Hello Uncle Foreigner

travel

Oct 16, 2011

On the other side of the other river

A tour of the supermarkets

Today we took the bus over to the far bank of the Tuojiang, the river to the west of us. We went in search of a Carrefour, which is a French supermarket chain, but what we found wasn’t all that different from the other supermarkets we’ve been in. We did buy some “sesame catsup,” which smells like it might be tahini.

But we had a nice walk around a different neighborhood. The riverside street there was dotted with tea houses, much like our riverside street, but it was a lot quieter. Inland, it seemed much more commercial, with stalls hawking everything from socks to tape.

We walked over the bridge back to our side of the river, and found this enormous market. In front of the brick-and-mortar stores, entrepreneurs had all set up their own racks and carts and stalls of merchandise. It seems if you have stuff to sell in this city, you just roll up on a piece of pavement and do it.

Tuo Jiang River
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Oct 13, 2011

In Chengdu

Our short trip to Chengdu wasn’t quite what we were expecting.

We were housed in an industrial-looking hotel on the very outskirts of the city, and had to have some complex negotiations even to go outside for a walk. We were basically ordered to have room service for dinner via phone, a command which was enforced by our Chinese-only speaking minder. I know that the motive behind it was kind, “we need to help out these crazy kids who only speak English,” but I would have much rather fended for ourselves - this is pretty much true of the whole trip.

But anyway, after we ate to the satisfaction of our guy, we negotiated a release. The neighborhood was far from the hip, young Chengdu we were expecting, but we’re still in a stage where crossing the street is an adventure. So we did just that, and crossed the street to the East Chengdu Rail Station.

It was huge, and pristine. It was about 8 p.m., and there weren’t many trains leaving that night so it wasn’t that crowded, but there was still a guard making sure people didn’t lay down on the seats. We found a western restaurant that served Coronas and Johnnie Walker! The Walker isn’t quite rare, but it isn’t super common either, so we were excited to have some real Scotch. It took a while to be served after we ordered - but then we noticed that someone actually had to run out to somewhere else to get a bottle. We enjoyed a few drinks before our 10 p.m. sustenance curfew (we were having physicals the next morning, and they said no food or drink after 10) and then headed back to the room.

We took the long way, wandering through the apartment complex where our hotel was located. They had a large courtyard, and they were showing a movie in the middle of it. We stopped to watch for a bit, and ran into our waiter from the restaurant!

The next morning, we woke up early and were taken to the International Hospital for our physicals. This was in Chengdu proper, and we did get a good glimpse of the city. It looks cool! Now this physical we got is mandatory for: foreigners staying in China for one year or more, Chinese who are going abroad for more than three months, and Chinese who work aboard international vessels or handle food and water in a port that services international vessels. You can only get the physical done in certain accredited establishments. So, this place was processing a lot of people at once. But they’ve got a system down.

1. You come in and register. They give you the appropriate paperwork for what you’re having done and the bill. In China, you always pay up front for healthcare.

2. You enter the assembly line: First you stop at the window for the urine cups, fill it (in the restroom, thankfully) and drop it off at the appropriate tray. The technician sticks one of your barcodes on it (your paperwork includes a sheet of barcodes that will get stuck to your various fluids and measurements). The technician also marks off on your sheet that you’ve hit this station, which everyone else will do too.

3. Blood sample. There’s another window which you stick your arm through, kind of like at the bank, but you give them your arm (and some barcodes) instead of money. They take your blood while the people on line behind you wait, sometimes very closely behind you. (An aside: We had heard before coming that the Chinese don’t really do queues - instead of lining up, everyone just amasses near the goal. We actually haven’t found this to be true - at checkouts and things, people are pretty orderly. Mostly. Our conjecture is that this is a recent development, and some people still do things the old way. I left a little space in front of me on line at the grocery store once, and this woman just fit herself right into it. This doesn’t happen often, but you do have to be a little more aggressive not to lose your place.)

4. Next is a series of different rooms with doctors taking your height and weight, ECG, ultrasound of your organs and chest x-ray. There’s no chit-chat and everyone is very efficient.

5. Finally, you sign out at the front desk where they give you a receipt and a juicebox of milk (a milkbox?). It was all over in about 15 minutes. Having come from the states, where this same exact physical took Peter and I two hours (not even counting the trip to another location for our chest x-rays), it was a bizarre experience. For what it was, I’m glad it was brisk and businesslike, but if I needed a real consultation … well, I miss the “care” part of healthcare.

So then, we made a few stops to drop off some other paperwork relating to our residence permits - Chengdu is where all the government offices are for Sichuan Province. And then our guy took us to McDonalds for lunch. Chinese McDonalds is a little different from American McDonalds - they have a few different items to cater to the local palate. And the quality of chicken in my sandwich was the best-quality fast food chicken I’ve ever had; McDs is comparatively expensive here - for the cost of the large fries, Peter and I can make a whole meal for two of us - so I think the meat has to be better quality than they can get away with in the states. There are chickens running around the streets everywhere; if you’re going to serve it, it better be good. That’s my opinion after a sample of one sandwich, anyway. (Another aside: Most people are pretty skinny here, but I’m noticing a few chubby kids in some of my classes. No one’s obese, but a couple are out-and-out fat. This is just what I was thinking about in McDonalds.)

It wasn’t the greatest night away, but it did give us a taste for traveling. The bus ride isn’t terrible - about 4 hours, but the buses are really clean and comfortable. And we had legroom for miles. I seriously couldn’t even reach the footrest on our trip home. When we got home, right away we started looking up day- and weekend trips that we can take from here. We still want to do a little more work on the apartment this weekend, but we’re hoping to get right back on that bus to Chengdu quite soon.

Oct 10, 2011

A surprise trip to Chengdu

There may be pandas

Home of the Panda (Photo via: sanfamedia.com)
(Photo via: sanfamedia.com)

Some geography to start: Luzhou is a small city of about 1 million, located in southern Sichuan province. Since we’ve gotten here, many people have told us, “This city is so small. You should have gone to Chengdu.” Chengdu is the big dog of Sichuan, the one that if tourists come to the area, they visit. It’s also home to the “Western Hospital.”

So, OK. Our story: In order to get our temporary resident permits, Peter and I have to undergo a physical in Chengdu. We’ve actually been planning on visiting there, as everyone has been telling us, like I said, since day one that we should go there. This afternoon, our coordinator came by to tell us that we should be on a bus to Chengdu in an hour so that we could get our physicals done tomorrow morning. Peter was still in class. Yikes!

So I furiously packed (and washed our dirty dishes!) while our girl made the arrangements. When I came back in to check with her that someone was going to tell Peter that he’d have to leave class early so that we could go, she informed me that, actually, we’d be leaving tomorrow night, and, oh yeah, Senior classes were cancelled tomorrow and Wednesday because they had two days of testing. Also, Friday afternoon classes were going to be rescheduled for some other reason. And, the power was out. For reasons unrelated to our impromptu trip.

We’re getting the idea that this is just how things are done here. A generation ago, your employer might have chosen your spouse for you. So I don’t think the unknown powers that be (our girl is at the mercy of many bosses, I’m pretty sure) think anything of asking you to make an overnight trip as suits them, with no prior notice. But when the trip went from “in less than an hour” to “tomorrow afternoon,” it made all the difference. Like I said, we were eager to make the trip to Chengdu sooner or later - it’s the home of a giant panda reserve! So, instead of teaching classes for the next two days, we’re going on a little trip. With our own guide; the school’s fixer, Mr. Joe, will be accompanying us.

We’ll report back with tales of the big city.

Oct 3, 2011

Where are we going?

The mysterious bus ride

We took the bus the wrong way ...
... but we weren't alone.

This was on the outskirts of town. It looks like they’re building some kind of mega shopping complex.