Friday, July 6, 2012

The Missing Week OR Why to Keep a Journal

The next week is spotty.

My journaling efforts took a break from July 6 to July 13.  And, only a few weeks later, I am having trouble remembering what I did.

Lesson 1: keep a journal.

Lesson 2: sometimes you're too busy or overwhelmed to keep a journal.

Lesson 3: being in the moment is always more important than remembering what you've done.

A little like a blackout, I do remember certain moments:

I spent a great weekend with my host family.
My host mother had to grade thousands of final English exams, so she was away during the day and had to return late. This gave my some bonding time with host dad. We got to make lunch together over the weekend.

A moment of cultural exchange occurred when he set a potato in front of me and said, "You cook this." Potatoes are very popular in Sichuan, so I am not sure if this was coincidence or that he knows of Americans' love of the spud. Not knowing what to do or how to cook with a wok, I sliced up the potato along with some onion and fried it in oil and soy sauce. The dish (basically, home fries) was a hit. With the innumerable vegetable combinations in Sichuanese cooking, I was surprised that that of potato and onion was a revelation.

The kitchen is very small, so after enduring my presence a few times, host dad began to tell me "you take rest" every time he was about to cook! There end, so far, my Chinese cooking lessons.

We went for (very) long walks after dinner. Great exericise. Unfortunately, as the days went on I became too busy with studying for such long walks.

I developed a friendship with the ice cream vendor near our apartment. Even so, I've been losing weight since I arrived in China. The healthiness of the diet is not thwarted even by my best ice-creamy-goodness attempts.

The first couple days, my host family walked me to and from class. I remember a very nice dinner with Fei Fei (my host sister) after class the first day.

Other than this, my first week of pre-service training is really a blur!

I got to know my fellow SNU trainees. Friendships forged during orientation grew, but but not necessarily at the same pace after I moved to a new location. Of course, a few came with me to SNU, and new friendships have developed since with my SNU group.

Most of all, I remember the training:
4-6 hours of Mandarin study each day
TEFL sessions on Classroom Management, Student Assessment, Semester Planning, Lesson Planning
Sessions on Volunteer Diversity, Common Peace Corps Volunteer Health Problems, Sexual Assault Awareness.
Interviews with the Peace Corps Medical Officers
Interviews with Site Managers

Signing off tonight with some real entertainment...

At the end of our first week of language class, we had a more light-hearted session during which we learned a Chinese folk song...and then improvised some modern dance to go with it (???).

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hello, Mai Junhao

All of the bags arrived in Chengdu. All of the bags for seventy-three volunteers arrived on time. All of the bags, with a combined weight of approximately 7,300 lbs. and containing two years worth of stuff for seventy-three people, arrived with us in Chengdu via Tokyo and Bangkok. 

I am always surprised by the efficiency of air travel.

We arrived at Sichuan University (Beiyuan Hotel) in Chengdu on the afternoon of 2 July, disoriented, but ready for orientation. 

It was a blitz of information and activity, but to be brief it consisted of:
safety, health, and security briefings
introduction to Peace Corps in China
speech from a Chinese education minister
speech from head of the Chengdu US Consulate 
medical interview
dress code and appearance briefings (no sarongs, sandals, beards, or tattoos)
getting money (living allowance; we don't get paid)
a banquet with the Peace Corps staff (no baijiu!)
cultural sessions
language study
getting our photos taken
SHOTS (rabies, Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis, meningitis and more!)
homestay orientation
introduction to Teaching English as a Second Language
received medical kits
got our Chinese names
training site announcements
meeting our host families

Here's the full schedule, if you're the detail type:

(Yes, I found coffee in China, and then spilled it on my training schedule.)

Henceforth, my name in China is Mai(4th tone) Jun(1st tone) hao (2nd tone), but my friends call me Jason McFarland. The name means something like "proud ruler." I haven't been able to get a precise answer yet. It's a bit pretentious for my taste, but I like the way it sounds. I think these are the characters:


On Tuesday after we finished getting our photos taken, Kevin M., Katie F., Aaron M., Paul S. and I took a walk to the river near campus (quite a grand river), desperately hot and thirsty. So thirsty and naive, in fact, that we paid 25 yuan each for several bottles of Carlsberg beer. We discovered soon after that the normal price for a bottle of beer is about 7 yuan or less. 
But, damn, it was worth every red Mao. 

On the way back, someone had to pee. I won't mention any names. The signs to the public toilet led nowhere, however, so a restaurant had to suffice.

When we got back to campus we took a little break and gathered again with a few more people to go to hotpot--very famous in Sichaun. Think giant fondue with chopsticks and mysterious pieces of animal. It's actually delectable. Oil, chili, salt to perfection.
Ordering was a fun fiasco. The staff was excited to help us through the ordeal. 

Two KTV (karaoke) bars are near SU. Cheap beer is at the 7-11 down the block. Party. 

There's much more to tell, but, in sum, it was exhausting and exhilarating, lonely and filled with new friends, disorienting while increasing my focus.

We got to know the neighborhood around SU pretty well during these few days, our first days as Trainees.

Here are some of the photos:

Woman meditating near the river

Chinese dryers

Aaron, Preetam, Avi

SU Stadium

Campus greenery

Campus street

Front of the Beiyuan Hotel

Restaurant alley near our hotel

Another favorite restaurant alley outside SU

The neighborhood 7-11. Beers on the 4th of July.

Melissa and Anne having lunch with our language/culture facilitator Zou Peng.
M, A, me, and Marty comprised my first language training group.
Note the miniature chairs. It turns out squatting comes in handy in all sorts of circumstances in China.
I'm more flexible already!