There you have it. That’s just about the extent of my ability to speak Chinese. For the first time in our nearly three-year journey, I am completely out of my element when it comes to communicating in our current home country. It’s a challenge, for sure, but it really adds to the adventure.
Let me back up a bit. We moved to Chengdu, China just over a week ago. If you’ve never heard of it, Chengdu is the capital of the southwestern Sichuan province. Still having a hard time? It is home to the giant panda. Some 14 million inhabitants live here, yet it’s still only the 5th most populous city in China.
It took us about six days, from the time we left Fort Lauderdale, to get to Chengdu. First we drove from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta. We split that journey into two days because it’s really no fun to drive 11-hours straight with a 15-month old on board. We had a day in Atlanta to drop a few things into our storage unit and say hello to some family and friends.
That Sunday evening we took a nearly five-hour flight from Atlanta to L.A., had a three-hour layover, flew 15 hours from L.A. to Guangzhou, had another two-hour layover and finally flew about an hour and a half to Chengdu. The flights (and layovers) alone took about 27-hours. Did I mention we did that with a 15-month-old?
Fortunately Baby Girl is a very frequent flier, so she did really well on the journey all things considered. We were all very thankful, though, to finally reach our new home…and take a shower.
The past week has been a bit of a whirlwind. The jet lag definitely messed with us. We all took turns waking up in the wee hours of the morning and not being able to fall back asleep. Matt and I are finally feeling more adjusted, but Baby Girl is still trying to figure out her new schedule. One day she’ll seem like she has adjusted. The next, she’ll be up all night. This is the first time she’s seemed really aware that we’ve moved, so I’m sure she’s just sorting everything out.
Our first impressions of Chengdu have been pretty positive. The food is great, the people are nice and the city (from what we’ve seen so far) is pretty clean (aside from the air on many days, that is). We live in a more residential area of the city, so our streets are lined with lots of greenery even while building after building towers over all the cars and people below.
Not speaking the language is a huge challenge, but we are managing with translation apps and the aid of the great bilingual staff in our building. We had an English-speaking guide take us around the city a couple of days after we arrived. She showed us the shopping areas and helped us buy metro cards and get set up with Chinese phones.
As always, there are challenges for foreigners in a new country. One of the biggest hurdles we’ve run into is paying for things. It’s hit or miss whether our international credit cards work (some places only take Chinese credit cards). Some places (such as the local “Uber” called, Didi) only take mobile money. You can load money into WeChat, but they wanted us to have a Chinese card, so we had to get a bank account here. Only Matt could open the bank account, though, because I’m not under the right kind of visa for it. So I guess we’ve got “no money, mo problems.” Oh, come on—that was funny!
The toilets are another unique challenge for us Westerners. Thankfully we have Western-style toilets in our apartment, but fresh off the plane in Chengdu I had to use one of the famous, Chinese “squatty potties”…while holding Baby Girl in a carrier on the front of me. I actually managed to stay upright and accomplish my business without making a huge mess. I spent the rest of the day silently cheering and patting myself on the back—at least I think I did it silently. I was pretty deliriously tired at that point.
On a positive note, we’ve really been enjoying ourselves with the food. We went on a great local food tour, which I’ll write about in a separate post because it deserves it. We also hired an “āyí” (Chinese for “aunt”), a helper who comes in several days a week to keep an eye on Baby Girl for a couple of hours and make lunch. Matt, Baby Girl and I are all getting that additional exposure to the Chinese language and I’m getting more time to write and take up kickboxing (which I need with all the great food we are eating).
This weekend we are heading to Beijing. Matt will start getting pretty busy at work in the next few weeks, so we are taking a little vacation during the calm before the storm. Stay tuned to my Instagram and Twitter feeds for live updates from Beijing. For now I’ll say, “zàijiàn!”