January 2015

Today David, my Chinese little brother, and I went to SanXingDui which is an archaeological site just outside Chengdu. If you remember I also visited JinSha Site with David a while back. SanXingDui was actually the first site found in this area of SW China that held artifacts from the Shu people. JinSha was a later site used after the Shu people moved the 25+ miles SW from SanXingDui for either resource issues or possibly boredom. It is unclear why they moved locations, but it definitely the same people but the artifacts are from different times in history.

I want to live like a local here, not some spoiled rich American kid like many of the other exchange students are acting like. I’m very glad and proud of my group from the UW for not showing this tendency of acting like brats and rude twits in China. Most of us have found convenient bus routes and can communicate directions to the taxi drivers. I haven’t needed the metro yet but I know where it is for the day I decide to check it out. I just hope it isn’t like the metro in Shanghai that was nutso! I wanted to get to the SanXingDui site using transportation means that the locals would use. Most touristy people hire a driver or go with a tour group on a bus. I had gone online to find out what locals suggested and we decided to take a bus up.

So weight in here people. I think it is a bat. What do you think?

David and I met and took a bus to the North Railway Station. When we got nearby we stopped for some lunch on the street then went in search of an elusive ChengBei Bus Station which is supposedly situated beside the train station. I don’t think that neighborhood is very safe. I’m being generous and mild when I say that. I would never tell a foreigner to go to that bus station without a local too protect and guide them. I’ll be telling the website that suggested we take that bus about putting up the name in characters and cautioning travelers about that area within the week. Nothing was in English in that part of town and the signs for the station were not easy to locate.

Good news, we found the bus station and secured a couple of seats for the next departing bus. Like most Chinese people David promptly fell asleep when the bus left the station so he missed seeing a lot of the surrounding area. North Chengdu is not the richest section and that was rather evident by the dwellings and people living in lean-to and squat buildings. I saw plenty of tarp houses and a couple of box houses which always makes my heart sad for those people who live there. We passed plenty of factories and constructions sites as well.

Our bus took us through XinDu which is a small area in the north of Chengdu that is trying to build up into a nice and prosperous area. XinDu has a Wal-Mart. They also had a Coach store. I saw other fancy brand stores in that area. If I was going to estimate, I’d say XinDu was halfway between North Chengdu and SanHui where SanXingDui is located. I saw what looks like an expansion of an elevated railway through that area as well though it was obviously still under construction. SanHui was a small city for Chinese standards. It shows some signs of prosperity, but ultimately it is a factory town like most of the area between Chengdu and the city. It has some hotels and some shopping though it is mostly for the locals to purchase household items and clothing from the city. One of the groups of people on our bus got out in the outskirts and they had about 20 boxes of shoes. They probably run a store that sells shoes from the selection I saw.

There is one bus station in SanHui and it is not large. We managed to take a taxi to the site and had a couple of hours before closing to enjoy touring the exhibition halls and the grounds. SanXinDui has some different exhibits than JinSha and they also have a cool courtyard that has a recreation of a sacrificial altar. There is a flock of metal chickens outside one of the buildings. They are taller than humans and each one is a little different in its design. They were fun to look at!

Trees, lots of trees are present in this time for the Shu people. They had holy money trees and sacred trees that lead a person to Sun or Heaven. These trees are magnificent, but terrifying. The tree limbs have zhangs and chickens that help guide people upwards. That doesn’t sound scary until you figure out what a zhang is. A zhang is a large sacrificial weapon. The end has a forked section for cutting and it has areas on the sides with axe-like teeth for sawing. One on exhibit there is big enough to sacrifice an elephant. Really it is too big for a human! We know from all the elephant tusks from the site that they did sacrifice elephants to the gods at both sites, wild boards too. There are also large spears and axes on some of the sacred trees. I think you have to sacrifice a lot to get to the top of the tree, but the chickens are there to guide you on the plus side. It’s also possible the chickens are there to mock or judge you, then that just sucks. I have some thoughts about these trees but I am reserving those observations for my own amusement and I should just say that they were amazing, intricate and empowering to view.

They were chicken worshipers. Well, at least that’s what it looked like in the beginning. Really, what do you expect me to think when there are metal statues of chickens outside and bronze and stone chickens in every room of this vast museum?! Even the altar featured a really huge chicken at the base. Ok, finally towards the end of the tour David and I came upon a write up about the chickens. They are roosters actually, which kind of makes sense but in Chinese they just say chicken without differentiating between boy chickens and girl chickens. I wish I was able to get a clear picture of that write up. It explained a lot! The Shu people are similar to the modern day Yi people in Liangshan where I am doing my research. They are sun worshipers and they hold the rooster in high esteem as he welcomes the sun over the horizon and ultimately heralds the beginning of a new day.

There is a large bronze exhibit, some cool masks are on display and some beautiful jade artifacts drew my attention. The site’s name in English is the Three Star Piles, in case you want to look it up online. I am amazed at the sophistication and talent of the ancient Shu people. They made beautiful works of art out of gold, bronze, and stone. Their art shows their passion and dedication to the Sun and nature in all its glory. Sure, they made weapons, but they made them to be practical and scarily beautiful.

Go figure there are no buses after 5:30pm in SanHui! There are no taxis out that far from town either, so when we left the site we took a car back to town from some man who was parked near the site waiting for people like us who missed the last bus. He was nice enough and warned us that getting back into Chengdu wasn’t going to be by bus that late, so either we were going to stay in a hotel or find a car to take us into the city. Sure, everything in the brochures about being a safe tourist came flooding back to me as we got into the personal car of a man who agreed to take us back to Chengdu. I think we did everything wrong according to that brochure! We hired a man, not a taxi or tour company to drive us in the dark back to Chengdu. I would never do that if I was on my own. With David there I felt much more secure in the situation however. Our driver got us pretty close to the area we asked him to drop us off to. We at least made it to my area where I know how to get around easily.

David left to go back to his campus and pack to return to his hometown for the break. I made it home and crashed. Actually, not entirely true, I got home and ordered food to be delivered to my apartment. Without the light in my kitchen I can’t see at night to cook and it was pretty late by the time I got home. Funny story, KFC in Chengdu delivers, but it isn’t like KFC in America. The menu isn’t even close to resembling what I’m used to. Case in point: EXO-M a Chinese pop boy group has done a promotion this month by “specially designing” a sandwich which must be the most disgusting thing I can think of. It is a chicken patty rolled in puffed rice and deep fried, then instead of lettuce it has seaweed. Yuck! I hate seaweed! But if you order that or one of their other promotional sandwiches you get an EXO-M toy. The chicken and bacon sandwich isn’t bad actually. I just don’t eat the bread obviously. Joe, you are one lucky fella to be getting 2 EXO-M toys thanks to late nights out and local delivery 

This evening when I was reviewing our pictures from our trip I came upon one that really captured how I feel here in China. I have an open and excited smile while I pose in front of a super cool looking tree at the site. I think that picture captures how happy I am here in Chengdu, especially when I am in the company of people I care about and who join me in my adventures. David I want to thank you for taking that picture and sharing the day at SanXingDui with me.

No, my kitchen lights have not been fixed, but I have come to terms with my hideous lamp. It has become almost a quirky friend every day it sits upon my washing machine providing light where nothing else does.

There is no celebration of Christmas in China. That sounds sad, but means those that wish to celebrate can thanks to stores that want to capitalize on Christmas gifts and decorations and specialty shops who stock ingredients and “proper meats” for foreigners to cook this time of year. For Christmas I was able to order cream of mushroom soup (GF), a version of city ham, and made mashed potatoes, everyone was also able to find China’s version of Hershey’s Kisses, and Dove chocolate bars which I watched a documentary about and it is true they put less sugar in their chocolate here.

Photo of people taking a selfie, I enjoy capturing those moments.

My teacher, Ms. YaWei Li lived and taught in the US for 4 years and knew almost her entire class was getting holiday blues. She suggested on 12/19 we have a potluck party to practice Chinese and also enjoy ourselves for all the hard work. Our class has people from all over the world. The only individuals not used to celebrating were the Japanese and Korean students.I brought cheese, which is a very difficult to find food here and one that most people don’t get to eat often even though most of us love it dearly. I also brought a version of candied sweet potatoes with dried cranberries for people to nibble on. The girls from Nepal brought some traditional foods that are similar to Northern Indian dishes, and we had apples with peanut butter which only the American’s recognized, chips and salsa (yay team America!), Japanese and Korean snack foods and Mandarin Oranges. The French speakers brought Belgium and French truffles, and drinks for everyone. Ms. Li brought her mother’s homemade jiaozi which are pork dumplings, maybe we call them pot stickers if we pan fry them.

This is Ms. Li and our classmate from Nepal whose Chinese name is Sha Ke.

The 19th was very busy for me as after our potluck I went to work, taught the kids Jingle Bells, and we colored stockings to give their parent’s for the holidays. I then booked it back to school to celebrate the annual UW Crew Christmas with Noah’s host family and friends. We had a great time with fantastic food! His host family cooked a leg of lamb and Alonso brought a traditional Mexican family dish (quite possibly my favorite dish there!) and we drank mulled wine and made hot cocoa from milk and Dutch chocolate powder. After that we went and did our secret Santa exchange at a local bar. I got exactly what I wanted because my secret Santa went shopping with me the week before and I found a fluffy panda hat that I mentioned I really liked so she went back later and bought it for me. It’s adorable, not sure I have pictures of it yet, but no worries, they will happen.

Meet BoBo, Noah's host mom and extraordinary cook!

Alonso and Patti part of our UW Crew!

The sweater team, John, Noah and Patti (seriously jealous over the authentic sweater direct from Norway John)

This is Stone, Noah's host dad. I enjoy taking pictures of other people taking pictures, its fun!

The morning of the 20th Patti our coordinator and Michelle her girlfriend caught a flight to the US for Christmas. John of the UW Crew and I caught a bus at OMG that’s early! to go to QingCheng Mountain which is just outside Chengdu. We spent the day exploring a really interesting and authentic “ancient town” and climbing a mountain covered with temples. I also got about half an hour of foot soaking in the mineral spa before we spoke with the tourism bureau about our trip and what we like and don’t like about Chengdu. It was a really fun day and I am glad I got up early after being out so late to go!

Seriously the biggest incense stick I've ever seen!

In case you are wondering why I liked this “ancient town” VS some of the others I’ve visited it… This one had local foods, sausages, smoked meat, baked in clay blocks chicken legs, etc. You could even purchase local produce, which makes the whole thing a lot more real than any of the others I have visited. Most of these “ancient towns” feature panda outfits, and cheap toys for kids. I think I saw some of those, but for the most part this location had interesting buildings, temples, and people making food on the street using ingredients I saw growing on the mountain on our bus ride up.

David and the Christmas Tree. Thanks for hosting Maggie, David and Ruth!

Christmas Eve was spent studying, so was Christmas Day. I did mention they don’t celebrate Christmas in China right? We had class, I decided to enjoy my day off and I made the ham on Christmas Eve and prepared the foods for Christmas Day at Maggie and David’s house. Maggie is my classmate and friend who is from Turkey. David is her fiancé. Ruth, David’s sister has also come to Chengdu recently to work as a teacher. David and Ruth are from Australia. Ruth is the one that coined “proper meats” when she saw I brought turkey breast and sliced ham. Let me admit I have never made green bean casserole, ever. I’m a bad American, I know. I did make it this year though since my friends had never heard of it. I even made it gluten free which was interesting but very successful! I fried onion slices with GF pancake mix and ordered GF cream of mushroom soup for it. It was delicious and I’ll probably not be afraid to make it again.

We had many traditional Turkish dishes, including an awesome bean salad and yogurt sauce and an eggplant dish with tomato sauce. We also had a traditional Australian dessert which Ruth made. Everything was delicious! I will make sure to post some pictures of our spread. We also drank lots of red wine and watched Home Alone. We had lots of presents and really enjoyed spending Christmas together without any real stress which was unusual for David and Ruth who have a large family and often there is bickering about where and who to spend their time with. I feel very fortunate to have such great friends here in Chengdu to celebrate and relax with.

The weekend after Christmas was spent studying for finals. My comprehensive Chinese final was on Monday 12/29 and my listening and speaking final was on Wednesday 12/31. I didn’t leave my apartment for 2 days so I could study. I also spent most of Tuesday studying and practicing speaking which I sincerely hope paid off. I got a 93.5% on my comprehensive final which is really good and I’m pretty proud of myself. I don’t know for sure what I got on my other test, but I would venture a guess about an 80% or so since my hearing is a little rougher than I mean to admit to. I also am tone deaf and can’t speak using tones as well as I’d like yet. After purchasing my books for next semester I spent the evening teaching classes to the K-1 kids and then watched fireworks from my bedroom window. It was a great way to ring in the New Year!

I now have no school until March 6th. I still teach on Wednesdays and Fridays, but my time is freer to study, explore, and maybe join a gym if I find one I like. I made a goal to visit one site of interest in Chengdu every week. That means more pictures for all of you! I also wish to finish a class I’m taking online and prepare for next semester as well as spend some time in XiChang with David and his family for the Chinese New Year in mid-February.

I hope you are all well and starting 2015 out strong and healthy!