A Travellerspoint blog

The First Week of Classes

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Blog Entry 2
March 13, 2015

Time in Chengdu seems to fly by; already nine days since my last blog entry! On the fifth, I met a group of Chinese business students who had plans to walk the lantern-lit streets in celebration of Lantern Festival; the last day of the Chinese New Year. They asked me to join and I agreed with no hesitation. The four Chinese students and I strolled down a beautiful walking street along the river. Chinese families, couples, and groups of friends filled the surrounding area with laughter and traditional Chinese songs. I did not see another foreigner the entire time! The following day, I went to my classroom to meet my teacher, Zhou laoshi, and my new classmates. The diversity is incredible; students from Korea, Japan, France, Israel, India and Italy filled the room. I am the only American! That evening, I was invited to go to a local Chinese bar with some Chinese guys that I met in the gym. They told me that foreigners do not often go to this bar, and it proved to be the case. Again, I think I was the only westerner in the entire establishment. They taught me Chinese games; mah jong, Chinese dice, and higher or lower. Surprisingly, I picked them up very quickly. They say that having a few drinks helps one speak a foreign language better and I fully agree. I believe that the nervousness of making a mistake disappears while ones confidence in their language ability increases. In addition, I have practically been limited to speaking Chinese for the majority of my time in Chengdu, so my speaking ability has improved!
A few days ago, I met a friend of my program manager. His English name is Sheldon and he too likes to go to the gym. Thus, we decided to go together. Sheldon studies business here at Sichuan University and knows many Chinese students whom he agreed to introduce me to. At the gym, I worked out with four Chinese guys and two Koreans. They are all very helpful, helping me convert kilograms to pounds, teaching me weight room vocabulary and explaining some Chinese jokes (all of which are too inappropriate to post on my blog). Since that day in the weight room, Sheldon has proven to be my best Chinese friend thus far! He regularly asks me if I need help with my homework (I kindly decline his offer) or if I’d like to eat dinner with him. It’s a good feeling being able to create such a close connection in a foreign language.
In our spare time, a group of us, both Chinese and foreigners, have been going out to experience Chengdu’s culture. We went to the bamboo park and got lost in a maze of bamboo, to a Buddhist temple and chatted with some monks about Buddhist teachings including Anatman, suffering, and the problems in Tibet and a local tea house!
On Monday, we had our first day of classes. Our teacher only speaks in Chinese and expects us to do the same. Our first class, which is Monday through Friday, is Chinese Comprehension in which we learn to read, write, speak and listen. Our second classes focus on one of these subjects and are taught one or two times a week, depending on the course and day. In the afternoon, I attended my first Daoism class. Every other week we will take a field trip to a different temple! Yesterday, I attended the Chinese Contemporary History class. Man, does our professor have many credentials; a doctorate, several Bachelor’s degrees, and he’s been to dozens of countries and every state in the U.S. The detail of his curriculum seems extreme as well; on the first day alone I learned of several major events that occurred between 1911 and 1917 that I had never heard of before! I’m very excited to see what this semester brings!

Posted by exg07161 06:15 Archived in China Comments (0)

Becoming Culturally Immersed

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“Ring, Ring, Ring,” the last time I would hear my alarm go off in my Southern Vermont home for the next 98 days. After saying my final farewell to my brother and packing the car in negative temperatures, my parents, girlfriend, and I were on our way to Bradley International Airport at 1:00 am. 24 hours later, I found myself in my Shanghai hotel room. Within five minutes of my arrival, I walked several blocks up to the Global Market shopping mall in search of a jacket, dinner, and a new culture. What better place to experience culture than in the mall, anyways? The place was packed; thousands of Chinese shoppers, sales clerks and vendors flowed through the aisles. It was almost overwhelming. With my broken Chinese, I ordered some noodles, bought a jacket, and asked some Chinese students about their New Year, being the fifth day of the Spring Festival. Exhausted I went back to my room ready for what the Chinese culture had in store for me!
For the next few days, I was given the standard tour of Shanghai; viewing the business district, walking the Bund, dinner in the Pearl Tower’s revolving restaurant, and so on. Although everything was exhilarating and new, I didn’t feel that culturally immersed. Sure, I was surrounded by Chinese people eating Chinese food, trying to speak the language and the like, but I felt that Shanghai’s vibe of modernity was not exactly what I had in mind.
On February 28, I found myself back in the airport boarding the plane to Chengdu. Only this time, something was different. I was literally the only westerner on the plane and nothing was written in English anymore. Two Chinese students in the seats next to me asked me in Mandarin about my plans in China telling me about life in Chengdu in exchange. Although I was just on an airplane, this was the first time that I felt immersed in the Chinese culture! I got off of my plane, met my Chengdu program leader, Yoyo, and was driven through the city to the West Overseas Student Dormitory. I dropped my bags off and walked to a hotpot restaurant for some traditional Sichuanese dinner. Chengdu, at a glance, seemed much different from Shanghai; less skyscrapers, more trees and rural-looking living areas, students and families, and an overall greater sense of community. The culture here seems much more like the China that I had imagined!
On my second day in Chengdu, I woke up and left my dormitory in search of a place to find breakfast. I figured that the best indicator of good food is a large group of the local people, so I approached a local baozi stand. Baozis are steamed bread filled with meat, similar to a dumpling but with bread instead of dumpling wrappers as the outer layer. They are one of Chengdu’s most popular breakfast items and I joined the trend!
After breakfast, I walked to the local supermarket in search of toiletries, snacks and school supplies. The supermarket sure is something; what a great representation of the Chinese culture. The second floor seemed quite similar to an American Walmart; isles of household goods that any store would sell. However, the first floor was a bit different. Tanks full of frogs, turtles, crabs, eels and various types of fish lined the walls. The building next door sold livestock; chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, and so on. The Chinese customers simply pick out their animal of choice as if they are selecting the most crisp apple of the bunch. This was the start of my experience of the Chinese food culture. In China, people really take a lot of time and pride in preparing food. Although fast and efficient, the dishes are always as aesthetically pleasing as they are tasty. Even the preparation of cooking seems vital; pulling the noodles by hand, marking each type of baozi with a particular vegetable, heating the tea cups with hot water before serving the tea and so on.
Yesterday, I decided to purchase a gym membership. I avoided the more expensive, westernized gym and instead joined the local school weight room. It was packed with dozens of other Sichuan University students who used old, run down machines and rusted weights. My kind of place! I met three guys who spoke to me (all in Chinese at this point in my trip) about the United States, my hopes while living in Chengdu and my experience lifting weights. We exchanged information using the popular Chinese social media application Wechat and decided to play basketball sometime together! Only my third day in Chengdu and I’m already making friends with the locals! Last night I was taken to the Sichuan Opera, perhaps Sichuan’s most traditional source of entertainment. Using ancient Chinese language, song, dance, and costume, the performers displayed acrobatics, sword fighting, mask changing and so on. Every act was incredible! They really did a great job of portraying China’s ancient culture.
Today, I got out of bed and sat down with a Chinese student that I hadn’t yet met and ate breakfast with her. She told me that she studies music here at Sichuan University and that she would like to play for me sometime. Unfortunately, I could not translate the word for the instrument that she was referring to. Of course, I agreed and we exchanged contact information. I am very surprised at how quickly I am becoming adjusted to Chengdu; it is as if I have lived here for quite some time and have just returned. I am still very early in my trip, but I am already finding myself in culturally immersing situations. Every day, I find myself speaking less English, meeting more locals, and learning more about Chinese culture. I am eager to see what the next few months bring!

Posted by exg07161 07:41 Archived in China Comments (0)

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