Today I went for a walk before sundown. I left campus and walked through the adjacent neighborhood to the reservoir. Large areas were covered with drying corn. This was the usual path, until I decided to try and go all the way around the water. This walk is typically the same: students, fishermen and other locals are walking around and preparing to return home. Instead of turning around, I walked to the left. There were more houses here, and closer together. The path narrowed, but still wound through the homes. As I continued walking the path diverged and became smaller, more rocky. Eventually this led to an opening where the path ended. The houses were behind me, but now I was standing in front of small plots of farmland. Farmers were using hoes to turn the soil. It struck me, the closeness of the city and the college to this patch of farmland.

Before we arrived at our sites we learned that China is home to roughly 10% of the total arable land in the world, though it supports 20% of the world's population. Knowing is very different from understanding in this regard. There are several reasons for the efficiency, but I only wanted to point out that all soil is used to grow things. In fact, the dirt collected in one's shoes from a walk around the neighborhood is enough to grow a single stalk of corn. Between restaurants the green tops of carrots spring from the ground. Never does good land go to waste. Currently, this land is being lost slowly each year due to flooding.

I find it a shocking idea that we have personal lawns in America. Any grass grown here is used to feed the water buffaloes or for playing soccer (or both! I have the pictures somewhere...).



The new students are no longer everywhere. Actually, they still are everywhere, but they are now in rectangular units throughout the campus. There are differences now. Before the students were settling in, walking where they wanted and dressing how they wanted. Now all students wear the same blue and white pants and shirt (very much like a cross-training outfit). Chants and shouts can be heard all throughout the day. Each new student is assigned to a group of about 50-100 other students. These students are part of a training group that marches, shouts responses, makes turns, comes to attention, shuffles, regroups and does it all over again at the command of a drill sergeant. All Freshmen partake in this two-week training for six days each week, eight hours per day.

I wanted to give the facts, rather than make comments about my thoughts on such training. Some of the questions I have asked are:

“What are the benefits of such training?”
“What are the drawbacks?”
“What do the teachers and students think of this?”

I was concerned about taking pictures of this event due to the questions it may raise about why I was doing so. Instead I took a couple of pictures from my apartment.

I was not excited about another incident (on the train I tried to take some pictures of signs like, “please don’t spit everywhere,” and several crew members became very angry with me). I then proceeded to delete the photos in front of them.


Strangers with Corn

By supermajority 'Strangers with Corn' wins! This story is probably the most interesting anyway.

Whenever I leave my America (apartment) and step into China (outside) I have to make a mental shift. If this does not occur I wander around with my America-colored glasses: frustrated and confused by most things. People stare at me continuously. At first this was interesting, and then it bothered me. Now, however, I know that a smile and "Ni hao" are enough to make these people smile back; this also helps me realize that they are not "staring" as much as expressing curiosity.

This behavior is especially pronounced when riding the bus. It is as if people are wondering how I could possibly know which bus to take or where I am going. If I am carrying groceries this confounds them further: why does this foreigner carry groceries and who bought them for him? Generally I can break through all of this tension by speaking Chinese. I make a point of having a Chinese conversation on every bus ride. Usually these things are restricted to general questions and topics, but occasionally people want to discuss economy, etc. which tends to be above my head in English, let alone Chinese. The following is a transcribed conversation I had while on the bus a few days ago:

Setting: Crowded bus. Protagonist sitting by the window. A woman of about 50 (stranger) is sitting behind me eating cooked corn from the cob.

Dustin: Hello!
Stranger: uhhh hello. You can speak Chinese?
Dustin: I can speak Mandarin but I don't understand the local dialect.
Stranger: You speak very well.
Dustin: No no no. Hey, I have seen that cooked corn before. Let me ask, how much does it cost?
Stranger: 1 kuai (about 15 cents).
Dustin: Wow, that's cheap! It sure smells good! Is it delicious?
Stranger: Of course! Here... (breaks the ear of corn in half and gives it to me).
Dustin: (eating corn) This is really good! Thank you!
Stranger: Why did you come to China?
Dustin: (between mouthfuls of corn) I teach English at the local college.
Stranger: (sees that I have finished with the corn) Give me that and I will throw it away.
Dustin: No, I can do it - really.
Stranger: Don't be so polite, give it to me!
Dustin: Thank you, you are too nice! (reaching my stop) Goodbye!
Stranger: Goodbye!

The important thing to note here is that I would never have done this in America. Even in China this was a calculated risk on several different levels. In no way am I advocating a philosophy which exalts eating corn given by strangers (or eating anything given by strangers, for that matter). Neither do I wish to denigrate by omission how delicious popcorn tastes. This is not meant to be a comparison. I merely want to show that there are cultural differences which can be difficult to understand (and therefore interesting).

Another example of this is the following:
"Have you eaten?"

I used to answer this question with a real answer. Now I know better. The correct answer is almost always:

But one of my favorites is when I am obviously going to the bathroom and someone asks:
"Are you going to the bathroom?"

What answer can there be other than:



Pickling jar at the local restaurant: 0 dollars.

Tips on pickling green beans from students who know: 0 dollars.

6 hours of Mandarin lessons each week from a College Teacher: 0 dollars.

Quiet walks through hidden neighborhoods: 0 dollars.

Half husk of cooked corn from a complete stranger on the bus: 0 dollars.

Soccer Shoes: 2 dollars.

Umbrella: 2 dollars.

Living in China: You got it – Priceless.

Some things in life don’t cost anything. For everything else, there’s my living allowance.


Schedule Change

Our schedules have been rearranged and solidified. Today I found out that I will be teaching 7 classes of Freshmen students (Phonetics (3), Reading, Oral English, Listening(2)). Since the Freshmen do not begin until October, I have 3 weeks for preparation, studying Chinese, running, shopping, meeting people, and generally getting on my feet.

My host family gave me some glass jars filled with chili spices to include in certain Chinese dishes. Unfortunately, one of the many porters at the train station was not told this important information. I effectively destroyed 3 of my 7 pairs of pants and several shirts. I also forgot my glasses on the train. I am working on both of these issues now.

The staff and students at the school have been very welcoming, and I think integration will be easier than initially expected. I met some students in the cafeteria last night and often students are eager to speak with one of the few foreign teachers. Today we will get our books for future classes and have a teacher's banquet (it is Teacher's Day in China).




Clark T. Randt, Jr. at the Swear-in ceremony.


Today we were sworn-in as Peace Corps Volunteers by the American Ambassador to China. Several volunteers left Chengdu today (those going to places in Sichuan or Chongqing, especially). The rest of us will depart tomorrow. I will include pictures from the ceremony later.


Language Proficiency Interview

The levels of language proficiency, as specified by Peace Corps, are as follows:

I received an email regarding my language proficiency after Peace Corps evaluated a tape-recorded interview of my speaking and listening skills. I have reached Intermediate-Mid, which is defined below.


Speakers at the Intermediate-Mid level are able to handle successfully a variety of uncomplicated communicative tasks in straightforward social situations. Conversation is generally limited to those predictable and concrete exchanges necessary for survival in the target culture; these include personal information covering self, family, home, daily activities, interests and personal preferences, as well as physical and social needs, such as food, shopping, travel and lodging.

Intermediate-Mid speakers tend to function reactively, for example, by responding to direct questions or requests for information. However, they are capable of asking a variety of questions when necessary to obtain simple information to satisfy basic needs, such as directions, prices and services. When called on to perform functions or handle topics at the Advanced level, they provide some information but have difficulty linking ideas, manipulating time and aspect, and using communicative strategies, such as circumlocution.

Intermediate-Mid speakers are able to express personal meaning by creating with the language, in part by combining and recombining known elements and conversational input to make utterances of sentence length and some strings of sentences. Their speech may contain pauses, reformulations and self-corrections as they search for adequate vocabulary and appropriate language forms to express themselves. Because of inaccuracies in their vocabulary and/or pronunciation and/or grammar and syntax, misunderstandings can occur, but Intermediate-Mid speakers are generally understood by sympathetic interlocutors accustomed to dealing with non-natives.

I always knew I had some difficulty manipulating time and aspect. Oh well. We'll see next summer...!



Tomorrow morning we will take our bags, meet at the University (Sichuan Shifan Daxue Dongqu), and set off for a hotel. These next few days will be all about our final move to sites. Preparation for medical emergencies, setting up bank accounts and meeting for our final interviews will take place (not to mention finding out our language proficiency score). We are saying goodbye to our homestay families: saying goodbye to the great food, friendliness, comfort and safety we experienced while living with them. Then we will look ahead to our first months in China as Peace Corps Volunteers. This transition, trainee to volunteer, is already ominous. We will say goodbye to more than our wonderful host families. Our many friends are here together, and it is little consolation that we are ALL going off on our own. Plans for Halloween are already being developed. We are saying goodbye to Chengdu as well. In the morning I cross the narrow bridge, catch the 336 or the 885, yell at the driver to open the back door, and make my way to language class. Only now are the drivers beginning to understand my speech; the door opens every time. But we are going to new places. How long will it take to adjust? Will we be successful? How will it be when something funny happens and we cannot share it with the group? Is the winter as dark and cold as they say?

Despite the questions and the fears (we all have these) there is an excitement we all feel. We crave this change, this independence and freedom to make our colleges our own in whatever ways we can. We are thinking about secondary projects: about the environment, about communities and education and learning Chinese and playing ma jiang and eating in the cafeterias of our colleges. We are pondering syllabi and teaching English classes and talking with students at English Corner. We are thinking warmly of instant coffee and rice. I already know they will be my two new best friends. We are thinking of the people whom we have not yet met: our future friends. Who will they be? Where will we find them?

And so we have reached this point of transition. Our bags are packed - loaded with ESL resources and language learning materials (and that instant coffee I was talking about). We are ready. Here we go.