CBA, exam week, dinners, farewells!
Tue 2 Jan 2007 - Thu 25 Jan 2007 0 °C
To bring everyone up to speed, this is basically a quick summary of all the important parts of January, now that we are in our final week of the month. I have less than six weeks left in China, so it is probably a pertinent sort of time to update about the last six weeks.
So I present to you: JANUARY. In no particular order!
EXAM WEEK AT JIAOTONG UNIVERSITY
There is the strangest phenomenon here at Jiaotong University Chinese Language Program, and that is that a large portion of students seem to attend the classes up until the time of the HSK (Chinese Proficiency Test), and then they start dropping off like flies. Personally, I had suffered a mid-semester/December lull period in my attendance, but it seems that everyone else managed to keep steady through that time because they weren't going to stay through January.
Which meant that I, having made a personal promise to myself to attend each and every class in January (which I kept!), was the only student in class at times. Especially for the first classes of the day, I was the only one there for the first hour, or two hours. Usually someone would turn up for the last two hour period of classes, but often I was there alone for an extended period of time, and it sort of ruined class for me because teaching to one student? Boring for both myself and the teacher, so we more often than not just ended up talking about random things. I found I'm best at talking about myself, which I suppose isn't surprising, but it's easier to talk about what I know rather than prescribed topics, which is what trips me up so much in class.
I learned lots of interesting vocabulary (science fiction, androgynous, political party - not all from the same conversation!), and had lots of interesting conversations (well, the vocab tells you the stories!), but it was all sort of useless for the exams. The exams weren't terribly pressing. I took two of them the week before the official Exam Week - for my Reading Comprehension class and my Writing class. I got an 80 and 88, respectively, but I haven't received my grades back from my other exams.
The thing about exams was that there was only one I could really study for, because Listening and Speaking weren't the sort of exams you could study for. Speaking we didn't even get our topic until that day, so we couldn't prepare, which was unfortunate because it was a topic I had no idea how to answer and found myself flailing and incredibly under the seven minutes we were supposed to discuss gender equality in our countries. Honestly, even if I were speaking in English I couldn't fill seven minutes on that topic! I have no experience with it, no examples to make, and it was sort of disappointing, but at least my teacher knew that I could actually talk about things. My listening exam went well enough - though it got harder and harder as the exam went on, which was unfortunate. There was also one part that talked about robots and I think the word for robot (which is particularly alliterative) will be stuck in my memory forever.
The other exam that I could study for went well, too. I didn't get everything, but there was a lot of material to study and it was difficult to shove it all back into my brain. It helped that we had been tested on each of the sections, though, because at least I had the experience of studying and preparing the lessons before, so it was more just refreshing my memory. Of course, it didn't work entirely well and I still forgot things (even things I knew I had studied - very frustrating!) but that's what happens in exams. Also, I had gotten a slight case of food poisoning the evening before and literally lost my lunch, so I lay some blame off onto that.
But otherwise, classes and exams were worthwhile and not too stressful, and now my semester is officially over! SCHOOL'S OUT, WOO!
CBA BASKETBALL GAME: SHAANXI VS. BEIJING
Ardan had always expressed a desire to go to a basketball game, but it was the other German on the fourth floor that finally propelled us to go. Sarah, Luca, Andreas and I went to dinner at the noodle place (of sheep-gutting fame) for dinner, and he suggested we catch a game. None of us could think of any reason not to, so we found out where the tickets were being sold and, for Y30 (AUD$5) we got a pretty good seat to watch the game!
The game started with standing for the national anthem. No hands over hearts or anything, and there were only a couple of people in the whole crowd mouthing or singing along, but I have to say it was very difficult for me not to join in. I learned the words to the Chinese national anthem last time I was in China, and the words and tune have stuck with me, so hearing it I just wanted to sing out loud, but I thought that might attract a bit of attention (not like nobody noticed the four white kids in the audience, but they weren't particularly bothered as long as we cheered for the home team), so I staved off the desire.
The match was Shaanxi vs. Beijing, and our team was not particularly proficient and lost by about ten points, but the experience was still lots of fun. The sponsors of the game (Hans beer and a Chinese sports clothes brand that is only defined by a Nike-like swoosh) handed out these inflatable sticks that everyone used to clap and make noise with, which helped with the clapping and whooping throughout the game. I didn't realize how fast a basketball game moves, because they have 24 seconds to get the ball in, which makes sure that everything moves really quickly and it was definitely action-packed! Or at least, felt like it was action-packed.
The best part of the game was, however, the cheerleaders. There were the typical pretty little girls in few clothing (the venue wasn't heated though so after half time they took to wearing big yellow coats, taking them off for the dancing bits), but there were also these fat dudes who also danced with the cheerleaders. It was definitely a funny sight, I guess the fat guys were the comic relief, the shout out to the common man in the audience, but it was hilarious, and we got plenty of photos which are up on Flickr now (after things finally decided they could be uploaded).
KARIM'S BIRTHDAY PARTY
Karim is one of the French guys in the large tapestry of foreigners here at Jiaotong University, and he's been at both of Niki's parties so we sort of used her invite to get into a party at Building 7 for his birthday. We brought plenty of alcohol and snacks, and he seemed to be very welcoming so it wasn't so much stealing her invite as just adding merriment to the party. (I say we used Niki's invite because she didn't turn up until about an hour later, but I usually have no way of gauging whether people will be welcoming or think we're crashing.)
It was a regular sort of party, though of course there was an interlude nearing midnight for present-giving and many renditions of Happy Birthday in different languages (English first, French, Chinese, I think someone tried for Spanish too...), which was more than amusing. Karim got a pair of Beijing masks from another French friend of his who had recently moved to Beijing from Xi'an, and he had lots of fun trying to scare people with the masks (I think he succeeded with a few people).
We adjourned after a while to a club in the city, which of course was yet another disaster of logistics, but we all made it there in the end, about twenty people or more, I'd say. We all put our coats in the same coat check, which was just about the most hilarious thing ever, both for the moment we handed them over and had to retrieve them. Handing them over just had the coat check window as a big pile of coats and bags, and retrieving them involved leaning through the window and directing the poor woman to the coats and bags we could see were ours.
The club was lots of fun, they played a good mix of Chinese and Western music, and at one point we made a foreigner's congo line around the bar. There were lots of people by that point (I figure we picked more up at the club), and we almost had it entirely circling the bar, but it dissolved after two rounds. Otherwise, it was just lots of fun dancing with everyone to great music! There was a little platform and everyone (except for me, of course) had a try up there, which was really funny, but after a while we all got sort of tired and just wandered out. The trouble with clubs is it's hard to say goodbye.
After retrieving our coats we found Felix and Basil outside eating soup and steamed buns, so we chatted to them for a bit before deciding that it was a good idea to get some soup and steamed buns for ourselves, so we did that, sat outside in the freezing cold and ate our late night food and drank bottles of water. Much better than kebabs, any day!
DINNER WITH TEACHERS
The teachers at the English school I teach at have been so friendly to me over the time I've been there, as they're all about the same age as me, and I have been out with one of the teachers twice in the last week. Her English name is Marbrain, and I have no clue where she got that name, but it's easier for her to use her English name at work because there is another teacher with almost her exact name (the second character is different but even the tones on that are the same).
So on the Friday of exam week, I went with her to one of her student's house to make dumplings and have dinner. The kids (Sunny, Sunny 2, and Fei - the latter of which is not an English name, obviously) were very enthusiastic, using all the English they knew to make me feel welcome and ask me all the questions they could think of - my favorite food, animal, sport, etc. I was shown around the house, made comment on the fact I had been watching kids' TV for the last week (and the TV stayed on the kids' channel all night), and managed to use my well-reviewed polite words to give a gift of fruit and nuts to the mother. I'm not sure where the father was, but he was not there for the evening.
It was really fun! Marbrain and I put together the dumplings and then the mother cooked them while we talked to the kids about the cartoons on the television (and of course, the one I don't really quite get came on and I had to admit I had no clue what it was about). Dinner was good, the kids ran off after a few dumplings and I talked with Marbrain and the mother in Chinese and English, alternating with what I wanted to say and how drunk I was getting.
See, the mother offered me some "alcohol", right? And I was like, yes of course I can drink alcohol! Not knowing that I was getting myself in for Baijiu, which is just about the most foul alcohol ever. The particular sample I got was 56% alcohol and we each drank a little shot glass of it (well, Marbrain gave me some of hers because she had to teach in the next hour), and of course I had to drink it, cheers and all, because it was the polite thing to do, but Biajiu is definitely not the sort of thing I'd choose to drink. Ever.
Then this week on Monday I went to Marbrain's house and we made hot pot together. We went for a walk around the city first - she wanted to show me somewhere I hadn't been before, which was nice but I just don't know the names of any of the places I have ever been! So it came to pass that I had been there before, a few times, but that was all right. We walked and talked and it was lots of fun. For the curious, I talk with her half in Chinese and half in English. Sometimes it's easier to say thing in one language as opposed to the other, so it can change easily, but it's good because she mostly speaks to me in Chinese but she knows how to translate if I don't quite get it.
Then we caught the bus to the supermarket near her house, took nearly an hour to buy all the ingredients for hot pot (lots of vegetables and thinly-sliced meat, basically) and some fruit and yoghurt for snacks. Making hot pot was lots of fun; mostly consisted of cleaning and chopping up all the vegetables, and of course the hot pot itself is really easy to make - just boil up some water and put whatever you want into it! I'll have to do it when I get back to Australia, because it's piss-easy! Just need some way to keep a pot of water boiling on the table....
Andreas' farewell proceeded much as Ardan's did, actually. We started out at the Korean restaurant (mainly because nobody had any better ideas and it was the only solid suggestion we had), our party comprised of myself, Andreas, Malcolm, Sarah, Luca, and a Japanese guy whose name I've forgotten but who used to be Malcolm's roommate and is a very sweet guy and remembers all of our names even if we can't remember his (Andreas was calling him Kyoto). After Korean food we walked to the bowling place (after the taxi fiasco last time, we figured it was better to go the way we knew), drinking large hot bubble milk teas and talking about random things (an amusing point: Malcolm, Andreas and I argued for a moment about the time difference between China and Japan before we realized... there was a Japanese guy with us; also we talked about aliens finding Earth).
Bowling was fun as usual, I had a spectacular second game with 127 points! I took a photo of the scorecard, just so that nobody would think I was just making it up. Then we proceeded to KTV, karaoke, where I started looking at the English music choices from the other direction so we had plenty of new music. I'm not really sure, of course, what we're going to do next time, because we may have used up all the good English songs, but I guess we'll see. I am really enthusiastic about karaoke, which is more than slightly embarrassing, and there are some videos that Luca took with my own camera to prove it: there are stirring duets of me with Sarah and Andreas singing NSync and Michael Jackson, respectively. But you are never seeing them.
From KTV we adjourned after getting really confused about how much we needed to pay (I think the dude was trying to tell us we needed to buy the room for the rest of the night, but if Malcolm couldn't tell and he was sober, I had no chance of knowing), went back into the cool night and caught taxis to the Jazz Club. I may not have mentioned the Jazz Club, but I went there once before with Niki, Ardan, Sarah, and Luca after going to the Indian place and we met up with lots of kids from the Languages University, including another Belgian and and Australian from Cronulla (which upped my ocker accent by about ten notches).
This time, we got there after any hope of a live band, and there were only a couple of groups left in the bar. We played darts for a while, which is always fun with really drunk people because their scores are only ever as good as their eyesight, but thankfully there were no injuries. We moved onto pool quickly, though, after I had determined that it was, indeed, pool and not billiards (there was some confusion), and my team (Andreas, Malcolm and I) got absolutely trounced, though somehow I managed to get two balls in the pockets, so I was very happy with that, given my alcohol levels. Throw in some popcorn and very bored looking staff after everyone had left but us, and you have our stint at the Jazz Club.
Then we went to our favorite late-night city drunk food place, 烤肉 (meat sticks) in the Muslim quarter. We walked there, taking our time and I took some random pictures, we got a timed-camera snap of us all with the Bell Tower lit up in the background, and it was definitely time for food by the time we got there. I don't know how many meat sticks there were, but we got bread and rice too.
I was up till 5AM digesting it all (and the Tim Tam Slam that Andreas made me teach him how to do once we got back to the dormitory).
During this time frame:
1) Participated in teachers' meetings which included: introducing Australian money, talking about my childhood and where I live in Australia now, taking part in some Chinese word games and answering lots of difficult grammar questions (as per usual).
2) Discovered my favorite Chinese TV show, which is called "Home With Kids" (家有儿女), and it's really great! I mean, it's just a silly television show about a family and their kids, but I find it interesting on a societal level as well. The thing is that it is touted as "an ideal family", in the ads for it, but the family has three kids. Obviously, to have an interesting show you need more than just a typical one-child family, so this one is comprised of a perfectly legitimate three-child family. How is this possible, with the one-child policy? Both parents were married before and brought in one child, and then bore their own. One of the children gets to see his other father, but in my time of watching I haven't seen the other mother.
It's also interesting because the father seems to sometimes work at home, taking care of the kids while the mother is at work as a nurse. The other parts are just obvious Chinese customs making themselves known: the kids are left alone if nobody is at home, the grandparents are very involved in their lives, two of the children are boys with an older sister. But for the most part it's just a regular show, of course: the kids fight, try and get back at each other, the parents have trouble controlling them and knowing how to punish them, the grandparents think they know best of all.... I really like it and wish I could find it on DVD but they're only on episode 17, so I don't think I'll be successful.
3) Played a lot of Katamari on PS2, which Luca has set up in Sarah's room. So much fun!
And so that's up to today! A very condensed version, of course, there are way more details than I have put here, but I'm sure this is enough to digest for now.
That's all for now; I promise not to leave it so long next time!