Sunday, May 6, 2012

First Day in Changsha

It has been a long couple of days of traveling, but after a short layover in Seoul (about 4 hours), I finally arrived in Changsha (in the Hunan Province).  It was a much shorter duration of flying than I originally thought as it only totaled 17 1/2 hours of flying time (insert slight sarcasm here).  The people on the airline were phenomenal and the Incheon airport in Seoul is the best I have ever seen.  I will definitely be flying Korean air the next time I bring the whole family to Changsha in the fall of 2013.  As I was sitting in my seat, I kept thinking about how my small children would handle the long flight.  However, I think with all the in-flight entertainment in the form of movies, games, music, storybooks, and live camera feeds from in front and below the aircraft, they should have more than enough entertainment.

When I arrived in Changsha on Sunday morning at 11:30, I was greeted by the sweetest student named Li Li Jun (See pictures below).  Keep in mind that the surname is last (in this case Li) and her given name is Li Jun (pronounced close to Lee Jween).  Apparently, her major here is Chinese and she wants to teach Chinese to American students in the U.S. at some point.  So, it was a good opportunity for her to practice her English on me since I wasn't doing much practicing of the Mandarin on her.  Well...I practiced a little, but got frustrated when I used the word for water (shui) and she had no idea what I was talking about.  Dang you Fluenz program!  She brought along to the airport an "official" driver that she says they use for "very important visitors" (I can hear your chuckles even from across the globe).  

Changsha was about a 25-30 minute drive from the airport, so it was a good opportunity to ask Li Jun questions about the city and the university.  It's good that I was absorbed in the conversation too because the driving in China is super scary.  They drive on the same side of the road that we do in the U.S., but often people don't respect it.  Picture yourself walking through a crowd of people on the Vegas strip.  You would weave in and out, working your way past whatever obstacles (usually bodies) stood in your way.  Now picture doing that with cars.  This makes the art of driving in Changsha seem very "random."  I saw cars driving on sidewalks and people attempting u-turns on what we would classify as a "freeway."  And, I thought Chicago traffic was bad.  I don't think I would choose to drive in China if I didn't need to, so walking, taxis, and bussing are probably my best bets.  Jaywalking in Changsha was pretty thrilling (translation: I almost got hit by a car three times) too as they rarely have traffic lights that direct people to cross.  

So, when we first got to Changsha, I was treated to lunch at the famous Mona Lisa restaurant (yes, we're in China and not France).  I had actually read a bit about this one prior to my trip and many tourists had raved about it.  Every dish was very spicy, but not more than I could handle.  I asked Li Jun if the foods represented a typical level of spiciness and she said they did.  So I think I'll be able to handle at least some of the cuisine here.  Some of you may know this already but Hunan and Sichuan Provinces are the most well known for having very hot and spicy food.  I have seen my daughter Jeanie eat wasabi right out of those tubes, so I know she'll be ok too.

After lunch, we took a tour of campus and I was shocked at just how exquisitely beautiful it was.  I will attach some pictures below so you can see the beauty of this place.  Lush vegetation is everywhere on campus and the Lushan Road that runs alongside the campus is packed with many stores.  I generally had no idea what was in them, but I did see some pretty nice purses for like $12 bucks, so I know Stacie will be happy. 

Overall, it has been positive. My favorite things about Changsha so far are: 1) Every person I have met on an individual level has been incredibly warm and kind to me, 2) I have never seen vegetation like this in my life (the Yuelu mountain behind campus looks like pictures I've seen of the Amazon rain forest), 3) The food (although still a bit foreign to me) is delicious...and cheap!, 4) The temperature in my room right now is 18 degrees celsius, which I have no idea how to convert that to fahrenheit but it's freezing in here and I love it!

However, there were those small elements of culture shock.  Let me just list a few: 1) This place is hotter than heck (85% humidity and about 85 degrees), 2) No Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi, 3) Saw my first squatter type toilet and decided to hold it in, 4) Went to the grocery store and saw whole chickens, turtles, fried chicken feet, and meal worms, 5) Stinky tofu really does deserve its name, 6) I don't know what anybody is saying and the few words I do know aren't cutting it because my pronunciation is so bad, 7) The Chinese are always screaming at each other and it's just very loud out on the streets (they are just intense and not actually angry).

I admit that there were a few moments today that I wasn't sure I could handle things long-term.  When Li Jun left, I rested for a while in my room and then had to go out and try to find myself some dinner.  I walked past the stinky tofu and decided I was definitely not ready for that (impossible to describe the smell).  Then I saw some fried stuff, but I didn't know what it was so I passed on that too.  Then, I went into the grocery story and bagged up some fruit the way we would at our local market. I took it to the counter and the lady yelled (from a Westerner view) at me because I apparently did something wrong and so she took my fruit and gave it to another worker to put it back.  So, I left with no food.  On my way home, I passed a KFC and went inside.  The menu was all in mandarin and they didn't have value meals listed as 1 through whatever, which as you know is common in the U.S. and would have been helpful since I can count to ten in chinese.  I second guessed my ability to effectively order and left.  Then, I spotted a McDonalds and went inside.  They too didn't have value meals and the prices were listed listed as 26 RMB (about $5), so I decided to point at a double cheeseburger and say "na ge" or "that one." This time, they either understood my Chinese or the universal signal of pointing at a hamburger and widening the eyes.  I took my food back to my room and watched Pawn Stars on Netflix while I ate.  I felt like such a sellout.  I'll do better tomorrow!

I couldn't get the exact image I wanted, but I like that the sun was so orange and you can see the Seoul skyline below it.  Thanks for the camera, Asher.  

I thought this man looked a bit like my father-in-law, Mark Huish's, long lost Asian brother.

Li Li Jun and the very nice, but very assertive driver. I thought it was amusing that my very first restaurant in China had pictures of Brando, Deniro, and the Terminator on the back wall.
I wanted to get a shot where you can see some of the food. Top left is a super spicy soup with Tofu, spinach, and little tiny  whole fishes.  Not sure what was in the broth, but it was amazing.  Next to it on the right is some kind of "porridge."  The one just below the spicy soup is a stir fry with pork, an usual kind of mushroom, and hot peppers.  Also, very good.  The dish is the middle of the table was my favorite.  Li Jun described it as a kind of "barbecued steak."  I could not get enough of the stuff.    On the very right is a plate of bananas, watermelon, cantaloupe, and a type of fruit that looks like white watermelon with poppy seeds on it.  I'm not sure how else to describe it.

Just a view down the street in Changsha.

Western-style bathroom accommodations.

My room for the next 6 weeks or so. The tv gets one english language channel and it's CCTV (I believe China Central TV).  There is also a channel in Spanish, French, and Russian.  I'm not sure what those are broadcasting, but it looks to be similar content to the one in English.

An old temple.  Li Jun couldn't remember all the details about it, but it sure is cool looking isn't it?

This is a small pond in the middle of campus.  The temple in the above picture is also right on campus.  I couldn't believe how pretty this all is.  


  1. Wow! Kevin the campus looks amazing. I miss you already. I'm glad you were able to add Seoul to your Asian adventure. Summyr and I have been talking about you alot and are so excited about your trip. McDonald's is not make you a sell-out, remember we both had the same struggles with the nasty English cuisine. Keep up the blog, I will be watching it daily for updates. WE LOVE YOU! Always be careful. "Didn't I tell you not to trust anybody Dr. Jones."


  2. Thanks, Eric! It was nice to wake up to a little of your movie humor. I can tell you nobody here would know what you're talking about :) I found the common ground, though. Everyone I talked to knows who Chow Yun Fat and Jackie Chan are. I had several conversations about Hard Boiled, so that's a good thing.

  3. Love reading your blog, webbin! I miss you already. I loved your description of the culture there so far aand cant wait to hear and see more about it during your six week stay.

  4. Kevin... AMAZING!!! And can I just say that I am so proud of you!!! I think if I were there in your shoes I would just die... like literally starve to death in the beautiful scenery.

  5. Wow. So jealous. I love you and hate you at the same time.

  6. You've had so many wonderful experiences overseas in your life. I guess you should let someone else have a little fun too :)

  7. That campus is beautiful! So glad you made a blog so I can read about your adventures!