdu. So sad, but exciting all the same.

Oh I forgot to mention that Kerry asked if I go to church in America. I said that I do. He said he knew of a church in Jiangyou that he could show me. I was really excited to see. So we went…to a mosque. I didn’t bother explaining that a mosque is not the same thing as a church. Lol. Oh well.

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