A Travellerspoint blog

Final Exams and Farewells


Finals week and my last week in China! Tuesday was the day of my first exam. As I am the only student in my class doing the twelve week program, I took my test alone in a room on the first floor. My teacher explained the format of the test before I started, asked if I had any questions, and I was off. I was surprised at how simple the test actually was. I think that my studying paid off because most of the material on the test was included in my review. I found out later that day that I earned a B. That afternoon, I also took my speaking final. My teacher handed me a piece of paper with about thirty questions on it and, asked me the questions and held a microphone in front of me to give my response. The questions were various; what is your impression of Chengdu? If your friend called you up in a panic, how would you help them? I also earned a B on that exam. I returned to my room to study for my listening exam the following day. Listening is always the most difficult because you are listening to a recorded dialogue and do not have the aid of body language. The dialogue in general seems very artificial. However, I tested well and earned a B on that exam as well. I am very content with my grades.
After my last exam, my class and two of my three teachers took me out to lunch and then to KTV, a karaoke bar considered to be one of China’s most popular sources of entertainment. Our teacher ordered various drinks and snacks, including a dozen beers. We sang songs in our native tongues (I chose Michael Jackson) and danced together. For the first time in my life, my teachers encouraged me to drink. They kept handing me beers telling me to celebrate a job well done! How could I argue that? The only other person drinking was our Japanese classmate, Daodai, who filled my glass every time it was empty. I said my final farewells to my classmates and teachers, thanking them for all that they’ve done for me. I left the KTV at 2:00 pm relatively drunk, so I went back to my room to take a nap. Again, only in China have I had such an experience.
For the next few days, I travelled around the city by “san lun che,” a three-wheeled motorized car big enough for two passengers. By day I went sight-seeing and by night, my friends and I went dancing. I have always highly enjoyed dancing, but I think that I have danced more in the past three months than I have in the rest of my life combined! After three days, my legs felt as if they’d been run over. On my final day, I went to the bar where everybody meets at the beginning of the night and said my goodbyes. When I arrived in China, I never imagined that I would have made as many close friends as I did. People from India, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, France, Spain, Tajikistan, Israel, Korea, Japan, Djibouti, Zimbabwe, Estonia and dozens of other nations that I’d only read about became my brothers and sisters. Perhaps the greatest asset of studying abroad are the international connections that one makes. Now, my friends have a place to stay in America in exchange for being accommodated in almost every continent. In addition, ones understanding of the global community and the world’s various cultures increases unimaginably. For example, my very good Indian friend, Aasim, who is a devout Muslim, taught me teachings from the Quran and some Arabic vocabulary. My Danish friend, Jakob, taught me not only some of his language, but also of the demographics of Greenland and his experiences there. I had no idea that a landmass so large only contained 40,000 people! In terms of learning the Chinese language, I couldn’t think of a better place to be than Chengdu. Being a city of fourteen million people, one has endless possibilities to practice their newly acquired language while avoiding the western-influence of cities such as Beijing or Shanghai. It is said that the people of Chengdu have a high level of patience for foreigners and are actually quite welcoming; I couldn’t agree more. Moreover, the food is delicious, the women are beautiful, the history is vast and detailed, and the cost of living is relatively inexpensive. I would highly recommend Chengdu to anyone with a desire to learn Chinese culture and language. I can write confidently that I will be spending a significant amount of time in Chengdu in the future. I end my blog by encouraging anybody interested in traveling, experiencing Chinese culture, learning Mandarin, seeking adventure, making foreign friends, or gaining a vast global perspective to travel to Chengdu. Personally, it has become one of my favorite places in the world!

Posted by exg07161 08:39 Archived in China Comments (0)

Interactions with the Locals


On Tuesday, I had my weekly meeting with my Chinese teacher, Zhou laoshi, and her daughter to whom I teach English. We’ve been meeting at a small café inside a small community for retired college teachers. Every week, my teacher orders me a cup of green tea, my favorite, and some food for her daughter and I to share. My student calls me gege meaning elder brother; what a cute kid! Her English is very good and her knowledge of English vocabulary is broad. She is entering a competition for English speaking next week and I am confident that she will do well. I sat down with my professor and she helped me review for my final exams the following week. At the end of our session, she gave me a gift of two bags of fine, Sichuanese green tea. I am so grateful. We thanked each other for everything and said goodbye. She is the most experienced Chinese teacher that I’ve ever had and I feel very lucky to have had her as my professor.
The following day, I was asked to go to the swimming pool with some Chinese friends I met the week before. I paid the equivalent of one dollar for a pass and walked through the door. There were so many people that I wasn’t sure that we’d have any room to swim. There must have been several hundred people! To my surprise, there was plenty of room to swim. We played some Chinese games that I had never heard of before and I taught them Chicken, an American game in which one person sits on the shoulders of another person and battles another team in the same fashion. The team that can knock the other person off of their partner’s shoulders wins. Five minutes after we stared, the life guard demanded that we stop and threatened to kick us all out. I suppose my idea of fun does not coincide with that lifeguard.
That night, I went to the bar to celebrate my friend’s birthday and met a group of Chinese people who were celebrating their own friend’s birthday. I ended up spending my entire evening with the Chinese group who taught me Chinese drinking games, songs and stories. I’ve noticed that many of the Chinese commonly pour shots of beer into shot glasses instead of using a large glass or the bottle. After a few beers, they asked me to join their group of fifteen for a late night dinner across the street. The restaurant was full with Chinese people and I was the only foreigner. I soon discovered that everybody I was with were in their mid-thirties. They could not believe that I was only twenty! We ate hot pot, several whole fish and some tasty vegetable dishes. The Chinese sure know how to have a good meal!
My entire weekend was spent studying for my final exams; three tests and two essays. All of my finals count as fifty percent of my final grade, so I have to do well. I studied fifteen chapters, focusing on five chapters a day. My days consisted of waking up, eating breakfast, studying for five hours, eating lunch, studying some more, eating dinner and studying until bed time. As one could imagine, I feel I am very well prepared for me tests. I cannot even believe that I am writing my second to last blog entry; where does the time go? I will be home in less than a week so I need to make the best of my time here while I can. Wish me luck on my exams!

Posted by exg07161 08:33 Archived in China Comments (0)

Learning Cultural Norms


On Monday, I went to my Daoism class and discussed our fieldtrip the week before. After class was out, I stayed after and asked my professor to tell me about Confucianism from the Chinese perspective. He was thrilled. He didn’t say anything but instead lead me out of the campus, onto a bus and to a different folk temple fifteen minutes away. The temple was small, dark and hard to find. At the door was a statue of Confucius and signs lining the wall with philosophical quotes from the master. “This is Confucianism,” he said, and he went on to explain Confucius goal of bettering the chaotic society of his time by modeling the Five Relationships that act as a microcosm for the main societal institutions; family, government, and so on. When we returned, he gave me some interesting reading material and I read it that night. What a wonderful teacher!
On Wednesday, I received a text message from my good Indian friend, Aasim, telling me that he was going home to visit his family the following day and that he wouldn’t be back until after I had returned home. I couldn’t believe it; I ran to his room, spent the day with him, took him out to a fancy dinner at a great Turkish restaurant and said goodbye. We promised to meet up in the future and he invited me to come to his home in southern India! My time in China will not be the same without him.
The following day, I attended my weekly history class. We discussed the events of the Cultural Revolution and my professor gave a very seemingly western account of what happened. We all expected a sugar-coated story depicting the events as being less severe than they actually were. Luckily, that was not the case. Half way through class, our professor pulls out a cigarette and lights up right in class! I was laughing so hard I couldn’t control myself. One would never see that in the U.S. He then offered us a smoke and kept puffing away! Talk about cultural differences.
On Saturday, I went to the Global Center, a massive five-story shopping mall, with a few friends. When I say that this place had everything, I am not exaggerating. It had an entire I-Max movie theater with ten different films at any given time, an entire water park, beach, surfing area, spas, clothing stores, restaurants, several grocery stores, and so on! One could easily spend a week there and not get to every place! We browsed around for a bit but I felt a bit overwhelmed by all of the chaos and decided to leave and drink some tea in a local shop near my campus. I spoke about working in China with the girl behind the counter and decided I might return after graduation. As a native English speaker, I can make good money and live cheaply while furthering my Chinese culture and language studies. It sounds perfect!

Posted by exg07161 08:29 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Journey to Ganbao


On Monday, I took my second big test. I did not know until earlier that day that it was actually a continuation of my midterm exam, so I had to do well as it counts as thirty percent of my overall grade! I feel I did pretty well on it. Later that day, my Daoism class took a field trip to some local folk temples. The ones that we visited were a culmination of Daoist, Buddhist and traditional customs and beliefs. The first room that we entered was filled with dozens of elderly people sitting around tables drinking tea. In Chinese, they said, “Look at all of the foreigners,” and I responded, “look at all of these Chinese people.” They got a kick out of it and, being surprised to hear me speak Chinese, they asked me to join them for a cup of tea. They told me how they’ve seen China change over the last fifty years. One man said, “I remember when Mao Zedong became the chairman. Things sure have changed since then!” Although they wouldn’t say exactly what it was that had changed, they seemed to be pretty optimistic. Perhaps memories of the great starvation and violent flares of the Cultural Revolution left a negative impact on them. I finished my tea, thanked them all, and was on my way. We continued our trip through temples, Buddhist libraries, and gardens. I always enjoy getting away from the busy city and relaxing in the quiet temples.
For the next two days, I locked myself away in my room and studied for the remainder of my midterms. By the end, I discovered that I earned all B’s on my tests; not bad for taking them in a foreign language. I met Ivo and his thirty year old Chinese friend who secretly discussed the truth about Chinese politics with us. Although he gave us a very objective history, I couldn’t help but notice his negative tone when speaking of the events during the Cultural Revolution. However, he did say that without many of those events, China would not be what it is today.
On Friday, I went on my final ISA excursion; a trip to Ganbao, a rural Tibetan village west of Chengdu! I met Yoyo and took a four hour bus ride outside of the city. We drove through rough, steep, craggily mountains that rolled on and on. The sky was totally blue and there was almost no pollution. When we arrived, I took my first breath of fresh air in over two months! Generally speaking, this part of China does not have that much industry. Very few remote buildings stood at the highway’s side. In the distance, one could see herds of sheep walking in a line. The ground was dry and it was evident that there isn’t much rain. The village of Ganbao was simple yet beautiful. Made from stone and mud, most of the homes were one story. The streets were narrow and springs ran under the road, creating a miniature geyser randomly in the street. The vast majority of people were Tibetan and wore traditional Tibetan clothing. I met a group of elderly women who told Yoyo that they hadn’t had any “outsiders” come in quite some time. I believed it as everybody I passed looked at me as if I were an alien! However, every single person that I met smiled and often offered to assist me in finding my way back to my room. Although I understood about ten percent of everything that was said that weekend, I managed to communicate through body language and my limited vocabulary of the Sichuan dialect. I learned that most of the village was rebuilt after the 2008 earthquake that devastated much of western China.
The house that we stayed in was occupied by a middle-aged Tibetan couple and the husband’s mother. The wife cooked us wild vegetables, mutton, sausage, greens; more food than we could possibly imagine finishing. I was told later that it is considered disrespectful if a guest finishes everything on the table and that the host will often cook too much food to avoid the situation. They spoke of their two sons who are studying in Tibet. The husband’s mother, who appeared to be at least ninety, came in to check on us. She told Yoyo and I, “I never went to school but I know how to count money!” “That’s all you need to know anyways,” I replied with a smile, and she walked away. What a nice lady! We hiked around the villages mountains for a while and learned of their traditional religions. Apparently, they have many different gods including the sheep god, explaining why sheep are so revered in their culture. I entered an empty prayer site overlooking the entire village. The door was about two feet tall but I managed to squeeze in. Small trinkets and tattered posters of the Buddha lined the walls and slate rock stacked in the shape of towers surrounded the site. In the distance, snow-capped mountains like something out of a painting towered over the surrounding peaks. It truly is one of the most naturally beautiful places I have ever been. I never knew places so rural and so culturally different existed. The inhabitants are almost pure of outside media pollution, mainstream societal propaganda and foreign cultural influence. It was sincerely an amazing place. I believe that my three day trip to Ganbao was my most influential experience yet!

Posted by exg07161 08:24 Archived in China Comments (0)

Islam in Chengdu


Last Friday, I got out of Chinese class and took a taxi to the Mosque with my Muslim friend Aasim. He insisted that the best representation of the religion and of the Islamic community is in their Friday Worship. He was correct. The street was packed with Muslim vendors selling naan bread, halal meat, and various shish kebabs or mutton. Every person I met was above and beyond in terms of their friendliness. Asalamu Alaikum (Peace be upon you) they would say in Arabic as they shook a fellow Muslims hand. At one point, Aasim bought us lunch from one vendor who couldn’t give him change for his fifty kuai bill. In Chinese he said, “I will return your money after the worship,” and we walked away. “Are you sure that he’ll pay you back” I asked, “what if he just keeps your money?” “We are all Muslim,” he replied before turning and heading up the stairs to the Mosque. After the worship, in the midst of a sea of people, the vendor tapped on Aasim’s shoulder handing him his promised change. I couldn’t believe it. We got in a taxi to head back and I offered to pay. Aasim refused saying that I can pay when he comes to my place of worship. What a pleasant experience. Our media in America gives such a negative depiction of Islam. With the rise of terrorism and general ignorance of eastern cultures, many people have a preconceived notion of what Islam is and of what Muslims stand for. Perhaps if everybody was able to have an experience similar to the one that I had there would be a greater understanding of the world’s various religions and cultures.
On Sunday, I went to Tianfu Square, a major shopping area, in search of some adventure. Alone, I took the subway four stations up and got off in the wrong section of town. I asked some local shop keepers for directions and made my way to my desired destination. I approached a food stand selling food that I could not identify. “What is this,” I asked. Although they explained that it was some sort of meat from some small, fury animal, I could not determine exactly what it was. “I’ll take it,” I said. I took one bite and almost vomited. Whatever it was, it was something that I could not eat. Locals were eating two or three with smiles on their faces! I suppose I’m not fully adjusted to the food yet.
A few days later, I met a few friends of mine for lunch at the campus cafeteria. I met one student from Nepal who was very nice and eager to learn about American culture. I talked for a bit and asked him if his family was affected by the massive earthquake that struck only a few days earlier. Luckily, he said that all of his family was safe but that he knew plenty of people who lost their lives. Later that day, I saw him and three other Nepali students sitting in the lobby of one of the dormitories raising money for the earthquake relief. I gave them all of the money that I had in my pocket and wished them luck on their trip home. I couldn’t even imagine what a natural disaster of that magnitude must be like.
This weekend, I decided to have some fun before my big tests this week and go to the club with a few Chinese friends of mine. It is expected that you dress up extremely well, bring lots of money with you and sit around a table with your fellow Chinese friends and drink whatever is on the table until it’s gone. This night in particular was whiskey and we completed our mission. However, because these Chinese men are significantly smaller than I am, they get drunk a lot faster than me. Thus, six shots in, I was feeling good and loose while everybody else was slurring their words, stumbling, and so on. I took the opportunity to meet some other Chinese people and practice my Mandarin with peers who were not students. They told me that they work by week and go out to party almost every night. I could not believe it! How does one function in a busy, loud, business environment with a raging hangover every day? I’ll stick to the occasional weekend. I enjoyed my night with my local friends and spent the rest of my weekend studying new vocabulary and sentence structures. Another great week!

Posted by exg07161 08:17 Archived in China Comments (0)

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