Week One in Changsha

Originally published at www.changshachambers.blogspot.com on August 12th, 2015.

Landing at Changsha Airport

I have officially arrived in the city I will be calling home for the next year! It is my third time in China, and it feels great to be back. For the last two summers, I was in Shanghai and Guangzhou, which are China’s first and fourth most populated cities, respectively, so Changsha’s mere 7 million people feels quite different.

The few weeks I had before leaving home were filled with last minute shopping trips and visiting friends. When I attended a friend’s graduation party in Long Island, I noticed this pillow on her couch (Shoutout to Jess if you’re reading this- sorry I secretly took creepy photos of your home decor)

It actually contains a poem I studied in my last college Chinese class! It’s called 夜思 and it’s a traditional poem about a traveler who misses home. It has 4 lines with 5 characters each. The tones of those 20 characters will forever be etched in my brain after being made to recite them over and over and over (thanks 江老师!). This coincidence definitely made my day, and I thought of it as a good sign for my travels.

It’s actually only been about a week since I’ve arrived, but it feels like we’ve been here for much longer. My second day here was spent exploring Martyr’s Park, Changsha’s largest park, with some other volunteers who had arrived early. It has quite an unassuming entrance, but once inside we noticed that at the center is an enormous lake with boat rentals, and a small amusement park off to the side. In the early mornings, you can find local residents in groups doing tai chi or yoga. At night, the park turns into a “walk of the ages,” as my friend described it, where every 20–30 feet is a different group of people dancing a different style to a different type of music. If you’ve never been to a large Chinese park, it’s quite a special sight.

Yizhong has this wonderful statue of young Mao Zedong. Last Monday was the first official day of our three-week long orientation. Orientation is held at Changsha Number One Middle School (长沙第一中学) or Yizhong (一中) for short. It is led by our program field director and her assistant. Orientation is a combination of culture, language, TEFL, and classroom management classes. The next week or so will continue to be filled with long days of lectures and activities, but I can already tell that all of us are thankful that we have a program that takes the time to really prepare us. We’ve heard that many other schools that hire foreign teachers just throw them into a school without much training at all. The third week of orientation is practicum, where we can actually put into practice what we’ve learned from the first two weeks. We are split into groups of five, and we all take turns teaching a class at Yizhong while the others observe and give constructive criticism and feedback. Then finally on August 24th, the volunteers will go to their respective placements. About half of us are in Changsha, while others are in surrounding cities like Hengyan or Zhuzhou. Again, it’s only been about a week so it’s hard to really gauge what the next 11 months will be like, but it already feels great to be surrounded by such a wonderful cohort of volunteers. I’ve found out that my hotel roommate was also a fellow Gamma Phi Beta in college, and that another volunteer and I went to the same elementary school in Tokyo! It’s fun to find these random connections and things in common- it really seems like the volunteers will all get close during orientation, which is great for having an emotional support system and for potential travel buddies. Finally, here are some photos of some things we’ve been doing and eating!

Landing at Changsha Airport
I unexpectedly got bumped up to business class on my flight to Changsha, so this was the shuttle used to get all five of us between the aircraft and terminal. Note: the shuttle was very vividly marked, “VIP” on the outside.
First meal in Changsha! This is a commonly found dish all over China called Niuroumian 牛肉面, or beef noodle soup.
The “Rich Harvest Expectation Bridge” of Ninjia Lake in Martyr’s Park.
A common sight that you could probably find in any Chinese park: Majiang 麻将 or Mahjong
A monument dedicated to China’s fallen heroes stands at the center of Martyr’s Park.
Martyr’s Park at night featuring dance lessons for 11-year old girls.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon sight in China.
We are within walking distance of Xiang River 湘江, which splits Changsha into the east and west sides.
The food here has been amazing! Hunan is particularly known for its very greasy and oily food. The orientation leaders were sure to order everyone mild food for the first few days, then ordered increasingly spicier dishes to train our palettes.
This is a dish called songshuyu 松鼠鱼, literally “squirrel fish” named after the given appearance of a fluffy squirrel tail, which is flash fried snapper served in a sweet and sour sauce.
This is what I’ve been typically having for breakfast every morning — liangmian 凉面, or “cold noodles” for 5 kuai (~USD$0.80). It’s noodles with peanuts, pickles, cilantro, chilli flakes, vinegar, and soy sauce.
Some of the other volunteers and I decided to treat ourselves to a foot massage after a long week of orientation. It was 90 kuai (~USD$15) for 60 minutes.
At the end of the massage, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that all customers were entitled to a free buffet upstairs.
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