Life inside a music box ain’t easy. – Regina Spektor
As we were walking across campus this beautiful Spring evening, we began listing off all the things we will miss about our life in China. We are entering the final ten weeks of our service in the Peace Corps, so we thought we’d try to do some Top Five lists of things we will truly miss.
1. Suan Tang Dou Mi Huo Guo
Spicy/Sour tomato based soup with pinto beans eaten in crowded, often dirty, restaurants with a group all crowded around a single gas burner. Especially good for the Guizhou winter.
2. Chao Cai
Affectionately called, “dishes,” these are the family style entrees that have been perfected by our local master chef. His restaurant is in our apartment complex, we’re hoping to have a cooking class with him before we leave. Of these, our favorites include: yu xiang qiezi (spicy eggplant), qing jiao chao doufu (green chile tofu), ma pu doufu (spicy tofu), suan jiang dou (pickled green beans), gan bian ma la tudou pian (the best potato chips, ever), doufu gan (smoky, bacony dry tofu), and ban dou (sliced green beans and magic sauce); we could go on and on, but we won’t.
3. Fresh Vegetable Markets
Here, we have daily farmer’s markets. Farms surround the university and the Buyei farmer’s bring their produce in every day to sell in the established market space in the morning then along the village street in the afternoon. Any green vegetable you can imagine is available, and many more that I have never seen before.
4. Sub-tropical Fruit
Pineapples, mangoes, strawberries, small cherries, yang mei (bayberry), bananas, oranges, tangerines, papaya, cherry tomatoes, all in seasonal rotation so you never get bored. Most of these are grown within 100 miles of Guiyang, so we get them in their prime.
5. Homesteading in our Apartment
We love the challenge of making the hard to get American food out of raw, whole ingredients. In our refrigerator we have: hummus, salmon cheese spread, marmalade, mayonnaise, and yoghurt all made from whole ingredients; we even made the cheese. I can’t forget the whole toasted wheat bread on the table, a perfect medium for all those spreads. We toasted and ground the wheat right here in our little kitchen.
1. On Campus Living
We love being a part of the campus community. We see our students all the time outside of class, we even hear the campus announcements in our apartment. Taps is played to put us to sleep at night and wake us up in the morning.
We are not allowed to drive during our service, so we have grown used to walking everywhere. This is a pedestrian culture, no one thinks twice about walking a mile to the restaurant for dinner. It is amazing what you are able to see when you walk everywhere, all the time.
Our campus is located across the street from Shi Li He Tan, a beautiful wetlands park, which serves as a perfect running circuit for us. We alternate running in “real space” with going to Konster, the Huaxi fitness center, for weight training. We started this last year to get ready for last summer’s Tibetan hikes, and we liked it so much we just kept going.
4. Public Transportation
There are buses that will take you anywhere you want to go in town for $.25 – $.50. Yeah, they’re crowded and often rather warm and not too clean, but you get where you need to go. There are also trains that will take you from town to town all across the country; the sleepers are even air-conditioned.
5. The Music Box
If you look closely among the trees on campus, you will see random stumps and mushrooms, these are actually speakers for the campus radio station. During daytime hours they play Kenny G, Enya, and other placidly soothing tunes, while in the evening they play Chinese and World Pop music along with announcements. If we’re lucky during Friday’s English hour, we hear the Beatles. Add to this the gentleman flute player and neighborhood erhu players, and the effect is that we feel like we’re in a music box all the time.
1. A Distinct Lack of Irony
This is a cultural difference that often leads to moments of heart-felt student responses and sometimes awkwardness (on our parts at least). We find it refreshing that students are not afraid to speak honestly about their emotions. A funny side effect is that conversations can sometimes sound like Hallmark greeting cards…we just have to remind ourselves, they really mean it!
We love our students and their dedication and passion. We are going to miss the respect given teachers in a Chinese classroom.
3. Unfiltered Compliments
I know you are thinking, what does this have to do with teaching, but trust us, it relates. Students will cheer when I wear my hair up or wear sunglasses. “Ahh, you are so fashion!” Students also cheer Charlie when he wears a scarf. I will miss the lavish compliments poured out on us on a daily basis. It really does make ya feel good!
4. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule
We may teach more than our Chinese and American colleagues here at the university, but we’re glad to do it. Our class schedule is great; we’re going to miss the flexibility to go for a jog at 10am.
5. Xiu Xi
This is the Chinese sanctioned nap time; everything shuts down between 12-230pm. We have grown accustomed to our post lunch nap, it is great! I would like to take this habit back to the US with us, but I’m not sure it’s portable.
*PCV Peng You Men
It doesn’t neatly fit in a category, so it’s extra. This is the community of Peace Corps volunteers spread throughout our city, province, and country. We laugh together, cry together, play together, and celebrate together. They are all truly amazing people with so much to offer.