Life in Cili: A Week in Review #1

Talking about getting out of my comfort zone for the first week in Cili

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates.

Since I came to Cili, I have already made some leaps and bounds in getting out of my comfort zone. I joke with my friends and family about “skill points” like my life is a video game, so here are some of the “skill points” that I acquired this week:

Faith, Trust, and Pixie Cuts

For some reason, I was under the impression that I wouldn’t be able to find a place that could deal with my hair when I was in China, so I pretty much accepted the fact that I’d have to grow out my pixie cut. Almost as if the Universe was mocking me for doubting China, I found at least three hair salons near the school. One day I just decided that my hair was getting a bit dorky-looking (ladies who have grown out pixie cuts before, you know what I mean), so I decided to walk in with a photo and see what happened. Fifteen kuai and forty minutes later, I felt a lot more put together!

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The “before” shot
First haircut in China
The “after” shot

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Skill Point Acquired: It’s Not Easy Being Green

Before I moved to China, I lived in the greater Washington, D.C. area for work, and while I was living there, I tried to start a mini garden on my balcony. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite pan out like I had expected, but that might all change here in Cili! Within my first week, I found a potted aloe plant and a mint seed kit from my wandering around the city! When we were in Changsha, I found a hanging basket with English ivy; I’m hoping I can find one like that to hang from my balcony. I’m hoping that more greenery in the apartment would make it feel a bit more like home.

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Vegging Out

When I was studying abroad in Beijing, I didn’t really have much opportunity to prepare my own meals; given that the program was only for two months, it seemed unrealistic for us to go out and buy a wok, a pot, etc. when we could eat out cheaply, compared to the U.S. Luckily, my apartment came with a rice cooker, a microwave, and some of the other basic essentials for cooking, so I only had to get stuff like food storage containers and actual foodstuffs.

I also was able to cook my first homemade meal here in China! I made steamed rice in my rice cooker, boiled a leek and half a carrot in a pot on my hot plate, and then fried an egg with spinach and a bit of soy sauce. The only issue with the meal was that it was too much for just me! Oh, well—all the more excuse to invite guests over! That said, though, the best part about having one pot and pan is that there are fewer dishes to clean up!

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P.S. Bonus points because I found shou zhua bing pancakes in the market across the street from the school! Since I haven’t been able to find a pancake stand near the school (though that might change as classes get going), I made one! I’m still trying to get used to the hot plate concept, though, so it got a bit burnt. That said, it still tasted like sweet victory!

Homemade shou zhua bing
手抓饼(shou zhua bing) with an egg

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Spice it Up

Normally, I go to one place for everything from mantou (steamed rolls; perfect for when my stomach isn’t cooperative) to rou si chao fan (fried rice with shredded pork), but one day, no one was out in front, the lady who helps run the shop was watching TV, and while I was likely within my rights to call out to get her attention, I wasn’t in the mood to yell. So, I decided to move on down the street to a mi fen (rice noodle) place, and ate there instead.

Normally, they ask, “yao bu yao la jiao?” (do you want spice?) and my answer is usually “bu yao la jiao” (I do not want spice). In Changsha (possibly because there were more foreigners), people were generally okay with this, but here in Cili, there was some commentary from the people behind me the last time I ordered food; I didn’t catch all of what they said, but I imagine it had something to do with how foreigners can’t handle spice (guilty as charged) and that the food wouldn’t taste as good without spice.

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At the mi fen place, I took a baby step and ordered my beef mi fen with yi dian la (a bit of spice). Later on, the lady handed me some pink vegetable or fruit; I never figured out what it was, but it cut the spice a lot.

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Could anyone tell me what this is? I wasn’t able to ask the lady who made my food.

Tomorrow I start teaching classes here in Cili, and honestly, as grateful as I am for the time to explore, I’m ready to start teaching. Hopefully I’ll be here next week with another article! See you then! Zai jian!

In Need of a Latitude Adjustment

Thus far, I’ve spent about a week here in Changsha, Hunan Province, China, but honestly, what with everything I’ve been doing, it feels like I’ve been here much longer. I’m still working on my article about how I prepared for the trip, but right now I have what’s been on my mind the most these days:

Things I took for granted while living the U.S.

  1. Clean tap water. One of the first things we were told when we first got to Changsha was “don’t drink the tap water”. While it’s probably safe to brush one’s teeth with water from the tap (by some accounts), I don’t want to be sick my first week here. Regardless, there have been moments in which I’d go to brush my teeth and instinctively reach for the tap. It’s the little things that we as Americans (or any other first world country, for that matter) take for granted, that I think make the biggest impact.
  2. Cooler weather. I joke about Florida being one of the only places where you can die of heat stroke outside and hypothermia inside on the same day, but that’s nothing compared to Changsha. Changsha has a subtropical climate, and is known as one of the “furnace cities” of China, so the summers are very humid and HOT. According to the Weather.com app, temperatures for the next week are expected to range between 83 and 91 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity ranging between 50% and 100%. Compared to last week, this is amazing weather (apparently, it’s supposed to cool down even further around October). Needless to say, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, an umbrella, and a fan are necessities for me now.
  3. Safer roads. To put it plainly, there is no such thing as “pedestrians have right-of-way” in China. It’s not uncommon to see people driving mopeds on the sidewalk, beeping their horns to alert people to their presence (side note: honking horns are a constant sound in Changsha; bring earplugs if you’re a light sleeper), and even people driving the wrong way on a one-way street. All that said, the roads here are generally safe for pedestrians, but it’s an extra thing to be aware of when you’re walking down the streets.
  4. English everywhere. The beauty and the curse of being a waiguoren (“foreigner”) is that if a restaurant or a food stand has an English menu, they will automatically take it out for you. The curse is that it can be very easy to use those as a crutch, especially when you go out of the cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and even Changsha. I’m curious how I’ll fare when I get to my placement in Cili, near Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province.

Things I’ll likely take for granted while living in China

  1. Yummy, inexpensive street food. Especially with the conversion rate, a healthy breakfast is super cheap here in China. I can get a couple baozi (steamed buns), noodles, or (my favorite) a shou zhua bing (a pancake with egg, meat, lettuce, and sauce) for about six or seven kuai (the currency of China, used interchangeably with “yuan” or “RMB”), which would roughly equal one US dollar. Be advised, though, that if you go for McDonald’s, KFC, or non-instant coffee pretty much anywhere, you’re inevitably going to be paying more (an iced coffee at a café is at least twenty kuai, while an iced green tea is nine kuai).
  2. Safer streets. For the most part, I would consider China much safer than the U.S. in terms of being out and about. Obviously, this doesn’t give one leave to abandon common sense completely, but when I’m walking down the street in Changsha (even at night), I’m not as quick to hold my bag close to me or look over my shoulder (unless it’s to look for oncoming mopeds or bicycles) as I would in U.S. cities.
  3. Public transportation. We’ve been using the bus system in Changsha, and it’s been very efficient. Even between cities and towns, there are buses and fast- and slow-speed trains. Back home in Florida, you need a car to go pretty much anywhere. As a person who despises driving in cities, I definitely appreciate this!
  4. Friendly people everywhere. The couple who runs the shop I go to for iced green tea, the woman who cooks lunch for our orientation group, even young children who like to show off their English skills by calling out “hello”—everyone in Changsha has been so kind to us thus far. It’s refreshing compared to my experience in the U.S., where hardly anyone says “hello” to strangers, let alone a compliment like “you speak very well”, unless they work in retail or hospitality, or are otherwise particularly outgoing.
  5. Public or group events. Maybe it was because my circle of friends was scattered after college and high school, but especially in Changsha, I’ve been doing a lot of group activities, including going to movies, English conversation, group dinners, and even archery! Even walking around downtown Changsha, I’ve noticed that the social dynamic is heavily based on group activities, from KTV (karaoke) all the way to evening dancing or early morning Tai Chi in the local parks. It develops a strong social network that I hope I can continue when I go to my placement in Cili.

I’m sure I’ll observe more as I spend more time here, and I’m really looking forward to the days ahead! With my current schedule, I’m hoping I can be back here next week with another post! See you then! Zai jian!

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