I have to ask all of my family and friends to please forgive me - we've had internet issues here and have spent days without internet. When internet has popped up, I've used that time to post to Twitter or what have you, since that goes out to more people... but doing that means that I'm woefully behind on emails!
Okay, so, where were we? Last you heard, our family had flown from the US to Beijing and we were on our way to Chengdu, our first overseas assignment.
We left our day in Bejing behind on a chilly morning quite early. And when I say "quite early," I do mean at something like 3 or 4 am. We had wanted an early arrival time in Chengdu for a vast multitude of reasons, such as:
~ We wanted our sponsors to be able to have an easier time picking us up at the airport;
~ We knew we were getting to post on the Friday before a HUGE, week-long Chinese holiday and we knew we needed to hit the Consulate for our paperwork and stuff before they closed down for it;
~ We only had two flight choices - getting in around lunchtime or getting in near midnight. Not hard to choose which one was better!
So, early it was. We arrived at the Beijing airport, got in the wrong line, had to switch lines later, stumbled around like the idiot white people who don't speak Chinese like we are, finally found the right place (thanks only to James) and passed this store along the way:
No, we didn't buy any Generics.
The 3 hour flight from Beijing to Chengdu was unremarkable.
We landed in the Chengdu airport. It was a bit less modern than the Beijing airport but, then again, the Portland, Oregon airport is less modern than the Orlando, Florida airport because that's just life. No big deal. We walked to where our luggage was supposed to come out and I figured, since it was probably a hike to where we were going, it would be best if I used the restroom.
I walked into the Ladies' Room, opened the door to the stall, and said hello to this:
Okay, that's a lie. I actually said, "Oh, CRAP!" which was both figurative and literal at the same time.
Yes, my friends. I was face-to-face with my first (and not last!) Squat Toilet.
I'm not sure why I was caught so off guard by this. It's not like I haven't been reading a thousand EFM blogs for the last, oh, three to four years or so. EVERYONE writes about Squat Toilets because they're so, um, Other-Cultural. But the bathrooms in the Beijing airport had all been western, and so it was just...a surprise to me.
Oh, Squat Toilet. You and your little basket for tossing used toilet paper and, um, used LADY PAPER into, since none of those things are (supposed to be?) flushed here. HELLO, THERE, YOU.
So I stood in front of the Squat Toilet, unable to move or think. Then I mentally slapped myself across the face and scolded myself with a whole host of: You are the wife of a US Diplomat! You need to GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF!!!
But even after I recovered slightly, I still was unable to even imagine a scenario of my using that thing without it ending with James having to come into the Ladies' Room and pull me, probably bleeding profusely and with a concussion, out of the toilet's hole. Can you just see it in the local news? "WIFE OF US DIPLOMAT BREAKS ALL ARMS AND LEGS IN THE AIRPORT BATHROOM STALL AND RETURNS TO THE US A QUADRIPLEGIC." No, no... it would not do. Out of my love for James, I stepped away from the stall (after taking a picture of it, of course, which made many local ladies look at me like I was INSANE. Which I am.).
After opening each and every door in the bathroom, I found one Western toilet. Bountiful blessings.
Our sponsors had picked us up at the airport, which was true heaven, and we went on our way. And speaking of sponsors, someday I'm TOTALLY going to write a blog post about how to be good sponsors, because ours were so awesome and I truly feel that's a large part of why James and I are so happy in Chengdu. I really feel like good sponsors are the make-it-or-break-it at a new post.
Anyway! We were here!!
And what was the first thing we did a day or so after our arrival?
Well, DUH, we TOTALLY went and said hello to Mao!
Yo, Mao! We've been reading about you and learning about you and watching movies about you and all manner of stuff for, like, more than a year now, and all of a sudden HERE YOU ARE! RIGHT IN FRONT OF US!
Mao totally waved at us.
We did a whole lot of walking around the first few days after our arrival. It was super duper cool that we arrived at the beginning of a long local holiday, because that allowed us to really get to look around and see what there was to see.
Chengdu is a really interesting place. It's a city - no doubt about it - with city buildings and streets just like in the US, except all over on the streets you will see vendors and scooters and... I'll try to let pictures describe it.
For example, here we are on a downtown Chengdu street. You can see modern city shops in the background. But in front of the shops, there's a sugar cane vendor. He peels the sugar cane to order and then cuts it and gives you a huge chunk of it to chew on. See the pieces of the peeled sugar cane husk on the mat on the ground?
Here's some food I LOVE. This next vendor uses that huge pot to roast sweet potatoes and corn in. You buy a roasted sweet potato for about a US dollar and then you peel away the outside and eat the inside. Since I'm a veggie sort of girl, I just about died of joy when I ate one of these yummy roasted sweet potatoes:
Talk about charming - I love watching vendors weigh their wares. This lady is using a typical Chinese style scale to weigh what she's selling. She'll weigh it with her little balance and then tell the customer the price.
In addition to walking around, we went and ATE.
And ATE and ATE and ATE.
Chengdu has some of the most amazing food I have ever eaten. And another thing that's nice? How the people look at us as they pass us on the street.
Now, James has been to countries where, when you pass people on the street, they look at you with looks that communicate that they are less than thrilled to see you. Which is probably a nice way of putting it. But here? Here people look at us with curious glances and even, sometimes, bashful smiles.
I've had some younger folks (maybe... college aged?) even loudly say to me, in passing, "HELLO!" (in English). And now I know that this is because they're practicing their English greetings with me. So I always heartily answer, "Hello! How are you!?" (in English). And they smile and I smile and we all keep walking our separate ways. But I've never once had someone look at me with anger or with a look that makes me feel like I am not welcome in their country. And I would think that this is HUGE because if I felt like everyone I passed on the street hated me, I would be FAR less inclined to venture out of my home or would take FAR less joy in my outings.
So that's how our first day or two here went! Tune in next time... with tons more pictures! Of course.