As we shared first impressions, some of us wondered how long it will take for us to adjust to our new surroundings. Would hard beds ever feel comfortable? What about the high humidity? How difficult will communication be across the language barrier that sometimes looms so large? At the same time, some of us noticed that we were already adjusting, in small ways, to a “new normal.”
Tuesday afternoon, September 2 we arrived by bus to Nanchong, our SST home for the next six weeks. We were welcomed to China West Normal University New Campus by the university’s Foreign Affairs Office staff. We received a brief walking tour of the campus and then waited to meet our host families.
While in Chengdu an SSTer connected with someone his mother had met on China SST thirty-three years earlier! Lei Shenghua was an undergraduate student at Sichuan Normal University in 1981 when she became friends with that year’s SST group, and especially with a member of the group named Gail. The two friends reconnected in 2007 via the internet. When Ms. Lei learned that Gail’s son would be part of the 2014 China SST group she was determined to meet him.
SSTers arrived in Chengdu late on August 31, tired after two long flights, but also eager to start their China adventure. We checked in to the Dreams Youth Hostel on the edge of the city’s Tibetan quarter and got some sleep.
We arrived in Nanchong August 24 and spent a week unpacking, setting up our apartment, and doing a variety of things to get ready for SST – buying bus passes for the students, setting up a bank account, registering at the police station and meeting with key people who will help us with logistics this semester. Nanchong is a city of almost a million people, with another 6 million in the surrounding prefecture of rural areas and smaller towns.
Late on August 1 we touched down at the Chengdu airport after nearly 17 hours of flying, eager to prepare for another Goshen College Study-Service Term in China. Our arrival marked a return to China on several levels.
Our final day as a group in China was crisp and relatively clear. We headed out by bus to the Jinshanling section of the fabled Great Wall. This section is located in Hebei Province, about 130 km outside of Beijing. Although a wall existed here at least as early as the 14th century, most of the stretch we visited dates to around 1570. Contrary to the original intent of the wall (to keep the barbarians out), we found an immediate welcome by local residents—hoping to sell us souvenirs, but willing to help us find the easiest walking routes even if…
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To start off Sunday, we all went to the Chongwenmen Christian Church. Originally a Methodist mission congregation, the congregation today has about 10,000 worshipers each Sunday, spread across 5 services. We attended the third service. Green-jacketed volunteers gave us an introduction to congregational life, and had reserved several pews for our group. They gave us headsets to listen to simultaneous English-language translation of the service. During this service, the congregation used a hymnal that consisted primarily of translated North American/British Gospel songs. In the pre-service singing, the song leader used the “lining out” method (singing one line in advance of…
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After locating the bus that would shuttle us about Beijing for the next few days, we stopped for a nice Chinese breakfast (porridge for some, dumplings for others) along our route. Despite cold temperatures, our first destination in Beijing was the Summer Palace. The visit here was the first of a series of encounters today with Chinese aesthetics. The site as we see it today was mostly conceived in the 18th-century, with the 60-meter high “Longevity Hill” and the “perfect” artificial Kunming Lake. Following several rounds of destruction by European invaders, remaining structures were mostly rebuilt in the early 20th-century…
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After our visit to Xi’an, on Friday evening, Nov. 25, we again boarded an overnight train, this time headed for China’s capital Beijing. Although the distance we had to cover was greater, the train was faster so we were looking at just a 12-hour ride. A delay enroute, got us into Beijing about 7:30 rather than 6:30 a.m. on Saturday. On both overnight trips we took the “hard sleeper” option: open compartments of six sleeping ledges stacked three-high. We have yet to see an empty train in China, and these trains were no exception—every bunk seemed to be taken. Some…
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