Chinese Speech Competition!

I still haven’t quite caught up on blogging but this only happened three days ago so I’m doing better. Just three days after the 50k, I found myself signed up for a speech competition that I had not meant to participate in at all. How did this happen? It all started with our teacher telling us about two weeks ago that our class would have a preliminary competition to select three participants to do the speech competition because so far nobody had volunteered. The preliminary competition was mandatory and we were supposed to write and memorize our speech in a pretty short amount of time (as in 3 days).

I was not worried because I am very certainly not in the top three speakers in our class (or even the top half really) as far as pronunciation goes, so I could just write an alright speech, memorize it enough that I didn’t embarrass myself, and happily watch three of my classmates compete. Unfortunately, this did not happen. After we had all said our speeches, we were to vote for who would compete in the real competition. Before we voted, however, our teacher asked if anyone definitely didn’t want to compete. Due to a mixture of uncertainty about what she had said (I was pretty sure that being open to compete was mandatory), not wanting to disappoint our teacher, and still being certain that I would not be chosen (my speech wasn’t that good), I did not raise my hand. And was promptly voted into competing because all of the best speakers in our class apparently did not want to compete.

Now that I actually had to compete, I had to completely change my speech, because it was actually the most boring speech I have ever heard. It was about the benefits of studying abroad, which are plentiful, but do not make that great of a competition speech. I changed my speech to be about Chinese tones, because that topic fits the requirements better and I have some fun stories about saying things with the wrong tone and being completely misunderstood. By the time I actually had a speech written, there was only a week left until the competition. (to be fair though, there was only a week and 1 day when I decided to change the speech). We had practice for an hour or more every day after class for the entire week leading up to the speech, which is why I have not caught up on anything. I definitely needed that practice though, or else I probably would not have done a good job of memorizing.

The speech competition itself was bigger than I thought, and there were several really good speakers. Most of my classmates were there, and they made all of the people from our class who were competing signs in our native languages, which was really nice. (My name is apparently Louis but hey, what did you expect?) There ended up being five of us competing, because two people decided after the preliminary voting that they actually did want to speak. I honestly don’t remember much from my speech itself, but I’m sure I said every word we practiced incorrectly, because I didn’t do that well. But I didn’t embarrass myself too much and people laughed at my stories, so I’ll consider that a win. One of my classmates got in the second place group, and two of them were in the third place group, so they were quite happy. Plus a lot of our class went out to lunch afterwards, which was a lot of fun.

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Tour de HuangNiChuan 50K (环黄泥川越野赛)

First of all, I have done a terrible job of keeping up with blogging because I’ve been really busy. I’m still busy and I should be studying for midterms right now but I don’t think I can cram any more Chinese into my brain, so instead I’ll try to catch up on blogging. The first interesting blog topic I have is the 50k. This happened 2 weeks ago (on October 25th). Long story short, I heard about it, and then signed up before I had a chance to think about it, and then tried not to worry about it too much even though I definitely hadn’t been running enough miles. (I wasn’t completely stupid, by the way, I have at least run a 50k before so I was pretty sure I could finish, I just didn’t know how fast) Anyway, it was an awesome experience and I might as well blog about it because I don’t think that even my poor writing skills can make it boring.

Before the actual race, I had been talking to one of the race organizers on Wechat (of course) and he said something along the lines of “Our race is really hard, I don’t really know that anything you’ve done measures up. Please just don’t hurt yourself.” I thought he was just underestimating the hilliness of Colorado. He was not. The race was in fact quite hard, and nothing I have ever done measured up at all.

Just getting our race packets was an adventure itself. So was making spaghetti before the race. But those aren’t as interesting as the race itself so I’ll just post a picture of all the stuff we got and move on.
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Basically, everything was weird and crazy. The staging area for the race was inside a Mercedes dealership, so there was a strange mix of nervous runners trying to warm up and fancy cars. Then, before the actual start, there was an announcer calling out exercises for everyone to do (this actually was the same guy I talked to on we chat!), so here we were, just a bunch of runners doing jumping jacks together in front of a Mercedes dealership. When the race finally started, there was a pace car that was supposed to show the route for the first mile until we went off the road, but some runners got out in front of the pace car, forcing the pace car to stop. Then there was no pace car, and the air was filled with the sound of runners screaming in Chinese which direction we should go. This was the point at which I first started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Eventually we all turned left, which was apparently right.

The course got significantly more interesting once we got off the road, although on the road I did see a fairly large three wheeled purple truck. Anyway, we turned off the road and onto a narrow path, which, like all paths in Dalian, took the most direct route up a gigantic hill. This involved lots of holding on to trees to avoid falling back down the hill. I was happy to discover that I was not struggling any more than the runners around me, but I was obviously quite nervous that the rest of the course might be like this. Upon reaching the top of the hill, we took the most direct way straight back down the other side. This took a while because there was someone in front of me who was really scared to go down. Reasonable, because it was quite steep. And by quite steep I mean the kind of steep that you have to climb rather than walk. Eventually, we reached the bottom, at which point we ran along a ridge for a while, and then climbed directly up another steep hill. This one, however, was still quite steep to go down, but it was apparently possible to run. Had I been by myself, I would certainly have walked. But, being that this was just the beginning of the race, I was right in the middle of a pretty big group, and decided it was best to just follow their lead. This was a good idea because it ended up improving my time a lot, but a bad idea because it was terrifying. Apparently, the Chinese way to run down a really steep hill on a single track path through a forest is to just run as fast as you can until you start to fall, and then scream in terror while grabbing on to a tree. This is honestly what happened. I could honestly tell which way the trail would turn next by listening for the yelps of terror.

Most of the rest of the course was, in fact, like this. Most of the uphills were impossible to run, and required the use of tree branches (not just for convenience, but actually because if I didn’t hold on I would fall). Most of the downhills were very steep and required yelps of terror along with the continued use of tree branches. Besides the ups and downs, there were also sharp little rocky ridges along the top of some of the hills. These were particularly scary because (still not kidding or exaggerating) if you were to trip and fall either left or right, you would fall to your death. If you were to fall directly forward, you would probably not quite be impaled on the rocks, but it would hurt a lot. Throughout all the hill sections, the trail was about 10 inches wide, generally a bit overgrown, generally a bit rocky, and generally covered with a lot of leaves so that you couldn’t tell if you were about to step on a sharp rock. Besides this type of trail, there were maybe 5 miles total (out of 31) of road, and a few sections along the coast (coast, not beach, because it was al very rocky) Of course, all of this was breathtakingly beautiful along with being dangerous. I won’t go into detail about every hill because there were too many and they were all about the same but I will give you some course highlights:

1. The spot where we were running through a forest on a tiny path, and suddenly were spit out into a gigantic Buddhist temple before running back into the forest. About two minutes later we suddenly came upon another, even bigger temple with a 100 plus foot tall statue of Buddha.
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Picture thanks to http://iranshao.com/races/1065

2. The spots (yep multiple) where there was just a sheer rock face, with an arrow pointing directly up spray painted on it.

3. The spots (again multiple) where you had to descend or climb a cliff using a rope.
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Picture thanks to a guy I was running with. I actually don’t know his name but I saw him several times throughout the whole race. He was faster than me going uphill, but I was faster than him going downhill, so we passed each other a lot.

4. At one point I was on top of a ridge and came to an overlook. I spent a while looking for the next marker before realizing that it was underneath my feet. And it was an arrow painted on the rock pointing directly off the overlook. When I pointed it out to the guy behind me who was also looking for the marker, he just looked so defeated and said “…But how?” (In Chinese of course). Then we had to find our way down the cliff.

5. This spot. Wherever this is. I don’t even remember exactly where it was, but just to give you an idea of what a typical section of the course looked like. You can see the red ribbon on the right (if you look pretty hard, it’s kind of small and just below the center on the very far right) that marks where I’m supposed to be getting to.
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9 hours later, I finally made it back to the Mercedes dealership (now filled with grubby, tired runners, lots of free food, fancy cars, volunteers, and annoyed people who actually work at the dealership) and received my finisher’s medal and vest. Overall, it was awesome.
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There are a lot of pictures at http://iranshao.com/races/1065/albums?year=2015 if anyone wants to look at more pictures from the race.

That’s it for now!

再见!