At the end of our first week in Xi’an, I have taught two sections of Sophomore Writing and am preparing to teach two sections of Senior Public Speaking tomorrow. In addition to teaching, I have ridden on the public bus three times (twice without a Chinese handler) and gone over the data allotment on my cellphone twice. I waited five days to get a hot shower, at the same time that I’ve logged between six and twelve miles of walking per day. I’ve bought two plants from a street market, and eaten hot pot twice. The crowning achievement, though, was accidentally wandering into the City of God Temple. If taking a sabbatical means changing your routine, learning something new, and seeing the world with fresh eyes, then I think I’m on the right path.
The Chinese people who have been helping us get around Xi’an and navigate the school have been patient, kind, and generally fun to be around. Simon Kang, in particular, deserves recognition. He picked us up from the airport, took us to our new apartment just west of the old campus, and then took us to the Chinese version of Walmart (RT mart) to get a bed for our son Asher. Simon returned the next morning to help us get a sim card for our cellphone, set up our bank accounts, and take us to lunch. Later he organized a lunch for us to meet the other people in our department (English for English Majors). Of course, then we needed to get id cards, bus passes, pay our gas bill, and get our textbooks.
Almost everyone here has been warm and helpful. For example, Zhang Yi, the Vice Dean of the School of Foreign Languages, gave us excellent advice about our classes, and then arranged for her son to show Asher around Xi’an. Xiodan Wang, our good friend who spent a year at JCCC, took us to the most extravagant lunch. We ate hot pot for about two hours, and we were going to get manicures at the restaurant after we ate, but the line was too long. My students, Felicity and Helen, gave us a tour of the New Campus, and Philip, a senior student, helped to fix our gas and then later took us to our medical examinations. So if you were thinking about spending time in China, but were afraid to do so because of the language barrier, I would encourage you to not be afraid. Chinese people are friendly and welcoming to foreigners, and even the street vendors smile and go with it when all you can do is point and hold up fingers to communicate.