As Jenny and I get closer to the end of our time in China, we thought it would be nice to write a light hearted post about an average day for us working at CAUPD’s Western Branch (CAUPD.WB). Writing this post has not been as easy as I thought it would be because what we do can vary considerably day to day, but I’ve done my best to include this variety where it usually occurs.
This is my (Derek’s) target wake up time. I usually stir a bit late, but after getting ready, I grab a canned coffee drink (Nescafe Extra Rich!) and head down to the bakery across the street from us, a very popular chain called Qinyuan for a Portuguese pasteis de nata. Before you judge me for not having breakfast noodles, know two things: (1) I got hooked on these while working with a lovely Portuguese woman in the UK who used to make these by hand and have not been able to find them in Portland, and (2) I am not that hungry in the morning, so a big bowl of noodles would be very wasteful. Also, you will be happy to know that Jenny starts almost every day with a bun or two from either the woman selling buns on the sidewalk or the convenience store outside our gate, so at least one of us is having a Chinese breakfast, even if it’s not the famous breakfast noodle!
The workday starts at 8:30, and since I rise a bit late, after my breakfast I usually have to walk pretty much straight there (with a few exploratory diversions when I manage to get out a bit earlier). Jenny is an early riser, and usually heads to the park across from our office to read Peter Hessler’s “Country Driving” while I am still getting ready (I’m still working my way through his “Oracle Bones”).
Yup, you guessed it, time to start work! Most days I remember to place my thumb on the fingerprint scanner that records when we start the day and when we leave, but I have forgotten a few times, so hopefully I have not thrown CAUPD’s accounting system into chaos by appearing to work all weekend without any breaks, but then mysteriously leaving during the entire workday only to show up at the end of it to work all night again.
For me, I spend the first hour of the day catching up on emails and news about China. This kind of information is interesting and makes for good discussions with colleagues when the opportunity arises. I also find it helpful in better understanding the broader context of the work we are doing to aid China’s urbanization process. Sometimes our fellow planners have very strong opinions and can fill me in what is being said about the topic on the online forum Weibo, but sometimes they have not heard much about specific stories which may be for lack of interest, but also it seems as likely that they don’t have access to specific news due to the Great Firewall of China. (When we first arrived, people wanted to know what we knew about the Wang Lijun scandal centered around Bo Xilai and his wife, as they apparently had very little access to this information at the time it was an international media sensation.)
Most days this is just work. I have cooled down from the half hour walk to work in 90-100ºF high humidity low air quality conditions, changed from my sweaty t-shirt into a short-sleeve work shirt (this really is important), and am ready to get down to business. Jenny and I have been very lucky to get assigned to work on projects with teams as well as a large research project all CAUPD branches are involved with, so there is plenty to do.
For both our projects, there have been trips out into the field that begin at around this time. For me, this has largely meant meetings with various planning staff in the city center, for Jenny, this meant driving around the municipality with her team, meeting with district planners and studying green spaces. In both instances, it has been an invaluable opportunity to see another side of the work planners do in China and get a bit more insight into how things work.
Lunch! I have to say that our experience with lunch has been somewhat different from what we heard from past years’ interns in other cities. We have a meal card that we can use in a cafeteria as we’ve heard is common at CAUPD, but for us the food seems very good and has a huge amount of variety. Everyday we get at least 5 different dishes served to us with a generous portion of rice, an optional pickled vegetable course (the only thing I don’t enjoyed pickled is pigs feet), soup, and some sort of fruit drink. We have probably had the same items a handful of times over nearly two months, and usually we are happy when we do because they are our favorites (oh salty noodles!). The one thing you can count on is that you will almost always receive a helping of white cabbage cooked with peppers (remember to pick out the peppers before chopsticking in!) or another dark green vegetable similar to cooked kale.
There is actually a second cafeteria that is basically a restaurant where you order your main and share it around a table with colleagues. We have done this probably a handful of times and the food is very good. My favorite is actually when I get an individual bowl of wonton soup, which unlike our wonton soup, is a giant bowl and under the wontons is more of the cooked kale stuff.
On the way back to work, I usually buy a half frozen bottle of milk tea, which is what it sounds and delicious. The ice from milk tea is pretty much ice cream, so it’s a great treat for trying to cool off after a trip outside in the heat and a meal that is often just as hot as the air.
More work time. For most of our Chinese colleagues, right after lunch is naptime. They don’t have many cots here, and certainly none under their desks, so most rest their foreheads on the back of their hands or arms on their desk and sleep that way. It does not look comfortable, but it must get the job done. Jenny has tried this, but I am never tired then so this is really a good chance to enjoy some quiet work time before everyone wakes up.
Fruit time. It appears all branches enjoy fruit time and at ours it is an all encompassing event that is nearly mandatory with all planners going to the kitchen area at the same time to grab watermelon slices, lychee, giant grapes (which they peel before eating), or other mixed fruit. Often someone will have travelled and brought back some snacks from their trip like dried fruit, crackers, chocolates, or little tofu snack packs (one of my favorite fruit times!). This is also the time of day when birthdays are celebrated, so on the 26th of July, I showed up and there was my cake with a candle and everyone singing.
There are also games, with many people enjoying a billiards-like game with cues and wooden pucks and a new foosball table that is very popular.
This is a very active time in the office with people working and rushing around discussing their work. When we give presentations to the staff here (we’ve given about 4-5 of these), they tend to happen in the afternoon as do most meetings. This is also the time when the chorus of cell phone rings is at its peak. Most afternoons we get to hear about five different cell phone ring songs, some of them are popular American soft rock hits such as Jim Croce’s “Starry Night” and others are catchy ringtones. When you get a couple different ringtones going at the same time, you know you it’s the afternoon!
At around 5:30 people tend to leave to get dinner at the CSC across the motorway from our offices and others leave for the day. CSC is a chain Chinese fast food place that is extremely popular here, although I’m sure part of its popularity comes from the fact that it accepts the pre-paid cards CAUPD provides its employees for bus and the handful of businesses that will take them. A meal at CSC usually includes a meaty main, rice, vegetable, and soup, all for about RMB 18 ($2.83). The other popular restaurant (right next to CSC), is Dicos, which is a Chinese competitor to the wildly popular KFC. In our experience, Dicos is nowhere near as tasty and not much cheaper than KFC. If you’re travelling in China and want a safe bet, go to KFC. It’s where most of the young Chinese are eating and usually has a local flare to it that has made it particularly popular all across the country.
There is usually a group that goes and plays sports on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When they go is very irregular and I have only managed to play badminton with them three or so times, but it’s a lot of fun when it all works out. Fridays are for football (aka American soccer), with an organized team practicing most weeks. One week, the whole office went down to watch the CAUPD team play the tax office team (they are located on one of the lower floors and it sounds like they are akin to the IRS in the US).
We tend to leave work between 5:30 and 6:30 so we can get home to work on blogging, our field area projects, or to do a bit of night sightseeing (like this trip to Chongqing’s Opera House). While the nights do not cool down much here, they are very busy and people really do come out to walk even if they are now walking along superblocks and 6-lane motorways. Barbeques often set up carts on the corner and you can walk up and choose your skewers of vegetables and meats and have them cooked in Sichuan pepper-flavored oil right in front of you. Many nights there are groups that meet in public plazas and dance to music, and young people head to movies or malls much as they do in every other country in the world.
So that’s it, a day in the life of us interns in Chongqing in the Summer of 2012. I hope you enjoyed hearing about the ins and outs of our days and nights. Post any questions in the comments section and we’ll do our best to answer truthfully.