(taken from an email to a friend back in September)
…..It’ tough to tell if the city weaves in and out of the mountains or if the mountains weave in and out of the city.
Not even 100 yards from my dorm is a start of a hiking trail.
Maybe a mile from my campus is the river which cuts the city in two, so when you ask people where they live? They first refer to what side of the river they live on (east or west) and then to the bus stop. Biked along the river last week with some friends and was rendered speechless... to my immediate left, maybe 30 feet away was steps going down to a stretch of farmland. The farmland stretched outward to the river for a few hundred yards and then along the river for miles. Looking down you could see horses milling about… and small fishing boats that could have been plucked out of a Chinese painting. Looking across the river is a backdrop of a city that is highlighted by mountain peaks. Ominous rain clouds do not exist. To my immediate right was the east side of the city I live on -- and one of the busiest highways, not more then 100 yards from the horses and fishing boats I just told you about.
The juxtaposition of these images is mind boggling to me at times. It's a unique blend of raw nature with concrete and development. I quite enjoy musing about how things must have looked like a hundred years ago.
People here are like people in any city. There are nice people and rude people -- the extremely fashionable and the ones that you can sense immediately are from the rural areas of China, city bound for the first time. People that speak flawless English and people that hawk a spit from the back of their throats. People with perfect hair and people who have rat tails. The humidity here can be oppressive at times, but I've quite gotten used to how kinky my hair is everyday. As most people would say here "随便”.
There is a decent amount of black people here -- mainly from North Africa, which really surprised me when I heard people speaking French. I've met a few Americans from Yale, but I have yet to see white faces unless I go out of my way to meet up with people.... and my American friends are Black American and Asian American.
I haven't started classes though, so perhaps things will become less interesting when I actually can't go out everyday to explore the city.
I figured out on my own how to use the buses, so I've been quite addicted to public transportation. It's a little weird being in a city with no metro, and no Starbucks (coming soon in a month). The idea that China is a "developing country" is definitely more apparent here than in any other city in China that I've been to before. Between the BMWs that drive on the other side of the road, the abandoned hotels where the beggars live, and the strawberry fields by the agricultural university-- Changsha is quite a contradiction in itself. Buildings are knocked down every other day and it seems like overnight... beautiful architectural masterpieces are erected just for fun. As if a child was playing with a trunk full of legos. I wish I could explain to you more accurately what I'm experiencing and seeing, but just be reassured that it is quite a new experience. It feels like I'm in a different world -- mainly because there seems to be no comforts of home or signs in English. I'm completely immersed in Chinese -- I even text in Chinese. It helps that I look Asian – people immediately write me off as from Hong Kong.
I miss home terribly, but only because of the people I've left behind. If I could take all of you with me to China, I wouldn't mind being here for another few years.