I can remember first arriving in Changsha last year. It was dark out and the ride from the airport to the hotel was further than I had hoped it would be. When we pulled in, I wondered how the bus was going to fit in the tiny little parking lot. It fit, somehow. I don’t know how, but it fit and we got out. Then we walked inside. There were about 55 or 60 of us in the group and we filled the lobby.
In the packets that had previously been given to us was a list with room assignments. The next logical thing to do was for us to find our roommates, get our card keys, and go to our rooms. We did that, quickly, and went straight back downstairs to eat dinner. For how delicious Hunan food is, the first meal was no indicator of this. It was lukewarm, soggy, and a bit spicy, and my abysmal chopsticks skills left me wondering how I was ever going to survive the year.
After eating, my new friend, Zak, and I decided to go get something to drink. At the meal, we had been handed 3 ounce temprapedic cups filled with fake orange juice. I say temprapedic because these little cups not only molded to our hands, but it almost seemed as if they would melt in our hands if the temperature of the air or liquid were too high. Filling up these tiny cups got tiring and by the end of the meal we were still extremely parched.
Across the road, there was a fake 7/11 store where they had, believe it or not, Gatorade. Zak and I decided to be adventurous and try the leafy green flavor we had never before seen. That flavor turned out to be Green Tea. It wasn’t good.
After that, we went back to the hotel, I ran into my room, and plopped down on my bed. Expecting my comfy hotel bed to welcome my exhausted body, I hit what seemed to be a queen-sized slab of sheet rock. The beds in China are not too forgiving.
As you can see, things didn’t begin too smoothly. Things could have been much worse, God knows that. But, it seemed to provide a window for things that I would come to expect in China. If I picked up a drink that I did not recognize, I wouldn’t expect the standard liquid deliciousness, I would say, “Dear lord, don’t be spicy and please don’t have chunks in this.” And hey, whattaya know, it usually was tasty. Perhaps, my taste buds changed, but most things started to surprise me with how great they actually were. Pig ear, something I had previously only fed to my dogs…delicious. Pig intestines, something that has gross things pass through…surprisingly delightful. Tofu, a dish meant for vegetarians…quite flavorful. So, I was constantly trying new things and constantly discovering new likes of mine.
Upon first arriving, trying new things that disappointed me probably could have altered my perception enough to turn me off of diving face first into the unknown. But, that would have been stupid, and thank god it didn’t work out that way. Life would have been miserable if that had been the case. After all, it is impossible to live a normal American life in small town China.