Nanjing: Arrival and First Few Days

I am interning at the Nanjing “Population Statistics Training Center” – aka, an organization that trains professors, researchers and graduate students in new population statistics, ostensibly to do translation work on population statistics, but the reality is much different than what I expected. I’m only a week into my internship, and I am pretty sure that this will be the most important thing that I will learn in my time here. China and Chinese culture has a way of constantly defying my expectations, even though I consider myself an insider. And if it has done so in only a few days of working here, I should expect and prepare myself to be continually surprised.

The trip down here was very easy: it was a half-day’s train ride to Nanjing from Changsha, and my contact, Dr. Sun (the retired former director of my program) picked us up there. We went immediately from the train station to the hotel and then to a feast. That’s what happens here when there are “honored guests,”and I’ve been to China many times before, so I was unsurprised – but it was still awkward being one of them.

At first, the professors around me had no idea that my Chinese wasn’t as good as theirs, and were talking very rapidly about specific issues in population aging with me. This kind of talk fell into a complete gap in my vocabulary, since I had never used most of those words before! And when they talked quickly, it wouldn’t have mattered if they’d been using words I knew: I just didn’t understand. I had to ask them to slow down, which made things a little better, but then led to a common question: “If you are half Chinese, why don’t you speak Chinese?” I pulled out the old reasoning: that children growing up in a two-culture home tend to gravitate toward the culture that they are immersed in outside of the home – it just has more power over them. I joked that Chinese just wasn’t popular. The current boss, Dr. Huang, said this in response: “可是中文现在非常popular!”and I thought that was funny and couldn’t disagree. But she was also making a statement on the growth of China’s economy and power on the world stage, and this made me think a little (I’ll talk about this more in my final reflection).

The second day went better, thankfully. A trip was organized to a community healthcare center in the south of the city – a new model based on providing care from the beginning to end of life, including prevention, physical therapy, and psychotherapy, to people who lived in the surrounding neighborhood. It was newly built – it had only opened in 2015 – and was the first of its kind. The facilities were better than any hospital in the US, but I also think that this concept of including preventative care hasn’t caught on in many countries, so this was something I’d never seen before. Unfortunately, it was the first of its kind and the only one in the area; there were plans to expand similar community health centers to all around Jiangsu province. I was very impressed, but it brought up questions of access and exclusivity for me, ones that I unfortunately didn’t have the language skills to ask. I still don’t know if people from other communities are allowed to use this center. Hopefully though, this program expands to the rest of the province soon. Here are some pictures from the health center!

The health center check-in. After paying a very small fee to be included in the system, people can use it continually.

*and a hidden toilet!

A hospital bed with remote camera and swiveling functions


On the third day, I finally got situated in my room – there was a hassle over this at first, because the first option would have been sharing a four-bunk-bed dorm with four people. I was reminded of the way that service workers live in China: not well. I felt a bit spoiled asking for other options, but I also needed more privacy to be comfortable and sleep properly. I ended up booking a stay in the hotel for a month at a discounted rate (fun fact, the office where I work is also located in the hotel building). Now I live a floor above the office, which couldn’t be more convenient. It’s honestly a bit ridiculous how easy everything is.

The environment outside of the hotel/office building is beautiful. Nanjing is one of the prettiest Chinese cities I’ve ever been to, and my neighborhood has lots of food options and plenty of places to shop. I am also staying across the street from Xuanwuhu – a beautiful lake which is a great place to run. I go walking through the park around the lake as often as I can.

I thought the lake was smaller than it was and ended up running around it for two hours. Don't be like me

玄武湖 aka Xuanwu Lake


Sun Yat-Sen is basically the father of modern China. China's Dad.

The forest at 中山陵 aka the Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum. It’s a beautiful park.


All in all, I’ve settled in – and I’m enjoying the work, the slow and calm pace of life here, and the chance to learn Chinese in such a peaceful setting.