October 17, 2010
Even after a year away, everything feels so familiar being back in China:
- Basic transactions are effortless. I may not have spent renminbi in over a year, but when calculating prices I barely glance at the money to know which note to hand over. The colors distinguishing denomination (lime=1 yuan, purple=5 yuan, blue=10 yuan, tan=20 yuan, green=50 yuan, red=100 yuan) must be permanently etched into my memory.
- Small details that I haven't thought of even once while outside China jump out with such familiarity: the label of the brand of sour plum juice I like. The way restaurants provide napkins in packets branded with their business name--but charge an additional 1 yuan for each. How making any change to phone service with China Mobile (in this case, trying to start 3G service) requires waiting until the first day of the next calendar month.
- My language abilities are rusty, yet there. Since crossing in from Vietnam a couple days ago, when trying to speak Chinese I've sometimes struggled to find just the right word. Some come out haltingly and muddled. I can tell that my pronunciation has declined. Still, I'm surprised by how much of what I hear I do understand and how many of the characters I see that I still recognize.
- A difference: it seems like there are a lot more traditional, full-form characters being used on signs now than there were when I was last in China.
In the days I've been back in China, I've been staying with good friend and former Xinjiang University classmate, Logan. She moved from Urumqi to Kunming a couple years ago and enrolled at one of the local universities, continuing to study language.
David, Logan, and Olivier
Playing at the Game Place
However, since leaving Urumqi Logan hasn't studyed Uyghur. In recent terms she's dropped the Chinese as well. She's now studying French, which is adequate to retain status in the country on a student visa. She's also taking on part-time work at a local NGO.
Logan is now living with her boyfriend, Olivier. He was away when I last came through Kunming, so I'm happy to have finally met him. Most of our time together has seen the three of us playing various board games. I have my stand-bys, but they've introduced me to half-a-dozen of their favorites that I could easily adopt into my standard repertoire. Most games involved strategy around a travel-based theme: Ticket to Ride used trains, Caribbean used pirate ships, and Catan... Catan used everything.
Over two consecutive days we went to the Game Place, a bar opened by French ex-patriates stocked with scores of western board games. It was so good to take a couple days catching up with Logan and geting to know Olivier. There was no better way to relax after several weeks in travel-mode than sitting around laughing and plotting strategy over various gameboards.
Thanks for hosting, Logan and Olivier! Perhaps we'll next rendezvous in Quebec?
Next stop: Xi'an.