Week 3 and 4 in BeiBei
20.09.2011 - 29.09.2011
As I sit here about to write this blog entry I look back at the past two week that have just passed and realize something. It’s a complete blur. To be honest I’m not even sure why. It could be because it was extremely busy (we completed our first full week of classes and we constantly had things to do), it could be because it was stressful at times (we are revamping our research projects because our professor did not get government clearance beforehand and we are running into issues), or it could just be because it was a pretty average week and a half just filled with the daily grind of school, friends, and homework and adding in some fun when we had time. So at this point I’m not sure if this blog entry will be long or short or really what it will say. I will have to see how much my memory can recall. Bear with me as I try to figure it out.
Monday (September 19) was the start of our first full week of classes at Southwest. The day started out kind of gross and overcast. Sarita and I had Chinese class that morning. After lunch we were super excited because we were finally supposed to have our first Kung Fu class (class the week before had been cancelled due to the Mid-Autumn Festival). Sadly though, our Waiban director, Chuck Lee (we’re still not entirely sure how we feel about him; he’s a nice guy but the fact that the he is also in charge of monitoring all of our activities for the government casts a slight shadow on the relationship), cancelled class due to the weather (Kung Fu takes outside in the courtyard of our student complex). It was slightly misting and Chuck didn’t want to risk it. Sarita and I and the boys were bummed. Sarita and I decided that we would spend the class time exploring more of South West. We had done this a bit before but we hadn’t explored much in the direction opposite of our classroom. It was a really good time. SWU and the city of BeiBei have a beautiful setting. It lies within a valley surrounded on all sides by steep, vegetation covered hills and mountains. The campus itself has countless gardens, fountains and such. However, it is all miserably taken care of. There is garbage everywhere and buildings are in disrepair. It makes one wonder why there is a mentality that it is okay to let so much beauty go to waste and why the students take no pride in keeping their campus clean; to them it is no big deal to leave trash anywhere they please. We explored more of the student dorm areas, a couple of the exercise stadiums (they’re big tracks surrounding a handful of soccer fields with basketball, tennis and ping pong areas set up on the outside) which are called playgrounds by the Chinese, the library, and the martial arts facilities. We also spent some time watching the freshmen go about their military training. After about an hour and half we headed back to our dorms. We went to dinner with Cindy and Luke and then came home and spent the night working on our many Visual Journal Assignments.
Tuesday’s are pretty chill days for me. I don’t have a morning class but both Sarita and Cindy do. So I get to sleep in, catch up on stuff and basically just be lazy for a bit. It’s also when I Skpye campus so that’s always nice for a good laugh and some familiar faces. Tuesday afternoon Cindy and I had ethnology. That night we realized that we needed to make some definitive plans for National Holiday and we needed to make them fast. For those of you that are like what the heck is National Holiday in China, give me a second to explain. National Holiday commemorates the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. And despite the fact that the Chinese are pretty boring when it comes to celebrating most holidays, this one is a big deal. Any government related businesses, agencies, outpost etc (and in a Communist society the government runs a lot of stuff), all schools, most factories and basically most things shut down for a week to give everyone time off. It is a time for people to go home and spend with family or it is a time to travel. Apparently tons of people choose to travel so it’s kind of crazy. We were told last February to start thinking about where we wanted to go. We all thought Tibet would be an awesome place to visit, however over the summer the Chinese government imposed a complete ban on travel to Tibet (if you don’t know Tibet and China have some pretty strained relations and this flux of allowing travel and not allowing it is a fairly common game they play). The travel ban has lifted though however now Americans can only visit if they have an invite from someone living there and the purpose of the travel is approved by the government. Sadly, we have neither of those things so Tibet is out. Our next thought was lets go to Shanghai, well it turns out Shanghai is ridiculously expensive and takes forever to get to by train, so that got crossed off the list. Then we batted around the idea of the Gobi desert. It sounded super cool, and kids on the program had gone in the past. But we had no idea how to go about setting up something like that and on such short notice. Back to the drawing board, we finally all agreed that Guilin would be beautiful to see (if you’ve ever seen pictures of China with huge mountains rising up out of lakes and rivers then I’m willing to bet you saw a pic of Guilin). However we once again ran into problems the main one being that it was a 20 hour train ride there and all of the hostels in the area were already booked. I guess we probably should have figured this out more than ten days before the start of the holiday. Oh well. As we were resigning ourselves to spending the week bumming around Chongqing Luke mentioned that on the flight over the guy he talked to on the plane (a Beijing native) recommended he check out a place called Jiuzhaigou. None of us had heard of it but after a quick Google search, we were sold. It’s an absolutely beautiful national park that is filled with pristine turquoise lakes, beautiful forests and breathtaking views (Seriously, when you’re done reading this, or even right now, Google it and see it for yourself. The leaves are beginning to change right now so the pictures of the lakes with all the trees changing that come up on Google are what we were told to expect when we arrive). It has quaint Tibetan towns around it and plenty of hostels. It should be an awesome adventure. The one stumbling point we had on if we really wanted to go was the fact that we had to take a train to Chengdu and then take a 10 hour bus ride one way to get there. Oh well, we decided it would be a good story to tell. So by the end of the night Sarita, Luke, Bert, Guy, Dan, Axel, and I had decided that we will be spending our National Holiday in Jiuzhaigou valley. We made plans to go get our train tickets the next day (you unfortunately can’t buy your tickets online and have to go to a station to buy them) and thought that the hardest part was over. We were so wrong…
Wednesday (September 21) I had calligraphy in the morning. Everyone that is going on holiday together has that class too, so we all agreed to go get our tickets together after class. Sarita’s language partner (Sally, the one who we celebrated Mid-Autumn Festival with) came with us because she knew where we could buy them and she offered to help translate for us. The ticket station is about a twenty minute walk from campus so we got there around 12:30. When we got there we were pretty disheartened, the line already stretched about thirty yards back from the window. But oh well we thought, we didn’t have class again until 2:30, we’d be done by then. After about 20 minutes of standing in line we were informed that the ticket window doesn’t even start selling tickets to Chengdu until 2:30, people were just already lining up in anticipation. Well this is problematic, we all have Study Abroad Seminar (hence forth referred to as SAS) at 2:30 and we knew Sam (our professor) would not like if we all skipped to get tickets. We just agreed to come back after class and try to buy tickets then. The one plus of going down over lunch though was that we found a really good Baozi restaurant. However it is also home to a less than friendly cat that did not like Dan and me. After lunch we headed back to class. For SAS we each have a One Question assignment. The point of the assignment is that we choose a question and then spend all semester trying to find out the answer and more importantly why the answer is what it is, for example what cultural values play a role, what is the history of the issue etc. We’ve run into issue with these questions because Sam did not get clearance from the Waiban office for this project and they are concerned because many of our questions brooch on topics the government does not want Chinese and much less Westerners to explore too deeply. Anyways we each have to give a presentation to the class about what we learned about our topics over the summer and how we were going about our research of the question here. Kia had to present during Wed’s class. That took up most of the time and then we were done. The boys had to teach English at the high school (most of our study abroad group, myself included, is now employed as English teachers at a local middle and high school that preps students for college in the United States) so it was just Sarita, Sally and I that went back to try to get tickets for the group. We got there at 5 o’clock and the line was now close to 100 yards long. Sally told us that it closes at 7 for the night. We got in line and assumed that while it would be awhile, we would still be able to get them by 7. I mean how long can it take to buy a ticket, you tell the person where you’re going, what time, you give them money, they hand you the ticket, short and simple end of story. Well not in China. After two hours of waiting we hadn’t even got half way to the window. We decided to give up and Sarita agreed to come the next day at 12 and she would wait until they went on sale at 2:30 because unlike the rest of us she doesn’t have Ethnology. As we were leaving we heard a collective moan from the line. Apparently the computer system had crashed and no one would be getting tickets. Yep, only in China would there be no backup system. We spent the night trying to warm up (I think I failed to mention that the whole day it was raining) and working on projects. Luke and I are presenting our one question projects together because they both deal with education. Luke’s is on how the China education system works on the whole and mine is how classes are taught in China (I never would have thought that such a simple question could have so many layers, it’s really fascinating and makes me so thankful for how classes are taught at CSBSJU). We were next on the schedule to present so we had a ton of work to get done.
Thursday (September 22) Sarita and I have Chinese class in the morning. Chinese is getting better with each class. Our pronunciation is improving and we’ve progressed to actual words. It really is crazy trying to learn Chinese though because it requires learning two new languages. Not only are we learning pinyin which is what everything means and how to say it, but we are also learning characters and radicals so that we can actually read and write. It’s a lot of work but being here makes it so much easier. After Chinese I went with Sarita to the ticket window to stake out a spot in line with her. It was raining (it does a lot here, but it’s still better than Minnesota snow so no complaints). We were even farther back than the day before. While I held our place in line, Sarita went to get us some Baozi “dao bao” (that means to go in Chinese, we’re all very good with our restaurant vocab). After like an hour of standing in line Guy came to join us. He was going to stay with Sarita when I had to leave to go to class. I left around 2:00 to make it back for class and at that point the line had moved maybe 20 yards. After class though, we all had texts from Sarita saying that she had gotten our tickets. YAY!!!
Friday (September 23) we had Chinese again. Friday afternoons we have SAS again. Instead of class, we visited the college art studios. It was really interesting seeing some of their art work. I am in love with one student’s work. He focuses on the contrast between city life and country life and the pull it has on the youth. They’re all done as forest scenes though with city lights shining in the background. He uses primarily browns, whites, greens, blues, and purples. I’m not doing his work any justice with this explanation but it was truly amazing. However, the tour was never ending. What was supposed to be a brief hour tour, turned out to be almost 3 hours. We were all more than ready to be done by the end. However we then had to deal with the simple task of taking pictures for new ISIC cards (the one’s the OEA gave us are not accepted in China) becoming quite the ordeal. Sam had told us to go to the photo studio, give them 5 yuan and they would take our pics end of story. Not the case. We show up to take the pictures; they won’t let us without our professor present. We eventually convince them to take our pictures without Sam there. They’re not 5 yuan though, not they’re 10. Then we’re told that the Waiban isn’t sure if we need them or not, they’re not sure what we would use them for. It was just a mess. After all was said and done, we took our pictures and were free for the weekend. Luke, Sarita, and I went to Korean for dinner. That night we went out with Guy, Bert, and Dan and some of the other international students studying at SWU. It was a fun night but we were all pretty tired from the week and turned in early.
Saturday we spent the morning doing homework. Luke and I were still struggling with what exactly to present for our one question projects and how to merge our presentations and discussions in the most optimal fashion. That night we hung out at the International Student Dorms with some of our other friends. It has been an awesome experience getting to know not just a new group of Bennies and Johnnies but also kids from all over the world. I really wish there had been room for us in the International Dorms with all of them, but at least we’ve still gotten to know quite a few of them. We usually hang out as a group on the weekends. We are the shortest term students studying here we found out. Everyone else is here for at least a year, many of them for longer. It would be awesome if we could be here for a year too. We would learn so much more and I can only imagine how far we could get in Chinese with a whole year in this setting.
Sunday was spent continuing to climb the Everest of homework. By the end of the day Luke and I were pretty successfully sifted through the vast amounts of information we had collected over the summer, the bits of research we had conducted here through interviews, and had merged our presentations pretty well.
Monday (September 25) we had Chinese class. Our class started with a rude wakeup call when every student failed our dictation. Our teacher was less than pleased and told us we were too American. We spent our weekends having fun and not studying like we should. Sorry Laoshi. We got better as the class went on. After lunch we finally got to have our first Kung Fu class. It was fun! Our teacher is a student here. He is amazing to watch. We started with more Tai Ji like what we had learned in Beijing. Then we progressed into more of a Kung Fu style. We will all definitely be skilled at self-defense when we return. After class Sarita and I went to the student gym in the basement of the Foreign Students dorm. It’s not much and makes even the O’G weight room look high tech and clean but it has some treadmills, ellipticals, and bikes, so I’m content with it. It’s also been a good way to meet people.
Tuesday I didn’t do much in the morning. That afternoon we had ethnology. I’m really enjoying that class. Chinese history is fascinating and Wang Laoshi makes it relatable to us. That night we went out with one of the Chinese students we met here. Her English name is Sally and she is so cute. Her father is an interpreter we think for the government so she has been exposed to English her whole life and speaks it super well. He friend came with us as well. We had a nice dinner and then spent a few hours just talking about what life was like for them in China and what life was like for us in the US. They also gave us Chinese names. My Chinese name is Ya Lan (it means Noble Lotus and apparently is a royal name in Chinese). Oh side note, my last name in Chinese is ma, it means horse. Bert has the same last name so we just tell everyone we’re siblings. A couple of people actually believed us. It was a fun night getting to know more about life here.
Wednesday (September 28) we had Calligraphy. Our poor teacher, he tries so hard to teach us proper form and technique. However, it’s just so awkward for us. We all want to hold the brushes like pencils. Maybe we’ll improve as the semester goes on. We’ve begun working on the Li Shu. I’m not a huge fan because I haven’t mastered the Bird Tail stroke yet which is in every single character. Needless to say if I can’t do that stroke it’s proving problematic. After lunch we had SAS. Luke and I presented our topics and had a really good discussion with the class. They helped us see some more angles and get more perspectives on the issue. That night Luke, Cindy, Sarita, Deanna, Dan, Axel, Bert and I went out for a group dinner to the guy that love’s us restaurant. Obviously that’s not its actual name but the owner is so nice to us. He makes us whatever we want even if it’s not on the menu, he put up a campus map on the wall of the resturaunt when he found out we went to SWU, and as Sarita put it “is like our Chinese dad.” We try to go there at least every other day. The food is excellent so that’s not too big of a burden.
Thursday (today) has been pretty chill. We had Chinese this morning. Sarita and I rocked the dictation, so yay us. Also, we’ve begun to know enough characters to read short passages which, is really exciting. Yeah I’m a nerd for being excited that I can read Chinese but oh well. This afternoon we had ethnology. Tonight Sarita, Luke, Axel and I went out for dinner at a restaurant we hadn’t tried before. It was fairly good, we’ll likely be back. After that we went shopping for some snacks for our bus ride over National Holiday.
So that’s the week that’s a blur. I guess once I started writing it wasn’t so much of a blur. I’ll be gone for the next week with no computer but when I get back I should have a pretty epic story to tell. Fingers crossed it all goes well for us, a few prayers probably wouldn’t hurt.
Love and miss you all,