4 Cockroaches, 3 Laowais, 2 Beautiful Pandas, and 1 Rugby Tournament Later…

First and foremost, we apologize for our slacking in posting blog entries. Unfortunately, our electricity has been out for a few days. For us, that meant no lights, no Internet, and definitely no blogging. For Chengdu, that meant getting more of our RMBs (Renminbi = official currency of the People’s Republic of China)… i.e. any establishment with air conditioning, cold beer, and unspoiled food easily got our business. So, with that said, here is a quick and easy update as to our China experiences:

1) I know this has been mentioned previously, but I have to expand. In America, we strive for attention. We want to be the best, smartest, prettiest, and most knowledgeable of our peers. In China, we seem to run away from it. Here is what I mean: in the neighborhood we (Sarah, Kelsey, and I) live in, we are the only ex-Pats (Westerners). Some people look at us as if we are movie stars (we’ve gotten comments such as “oh look at the 3 big beautiful foreigners”… all in Chinese of course, and big, hopefully, meaning taller than most). Others look at us as if we have a disease (one girl about 6 years old did a double take and finally turned her head toward us in disgust). And finally, some look at us with affection and curiosity (two little children have blown kisses, begged their parents to say hello, and stared at us as if we were not human). It feels so strange being the minority. It feels even stranger being the minority and not knowing the country’s dialect. We have no idea what people are saying about us, what people’s perceptions are of us, and what their reactions to us being here are. We want to know. We want to ask. But we literally have no voice. It’s weird that we had to travel across the world to truly understand this. In social work, we applaud ourselves for working with those who don’t have a voice. However, as privileged people, can we ever really understand what that means? And more and more everyday do we feel privileged.

2) Apartment updates – as mentioned above, our electricity went out for a day or two. Needless to say, we found ways to entertain ourselves otherwise (The Bookworm, The Shamrock, The 5S Rugby Tournament… yep. Rugby tournament in Chengdu, China. Let me tell you – this is the first time either of us had seen a Rugby tournament and these Chengdu teams are FIERCE. We got to see some players from China’s national team. I’m officially never playing a contact sport in Chengdu as I am bound to get my butt kicked!…. OK really… me and sports is just a funny concept in and of itself. As I consistently reminded the Westerners who were at the tournament and trying to get me to play, there is a reason I was a tap dancer). We’ve also found 2 more cockroaches (adding up to 4 now… 2 dead/2’s whereabouts unknown). Our couch is shedding leather that Kelsey constantly thinks is a bug, and there is this funny odor that just won’t seem to go away. Boy oh boy do we love it! As my Mom said, “Well… that is China for ya! Enjoy the experience.” Thanks, Mom. We definitely are!! Honestly, staying in any other accommodation in any other neighborhood would not give us the true feeling of what it is like to be a Chengdu-er. We appreciate the ability this apartment has to bring us back to reality.

3) I (Sam) have a Chinese fling. He’s a redheaded male. And his name is Ginger (fitting). OK… I have to admit… it’s not a person. It is a cat. A tiny-little guy Sarah found at the primary school next to our apartment building. He literally is the size of our hands. I think I am in love. Sarah has nursed him back to health by taking incredibly good care of him and feeding him milk at least every 4 hours. That guy is going to be a fat little cat as he can eat like no other animal I have seen. (Wait… I’m seeing a pattern in the type of animals I love… tubby animals that like to eat… hmmmm). Anyhoot, he is the cutest little thing I have ever seen in my entire life. I am being convinced (it’s only taken a blink of his buggy little blue eyes) to potentially bring him back to the states with me. China does not have animal shelters like we do in the US. Instead, they have a ton of street animals. Animals owned by individuals are hard to separate from the stray as none are required to be leashed. This little guy was about 2 weeks old when we found him. He was separated from his mother WAY too early (can you say attachment issues social workers?) and would most likely have starved to death, been killed by a rat, or died from disease if left on the street. Thank goodness for his resiliency. Hmm… animal welfare… human welfare… all sounds kind of similar, huh?

4) Ahhh… the fruit, veggie, and meat market. It is about 1 block from our apartment and has the most delicious fruit and veggies I have ever seen and eaten. I never liked vegetables… until China. The eggplant (茄子 Qiézi) is wonderful. The fruit is to die for! If only we didn’t have to soak it in bottled water for 30 minutes prior to cooking to get the pesticides out. And that isn’t even the worst of it. The meat… ahhh the meat. It just sits out there in the market hanging by hooks (and I don’t mean like a chicken breast, I mean the whole chicken, head and all) with flys constantly swarming it and landing on it and who knows what to it… and it definitely isn’t hanging in a freezer. The veggie/fruit/meat market is hot and sticky. Do you want to buy your meat from there? Don’t worry. The grocery store isn’t much better. We go to the Ren Ren Le (kind of like the Wal-Mart of Chengdu… even though there is an actual Wal-Mart) and the meat there is barely kept cool. And still the entire animal. YAY for China making us vegetarians!

5) Meeting new people has been a breeze! We have met two separate groups from DU at the Panda Base (1 on our first day there… IMBA students doing their international studies all across China… and the other today at our first Q&A session… these were elder alumnae on a tour group who just so happened to be from DU. As Kelsey wonderfully put it, I think DU has done a wonderful job making international travel a priority.). Out on a weekend night (yes, they do have a crazy nightlife here, something both of us were pleasantly surprised by), we have met people from Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, Australia, Hong Kong, Brazil, Canada (Kelsey’s Minnesota accent has for sure drawn these folk in) and of course – some fellow Chicago-ins (clearly I gush and drool every time I hear the Windy City’s name). In Denver, we are all transplants from a different state. In China, we are all transplants from around the world. In terms of actually living in China, UK residents are dominating. Is it an American thing to stick to the familiar? I don’t mean travelling… a lot of Americans travel PLENTY… but actually living? I know for me moving to a different state was a huge accomplishment. What about moving, permanently, to a different country?

And lastly… today was our first day actually working (doing Q&A sessions) at the Panda Base. We stood at the Giant Panda Education Hut with panda skulls, black bear skulls, and panda arm bones ready to show the world all of our knowledge! And although the first group asked us a lot of important questions… there was one question that won the popularity contest: where is the bathroom? And, of course, that was the one thing we had no idea how to answer. But hey, standing in China, speaking to people from all over about pandas/conservation/social work with pandas playing in our backdrop… not too shabby of an internship.

I know this will come as a surprise to most of you, but my blog is wordy and I just couldn’t condense it! ☺ Enjoy our thoughts… and hopefully we can enjoy yours with any questions or comments you make to this post!

I leave you with this Chinese saying that we just can’t help but love:
Po Po Tai Dou – “Too many mother-in-laws”

Sam & Kelsey

PS – We are creating a YouTube page with all of our videos! Link to come… but keep checking our Facebook’s with picture and status updates! And don’t forget to follow us on twitter @conservationsw.

“A Single Spark Can Light a Prairie Fire” – Chinese Proverb

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

It’s been a few days since we have written a post, but what a few days it has been.  After just finishing up the Asia for Animals Conference (http://www.asiaforanimals.org/), we have to say that we are in awe.  As many worldwide animal welfare NGOs attended this conference, we felt honored that we got to share the room with some of the most influential, resilient, and determined people in the animal welfare realm.

I (Sam) have to do a little self plug here.  Before this conference, I can shamefully say I did not have a proper understanding of animal welfare.  Not only was I a huge consumer of meat products galore, but I was a blind consumer, purchasing meat from farms that had more potential than not of being inhumane.  My love of bacon was large and my “meat footprint” was taking charge.  I also did not understand the concept of ecotourism and the sad life a performance animal lives.  My eyes were shut to the needs of the animals because they were so focused on helping my fellow humans.  But… oh man, I feel like (excuse the irony right now) a deer in headlights.  It never occurred to me how vulnerable animals are to human impact.  These are creatures that cannot communicate with us.  They have no rights, no way to express their thoughts, feelings, or emotions, and no ability to fight back.  As humans, we feel we have the G-d given right to do whatever it takes to make progress – whether that be invading an existing species’ habitat, using bear bile for medicinal purposes, hunting elephants for their ivory tusks, or soliciting monkey’s for pictures with tourists. We have to think to ourselves, is this ethical? How can I advocate for a child who has no say but not do the same for an animal? How are their lives, their habitat, their welfare, and their well-being less deserving of happiness and fulfillment than ours?

As social workers, this brings on a lot of internal struggle. It’s a viscous cycle. We say we want to help the animals, but how does someone make the decision between human and animal welfare? After knowing the struggle of both, can you make a decision? Can you even separate the two groups, or is it best to treat them as one unit and look and advocate for general welfare for all living things? As a human-focused worker, how can we combine our efforts with animal welfare?

We also tend to forget that many of the people who are cruel to animals have their own experience and agenda. They may have never learned what loving an animal means (or loving a human at that matter), what makes up ethical practice, or may not feel as if they have another opportunity besides the animal-cruelty one they are in to make money. As we know from working with those who are “desperate” (lack of better word here), we understand that resilience is not always seen as a positive thing. People will do whatever it takes to support them and to support their family. How can we, then, take this information and re-install values, ethics, and morals and empower those people in those positions to do better?

Let’s bring this back to that single spark. Take, for instance, Animals Asia (http://www.animalsasia.org/). A single woman who found a situation and species in dire need of help has created an incredibly influential, successful, and wonderful NGO. A single woman. A single spark. Needless to say, we were inspired. Through our exploration of the city, Kelsey and I had a thought – could we imagine seeing something so awful that it changes our entire lives around? Could we imagine being so distraught in our social work career that we devote our lives to forming and maintaing a non-profit? And if we did devote that time, would it be successful? This Chinese proverb has it right… and I want each and every one of you to remember this: a SINGLE spark can start a prairie fire.”

With that being said, I will leave you with one final thought: could you imagine living in a city in which it is so polluted the fog in the air is not low sitting clouds, but pollution… living in a city where the sun is always hazy because of the pollution overcast and the weird reflection it creates? I couldn’t… At least not for longer than 6 weeks. My eyes are dry, my skin itches, and I can’t even step outside of a conference for fresh air.. not because I can’t leave the conference, but because the fake air (air conditioning) is easier to breathe in than the natural environment. In fact, as Sarah mentioned today, “sometimes it is better to just not breathe.”

I have never missed green grass, clean air, clean water (we use bottled water to even brush our teeth), and clean streets more than I do now. I have never realized how privileged I am (not just by the color of my skin) in my entire life. Nor do you realize what it feels like to be a minority.. a visible minority… until you walk down the streets of China.

Apologies for my jumbled thoughts and long rants. If any of you know me, you know this isn’t abnormal. Continue reading, learning, and responding to these posts. We appreciate the feedback and questions and are happy to share our experiences with you.

Until next time…

Sam and Kelsey

P.S – Feel free to check out either one of our facebook pages for pictures! If you are not friends with us yet, friend us

Pandas Galore! – GSSW Takes Over China!

Ne Hao!

Hello from China!  Kelsey and I are here in China doing a summer internship through GSSW!  We are helping some wonderful people pioneer a new idea in social work – conservation.  If we conserve the environment (more green spaces, cleaner air, cleaner drinking water, etc.) then we can directly help increase positive mental health.  Think about it.  Aren’t you happier when it is a beautiful day outside and you can go play in Wash Park, walk down 16th street, hike a 14er, or even just stroll a trail in the Rockies?  I know we are!  Unfortunately, those in China don’t have that privilege.  We walked through one of Chengdu’s only (if not the only) city park in which all grass was fenced off and the only play area was cement.  There is NO grass on the street.  If there is an open block, it is filled with apartment buildings and stores (yes, Chengdu has a need for both of these as its population is 11 million and growing!).  Kids are forced to play in their homes or in the streets/on the sidewalks – which, by the way, are far from clean.

Though Chengdu can seem overwhelming at times, the escape to the natural beauty of the Panda Research Base gives us a ray of light… literally!  The sun seems to shine so much brighter above the greenery and the ADORABLE giant pandas!  We saw baby panda cubs, mama pandas, papa pandas, and little panda families.  The feeling at the Panda Base was of joy and hope.  People seemed so happy to not only see these remarkable and endangered bears, but to escape the hustle and bustle of China’s cities.  And many of the tourists at the Panda Base are not domestic – in fact, Kelsey and I met some fellow DU Grad students (International MBA students) at the Panda Base!  See how we flock to clean air and greenery!?

More thoughts to come as we experience an Asia for Animals Conference.  This should be both eye opening and inspiring.

Pictures to follow as well!  Keep commenting and responding to our posts!  The more ideas we can bounce out there and conversations we can create… the better!

Sam & Kelsey

Wait, we’re in China?!

Hello all!

We have arrived in Chengdu, Sichuan, China!  Boy oh boy what an adventure. After 2 flight delays and an arrival at 2am to CTU (Chengdu Airport), we made it all in one piece!

Life here is looking pretty unfamiliar to our Westernized culture, but we are ready and willing to dive in head first.  The first thing we noticed were the toilets.  AHHHH the toilets.  You have your Western toilet… and your Chinese toilet.  Needless to say, that may be the one thing Kelsey and I will try and stick to the familiar with.  Although, even with Western toilets, you can’t flush anything down.  We are going to have many ‘o trips to the local dumpster.   Another thing we noticed is our American way of always forming lines.  In China, it feels as if everyone sort of “vends for themselves” if you will.  For instance, when waiting for our plane to Beijing, everyone formed a crowd around the plane entrance, even though they were not allowed on until their seat or row was called.  The same went for waiting in lines for the bathrooms and food.  It was more of a first-find, first-serve rather than a first-come, first-serve mantra.

We have to keep reminding ourselves that this going to take some getting used to.  Here, we are the minority. Not only do we visibly look different (tall blonde and curly-haired red head), but we have been raised different.  We don’t know the language and we are still learning cultural politeness.

Speaking of learning the culture, today is a day of exploration.  Sarah (who has been great and waited for 3 hours for us at the airport!) is going to show us all that is Chengdu. Hopefully we will get familiar with the lay of the land, learn where the market is, learn how to get comfortable, and just get to know our neighborhood.

Until next time…

Sam and Kelsey!