August 15, 2004

Trip Start Aug 08, 2004
Trip End Aug 2005

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Flag of China  ,
Sunday, August 15, 2004

First week of orientation passed by in a hot, humid, sweaty, hazy blur. My first impression of China is the lingering cloud of pollution always hanging over my head. Changsha is a sprawling, grey, drab industrial city...sometimes I forget and think that I'm in Jersey. Except, of course, for the fact that I can't communicate with anyone. Every task is exhausting-getting food, buying water, navigating my way from the hotel to Changsha Number One Middle School, where we attend class. I have yet to cross the street by myself, a task more daunting than you might think, despite the presence of traffic lights and lane markers (both of which are blatantly ignored). The streets contain a chaotic mix of motorcycles, taxis, cars, buses, bicycles, po po po's (taxis that consist of a little cab attached to the back of a motorcycle), and pedestrians. The best course of action is to find a Chinese person and cross with them, using them as a human shield.

The average temperature right now is 105 degrees F; our classrooms are not air-conditioned, and I feel as though I'm constantly drenched. Last week Hunan province experienced the highest demand for electricity in history, and I'm sure the demand will only continue to grow.

I am experiencing quite a bit of culture shock, having suddenly been plunked down on the other side of the planet. The WorldTeach group as a whole seems like a cohesive unit and we've been having fun exploring the city together. There's nothing quite like 27 foreigners trying to move from point A to point B; it's a spectacle that evokes a lot of stares and cries of "Hello!" I find it interesting to travel as a group, because when I go out walking by myself I don't warrant a second glance. People assume of course that I'm Chinese, both a blessing and a curse. I won't be stared at constantly, but then again, they expect that I can speak Chinese fluently. Which is certainly not the case.

The other morning, I woke up early around 6am to take a walk in Martyr's Park, an enormous park across the street from our hotel. It's an amazing green oasis in the middle of the city, laced with a myriad of paths and trails. Even at this early hour, I saw hundreds of people scattered throughout, performing their morning tai chi rituals, ballroom dancing, jogging (in jeans and dress shirts!), doing some sort of dance with long swords...I walked through a wet market on my way back home and saw pretty much every edible vegetable, fruit, and animal you could imagine for sale. Plastic bags of frogs, cages of chickens, tanks filled with eels, fish and snails, bloody unidentifiable animal parts hanging on hooks, vendors selling that famous Changsha staple, stinky tofu...

I'm still trying to get used to the food here. I spend a ridiculous amount of time at every meal picking out the millions of little red chili peppers that are a mainstay in every dish here. Pork...with chili peppers. Cow stomach...with chili peppers. Eggplant...with chili peppers. Cucumber...with chili peppers. As luck would have it, I managed to break a tooth during my very first meal in Changsha. Never had a tooth problem before in my life, and naturally it would occur in backwater China. Guess I will be getting an intimate glimpse into the Chinese dental system very soon. More updates to come.
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