Saturday, January 26, 2008

Squat Toilets, Shadows, and Taxis

Today was my first experience with a squat toilet. All the girls have used them before, but since bathrooms here usually have urinals, guys don't have as many opportunities. Today after class, though, I really needed to go. Luckily I had accompanied the people who are in the cooking class to the restaurant where class was going to be held, so I at least had a ritzy squat toilet (they even had toilet paper in the stall!). I wasn't really clear on the procedure for a squat toilet, but I managed. My balance left something to be desired, and my legs felt sore afterward, but other than that it wasn't too bad. I prefer the western-style toilets we have in our apartments, though, even though our bathroom is missing some of the panels in the roof and you're always wondering what kind of rodent will spring at you out of the rafters.

It was sunny yesterday. Coming from the Sunshine State, I would have thought that I would have had my share of sun, and I actually haven't minded the weather here so much. Every day, though, it's overcast or raining, and so I can totally understand the saying they have about the province we're in: "Sichuan dogs bark at the sun." Seriously, yesterday the sun was out and I stopped walking and just kind of looked at the sun. Smog or fog or clouds or something was still in the way, so I wasn't in danger of being blinded--this is Chengdu's version of the sun, not Orlando's.

And then, I saw shadows. I actually saw shadows first, was surprised, and then thought to look at the sun. (It made me think of the Switchfoot song "The shadow proves the sunshine.") Today I was paying extra close attention because I didn't want to sound ridiculous writing here that people in Chengdu don't have shadows. But it's true. Two reasons: the sun is always obscured, so light is diffuse and seems to just come from the sky in general; and, the ground is usually wet and it's hard to see shadows through a city of puddles.

This afternoon Rebekah and I went to the middle of nowhere because we've been selected to memorize a poem for some Chinese New Year celebration. From what our teacher told us, it sounds like we're the token Americans in the presentation, and we have to just stand up, look American but sound as Chinese as we can, and then we're done. Anyway, we had to go down to the memorial park where the famous local poet lived hundreds (thousands?) of years ago so they could make sure we looked suitably American or something. They were satisfied, and so we had to find a taxi back.

Now, Rebekah and I had already taken a taxi to the restaurant for their cooking class, and then a taxi to this place, so by this point my endurance was being taxed (since it was hard to be taxied, if you know what I mean). Rebekah has never successfully hailed a taxi, so she's rather disillusioned too. Getting a taxi here is an art form. You have to guess where people are likely to be dropped off, because finding a free taxi chilling down a main road won't help you, and if you try that you're apt to walk home from Carrefour with a heater in your arms. After living here for two weeks, though, we've wisened up and now just pick a spot on the street and push everyone else out of your way when a taxi does stop there to let someone out.

One other thing to mention is that it was cold today. I mean cold. It snowed this morning but reverted to snowing rain this afternoon with a slight breeze to make up for beautiful snowflakes. This place we went is usually a good tourist attraction, but on days like today, no one wants to walk around touring thatched cottages, so we were out of luck on incoming taxis. Rebekah and I waited for about twenty minutes before I finally got one, but when we told him where we wanted to go, he didn't look like he knew where it was. Finally he figured it out, but started explaining something to us in a very dissatisfied voice and giving off the impression that he wasn't willing to take us. He pointed at his registration card, or something like that, and after I was sure that I had no idea what he was saying, we got out to start over. I was just hoping that there wasn't some regulation on the areas taxi drivers drove in, because if we were out of the right district, we would be really out of luck. We had gotten a taxi there, though, so we kept up hope.

I saw a few taxis turn onto a more residential street, and so we followed them slowly. Finally I saw one pull over, and I ran over, ready to barrel any less deserving Chinese who were in my way. Rebekah caught up, the cab driver knew immediately where we wanted to go, and half an hour later we arrived. What a day.


T.C. said...

Chengdu sounds like a dirty form of New York, with the squat toilets, smoggy sun and taxis. I'm blown away however at the quality that your blogs have maintained. They're very impressive and make for a good read. Keep it up!

Aunt Gwen said...

I just got the email from your Mom about Spain. It will be interesting to see who does a better job of telling us the color and stories of your locality.(I know how competitive you Penmans are!)
You know, if whatever you want to do doesn't work out--you could get a job writing and updating peoples web sites!