Well, I haven’t blogged in quite a while which means I have quite a lot to say. I’ll try not to make it too long but considering it’s 9:14 on a Saturday night and I am already ready for bed I have loads of time. The first thing I want to write about is the moment when I coined a term I like to use when I can’t describe things in any other way; I call it an “Oh yeah, I’m in China” moment.
For the first few days of being in China everything seemed new but nothing had thrust me into an out of body experience like speaking for 6,000 freshmen plus about 5,000 or so spectators. The higher-ups of the school like to have a foreign teacher officially welcome the freshmen every year and because I am teaching the most freshmen classes it seemed appropriate for me to do the job. To be honest I wasn’t nervous. I saw it as an interesting topic to write home about and I got over stage freight a long time ago. Even when I was on stage with the soviet–style march music blaring over the loud speaker and I was looking at the crowd of thousands I was so overwhelmed with the question “how did I get here?” that I didn’t have time to be nervous. The entire front half of the audience was the freshmen in their military uniforms sitting straight up with their hands on their knees as they had been told to do. (Military training is mandatory for all university freshmen.) From a distance they looked a little severe but when you looked at each individual face they just looked like sweaty kids who couldn’t wait to get back to their dorms to surf (or “suffer” as my students often incorrectly call it) the internet. I particularly enjoyed seeing the girls in their military uniforms around campus holding a pink water bottle and a lacy umbrella to keep the sun off their faces as they headed off to training. Anyway, as I sat at the long table of bored looking Chinese officials and it got closer to my time to speak I thought the only thing that would make this scene anymore ridiculous would be to stand up and beat my arms on the podium and speak in low shouts in a style so popular around WWII. I could rile up the crowd until they threw their hats in the air and the girls wept with the beauty and power of my words. Well, that didn’t happen but it went smoothly. For the most part I didn’t really know exactly what they thought I said because it was all translated anyway. Count that as “Oh yeah, I’m in China” experience #1.
The second one came soon after. The climate, my apartment, or both don’t agree with me here so my allergies have been pretty bad. I was much worse at the beginning and finally went to the clinic I had been avoiding for so long. I have to say mom, if your reading this, it wasn’t exactly how I described it. I won’t say anything directly, but if you have ever seen the movie The Pianist, he camps out in a hospital at one point. The movie could have easily been filmed in this hospital. It was only made worse by the fact that they were doing some kind of welding work outside my room so sparks were flying in the dim, unlit hall while I got an I.V. Yes, I had an I.V. and I have to say it wasn’t half bad. About halfway through the first of the four vials they prescribed I felt a million times better. If I were a bit more of a germ-a-phobe I wouldn’t have had such a good time laughing to myself, soaking up the experience in all its exoticism. I have to say it was also helpful that the freshmen were doing their military training outside my window because I really got to know my Chinese numbers. YI-ER-SAN-SI! YI-ER! SAN-SI! During my second round of I.V.s the next morning I met a really nice professor who was waiting with his little girl while she got an I.V. for her cold/fever. (Everyone associated with the school lives on the campus so it wasn’t unusual to see a family at the clinic. In fact, you see families everywhere at all times.) We had some interesting, enlightening conversation and his hopefulness for the China his daughter will grow up in was cautious but hopeful. Overall, the clinic was an unexpectedly great experience in all. Next time you come to China pencil in an I.V. and a pedicure.
After those two experiences everything has been rather routine but I am hardly ever bored! I am teaching two sections of post-graduate non-English majors once a week and one group of non-English doctorate students twice a week. I also teach one section of sophomore speech and debate and five sections of freshmen speaking and listening. Each group truly brings something special to my time here in China. I feel I can relate to the post-grads the best because they are all around my age. They are extremely intelligent students and are studying things such as ancient Chinese literature and applied psychology etc. I am probably a lot stupider than them but the fact that I speak English fluently will keep them off my scent for a few more classes. Actually I really like all of them and there are so many I want to be closer friends with but that in its self is a problem. THERE ARE SO MANY!!! Mostly I walk home from class with a few of them and we have conversations about cultural differences between people our age. Wendy, one of my monitors, is adorably responsible and has been really helpful in telling me what the students need and want. As for the Ph.D.s I enjoy their company because they are much older. Because I had much older siblings and parents that never shied away from having me around their adult friends I like being around older people and I feel their responses to my questions and our discussions are very genuine. Unfortunately their English is probably the weakest of all my students. I haven’t gotten up the confidence to ask if I can meet their kids! I see so many Chinese children everyday but mostly the closest interaction we have is them staring at me while I try unsuccessfully to make them laugh. As for the freshmen, I don’t know any of them well enough yet to say much but they are very interested in me because I am the closest they will ever get to Kobe Bryant. I have to say though being in a class with them gives me a lot of energy because they are very eager to learn. It almost feels like there is a vacuum in the room because they are so curious! They are always pulling for more and more information. I can’t wait to get to know more about them and get past the teasing and giggling relationship we have now. My end of the semester goal is to get the girls and boys to actually touch when they shake hands in their skits. (For now some of them just put their pens together because they are too shy to touch each other.) What a differences from the hormonal freshmen at Skidmore who can’t wait to get their hands on anything mammal!
I guess I will end my blog with two of my most recent “oh yeah, I’m in China” memories. The first was last night when my tutor and Eliza’s tutor took us to a dance. Dancing is very communal on college campuses. They played the same three songs over and over again and everyone knew the steps. At one point I felt like I was at a huge Bat Mitzvah. We worked off quite a few calories and had a great time but all in all it wasn’t anything like the bumping and grinding at American dances.
My final memory happened this afternoon and might be one of my favorites so far. On Friday I took a few of my sophomores to lunch and we were discussing what we do in our free time. Two of them said they are in a Peking Opera club or at least that’s what their description sounded like. The government suggested these clubs because interest in Peking Opera in younger generations is dropping but it is a very important cultural relic. My students said there would be old people singing and playing instruments. Old people singing and playing instruments! Next to puppies and babies that is my favorite thing! They invited me to come, so this afternoon I found myself at the senior center tapping my foot and nodding my head along to some of the funkiest looking and sounding instruments I’ve ever seen. The singing aspect is even more surprising. They make one character (or part of a word) last for about 50 high-pitched notes. It was incredible! I truly felt like I was having an intercultural experience. I am definitely going back next week.
So far, all of this has taken place in Qufu, I will write about our travelling experiences some other time! I made it to 10:30! Time for bed!