Noodles for days
The last couple weeks have been crazy; after coming to Chengdu we jumped right into classes and I’ve already had four or five quizzes, one major test, and an essay draft due! I first arrived on Sunday June 15th, though my flight from Beijing to Chengdu was 2 hours late (typical) so the volunteer who was picking me up from the airport had to wait a really long time; I felt really bad. I arrived at the Sichuan University campus (the original one, there are now three campuses) big North Gate (北门), Chinese university campuses are very different from American ones in that they are almost like self-contained cities. There’s a wall separating the campus from the rest of the city, and the only way to get in and out is through the gates. Also within the campus are residential compounds for workers and their families, separate from student dorms. Anyway, once I got settled into my dorm room (more on the room later), we went out to eat!
The food. Oh my god, the food. Everyday is a struggle of deciding where to go eat. The campus itself has restaurants, markets, and street vendors, but outside the gates are endless choices. We’ve had traditional Sichuan cuisine, which includes spicy, stir-fried vegetables and a tofu dish (also spicy of course) called mápó dòfu (麻婆豆腐). We’ve had hot pot (火锅, huǒguō), roasted meat kebabs–my favorite is lamb (羊肉串, yángròu chuàn)–, dumplings, even Korean barbeque! And it’s incredibly cheap; I feel ripped off if a meal costs more than the equivalent of 3 US dollars. What we end up eating the most is noodles, especially since we discovered a noodle place across the street from our dorm, it’s become the default. Not only are noodles convenient, cheap, and safe (unlike the lamb kebabs, no one gets diarrhea from noodles), but they are delicious! And there are so many kinds: noodles with bean sauce (杂酱面, zájiāng miàn), noodles with stewed pork, stir-fried noodles, noodles with beef, in soup, spicy, not spicy, NOODLES FOR DAYS!!! …Anyway, here’s a picture of hot pot 🙂
So about my dorm room. It seemed like a hotel room…at first. It has the vanity, TV, luggage rack, and mini fridge, but the resemblance ends there. Half the time my roommate or I take a shower the bathroom floor floods, probably because there’s a hole in the tub. We’ve asked the front desk and custodial staff about it at least three times, and the last time they said something along the lines of “as long as you don’t shower it will be fine.” Hahahahahahaha, good joke. Chengdu is so hot and humid, we shower twice a day. The first week we discovered a cockroach in the bathroom. Luckily my roommate isn’t afraid of bugs, she just picked it up with some tissues and dumped it in the toilet. Even as it was getting flushed down the toilet that cockroach was trying to swim out. I’m still not positive it is dead. The laundry situation is also interesting. We have four washing machines for the whole building, one of which is broken, and no dryers. So the only way to dry clothes is either hung up on the roof (and it’s been raining a lot, so they don’t exactly get dry) or in your room. The first time my roommate and I did laundry we tried the latter, which worked fine, but we nearly tore out our light fixtures from hanging the rope. Picture as proof below.
Besides going to classes and getting food, we also have been doing some sightseeing as a group. The first weekend we went to two ancient streets in Chengdu, called Kuanzhai Xiangzi (literally “Wide and Narrow Alleys”) and Jinli. These were basically tourist traps with lots of overpriced food and souvenirs. The Chinese tourists are also constantly taking pictures of us wàiguó rén (外国人－foreigners), which can be very awkward. It was still a fun environment, because the architecture makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, but then you see something like this:
Who knew Qing Dynasty officials drank Starbucks coffee?
We also saw a performance of Sichuan Opera, which is nothing like Western-style opera. The plot was not very important and singing was a pretty small part of it, the opera seemed more like a circus with different performers demonstrating certain skills, such as fire-breathing, acrobatics, and the traditional “face-changing” (this is difficult to explain, if you’re curious, look it up on Youtube).
On Thursday after taking a test in class, a few of us met some Chinese students who are majoring in Russian. They took four of us to a Buddhist temple in Chengdu called Wénshū Yuàn (文殊院). A man in the temple–who I am assuming is one of the monks, though he wasn’t dressed as one–decided to give us a tour. I remember that when we received tours in China when I was small, I would ask my mom what the guide was saying, and she always said that it wasn’t very interesting or meaningful. Now that I can understand more Chinese, I realize that she had been right. Our guide didn’t tell us anything about the history or religious significance of the buildings, idols, and various treasures. Instead he used vague metaphors to describe the human soul and assured us that believing in a Western religion still made us good people that would get into heaven (though he phrased it very diplomatically). I might also have had less patience for the tour because I had forgotten to put on bug spray before going and was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. I think the best part of the visit was meeting a very old Chinese man who immediately began speaking English with us and told us about how he remembered the American-Chinese combined air-force base in Chengdu during WWII.
Anyways, back to homework. If I finish early enough we could go do karaoke (卡拉OK－there are no characters for O and K in Chinese, lol)!