I think the title pretty much sums it all up
08.10.2011 - 30.10.2011
I should preface this entry with the fact that this entry and the rest of my blog entries from China are no longer as accurate as I would have liked. They were completed upon returning home using my memory (obviously) and my day planner to give the best summary that I could of the experiences. I’m sad that these entries will be less detailed and less complete due to the time lapse between events and when they were written. But it was rather unavoidable. In order immerse myself, make the most of my time in China, and deal with the ridiculous amount of work for classes and internships back home some things had to fall by the way side. Blogging was one of those things. Oh well, what is done is done.
Saturday (October 8) was our first day back from National Holiday. It would have been so nice if we had the day to sleep in and rest from a week away, but this is China. There’s never time to rest. To make up for the days we missed over National Holiday we had to go to class on Saturday and Sunday and then have a full week of normal classes Monday through Friday too. Saturday we trooped into Chinese with about as much enthusiasm as people have when they go to the dentist. All National Holiday group (Sarita, Bert, Guy, Dan, and I) were even less enthused than the rest of class. We had been assigned an extra large amount of homework to complete over the Holiday because it was so long. This wouldn’t have been so bad if we had actually been able to complete the homework little by little but given the fact that we had been gone the whole week and gotten home around 10 pm the previous night, it resulted in a late of night of fervent scribbling of characters and trying to memorize sentence structure and stoke order. The boys had simply given up on the homework and gone to bed. Sarita and I stayed up though and finished it. It had made for a very late night. Class that day went surprisingly well though. Doing the homework had been a big help and Sarita and I really impressed our teacher. The boys were less successful and simply had to say that they didn’t know to almost every question she asked them. By the end of class we were all ready for a nap. That afternoon we had Ethnology. Wang Laoshi knew that we would be exhausted from National Holiday so he just had us watch a movie the whole period. The movie was an account of Confucius’ life. While it took a number of artistic liberties, it kept the general story. Watching the movie I realized that I am really not a big fan of Confucius. His teachings were harsh towards women and he allowed others to idealize him too much. He never even became famous on his own. It was through the work of his disciples that his teachings were collected and made into Confucianism. I simply think he gets a lot of credit for other people’s work. After classes we were all more than exhausted.
Sunday (Oct. 9) was our early session of Chinese. Side note, we had three Chinese classes a week. Mondays and Fridays they started at 9:40 and Thursdays they started later at 10:30. Class went better for the boys than it had Saturday. That afternoon we were scheduled to have Sam’s SAS class since technically Saturday was following Thursday’s schedule and Sunday was Friday’s schedule. Sam knew that we hated the fact that we were having to go to class on the weekend though and gave us the afternoon off.
Monday (Oct 10) we again had Chinese. By the third day of Chinese class in a row we had reached overload mode. We simply couldn’t focus on more characters and struggled with the new concepts she introduced. That afternoon we had Kung Fu class. Everyone was still exhausted so only a few of us showed up. At class Levi, our professor (he was a senior of SWU majoring in Martial Arts) announced that we were going to be performing in five weeks for the whole school. No big deal, right? We were to learn a routine that would last about 2 minutes and would incorporate most of the basic kung fu moves used in combat. We were rather nervous at this prospect. Up to then we had struggled at even the most basic sequences Levi had tried to teach us. We spent the whole two hour class period learning only the first 20 seconds of the routine. We knew we had a long way to go in the next month.
Tuesday (Oct 11) was my free morning. I spent it working on homework (mainly my VJ) and relaxing. That afternoon I had Ethnology.
Wednesday (Oct 12) was a baozi day. Sarita and I would go every Wednesday morning before Calligraphy class at 10:30 to get baozi for breakfast. It was the only day of the week that we ate breakfast out. The rest of the week we ate breakfast in the dorms before going to class. Breakfast usually consisted of some kind of roll from the supermarket and a yoghurt. It tended to get rather monotonous so Baozi days were a big deal. Then we had calligraphy. Our poor calligraphy teacher. He was a senior at SWU like Levi and he was a calligraphy major. He really cared about calligraphy and tried to make his class fun for us. But we really didn’t care that much nor were we all that good at it. As it usually ended up we would work on certain characters and styles for the first half of class. Then after break everyone began to stray. The boys would start drawing pictures or working on our characters for Chinese. Sarita and I always tried to stay focused on what he wanted us to do, but by the last half hour even we would have grown tired of the same five characters and start doodling. That afternoon, we had SAS. Sam was not leading it though. Every year CSBSJU sets it up so that two of the class periods are taught by a specialist of some kind that they have some sort of connection to. This year they arranged for someone from the Southwest Poetry Institute to present two lectures to us on Chinese poetry. One would deal with ancient poetry and the second with modern poetry. Sounds super exciting doesn’t it? Well the first lecture was painful. Apparently no one had mentioned to our presenter that while we were in China and were taking Chinese classes, we were far from fluent. He came to class with a power point of the poems that was almost all in Chinese. Only the titles had English translations. He then proceeded to lecture to us on the intricacies of Chinese poetry for 2.5 hours with only one five minute break. He would ask us questions and none of us knew the answers to them because we had no idea what was going on. Even when someone did answer, usually Sam, he never liked our answers. We were just frustrated and tired. Then at 4:50 when class was supposed to be over. He didn’t stop talking. After 10 minutes Sam politely asked him how much longer the presentation was because Cindy and Luke needed to leave to go to their Chinese class. His response was that he had another 45 minutes at least planned. We all let out what I am sure was an audible moan of despair. Sam tried to explain that technically class was supposed to have already ended for us and asked if there was any way the rest of the presentation could be combined with the information that was to be presented to us at the next lecture on Friday. Apparently that was not possible because today’s was on ancient and the next one modern but he would try to shorten it. Half an hour later at 5:30 we were finally allowed to leave. To say we were not happy is an understatement. We were also far from excited for Friday’s coming lecture.
Thursday (Oct 13) we had Chinese in the morning and Ethnology in the afternoon. That afternoon Sam called me to tell me that he had someone that he had met that he thought I would be interested in talking to about my One Question project. If I have not mentioned it previously, every student on our trip had a One Question Project they were exploring the semester. My question was on how classes are taught in China. My original question had been on the role of censorship on education in China. That had been too controversial though and hadn’t gotten clearance. The rest of the group had some really interesting questions too. Luke was also looking at education, but more the education system on the whole and what reforms it needed. Cindy was looking at Chinese society’s view of marriage. Bert was looking at Chinese dating culture. Dan was examining how the One Child Policy was affecting family dynamics. Guy studied how the business culture of China functioned. Deanna explored the prevalence of son preference due to the One Child Policy. Sarita started out studying Buddhism but her questioned morphed into why Chinese youth lacked religion when she couldn’t find very many/any people to talk to. Chris explored Chinese food and food culture of China. Nolan looked at the impact of 1911-1920 on Chinese history. Zach looked at the role of globalization on Chinese language. Kia studied the history of the Hmong people in China in hopes to gain a better understanding of her ancestry. And Axel had the most interesting question of all, how do Chinese people define success. The point of these One-Questions was for us to explore an aspect of culture, become a mini expert, and then share what we learned with the class. Through it we would become the teachers and also be more compelled to explore Chinese culture in-depth. Anyways, the women Sam wanted me to meet with was visiting from Hong Kong where she was a professor at the University of Hong Kong. She was at SWU exploring education methodologies for her research. Her English name was Nancy. He gave me her number and I sent her a message asking if she would be willing to get together with me in the next few days when she had time before she returned to Hong Kong. That night I went the Muslim for dinner with Sarita, Ronnie, Luke, and Dan. After dinner we all decided to go for Milk Teas at our favorite milk tea shop. While we were ordering, I got a call from Nancy saying that was at one of the campus tea houses having tea with two friends who she thought I should meet. She wanted me to meet them in ten minutes. Nothing like spur of the moment. I asked if Luke could come with me because he was also researching education and she said that would be fine. Luke and I had a temporary panic because neither of us had anything to write with or on and we knew we were going to need to take notes on this interview. We quickly ran to the store by Korean that literally sells anything you could ever need in China and bought some cheap notebooks and pens. We then tried to find the campus tea house. We didn’t even know SWU had one until Nancy said she was there. She told us it was right by gate 5 which the Muslim restaurant luckily is right next to. After about 15 minutes of wondering and asking “cha jai zianar” (literally translated tea house where) we found it. There Luke and I met Nancy and two of her colleagues, Mike and Xiaofeng. Both had studied at the University of Hong Kong which is where Nancy knew them from. Mike had recently gotten his PhD and was now a math professor at SWU. Xiaofeng had completed her masters and was now teaching at a Confucius Institute in Thailand. She was SWU for the week as part of delegation from Thailand. Luke and I were really nervous to talk with them. We were afraid of crossing some unknown line when questioning their education system and offending them. But they were amazing gracious to us and were crucial in my One Question project. We talked a great deal about how the education system in China is structured, how classes are taught, demographics, university structures, government involvement, financing, GaoKou, and parental pressure. I won’t bore you with the details. If you want to learn more for some weird reason let me know and I’ll send you my research papers which delve much more deeply into what they had to say. At the end of the conversation they turned the conversation on us. They were extremely curious on how Luke and I viewed China, why we had chosen to study there, whether we had changed our opinions of China after being there, and would be back. The most memorable part of the discussion for me was concerning China as a super power. When Luke and I both said that we thought China was/was going to be the other great super power of the 21st century. All three of them responded that they didn’t believe China would ever be a super power. They felt that while on paper China may be growing and its economy had so much power, the reality for Chinese citizens was much different. Until China was able to deal with its domestic issues, such as poverty, migrant worker issues, education and the gap between the rich and the poor, China would never surpass the US as a super power. We spent three hours in the tea house talking and the conversation only ended because the tea house graciously told us that they were closed and would we please go home so that the workers could too. It was one of my favorite conversations during my time in China.
Friday (October 14) I had Chinese in the morning. That afternoon we had the second poetry lecture. We went in with the lowest of expectations possible. Luckily though, it was not nearly as bad as the first. Sam had told the lecturer that we were not fluent in Chinese and this time the power point had both Chinese and English so we were able to follow. The poems were also much more interesting. Some of them we even knew. While we still usually didn’t answer questions with the answer the lecturer wanted, the lecture was much more bearable. He even let us out at the right time. Yay for that.
Saturday (Oct 15). You would think that after 7 straight days of class we would get a break. But if you remember the title of this section (21 straight days of class, in case you forgot) you know that was not the case. Saturday we had a class trip to the Golden Knife Gorge starting nice and early at 9:00 am. Does no one realize that college kids need sleep? None of us knew what to expect from the Gorge. All we had been told was to dress warmly and that it would involve a three hour hike. The day did not start off well. The road to the gorge was extremely curvy and our bus driver liked to speed up as fast as he could and then have to slam on the brakes to make it around each turn. This resulted in the majority of the group (myself included) becoming very car sick. We had to stop at one point half way there so that everyone could get out and vomit. Luckily the fresh air was enough for my stomach and I was one of the lucky ones not to puke. This did not bode well for the rest of the day. Happily enough, it turned out to be one of, if not the, best group excursions of the trip. After the puke break we headed to a village at the base of the gorge. We walked around through the historic district for bit. We saw some interesting shops and an old Buddhist temple (it was now being used not to practice Buddhism but as a place for people to come to pray for luck. Sarita was less than excited about this but it did get her thinking about other directions to take her One Question project in). While we were there Bert bought two small water guns and had fun spraying everyone with water for a bit. It was a good mood booster for the group to just run around like little kids and laugh. From the village we headed up the mountain (again quite twisty and turny) and had a delicious lunch at a hotel at the top of the valley. Then it was time to start the hike. We still didn’t know what to expect until we reached the entrance. It was one of the mostbeautiful places I have ever seen let alone been to!! To enter the gorge we had to hike down the side of the mountain by way of a couple hundred if not a few thousand stairs. It was a killer leg work out. You have the choice to either climb down yourself or you can pay to be carried down. There are teams of people all the way down asking to be let to carry you down for between 30-50 yuan. This was actually interesting experience for our group. We had heard that there would be people willing to carry you and it had raised a debate over whether or not it was moral to support this idea. On one hand you’re forcing people (most of whom were older, think late 40’s through 60’s) to carry you because you are too lazy. While on the other hand you are providing them a livelihood. Our group never came to an agreement one way or the other. Dan, Guy, Zach, and Nolan all got carried down. The rest of us walked. By the bottom our calf muscles were twitching from exertion. The rest of the hike was not nearly as grueling. We meandered through the gorge looking at waterfalls, bamboo and intricate rock formations. It was so pretty. It didn’t feel like China anymore. At least not the China was had come to know, filled with crowds, dirty, polluted, and hectic. This place was calm, gorgeous and peaceful. It was exactly what we all needed to recharge our batteries. We took a boat through part of the gorge that we were not able to walk through. As we were approaching the exit of the valley, we came across a group of monkeys. Guy was so excited! The whole trip (like the China trip, not just the day trip) he had been talking about how he wanted to see monkeys. He, Dan, Sarita, Deanna, and I spent about half an hour just sitting watching the monkeys go about their lives, mothers grooming their babies, older monkeys lounging, and a few “teenager” monkeys mock fighting. From there we made our way out of the gorge to the bus. The gorge was beautiful but we were quickly reminded that not all of China is that way. Right past the exit of the gorge is what can best be described as a dump. It is just a field of wreckage of building ruins and trash. It was the only downer to an otherwise beautiful place. After the two hour bus ride back to campus we were pretty tired but since it was technically a Saturday even if it didn’t feel like it, we wanted to have fun. Sarita, Dan, Luke, Guy, Bert, and I went over the Thai girls apartment (SriPan and Som lived off campus by the noodle man). We had fun playing games, laughing and hanging out. Later in the evening Larry and Otabek joined us. Ronnie was going to as well, but she was feeling sick. Since I don’t think I have mentioned this yet, I will add it here. National Holiday was the start of a group of us (Dan, Luke, Guy, Bert, Sarita, and I) becoming much better friends with the other international students. I don’t think there was a single week/weekend after that during which I did not hang out with the other international kids. They would go on to become some of my best friends in China. We headed to Banana 99, spent a few hours there. The night ended with Luke, Larry, Otabek, Sarita, and I getting some street food across from Wu Hao Men (Gate 5). I remember sitting there with them and saying that I couldn’t believe that two months from today I would be home. Little did I know just how fast those two months would go.
Sunday (Oct 16) was another bright and early morning. At 9 o’clock we went down to the Sunday morning street market in downtown BeiBei along the river with Sam. Sarita and I definitely did not want to get up and considered skipping the market since it was an optional class outing but we thought it would be good to since we doubted we would ever go on our own. We were glad Sam had been before because it was a crazy path to try to follow to the market. It wound down by Youngwei (the supermarket) through the new apartment complex, past the science museum they were remodeling, and along the river. The market was crazy! It was super crowded since it is the one day a week most of BeiBei does their shopping. It had everything you could think of and about a million things you wouldn’t expect. In one area it sold live animals to butcher yourself, such as ducks, chickens, pigs, etc. The ducks looked so sad all lined up waiting to be sold. It was as if they knew their fate. Sarita’s foot almost got attacked by one duck she stepped just a little too close too. In another part it had people cutting hair, eye “doctors”, and dentists who did teeth work out in the open with really gross instruments that were definitely not sanitary. Other parts sold things like clothes, household items. Butchers set up stands in another area. Traditional Chinese medicine was for sale in a number of crowded shacks by the river. Plants and seeds lined the side walk. The area that tempted Sarita and I most though was the pet section. It was at least three blocks with cages of animals lined up. It had every pet you could think of, dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, fish, snakes, lizards, and even more. It was so sad to see some of their forlorn faces that all I wanted to do was buy them all. After the depressingness of the pet section we headed home. That afternoon we Kung Fu class to make up for the class missed over National Holiday. We continued to work on our performance routine and by the end of class had a solid minute of it choreographed. We still had a long way to go but it was coming along.