It’s been overcast and blustery here in Zhanjiang these past few days, and even though the rain has stopped, the ground is wet, the sky is a vague gray, and I just don’t feel like going outside too much, despite the cool air.
I told you it's been rainy.
I’m beginning to get used to the fact that my novelty in this city will never wear off. Every day, I wade through torrents of new faces, on campus and off, and even if people begin to recognize me, they remain wide-eyed as I move through their life, always pausing and stealing secret glances, snapping “subtle” photos with their camera phones. No matter how long I am here, I know I will never become ordinary or routine for the people of Zhanjiang. That used to annoy me, even scare me, but now, I can’t help but laugh and smile. They stare and I smile; the more I smile, the more they stare. I spend most of my time walking around with a big toothy grin, and I’m OK with that.
I should have updated the entry I began on my birthday, but I didn’t. Here, briefly, is the rest of the story.
All of the foreign teachers, along with some of my local faculty friends, all gathered outside my apartment on Tuesday; we were going out to celebrate the birth of yours truly. We went to a fantastic Sichuan restaurant, with some of the spiciest food I’ve had yet in China (my Uncle Mike would love it here). All told, there were thirteen of us gathered to celebrate what I like to call “Christmas in September.”
Starting with me, and going clockwise: Jude, Anne (hidden behind Brenda’s hair), Kevin (in the green shirt), Lynn, May, Liam, Brenda, Nicki, Steve, Fr. Bobby, Dragon, and Sheng.
There are more chilies in this food than there is actual food.
You get a bowl of long "life" noodles on your birthday. The long noodles are meant to give you a long life!
A meal well done.
As I was writing this, I received a call from Michelle, informing me that the school has set up a bank account for me and deposited my first paycheck. Cool beans! I walked over to the Administrative Building, picked up my bank book (I’ll have to remember to have a student come with me to get an ATM card … I’m told any Chinese bank is more or less good anywhere in China), and headed back to my apartment. But then I decided to explore, and found something wonderful.
The park is huge, accessible from campus only through a tiny, almost invisible footpath that runs in front of two small, unassuming, and out-of-the-way shops. Walking to class every morning, I never would have imagined this barely-discernable trail that runs between the retaining wall that forms the sidewalk and roadway would open up into such a massive and extraordinary park. It roughly borders a large lake that every now and then decides to be a river, and I connected the mental dots in my head to form a far more complete picture of the city with the park to fill in the black edges of my inner map. It was beautifully quiet in the park today, and I was able to leisurely stroll up and down both banks of the lake. There are fantastic little bits of distinctly Chinese architecture everywhere, from the gentle arches of massive stone bridges to the distinctly round, orange-tiled roofs of simple pagodas. Everywhere there were benches, magnificent scenery, impossible trees, and rarely-used footpaths, daring you to venture further. I was able to view only a small portion of the park before it got dark, but I think I’ll be spending a lot of time there. It’s a very quiet and relaxing area, and I could grade papers, write, or read virtually anywhere.
Well, that’s another week done. My comfort level here has grown alarmingly fast; I never thought I would feel this comfortable here, that this place would begin to feel like some kind of home; and I certainly didn’t expect this place to feel so familiar so quickly. But thankfully, it has. I can’t wait to begin my Chinese lessons next week, and I can’t wait to discover more of this city.