Quite truthfully, this start of this week was a bit difficult. I’m finally settled into my house! This is comforting, but it also has created a sense of antsyness whenever I spend to much time in it. I want to go out and to explore and to live in this city, but sometimes the big-bad Chinese-speaking world out there is quite intimidating.
BUT as with many things, the pendulum swung back and the second half of my week was great. Wednesday night I explored my neighborhood a bit. Food is quite cheap here, so there isn’t much monetary incentive to cook. However, as I am now a grown adult (or so society tells me) and I no longer have the dining hall to rely on for all my meals ( Lin and I can actually eat lunch at the campus canteen, which is just across the street from my house), I have the desire to learn how to cook (eatable) food. So, I used Wednesday afternoon to explore a bit and shop for food. There is a market-like street west of my house, so I went there first. I bought two eggplants 茄子, one red onion 洋葱, two tomatoes 西红柿, some ginger 姜 and some garlic 蒜. I also purchased noodles 面 and oil 油. I meant to go to more of supermarket-type store after, but Gang called and invited Lin and I to dinner, so I saved that for the another day.
Lin and I went over to Gang’s part of town for dinner, and afterward we went on the city’s ferris wheel. I had mentioned to Lin that I wanted to go, so he brought it up during dinner, and we decided it was about time. Gang also told us his theory on ferries wheels: All cities should have one. It was a little pricey – 30 元 for students (yes, I continue to use my Yale ID to get deals when I can) – but the ride and view were worth it.
On Thursday, I spent the morning and afternoon at the Xiangya School of Nursing. In New Haven, I met a woman named Wenjuan who had been studying at the Yale School of Nursing for a year as an exchange student. We only briefly met at a dinner for the new fellows in May, but promised to meet up once I arrived in Changsha. So, I met her Thursday morning, and we went straight away to the Dean of the Nursing School’s office. There I met Dean He and an assortment of other administrators, teachers and students. Dean He didn’t speak very much English, so Wenjuan acted as translator when I couldn’t understand his meaning. He was so welcoming! He said something that was translated as “new students and exchanges students are like waves crashing against the base of a mountain and moving it forward.” His enthusiasm for international cooperation and progression through change encouraged me so much at a time when I really needed it. Wenjuan’s excitement for introducing me also made me feel especially welcomed into this new community.
After talking for a while, he invited me and some of the other students out to lunch. We went across the street and had some delicious Changsha food. My tolerance for spicy food is definitely increasing, which is a relief as most of the food I’ll be eating for the next year will be spicy. Dean He placed the head of the fish we ordered on my plate when most of the meat was gone. It seemed like that was some sort of hospitable gesture. I scrapped off what meat I could, and then Wenjuan and I ate the eyes. I made the mistake of biting into it, but quickly swallowed when the taste hit my tongue. And then gulped down a good amount of tea. Even though we did not order beer – I was able to use the excuse that I had class later to politely decline, tea was substituted as the tool for toasting, a traditional aspect of Chinese welcoming meals. It might be a part of all groups meals in China, but I have yet to witness one of those. To be further investigated.
I want to schedule some time during my week to spend at the nursing school, either sitting in class or observing in the hospital or just hosting an English corner. I really want to better understand the medical system in China, especially the role of nurses, and I think this could be a great opportunity to do just that. And, with every new relationship I make, it is just another perfect opportunity to improve my Chinese.
Thursday afternoon, I met with a women named Shelley who takes care of the foreign teachers in the English department of Xiangya medical school. She is one of the most genuinely cheerful people I have ever met. We talked about the teacher’s class I was about to start teaching and about staying safe in Changsha. I mentioned to her that I wanted to continue studying Chinese, and we talked a little about the possibility of getting a tutor. She then said that I could take class as well. FOR FREE! So, I’m gonna do that, and I’m so excited about it. wo会提高wo中文的水平! my wo3 character (“I” or “me”) isn’t working this evening for some reason. It keeps coming up as 我. hmf!
Thursday night, I made my first meal in China – noodles with stir-fried eggplant, tomatoes, and onions. I used the garlic and ginger to season. I couldn’t get the stove to work, so I ended having to call my shifu 师傅 to help me turn it on. But after that, it was smooth sailing. I dined well that night on food I had purchased, prepared and made. Great success!
On Friday evening, I went out to the market again in search of some different items – eggs, yogurt, soy sauce, and carrots. Lin and I spent two hours that afternoon helping an English teacher in our department and some administrators from the Hunan oncology hospital translate signage for a new building. It was quite long and tedious, but interesting. Before that I went to the post office and successfully sent a letter. It may seem like a small feat but it was huge to me. I was able to express myself in understandable Chinese to actually get something done. Another success!
While I was out gathering goods to cook, my new friend Teresa called me and invited me to dinner. I could not help but feel absolutely giddy that I had made a friend in Changsha. I nearly skipped home from the market. We went out to a Xinjiang restaurant, and it ended up that some ultimate frisbee guys were invited as well. After dinner, we went to play some pool and later on, we ended up on the west side of the river doing KTV (karaoke) with some other friends. What a night!
On Saturday and Sunday, I went out to play Ultimate. Before moving to Changsha, I had told some friends that I might lay low in the ultimate scene for the first month or so while settling in. I thought it would be good for me to really delve into the city and get to know it before I started committing time to anything. However, I’ve quickly realized (again, I realized this in Hong Kong and Beijing) that playing ultimate and becoming friends with the other players in town is really the best way for me to get to know a city. I not only get to practice my Chinese with my teammates, but they take me to new restaurants all the time and to new places in Changsha. In October, I will travel with them to a neighboring province and play a tournament in the city WuHan. And even next week, during Mid Autumn holiday, I might travel with some of them to places within Hunan.
As I said in the beginning, I’ve finally settled down for the first time since leaving Yale so long ago (or so it feels) which has been a relief. Schlepping is really my absolute least favorite thing to do. But now that the dust is settled, I’ve really had to put forth a concerted effort to make Changsha feel like home in terms of making friends, finding comfort in my neighborhood, figuring out how to properly feed myself, and everything else that comes with moving to a new place as an adult.