An American in Chengdu

New apartment

October 5, 2010

I moved about a week and a half ago. My first two apartments were provided by my employer, and since I’m no longer employed, I had to strike out on my own. This isn’t such a bad thing, since my new place is nicer than the old one and closer to the university where I’m taking classes.

For the last year I could get help from my school with just about anything: getting things fixed in the apartment, setting up Internet, registering with the police. Now I instead have Mr. Wang, my landlord. I’ve seen Mr. Wang every day or two since moving in. He’s over 60 but knows quite a few English nouns. Occasionally he’ll try piecing together an English sentence, like “Turn off, wait three minutes, open,” but mostly we communicate–or don’t–in Chinese. He drops by with things for the apartment, like a phone, or two impressively ugly bedside tables, or, more strangely, a picture (“I’ll hang this when I have time,” he told me). He’s taken me on little tours of the neighborhood so that I know where to pay the building management fee, the gas bill, and the Internet fee. After the washing machine repairman came by yesterday, Mr. Wang stopped by today just to make sure the machine was really fixed. In short, he’s wildly enthusiastic about being a landlord, which is new and different for me.


The bus

October 1, 2010
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In mid-September, I started Chinese classes at a university on the western edge of Chengdu. Since I was still living near the center, every morning I would squeeze onto one of the buses crawling through the rush hour traffic.

I couldn’t resist taking this picture, but this is not a post about how crowded those rush-hour buses are. You already know about that. What I find surprising about crowded buses is that after people get on through the back door (something they’re technically not supposed to do, but it’s common during peak times), everyone pays their fare. They give their bus passes or cash to one person, who then passes them to the person in front of her, who continues the relay to the front. Someone at the front of the bus swipes all the cards and puts the notes in the cash slot, and then the cards are passed back and distributed to their owners.

This surprises me because Chinese normally don’t seem very concerned about breaking minor regulations. Run a red light on your motorbike, drive your taxi the wrong way up a one-way street, or get paid under the table, and you’ll have no reason to fear public opprobrium. So why not keep that 30 cents for your next trip?

Another reason I’m impressed with the fare ritual is that pickpocketing is common on these crowded buses. Yet people hand their preloaded fare cards off to a relay line of strangers without apparent concern that anyone might slip one into his pocket. That’s just not done.

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    About me

    I've come to Sichuan in search of adventure, fluency in Chinese, and awesome vegetarian food. I have to concede that the baby pandas are very cute.


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