Tiffany Fox

Tiffany in Taiwan

I returned to WA July 31st in the afternoon. Actually I should say “we” since Joe came to meet me in China July 13th and we had our own adventures in PanZhiHua, XiChang, and of course Chengdu. We then flew to Taiwan on the 24th to see our exchange student who we hosted in 2013 at her home and met her family. Taiwan is beautiful; you should go if you ever get the chance.

Joe's spider friend :)

Joe almost got his face eaten off by a spider, it was his fault. He was looking at the pretty web and kept walking closer to see it until suddenly he was eyeballs to eyeballs with a hand-sized, brilliantly colored spider who was wondering if he would fit in the web. It was epic. Truthfully, Taiwan mosquitoes are rather aggressive to bring extra bug spray and don’t be afraid to keep applying.

My Chinese Visa expired on July 30th so we went from Taiwan (officially still China but don’t tell them that!) and spent a day in South Korea in Incheon the city. I think you should go to Korea if only to see the airport, it is magnificent and has so much to do! We spent the night in a Bathtel Hotel which was huge and the bathroom was gigantic with a 4 person pink tub and a rain shower. Here is the overshare of the day…Joe fell in love with bidets in Taiwan and South Korea. The one in our hotel in South Korea had buttons in Korean and Chinese and I chose not to mention that one of those buttons offers to play music. Call it self-preservation, he was already threatening not to leave the hotel room and I was hungry.

Tiffany in Korea

Everywhere I went, except Taiwan, most people did not speak English. But the place we ate at really late night in Korea had a Chinese menu so I was at least able to order food for us. That was such a cool experience there. It must have been after 11pm and we had only had airline food that day when we found a small family run Korean BBQ place to eat at. The family was sitting at the table next to us, the dogs were also eating with them and it was boisterous and the perfect atmosphere before leaving to head home to the states. Get this though, for breakfast on our walk to the subway in the morning we stopped at a “hamburger” place. These burgers were rice patties with seaweed and seasoning with kimchi and bulgogi for the “meat” part. They were really good and super genius for anyone that is gluten free.

Korean BBQ in Chengdu with friends

So basically Joe and I had a great time and then spent 10 hours on a plane coming home to what I felt was freezing cold weather but you all thought was ridiculously hot. I guess I adapted to the Asian 100 degrees with 90% humidity and frankly coming here was not comfortable, I was looking for sweaters the first day. I also came home with no clothing since I lost 40lbs overseas and nothing fit. So basically I had 2 pairs of shorts and tank tops with one long-sleeved shirt in my luggage and lots of gifts and goodies for people. Oh, and only one pair of sandals since all my shoes were destroyed from all the walking in China. I heard the other UW students had similar experiences regarding coming home without clothes and shoeless.

A live show they hold in the Korean Airport (ICN)

Speaking of the UW Crew, I had a party in late September to get everyone together and relax for an overnight. It was great to see everyone again and see how we are all readjusting. I think “not well” was pretty uniform for us when asked how we were doing getting back in the swing of life in the U.S. It is really different, and I know I spend lots of time at the gym working out to help me adjust to a sedentary life here which is the polar opposite of life in China where you have to walk everywhere and stairs are not an option as most elevators are either non-existent or iffy and scary. Some of the other boys are taking daily walks to keep our health in check and keep our mind from wandering to the horrible question of “why am I here?”

Joe with BaBa in PanZhiHua

I’ll tell you why I’m here, I have a loving boyfriend, and two adorable Chihuahuas and my parents who all missed me and love me. My friend also has been a great help since I returned and I am very glad to see her again as she has helped with some of the readjustments. I also need to get my bachelor’s degree so that I can return to China to live there full-time. Oh and Joe, said boyfriend, needs to get his as well. So maybe I just returned to finish school and help Joe begin the 2nd half of his degree. Or maybe I missed my dogs, friends, and parents (who are doing all right, but my dad had some health problem while I was gone so I’m watching him closely). Either way I am home.

To keep me busy I am working two part time jobs which are not related to my future but keep me occupied and I enjoy them. They also work with my school schedule which is important. School starts tomorrow and I am not even close to ready but at least my yard and house are in somewhat decent shape and my dogs have seen the vet and been given clean bills of health. So in a way I am ready, but I haven’t packed my backpack or anything which might be kind of important, don’t you think? So I gotta go and this will be my final blog for everyone.

Friends in Chengdu, who I miss very much!

I will at some point be presenting a slideshow to this year’s Chinese language class at UWT and maybe at other events on campus as well but those times are not definite at this point. Thank you for following me on my journey to Southwest China and reading about my adventures which I hope entertained you and maybe gave you some insight to what it is like to study abroad.


Rice Fields on the ride to ZhaoJue

It is with some sadness that I write this blog as I know it will be the last one I write before I leave China. Ironically it is during a rainstorm and 70+F weather which reminds me a little of W WA. These last couple of weeks have been crazy busy. I came back from my PanZhiHua trip to take my final exam at Sichuan University and then spent a day working with a local college before going directly to my overnight train to XiChang.

Who says that trains are long and tedious? I remember some travelers saying that some time ago and I have to say that my 3 experiences so far have been anything but! My first ride I encountered a group of teenagers who had just taken the College Placement Exam in Chengdu and were returning to XiChang. One of the boys spoke English and we had some interesting conversations about his life and him being Yi Minority. My second trip I sat across from a family with a baby who got extremely excited every time I waved at him. It was super adorable and we had some short conversations.

This time, talk about another level of interesting! I think the entire car was filled mostly with this tour group. Most people 80% knew each other and moved around chatting and drinking train beers. Yes, you can bring beer onto trains and drink in public in China (American policy makers…are you listening…). So about 10pm or 11pm the train turns off the lights and everyone is supposed to be respectfully quiet. Tell that to “Handsome Guy” across from me in the middle bunk. His name is a translation of what the lady in the bunk beneath me called him during their long conversation where he tried very hard to gain her affections.

I admit, I often don’t admit I speak Chinese in public so that people speak more freely in front of me, maybe if I had said something they would have stopped their long winded but rather interesting discussion during that night. As it was, “Handsome Guy” talked about his homes, yes plural, and his business and basically made himself look good. He was also gracious and a good listener to our young lady and asked her some good questions and in general I think he was honest when he said he felt bad about her situation regarding her parents.

They must have begun this conversation elsewhere in the car because I’m not sure why that situation was not so good. So at one point he leaves to take a leak in the all too scary toilet facilities and returns and sits on her bed which was the bottom bunk. He said something I could not quite understand, and she politely refused him (yeah, I know those words all too well so don’t even try it Chinese boys!). Of course at some point a rude man comes down the car, sees the foreigner and starts telling everyone who can hear him, myself included about his distaste for foreigners etc. I was definitely more interested in the attempts of “Handsome Guy” than in this man’s rude behavior. I also missed out on hours of sleep which was kind of a bummer because I arrived in XiChang at 6am very tired. So nope, trains are not boring thank you very much!

Xiao Mao and I had camera wars the entire trip to the museum and during dinner. His is bigger, but I got some really hilarious shots of him!

I met up with my friend GuGu Mu and her boyfriend Xiao Mao (小猫) at the ungodly hour of 6:40am. Ok, his real name is not that, but since I often forget what it is and I did challenge him to a really lightweight drinking contest which he lost I dubbed him Xiao Mao. Xiao Mao is from XinJiang in NW China, but he is Han not the local minority for that area. He is darling, friendly, and kind and treats GuGu Mu really well and I cannot find fault in him. Even his lack of drinking prowess is nothing to complain about. It was his first trip to XiChang and we introduced him to GuGu Mu’s friends and we all had a really great time including meeting an artist who paints Yi people. This artist will be featured in New York sometime in the near future and I really enjoyed his company as well as everyone else’s during our short time in the city.

Xiao Mao did not join us in our trip to ZhaoJue. He sure missed a spectacular ride. I have to say, that no matter how bad that road is, and how much I want to puke traveling it, I love the drive up and down those mountains. It is magical; there is no better word for it. Literally you travel up a mountain to view XiChang and its sparkling lake and then move into pasturelands of sheep and cows, and then go through small villages where you see rice fields, corn, and all other sorts of crops like potatoes and buckwheat until you reach what must be the top of another mountain. Cascading waterfalls dot the landscape, some hidden, some tearing away at the already ravaged road. Yes, magical.

I like ZhaoJue for its simplicity. There is nothing too city about it, it just seems normal and simple but all your daily needs are met. You can buy cellphones, clothes, food from local farms, chickens from your neighbors, shoes (handmade and from the factory) and everything is cheaper and the people though amazed and shocked at the foreigner are very friendly. That city has a population mostly of Yi minority though I have met a couple of Han people and a few other minorities. Some of my friends in Chengdu are from there and I find those people are especially well grounded and kind with open hearts and a sense of community I find missing in most people from other areas.

The reason for my trip to ZhaoJue this time was to meet with GuGu Mu’s father who works at a school. He was able to arrange for me to come into a classroom and administer our research survey to that class of high school students. The teacher was not well informed but was pretty cool about it as I tend to treat people nicely and GuGu Mu’s father is a funny guy who can make anyone smile. I got about 60 surveys done that evening and spent some time talking with the students.

I think I blew their mind with some of the US averages on income and children. I also mentioned that most people own dogs since this information tends to shock people in rural villages where dogs are wild and often mistrusted due to not being well domesticated. When I wrote down the average yearly income on the blackboard I watched jaws drop, then I wrote down the conversion rate if anyone wanted to do the math. I think the average monthly income in ZhaoJue would be about 1,000-2,000RMB per month for a family of 3-6 people which is less than $350USD.

Our trip was very nice but in order for us to return to Chengdu for a meeting we had to rush back. We spent 12 total hours on buses from ZhaoJue to XiChang, then from XiChang to Chengdu. We picked Xiao Mao up in XiChang and he held the bus for us as we were literally getting there 3 minutes before the bus was leaving. I’ve spent these last days packing up my apartment and preparing for Joe’s arrival in China.
In general I know I will miss China, but I feel I am ready for America and some of the comforts of home, like consistent water, clean outdoor spaces without litter and fecal matter, and fresh air from the ocean. Before I leave I will be spending time with my friends here and showing Joe how to be a good Chinese person for a couple of weeks.

This year has been good, and I learned a lot about myself and how I view the world. Thank you China!

View of XiChang from the mountains surrounding it.

It goes without saying that my blog shares only my feelings, and that I haven’t researched actual facts or statistics prior to writing anything here. Disclaimer done… now onto a story of personal growth and finding a side of China I thought was missing.

If you are on my WeChat you will recognize the story of Fred in RongXian, Sichuan Province. A few weeks ago I went with a group of Chinese friends to RongXian and ZiGong to see their hometown. Our first day we went up to the top of a mountain covered in gardenias. It was magical. The smell and greenery with the sparkly white flowers made it appear like we were in a fairy tale.

Mind you, that was after we climbed this mountain which was no easy feat. None of us ladies were prepared for mountain climbing and I’m surprised no one lost a heel or snagged a skirt on the underbrush or rocks. Once at the top though it was well worth the physical discomfort and scratches on my feet!

We drank tea in a meadow area that was surrounded by the gardenias and I got some great photos of a local dragonfly. I also got my picture taken with many strangers who realized I was the only foreigner on the mountain and they were excited when I was cool with taking a picture with them. This is not uncommon in China. Many people want to take pictures with me, for their own reasons that I cannot guess at, and I usually am totally cool with it because they are so honestly excited to meet me and happy that I am not some grumpy foreigner.

My friend Lili whose family I spent Spring Festival with took us to eat rabbit for dinner and then we had to find a place to sleep. Her Baba said that I would most likely not be comfortable in their home in RongXian since it is old and has limited amenities. I insisted that I would love to spend some time with Mama who was at their house that night and that I would most definitely be comfortable. Lili sighed and agreed that it was cool if I insisted on staying with the family, but was only staying there since she was obligated to. She honestly wanted to stay at a hotel since she feels that dwelling is beneath her standards.

We arrived on the campus of the RongXian High School and met up with Mama in a super cute courtyard. We stayed in a small apartment that was provided to Mama and Baba by the school since they are retired employees of that school. The apartment was pretty comfortable for being in the subtropics, complete with mandatory mosquito netting surrounding the beds. There was running water and the bed was very old but comfortable. The apartment came complete with our guard spider Fred.

Yep, if you know me, you know I hate spiders. The bigger they are the less I like them. RongXian is an area with banana trees and lots of plants that have drip leaves. That means spiders the size of basketballs. Fred was just hanging out near the ceiling above the bed eating the mosquitoes and chillin’ when we got there. I call it personal growth that I did not freak out, scream, or try to kill Fred. I was super reasonable, in fact no one there realized I do not like spiders, they did wonder why I took a picture of him though. So Fred was bigger than my hand, not kidding, and I think he was well fed by the mosquitoes because he did not look enticed by the new people blood that just walked into his pad. I made a silent pact with him that if he didn’t move all night I would make sure to send him extra mosquitoes before I left.

He was a perfect gentleman and did not move at all during the night. I know, because I was listening for movement from that area of the wall and heard nothing. I’m not sure I slept actually, but that is beside the point. So personal growth for me! What made the entire thing worthwhile was that at night there was a huge rainstorm outside our apartment. It sounded like those movies of rain in the Amazon Forests, it was incredible. The rain pounding on the roof and onto the leaves near the door captivated my imagination and I basked in the gloriousness that was that storm.

For follow up, the next day we went to ZiGong where there is a huge dinosaur museum. It was really cool and we got some good pictures and had some fun. We ate rabbit head for lunch since it is the specialty of ZiGong. That sounds easy until you try it with chopsticks. It is rather difficult to get the meat out of the bones and from the cavities. In general the trip was interesting and I saw lots of things that I might not have seen if I didn’t know people from that area of Sichuan.

Now to my most recent trip to PanZhiHua. For this trip, you should know that I contacted a local Chengdu friend and he put me in touch with his little sister. Between the three of us we connected me with Mama and Baba in PanZhiHua and scheduled a time for Alonso (from the UW Crew) and me to visit the family home in PanZhiHua. Neither my friend not little sister could come with us for this trip so I basically went on blind faith that these people were good like their kids.

For some time now I have been feeling like a hypocrite in my research regarding the Yi minority group. How can I study a group of people if I don’t understand who they are and how they live? I asked my friend if his family would treat me like their family and show me how they live their daily lives and they were absolutely cool with it. They were originally worried about the condition of their home but I assured them that I wanted to be treated as family not a special guest which is what usually happens when I go out to do field research.

Now, I know what not having amenities is like, but Alonso, he wasn’t quite aware of things until I spelled it out for him. I made sure he knew what he was getting into before we left. Electricity, no problem, running water, no problem, showers and toilets…problem. Hoses and holes are the best you get in those areas and sure enough that is what we got! Actually, their facilities while shared with other families were extremely well made and kept clean, I was super impressed. As is usual the toilet hole is placed near the pig pens for ease of cleansing though this had some good ventilation and was built very strategically.

Mama and Baba put us in a room together away from the family so we could have some privacy which was really sweet of them. Baba even found a friend who drove to pick us up at the train station. We spent three days with the family learning how to cook Yi food Baba style, embroider Yi clothing Mama style and seeing the area of RenHe and PanZhiHua the city. We took breaks from the sun (about 90-100F) in the shade of a mango tree in their courtyard. We barbequed at night in the courtyard slices of pork, potatoes, eggplant, and other goodies that we could dip into Baba’s special spice mixture (which he also showed us how to make bless him!).

I called this picture "handsome Baba" which translates to "爸爸好帅“

Alonso and I ate so much on the trip we were sure our stomachs would explode. I also taught the children how to cheers the adults and they were so adorable!!! They would come around with their cups of soda GanBei-ing everyone. I got to dress in Yi clothing; I couldn’t move because it was definitely made for someone half my size but I did manage to put it on, small victories…

Baba and Mama and the rest of that family were some of the nicest people I’ve met. Many days in China I find myself wondering why people are so cruel and heartless. I see someone get hit by a car or motorcycle and people walk quickly by or stand in the back taking pictures on their phone not helping the injured person. It is because here if you help someone you become liable to make sure they are taken care of which means you take them to the hospital and pay for everything. This creates a fear of helping others.

As an American this is disheartening. No one here wants to help others, despite being a country who says they are community minded not single minded like us westerners! I have a hard time with this concept that they believe in the greater “us” when they won’t help grandma cross the busy road or pick up the kid who fell off his bike in the busy intersection.

Mama and Baba helped remind me that people here do help each other. Their family has a great connection with the local farmers and city people. They are a strong family that believes in some really progressive ideas like not being concerned about who their son marries as long as she accepts their minority culture. That is so unusual I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of it among Yi people. Baba had some great heart to heart talks with Alonso and me after consuming enough barbeque and beer to fill the local village. Speaking of the local village, we invited most of them to join us during the nights and we learned a lot about them and their beliefs and hometown over our massive dinners.

Seeing such kind hearted people has strengthened me for this last month in China. It made my heart lighten to see their love for each other and for us, complete strangers! They really did treat us like family and all of us feel a deep sense of loss now that we are back in Chengdu. I miss them terribly and Baba sends me messages and pictures reminding us that we are loved and deeply missed. Alonso and I both felt like PanZhiHua/RenHe was home. The foothills, mango trees and the kindness of the people in that area was heartwarming and soothing to our frazzled city souls. I hope to go back and see the family soon, they made a deep impression upon me and I hope as their daughter I can make them proud and return to them one day.

On a side note, it is cicada season and I love this time of year! The rolling sounds of the cicadas singing in the willow trees along the river near my house is extremely comforting and a friendly reminder of nature in a big city. The cicadas also herald summer, 90 plus degree weather with humidity at about 85% which means most of us are quietly sweating while we study and work.


Is the number one reason to come to China. Uprooting one’s entire life to live a year in China definitely brings about changes. Finding your true feelings and realizing that you didn’t actually feel a certain way about some things and that you have opinions on subjects you had no idea existed is really interesting. Learning that there are times when there is no water and you have to rearrange your shower schedule also adds an element of adaptability. This is especially true when that moment happens right after shampooing and before you rinse!

But today’s blog is more about personal change, specifically how I began to realize that my outside image was not fitting my personality. What do you do when you feel more like 25 than 30+? My gray hair drove me nuts and my clothing while practical was not fitting the person inside. I began realizing this a while ago, maybe December, but since I was still working at the Kindergarten until March I decided to wait to take action.

Changes already accomplished include losing about 30lbs within 2 months of my arrival in China thanks to cutting out almost all meat and processed foods. My clothes don’t physically fit me anymore but I did just order some from online so we’ll see, maybe I’ll get lucky. My friend that helps me with ordering online really likes the clothes I chose and supports me in showing off my tattoos since China is more open about that now than before.

But before all the clothes needed changing I knew I needed to take more drastic changes. When I was 24 I gave myself the gift of not dying my hair anymore and let it slowly grow out. I’ve been gray since I was 14 and I felt at 24 I could accept my hair and let it have its dignity. Screw that! I scheduled a time with my friends studying here in Chengdu to go to the salon.

Here is what you need to know about salons before you hear about my experiences. Guys work in salons here, it is rare for women to work in a salon except as the wife of the owner. The guys are straight but their style is unique and frankly in a crowd you can spot them by their clothing and hair usually. They dress well and with flair, even in the heat which is now in the 70’sF but they are also practical and I find them adorable and fun.

There are no chain salons in China, at least that I’ve found. The owner also works in the shop but he is older and very noticeable as the owner. Sometimes he micromanages but is very polite about it. Ok, the guys and I make jokes about his micromanaging sometimes but we still like him and his wife who is just nosy which is normal when it comes to the foreign customers. Regarding foreigners in China…

Pretty much anywhere I go people stop to stare at me, some even say “laowai” or “waiguoren” when I pass by. Both those words mean foreigner. I think it got worse when my eye color changed from a medium blue gray to its current light green. I keep getting mistaken as Irish now. No, I don’t know why my eye color changed but it is noticeable in pictures and my fellow UW friends noticed the changed happened over time here in China. At the salon, people often stop to look and see what the foreigner is doing. Staff and strangers come over to look. If you watched the Penguins of Madagascar you know the drill, “smile and wave boys, smile and wave.”

Anyway, so at the first salon I went to my friend from Nepal came with me. She had used that salon before and liked the staff. We sat down and chose the brightest red they had on hand. I knew that it would mute out because of the gray and medium brown my natural hair color is. The guy dying my hair was super thorough, like anally thorough. He obsessed over the white hairs that weren’t taking the color the way he wanted. He kept coming back and picking out strands and applying more color to them, literally sometimes hair by hair. We didn’t talk much because my Chinese still needs improvement but it was a pleasant experience.

That was the week after I quit teaching, coincidently the day my sister from Germany came to visit Chengdu with her husband. I got to the airport with freshly dyed red hair. That was just the start of this project…

The following week I went to a different salon, one that I had seen by the coffee shop on campus that I like. This time I took a friend from New York. Her Chinese is pretty good and we have a lot of fun together. I talked to the guys about doing highlights in purple. They were down to do it and this time I had two wonderful men working on my hair for 4 hours! They were also incredibly anal about making sure the highlights were in the right places. They bleached my hair, which actually looked really cool with the red and then applied the purple dye.

Imagine all of our surprises when we saw the color turned hot pink! So freaking cool and unexpected! The main guy doing my hair was stoked and happy I liked it as it was by no means purple. We took a couple pictures with his camera as well. He enjoyed working with me despite the language barrier. He’s a total cutie and has a fun personality.

So a month of hot pink highlights and red hair go by. My roots are showing, it is time for another change… time to try that purple again. I went back to the same salon where we did the highlights since I really liked the staff there. This time, the guy that assisted last time was the main one working with me. Using my dictionary and lots of hand signals I managed to say I wanted to try for purple again and this time let’s do a more brown base color.

During my 4 hours in the chair, the guy from the first time kept helping out. I was sitting in front of the computer and speakers again. That was convenient since their song list this time was much better and I wanted to know the names of the bands playing. He kept watching me to see which songs I liked and by the middle of my visit he knew when I didn’t like the song playing and he would reach around me to change it to something that was more pleasing to both of us. He also likes EXO, and other Korean/Chinese groups that play pop and upbeat music.

The main guy doing my hair was super chill but attentive. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be surrounded by guys paying close attention to you and making sure you are happy. Sigh, totally going to miss that when I return to the states. So, during this visit another salon guy came up and started talking smack about me as a foreigner etc. I pretended I didn’t understand him, but honestly I understood more than 80% of his words and the meaning behind them so that was kind of hard. I’m pretty sure I glared at him, which is probably why the music loving guy began hovering closer to me and playing with the song list.

When punk boy walked away I typed on my phone a message to my main guy as the music guy took a seat to the side instead of almost in my lap. I wrote down that I did not like the guy in black and that I was very happy that he and the other guy were helping me because I like them both a lot. He gave me a look and then thanked me. I could have said this out loud but I didn’t want the other guy to hear me. Sneaky laowai move!

Skip to the end where we blow dry my hair, yep those highlights are definitely purple. Just what I wanted! But neither the guys nor I are impressed by the “brown” that developed into almost a gold color. It was while blow drying that I asked my main guy how he felt about next time doing all purple hair. He grinned and said “keyi” which is basically “sure.” I think he remembered that last time I admitted my age and maybe he thinks I’m a little nuts. I reminded him that I trust his opinion and expertise. I feel he is looking forward to going all purple either in May or early June. Dying my hair is cheap here and I love being fawned over by kind, interesting, and fun guys for hours on end!

My friends here in China are all wondering what came over me, but they totally dig this dye with the dark purple accenting the gold brown color. They also enjoyed the hot pink and red for its fun factor. One of my friends asked if she could take some photos as she wants to paint me in a couple of pictures. She is an art major at a college here in Chengdu. She is also from XiChang where I spent my time doing research.

Speaking of changes …I have spent more late nights partying in China than I ever did in my 20’s and I find it suits me well. I enjoy going out with my friends from all over the world, literally, and drinking, dancing, going to karaoke which is totally different than in America, and generally hanging out until 2am and then getting up at 6:30 to go to school for a couple of hours. Talk about a change from going to work, school, the gym and walking the dogs after dinner then going to bed around 9pm! Not having responsibilities is fun and has brought out some of the less conservative parts in me. I like this side of me, I plan on keeping it alive when I come back to see all of you.

I’m out of time, I need to practice for a huge test next weekend. I am also having issues with my laptop so the pictures might be funky. I hope you enjoy the pics and reading about just a couple of my changes.

Clothing style, late night partying, and hair color might just be the start, who knows?

I think Joe should become a Chinese style hairdresser, what do you all think?

大家好!Hello Everyone!

Today’s blog includes some introductions and then the story of a trip to Liangshan Prefecture in Southern Sichuan. For this story you will need to know some of the players in our mini drama: Noah who is a UW Seattle student and my research partner and this story’s unexpected hero, David my little brother here in Chengdu and our “host” for this trip, Michael a resident of a small town in ZhaoJue and now a friend here in Chengdu, Simple another ZhaoJue/Chengdu friend, and Maria a student from NY who is studying Chinese at the Minorities University which is more commonly known as MinDa, and our surprising heroine GuGu Mu whose name I am spelling phonetically and whose family originally was from ZhaoJue but now they live in XiChang (she is also a student at MinDa but she studies art).

I begin my story with a reminder that my research in China through the UW Seattle and this exchange program is based upon the Yi Minority language and its preservation or loss in its own culture with the focus on those that live in Liangshan Prefecture which is considered an autonomous zone and includes ZhaoJue, XiChang, and many others. Noah and I took a bus from Chengdu to XiChang which took about 6 hours and is one of the most stunning drives I can imagine with its sweeping mountain views and elevated roads that overlook small villages and crop fields. It also boasts some of the longest tunnels in China, most likely the world.

Upon arrival in XiChang we were met by David and several ShuShus. A ShuShu is an uncle and that is a very loose title, it often means a person who is above the age of 30 who is part of the Yi community. I almost titled this story Everybody Needs a ShuShu because they are invaluable assets to any situation. In this case we climbed aboard the ShuShu’s motorcycles and headed about an hour above XiChang to David’s family’s house in SiHe a tiny area settled in the mountains just outside the “big city” of XiChang. These ShuShus are masters at avoiding potholes in an underdeveloped area with sketchy roads!

Immediately upon arrival at David’s house we were told that we could not bring out backpacks for the next couple of days since we were going to be on the move to several locations. We had to bring enough supplies for 2 days (which turned into 3, guess it was a good thing I took the monster purse I keep around for these situations). We then turned around and headed back to Xichang to take a bus to see David’s sister’s wedding. I have no idea what the area we were in was called, but it was a smaller town and we spent time with the bride’s family and then I shared a room with the bride for the night. We met a lot of really cool people at this event and I felt very fortunate to have met the bride and groom the next day for a late breakfast and celebration. Turns out that one of the big things at Yi weddings is changing clothes, well at least for the bride. She changed skirts in the car after being carried to the car by a family member, then she changed hats and skirts again at the location. She was super sweet and she said she was very happy to be with her groom and he also looked very happy when we got a chance to talk with him briefly at the table. For anyone that ends up attending a wedding like this in the future you can hopefully get treated to some expensive and interesting types of cigarettes which are handed out at favors to the guests from the family members. I don’t smoke but watching the different types was interesting, and by handing out, I mean they hand you the entire pack of smokes to show their generosity and happiness!

After the wedding we took a bus ride into XiChang and checked out an old street that had a temple and some interesting shops. David was in too much of a hurry for us to really enjoy ourselves, but we knew we needed to catch the next bus to ZhaoJue which could be a story in itself honestly. I am going to keep that part short since it was a barfer of a ride with the really bad road conditions, but the scenery was worth the entire trip. XiChang is towards the top of a large mountain range, but ZhaoJue is located above that, so we travelled up, and then looked down on XiChang. Truly spectacular views amongst the trees, that were then turned into glimpses of rivers with tiny villages and pastures of cows or water buffalos (whatever they are called here, it seems to be debatable) and sheep.

About the time we arrived in ZhaoJue I realized things weren’t going as planned. Granted there was no itinerary for this trip. Here is what I thought would happen: originally it was just going to be me going with David to SiHe and spending some time exploring his hometown and then I wanted to spend some time in XiChang shopping for Yi wares and if time permitted I would see if anyone else was in town to visit before heading back. I had planned on spending some time teaching English to David’s students as he is a teacher of Yi during breaks when students who normally are in school can attend his lessons since Yi isn’t taught in schools. Then Noah was available and we agreed this wasn’t necessarily a research trip, but more of a meet and greet or build good will trip. But adding Noah only meant I had good company and an opportunity to understand more of what was happening as his Chinese is far superior to mine. I had wanted to spend some time with David’s family, meet his mom, little sister and brother etc. Yep, almost exactly none of that was happening at this point in our trip.

Noah had been in contact with GuGu Mu prior to heading up to XiChang and we really wanted to spend some time with her and meet her family. They had gotten a small pig for a bbq celebration with us and we scheduled time to get with her upon our return to XiChang from ZhaoJue. That sounds simple doesn’t it? Sure it does…

Our arrival in ZhaoJue was in the evening and we were whisked away to meet people and see a small school where the headmaster was very welcoming and is one of David’s “brothers” (ShuShus are over 30, brothers are under that, sisters are under 30 generally and Ayis are aunts or women over 30ish). For some reason I have a hard time remembering this part of the story, but here is what I do remember. We checked into a hotel, dropped our stuff off, and then went out. I think we went to dinner with David’s brother the headmaster and several of his colleagues and friends. This is where we meet Simple.

Welcome Simple, oh how to do your personality justice?! Simple became my savior that night. Noah and I were invited to go hang out at KTV which is basically a party room with its own bathroom which is really convenient because most people are roaring drunk during KTV and having a bathroom centrally located is very important. The Yi people always spill some of their drink on the ground as an offering to their ancestors; simply translated this is disaster to my wheat allergy! Beer is flying, literally, through the room at and on me and I’m starting to itch so I tell David I absolutely have to leave and Simple offers to take me back to the hotel. Well, that was the original plan; you’ve seen how those are turning out right? Simple and his lady friend escort me out of the KTV building and into a taxi where he looks at me and asks if I want to go have bbq, “sure” is my immediate response since Liangshan has some of the best meat in China! I’m not even hungry, but who can turn down bacon over an open flame, psst…not me.

Diverted successfully to some tiny little bbq place we sit down to munch on some goodies and drink more. I’m very fortunate to find people who understand my allergy in this situation, they found me a bottle of plum wine to drink while we chatted happily about things like Obama, basketball and sports people I know nothing about (sorry Kobe!). I swear I met Michael at this time, but I’m still not entirely clear on that day’s events. Around midnight Simple and I realize David and Noah will be returning shortly to the hotel and they will find me missing. Of course my cellphone is dead since I had no time to pack the charger for this trip so we sneak off from the bbq to the hotel where I beat the boys back by less than 10 minutes.

Bless Noah for being such a sport! He was my champion and diverted the attention from me and was able to buffer me from the drinking at every meal and event. Since I can’t drink beer and there is really nothing else in China worth drinking I am not the best party animal. He caught me at the hotel that night and warned me that David and headmaster brother were going to a meeting and probably would come get mea t 7am to head out. That allowed me to prepare and get a much appreciated shower and relax a little in the morning knowing the plan. Sure enough, early morning comes and they come to get me, but I am a little surprised that Noah isn’t there with them. Turns out he was taking a much needed rest from the night of debauchery and would meet up with us at noon for lunch and our next engagement. No problem, buddy, rest, relax and feel better.

Ha-ha, ever been to something where you understand almost nothing? I could have held my own better at a physics convention, or anime event (I have no idea about either of these subjects, seriously none at all). So, here is what I can share about this meeting: It was the first meeting amongst the Yi people who come from various locations in China about the preservation of their culture and traditions. Yep, that is super important to my research, too bad I don’t speak Yi! Most of the conference was spoken in Yi, except for a couple of folks who spoke Chinese who I can’t thank enough for helping me piece things together.

Interestingly enough I found out while listening to a super nice young man speaking Chinese that not all the Yi people speak the same language, let alone use the same writing system. He pointed out that many in attendance could not understand the meeting because of this and that was why he was speaking Chinese. Later I caught up with him and got his contact information since he was the only person there that seemed to speak from the heart and showed any compassion towards his companions from different areas and groups.

Noah was able to join us for lunch and our next unplanned event. This time we were expected to make a presentation in front of a high school group at the small school our headmaster brother runs. Our speech starts in 2 hours, umm, what are we supposed to talk about? We were told it started at 2pm, so we planned to return to XiChang on the 4pm bus, and we knew that if we were running late we could hire a driver to take us down the mountain with GuGu Mu’s help. We also knew that travelling that road in the dark was out of the question. Well, Chinese time and clocks in general don’t mix well. 2pm turns into 3pm and we begin, but there are a lot of speakers and no one wants us to leave until the pictures are taken. I’m starting to get irritated with everyone saying, “10 more minutes” when I ask when it will finish.

Simple and David both gave speeches, and we met Action who is a gal from ZhaoJue who studied really hard to get into a great school in the South. About 4:30pm I’m getting pissed, because now we are finding out that everyone expects us to go to another celebration dinner in ZhaoJue not head back to XiChang. Noah prevented me from walking out the door and leaving without anyone knowing where I was going. He was very calm and despite also being frustrated was much more level headed than I was at that time. I told you he was the hero right? My Irish temper was definitely begging for me to rebel and do my own independent thing which might have been a little dangerous but at least I would have had my freedom.

Well, we made it through the meeting and the pictures at about 6:30pm and then went to dinner. I could also mention at this point that we were given a person to translate our speech, but she got really flustered and wasn’t able to help at all, so Noah again saved the day and spoke in Chinese for us. We decided to share a room that night so that we could make our escape to the bus early in the morning without interference and we did just that the next morning. We did call David from the bus after we were headed out of town to let him know we were going to meet with GuGu Mu in XiChang for that pig we’d been dreaming about. I unwound a little bit on our rough trip down the mountain and was looking forward to our time with GuGu Mu and her family.

Her family is awesome! They were so welcoming and just super cool. Her mom and dad sang a song for us, her uncle performed Tai Chi and everyone was relaxed and happy to have us. We really relaxed and had a wonderful time with the best food I’ve had in China, no kidding! That pig was delicious and superbly cooked, the strawberries were from their garden, and everything was perfect and peaceful. David joined us at the end of dinner and we headed back into XiChang for the evening at a bar after meeting up with Michael and walking around the lake in XiChang for a while. It was a beautiful day, filled with friendship and good will.

Michael turns out to be a young man from Liangshan who has one of the best smiles I’ve ever seen. His posture is disturbingly perfect and he is a warm and friendly person who Noah and I both enjoyed spending time with. He spent more time with us the following evening as well and was a welcome addition to our group. FYI Simple stayed in ZhaoJue and returned recently to Chengdu for school, we have dinner plans with him, Michael and Abraham another young man from Liangshan. All of these guys are wonderful, kind and intelligent people who I am honored to know and call my friends.

That night we took separate scooters to SiHe, but there were some mishaps with that too. Recall that nothing went as planned on this trip, why would that change now?! I guess that Noah and David’s scooter broke almost immediately after we headed out. My cellphone was useless since it was well past dead and had been for a couple of days now. So where are they? The ShuShu I was riding with was as puzzled as to our missing comrades as I was. So now it is midnight 30 and I don’t know where I’m going, or where my host and friend are. It was nerve wracking until they finally showed up after waiting in a really secluded area for about 20 minutes. Lesson learned: always have one working cellphone per bike.
That night was really cool; we stayed at David’s home in SiHe and drank wine under the stars in the mountains above XiChang’s brilliant lights.

Remember when I said I was expecting to teach a little English at David’s home based school? Yeah, he told me to prepare for about 40 minutes of teaching, turns out that I was expected to teach for 3 hours to two separate groups of students. Nothing like finding that out the day of! We also found out that Maria would be joining us and that she was also an English teacher for kids like I am in Chengdu so I knew help was coming. Things went well and we made fast friends with Maria and some other folks who came to join us for the lessons. I had not expected to be stuck at the house all day, and was a little miffed I couldn’t just go explore the area except for briefly during our lunch break.

That evening we went to town, met up with Michael and several other fabulous and funny people for dinner and spent the night in XiChang so we could catch the morning bus back to Chengdu. I left the festivities early due to my allergies and not wanting to have issues with KTV and beer again. I heard it was a blast though no one took pictures that I could find.

Maria and I have kept in touch since our return to Chengdu. She and I went to have some Pho at the Global Center and we have plans for early next month. I have several dinners planned with various people from this trip and I have some fond memories of warm and kind individuals who I hope to keep in contact with for a very long time. GuGu Mu has become a fast friend and looking at her artwork always amazes me, she is truly gifted. Her heart is filled with generosity and independence and I love her dearly. Simple and Michael will most likely be good interviews for our research, but most importantly they are our friends and I value their friendship more than their ability to help me find information. Noah proved to be a huge asset and a brother to me. He was always a friend, but after his cool head and willingness to buffer me from some of the situations we got involved in he became my brother. Anna, David’s little 16 year old sister who you read about briefly in DuFu’s Cottage is my sister now and I am trying to find a way to bring her to America to visit or attend school.

Life is never boring in China, and rarely do plans turn out as expected I’m finding. Maybe that makes the experience more real and exciting.

Ok, I’m sorry. I effectively fell off the face of the earth this last month or so, but to be fair I was busy getting pictures and doing stuff worth blogging about! Today I want to tell you about DuFu’s Thatched Roof Cottage. From here on out, I’ll call it DuFu’s. The reason it took me so long to write about him is because I kept writing Dufus, say that out loud and don’t laugh, I dare you! Basically, every time I tried to write I would bust up laughing and couldn’t continue. I’m not the only American that calls this place Dufus's Cottage though, I asked around when I couldn’t control my snickers in public.

For this blog I need to introduce you to John, Noah and Anna. John and Noah are also UW exchange students here in Chengdu and part of my program. We are a close UW family and when we have time we call each other up and go do things as a group. So my first trip to DuFu’s was with John and Noah (Noah is also my research partner and you’ll hear more about him soon).

Anna is my little sister here in China. She lives in XiChang and is technically David’s little sister so really that means she is my little sister too. I met Anna on my trip to Liangshan last month and she immediately became my family. She is a darling 16 year old with a huge and kind heart, and when I got back to Chengdu I invited her to spend a week at my apartment seeing Chengdu with me. Thanks to the family knowing me, Anna was allowed to come and get a brief introduction to Chengdu. I think I wore her out, but she got to do lots of fun things while in town with me including going shopping and drinking Starbucks at Wanda Plaza Mall. I think she really liked DuFu’s and the Global Center which is the largest building in the world regarding square footage according to Wiki.

Now on to DuFu! He was a poet, a prolific poet who had a really hard life back in the 700’s. I feel bad for saying this, but he wasn’t all that interesting to me. I can’t read his poetry, but many people in China think he was very important and his poems were significant to their history. What I do like about him was that he was supportive and sympathized with the impoverished people of China. That is extremely rare, in modern times and historically.

After DuFu passed on his house and land was owned by a concubine named Madame Ren (?). I will have a picture of her on this blog for you to check out. She was stunning. She wasn’t a concubine to royalty, but rather to a military man. She changed around the landscape a little, but kept the herbal gardens and trees that DuFu had planted in his time.

Who I did find interesting was Li QingZhao, a Song Dynasty writer/poet and one of the few exalted females in China’s history. I will have a photo of her bronze statue which is prominently displayed at the front of an exhibition hall at DuFu’s. Li was an outgoing noble woman whose family was very scholarly. She wrote of beauty, patriotism and women’s strength and courage. You can Google her to find her poems translated into English.

What Anna, John, Noah and I all noticed about this secluded park, was it was beautiful and naturally peaceful. You can hear birds, bees, smell the plum and peach trees when they blossom, and listen to the gurgling waterfalls throughout the grounds. DuFu’s place is one of peace, art and nature. It is amazing to find such a place, literally in the middle of a city that holds 9-14 million people. I hope if my readers get a chance to visit Chengdu they will choose to visit DuFu’s Thatched Roof Cottage. It is worth the admission price of $10 USD or if you are a student in China half that.

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!

Lots of mini adventures have happened since David’s debut. I got the stomach flu, the following week I got hit by a car and broke my finger and banged up my arm. It wasn’t actually a big deal but it has made writing extremely difficult. It was neither my fault, nor the driver of the car’s fault that we smacked into each other. We were going pretty slow due to traffic and got blocked in. Luckily I didn’t need to see a doctor. I told you about hospitals already! I think I won’t ride my scooter if it is raining though, that made a huge difference in visibility and traffic congestion.

The day after my little bump with the car was David’s birthday. I went to his campus and we had a terrific dinner and saw “Interstellar” the movie. What impressed me that day was that the Yi restaurant where we ate had real bacon and sausage. First time in China I’ve had real smoked bacon that was cut correctly. The sausage was also the best I’ve had in China and rivals European pork sausages. The movie was interesting and I found I liked it despite it not being my normal type of movie. It was also rather nice to watch a movie in English. The biggest problem I had was that the subtitles in Chinese were really bad. I understand why the Chinese people liked the movie less since the translation was so terrible. Yes, my Chinese is improving!

So after some ups and downs here’s how the last week played out, my light in the kitchen burned out Thursday. That leads to a really bad set of jokes that go something like this: How many people does it take to change a light bulb in China? Answer-Where do you buy a light bulb? Not Wal-Mart, there are no Home Depots and since you are without a car you can’t just drive around trying to find a store. My answer presented itself Friday night when I was taking the bus home and saw a small store near a bus stop by Small North Gate that sells only light bulbs.

My monstrosity of a floor lamp:

It gets worse… It wasn’t the bulb that burnt out, my electricity no longer flows to that part of my kitchen. So we repeat the joke with a different answer: How many people does it take to change a light bulb in China? Answer: 6 people. Apartment renter (1), friend who speaks Chinese (2), another friend who speaks better Chinese (3) and can write a text message to the apartment management company liaison (4), landlady (5), and an electrician (6)! So until I get a text back that an electrician is coming I have resorted to using the monstrosity of a floor lamp that came with the apartment. It’s a hideous lamp, and it has to sit on top of my washer since it is the only outlet I can use.

So during this episode about the light in the kitchen where it is too dark most of the time I am home to see without a good light… I came home and watched a news show about the water shortage in Beijing. That night the construction guys outside my apartment were using their nice heavy drilling equipment literally all night from 9pm until 9am when they broke the water main. Irony strikes. Here water is spilling into the streets causing cars to show extreme caution and walking that stretch is not possible. Yet Beijing has a water shortage. I took some pictures. I think everyone else did too! It was rather impressive and I noticed more than 5 smoke breaks were required before the right materials and individuals were here to resolve the issue and fix the massive leak. They were really good though and only had to turn off the water for about 2.5 hours during the day. Then I had the pleasure of listening to them continue to work through the second night in a row. There are no laws here about when you can run heavy machinery I assume.

Despite some really odd moments I had a very productive week. I bought almost all my Christmas gifts for my friends here in Chengdu. I will finish that shopping Monday with my friend when we go to Decathlon. I think the best advice I can give someone coming to Chengdu is to find Ikea and Decathlon which are literally across the street from each other between 2nd Ring Road and 3rd Ring Road. Those two shops save my bacon quite often.

Ikea is the only place I trust purchasing salmon which is sold downstairs in the food area freezers and very near to the chocolate. Decathlon is similar to a Big5 store and carries European sizes so if your feet or body are larger than your average Chinese person you will definitely need to find clothes and shoes there. Most of the folks that I meet in school and in my life from Europe and other foreign countries have found that shoe shopping on the streets is disappointing since their largest size is a 38 or 39 which is a women’s 7.5 US. For the men, the biggest size I see is a 43 which is about a size 9.5 US. Decathlon has a good selection of larger sizes and as a nice bonus they sell warm jackets and swimsuits all year!

Finals are coming quickly. I will post a picture of my apartment. I’ve written down every character in our books since the beginning of the semester and now have some very useful wallpaper in my apartment. Joe doesn’t appreciate it, but all my friends and student friends love it and come to practice their vocab.

We will not be having Christmas off from school, but since it is Li Laoshi (our teacher Ms. Li) I don’t think most of us mind too much. If we had another teacher who we were less loyal to we would probably all skip the 24th and 25th. Our finals are the week after, so the 29th through the 31st and then we have a couple months off of school.

I will continue to work at the Kindergarten until the middle of February when I plan on joining David’s family in SiHe Township which is very close to XiChang and about 6 hours away from Chengdu. I hope to spend some time studying during the break with my classmates and to travel around to the local places I’m interested in. Most of the UW students have extensive plans for the break, but as far as I know no one is planning on returning home for the break which I think is good. Pulling away from this intense situation where we are constantly using the language and learning about little quirks could set someone back very quickly.

I hope to have Christmas pictures from our parties for you all to see next time. The spirit of Christmas is not strong in China. However, those of us that celebrate will spend time with our loved ones who are close and we will think fondly of those we love in our home countries.

Who says you can’t choose your family? I have 6 sisters who share no blood with me, and now 2 brothers in my life. I have possibly the perfect little brother right here in Chengdu. I mentioned in a previous post that I now have a Chinese little brother, his name is David (JjipShyGixHxa is how you pronounce it in Yi, in Chinese it is said JiShiGeHa吉史格哈 ) and he is 23 years old. He is from the minority group called the Yi and his family is from a very small township called SiHe (四合乡) where the main means of survival is tree farming. David goes to XiNanMinZuDaXue (西南民族大学) which is a university for minorities, and has been studying the Yi culture and literature as well as taking courses in English because he wishes to continue his studies at a sister university in Australia.

Why is he the perfect little brother? Because he is willing to go almost anywhere I want to go to visit and is happy to translate and chat so that he can practice his English. Yes, having a pal to visit museums, archaeological sites, city gardens, go to see movies with etc is very important because those moments are often best shared with others. His passion for culture and history are also similar to mine and we get along swimmingly when we have discussions about artifacts and ancient warrior heroes.

So far David has given me a tour of the Yi museum on his campus, accompanied me during a conference about Yi Culture and Literature, seen the Penguins of Madagascar movie with me in Chinese (hilarious when the voices are so different from what you are used to!), and gone to the Jinsha Site Museum. Most of my Chinese friends are too busy studying to come with me for stuff like this, but David has been entirely free giving with his time. I think what is most impressive to me is that he does something wholeheartedly and expresses his happiness and joy openly while many people I know hold back their feelings. He has also been a joy to photograph and more than happy to pose in odd positions for the perfect shot. David has mastered the use of my camera to get flattering pictures of me as well which I feel very grateful for!

Jinsha was amazing. I really could just leave it at that, but I know you want to hear more. I met David near his old campus which is only a 20 minute bus ride from my house. We took a few buses and arrived at Jinsha midday. I wish I could say the sun was shining, but this is Chengdu, there is no sun, well if there is we can’t see it beyond the pollution and clouds. Nevertheless it was a nice bright day to visit the site. When we entered the first exhibition hall we were in the actual dig site. Similar to Xi’an this museum has the pits all preserved and has built pathways and left some artifacts in their original locations for us to see and feel like we are in an actual dig site.

After a nice walk along a river we came to the exhibition hall and saw many artifacts and some recreation scenes. We both learned about the muntjac which neither of us had heard of until today. It is a small deer with little horns, totally cute. I seem to remember a picture of this deer on the currency in Taiwan from when Missy was staying with us. David and I got some fabulous picture of the recreation scenes and of the animals represented in those mock sites. I’m still having a hard time believing that 3000 years ago there were elephants in this part of China, but all the evidence from the site says there were because many of the artifacts were elephant tusks and it was during a time that not much trade was happening so they had to be somewhat nearby.

There were 5 halls to explore, filled with jade, bronze, gold, pottery and so much more! Above us in the building was a giant recreation of the sun surrounded by the immortal birds of the Shu people. What David and I noticed was that the Shu must have been closely related to the Yi as their symbolism is almost identical and they used the same colors and designs in their works of art and religious items. The immortal birds were almost exactly like what I looked at when I was researching Ancient Egypt for the phoenix, though David told me that the phoenix is only one of the immortal birds (fascinating, tell me more!).

After rummaging and taking some interesting pictures in the building we toured around the site and traipsed up a hill that led to a water stream. There were some cool rocks to climb on and then we stumbled upon what is called a deer park. As best I can understand, these deer were rescued and taken to the park to live a comfortable life amongst other deer. It was really neat getting close to them and seeing them relaxing while people waved and kids poked their heads through the fence. The grounds at the site are stunningly beautiful. Bamboo, gingko trees whose leaves are turning yellow right now, flowering trees, and rolling hills mixed in with streams all made a very strong impression upon me.

I found the coolest spider web! I couldn’t get a picture of it, despite some heroic efforts. It was 3 dimensional. I could put my hand in one area that was between another section of web and then reach towards the funnel that connected the pieces. Both of us explored that web and marveled at its intricacy and architectural genius. Finally I remarked that it must have been a rather large spider to create such a big web and I pulled myself away to continue strolling through that section of the site before the spider returned home.

We both had a really good time today. I can speak for David as he voiced this to me several times during our trip. I want to take Joe there when he comes to visit next July. It is a truly amazing site and David was the perfect company for my visit there. He said there is another archaeological site in Chengdu that is even older and he knows a lot about that site and will take me there. I can’t wait!

Oh and did I mention he rocks at scoring us the student discount 