Family Growth In A Bigger World Chengdu Reviews
Oct 05, 2007
When fresh American college graduates, Greg and Heidi Rhodes, first came to Chengdu almost twenty years ago, there was not much western food to eat. Fortunately for them, Coca Cola (coke) was available to quench their foreign thirsts. But, they were only able to indulge their western taste sensations with tomato sauce (ketchup) when they ate French fries at the downtown Jingjiang Hotel, after a leisurely bicycle ride with very little vehicular traffic along a two lane road from the then city limits, which extended to the second ring road.
This young couple was determined to see the world in a more meaningful way than they could as tourists. Greg and Heidi wanted to live and work in a distinctly different culture relatively untouched by outsiders. Familiar comfort and time zones needed to be transcended. It saddened their parents to see their children leave home, but deep down everyone understood and appreciated that a one year sojourn in China would provide wonderfully unique experiences, opportunities and stories that could be remembered and related to beyond one single lifetime.
After returning home across the North Pacific Ocean, the adventurous twosome established their professional careers, and nurtured a family of their own during the ensuing years. The twenty first century dawned and as it unfolded, numerous global reports told of China’s rapid development and prosperity. This triggered curiosity as to what changes had actually taken place in Chengdu. The prospect of packing up and moving abroad for another year during 2005 and 2006 involved due consideration of two extra sets of personal needs.
Now parents themselves, Greg and Heidi felt that their daughter Nikki, and son Tommy (aged 14 and 11 respectively this year), needed to know that Earth was a bigger planet with other parts much more different, exciting, and interesting than what could be imagined by remaining exclusively in the state of Washington, or even by crossing the nearby border into the east coast Canadian city of Vancouver. Convinced that their understanding of the world was limited by just living in the United States, the family stepped on a plane bound for Sichuan Province.
Upon return, it seemed as though they had arrived in a completely new city. The Chengdu of the past was unrecognizable, with the exception of Chairman Mao’s statue. The centre of western activity in 1988, the Jingjiang Hotel, was far less opulent. The roads were wider and more congested by an ever-increasing number of privately owned cars. There appeared to be a substantially greater amount of wealth these days. In fact, the salary being earned as foreign teachers was seven times more than before. The family wandered the streets to marvel at the visual stimuli of colour, lighting and advertising.
The weather is not unlike the state of Washington. However, Chengdu does not receive the same volume of rainfall. The Rhodes clan has had many quality hours to spend together as a family; something which they are not able to do so much in America. This time in Sichuan, they have naturally got to know local people with children. This provides a clearer and more accurate insight into wholesome Chinese values and existences at a grassroots’ level. The family would like to see a happy medium struck between Chinese and American ways.
The biggest impression and most apparent difference that our featured guests have identified, is that the lifestyle of local children is exceptionally competitive and rigorous. So much thought and energy is invested into becoming a better person. Self-improvement is regarded as a high priority. There is precious little play time, because students are so busy taking extra classes in activities such as swimming, table tennis and dance, to name a few, as well as learning English as a foreign / second language outside the formal classroom environment.
In the USA, children spend less time in school and studying. There is a lot more allocated play time, as the culture believes that learning happens through play. Heidi Rhodes has taught in both societies, and when asked which is better - the Chinese or western way - she replied, “I think Americans don’t have enough work ethic and demand on their children. I also think Chinese standards are too high”. A compromise and blending of both systems could be ideal. But this is not to say that either does not produce fine academics in their own right.
Whilst in Chengdu and under careful parental guidance, Nikki and Tommy have done home-schooling. Both go to a Chinese school for physical exercise and art. This provides ample opportunity to interact with others of the same age. However, a lack of language proficiency prevents them from attending other classes. The children feel very comfortable here, but would love to be able to communicate and understand more, so with this in mind, the whole family has been taking private Chinese language lessons twice each week.
Nikki takes delight in watching people, and would be happy to stay much longer, but the completion of a high school education awaits her return to the United States of America. Unluckily, she can not get any academic credit for other language studies done during her absence. Tommy has blonde hair and fair skin, so he stands out in a crowd. Usually not shy, but being the constant centre of public attention has its disadvantages. Tommy looks forward to being regarded as “normal” again, rather than being looked at, talked to, and touched by a host of strangers.
As their current stay in China draws to a close, the Rhodes family has been able to rethink the past and future. They have thoroughly enjoyed the warmth of Sichuan people and the delicious food. Heidi turns forty on March 30th. She has often recommended and strongly urged her foreign friends to come and experience Chengdu for themselves. Both Heidi and Greg would like to return again. It is quite likely that Nikki and Tommy would bring their own children next time. Both kids speak of travelling more in the world. Their next quest is to arrange more Chinese language lessons when they get back to America.
Expatriate writer Warren Rodwell has been in China since 2002, and teaches university postgraduates in Chengdu. Many of his feature stories, reviews and photographs have been published online or in hardcopy media form. Warren also narrates documentaries and administers various websites as part of his efforts to promote Chengdu and Sichuan culture(s) more globally.
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