I know this officially qualifies as blogging gluttony, but this must be said. My iPod's Hold switch broke today, leaving my iPod wavering between Hold and Free Use at its own whim. I checked the website and it would cost around $200 to send it in and have it fixed (for a small button!). Unbelievable. I bring this up because it relates to part of my Peace Corps application, which asked me how I would cope with the stress of living in a foreign country where I did not know the language, etc. Of my very few responses, listening to my iPod was at the top.

The good news is that I recently purchased a new computer (MacBook) which gives me a $100 credit (I think) toward a new iPod! This should be enough to cover shipping to China. Blah.

I must immediately apologize for the lack of continuity here: I am writing and posting as I remember events, not according to a conventional timeline. Perhaps this makes you frustrated, longing for some kind of linear interpretation of happenings. In which case, you can read Val's blog.



The following are from Saturday's birthday party for Grandma...

Learning to use chopsticks...

Chinese Wedding

Chinese Weddings have

Sunflower seeds.




And, of course, FOOD.


I'm Back!

Sorry about the lapse in posting, but I have been meandering through Chinese culture. I am a healthy 67 kg.

I got sick after eating too much Fanqie Jidan Mian (Egg and Tomato noodle soup) and this prompted my family to show me a restaurant which was "very clean, very cheap." It has been an interesting week because we began teaching on Monday. I shared a poem by Raymond Carver and we talked about how tangible items define culture. I also taught them Puff the Magic Dragon. It was a blast; I really love the teaching aspect of this experience.

Language has been difficult lately - mostly because it is slow to enter my brain. I get incredibly frustrated when I want to speak to people and find myself running into a dark field of mysterious, unknown vocabulary. Even simply pronouncing words correctly or using the correct emphasis has been a problem. On the buses here the back door sometimes will not open, meaning one should yell to the bus driver 'Please open the back door' (Qing ba hou men da kai). The dialect here requires emphasis (in this situation) to be placed on the 'hou' (back), but the Mandarin emphasis is on 'kai' (open). Needless to say, there have been experiences where I am standing at the back of the bus, squashed in the middle of countless people, trying to yell the phrase to a driver who probably hears something like "Pud opra peopla big." Sometimes people around me will take pity, yelling for me to the bus driver. Sometimes they will not and I will yell "KAI MEN" (OPEN THE DOOR!) to avoid being taken to the next stop.

The other PC volunteers are a wonderful blessing. We have been very supportive of one another, and we get together about once a week outside of our typical duties. We are all lost in this forest of responsibility together and that helps.

I have wanted to really explain this experience to everyone, but it is difficult to do in words. The best way to understand would be to walk through the neighborhoods here and see what people are doing, to eat dinner with with a chinese family, to attend a chinese banquet, to visit my Chinese class, to visit my English class. To understand the value of a dollar here you need to spend the Kuai in different locations and convert in your head. To eat lunch costs about 1/7 of what it does in the US, but to buy electronics it's about the same.

Yesterday my host grandmother taught me how to make egg fried rice! My host mother is going to teach me to Zuo Zhong Guo Cai right now, so I am going to go and learn!


Mang bu mang?

We had a language assessment this week that required a one-on-one conversation with the teacher. She asked me things such as, "What is your name," which sounded like, "What do you like to do in your free time." Needless to say I had a difficult time responding to the questions. Perhaps it was the five classmates watching our conversation.

Despite the difficulty it has been amazing how quickly we are learning things. Every day is packed with learning.

We received our official class list for next week's model school. We have 24 students and we will teach one hour each day (two 50 minute sessions: one for Andrew and one for me). We had the idea of doing a week's theme around American Culture, but it is difficult to decide on good communicative activities which relate to American Culture. We will see.


Sunday July 15th

Today we all went to a park. At the park was this amazing temple looking thing. Many images ran through my mind about the many things that could be inside this monumental building, but Video Arcade did not fully register until my nose was pressed up against the glass of one of those machines which swallows your coins after your false hopes of the teetering bunch (which are somehow magically suspended over the edge) pique. We took some pictures during the day and they are not uploading right now. I'm thinking about a flickr page.

The second week of language was more intense and I feel like things are leaving my brain faster than they enter. We found out that we are generally the Guizhou province group, and that many of us will go to Guiyang. I'm looking forward to this, but I'm also taking language classes one day at a time.

My family has been wonderful and helpful as ever and some nights I make real breakthroughs in communication. It is still difficult to form entire sentences, but we have some moments of real clarity.



A list:

1. Let me apologize to everyone who has sent me email and received either a short reply or no reply whatsoever. Honestly, If I don't check my computer for one day I have dozens of emails to read. I intend to reply to everyone but it is taking some time. I'm not trying to brag about the extremely high number of congratulatory emails which reflect my high skills in all areas of life, but I did want to apologize.

2. China is slightly warm. If you've never really understood what air is, you will in China. That's because the air gets to know you by pressing its warm, wet self against you hard enough to force your pores on a futile mission of saltwater production. I don't know why the body does it, none of it will evaporate anyway (therefore the intent of the sweating is lost). I wish I could have a conversation with my body and set it straight. Every day I am a mass of lumpy goo, in a culture which is completely different, learning more than I ever have. Oh yeah, business casual all the way: make sure you wear long pants and collared shirts because you can keep out the heat better that way.

3. Classes are intense. In the last week I learned how to barter at a local vegetable market, order food in chinese and pay the bill, and communicate with my host family about basic things. The language program is unbelievable. I've never experienced such learning.

4. The culture is vastly different. I don't know where to begin here.

5. We begin model school in two weeks. That means in addition to language learning we will be teaching university classes and getting feedback. Right now I'm working on lesson plans for a lecture on idioms and perhaps the singing of songs. Any good song ideas? I'm going with Yogi Bear for sure. I know someone you don't know, Yogi, Yogi... How about some basic folk guitar song ideas?

5 1/2 My family is awesome. They had an air conditioner installed especially for me. One of our instructors came over to check things out and she said that the family is being incredibly welcoming. Even small things the instructor noted: The father was getting me a cup of water which showed a deep respect. I couldn't ask for more in my blob-like state.

6. How about sending me some coffee? Cheese? Actually, I don't know if the address above will work. Better try a letter first. Mom, Dad?


Post, post, post

I can't stop posting because I have time to talk about what is going on. Tonight I received a birthday present from my host family. They said that my hair is beautiful and a little bit strange, and they bought me the following:

I attended a dinner steeped in Chinese culture. Many many toasts were made and people stood to acknowledge one another. After about 40 of these toasts I stood to acknowledge the kindness of the host and the hospitality of my host father. It was an interesting and wonderful evening.

Earlier today David, Terrie and I were treated to a Chinese lunch. We had a terrific time and played Mah Jong too! Without a doubt food plays an important role in the lives of the Chinese people. I think that it is better than most anything - especially in Sichuan.


Wo de jia li ji ge liu ren!!!

From left to right: Ou Lei, Li BaiXin, David, Zhang XueMei. Not pictured: Nainai (grandma), Li LinFeng (daughter)

Here is a picture of me with my host family! I will keep everyone updated over the next couple of months. I am having a great time and the hospitality is amazing! I carry around a notebook filled with words in Mandarin and I'm constantly adding things, relearning familiar things, and generally feeling like a big dog trying to learn basic things. I figured out my pictures so I will include some more from Chengdu below. Enjoy!

Host Family Skit

Peace Corps China 13




Independence Day

After several hours of language class, 3 coctails of immunizations, and 32 ounces of water and oral rehydration salts I decided to go with the crowd to Peter's (an American restaurant here in Chengdu). The food was authentic and it was a pretty good time. We decided to skip our extra language class and chose instead to go to a place with a name that escapes my memory. Some people were planning to play instruments on a small stage and we sat in our group of 12 and talked for awhile. After some time Kehl asked why I wasn't on stage playing the guitar, telling me I should ask if I could play. I did, the manager said yes, and suddenly I was onstage with a guitar and microphone, butchering such classics as Puff the Magic Dragon, Solitary Man, and Yesterday. The manager played along on drums or guitar and Paul asked to play the piano. We all played together for a couple of songs and I began to run out of ideas. Eyes turned to Paul in expectation and he certainly delivered. He could play an amazing number of songs, some he had never heard before but figured out based on how it seemed to sound. Incredible. Hen hao! The real amazing part of the evening for me was toward the end of Star Spangled Banner, which we belted out with all the energy and emotion of non-disgruntled ex-pats, accompanied by Paul's piano playing one note at a time. At that moment I looked around and wondered how I could have ever imagined this as part of my Peace Corps experience. The truth is, much of what we have done so far has been that way: the unexpected within a larger framework of pseudo understanding. We were all together for one last night before being divided into 3 groups to be sent to different universities in the area.

I am meeting my host family tomorrow. Most people seem to be nervous but I am excited to leave the hotel and begin learning Mandarin more rapidly. I'm looking ahead toward being sworn in as a volunteer: much work is still to be done, but these challenges have been very healthy. Cheers.



The internet has been a conundrum and I'm finding it difficult to do exactly what I'd like. For a couple of reasons, adding a password is going to be impossible at this time. I am not even sure if I will always be able to use this blog site to post. If that is the case, just email me and I'll let you know which site I'm going to use (this is a low probability, I think, but I'd like to be prepared-if I don't update for more than 2 weeks, definitely email me). I can post things to the blog but I can't even see my own blog without using a proxy server in England (it is blocked here).

Yesterday after playing MORE soccer (I'm sore in places I didn't even know I had) we ventured to the trust-mart across the street. This trip made me realize how much I really didn't need to bring clothes to China. A nice, short-sleeved, button-up, business casual shirt was 29 Kuai. There are about 7.6 Kuai to the dollar. Nice.

We also found an odd-colored peanut butter and decided to buy it because it was 7 kuai less than than the Jif (about 1 dollar less). It was peanut butter but without any sugar whatsoever.

We decided to start a language group outside of our typical 4 hours each day, and we are studying with the Pimsleur recordings. Everyone is excited about it and we've limited ourselves to 30 minutes each day to avoid burnout. China has been very interesting and filled with mystery. I'm looking forward to many fulfilling days ahead.



Technology, etc.

I've been having some difficulties with adding pictures, but I'm sure this will be different very soon. The greater difficulty is figuring out how to add a password to my blog because everything uses Chinese script and I have to guess what each link it based on its location. I know the green button allows me to add a post, so I can still do this!

Last night four of us went to the University to find a soccer game. And we found one. We played for about 30 minutes and then tried to get back to our hotel with limited success. At one point we ran about 500 m to discover we were really lost. I asked some people if they spoke English (in Mandarin!) and got some help. Then an English teacher stopped and showed us the way. We were barely on time for the formal dinner and we were very stinky (we just threw on our business casual clothes after all that running in the muggy air).

At dinner we had 3 girls play traditional Chinese instruments (which was cool) and the lazy susan spun slowly as we gorged ourselves on excellent foods.

Language classes have begun and they are very intense. There are 5 people in my class and we are all pretty excited. Most of the class avoids any kind of English, even the explanations of the activities, in order to more fully immerse us in the language. To practice I believe we will be on our own to go out and do things. We will meet our host families very shortly and that will help us practice as well.

Basically, this is about 10 percent of what is happening. There is so much going on that I'm trying to report on things which do not make everyone fall asleep!




No pictures and nothing to talk about.

We traveled on planes and buses from San Francisco to Chengdu today. It took 24 hours! I am tired and I only get to sleep for 6 hours.

This website will be password protected soon. Please email me for the password (fn0112358@gmail.com) within the week.