I arrived in Liaocheng just four days ago and immediately took the emotional plunge that the study abroad office at my school warned me about.  The honeymoon of Beijing was over.  I was for the first time alone, and since the internet was working in my room, cut off from the rest of the world.  The apartment they’ve given me offered no solace.  The walls are white and smeared with random streaks of dust and occasional footprint.   The floors are a cold beige tile, and the two rooms on either side of mine were seemingly forever empty.  The TV wouldn’t work, and the only comfort was my book and playing hearts on my otherwise useless computer.  Despite all of that my nerves wouldn’t let me venture out more than once to buy a soda and some snacks.  I went to bed at about 8 o’clock that night just to escape from it all.

The next day brought a welcome change.  Li Lidong, the Chinese professor assigned to help me through orientation, brought me to eat at the cafeteria.  We hadn’t been sitting more than five minutes before I was approached by Huang, an international business student who spoke English.  Huang, like many English-speaking Chinese students, jumped at the opportunity to practice his English, and offered to help me go into town and buy a phone.  It was on the bus that the old adventuresome spirit I remember from my last trip to China began to creep back into my character.  As we were jostled along the roadway my eyes were glued to the windows.  Giant diesel tractors, relics of the Great Leap Forward, chugged past us towing oversized loads of cardboard and empty water jugs.  Commuters stacked three persons high per bicycle dodged the enormous bus, ignoring all traffic laws and regarding them more as sem-useful suggestions.  When we arrived in the center of town, black faced street merchants hawked barbecued chicken heads to pedestrians.  I felt for the first time that I was truly out of my element.

Yesterday, two eager Chinese students went into town with me to get my computer fixed so that I could use the internet.  Tony (many english speaking Chinese take English names) and Wang were more helpful than I could have ever asked for.  They negotiated with the people at the computer store for hours, and when I insisted that I buy them a cup of tea for their troubles, the only place they wanted to go was a coffee shop run by a Swedish girl and her Chinese boyfriend, just so that I would no where the 14 foreigners living in Liaocheng like to congregate. 

After the coffee shop they took me to a near-by bicycle market so that I could buy a bike.  Wang told me that there are three things you need at Liaocheng University: a phone, a computer, and a bike, a bike being the most important.  As we negotiated the price for my bike a group of Chinese elders gathered around us to watch the funny looking kid from America with the red (red!) beard and wild curly hair.  They imitated my English and giggled when I butchered their own language.  In the end I got a good deal on a rickety but road-worthy bike, and even made a few new friends.  Now I have all three necessities to life in Liaocheng, and am starting to feel like a real Chinese national!

Wang and Tony called this a “Chinese Hamburger,” delicious.

Wang and Tony in a rickshaw (my first time!) on the way to the coffee shop.

This guy was particularly happy to see me show up at the bike market.