Sunday, September 30, 2007

National Day trip to Aba

This week is Chinese National Day so we don't have classes.  My friend Stacy and I decided to go somewhere, but since we couldn't decide where, we threw darts at a map, aiming at Chengdu so we wouldn't have to go too far.  Mine landed not too far from Aba, near the Sichuan-Qinghai border, probably about a 16-hour bus ride northwest of Chengdu.  After lunch, we're going to go buy tickets and hopefully be on our way later today.  The area is very Tibetan, though technically outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region, so there should be able to experience plenty of interesting cultural stuff as well as amazingly high mountains.  I'll keep you posted along the way if the Internet has made it up that way.  If not, I should be back in Chengdu on Sunday with lots of photos and a story or two.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Emei Shan recap

I had a great time at Emei Shan, though after walking all the way to the top, I could have done without ever seeing another step as long as I live. We spend Friday night at the foot of the mountain, starting the long way up with a short bus ride on Saturday. We were hiking by 7:40 AM and finally quit for the night at about 8:40 PM, 45 kilometers and about 2000 vertical meters later. The next morning we left the hotel at 4:30 AM to finish off the remaining 2 hours to the Golden Summit (3045 m) and hopefully see sunrise. Unfortunately, as is the case more than ninety percent of the time, the peak was buried deep in clouds and we couldn't see more than 10 feet in any direction, so we opted for some breakfast in a warm restaurant and walked back down to the parking lot and took a bus 2 hours down the winding mountain road to where we'd started. Before driving back to school, we visited perhaps the coolest temple I've seen in China: Crouching Tiger Monastery. The temple is still very active with monks and pilgrims yet somehow manages to preserve a certain tranquility that many of the more touristed temples lack. The most interesting part was Arhat Hall, a small building containing more than 500 larger-than-life statues of famous people who have successfully followed the Buddha's teaching to enlightenment, each one with unique posture, attire, and expression.

I need to get to bed now since I have class in the morning. I should be able to post some photos afterwards though.

Friday, September 21, 2007

going to Emei Shan

This weekend I'm going to go climb Emei Shan, one of the four most-sacred Buddhist mountains in China.  It's supposed to be beautiful, covered in temples and inhabited by mischievous monkeys.  Hopefully they don't take my camera.

I'll post some photos of the Women's World Cup games when I get back.  I went to two double-headers and another single game, but unfortunately the finals will be in Shanghai so I probably won't get to see them.

Time to make sure I haven't forgotten anything and then we're off.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

time keeps on slipping

So far Chengdu is treating me very well. I'm enjoying living here much more than in Xi'an, mainly because there are things to do and fun people to do them with. Unfortunately for my Chinese, so far most of those people tend to be foreigners. Hopefully as I get to know my students better, that will change.

I've been so busy doing things that I've forgotten to tell you about them, so here's a quick rundown of the past week or so:

Wednesday: My first class. Juniors. Their English is pretty good, and they all seem to want to speak, much more so than my students last year. As an added benefit they like the idea of giving speeches on different topics each class like I did last year, so hopefully we'll have some interesting discussions. A few students actually said they were glad we wouldn't be wasting our time playing games all the time, which is a relief since many of my students last year wanted exactly that. All in all, a good start to the semester.

Thursday: I went with Stephen to the Book Worm, a restaurant/cafe/library catering to foreigners that also hosts many different events, such as book talks. This one was about a guy who retraced the famous long march of the Red Army, talking to survivors along the way, gathering primary source material while it's still available. Separating the fact from fiction in the historical accounts of the Party is difficult work, but from the photos shown and experiences recounted, very interesting, beautiful, and rewarding as well. The photos of banners and 60-year-old graffiti made me realize how much I'm missing by being illiterate. I'm working to change that, but it's slow going. After the lecture, Stephen and I walked over to a nearby French-owned bar where we met a couple from Tennessee who work as freelance journalists. She was writing an article about food in Chengdu so they invited us to eat chuanchuan (hot-pot-on-a-stick) with them. It was great to see the country through their fresh eyes, reminding us of how accustomed we've become to Chinese ways.

Friday: Most of the foreign teachers went out together to a hot pot restaurant. Actually, we planned to go elsewhere, but as often happens in China, it had shut down, gone out of business, leaving little evidence it had ever existed. Meeting all the other teachers was good, and the food, though really expensive, was delicious.

Saturday: A local bar was having its 2-year birthday party, so we stayed out late, dancing to the live band and late-night DJ. The crowd was an eclectic mix of foreigners, locals, and travelers, reminding me once again what a cool city I live in now.

Sunday: Most of the day was spent relaxing, drinking tea, and conversing, but there was quite an entertaining interruption around 10 PM when Ken, the Japanese teacher who lives across the hall, yelled for us to come immediately. There was a spider at least as big as my hand on the wall in his apartment, and as we watched in fear and fascination, it ran and hid behind the wall-mounted air conditioner. Unable to scare it out, Ken sat at his table, watching and working until 45 minutes later, he again had us rush in only to see the spider slip behind a painting hung on the wall. The first attempt to catch it involved using a broom to brush it into a paper bag, but failed with the spider falling to the floor and scurrying into the corner. The second similar attempt also failed, again with a fall and the spider hiding in a soft guitar case. The next plan, though, was brilliant: catch it in a huge cardboard box. With a bit of effort, we pinned it in the corner with the box and slid another piece of cardboard along the wall to insure he was really in there. The box was quickly closed after only glancing in to be sure we had him. Once we took the box outside to release him, though, we realized we'd been a bit too vicious and mortally wounded our arachnid friend. We really did try to be nice, but when dealing with a spider as big as your hand, there's only so much you can safely and comfortably do. Maybe next time we'll be more successful.

Yesterday: Bike shopping (but no purchasing, I'm waiting to check out the used bike market and the larger Chinese-made market since foreign bikes tend to be pricey), followed by dinner at a Red-Army-themed restaurant with excellent food, and then the tail end of another book talk at the Book Worm, this one about Animal Emotions. Unfortunately, the speaker was your typical animal-lover and didn't really incorporate much science into his speech, relying instead on cute pictures of animals playing to make the audience go "ooooh."

Today: Women's World Cup double-header: USA vs. North Korea, Sweden vs. Nigeria. Time to get ready.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

getting settled in

I've got my computer now, and everything is going quite well.  My apartment is nice, a bit smaller than last year but hey, I'm only one person, so I don't much mind.  The administration seems friendly enough, and my coworkers are quite nice as well.  I live next door to a couple from New Mexico about my age that also teach English here and, conveniently enough, can speak Spanish and are studying Chinese.  I have my schedule for the semester and I'm teaching all English majors, one class of seniors, one of juniors, and five of freshmen, each for an hour and a half per week.  The upper-classmen start this week, but the freshmen don't start until the second week of October, right after the week-long National Day holiday, so I might be able to travel a bit on my long weekends before then.

Everything is falling into place nicely, and it looks to be a great place to live and work.  Now I need to go buy some food.