Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This is Real Studying Abroad

We're in Chengdu now, classes just started today but I'm going to talk about yesterday. We were supposed to do a tour of the city, since we had done a tour of the campus the day before, so after our bus drove around for a while and our teacher explained some of the sights, we divided into groups and each group had a mission. I didn't know what I was doing, so when she said we would go to Metro, a shopping center, that sounded good to me.

It turned out Metro was an hour's bus ride away and you needed a membership card. We waited 15 minutes for someone to bring our teacher's card, and then started walking to the bus. It was freezing. I had on a t-shirt, a sweater, a sweatshirt, a scarf, a hat, and my two-layer coat. I was almost warm enough on the bus. We didn't have to worry too much about what stop to get off at, because it was the second-to-last one on a schedule of about 25. We finally got there, got in the store, and it looked like a Chinese Costco. There was a cell phone table at the front and I decided to try my hand at buying one. A very kind man and his wife happened by while I was fumbling around with my Chinese and walked me through the whole process. They were all so nice, and I ended up buying one without the SIM card (because I wanted a pay-as-you-go phone and couldn't make them understand that) for 350 kuai. I felt a little worried about how much that was, but later I realized that it was cheaper than a gallon of ice cream costs here, so I didn't feel so bad.

Because it took so long buying a cell phone, we got on the bus late, and then since we hadn't memorized what stop we got on at, we didn't really know when to get off and ended up having to walk for twenty minutes. We finally got back to the rendezvous point over an hour late and thawed while we ate lunch.

After that it was off to Carrefour (the French version of Wal-mart) to buy a space heater for my room. The last two nights it was too cold and Traci, Shayron, and I ended up having a little sleepover in Traci's bed, so I was really looking forward to being able to heat my room enough to be able to sleep in it. I bought a heater, and a large rug for my wood floor, but after we checked out we got separated and I ended up trying to hail a cab with Liz and Shayron. It seemed like it was rush hour or something, though, so we waited for quite a while, but had no success finding an empty cab. We started walking, and whenever I got tired of carrying a large heater and rug, we'd stop and try to get a taxi. We ended up walking the whole way back, which took us about an hour.

Then it was time for dinner. The six of us or so who were all together were tired from our other expeditions that day, so we didn't want to walk far. We went in to the first restaurant that looked good and were immediately escorted to a table. As we were seated, we got a look at what everyone else was eating, and it turns out that we had gone to a place that did hotpot.

"Hotpot" is a local specialty which is known for its spiciness. There's a pot in the center of the table divided into a blackish "ridiculously spicy" sauce and a white "not as ridiculously spicy" sauce. When the oil starts boiling, you put in some meats and vegetables (now is the time for exotic materials like cow's throat or chicken feet) and then when those are done cooking, you fish them out, dip them in the sauce that you've concocted according to your preferences, and then eat it. See, we didn't know any of that, though.

It was the most embarrassing evening we had ever had. The restaurant was emptying as we came, so it seemed like every employee got to try their English skills on us. Our language skills were horribly insufficient. We could say that Rebekah was a vegetarian, but we didn't know how to pick what meats, or even to say "whatever you think would be good." And as we looked around, everyone else, dressed in suits and other well-off outfits, watched the stupid Americans try to order. Once the food started coming, we didn't know what to do with it, so one waitress stayed with our table practically the whole time helping us mix our soy sauce and stuff into a combination that she thought we would like. We were all laughing out of extreme embarrassment. The height came when there were these slices of what looked like potatoes (it turned out they were garlic) and we figured out that we had to put them in the hotpot. Rebekah reached across to put one in, her chopsticks slipped, and the whole garlic slice fell in my bowl of oil. We were almost crying as we laughed.

Once we ate some of the ingredients, they brought out more, and we weren't sure how long this would go on. They ended up taking out all the peppers that made the black oil spicy, but even so it felt like my mouth was being disintegrated. It was a pretty upscale place, too, so we were a little worried that we wouldn't have enough money to pay. Saul had a lot of money, though, so we were okay.

We got back around ten and I was ready to take a shower and go to bed. But our hot water had decided to stop working and my room didn't have the right kind of plug for my heater, so I couldn't even feel comfortable in my room and ended up sleeping in Traci's again.

It was a very full day. Ride to the middle of nowhere to buy a cellphone that turns on but doesn't do anything after that, ride back feeling freezing to show up an hour late, walk to the supermarket, buy a heater, carry it all the way home. Then go to dinner and have no idea how to order, how to eat, what we were eating or how much it cost. There was no hot water and I can't use my heater yet.

Rebekah bought chocolate at the store, though, and that did sooth me a little. Maybe girls on to something when they say chocolate helps everything. If only it could make me speak fluent Chinese.


Giblin said...

How big is Chengdu? I, as a stupid American, have kept picturing it as a village, but I'm sure that isn't the case.
You've probably thought of this, but how thick are your socks? That really helps in the cold, especially if you wear them to bed. Holding hot tea helps too. Let's see, mittens are warmer than gloves, ear muffs can help, and try to zip your jacket collar over your scarf and your mouth if it's tall enough.
wo yao ni hao haor xingzhu xingzhu!
Ji Ai Li

April said...

Chocolate really does cure everything, and I think you should stop buying anything that might break shortly after purchase.

Warm up!!