Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Some final thoughts upon leaving China

Some final thoughts upon leaving China

Just as Josh did, I thought I would do a “Things I will miss and things I won’t miss post”. Since I was taught at Camp Coniston to always start with the lows so that you end on a high note, here are some of the things I won’t miss.

Notes now that I am done: It looks like I am whining more than rejoicing, but I am just getting tired and wanted to get this out before bed.

1) Freezing cold offices: Our office was SO cold. Even in the middle of the summer. The darn cement building combined with no sunlight during the day (I am not kidding, I think we got only 3 hrs a day by the time we left) and then the sunlight not hitting the office when it is hitting the building, made it really hard to focus. We quit going to the office our last week because it was so darn cold.

2) Sharing a flat: This has been really hard for me. I lived with housemates most of my time in graduate school. Basically I’ve always shared a house with someone other than my previous two years in China. In college I lived in the dorms then a coop. In grad school, before we got married, I lived in a shared house with 3 other people. Some of my housemates from that time are my closest friends. But we got to choose to live together (ok, not totally for the coop… but we had house agreements and ground rules).

Let’s start with the Chengdu situation. We had to rent a flat for a variety of reasons – keeping the school happy and getting driver’s licenses and a car are at the top of the list. But there was no reason to pay the entire rent on our own. So we found a flatmate. For spring semester we helped out a friend of ours. She didn’t have any money and was trying to live in Chengdu. So she paid us a nominal amount and dealt with bills (mostly). She wasn’t ideal, but in hindsight, she was great. We didn’t realize ahead of time that she’d be moving out in the summer, so we didn’t advertise to the new UW undergrads. When it came down to it, we realized that they would be a great place to find a new sub-letter. So we got one. He is an archaeology undergrad and had only ever lived away from home for a few months. It was rough. Josh’s standards have apparently gone up since we got married. He got so fed up that he washed the flatmate’s towels one day!

Then there is Jiuzhaigou. Our first few months in Jiuzhaigou we shared the flat with an undergrad and a grad student (we think). The undergrad was really nice, but a bit of an internet bandwidth hog. The grad student was dense and not very friendly. She didn’t realize we had hot water in the bathroom and lived in the flat for 2 months. After they left we had two new reception department girls move in. They are both really friendly. One is always bubbly and the other was sort of sullen, but generally nice enough. We got in a screaming match once. In any case, they were nice enough, but really messy and not willing to stand up to men who wanted to smoke or wear shoes in the flat. Their cooking smelled and they didn’t clean the kitchen. They washed their hair standing in the middle of the bathroom and made the floor all wet. It was difficult. How can I tell them to up their standards? Isn’t that ethnocentric? Is it really ethnocentric to want a clean flat? It was just tough.

3) No coworkers: It’s been really rough to have so little support this year. I mean, I have a great quasi-support network down in Chengdu. Two professors that supervise me. Another three that I talk with about research. I have some profs back at home that I’ve been talking with as paper revisions are getting done. And there are some grad students that I work with at Sichuan U, but basically Josh was my only co-worker in China. He’ll be second author on the one major paper that I am doing on my research here and an author on the other paper as well. Still, none of this is the same as having a research team and colleagues back in the US. And the JNP staff basically ignored us.

4) No social/support network: This goes along with the previous one. We basically have each other here. It’s been good for our marriage (you can’t run from problems when you are the only people you regularly talk with), but it’s been hard to not have any friends to go riding with. Just as we were winding down our time here we made friends with the Chevron riding group (the Chengdu Chain Gang) and we really loved that. But we weren’t in Chengdu most of the time. Mental note: Don’t live somewhere so remote again. Chengdu would have been much easier. We’d have had a support network.

5) Food, exercise, hang out alternatives: This is another one about Jiuzhaigou. We weren’t really able to do much. We watched movies and shows on our computers. We cooked A LOT. We rode our bikes a lot. But we didn’t have options. If it rained a week in a row, we had a hard time exercising – we tried to make our Sheraton gym membership last, so we didn’t go more than once a week. If we ran out of something from Chengdu (cheese, balsamic vinegar, butter…), we were stuck until someone came up.

6) Pollution: I have bronchitis from a cold and the pollution. I won’t miss this.

So what have I enjoyed that I will miss?

1) Speaking Mandarin a lot: This is a daily thing. I may have spoken mandarin more without Josh around, but I also probably wouldn’t have gone out so much. Having two Tibetan flatmates (Flopsy and Mopsy) also forced me to speak Chinese. That was really good for my language skills.

2) Being able to go in the field whenever I wanted: This was really great. When I decided I needed some data, we could ask for a car and go out in the field.

3) Riding in JNP: The riding outside the park was spectacular. Not very diverse when you are limited to a single speed, but it was lovely to go for great rides from our door. We hardly drove to go riding.

4) Riding with the Chengdu Chain Gang: As I mentioned above, we made friends with the Chevron riders starting in September. We had some great adventures in places I didn’t know were so close to Chengdu. Wow. If I’d known, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to live in Jiuzhaigou full time.

5) Abuluzi family - Ama, Zhuo Ma, Kezhu, Ge Ge, Lopsang, and Gege’s kids: This family (at their restaurant and homestay) made us feel like family. They say that they are our Jiuzhaigou family and I truly believe it. We felt so welcomed. Ama always went off on a rant about something and she loves Josh so much. I’m not convinced that they even know my name, to be honest. Ama always calls us “Zhaxi those two”. But she calls her eldest son “gege” (older brother), so I think it’s just how she is. I will really really miss them. Our last day in Jiuzhaigou I was crying, Ama was crying, and Lopsang was confused. We converted all the kids to helmet wearing cyclists.

6) The orphanage and doctor: we went nearly every week to visit the local orphanage and to show a movie or work in the yard. The kids were so welcoming and always so happy to see us coming. The girls would play with my jewelry, hold my hand, and hug me. The doctor always wanted to tell me about his time at the Oberlin Shanxi Memorial Primary School (random connection). What lovely people.

7) Li Yongxian: My official Chuanda advisor this year has been the nicest man in Chengdu. Not that my other advisors aren’t nice, but Professor Li is really the nicest man in the city. He is so wonderful and has treated me so well as his student. I hope to continue collaborating with him.

8) Leanna’s Bakery: Although overpopulated with missionaries, this place was a recent discovery in Chengdu and is fabulous!

9) All the grad students and professors I worked with at Chuanda: Although I had a rocky relationship with some, this was a chance for me to work with an entirely different academic culture than I am used to. I have really fulfilled the goal of the Fulbright program with forming lasting international collaborations.

10) Full-time research focus: this ends in February when I start teaching. I’m thrilled to be teaching, but it will be a change from my last 7 years. And this won’t be English to unmotivated undergrads in Harbin either.

It’s bed time here, so even though I am sure I could think of more things, I am going to send this off.

- Amanda

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