CUE: Dramatic introductory paragraph.
Part 1 from “Small China” – unfinished, unpublished, handwritten scrawl.
I haven’t seen a sunset in weeks. Blue sky in Chengdu has appeared only reluctantly and certainly not in recent memory. On the days it has, it hides behind the forest of apartment buildings over 20 stories high in any direction. Yet, blue sky is what I see now… the deepest royal blue sweeping into a rich, dark purple with smoky gray clouds passing in the foreground. Moments earlier, or so it seems, Guizhou province’s infamous lush hills and cliffs dominated the view, their rounded peaks blanketed by the low hanging and impossibly close clouds. Small waterfalls springing from nowhere, cascading into the ubiquitous, reddish-brown river along which our train has traveled since our departure from Chengdu. Any less-treacherous landscape is developed for agriculture, with infinite rows of adolescent rice plants in tiered sections of standing, blackish water, being tended to by farmers both male and female, young and old, whose adjacent, partially-collapsed homes with dirt floors and wet clothes hanging in every window patiently wait their return. It’s been impossible to pry my eyes from the window since I boarded the train 10 hours ago, not only for the striking beauty of Southwest China, but because the sights have had a rather hypnotic effect, sending me to a state of deep reflection and introspection. My journey, much like the train I'm on now, has momentum and continues to advance. I'm just along for the ride.
|Liu Jiang (host mom) picking grapes|
in her dope-ass Hello Kitty mask
Maoli Cat Cafe
The past few weeks have slid by without much ado… a whole lot of Chinese learning in preparation for the final language exam this week, a few chance meetings with some China 19 volunteers who were able to share their wisdom and offer hope for our futures, a field trip to the Chengdu train station to get a feel for how to navigate through the insanity. Just chipping away at reaching some point of preparedness before we're thrown to the sharks.
In recent memory, the only topic on anyone’s mind was that of site placement, which took place last week. Trainers and program managers had been observing the lot of us since day 1 of training and, in fact, before we even arrived. But just a week before placement, every volunteer interviewed with the program managers in a courtroom-style, incredibly nerve-racking manner. During the interviews, a program manager from each province would ask one question related to skills, interests, or qualifications, and we were asked to leave. Naturally, rumors sprung up like mad – “Was the Chongqing lady looking at you a lot? I’m pretty sure I’m going to Chongqing.” “Did any of them ask you more than one question? If they ask you more than one, you’re going to their province.” “This is just a formality – they already had our sites assigned before we got here.”
|New Parade training group awaiting site placement|
The whole affair was just as dramatic as everyone had imagined it would be. The speaker said “Go,” and our training site managers dealt our fates individually.
First: Blue folders – Gansu province. Keywords: Desert. Poor. Remote. Developing. Harsh. Naturally, my gut fell while I waited for the New Parade site manager, Zhan Lan, to seal my fate and send me to my “dream province.” But as she pulled out the final folder, it wasn’t my name spelled out on the front. Gulp.
Second: Yellow folders – Chongqing province. Keywords: Hot. City. Thriving. Hot. Hot. Chongqing, I could manage, I thought to myself. Not an ideal climate, but certainly plenty to do. Not to mention the city itself is host to something like 20 volunteers, so the company would be great. But the last yellow folder, again, was dealt elsewhere.
Third: Green folders – Sichuan province. Keywords: Chengdu. Hot. Humid. Earthquakes. Oh please, I begged, as if to the sorting hat. Not Sichuan. Not Sichuan. Not Sichuan. And as the last green folder was dealt with only the pink remaining, I learned my site prematurely.
Guizhou (GWAY-joe) province. Keywords: Lush. Waterfalls. Poor. Culture. Remote. My site, I learn, is called Liupanshui (LEO-pawn-shway), which literally translates to “six plates of water”. For its strange name, my Chinese teacher later told me, Liupanshui is well known throughout China. In fact, the name is a hybrid of the three counties that the city sprawls across: Liuzhi, Panxiang, and Shuicheng. Liupanshui is known in Guizhou as the “Cool City” or “Cool Capital” because, especially during the summer, the temperature is always on the cool side. Winters, on the other hand, rarely see more than a few days of snowfall each year, so the climate overall is very mild. Where the site placement rumor mill is concerned, at least one thing is true – our requests are most definitely considered. I asked for a cool climate, and they gave me the Cool Capital!
Following the morning sorting ceremony (indeed, I may have involved myself in a deep discussion later that day as to which four provinces coincided with the four Hogwarts houses), we were ripped from our comfortable training site communities and shuffled into new groups for a third time since starting Pre-Service Training. Guizhou Province would remain together for the remainder of the day, learning more about the province, speaking with currently-serving Guizhou volunteers, and attending other sessions as well. That evening, celebrations ensued – there was laughing, dancing and shouting, but also hesitance, reluctance and morose. In my case, I would be unexpectedly shoved to the opposite pole of China from a new, but forever friend who will be serving in Lanzhou, Gansu. There wasn’t much time for any kind of emotion, however, in anticipation of our site visits, which nearly all of us would depart for that same weekend. As the first to depart, I would be on my train in just 24 hours. The second great whirlwind of Peace Corps is upon me!
CUE: Dramatic concluding paragraph.
Part 2 from “Small China” – unfinished, unpublished, handwritten scrawl.
|Guizhou bound with Taylor|