1. My Bed
Some other foreign students have been complaining about the beds, but I love ’em. The harder, flatter mattress and thin duvet are exactly what I’ve been dreaming of all my life (punny!). Also, someone comes in and changes our sheets and towels once a week because, technically speaking, we actually live in a hotel, not a dorm. There are two places foreign exchange students can live on campus, the East Dorm and the West Dorm. The East Dorm has not, apparently, been up to the standard of living of students on this program in the past, so our professors have switched us to living in the West Dorm. Most of our building is actually a hotel for visitors to the campus, and only the top floors have students living on them. I would’ve liked to live with most of the other students in the East Dorm (and not have to walk up 12 flights of stairs to the sixth floor several times a day – there’s no elevator) but I’m certainly not complaining about not having to wash my linens.
2. My Body Wash
My roommate and I may have bought all of the cheapest cleaning and hygiene supplies available, but we hit gold with the body wash. A huge bottle of the most beautifully rose-smelling soap stuffs for about $5? Count me in! Whether or not it has evil chemicals that are giving me all sorts of evil diseases remains to be seen, because I can’t read anything written on the bottle, yet. I’ll keep you updated, I guess.
3. The Lunch Options
So, for about $1.5 US, I can order this crepe-style thing with an egg and chives and lettuce and sausage and sauces thats all folded up and hot and delicious. Or for the same price, a squished croissant-thing with sesame seeds all over it and an egg in the middle. Or for 1 kuai a piece, every kind of bao(1)zi (steamed buns with fillings – we usually see them with BBQ pork in the US) that a girl could want – veggie, pork, sesame and sugar… the list goes on. Of course, I don’t just eat these for lunch – more like any time I’m walking by and could possibly fit one in my tummy. But at 6 for one US dollar, how could I not?? My only problem is that I don’t know how to say the words for the different fillings yet, so I have to point and hope for the best. I’ve been craving the sesame and sugar bao(1)zi for the past few days, but haven’t gotten lucky just yet.
4. Lu(4) Cha(2)
The lu cha (green tea) comes in all sorts of bottles and brands and labels and flavors in every corner store and market, which are three or four to a street. I’ve managed to sample most of them and discover my favorite brands (the green one with the dude on the bike looking really really happy about his tea, if you were wondering) and I can order it in Chinese now! (Yi ping lu cha = one bottle of green tea!)
[The numbers on the title of this part refer to the tones of the words when spoken in Chinese – there are four. I’ll try to get a post up that includes roughly what those sound like soon.]
5. The Parasols
I haven’t seen many in Chengdu, because it’s an incredibly un-sunny place – not rainy, or cloudy, or foggy, or anything drastic like that, but simply un-sunny. Most days the sun is too weak to shine through even the thinnest layer of smog, so it’s pretty un-sunny here – but while we were in Beijing, we saw tons of highly decorated parasols for keeping the sun off your face. (Being pale is a sign of great beauty in China, so many women do everything they can to protect their face from the sun.) They’re often decorated with floral designs in glitter and sequins with mesh insets and shiny metallic fabric. I really kinda sorta want one real bad…
6. The Print Shops
Once we arrived in Chengdu, I signed up for a class that I hadn’t anticipated taking before leaving for China. Therefore, I hadn’t bought the books, which, inconveniently, mention the Dalai Lama and are therefore banned in China. But hey! We have a fix for that! My student helper walked me about five minutes from our dorm and around a tight corner into a tiny room with a couple computers and a big old mean-looking copier. After some rapid-fire Chinese conversations, we left my roommate’s copies of the books there. Three hours later I came back and picked up a copy of each, complete with covers in color on sturdy paper, for 20 kuai per book. That’s less than 4 dollars. I was flabbergasted – but apparently this is how they do textbooks here.
7. My School Supplies
There are stationary stores all around campus that sell everything from practical character-writing notebooks (I got some of those) to cute and impractical like Totoro-shaped pencil pouches (I may have gotten one of those, too…) I have special pens for all sorts of different things, and it’s all incredibly cheap. My roommate and I also love to read all the mistranslated slogans and messages on the cute notebooks you can buy – our current favorite is a set of animal-themed notebooks with little stories about the ‘naughty cat’ and pigs that ‘modern’ families love’.
And – I know how to send postcards now! If you’d like to request a postcard be sent to your address, or think I might want to write you one (and if you’re reading this I’m guessing I definitely do) email me your address and I’ll try and send one your way! There is, of course, no absolute guarantee it will get there, because that’s just not how the Chinese postal system works.
8. The Cockroaches
We’ve experienced two cockroach fiascos so far in Room 606 – the first being far more dramatic than the second. I was minding my own business on my bed when my roommate, in a relatively panicked voice, asked me to come help her in the bathroom. I think it speaks to, well, something about me, that I started to get up before asking what she needed. Turns out there was a cockroach on the counter, which I trapped in a cup. I then promptly dropped the cup as our little friend made an escape attempt up my arm. I managed a second capture aided by a paper from my desk and threw the beast out the window – and then had to get a longer-armed member of the group to climb half out the window and grab the important document I’d just thrown out onto the ledge. Oops! We kept the window firmly closed for the full 24 hours it took for our friend to crawl off the ledge to greener pastures.
The second incident involved a bugger crawling up the doorframe. I closed the door, heard a crunch, problem solved. (Except for the bug guts I had to clean up. Ick.)
9. The Si(4)chuan(1) Pepper
Sichuan province is famous all over China for its uniquely spicy foods – apparently, theres a pepper that only grows here that makes your mouth go numb when you eat it. I wasn’t so sure when I was told, but having eaten my fair share of Sichuan noodles, dumplings, and fried rice, I can safely tell you that my tongue has been numb several times already today, and that – what’s this! – I liked it. They use all sorts of other spices and peppers in foods here as well, but I’m not as big of a fan of the more traditionally spicy sauces. The special pepper almost isn’t spicy – it just makes your mouth slightly numb and fluttery for about 10 minutes or so after eating.
10. The Humidity
For those of you who have never looked at a topographical map of Sichuan Province, Chengdu is an enormous city (14 million+) situated at the bottom of a valley smack dab in the middle of four big rivers. It’s always been very successful agriculturally because of a canal irrigation system created long ago, and the women here are said to be exceptionally beautiful because the humid, cloudy weather produces soft, white skin. However, while I’m not particularly concerned about my skin being soft and white, I am relatively concerned when my entire body and all of my clothing is something more than just damp by the time I’ve walked to the my first class at 8:30 every morning. It might not even be warm out – just swimming-pool type of wet. I’m not sure I’m ever going to get used to this one, so here’s to hoping it dries up a bit as the weather gets colder in the coming months.