Changzhou, China

Archive for the ‘Diary’ Category

Into the Countryside

In Diary on October 7, 2010 at 10:55 am

The fruit was so rare that my Chinese companions believed it to have a name only in their local dialect. Related to sugarcane, the indigenous plant was long and green, sweet and juicy, but it was significantly smaller than its popular cousin. We peeled the canes one by one, then chewed on them until they were dry, swallowing the sugary juice and spitting out the white residue. I breathed in the fresh air and looked out over the Taihu lake. This was the life.

Wait. Fresh air? In China? Yes – because we were no longer in the crowded industrial city of Changzhou, but in the remote Chinese countryside. The China most foreigners hear about is the urban one: news about the country’s pollution problems or its top-rate education, its petty crime or its rapid economic development, describes almost exclusively life in Chinese cities. In fact, fewer than 40% of China’s population lives in those cities; the rest of China lives out in the xiangxia, where the pace of life seems slower and people seem closer together.

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School Life

In Diary on September 11, 2010 at 9:32 pm

The day before school started, Edward and Colin showed me around the campus. Changzhou Senior Middle School was big, with 13 buildings, two of which were dorms for students who lived further away and one of which was a three-story cafeteria. The classrooms themselves were also quite large, which makes sense: most classes have around 50 students.

The school also has three libraries. We walked into one of the smaller ones to look for English language books, but all they had were translations of classics into Chinese. Colin picked out a copy of “Pride and Prejudice,” and I wondered how Jane Austen would sound in a language whose words hardly ever smacked of dry wit or dripped with sarcasm.

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The Dinosaur Park

In Diary on August 29, 2010 at 9:28 pm

On my second day in Changzhou, my host brother decided to take me to the Dinosaur Park. This was one of the city’s biggest attractions, an amusement park full of roller coasters and other exciting rides. It also had a nominal educational component, a museum where one could see real dinosaur bones that had been dug up in various locations around China.

On the way to the park, we met up with one of Edward’s friends from school, whose English name was Colin. As we walked off the bus, Edward pointed out his friend to me and said, “There – the handsome one.” At the time I thought this was a bit strange, but I later learned that Colin was quite a popular boy at school and that his Chinese nickname was indeed “shuai ge” – “the handsome one.” I walked over and shook his hand.

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First Day in Changzhou

In Diary on August 28, 2010 at 10:19 am

In some parts of China, the sun rises at what might be called the wrong time. This is because, despite its vastness, the People’s Republic of China all falls under one centrally mandated time zone, not suited to the nation’s western regions. It hasn’t always been this way: once upon a time, China was divided into five time zones, and people, no matter where they lived, woke up and returned home with the sun. With the founding of the new republic in 1949, however, this would no longer be acceptable. Everyone would now follow Beijing time.

At least, that’s what the new government thought. Actually, everyone would be following Changzhou time: in choosing a time zone, officials rounded to the nearest hour difference from Greenwich Mean Time, coincidentally choosing a time exactly suited to Changzhou’s longitude. (I am told, furthermore, that Changzhou is unique in this regard; no other sizeable city in China lies along this line of longitude.)

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Update from Beijing

In Diary on August 27, 2010 at 9:00 pm

For the first time in a week, I stepped onto American soil.

Immediately I felt at home: I was back in America! American adults, the first I had seen in days, greeted me and shook my hand. They spoke freely about Chinese politics. Their accents were impeccable. As I walked through security, my electronics were confiscated, but I had no doubt that I would see my iPod and cell phone again. (This was not how I felt three days earlier, when I had checked my bag at the JianMart department store on Guangming Road.)

I like to think that I am no xenophobe, that I am open-minded and cultured, a cheerful explorer and ambassador to new nations.  As I walked into the American embassy in Beijing, however, I realized how much I missed the comfort of a shared culture, of a shared sense of humor, and of a shared language and accent.

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