a transplanted life in China 

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Chicago

Published on August 2, 2014, by in Food, Travel.

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I have been in Chicago for a litle over two weeks now. I’m here for two main reasons: to spend time with my brother Kenton, who moved here a month ago from Sioux City, Iowa, and to apply for my Z Visa at the Chinese Consulate, for my new teaching job in Suzhou. Among other things, Chicago is notable for its architecture, and for being a great food city. I also spent portions of my young life here, as a college student, and later during a transitional period in my mid-20s. The city had always held fond memories for me, and is one of those places that keeps calling me back again.

 

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To recap my journey thus far, from Chengdu I flew to Shanghai, taking the express train the next day to Suzhou, where I’ll start a new teaching job in a couple of weeks at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University. During 2 1/2 days in Suzhou I had just enough time, in between rainstorms that alternated with sticky, hot weather, to spend an afternoon looking at apartments. I chose a semi-furnished 2-bedroom unit about 10 minutes from my new university, paid the deposit and first 3 months’ rent, then returned to Shanghai for my 13-hour direct flight to Chicago.

 

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I had originally scheduled my stay in Chicago for 10 days, but had to change it to 3 weeks, due to yet more delays in my Chinese visa process. It’s been a long, hard process that will have lasted 3 months when it’s finally done. The main difficulty was the certificate of no criminal conviction, which still has not been resolved, either from China or from the USA. After calling the FBI branch about the status of my record, which had been mailed to China but hadn’t yet arrived, the bureau steadfastly refused to send a duplicate of the document to me in Chicago. Somehow, in a process I don’t understand, my university in Suzhou managed to put the visa request through without this document. As a matter of fact, my visa documents just arrived by express mail from China this morning. Next stop, Chinese Consulate. My return to China will then be next Thursday, August 7.

 

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I have been through a certain amount of culture shock since arriving here, not least from the persistent friendliness of the people. The clean air was also a shock – it took about 5 days for my usual pollution cough from China to clear up. The weather in Chicago has also been unseasonaly mild, with cool temperatures, almost constant sunshine, beautiful clouds, and a slight breeze. It’s the exact opposite of the gray skies and gray air of Chengdu.

I have had have many adventures here, exploring the city by el train and bus, on foot, and by eating. I will catalogue some of my culinary adventures in another post. I’ve visited parts of the city I had never seen before, and by my departure I should have Chicago out of my system, at least for the time being.

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Leaving Chengdu

Published on July 8, 2014, by in China, Travel.

I’m leaving Chengdu, after 8 years, to move to Suzhou in the east of China. At least that’s the plan. I’ve been offered a job as an English Tutor at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University (西交利物浦大学 or XLTLU for short), a partnership between the two universities that began in 2006, and that grants degrees recognized both in China and in the UK.

I’m tentative about the proposition because I’ve been through 2 months of visa hell – turns out that Suzhou has one of the strictest policies for granting Z working visas in China. The dreaded Certificate of No Criminal Conviction (CNCC) has been the sticking point, and getting this document from the Public Security Bureau in Chengdu ranges from difficult to impossible. My particilar hell involved 3 weeks of negotiation between the PSB and the SW University for Nationalities, where I studied Chinese for the past year and a half, which was required to provide documents in support of my application for the certificate.

As a backup plan, I applied for a second non-criminal document, this one from the FBI in Washington DC, just to be on the safe side. All I had to do was to go to a private security company, pay them 800 RMP for a set of fingerprints, and mail them of with the application to the USA. Then wait for 6 weeks. That document has not arrived as of this writing.

 

Chengdu to Suzhou

Driving from 成都 Chengdu to 苏州 Suzhou – 1376 miles (2215 km), about 20 hours

 

I’ll be writing a separate post about the criminal certificate process. Apart from that, my preparations seem to be going smoothly. On Friday July 11 I will fly from Chendgu to Shanghai, then take the express train to Suzhou. I’ll spend 3 days in Suzhou, looking at apartments and aquainting myself with the XJTLU campus.

On July 15 – the very last day of my current Chinese visa – I’ll fly nostop Shanghai to Chicago, where I’ll spend a couple of weeks visiting my brother Kenton. Once my visa documents arrive from Suzhou by express mail, I’ll be able to bet my new visa at the Chinese consulate in Chicago.

At first I was resistant to the requirement that I return to my home country for the new visa, but now I’m looking forward to it. I was in Chicago in 2011, but only for 4 days, so this time I’ve compiled a much longer list of restaurants to visit for vegetarian Indian food, Mexican food, pizza, Thai food, and whatever else strikes my fancy. I may even shop for a new camera while I’m there. I will also be able to buy clothing and shoes in American sizes, something that’s been very difficult to do in China.

I will return to China around the first of August, and complete the move from Chengdu to Suzhou, hence the above map. I will hire a driver and vehicle to move me and the dog, along with our luggage and boxes, two days across China. I don’t want to subject the dog to airline procedures, baggage handlers, and carrying cages. It will be my first long-distance road trip in China, although the route above isn’t accurate; I will go in a more southerly direction through Wuhan and Nanjing.

Now that I’ve finished my classes and exams, I can enjoy my final 2 days in Chengdu. My belonings are packed, there’s a bit of cleaning left to do, and on Friday the dog-sitter arrives prior to my departure.

 

Suzhou

  Suzhou by _chrisUK on Flickr

https://www.flickr.com/photos/_chrisuk/7808322780

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Zhaojue Temple – Sunday

Published on May 4, 2014, by in Chengdu.

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curious rooster – 昭覺寺 Zhaojue Temple

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night restaurant

Published on April 27, 2014, by in Chongqing.

night restaurant Chongqing

重庆 Chongqing, a restaurant at night where I ate several times, on a side street outside my hotel

 

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青城山 Qingcheng Mountain

Published on April 23, 2014, by in China.

 

 

 

 On a recent Tomb-Sweeping Day holiday weekend, I took a badly needed day trip to 青城山 Qingcheng Mountain, northwest of Chengdu. The mountain is one of the most important centers of Daoism (道教) in China, as well as being a relaxing, beautiful spot to get away fromt he noise and pollution of the city.

 

 

 

 

 

I’d visited the mountain once before, just after my arrival in China in 2006, during a hot, sticky summer when the cicadas were buzzing so loudly I imagined their deep, echoing sounds were coming from some otherworldly gigantic insects. I was with a group of teachers, but instead of climbing the mountainside steps, I took a cable car to near the top.

 

 

 

 

This time I came by myself, taking the high-speed elevated train from the Chengdu North station about 40 minutes to the Qingcheng Shan station. A word of advice: on leaving the station and heading left to the bus area, don’t take the big city-bus type bus that costs 2 RMB; take the mini-bus, which will drop you off right at the ticket office for the mountain. As I found out the hard way, the big bus lets you off in a parking lot about 2.5 kilometers from the entrance to the mountain proper. It’s a pretty walk if you feel like it (or you can pay extra for the “sightseeing” tram the rest of the way), but since I was planning on a 4-hour mountain hike, it was an unnecessary distance.

 

 

 

 

 

Entrance to the mountain is 90 RMB; one enters through an elaborate gateway to a world of semi-tranquility, since the crowds can be overwhelming. However, the only way to proceed is up: broad stone stairways meander up the mountain side, at intervals leading to Daoist temples or areas with restaurants, teahouses, and concessions. About an hour into my ascent, I stopped for a delicious lunch of 麻婆豆腐 mapo doufu (tofu in spciy red sauce) and 鱼味茄子 yu xiang chie zi (“fish flavored” eggplant). I was fortified, but a bit overstuffed, for the rest of the climb.

 

 

 

 

 

I had just recovered from a 6-week bout with allergies and a persistent cough from the Chengdu pollution. As I huffed and puffed up the steps, my breathing was labored and my lungs hurt. I continued to cough up toxic chemicals and residue for the next couple of hours.

As you climb the mountain the crowds get thinner – so do the steps, which in some places were narrow and worn, twisting back and forth, and people going up and coming down had to squeeze past each other. The day was hazy, so the views weren’t spectacular, but I heard a couple of bird calls I don’t think I’d ever heard before. At one point, there was a stunning view of the great pagoda at the top of the mountain, looking so close I could touch it. I didn’t imagine I would make it that far, for my calves were burning and I was exhausted.

 

 

 

 

 

Then, a couple of incredible things happened. First, I miraculously stopped coughing, my lungs cleared up, and for the first time in weeks I could actually smell fresh air. Air with oxygen in it, the scent of trees and earth, the air that’s good for you. Then, I suddenly realized I had reached the top. Except for lunch, I’d barely stopped more than 5 mintues at any point to rest, and I found myself, with 4 or 5 other people I’d shared the climb with, on a concrete platform beneath a red pagoda looking out at – not much of anything but clouds and haze. I’d reached my goal: I’d made it to the top on my own power, step by step.

I realized that it was 5:30 p.m., and my climb had taken exactly 4 hours. I also realized that I had to rush to try to catch the last cable car of the day, because I was not about to walk all that way back down again. Still, the cable car was about 20 minutes downhill at a fast clip, and I made the very last one – the one that the cable car employees also take because they’re through with work for the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I shared a taxi back to the train station, grateful for my day out, the temporary relief from pollution sickness, and the hardest workout I’d had in a couple of years. Near the station I had dinner, before catching the 9 p.m. train back to Chengdu.

 

For more of my photos from Qingcheng mountain, view the slide show here.