Turn and Face the Strange: Is Chengdu changing? Or is it just changing you?
The perennial question of many a foreigner far from home: Should I stay or should I go? Luckily, we're not alone. Many have gone before us, and we know where they are. So instead of Googling the names of your favorite '80s sitcoms stars, you can read "Where Are They Now" features about your one-time fellow Chengdu foreigners, right here, right now, and learn from their wisdom and experience.
Simon Perrin, 31
Graphic/website designer, from and currently living in Adelaide, Australia. In Chengdu July 2007 to July 2009.
What did you do in Chengdu? Worked as a freelance designer for clients in Australia and a few in China. What did you set out to do here? My wife accepted a position as principal of an international school in Chengdu; my goal was to establish my own design business after resigning from my position as senior designer of a firm here in Adelaide. Aside from that, traveling at every opportunity. Did you do that satisfactorily? Definitely. What made you leave? We had a house back here (and a mortgage), family, friends, etc. While Chengdu was a fantastic experience, the lifestyle was awesome, and we met a lot of great people, it always felt a little temporary. We have a great quality of life in Australia, and we were always going to return at some point. What you learned from living here: That we are extremely isolated in Australia, both geographically and, in some ways, culturally, too. Coming to a non-English-speaking country and meeting people from different parts of the world really opens your eyes to that isolation. I think the other thing was to make sure you jump at every opportunity and don't waste any because of concerns about time or money. Your most colossal failure in Chengdu: Probably my inability to grasp the language. I came to Chengdu hoping to learn Chinese, and while I did learn a reasonable amount, it wasn't enough. Did living here alter your life plan? I would say that I am now more likely to travel more often and more likely to consider living overseas again, which probably wasn't the case [before]. What do you miss? The friends we made. The food, lifestyle, and travel. Should I stay or should I go? Flip a coin? I think you need to weigh it up and go with your heart. Don't rush your decision, and in the end, whichever place feels most like home is where you should stay. • Simon lent his graphic-design skills to CHENGDOO citylife while he was in Chengdu.
Domenico Palumbo 彭龙博, 34
General manager; from Italy, now lives in Shanghai. In Chengdu 2007 to 2008.
What did you do in Chengdu? Enjoyed drinking tea and playing mahjong while I was busy setting up policies, procedures and overall operational systems at the Old Chengdu Club. What did you plan to do in Chengdu? The pre- and post-opening management and operations of Old Chengdu Club. Did you succeed? Yes, to a certain extent ... . What made you leave? A combination of reasons, the first one being the aftermath of the earthquake. What did you learn from living in Chengdu? Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured, and Chengdu people are best at teaching you just that. Your biggest failure in Chengdu: Leaving the city and, as a consequence, not being able to witness the opening of Old Chengdu Club. Did living in Chengdu alter your life plan? I wish it would have ... . What do you miss, and will you ever return? The food (the tastiest fruit in Longquan!) and the people are on top of my list. And yes, I will certainly go back if the right opportunity arises in the not-too-distant future. Should I stay or should I go? As the old saying goes, "Everyone is architect of his own fate"; however, having been there and done that, my advice is to stay (despite all difficulties), because it's in vibrant places like Chengdu that you are able to create a better impact when making your contribution towards the successful development of China. • The Old Chengdu Club was featured in issue 6.
Sébastien Debande, 33
Agro-ecology and permaculture student; from South France, now living in San Francisco. In Chengdu September 2004 to March 2009.
What did you do in Chengdu? Student, French teacher, and event coordinator for the Alliance Française; sales for CHENGDOO citylife; musician in genius bands ARMiSSAN and Red Water and sometimes solo. What did you set out to do here? Enjoy life, see the world, lose myself somewhere faraway. Did you succeed? The best days of my life, no doubt about it. What made you ultimately leave? The feeling that I was living in a bubble, in a paradise quite distant from the reality of the rest of the world. What did you learn from living in Chengdu? Friends can be more important than family. Also how to kill rats and cockroaches with a kitchen knife. Your biggest failure in Chengdu: I actually screwed up the Indoor [restaurant] deal [for ARMiSSAN], in a very shameful way. I failed to make ARMISSAN the glorious band it should have been. And I became a really lazy person in my very last year in Chengdu. Did living in Chengdu alter your life plan? Yes, fortunately, and for the best. What do you miss, and will you ever come back? Late hours in Café Panam(e), the happiness, the youth, the surreal arguments between [bandmates] Bodo, Tommy, and Ramon; the cheap food late at night; the garbage smell near the residence; the good life on a low budget; the music; the Chinese beers and the B52s; my ass on fire after hotpot; the 6 kuai DVDs, the organized mess everywhere; and I especially really miss all my friends ... . I'll probably never come back to Chengdu. Maybe one day, if some friends are still there. Should I stay or should I go? Stop complaining. Enjoy, you fool! • Sébastien wrote "Face Off: 'Laowai Hunters' vs. Yellow-Fever Carriers" in issue 11 and "Être français a Chengdu, ou l'art des doigts de pieds en éventail." in issue 5. ARMiSSAN and Red Water were featured in issue 3.
Carl Parker, 33
Motographer, editor, and operations manager; from Kuala Lumpur and Northern Virginia, currently living in Virginia. In Chengdu August 2003 to August 2008.
What did you do in Chengdu? Ride motorcycles, take pictures, teach English. What did you set out to do here? I had just spent eight-and-a-half years working and earning my bachelor's degree. Motorcycling had pretty much taken over my life, and the need to explore the world was quite pressing. Given my half-Chinese heritage, I applied for and was offered a job at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China. I didn't really know what I was looking for, but I knew it had to be different. Did you succeed? Next to motorcycling, China was the biggest experience to impact my life. What made you leave? I missed my friends and family, and my interest in staying involved in the Western motorcycle industry was a lot easier to accomplish from the U.S., and I'd still be able to help promote Chinese moto-travel and awareness of Chinese motorcycle manufacturers. What did you learn from living here? Humility. After touring western China by motorcycle, I came to understand a wealth of material goods is not necessarily what makes people happy. As long as you have some basics, the rest comes down to hard work and maintaining quality relationships with quality people. Did living in Chengdu alter your life plan? I'm not so sure I even had a plan before arriving in Chengdu. Should I stay or should I go? Follow your instincts. When it's right to move on, you'll know much like a boat with wind in its sails that cannot resist motion. As Bruce Lee said, "It's like a finger pointing a way to the moon. Don't stare at the finger, or you will miss all of that heavenly glory." • Read Carl Parker's "Motography" series about traveling western China by motorcycle in issues 9, 10, and 11 and Carl's Camera Corner column in issues 12 through 22.
Musician, from Portland, Oregon, currently living in Singapore. In Chengdu 2005 to 2008.
What did you do in Chengdu? One year teaching English, the rest playing music. Oh, and lots of, uh, recreational activities. What did you intend to do here? Play music and soul search. Did you succeed? Mostly. What made you leave? Needed a change. What did you learn from living here? Time is of the essence; never take it for granted. Find something you love to do and devour it. Your most colossal failure in Chengdu: Failure to ground myself and find stability. Everything always so tenuous; work, people, friends, lovers, taxis—everything in constant flux. The dizziness sort of drove me to the edge. Did living here alter your life plan? Yes, definitely, though I didn't really have a life plan to begin with. Chengdu was a blank slate for me. I found a voice there. What do you miss? Do you plan to return ever? Liangban huanggua! For the food, yes ... someday. And Café Panam(e) and Proximity Butterfly (shout out to Heather and Joshua!) and Boss Ma (hey guys!). Should I stay or should I go? Do whatever will challenge you to be a better person. • Melissa wrote the controversial "How Not to Be in a Relationship" in issue 1 and "How to Be in a Long-Distance Relationship" in issue 26 as well as "Couch for Transients" in issue 2.
Student, from Northern Germany, living in Bremen, Germany. In Chengdu summer 2009 to summer 2010.
What did you do in Chengdu? Study, travel, party, and an internship. What did you plan to do in Chengdu? Study and an internship. I had to do that in my curriculum. Did you succeed? I did that okay. Could have traveled more and seen more of Chengdu than just Dave's Oasis. What made you ultimately leave? The end of my year abroad and a now-ex-girlfriend at home. What did you learn from living here? There are more flavors than just salty, spicy, sweet, bitter, and sour. There is mala and suanla. That definitely expanded my mind. I can love a city, even if there is no sun ever. Your biggest failure in Chengdu: Not giving the lunatic(??) beggar a one-kuai note. Maybe that would have prevented him from attacking me twice in front of Dave's, first with mud and later with a huge bamboo stick. At least it got me free beer! Did staying in Chengdu alter your life plan? I see things more relaxed now. There might be no ultimate life plan anymore. What do you miss? Do you plan to return ever? I miss the concerts at Little Bar, the shaokao lady in front of my apartment, riding my bike through the city, drinking 528, the Orange Bar in Flower Town. Of course I'm gonna come back sometime. Should I stay or should I go? I let you decide. But wait until you've been to the Zebra Music Festival. • Gregor was on the CHENGDOO citylife distribution team while he was in Chengdu.
This article was originally published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 31 ("success and failure").