Along the river, in Hechuan.
Holy cats, I live in China now. I’ve been here for about a month now, and life has been extremely busy since my arrival.
We left from Chicago O’Hare on Saturday, September 16th and landed in Hong Kong at about 6PM on Sunday. The flight itself was about 15 hours (yuck) and then we had a painful 14-hour layover until our flight the next morning to Chongqing Airport. My body’s clock was completely flipped (13 hours to be exact).
Anthony sleeping in HK Airport. Our parents in Chicago O’hare waving goodbye.
When Anthony and I arrived in Chongqing the next morning, we had to go through customs and immigration. Going through immigration in China is the most intimidated I have felt since arriving in country. There are military officers throughout the entire airport and many more at the immigration stands. My passport was scrutinized for the longest 3 minutes of my life and then I was asked why I was coming to China, if this was my first time here, why did the school hire me, etc. After we picked up our luggage, we had to have it scanned through security again before exiting to the arrivals gate. Security is taken very seriously here.
We were picked up by one of our “waibans”, Bonnie, (a waiban is a foreign helper. I call them our babysitters, but lovingly so) and then we took a 1-hour car ride to where our school is actually located, Hechuan. After arriving to our campus, we were met by our other waiban, Peter, who then took us to our apartment. They both left us to unpack and take a nap. After we woke up, we received a message from the head of the foreign teachers, Mark. He came over to our apartment and showed us how to work the air conditioner and invited us to dinner to meet the other foreign teachers.
Home, sweet home. 公寓, sweet 公寓.
There are 6 total foreign teachers here at Chongqing Normal University Foreign Trade and Business College. Mark, our leader, is from Sri Lanka and the rest are from the United States. Peter, Tim, Anthony and I are all from the Midwest while Brad is from Washington. At dinner, Mark ordered our food for us because he is fluent in Chinese and could actually read the menu (ordering food is a task because we have to try and translate what we can). After dinner, the boys took us to the grocery store to buy us water because the tap water here is unsafe for consumption.
DaBoyz. At the Hong Kong Mall in Chongqing.
During this time, the weather here in Hechuan was upper 70s – upper 80s and humid, so so humid. Apparently, the week before we arrived was still “summer weather”. The summer here in Chongqing province is very hot and very humid (AKA very uncomfortable) and usually in the 90s. So, we are lucky that we just missed it, but it was still pretty gross outside. All of our Chinese friends and students tell us that it is fall weather and getting cold, which was hilarious to us because it still felt like summer. (Also, if you’re curious, no, I have not learned the metric system. Yes, I am struggling.)
The first week here was a whirlwind of meetings, appointments, police stations, and necessary errands. We had to visit the police station here in Hechuan to start the process of getting our resident permits, get SIM cards, redo our Foreigners Physical (ugh), meet with the Foreign Department of the school, open a bank account, get towels, sit in on classes, meet the English Department. It was a lot for the first week – and we were always tired.
Every Thursday, the foreign teachers must participate in English Corner. English Corner is held outside near the pond on campus from 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM. It’s an opportunity for any student who wants to practice English with a foreign teacher and any student who doesn’t have a class with a foreign teacher to practice. The first meeting was insane – so many people came and it was so much talking! It was a lot of fun though, because everyone is so excited to meet us, but wow, it was a lot.
Near the pond on campus, where English Corner happens.
On Saturday, September 23rd, all the foreign teachers were invited by another English teacher, Frida, to go out for karaoke and dinner! Karaoke (KTV) here is not the same in the United States – here, you rent out an entire room for you and your friends. The room has lights and games for you to play, you bring your own food and stay for hours to sing with your friends. Our time-slot was from 1PM – 6PM, and it was a lot of fun. It was us five foreign teachers from the US, Frida, her kids, Frida’s friends and their kids. THE KIDS ARE SO CUTE. The kids would sing popular kid songs and the popular boy band songs, and it was adorable, even if they were screaming into the microphones. Frida and her friends were also all very talented! The boys and I would just sing the popular US songs that the group wanted us to sing.
So little, so much
After KTV, they treated us to a giant dinner. When you go out to dinner with friends or family, it is always an ordeal here. You order a ton of food that doesn’t stop coming to the table and it takes hours to complete a meal. At this particular meal, we had mini hotpot – we all received our own little hotpots filled with the broth of our choice. The table is then filled with dishes of food and things that you can put in your hotpot to cook. Each person also has their own bowl and you use your chopsticks to grab whatever food you want to eat. You get really good at using chopsticks here out of necessity, haha. We also had Peking Duck, which is a famous Beijing dish – and it was delicious. There’s a common phrase in Chinese that says “慢慢吃” (mànmànchī) which means “eat slowly”, “enjoy your meal”, “Bon appetit”. They take this phrase quite literally because dinner can take up to 3 hours! Also, cold water or cold drinks aren’t really a thing here. They believe that it isn’t good for your health to have cold drinks. So, with every meal, you are usually served tea or hot water (on top of your already hot food).
Our giant meal after KTV.
For the rest of our weekend, we spent it lesson planning because we had to teach the next week! Anthony and I only teach freshman oral English at the Tongliang campus. The Tongliang campus is about a 50 minute bus ride away from the Hechuan campus and is where all of the freshmen live and take classes. The Hechuan campus is for all the other grades.
It has been a weird adjustment, living in China. Western toilets are a luxury – everywhere in public and at school has squatty-potties which are very difficult. They continue to be one of my least favorite parts of living here, haha. We also feel slightly famous here as we’re almost 100% positive that the 5 of us are the only white people in Hechuan. People stare at us everywhere we go, kids yell “外国人!” (“wàiguórén”, foreigners!) and point at us, our students want to take pictures with us and be best friends. We are probably the first white people that some of the people here have ever seen, especially some of the older generations who lived through the opening-up of China. Overall though, everyone is so nice, accommodating, and friendly. All of our coworkers, students and strangers want to help us as much as possible and are very patient with us.
Stay tuned for more updates, I pinky swear they will come more regularly now that I have a set schedule. 😊
Oh, PS. There is a security summit (or something like that) happening in Beijing this week. They have been cracking down on VPN usage to show off how secure the country is, and I haven’t been able to connect for the past 5-6 days. I’m not ignoring you, I just can’t access anything at the moment. It should get better in the next week after the summit 😊.