Well, we’ve survived week one. Our journey started off with a 16-hour flight and an overnight layover in Hong Kong. When we scheduled this route, we booked a hotel about 30 minutes into the city, as we expected we would want to explore for a few hours before catching up on some sleep. In reality, this plan was completely unrealistic. We were running on fumes as soon as we stepped off the plane. I was so exhausted by the time we sat down at dinner, I thought I was going to go cross-eyed and fall asleep in our basil fried rice. We ate at a cute little restaurant called Namo Thai that was next to our hotel and right on the water. Why did we have Thai food for our first meal in China? I have no idea. I’ll blame it on the sleep deprivation. Our food was delicious and our Costa Rican server was hilarious (and thought we were Australian), but that place was hella expensive. I’m pretty sure we spent $15 USD on one sparkling water and a diet coke alone. Afterward, we made the daunting hike across the four lane street, on a pedestrian bridge, to take photos of the city’s amazing skylines. We were welcomed to the edge of the walkway with a little slice of home, in the form on a Texas sticker on the lamppost. After taking it all in, we hit the hay at the late hour of 9:00 pm.
Once we landed in Chengdu, we were finally able to start unpacking for the first time in a month. It feels so good to have a closet again! Living out of a giant duffle bag gets quite frustrating once you’ve convinced yourself it’s eating all of your belongings. That is the only explanation for not being able to find anything this last month! We have an apartment at the Shangri La hotel, just a 10-minute walk from the compound we hope to live in during our stay in China. Along the riverbank between the hotel and the compound, there is a center called Lan Kwai Fung, named after the infamous party street in Hong Kong, that caters to the international crowd. The area offers many restaurants such as chinese tapas, pho, ramen, german, latin, Hooter’s (that’s right), sprinkled with bakeries, coffee shops, bars and beauty salons in between. The architecture is a mix of modern with traditional Chinese elements that remind you that you’re not in
Kansas Texas anymore.
Our first weekend living in China consisted of phone plan shopping, two-hour massages and exploring a little place called Wide and Narrow Alley. Sadly, not being able to communicate with anyone back home once I stepped out of our hotel was quite stressful. So seeking out a Chinese mobile plan was at the top of my list! When we walked into China Mobile, the first thing the man said to us was, “passport!”. Once he reviewed our IDs, we sat down and both did our best to translate what I needed in a plan and what he was able to provide. This encounter ended up with us using translation apps and writing back and forth on a piece of paper like school girls. 4G? Minutes? 160 ¥/month. How many?… bus. What? No. I handed the man my phone after I shook my head yes, in agreeing to the plan and he took out the sim card and handed it back to me with the card slot empty. We were all highly confused with one another. Needless to say, our first task in China was failing miserably. We were finally able to get one of Shawn’s co-workers on the phone to translate… apparently we weren’t even able to get a plan at this location since we are not residences. We left the store with our heads down in embarrassment and began to walk back to our hotel when we came upon another carrier. I decided I would just walk in and ask, “English?”, even after Shawn insisted we would not have any luck. Surprisingly, IT WORKED! A woman behind the counter spoke pretty good English and was able to set me up with a temporary number to tide me over. Check that one off the list (for now).
Our massage experience went a little more smoothly than our phone store adventure. I’ve learned that if you’re willing to play a round of charades while communicating, you’re more likely to get close to being on the same page. After I pointed to our feet and bodies, we settled into our room for a one-hour foot massage and one-hour full body massage. However, since we really suck as this whole speaking Mandarin thing, the massage we picked ended up being one where we were fully clothed. We gave each other “the face” and did our best not to crack a smile. Even with the miscommunication, Shawn really enjoyed his massage, but I thought my masseuse’s goal was to either give me a full body Indian rug burn or take my skin off, I couldn’t really tell which. Since the massage parlor is in walking distance of our hotel and the compound, we might attempt it one more time, but make sure it’s one where we’re only covered with a sheet and faced down on an actual massage table. Hold the Indian rug burn lady, too, please!
Our last adventure of the weekend was to Wide and Narrow Alley, a historical and cultural reserve dated back to the Qing Dynasty (1644). The alleyways have monuments installed throughout the walls representing the leisurely life of natives during that time. In the streets, you have vendors braiding girls hair, cleaning ears (yeah, that’s a thing), selling fruit, flower crowns, jewelry, combs, and small nicknacks. Along our walk, we ventured into little shops, tea houses and made a few pit stops for a quick lunch and stumbled upon some cherry ice-cream and steamed buns. We assumed the buns were filled with pork and veggies, so imagine our surprise when we bit into chocolate and sesame! The shock kind of made my stomach turn and I decided to pass on lunch. My favorite parts of the day were watching the people around us and playing a guessing game with all of the street food.
With all of the beautiful surrounding, amazing food and new experiences to be had within the next year, I could really get used to this.