Our first week of classes went by quickly. Rain brought a welcome break in the extreme heat of our first days here. We meet in the main classroom building on China West Normal University’s decade-old “new campus”. Most of us arrive by public bus, usually a 20-35 minute ride. Most mornings feature lectures on aspects of Chinese culture and history, often by professors from CWNU. So far: a general introduction to Chinese cultural values, a look at the Spring & Autumn and Warring States periods in Chinese history (771-221 B.C.E.), and information about Chinese philosophy & religion. We then join in the extended Sichuan midday break—just outside the campus gates we can find almost anything we want to eat.
Afternoons (& Friday mornings) are devoted to language study. We are struggling to add a bit of literacy to our language skills. Li laoshi (teacher) and Wang laoshi are patient with us as we begin to try to write and read our first few hanzi (Chinese characters). On Friday afternoon, we gathered for group discussion of some of our first investigations, focusing particularly on what we are observing about the social construction of space in our homes and neighborhoods. Saturday morning we gathered to hike up Nanchong’s modest Xishan (West Mountain). We were joined by our local coordinator and her family as well as Jake’s host brother & sister. Stone steps took us all the way up to the Buddhist temple on top—light rain and low clouds inhibited panoramic views. We hoped to walk over and back down a neighboring mountain, but ended up circling Xishan instead. We decided that the road provided an easier descent than the steps we had ascended. Those for whom the pull of gravity or empty stomachs was not too strong took a detour partway down to visit Nanchong’s Catholic retreat center and cemetery. Monday there will be no classes—thanks to the Mid-Autumn Festival.