I lived in Chengdu, Sichuan, China, from 2006 to 2014, teaching English at two universities there. I arrived as the city was demolishing the last of its ancient neighborhoods in its rush to “progress;” to waste so much valuable architectural and cultural heritage seemed criminal. I wandered the city and documented what remained with my camera. Learn more about the transformation of one historic area here:
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.
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 by _chrisUK on Flickr
curious rooster – 昭覺寺 Zhaojue Temple
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.
Qincheng Mountain, Sichuan, a couple of days ago.