Returning to Sichuan

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. For our family of four, this was a personal return, since we had been here six years ago with the 2008 China SST unit. As faculty leaders we were also returning to region deeply connected to Goshen’s SST program. SST groups have been coming to China since the fall of 1980. (GC struck the first undergraduate exchange with the People’s Republic of China). SSTers came to Sichuan annually from 1980 to 1993 and every three years since that time. For many years the program was based in Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital, but in 2008 the location switched to Nanchong, a smaller city in the eastern part of the province. China is GC’s longest-running SST location.

Our family – Rachel, Steve, Lydia and Esther – had enjoyed out time in 2008 immensely and had been looking forward to being back. We knew things would have changed in some ways – and they have: more buildings, infrastructure improvements, and the like. Some people we knew well are now gone. And we had changed. Our daughters were 7 and 5 the last time we were here, and we were … well, six years younger, too.

But many things have remained the same, from some specific restaurants and stores that are still here with the same staff, to the general tenor of region: its more laid-back approach to life, its exuberant (some would say boisterous) people, its life spilling out into the streets in the evenings. Last night a Chinese friend here said, “If you want to be busy and make money, go to Guangdong [a province in the southeast next to Hong Kong]; if you want to enjoy life, come to Sichuan!” Sichuan is a large and populous province in southwest China known for its distinctive spicy food, its tea houses, silk production, the music of the erhu (a two-stringed bowed instrument), and being the native habitat of giant pandas.

For our first three weeks in China, our family lived in Chengdu (population 7.1 million) and participated in the summer language institute of Mennonite Partners in China (MPC) at Sichuan Normal University. MPC is a North American agency that sends English teachers to China, especially to Sichuan. A good number of MPC teachers through the years have been alumni of China SST, including Matthew Amstutz (GC’13) who is teaching in the Sichuan city of Zigong. We enjoyed spending time with him and the other MPC teachers as we re-acclimated ourselves to the China and were brought up to speed on what was new. We also visited significant sites in the region, such as Sanxingdui, an archeological site related to a civilization from 4,800-4,000 BC; the remarkable Dujiangyun dam and irrigation system, built about 200 BC and still in use today; and the waterfalls of Qingcheng, a mountain west of Chengdu. And then, on August 24, we headed for Nanchong.

Friends and family of China SSTers should know that we are experiencing some technical difficulties posting from China. There may be some delays in posting and fewer photos as we experiment with alternative ways of posting. Thanks for your patience!