老外的意见-婴儿臀部: Laowai Lens-A New Outlook on Life and Babies’ Bums

Earlier this week, I was talking to a few other expats about life in Chengdu.  After living in China for nearly 3 years, there are so many things I take for granted now.  “Watch the ground as you walk” and “check the AQI daily” are things I do not need to be reminded to do.  I recently picked up the book Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost and it reminds me how…surreal some of life here initially is to an outsider.  As I read Troost’s words, I find myself continuously laughing and nodding.  Yeah, yeah, that’s China…

Fellow educator and expat, Kelly, has done a great job capturing some of the more interesting aspects of China life.  With her permission, I will be reprinting some of her observations from time to time to give you a look through the laowai (foreigner) lens at life here in Chengdu.

Peek-A-Poo

Nope, that isn’t a typo. The “poo” is there on purpose. Chubby little Chinese toddlers are about the cutest darned things ever created – until they urgently bend their knees and assume the toilet-squat position – right there on the sidewalk – where I stroll every single day. Usually grandma or grandpa is waddling along beside them and they stop to supervise; just as a dog owner would pause while Fido relieves himself on a tree. Same, same. Chinese toddlers and dogs.

 

It’s a fantastic way to potty train kids. When junior is suddenly ready to “go”, he just squats wherever he is. His pants are designed with a large split in the crotch allowing for everything to empty into the toilet, trash can, potted plant, the concrete sidewalk, whatever. No need for expensive, land-filling Pampers! It’s a cultural difference that takes some getting used to. Baby butts and baby twigs and berries just out there for all to see.

 

I have learned to NEVER step in puddles.

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Words & Photographs by Kelly R

स्लमडॉग टू वंडरफ़ुलः ए स्वाद ऑफ़ इंडिया – From Slumdog to Sublime: A Taste of India

When Chengdu has a low pollution day, the entire city looks sparkling, sunny, and new. It’s like putting on glasses and, finally, seeing buildings in the distance with a clarity that you forgot the atmosphere was capable of.

In my last post, I wrote about visiting Delhi and how the city reeked of exhaust fumes and noise. This caused a friend to write to me, “I enjoyed your blog post about India– not as romantic as the movies make it seem? I’m thinking of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel… and you’re saying it’s a bit more Slumdog Millionaire?”

And for that, I have to apologize. India is a fascinating country and my two plus weeks there were full of enchanting flavors, beautiful people, and the clear night sky all wrapped into one intoxicating trip. But Delhi? There is no way I can even feign love of that city.

Mandawa

Fortunately, I did not have to spend long in Delhi. The day after I arrived, we took off, in a private bus, bound for the city of Mandawa. We arrived late, pulling up to a gorgeous haveli. Up until this point, I did not realize how utterly spoiled I would feel on this tour. The staff of the haveli performed a puppet show for us after which we ate a buffet dinner on the roof, staying up late to share drinks and stories.

I stayed on the roof after the others had departed for bed, peering up to look at how the dust of the day had settled fast away and the stars twinkled magically in the sky. I promised myself that I would wake early to see the sunrise.

The next morning, I did exactly that, but felt a bit disappointed that the sun rose surrounded by a cloud of dust. No matter. Breakfast was served and I drank my first of the few hundred chai teas I would have during my time there.  Then, with all group members gathered together, we went on a walking tour of the small city.

The morning was a blur of dusty roads and bright faces. Before I knew it, we were off again, this time, headed for Bikaner, Mandawa fading fast from the rear windows of our bus.

Bikaner

When we arrived in Bikaner, we checked in at the adorable Bhairon Vilas Hotel. This hotel boasted amazing rooftops views, a small shop, an eclectic bar—complete with Harsh—the hotel owner manning the bar most nights, and an adorable coffee/tea shop. We scarcely had time to poke around the hotel before our tour guide Raghu grabbed tuk-tuks. We took a dusty ride to the city center and then went on a walking door, running into boys playing cricket, men sporting incredibly-lengthed mustaches, and ending the day drinking an incredible small cup of chai cooked on a pan in the street.

As evening fell, we walked back to tuk-tuks and zipped back to our hotel. Some group members headed out to eat, but others—myself included—stayed behind to write, to read, and to climb up to the rooftops and stare at the stars. By night, Harsh’s bar was abuzz as members of our tour ordered drinks and danced to the random music from Harsh’s laptop.

The next day, we woke up early to see the Junagarh Fort. The fort was built in the 1500s and we spent a good hour wandering through it. Although its red exterior and ornate interior were beautiful, having such a late night before really made it hard for me to enjoy the fort as much as I could have. Fortunately, this was the first of many forts we would see. In other countries, you might tour castles or churches. In India, you tour forts.

After ample time to rest and recover from the previous evening, we spent the afternoon at a camel breeding farm, watching as the herds were driven back into the farm from a day grazing. Seeing hundreds of well-trained camels was pretty surreal. By that time, the sun was hot in the sky. We finished off our trip by trying camel-milk ice cream.

That night was another one of drinks, dancing, and star-gazing, but—intent on beating the sun up—I went to bed early. Then next morning I did, indeed, rise before dawn. Again, I stood on the roof for an hour or two, freezing and trying to discern the changing intensity of light in the sky. When everyone was awake, we ate breakfast, packed our bags, and said goodbye to Harsh and his hotel.

We were headed next to the city of Jodhpur, but before we got too far out of town, we made a stop at the Deshnoke Rat Temple. This temple was something I had read about. I had originally been a little nervous about the aspect of wandering around this house for roughly 25 thousand tiny, beady-eyed rodents without shoes, but Raghu bought us all pairs of socks. The temple was not wall-to-wall with rats as I had expected, but after stepping in one too many puddles on the floor, I cannot say I was sorry to go. After leaving the temple, we stopped by a little shop, washed our feet and re-shoed, and drank yet another cup of chai.

Jodhpur

Jodhpur is known as India’s blue city, a nickname, like so many of India’s nicknames, derived from the exterior of the buildings. Upon arriving in the blue city, we wasted no time before making our way to the Sardar Market. As I wandered the stalls, I spoke with Indian men on holiday, dodged cows drudging through the street, and took pictures of the spices in every scent and color. This was the India I had dreamt of!

The next day, we stopped by the Mehrangarh Fort, my favorite fort of our tour. Perched high above the city of Jodhpur, Mehrangarh offered marvelous views of the city’s brilliant blue walls. The fort itself was again ornate and, with the sun climbing into the bright Indian sky, the fort became the perfect backdrop for a photo session with fellow travelers.

 

लोग जगह बनाना – People make the place

So many bloggers and travel writers say that India “assaults the senses.”  They talk about walking out of the airport in Delhi and being surrounded by the sounds and scents of a new world.  That is not the Delhi I saw.

After leaving the peaceful beaches of Sri Lanka, I flew into Delhi.  For two weeks, I was going to tour the Rajasthan area complete with a dip into Uttar Pradesh region to see the Taj Mahal.  But, the tour had to begin somewhere and, with its international airport, Delhi was that somewhere.

After standing in no less than five lines to get through customs, I finally grabbed my hiking backpack from the emptying conveyor.  When I finally made my way out to the arrivals hall, I saw a sign with “G Adventures” on it.  Well, that was easy enough.  The gentleman holding the sign informed me that my ride was not here yet, but I could sit, relax, and grab a drink at a little terminal coffee shop.

That sounded great to me.

At the time, India was at the tail end of getting rid of certain rupee notes.  Fortunately, a friend had warned me that ATM lines were long and there was a cap on the amount you could withdrawal each day from the bank.  Because of this warning, I had been fortunate enough to track down rupees whilst in Singapore.  I paid for coffee with a 2,000 rupee note, much to the disdain of the cashier, who scrambled to find change.

Before long, my driver was in front of me.  She led me through the parking garage to her car, where my suitcase and I spread out in the backseat.  The seatbelt clung to its holster, refusing to be of service.  So like China, I thought.  Then we were off.

I was ready for an overwhelming sensory experience as we exited the garage.  But, alas, by this time, the sun had set and Sunday night traffic choked both the roads and the exhaust-fume filled air.  Soooo like China.  

I was immediately missing Singapore and Sri Lanka.  Some travelers love cities.  And, to a certain extent, I understand that.  The clubs, the parties, the dancing, the shopping, the food…but in so many other ways, big cities all over the world are melding into a faceless, international version of the unique gem they once were.

And this…this sputtering, China-like, polluted bottle-neck of a city…was my first impression of Delhi; a land laid to waste by modernity.

The next morning, after meeting with my tour group at breakfast, our guide, Raghu, took us to Salaam Baalak, an NGO that seeks to provide care and opportunities for street children in India.  There we met Ejaz, a young man who had run away from an abusive home and lived on the streets of Delhi before joining Salaam Baalak as a guide.  With wonderful English, he led us through alleyways in Delhi, explaining both his life and the life of the city around us.

Dispite Ejaz’s best efforts, Delhi did not become a magical place to me.  After our city tour, we stopped at an ATM for some group members.  I spent the time wandering the streets, talking to charming men and women, and snapping pictures.

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Finances sorted, we boarded our private bus and took off, touring the city through the windows.  We stopped once at the India Gate to take some shots and walk about, but afterwards, I was ready to hit the road.

Delhi had some amazing people within its city limits, but aside from these faces, it was just a city, like so many I had seen before…

කඳුළු බිඳුවක දිවයින: Teardrop Island (A Sri Lankan Story)

It seems as though it is only when I am on holiday that I have both the time and inclination to blog…about past journeys.  So, as I stare off into the black night ocean from the coast of Batu Ferringhi, Malaysia, my mind wanders back to the last time I stared off at night into the pitch dark of the pitching waves.  Then it was on the rooftop of a hotel in southern Colombo, Sri Lanka.  I spent a few days there: one day meeting up with friends from Chengdu to tour the city, and another day making new friends by combing the beach, collecting conversations like seashells.

It was on this beach walk that I first met Sahil. He stood with his mother and wife, holding a frowning girl in his arms.  Sahil smiled at me and, in English, introduced himself.  He asked where I was from and if I like Sri Lanka.  America and Yes, it’s beautiful.  Then Who’s this?  I nodded to the girl in Sahil’s arms.  “My daughter.  She’s scared of the waves, but just you wait!  By the end of the day, she’ll love the ocean!”  I laughed, reminded of my own ocean ventures off the coast of Cape Hatteras with my father and brothers.  We used to stand on the sand bar for hours until I could feel the rise and fall of the ocean even as I laid to sleep at night.  I wished Sahil luck and continued along the beach.

A bit farther, past families and photo ops, I happened upon an old boat.  The entire aft had been torn asunder, but it sat beautiful in its wreckage.  While taking photos of the boat, I heard men screaming and shouting as they started running towards me.  I turned my head, perplexed, watching them pour out of a small restaurant on the shore and hurtle my way.  Their cries were neither angry nor frightening.  They sounded pleased and giddy.  Most of them ran right past me and dove into the ocean.  One stopped, a grin lighting up his face.  “Hi!” He waved and his enthusiasm lit up his eyes.  Hi, I smiled. What are you guys up to?  “Oh,” Smiley’s eyes darted to the men in the water, “it’s our day off.  So we swim!”  We joked around for a few more minutes before I asked the boys if I could snap some pictures of them playing around.  Smiley’s grin expanded even as he raced and catapulted into the breaking waves.

After snapping photos and saying goodbye to the boys, I began hiking back.  The sun was hot in the sky and I was in need of water and rest.  After a while, I happened again upon Sahil, this time with a very happy little girl, splashing about in the water.  Ah, Sahil, you did it!  Congratulations!  “I knew it would happen!” he proudly confided.

I walked back to my hotel, my soul full.  How rare and beautiful this chance to be all alone in a country and still feel so much love.

Now, Sri Lanka, without the stories…

Lion City: Singapore in Pictures

In December, I had the opportunity to visit Singapore, Sri Lanka, and India.  While it will take a few days to go through the 2800 pictures I took of my whole trip, here are a few from my brief 48-hour visit to Singapore.  There I visited the cooled conservatories in the Gardens by the Bay (totally worth it!), rode the Singapore Flier (cheesy, touristy, and a great way to make new friends), and saw the Merlions (insanely crowded!).

इंडिया:This Is India

The sun sets in dust’s rise
as blackbirds take to flight,
the call to prayer a call to wings,
while in the streets the car horns sing:
“This is India.”

The pen stills in silence.
The words do not exist.
The skies to stars stretch up in ohms;
Earth meditates as twilight comes–
“This is India.”

Bed whispers now my name,
but sleep’s beyond my grasp.
When wildest dreams dance into view
you ponder life in darkest hues.
“This is India.”

Winter sun does not rise.
Sky lightens, brightens dust.
On red rooftop in rising day
a noisy night fades fast away.

This is India.

केवल यह: Only This

India is prose. Dunked in the complete chaos of a city of earthen walls, steaming chai, and tuk-tuks battling bulls for street space, the poetry falls away. There is no turn of phrase, no photograph, no video that can incapsulate the taste of turmeric, the intense incense scent, and the cheerful battle of sounds taking place right now between the fire crackling to my left, the fountain flowing to my right, and the music streaming from the bar in front of me. In a world of such cacophony of the senses, poetry falls utterly away and only this–only prose–remains. 

닭 튀김 – Korean Fried Chicken

This post today was brought to you by a guest blogger: The ever so kind, ever so inimitable Lucy.  Lucy lived abroad when younger and, as a wife and parent of three, decide to bring her family overseas to live.  They moved to Kazakhstan and, for the past four years, have been living in Chengdu.  Lucy enjoys everything music, being a good mom, and the occasional margarita.  She is also so kind as to grace us with her work this week.  So, without further ado:

Korean Fried Chicken
by Lucy

Korean Fried Chicken?! How can that be any different than American fried chicken…or any friend chicken for that matter? I am not for sure if I can tell you or describe to you how it isdifferent, but it is! And not only is it different, it is amazingly different. Incredibly different.  Addictingly different. I really should not even try to describe (for you need to come here and try it for yourself…Katie Hannifin’s family!) it except that it is crispy yet tender, sweet yet spicy and chock full of flavor bursting all over your mouth. Everyone has a favorite type so it is more fun to eat with a large crowd so you can try all the different flavors of Korean Fried Chicken.

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Joyce

The first time I was introduced to Korean Fried Chicken, my friend, Joyce, ordered it for me for lunch. Joyce was my teaching assistant and she made it her mission my first year to introduce me to all the wonderful culinary delights of Chengdu. In four years, she has yet to steer me wrong!

Back to my first experience….it was a beautiful, sunny day with clear blue skies in Chengdu. For some reason it was a half day. This was back when we  still had the old playground with the basketball court and the big shade tree and the picnic tables, perfect for eating lunch outside. I should have known just by the fact that the other foodies at our school were flocking to eat lunch with us and our Korean Fried Chicken that my take on fried chicken would be forever changed.

Joyce ordered us two types of fried chicken: “Sweet and Spicy” and “Garlic Original.” If you know Joyce, you know she  is all about presentation of food. When the food arrived, she made sure we all had our plates, chopsticks,  and plastic gloves.

Plastic gloves? What? That is so silly!

I scoffed at the idea of wearing gloves and ate my chicken the old fashion way, the “Finger Lickin’ Good” way! However, one thing that was not in the paper bag that the food was brought in was any kind of napkins or wet wipes….So, when Joyce and the others were done eating their chicken, they took off their gloves and had nice, clean, non-sticky fingers.  Me? I was a mess! The Chinese often have great ideas, and this is one of them. In a land where you are not for certain that you will be near a restroom with soap and water to wash your hands before or after eating, when eating finger foods, plastic gloves are ingenious. This time, thank goodness, we were on campus and there was running water in the building. Otherwise, my arrogance would have landed me in deep trouble.

Unfortunately, the restaurant doesn’t deliver to our area of town anymore. However, throughout my years here, we try to make it to the restaurant as often as we can. When someone gets a hankering for Korean Fried Chicken, the rest of us are always game to get on the bus and go to the restaurant. Along with taking the new teachers to our favorite noodle or dumpling restaurants, we try to make sure we get them to the Korean Fried Chicken restaurant as well. Last month, for my birthday, we were having coffee and Singaporean toast for breakfast. We were having such a great time all together laughing and talking that before we knew it, it was time for lunch. We had planned on going across the street to the Malaysian restaurant for lunch, but it was closed. However, we were lucky…we were next door to a Korean Fried Chicken Restaurant that we didn’t know was in that part of town. My birthday lunch was eating finger licking good chicken, with great friends in a wonderful city…..but with the gloves on.  I have learned my lesson!

赶上 – Catching Up

There has been so much going on around here that I never seem to have time to sit, decompress, and ruminate on my existence. But a friend has a doctor’s appointment today and I’m here in the waiting room, which is the perfect opportunity to catch family and friends up on life a bit.

After my last post, friends and I journeyed to Lijiang. I took videos instead of photos with the idea of cobbling them into a short video diary of the trip. But, as I can’t seem to find the time to edit them down, I currently have close to 3 hours worth of video of this amazing trip to this cute city. Someday I’ll finish. But probably not until Christmas break.

After that, I came back and worked for a few weeks then headed out again for Chinese National Week. This time, I journeyed to Amsterdam and Nottingham and London to see canals, Meghan, Robin Hood, “Pemberley,” Jamie, Big Ben, and Kensington. When I left Chengdu on October 1, temperatures were stretching up into the 90s. Europe was very autumnal by comparison. I spent 24 hours in Amsterdam, taking a canal tour, downing pumpkin spiced lattes, and enjoying the diversity of the city and its tourists.

The next day, I headed to Nottingham to see my sister. I won’t write too much about this as you can read pretty much the entire adventure here. There was one day she didn’t write about though as she was in class whilst I wandered the city. Nottingham is full of the kindest individuals who were so interested in talking about US politics, China, the history of Nottingham, the “must-see” attractions, and the journeys life has had in store for them. I would love to go back to central England and preferred it in so many ways to London, the only English city I had been to up until that point.

But I was flying back to Chengdu from London. So after days of enjoying the small city feel of Nottingham, the trip south was a necessity. Meghan and I took a train to London where, again, Meghan wrote about the journey, so I won’t.

After Meghan left to return to north, I waited at St. Pancras train station for the amazing Jamie, whom I had also had the pleasure of seeing in NYC this summer. Between that night and the next afternoon, when I hopped on a plane, we went for drinks, had coffee (…I think that was just me), saw The Globe Theatre, explored the grounds of Kensington, and meandered through a Whole Foods. Then it was back to China, where jetlag killed me for the better part of a week.

I only worked for 4 days, however, when I flew to Zhuhai. There I met up with Natalie to learn the ins and outs of a testing system we use. Over the course of the weekend, I also had the chance to meet new people, see a few old friends who used to live in Chengdu, and still work on ordering items for our Fall Festival. The weekend flew by and soon I was headed back, again, to Chengdu.

I’ve been back for a crazy week now…a week that has been full of viruses and conferences, of communicating and networking. There have definitely been a few highlights to this week though, despite how busy it has been. I met Alexia, a friend of Alicia’s, who sat with us for a few hours telling us about her recent trip to North Korea. I saw teachers work their wonders in their meetings with parents. And finally, I met a few American guys in Tongzilin, exchanged contact information, and now have new friends with whom I have been chatting about life in Asia and the current political climate of the US.

I have a crazy amount of work—all computer based—to do today, so I’m going to go put on a movie and start knocking everything out! Hope your autumn is treating you as wonderfully as mine is!

一個真正的倒退: A Real “Throw-” back

So after a summer exploring the states and parts of Canada, I returned to Chengdu, China for year 3.  I’ve been back in Sichuan for a month already; an insanely busy month, full of school work, friends, course work, and sleep.  And it occurs to me that there is still so much I have neglected to show you on this blog: food (hot pot and dim sum), trips (to the Panda Base, Sanya, Hanoi & Halong Bay, Taiwan, and Xishuangbanna), and just everyday craziness around Chengdu (construction, school, murder mystery parties, whatever else is going on).  I will try to be better to devoting more time to writing.

This coming week, we have a 6 day work-week: 4 days with students (including a back-to-school night), and 2 days of professional development.  I have so much to do to get ready for Friday & Saturday!  But the following week, we only have a 3-day work week after which I’m heading down to the Yunnan province, which is a deliciously beautiful part of China.

Actually, depending where you go in the Yunnan province, the area may not even feel like China.  Last April, Kerensa and I flew to Xishuangbanna for their annual Water Throwing Festival.  Xishuangbanna is an autonomous prefecture in the far south of the Yunnan province, which is located in the south-west area of China.  The majority of people in Xishuangbanna are not the Chinese Han, but the Dai people, closely related to people in Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.  Xishuangbanna actually sits close to these countries as well, butting up to Myanmar and only a river’s width from Laos.  As such, all the signs are in two (sometimes 3) languages: Chinese and some script that looks marvelously similar to Thai (and English, if you’re lucky).

Although a prefecture of only about 1 million (compared, let’s say, to Chengdu’s 14 million), there were plenty of people in the city of Jinghong, where Kerensa and I were staying.  I could write about everything we did there, all related to the Water Throwing Festival, but this video I came across explains it so much more concisely:

The coolest part of the festival, by far, was the actual day of the water throwing.  This next video are some photos I took of the festivities, set to the Piano Guy’s Cello Ascends.  (An aside: these musicians are amazing!  Buy their music, see them in concert, become as obsessed as I am!)

I suppose it is time to get back to being productive for the evening.  Thanks for checking in!