Week 2: Chengdu, China

38,000 feet above Russia, Air China’s flight attendants alert me that it’s my last chance to buy duty free goods. Today at 6am I flagged down a taxi for the Chengdu airport, where I flew 1000 miles east to Beijing, to catch a 5000 mile, 11 hour, westbound flight (where I currently write to you from) to Rome, landing at 6pm (12pm China time). Marco from USAC will pick me up and drive us my next USAC site, Viterbo, Italy. The travel day will be close to 24 hours. My plan of staying up all night and sleeping on the plane backfired and I have not slept at all…meaning I really should have slept last night.

Chengdu is known as China’s China. Located inland, near the Tibetan foothills, it differs greatly from Shanghai. There is little international presence, little flash, but it’s still 12 million people. USAC put me up in the international student dorm, where I enjoyed my own room on the 10th floor (Chinese students are usually 6 to a dorm).

The filming schedule included pandas, tai chi taught by an 80 year old master (I actually don’t know if he’s a master), a Chinese cooking class, a hot pot restaurant, and some scenic Chinese tourist spots. Wentao, the resident director, did a wonderful job producing, pulling many strings to make an eventful week of filming possible. Jack, a native Chinese intern for USAC, was my guide, translator and camera assistant for the week.

The tourist in this region are mainly middle class Chinese, sporting fashionable clothing, enjoying vacation spots, and supporting giant western style outdoor malls. Many domestic vacationers had expensive dSLRs hanging around their necks, but my professional looking video camera and array of stabilization equipment was apparently a big novelty for them, often drawing a crowd, and the occasional portrait request with some giddy high school girls. Middle class are growing in China, but even the middle class live in much more modest conditions than us, relying on bikes and living in tight quarters.

Next week, when I fly north from Viterbo to Torino, I will write about my time in the medieval town of Viterbo, Italy.

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