I am writing from the rooftop of Rui’s family home. It is nearly 7AM on Sunday Morning and the heat of the day has not yet begun. Birds chirp as middle-aged men do morning exercise around the lake – one is walking waving modified “jazz hands” through the air, another is clapping his arms and back in a loud sort of self-massage. One woman is doing taichi on the bridge facing the calmest part of the lake. The fishermen, who Rui says are a constant (even late at night) are as glued in their spots as ever. Somewhere on the hill a man is sirening “whoa” in powerful 20-second-long bouts with a projection, though amplified by an echo, that has this vocal teacher VERY impressed. Even farther off, someone plays what nearly sounds like “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division on the Chinese flute.
Three days in and China is everything I remembered it being – beautiful, bustling, and entertaining. My flight was a 14.3-hour red eye I managed to sleep for a bit over half of. I tried watching La La Land but it made me miss my boyfriend so I mostly played Settlers of Catan on my phone.
There was a diverse selection of music and movies. I was most happily surprised to find “Sex & Food”, the latest album from one of my favorite bands Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The in-flight magazine had a great cover as well, a nice start to what I’ll call Awkwardly Phrased English. It’s not “Chinglish” and yet… I wouldn’t put it that way….
After arriving, I took a taxi for 50 minutes to my new home in Haizhu District. I was immediately overwhelmed by how beautiful Guangzhou is – each building has a character of its own, flora consumes pockets of the city like a true urban jungle. The giant red sun watches through gaps in the skyline as the city rushes past me.
Rui’s boyfriend Ouyang says I am easily made happy, perhaps this is true. Or I’m a bit more aesthetically-oriented than I like to let on and Guangzhou pushes all the right buttons.
The day of my arrival was long and bureaucratic. Our apartment is on the 8th floor and at present there is no elevator, so Ruiwen and I took turns hauling my predictably overweight suitcases up the stairs. I managed to somehow get a gnarly bruise on my knee. I will write more about the apartment itself once I am fully unpacked so I can do a before-and-after post, so for now here’s the outside:
After a brief but lovely nap I met up with Anson, an intern at my employer WIEChina , to get my photo taken, a phone card, and open a bank account. It’s funny to me that for all my serious selfies, my general resistance to smiling in photos, I cannot for the life of me take a passport picture without looking like a sullen chubby boy. Though I may sometimes FEEL like a sullen chubby boy, I never want to appear as one on official documents and yet there I was in a store that sells passport photos, healthy food and insulin, looking just like one.
The cell phone store was like any other – all fluorescent lights and a primary color of choice, with photos of stock models as employees juxtaposed with employees who are not stock models. The bank was equally predictable, blanketed with the white noise of pens writing and papers shuffling. Our experience there, too, was predictable – though Anson had helped a foreigner set up an account their first day in China just last week, this employee had a different idea about bank policy and so our trip was unsuccessful. I believe we will return Monday.
For lunch, we walked to a LEEDS Certified Gold building that emits a strong floral scent. From the many restaurants inside, Anson picked Japanese, so my first real meal during this trip to China was a beef curry with egg over rice. It was delicious and cost only $3.
The WIEChina office is in the building next door. There I finally met Olive, the person who hired me. I went over and signed my contract, then it was off to the police station to get this alien registered! This trip too proved unsuccessful as my landlord had not completed one final form. Another spot to which I’ll return.
For dinner later that night, Rui, Ouyang and I went out for beef hot pot, Ouyang’s favorite. It was a celebration of sorts – for my arrival and Ouyang’s recent promotion at work. He is in IT. The meat was absolutely delicious.
Jet lag has not been too burdensome this time around. For the most part it just wakes me up at six am and puts me to bed at nine. I enjoy the peace and relative cool of these mornings thus far. Yesterday after further unpacking in the early hours I hopped on the subway less than a block from my house and traveled on stop East to Kecun. Kecun has more happening at it than my station, Lujiang, because it is a transfer station. One exit goes into a mall that has a very nice Walmart. Sounds like an oxymoron I know, but what can I say – I was charmed by the place. They really do sell everything. Now, for example, I own a pillow! And a copy of The Little Prince (小王子） in Chinese!
Shopping and exploring has proved confidence-boosting. My Mandarin skills surprise even me. I am far from fluent but for daily navigation I am proficient. I don’t have to translate back what is said to me to understand, I just do. Of course when I speak Mandarin to people they speak Mandarin back which makes this process possible – casually everyone is speaking Cantonese, which I can understand only a little of. It’s something new to learn. My language strategy is to learn words as they become relevant to me. So far this includes “hai”, which is yes or an expression of understanding, and knowing that “yi”, which is one in Mandarin, is two in Cantonese. A bit confusing but okay.
A closing image for you, from my wait in the airport’s immigration line: an old man affixing a crystal snowflake broach to his grey suit jacket carrying a small black leather purse. On the back of the bag is a passport photo of him in lieu of a “if lost return to” tag.