Where I live

I’m in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China, and I finished my first full week of teaching. Things are going ok. I finally have a place to live and am no longer staying with the college Dean, which is a huge plus. I’m sure Mary’s happy to have her space back, though I feel like I’m in outer space, orbiting a planet so distant and foreign. Everything’s just so different from Humboldt, Savannah, Indiana, the U.S. of A. There are soooo many people, diminutive Chinese people—I’ve never felt so tall, or big. I am a giant, little me, a broad-shouldered, tough-legged giant in a land of lovely lotus men and women.

Things to get used to:

Bathrooms

ready, set, squat

In my apartment, I have a western-style toilet; at the university and in most other places, squat toilets are the norm. No tissue provided, even at school. I’ve gotta bring my own. So far, I just hold it until I get home—yeah, really grosses me out. But, I’m a backpacker, right? A hardcore adventure girl, tough, can handle it….uh…no cultural judgment intended, but it’s just gross…um, hoping to work it out, this squat toilet business, jeeze, ick…

Public Spitting
It’s just what most folks do here—hocker up a big, loud loogie and forcefully aim it at the ground, often inches from my feet. And that hocker-throat sound? Dear God, aural kryptonite, nearly makes me Rainman. So, I’ve learned to stay plugged in to the i-pod when walking in the city or on campus.

street sweeping

street sweeping

Air Quality
I think folks spit so much in part because of the crappy air. Xi’an is located on the loess plateau which makes the city fairly high and naturally very dry. Dust storms are common here. Take inherent aridity, add lots of dust plus poorly regulated exhaust from an exponentially expanding city (a colleague mentioned that Xi’an’s population has grown by 2 million in the last 3 years), and you’ve a recipe for horrendous air. I know this is about to verge on “too much information,” but when I return from running in the mornings, I blow my nose to find the tissue(s) streaked with brown and a range of fine black particulate. In his book, Rivertown, Peter Hessler also writes about this phenomenon. (Check out Rivertown if you are curious about teaching English in China—I definitely relate to his experiences.) I run to stay fit, keep healthy. But am I really doin’ my body good in this air??

Good stuff:

breakfast

Food’s Awesome.

fresh fruits and veggies :)

Seriously, I thought I liked Chinese food, but now that I’m here and have eaten authentic cuisine, I’m smitten. I’ve gone out with colleagues to a variety of restaurants—lower-end noodle shops, street barbeque (Lyndsey B. wondered if I’d knowingly eaten any feline, so far, don’t think so…), middle and higher-end restaurants, and it’s all soooo tasty. My favorite, though, is just eating from the street vendors; it’s really cheap and fairly healthy, as healthy as it can be surrounded in the swirl of chemical-air. After running and before heading to school, I like to have this rice flour-based Chinese crepe-thingy with an egg added plus shredded carrots, cabbage, hot peppers, a little shredded potato, these long noodle-like pieces of mushroom—oh, it’s so good. Salivating. I can’t wait for breakfast tomorrow, the best!

snack time

Students are Rad-tastic.
Indeed. I have 17 young minds to engage, challenge, and (hopefully) inspire in the next 10 months, and nearly all of them really, really want to be in the program and are over the moon to be going to Humboldt State next year. They listen. They take notes. So far, they read the assignments. They participate in class even though speaking solely in English is hard and often embarrassing. They don’t like making mistakes in front of me or their peers, but I tell them I make mistakes all the time—and prove it by jumbling their names terribly—and that the best way to learn is by making mistakes. It’s ok, mistake away, I tell them, we’ll learn together that way.

Music.
Oh, I miss Humboldt and all the music and open mics and gigs, but there’s good music stuff here, too. The other day I discovered a city park where multiple groups of 3 and 4 retired folks were singing traditional folk music. It’s beautiful to see and hear people enjoying music out in public, singing with abandon—some of the groups had microphones and amplifiers, and one 80+ year old man was crooning with all his heart a song that sounded like traditional Chinese opera. He was very good. I also heard my first erhu, an ancient Chinese instrument that sounds similar to the violin but looks entirely different. There’s an elder who plays erhu in one of the stairwells on campus—I’m hoping we can be friends. I would like to learn this instrument, truly, truly. It’s gorgeous.

*I need to get some more erhu footage, but below you can watch a few local Xi’an singer-songwriters performing at Nashi Lijang–they’re great.

And I’ve been playing my stuff as well, and it looks like I’m angling to get something set up at Aperture (hippest hang in the City, really) and the Sculpting in Time Café. I will keep you posted.

To great adventure,
Josephine

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