All The Things (Plus, Pandas)

Well, just a forewarning here: I think this post is probably going to be long and disjointed, mainly because I've been struggling to find the time and motivation to write lately. Not only have I felt intense writer's block for a long time  for general purposes, but I've also felt very disconnected from people and events back in the US. Add to that the fact that my job seems to be taking up a vast portion of my time here and you've got the perfect excuse for not writing a blog post in ages. Or so I'm telling myself.

Anyhow, things have been going well! I'm becoming very comfortable living in Beijing and overall I seem to be adjusting to everything well. That being said, there is a looming sense of loneliness I feel being so far away from friends and family. In some respects, this is what I needed: a break from the standard routine I felt was dragging me down. However, not having the same access to my support network means I'm even more dependent on the relationships I've built in my short time in China. That's not inherently a bad thing, but it plays into the fact that I spend way too much time at work or doing work-related things.

A great example of this is a work dinner I just skipped out on this evening. Let me offer a bit of an explanation here. In recent weeks, I've spent a number of extra hours helping my school plan for an annual city-wide company event that hundreds of people will be attending. This is important because our school has to perform in front of all the other schools in our area, and I was (somewhat unexpectedly) given the task of co-writing, co-directing, and co-starring in this production. On top of that, my daily work hours (i.e. my normal responsibilities) ranged anywhere from 7 to 12 hours depending on the day. Bearing in mind that my commute is 45+ minutes each way and I have to start work at different times of day, I've just been exhausted with everything.

Now, back to the work dinner I skipped: my school thought it would be nice to pay for people to go out for a nice meal together. On the surface, that's a great idea, but the problem is that we would be eating in the same mall that I work in. (Yes, you read that correctly: I work in a mall. China is filled with malls, and everything is inside or near a mall, it seems.) So the point is that I was invited to a dinner in the same building I work in with all the people I work with after a full day of work. I can only handle so much work before I want to claw my eyes out. And this is meant as no offense to my coworkers, either. They're great people, but looping this back into what I wrote previously, it's difficult to only have access to people you work with for social events, since you already spend so much time with them. It's a double-edged sword: my company knows this and offers opportunities to hang out with your coworkers since they're such a crucial component of your network abroad, but it can also drive you to the point of insanity if you don't find another outlet to meet people (which I haven't yet).

Wow, alright. Rant over, I think. Now that I've sufficiently vented, I think maybe it's time to move on to the happier stuff! About a month ago, I took an amazing trip to the city of Chengdu, which is in the Sichuan province of China. You may know Sichuan for its spicy cuisine or perhaps for being the primary panda bear sanctuary in China. Thankfully I got to enjoy both of those things, and a lot more! I traveled there with my friend Nile, who lives in Shanghai; Nile and I know each other from the University of Oregon, and it was great to meet up with her and experience a place new to us both.

First things first: they have a great panda bear sanctuary! Seriously, it's awesome. You can get pretty close to pandas and watch them do what pandas do best: lounge around and eat constantly! The have baby pandas, adult pandas, red pandas... it was panda-monium. I'll just see myself out now... but not before I share some great panda content:

Next up: delicious, spicy food! In general, Chinese people seem to really enjoy hot pot, but I think people from Sichuan province do probably even more so. Nile and I got Sichuan-style hot pot (that means it's pretty damn spicy). Basically it's a boiling pot of chilis and peppercorns that will melt your brain; you put meat and veggies in that and then gobble it up. It's quite amazing, but if you happen to eat a peppercorn that hid itself in your food, it will make you rethink your life choices. This happened to me on another occasion: it felt like my lips were vibrating and it put me in a state I can only describe as "high on spice". Kung Pao chicken is also a very popular Sichuan dish, although I didn't have a chance to enjoy that while in Chengdu. It's popular enough that I can get that pretty much all over China, so I didn't seek it out specifically.

Another interesting experience I had was getting a blind massage. When I say that, yes I do actually mean real blind people rubbing you down in a dark room. Because of their blindness, they apparently have a heightened sense of touch, which lends itself to the art of massage quite well. I haven't had a lot of other massages to compare it with, but it was excellent overall. My muscles hurt (in a good way) for hours afterwards and as a result, I discovered new muscles in my forearms I didn't know I had.

Some other highlights of the trip include eating wonderful Mexican food (which I took for granted in the US) and also attempting to go see the giant Buddha in the nearby city of Leshan. I say "attempt" because when we arrived, there were probably more people there than I've seen in my life. It was borderline overwhelming; it was the type of crowd that is physically exhausting to navigate through. We also discovered, after we waited in line for 45 minutes and paid for a ticket to get in, that we would've had to wait likely another 4-5 hours to actually see the Buddha in its entirety. Long story short: if you want to see the Leshan Buddha, get on a boat and view it from a distance; don't bother with seeing it up close. We also attended the Sichuan opera, which I cannot recommend enough. It was like a very traditional variety show that contained puppetry, music, acrobatics, singing, acting, and the famous "changing faces" art.

Well, I think that's about all I can force myself to write for now. I'll save my fast food rants for another post. Until next time, this is Bryce signing off.