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.

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