Under the Fuling Sun 在涪陵的太阳下

By Austin Frenes 冯翱森

NANJING, China — In 1997, foreigners were a rare sight in Fuling, a district of Chongqing municipality, China. 23 years later, Fuling was home to over 200 foreign residents, including an international community of teachers and students, as well as Peace Corps volunteers from the US. Stepping off a train at Fuling North Station on a quiet evening in mid-August, I had no idea that I would be the last Peace Corps volunteer to come to this river town.

中国,南京 — 在1997年的重庆市涪陵区,外国人还非常罕见。23年以后的今天,有两百多名外国人住在涪陵,其中大部分人是外教、学生,以及美中友好志愿者。去年八月中旬,我在涪陵北站走下火车,来到了江城涪陵。当时我万万没有想到自己会是最后一个来到江城的美中友好志愿者。

The impact of the Peace Corps on the local community varied: for some students, the courses of their lives were altered forever, and for others foreigners were merely a passing curiosity. Memories of Peace Corps volunteers ran deep among both members of the university community, as well as members of the broader Fuling community, and not a week went by that somebody wouldn’t tell me a story about a volunteer who had previously served in Fuling. The impact of the Peace Corps was clear to me, and the stories I heard served as guiding points in deciding how I wanted to leave an impact.

对于美中友好志愿者对涪陵的影响,不同的人有不同的体会:对一些学生来说,他们的生活从此产生了巨大的改变;而对很多人来说,外国人只不过是一闪而过的新鲜事物而已。美中友好志愿者的影响力不仅存在于长江师范学院(简称长师)内,而是扩大到了整个涪陵社区。几乎每周都会有人给我讲述从前的志愿者的故事,在我看来,这些故事表明美中友好志愿者深远地影响了长师和涪陵,也让我更加明确了自己该如何给学生和同事留下自己的影响。

Stereotypes and prejudices towards foreigners still lingered in the minds of some older residents of Fuling. I was not a spectacle like foreigners once were, but still drew glances, and was occasionally followed by seemingly-suspicious, old men. Passersby asked questions such as: “Why does everybody in America have a gun? , “Why is there so much chaos and violence in America?” , “What do you think of the finer details of the trade war?” I explained that very few people around me own guns and that my hometown had very little rioting, but one man merely chuckled while smugly walking away and insisting that everyone in the US has a gun. 

住在长师和涪陵的中老年人还是会对外国人抱有偏见和刻板印象。跟几十年前来的志愿者相比,我已经不算是什么奇观了,但还是经常会有人盯着我看,甚至偶尔还会有一些老爷爷在路上尾随我。有时候,路人发现我会说普通话后会把我包围,并提出许多问题,比如“为什么所有的美国人都有枪”、“为什么美国有暴乱”、“你对贸易战的细节有什么看法”。我听到这样的问题总是感到很震惊,并且向他们解释在美国我几乎不认识有枪的人,并且我的家乡超级安全。我还记得,有一次一个老头儿拒绝相信我,并且很得瑟地离开了,边走还边说所有的美国人肯定都有枪。

I was constantly scrutinized by both students and colleagues. They made note of every subtle change in my appearance, the gestures I used, and even the way I ate. When I was seen enjoying boba milk tea from time to time, my students would decide to give me cups as gifts. If I were caught eating something like steamed buns, my students would make memes about it. 

在学校,我总是被学生和同事“重点观察”。他们关注并记下我长相的变化,我的肢体语言,甚至我吃饭的方式。曾经有学生因为经常看到我喝奶茶,所以就送我奶茶作为礼物。假如我被发现在吃包子,学生会拍照片,然后用我做表情包。

Word spread quickly in Fuling. My students once reported that a Chinese colleague of mine had told his classes that I was representative of “American laziness” because I ate at the teacher’s lunch buffet once a week rather than cooking my own food – never mind that he frequented the same buffet. 

消息在涪陵传得很快。有一次学生告诉我,外国语学院的一个中国老师告诉他的学生我是“美式懒惰”的典型代表,因为我每个星期都会有一两餐午饭在教师餐厅解决,而不是自己做饭。后来有其他同事告诉我,其实那个老头儿每天都去那个餐厅吃饭,也经常会抱怨。

Memories of my habits will no doubt be long lasting in the minds of the people I encountered and interacted with. A colleague once commented over lunch how a teacher ten years ago would buy a water bottle after every meal, and another commented that a couple that once served in Fuling would wake up in the middle of the night to run. At some point, there was another volunteer named Austin of whom colleagues would randomly tell stories about. I’ve always wondered, if the Peace Corps in China had not ended, what stories would be told about me to volunteers in the future? My love for boba? Or perhaps my 30-pound weight loss in just three months? At the beginning of each class I shouted as loud as I could: “Good morning English language students!” Surely they’ll never forget that.

我在涪陵遇到的人们无疑会一直记得我的习惯。有一次我和一个同事一起吃午饭,她提到十年前有一个美中友好志愿者每天吃完午饭都会去买一瓶水,另一个同事则告诉我几年前有两个志愿者是一对儿,他们经常半夜起床出去跑步。我的同事们还经常提到几年前另外一个名叫Austin的志愿者的故事。我一直在想,如果美中友好志愿者没撤出中国,人们后来会对其他志愿者讲述哪些关于我的故事?我对奶茶的爱吗?我在三个月之内减重十三公斤吗?还是我每次给学生上课的时候都会大声喊出的“Good morning English language students!”呢?最后一个他们肯定永远不会忘记。

Peace Corps volunteers changed the lives of many of the students they served. Every volunteer was assigned a “friendship family” at site. My friendship family “host mom”, Jamaica Tang, credited Peace Corps volunteers with building her confidence in speaking English in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and believes had it not been for them, she would have become a middle school or high school teacher in her hometown rather than becoming a university teacher.

美中友好志愿者变了许多他们帮助的学生的生活方向。每个志愿者在所服务的学校都会拥有一个“友好家庭”,我的“友好家庭”中的“友好妈妈”叫唐小糖。她说是美中友好志愿者们从1998年以来培养了她说英语的自信。她也相信如果没有美中友好志愿者,她可能不会有机会成为大学老师,而是可能在家乡做一名初中或高中老师。

A local teacher named Steven first had a Peace Corps volunteer teacher in Fuling just before SARS broke out, and the English language changed his life. He once told me, “If not for English, I would be tending to pigs in the countryside right now.” Having known 11 Peace Corps volunteers in Fuling over the years, Steven commented that his favorite memories are celebrating American and Chinese holidays with Peace Corps volunteers, and that the biggest lesson he learned from them is the spirit of helping others to enrich one’s own life. Likewise, Jamaica commented that Peace Corps volunteers changed her outlook on “money, contribution, helping others, and charity”. 

王林海是一名涪陵的老师,他在2003年非典爆发前在长师上了美中友好志愿者的英语课。他认为英语变了他的生活方向,他告诉我:“如果没有英语,我现在还会在农村喂猪。”他在涪陵已经认识了十一个美中友好志愿者。他最美好的回忆是和志愿者们一起庆祝美国和中国的节日。他从志愿者们身上学到了帮助他人、丰富自己生活的精神,他认为这是他最大的收获。同样的,唐小糖也表示美中友好志愿者改变了她对金钱、贡献、帮助别人以及慈善的观点。

Hopefully I was able to leave an impact on some of my 300 or so students, just as volunteers in the past had impacted their students. The Peace Corps often tells volunteers that their impact may not be apparent for years or even decades, but I saw massive changes in many of my students over the course of the semester. One student named Huang Xin (Yellow Star) drastically improved his English, going from being almost incomprehensible to among the best in his class, and even came to run on the track with me some days. Another student, Wu Xingyi (Five Star One), was quite shy at the beginning of the semester, but seemed to become much more confident by the end of it. There were students I never even suspected to have been impacted by my classes, but I received messages from them months later about how positive they found their experiences to be. 

我十分希望我也能影响自己教过的学生。和平队经常说志愿者的影响可能不会立刻显现,但是几年或几十年以后就会很明显。有一些学生会在一个学期之内变化显著,例如一个叫黄鑫的学生就大大提高了他的英语水平。一开始他完全听不懂课,但是学期之末他变成了班上最优秀的学生。另外一个叫吴星一的学生来一说英语就害羞,但后来变得越来越自信。我的影响力还波及了一部分我预期之外的学生,当我告诉学生们我将不得不回美国的时候,好多学生给我发微信,他们向我表示感谢,并且告诉我虽然没有和我经常交流,但是他们超级喜欢我的课。

As January came and I returned from Peace Corps inter-service training more eager than ever to make a difference at site, Steven messaged me, asking if we would be evacuated due to Covid. I had my doubts, but Steven thought it was inevitable, since his Peace Corps volunteer teacher was evacuated in 2003 due to SARS. Sure enough, a few days later, a private car took me to the airport on evacuation orders. After a semester of laughter and good memories in Fuling, and an emotional week in Thailand with other evacuees, I was on a plane back to Los Angeles in tears. 

今年一月份,我完成了美中友好志愿者的中期培训,回到了涪陵。我很期待第二个学期,想要大施拳脚。王林海在微信上问我,美中友好志愿者会不会因为新冠而撤出中国?我对此存疑,但王林海认为这是不可避免的,因为他以前的外教也曾因为非典而不得不撤出中国。几天以后,撤离命令果然发下来了,我乘坐一辆私家车前往机场,离开了涪陵。经历了在涪陵的极其有趣的一个学期,又在泰国和其他撤离者一起度过了情绪化的一周,我在回洛杉矶的飞机上忍不住哭了出来。

Only time will tell what my short time in Fuling will ultimately mean. Even if my students and colleagues never again have another Peace Corps volunteer teacher to share memories with, I cannot wait to return to Fuling to see not only how the city changes, but also how my students and colleagues change. Just as I and all the other Peace Corps volunteers left everlasting impressions and impacts on the students we served, our students will go on to impact their own students, and so on. Rather than the end of Peace Corps China marking a chill in US-Sino relations, perhaps our legacy is the foundation for future friendship between the American and Chinese people.

我在涪陵短短的这段时间里究竟给学生带来了什么样的影响,现在还不得而知。即使我的学生和同事们再也无法和新的美中友好志愿者分享他们的回忆,我依旧很期待以后还能回到涪陵,看看城市和学校的变化,也看看学生和同事的变化。就像我和其他美中友好志愿者给我们的学生留下了深刻的影响,学生们日后当了老师后也会对自己的学生产生深刻的影响,这样的影响会一直传递下去。虽然美中友好志愿者撤离中国是在中美关系恶化的背景下发生的,但是在未来,美中友好志愿者的影响可以成为中美两国人民之间友谊的基础。

Austin Frenes is reporting from Bologna, Italy.

冯翱森报道于意大利,博洛尼亚。

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