Saturday, September 22, 2012

Home, sweet China home

Apartment living is the norm in Chinese cities, and Chinese apartments are usually standard issue: concrete construction, white tile facade, ceramic or fake wood floors.

My apartment in Zunyi, which is rented for me by the College, is very nice (enter the Posh-Corps myth of Peace Corps in China), and much too large for one person. It is bigger, in fact, than my apartment in Washington, DC, and much cheaper (i.e., free). 

I've had to bridle my decorating and remodeling instincts for the time being. The budget is limited and I have more important things to do.

Visit. I have two couches and a spare bedroom.

Shots and a party

Last weekend the Volunteers in Guizhou province were required to travel to the capital Guiyang for flu shots and to learn the location of our emergency (i.e., earthquake, civil unrest) consolidation point.

The China 17s, who have been serving in China for a year now, also threw us new volunteers a welcome party: a little time in the park, some dinner, a "few" beers at Robbie's Bar.

Shang ke!

Class begins, after three weeks of waiting.

I teach the freshmen and freshmen in China have several weeks of compulsory military training before they begin college.

Oral English I, here we go.

Trek up Red Army Mountain

Zunyi is the birthplace of modern Communist China.

Here, Mao Zedong consolidated his power over the Party and the Chinese opposition to the Nationalists.

Soon after arriving in Zunyi, a retired English Professor of Zunyi Normal College took us up the mountain. It's more a hill, really, but a foundational site for modern China--similar to the site of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, perhaps.

Some amazing views...

The trouble in Chinese to English translation

Becoming a Volunteer

We commenced service as volunteers at the end of August, swearing to defend the United States.

Here is the oath:

I, Jason McFarland
do solemnly affirm
that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States
against all enemies, domestic and foreign,
that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same,
that I take this obligation freely,
without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,
and that I will well and faithfully discharge my duties in the Peace Corps.

It was a profound experience that merits further reflection, but in the meantime, here are a few photos!

Rice-flour chocolate chip cookies OR thanks for the chocolate, China 16s!

A couple of weeks ago now, Becky invited our student helpers Clint and Melissa to her apartment to make chocolate chip cookies. 

This was a brilliant idea in many respects. First, cultural exchange. Second, we get to know our Chinese students better. Third, we get to eat chocolate. 

Given our limited (as in less than a Chinese three-year-old) knowledge of Chinese writing (Hanzi), it is completely understandable that Becky did not know what kind of flour to purchase for the baking. It looked like wheat flour, but Melissa upon her arrival informed us that it was indeed rice flour. 

Once the idea of cookies was in our minds and on our palates, however, there was nothing that was going to stop us. 

The China 16s who returned to America this year had left Becky some baking chocolate. One of them had been a professional chef in Paris prior to joining the Peace Corps.

Becky and Melissa produced mixed the dough, while Clint and I broke up the chocolate.

End result, some delicious if unusual cookies and some priceless getting-to-know-you time with Clint and Melissa.

So many grapes, so little wine

On Teachers' Day (September 10, 2012) I went with one of my Chinese counterpart teachers Fan Bo (one of my best Chinese friends here) and his family and some fellow teachers to pick grapes. It turns out China grows a lot of grapes, but the grape wine industry is just in its infancy, to my consternation. A grassy sauvignon blanc and some la ji rou? Yes, please.

We drove about an hour outside of Zunyi to a large grape farm. The grapes are grown under greenhouse-like tarps and the ripe grapes are protected from insects and the elements by paper bag covers.

"Picking" involved sampling the different types of grapes grown at the farm, eating lunch at the farmer's home, walking among the grape vines, and then playing mahjong for a few hours while grapes were loaded in boxes for us to take home. So, no rustic experience, but, rather, it was something more akin to a wine tasting tour. I'm not complaining.

The many children along for the day could not resist the piles of drying chiles and peanuts on the farmer's front "yard." Piles are to play with, right? The farmer's wife had something to say about it.

After the outing we had dinner in Zunyi and played mahjong until late. Beijiu? Perhaps.

Here are some photos of the excursion: