Monday, September 1: I have a long chat on the plane from Beijing this morning with two people who know a lot about Nanning, and they recommend some places I should go while here. The young woman, Yilan, who works in Beijing, is traveling to visit her family for a holiday. She recommends I visit the north sea of Beihai, Yangshuo, Yinxi, and Detian Waterfall. Of course, I have a lot of places I want to visit, if time and money permit: Guilin & Yangshuo, Kunming in Yunnan Province, Hong Kong, Burma and Laos.
Nanning, meaning “South Tranquility,” is the capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China and is about 99 mi (160 km) from the Vietnam border. It is known as the “Green City” because of its abundance of lush tropical foliage. If you’d like to read more about the city, you can check Wikipedia: Nanning or China Travel Guide: Nanning.
Nanning sits in a hilly basin with elevations between 230 and 1,640 ft above sea level. Qingxiu Mountain dominates the southern part of town. The city has a warm, monsoon-influenced humid subtropical climate, with an annual mean temperature of 71.3 °F (21.82 °C). Summers are hot and humid with July, the hottest month, having a 24-hour average temperature of 83.1 °F. Winters are mild and somewhat damp with January, the coolest month, averaging 55.2 °F (12.9 °C) in January. From February to August, rain is most frequent and relative humidity consistently averages above 80 percent; the annual rainfall is 51.6 in. The area is also frost-free for all but 3 or 4 days a year and snowfall is virtually unheard of in the city.
I disembark at the tiny airport of Nanning Wuxu International Airport, which seems way too small for a city of 6.6 million people at the prefecture level, 2.5 million in the metro area. Amy, a student at the university, is a little late picking me up, which gives me a bit of a panic. She takes me directly by taxi to Guangxi University, on the west side of Nanning. We drive through the bustling city, clogged with cars, buses, motorbikes, trucks and people scurrying along in all directions. The city is currently building an underground railway, and later I’m told that the railway construction is making for greater congestion than normal.
Amy leaves me on the sidewalk with my bags to wait while she fetches a key from another building. While I’m standing there, a group of young students comes by and wants to pose for photos with me.
After I drop my suitcases in my apartment, Amy offers to take me to lunch. She takes me to a fast food restaurant, where she pays for my lunch and then takes off to head to the airport again.
My first impressions of the apartment where I’ll live for the next 10 months are much like my first impressions of my first house in Oman, a run-down villa: my first floor “villa” behind the shoe store. That place was run down, dirty and filled with bugs of every stripe. This apartment in China is smaller, and similarly rough around the edges. I don’t have a couch at all in my apartment, just some hard chairs, so I don’t see me using the living room much. The kitchen is small and stained and the bathroom is gritty, but at least there is good water pressure and hot water. The bedroom does at least have a nice view out over a lotus pond.
Later, a fellow teacher tells me that at the university where he was last year, he had a spacious brand new apartment, so he wishes he could go back “home” to there, despite the fact that the pollution was so bad he never saw sight of the sky. Today, he was thrilled to see blue sky and white clouds.
The worst thing are the fluorescent light fixtures. The previous tenant left a floor lamp, but it has no bulb. Getting one will be my first priority, so I can read comfortably in bed. Right now the only light is a bright fluorescent light on the wall opposite the head of the bed, not very useful for reading.
Upon arrival, we immediately get busy with settling-in matters. All of our tasks are done on foot, walking around the campus and the surrounding areas in the sweltering heat and humidity. First stop, a photo shop to have mug shots taken: I am told to keep my mouth closed and not smile, put my hair behind my ears, and pull up my somewhat low-cut top. What results is the most horrific photo imaginable. We proceed to the police station to register; I feel sure those pictures will put me on their most wanted list.
Then we go to the bank to open our bank accounts, but they require a phone number before they can proceed. This will have to be put off until tomorrow.
Caleb, about the age of my oldest son, is another newbie to Guangxi University; we’re going through all these processes together. He’s from North Carolina but studied in China for several years and taught at another university in China last year. He speaks fluent Chinese, so it’s great to have him around. He’s an easy-going and bright young man and I’m happy to have met him. Chen, the Human Resources person at the university, is also very helpful. He’s patient with all the long waits and paperwork and his patience rubs off on me. This is highly unusual, as I’m not known to be a patient person.
I meet another teacher named Kelly. She, Caleb and I seem to be the only new teachers who need a visa, as most of the other teachers have one already from having worked in China before. Kelly came from Indonesia where she just bought a bungalow. She’s here in China to work to pay for the property.
I’m trying to think of the positive and to enjoy the experience, although it can be trying. I do love being out on the streets and seeing all the interesting sights. Once we get all these necessary things done, I hope to take to the streets with my camera. It’ll be a while, I think, before I’m settled, and can explore further afield. I’d like to go into Nanning proper at least by the weekend.
For dinner tonight, I eat nothing. I am too exhausted to go out, and I don’t have any food in the house. Maybe this will help me lose some weight, all this walking and not eating.
Tuesday, September 2: The air-conditioning in my apartment is freezing, and I can’t seem to adjust it to a more reasonable temperature. So in the middle of the night, I turn it off and open my window, which looks out over a lotus pond surrounded by weeping willows and other lush trees. This is around 2:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, and I can never go back to sleep. It’s lovely on this first morning in my new apartment, seeing the sun rise and listening to the birds singing, with a view of the pond. I’m so envious that most of the other teachers have balconies looking over the pond but I don’t. Oh well, at least my bedroom has a nice big window, with bars on it, that allow me a lovely view.
When I finally get up, a neighbor named Eddie offers me a packet of coffee, that kind of three-in-one coffee I had all the time in Korea. I boil water in a frying pan as no saucepans or kettles are evident in my apartment. It takes a long while on the stove contraption I have. When the coffee is finally ready, it’s time for me to meet Chen and Caleb to go to the phone company. I don’t even get to drink the coffee, and I have no breakfast.
We proceed to the phone store, where I get a Chinese SIM card for my iPhone. It doesn’t work too well, possibly because my iPhone 5 is a 3G, and the Chinese SIM is a 4G (whatever that means!). The phone stuff takes hours. By this time, Caleb and I are starving, so we go to a food stall to slurp down delicious noodles. Then on to meet Chen at the bank, where it takes awhile to get our accounts in order.
When I’m walking around the campus, I feel like I’m not in China, but in some combination country of Vietnam and Korea. Lots of people, including teachers, ride electric motorbikes everywhere. Many of the locals wear masks while riding about, or carry umbrellas. Some people wear what looks like flowered or patterned hospital gowns or long-sleeved shirts, worn backwards, maybe to block out the wind or protect their skin from sun. There are also a lot of strange transport contraptions, funny looking trucks, bicycle rickshaws, old-fashioned bicycles. Driving through Nanning Monday on the way from the airport, we passed people on motorbikes carrying caged chickens. Today, someone motors by with a cage of groundhogs. Maybe they are going to cook them up?
In the afternoon, Caleb and I go to an outdoor food market, and I buy fruits, vegetables and eggs. When you buy eggs here, they don’t come in a carton. The vendor just puts them into a thin plastic bag. I bought 6, along with some plums, walnuts, a passion fruit, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, a red onion and some cabbage.
We walk all the way home carrying our goods, the bag of eggs nestled carefully at the top. While unpacking in the apartment, I pick up the eggs and SPLAT! They drop to the ceramic floor as I am putting them in the fridge. Egg yolk and whites seep across the floor among the shattered shells! I wasn’t planning on scrambled eggs, but that’s what I get.
By this time, I am exhausted. Chen had already told us he wouldn’t be able to set up our internet until later, around 6:00 possibly. In my room, I lie down on my nice hard bed to read Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter, which I’m quite enjoying. While reading, I drift off and sleep for three solid hours. I guess I’m not on Chinese time yet.
I wake up to a phone call from Chen, who wants to come hook up my internet. I am excited to finally have internet, although I can’t get on Facebook or WordPress. I expected Facebook to be blocked but not WordPress, so this is terribly disappointing.
Despite my numerous trips to the market, I still have no oil to cook with, so I don’t cook anything for dinner. I have no salad dressing, so I don’t make a salad, even though I have lettuce, tomato and cucumbers. I have one plum and a handful of walnuts for dinner. It’s like I’m doing everything piecemeal.
As soon as I send a long email to Mike, my computer shuts down and restarts all of a sudden because of a “problem.” That leads to nothing but frustration, so I go back to The Bonesetter’s Daughter until I drift off to sleep.
Wednesday, September 3: This morning, after I walk 0.6 miles each way to the NanBai Supermarket, Caleb and I stop by the SCIC (Sino-Canadian International College) building to talk to the schedule coordinator, Lisa. She tells us orientation for the teachers will be next Wednesday, the 10th, and teachers of second year students start teaching on the 15th. Teachers for Freshmen (me, apparently) won’t start until the 22nd. Wow, that’s a lot of time to kill, especially if I don’t have internet. We pick up our textbooks. It looks like I’ll be teaching Speaking & Listening and Writing, as well as an English Language Interest course of my design: “Road Trip, American Style.”
After our brief meeting with Lisa, Caleb and I take the K-1 bus to downtown Nanning, where we walk around downtown, and Caleb, a Starbucks lover, is anxious to find his favorite spot for coffee. We find couples dancing and people sitting on squares of newspapers playing cards and other games in a lively square. We walk amidst brightly colored buildings, electric motorbikes galore, and a mosque.
We end up finding a paved walkway beside the Yongjiang River and we wander down that for awhile. We see some of Nanning’s bridges and some interesting statues, fishermen, and boats. As we headed back toward the city, it starts raining.
We end up in a shopping district called Chaoyang Lu, with pedestrian walkways much like the main shopping district in Daegu, South Korea. At one point, I stop for a strawberry milk tea with surprising tapioca balls that I have to chew up. The cute girl who runs the shop wants to have her picture taken with me, so we take turns posing, her coworker taking the shots (you can see him in the mirror). Caleb gets some bite-sized pieces of fried chicken; he shares a bit with me.
Finally, hot, sweaty, and drained, we find a Starbucks and stop in for a coffee, a bit of air-conditioning and some free wi-fi.
We make our way back to the bus stop and take the K1 bus home. I ask Caleb how to say “chicken” in Chinese and he says “jirou.” He heads home, and I stop at a little fast food restaurant and say at the front counter: “jirou?” The boy behind the counter looks at me quizzically. I say, “jirou?” He hands me a menu with pictures and sweeps his hand over it. I can’t tell what’s what from the tiny pictures. I say again, “jirou??” More bafflement. Finally, I do a chicken imitation with my arms, making little “bawk, bawk” noises. He still has no idea what I’m saying. Starving, I just point to something on the menu that looks like it might be chicken. It is, thank goodness, and it’s delicious.
As I walk back from lunch, I take some random pictures of the campus.
I go back to the apartment for a while to wait for Chen to come back by to fix my internet. He comes by and takes my Mac to Internet Services. At that time, I walk to yet another market to buy some more household goods, including some light bulbs. On my way back, I find yet another lotus pond. There are plenty of them on the campus.
When I return Chen brings back my computer with the internet working… sort of, slowly.
My dinner tonight is really special. I make a salad of lettuce, tomato and cucumber with a little olive oil. No vinegar, no seasonings of any kind. I should be wasting away to nothing with the little eating I’ve been doing.
I settle in with The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and freezing once again, I open the window, even though it’s quite muggy. I enjoy hearing the calls and twitters of the birds. I also hear cheers and slogans from the students doing military training on the campus.
My biggest pleasure is having the floor lamp beside my bed to read by, light bulb and all.
Thursday, September 4: This morning, Chen takes us downtown to do a Chinese version of the medical exams we already completed in our home countries. We need this in order to get the resident visa. When we finish that process, we take a taxi back to campus where Caleb and I search in vain for a dim sum restaurant that Chen told us was in the “mall,” which I see as more of a department store.
Caleb says he has leftovers to eat, so he heads home and I go to the supermarket again. As I prepare to cross the street near the front gate, my arms loaded with supplies, a man in a truck drives slowly past. I haven’t found a lot of people staring at me here in China as I did in Korea and Oman. But this man is staring at me out his window. As he passes me, I cross the street behind him. Suddenly, I hear a loud crunch. The truck has pinned a motorcycle beneath it. The shaken motorbiker stands and brushes himself off. I wonder if that truck driver hit the motorbiker because he was staring at me. Oh dear.
Settled back into my apartment, I spend the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out how to get my internet to work properly. A Xiaomaiwang beer helps the process along. I finally do, after many long hour and fruitless attempts, and that’s why you can now experience a bit of my life in Nanning on my blog.
And by the way, I do cook a dinner tonight: a stir-fry of broccoli, mushrooms and red onions, served over the rice I had leftover from lunch. Maybe I won’t get skinny after all. 🙂