I departed Changi Airport (which is truly phenomenal, both in organization and architecture) at 2 a.m. this morning, arriving at Chengdu after an easy 4 hour flight. The majority of the day has been spent on travel, because we had to drive quite a ways to get to the hotel. I got a decent introduction to China via the car ride. It is nowhere near as organized and pristine as Singapore. At first, I couldn’t help but think the landscape resembled that of the Pixar movie Wall-E, filled with tower upon tower upon tower of bleak, desaturated housing blocks. After a while, this landscape gave way to rolling hills speckled with small-scale agriculture, including rice paddies and corn fields. We stopped to pick up fresh peaches and plums from a fruit stand and got a local delicacy for lunch at a nearby fish restaurant. As per usual, I tried to deny more food when I was full, but it is actually considered rude to decline such offers. I am trying to balance respect with fear of an ever-widening waistline. (It’s not going well). Once we reached Neijiang, the landscape turned into a bustling city with lots of first-level retail, street vendors, and busy streets. It is obviously very urban, but it’s not clear-cut like it was out by the airport.
I also got my first introduction to Chinese business deals. I sat around a table in padded couch chairs with “fancy-looking” green tea glasses in front of each of us. The high rollers went over to a separate table to further discuss their plans, while I waited with the others. I got left feeling like the teen that just got upgraded from the kiddie table at family reunions who doesn’t quite know how to engage in conversation with the adults. If the adults were speaking Chinese, of course. When the high rollers returned, the conversations seemed to be between two men, while the rest offered a few comments here and there.
We finished up the day with more chatting over a hot pot dinner and stopped by a square with lots of social activities, including group dancing and top spinning. The city looks far more impressive lit up at night.
People smoke here. It’s not even frowned upon, as they offered an ashtray at the “business table”, in front of the elevators, and in the hotel rooms. [Also, it is legal to smoke in Singapore. And lots of people do so. I find it strange that they can ban spitting, selling gum, and eating/drinking on the MRT, but smoking - something that has been proven to cause health problems - is allowed. This goes to show how group thinking tends to trump individual concerns in Asian countries. You would think they would consider secondhand smoke more devastating than spit marks on the ground, but I don’t make the rules.] Our car driver offered me a cigarette while we were sitting at the business table, but that’s one offer I felt comfortable turning down.
Drivers seem to get worse as I travel from place to place. Panama drivers have nothing on NY taxi drivers that are nothing compared to the upperclass Singaporeans with expensive luxury cars that are nowhere near as bad as the drivers in Chengdu, who honk at EVERYONE and EVERYTHING and seem to have no regards for speed limits or the yellow lines that mean DO NOT PASS. Intersections are particularly terrifying, because there are no lights, no stop signs, and no order. There are also people driving mopeds and rickshaw-style carts with engines that are piled high with produce and other goods in the back.
So as to not offend anyone, I was told by my advisor to wear my hair up, take off my jewelry, and wear a blazer. That’s what I mean by intimidating. These meetings were with government officials and business professionals. And then there’s me: the 3rd year architecture student from Nowhereville, Indiana, who speaks no Chinese or Cantonese, who hardly owns any business-y clothes…(and who uses words like “business-y” and “fancy-looking” to describe things).
Three more days in China. Suddenly, I think I miss being packed into the MRT like sheep. Is that weird?