I’m going to China! The preparation for this event has been so fast and furious that it’s only now, one week before my departure, that it’s sinking in.
Less than three months ago, I was offered a position teaching English at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, in Chengdu, Sichuan province. Not long before, I had never even heard of Chengdu. Now, all of a sudden, it’s going to be my new home.
This is what’s happening: I’m currently in Tucson AZ spending time with my brother Kenton. This Friday we fly to Missouri for our father’s 80th birthday bash. After returning to Tucson Monday, I leave Tuesday July 11 on an odyssey that will take me to Los Angeles, and then to Chengdu by way of Shanghai. My in-flight reading material: Seth Faison’s “South of the Clouds.” This will be the latest in a long reading list about life and travel in China and Tibet.
The roller-coaster ride of the past 10 to 12 weeks has been a culture shock in itself: saying goodbye to L.A. after 15 1/2 years; sorting through family possessions and photo albums; selling or otherwise disposing of all my possessions, moving out of my apartment; leaving a job that I had hated for a very long time; developing new skills in my teaching job at Poly Languages; and making sure that I am leaving the U.S. for the right reasons (not just because of my intense hatred of the Bush administration).
In the insanity of my life, I’ve barely had time to learn a few words of Mandarin. My last few days in the States will instead be spent in psychological and spiritual preparation for my new journey.
This is some of what I’ve learned so far about Chengdu:
Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province (“Chengdu” means “becoming capital”), habitat of giant pandas, and the city of cotton-rose hibiscus.
Located in the west of Sichuan Basin and in the center of Chengdu Plain, Chengdu covers a total area of 12.3 thousand square kilometers (4,749 square miles) with a population of over 11 million [only about 200 of whom are “resident foreigners”].
The history of Chengdu can be traced back 2,400 years, when the first emperor built his capital here and named the city. The city is famous for its brocades and embroideries, and was where the bronze culture, an indispensable part of ancient Chinese culture, originated. It was the place where the Southern Silk Road started, and the place where the earliest paper currency was printed.
In addition, the region is the natural habitat of giant pandas. Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center supports the world’s only giant panda breeding and research base.
Aside from the famed spicy Sichuan cuisine, and for the relaxed atmosphere of its many tea-houses, Chengdu is also the “gateway to Tibet.” I chose Chengdu over other cities because of its proximity to Kham, the eastern region of Tibet which has traditionally been fiercely independent, but which has long been a part of Sichuan province, under Chinese rule.
That’s my story in a nutshell, and I’m sticking to it. The next installment will relate my midnight arrival in Chengdu on July 12, and my mysterious meeting the next morning at the University’s main gate with my new “teaching assistant,” a first-year student at UESTC. My next home: Apartment 14 in the Foreign Experts’ Building on campus.