Sunday, August 24, 2014

Our Man in China (1): Settling In


            Turn and face the strain.  And I have.  In fact, I believe I have embraced this adventure much
more than I thought I would, but then it’s only been about two weeks.  However, I don’t anticipate any change in my attitude, really.  I am one who immediately knows if I don’t like something (or someone, which doesn’t happen very often).  Anyway, here I am in Xi’an, residing in the middle of the old Xidian University campus.  Kay and Zeph know it well.  I cannot overstate how easy it has been, how smooth a transition, how quickly I have settled into a routine not unlike my routine in St. Joe.  Post-Jet Lag, I have been up by 6 a.m., out the door for my walk to the ‘bucks for a grande iced decaf Americano and croissant.  Back to the apartment, check email, work on syllabi, have some fruit for lunch—albeit dragonfruit, which has stark white flesh with small black seeds, or a peach (mildly, pleasantly sweet with firm white flesh—my fav so far).  Then out and about for the afternoon.

            Out and about has been…well, Yikes!  There are 8 million people in Xi’an (my hosts say 10 mil) and it seems like there are as many vehicles.  I check my phone’s weather app for the air quality reading and, on most days, it has been in the moderate-to-unhealthy range.  At this writing, the air quality is good, with one pic showing a main “ring” (road) around the city center, and haze in the distance.  It is shot from a pedestrian overpass that I often take to get to the super market (Ren Ren Le) and the aforementioned coffee shop.

Traffic at a calm moment
            There is a hierarchy regarding the traffic, though, so getting places can be tricky.  It seems to me that cars are top dog here, even out-ranking buses.  Cars have the right of way.  No mistaking.  Period.  Drivers often don’t look where they’re going and they certainly don’t give a flying…well, they don’t care if you’re coming at them or not.  They take the path, the lane, the turn and never look back.  I took Kay’s bicycle out for a short trip today (my second such outing) and I rode the brake nearly the whole time.  After cars, and with buses a close second, the scooters (all-electric, no gasoline powered) are next.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to stop for some scooter as it came from the side or from behind me.  Maybe I’m too courteous a driver, but, nahhh…these folks are very aggressive.  I’m amazed that there aren’t more accidents.  In fact, haven’t seen one yet.  After bike riders, pedestrians are at the bottom of the totem pole.  When I walk down sidewalks, on the street near the curb, at intersections, I find myself constantly looking over each shoulder.  It’s possible that a car or scooter or bicycle might come up from behind, honking, telling me to get out of the way.  It’s all very fast-paced, not unlike any big city, though.  New York comes to mind.
First Selfie in China with Tiantian

            In emails to a few of you, I have stated many times how nice everyone has been.  Tiantian, Jianhua, and Juan are terrific.  Tiantian took me to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda—Tong Dynasty; 7th to 10th centuries, A.D.—for a day, which was fascinating, gorgeous.  Tiantian translated some of the history of that dynasty, the players, poets, calligraphers, and explorers.  Jianhua has turned me onto some of the local restaurants along the back street of Xidian University.  I had lunch at Juan’s home with Simon and Leo (remember them?).  She’s a great cook and so far it has been my favorite meal—simply down home, family fare with veggies, rice, tofu, fruit—delicious.
            A new friend named Aks (yes, it sounds like the metathesis of “ask” that we often hear) took me for a ride on the back of his scooter.  We went to Metro, which is a combination of Costco/Sam’s Club/Target.  That ride went beyond Yikes.  It was more like, well… Those of you who know me can finish that sentence.  I was able to buy things like olive oil and Italian pasta, and there are many other “western” items that I’m sure I’ll get into.

            The fall semester doesn’t actually begin until September 1st.  My schedule is odd, but I do remember writing Yanping that I would teach what they want me to teach and when.  So, all day Monday from 8:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.  And then Fridays from 8:30 until about 12:30 (I think.  I’m still working on understanding the schedule of classes, times, length.) Three of the four classes are the same as what Kay taught—Oral English, Written English, and Newspaper Reading.  The fourth is Literature for graduate students.  That one should be fun.  Four courses, six class periods.  No problem.

            It has now been two weeks.  I can say that I’m fascinated by the people, the culture—what I have seen of it, so far—and how children appear to be the same everywhere.  They laugh, they play, and they seem to be in the moment at all times.  Now, if I can just remember to do that often while I’m here.


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