Category Archives: Semester in China

Reflections from my semester abroad

I’ve been back for quite a while now, which seems like the perfect time to write some sort of reflection post. I’ll keep it short, and basically just talk about some things that I’m so thankful for now that I’m back, as well as some other reflections on last semester.

Things I’m thankful for:
1. Being able to talk to my friends and family easily. It’s so nice to only be one time zone away from my family and be able to call people during the day rather than always having to wait until 9 pm.
2. Warm showers, dryers, and other similar comforts. Dryers save so much time. It’s unbelievable.
3. Having a kitchen. China has amazing food for cheap, but I definitely missed being able to just cook for myself.
4. Having my own room. I really really love being able to just have a space that is mine and that I can lock everyone else out of for a while. I guess I didn’t really experience any of the problems with having a roommate freshman year in the dorms because my roommate was amazing, but I definitely experiences some of those problems in China.
5. My primary education in the U.S. Elementary, middle, and high school schedules in China are crazy, because the middle school, high school, and college you go to are all based on your performance at the previous level and on national tests, so the stress of studying for the SAT begins in elementary school, and it’s worse because people only get one chance to take the gao kao. I’m so glad I didn’t have to go through that.
6. Understanding everything. I guess this is a given, but it’s just so much less stressful to immediately understand the language and cultural references.

General reflections:
1. It’s so much easier to get homework done when you don’t know people. I spent so much more time studying in China than I ever would be able to in the U.S. because I didn’t really know anybody to waste time with, and everyone I knew in the U.S. was sleeping when I was awake. I also didn’t really have much internet access which made me extremely productive. Overall, I would much rather have people to talk to, but sometimes I do miss just being able to sit and work on homework without any texts or anyone knocking on my door.
2. Learning a language is really hard. Before I went to China I thought that I would be fluent when I came back. Unfortunately, I still don’t think I’m really fluent. My Chinese has improved a lot, but I still take a long time to understand what people say, and there are still countless characters that I don’t know.
3. A lot of things can become normal. If I thought about it, I would realize how incredible my life was, but if I didn’t remind myself everyday that I was in China it was easy to just settle into a normal routine. Occasionally something crazy like a purple three wheeled truck would catch me off guard, but I was surprised how much I felt the same as I do here.
4. People around the world are somehow both more different than you thought and more similar than you thought at the same time. I would never have been able to imagine any of my classmates’ stories, but at the same time we all had a lot in common. I remember clearly walking home with my classmates one day, and one of them saying “现在,年轻人的性格都差不多”, (“Now young people’s personalities are all about the same”). I don’t really think that’s true, but I do think we have a lot more in common than we might think.

Interesting things that happened in December/January

I haven’t kept up on my blog at all so I’m just going to make one post of (very brief) summaries of interesting things that happened in December and January in chronological order.

1. My classmates being awesome: My birthday was in December, so my classmates surprised me with a cake and a card during listening class. It was probably a fire hazard because there were a lot of candles on it but it was awesome. We also didn’t have any forks, so one of my classmates thought it would be a good idea to just feed everyone bites of cake off of the spatula. It was funny.

2. Christmas: I went to school on Christmas, which was weird. But we all wore red and green so we could take a Christmas picture. I went to dinner with a Chinese family and their friends. It was very much different from Christmas in the states. We had hot pot, which doesn’t really even exist here, and someone got up to make a toast every 5 minutes. It was good though.

Our Christmas picture:
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3. TUTU Running Club relay: A guy who I met at the 50k invited me to run a relay that his running club was hosting. Each person only had to run 6K so of course I participated, and we made an international team. It was a lot of fun, even though one of my teammates didn’t show up, forcing my other teammate’s friend to run a 6K in khakis and a button down shirt.

Relay team:
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4. New Years: We actually got a few days off for New Year, which was awesome. I went to KTV for the first time with my classmates. KTV is basically just karaoke but you have your own little tiny soundproof room. China has a lot of KTV places. Also I am bad at KTV but everyone else in my class is really good.

5. Making food: My classmates and I got together and made various food from each of our countries. In the end we had a lot of food:
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6. Final Exams: We had final exams from January 13-15. This was not fun.

7. Trip to Harbin: Chinese textbooks always seem to have a lesson about Harbin and ice lanterns, so Sarah and I took advantage of the weekend after finals to go to Harbin and look at ice lanterns. They were in fact very impressive and awesome. I only took three pictures because it was really cold (REALLY COLD as in -20 Fahrenheit). Turns out taxi drivers in Harbin like to talk to people a lot (unlike in Dalian, where they prefer to just listen to the radio), and lots of people are trying to scam you because Harbin gets a lot of tourists.

Pictures of ice lanterns: IMG_3766

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8. Going home: We returned from Harbin at 10 on the 17th, so I bought some snacks for the plane and went to sleep so that I could get up and leave for the airport at 4:30 am. I then waited in lines in the Dalian airport (2 hours), flew to Shanghai (2 hours), got through customs and security and checking in again in Shanghai (3 hours), flew to Detroit (13 hours), waited in lines and rushed around through security and customs in the airport in Detroit (3 hours), and flew to Oklahoma (3 hours) for a grand total of 26 hours spent in airports and airplanes, 3 times through security, 3 times waiting in line to check my bags, and lots of sitting. It actually wasn’t bad, and for once nothing was delayed. Success!

Online Shopping: More difficult than you might think

Despite the fact that Dalian is sometimes called the “shopping city”, and does indeed have more than it’s fair share of gigantic malls, I decided to try out some online shopping in China because walking around all day shopping can get exhausting, particularly when you don’t know which stores might have what you’re looking for. A lot of Chinese people also choose to shop online, especially for clothes, so I thought there must be some advantage to it. It turns out that Chinese online shopping sites are incredible. Basically, you can buy absolutely anything for ridiculously cheap and read a million reviews about it to confirm that the quality is good before you buy it. It is then shipped to your door (supposedly) for at most $2.

The first step is setting up an account, which went smoothly until I got to a part where you have to enter your name, but it has to be at least two Chinese characters and also has to match your bank card. Obviously, my name could not possibly meet both of these requirements. I actually don’t remember how I got around this snag, but I somehow did. I probably couldn’t do it again without a lot of luck, but at least now I have a account.

I ran into a second snag because I could only use my bank card that had 67 yuan ($10) on it. (Long story short, I have two bank cards that I didn’t try to get. One is from the school and has my scholarship money. One is from when I went to the bank and exchanged money and they put the 67 yuan that wouldn’t go nicely into hundreds on a card and gave it to me.) For some reason I couldn’t sign up for an online account because (again) my name was wrong. Apparently, I had to enter it with a bunch of extra spaces in it. Once I was finally able to get past the first step where you put in your name, it turned out that I just can’t use that bank card online at all anyway. Eventually, I discovered that I needed to transfer money between the two cards using an ATM and then a CRS (I didn’t know those existed before I came to China, do we even have them in the states? I still don’t even know what CRS stands for but they’re super helpful.)

Finally, I got to actually try to buy something. I needed to buy running tights, as the weather was quite cold and I forgot my nice running tights in the U.S.. Eventually, I had found a cool $6 pair of tights to experiment with. I entered the address on my room key card, and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, my tights did not ship quickly, nor did they ship to my room, or even my building, or even the bridge near my building (somehow, a lot of people get their packages delivered to this spot underneath the bridge and just go pick them up from the pile. Here is proof)

Instead, I received a mysterious text message telling me to go to a place which nobody could give me directions to by that night, or else my package would be send back. They also helpfully left a phone number. I wasn’t about to lose those $6, so I called the number, obtained very poor directions, and headed out the door. I followed the directions, but couldn’t find anything resembling what I was looking for (the 3G building apparently), so I asked some more people on the street, who didn’t know, and then called the number again. This time I got better directions to a school near mine, but I didn’t quite know if I had understood right, so I asked the guy to repeat it, at which time he got annoyed, told me he’d deliver them to me tomorrow, and hung up.

I could have just went home and waited for him to deliver the thing, but I wasn’t sure how he would know where to deliver it, and I’m impatient, so I walked to the other school. Finally, I found someone who knew the place in the text message, and took me to it. Then, we searched through this maze of packages forever, but couldn’t find it because the guy had taken it to his office so he could deliver it. He was very annoyed to see that I had come to get it instead of waiting. But hey, I’m just a stupid foreigner.

Later, I managed to order two whole things and get them actually delivered to my building simply by putting the name of the school I was at in the address. So the lesson learned from this whole experience is that if you order something in China you should make sure that your address is super specific, or else your life will be hard.

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!

Picture time!

My posts have been quite boring and picture-less lately so I thought I should post some of the pictures I have taken. These are all pictures from around Dalian. Surprisingly, some of the panoramas that I took turned out well, but you have to click on them to see them more clearly.

My Dorm:
IMG_2488The view from my window. It’s not all that pretty but it is quite interesting. The tarp is covering a fruit stand.

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IMG_2525My extra convenient method of drying clothes when the drying rack at the end of the hall is full.

Dalian University of Technology Campus:
IMG_2705The main street on campus

IMG_2494South campus

IMG_2551Statue of Mao in front of the administrative building. Contrary to popular belief, there is still quite a bit of love for Mao in China, particularly in the older generations.

IMG_2547Statue of Liu Changchun, an Olympic sprinter. He was also a professor, although I am still not sure whether or not he taught at DUT.

IMG_2726The University’s very impressive track, with the indoor stadium in the background. This picture doesn’t really do it justice.

Various other pictures from around Dalian:
IMG_2651Dagong Road (The road my dorm is on. And no, a car accident is not about to happen, that’s just the way people drive here.)

IMG_2615The street one block north of my dorm.

IMG_2607The stair hill a few blocks to the east. Dalian is a huge city, but there are beautiful, quiet spots like this dotted around the city. I don’t know what the stair hill is called. There is a sign in front of the entrance, but it just tells visitors to avoid starting a fire.

IMG_2582The top of the stair hill.

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IMG_2587Some pictures from the top.

IMG_2602The stairs are even more intimidating going down than going up.

Downtown:
IMG_2500Zhongshan Square in downtown Dalian. This picture doesn’t really show the scale but it’s quite impressive.

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IMG_2736The ocean, a southern district of Dalian (first picture), and the downtown area (second and third pictures) from the top of Paotai Shan (Fort Mountain), which is a war memorial/ruins from a battle with Japan in 1942.

That’s it for now! I’ll post some pictures from Beijing and my latest 20 mile run in different posts later.

再见!

National Day and Golden Week in China!

This week has been pretty crazy. First of all, the first of October was National Day, and the week following that is called Golden week. We get this entire week off of school. People love to tell you about Mid Autumn Festival when they talk about China, but there is hardly any celebration of that holiday here in Dalian. People just eat a few mooncakes and call it good. National Day, on the other hand, is actually a big deal. People travel all over and a bunch of stores close for between one and seven days. Nobody tells you this when you learn about Chinese culture, I guess because it’s not ancient. But I’m telling you now that National day/Golden week is way more important to real people in China than Mid Autumn Festival. National Day, by the way, is the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (October 1st, 1949) so it’s basically like the Chinese 4th of July.

The first thing that happened over the holiday is I found out about a 50k in Dalian on October 25th. I was going to wait until I had done a long training run to test whether or not I’m still capable of finishing before I signed up, but the deadline turned out to be September 30th so I just signed up without really thinking about it that much. Signing up was a 5 hour process, especially since it seemed like you had to pay before the deadline (by this point 2 hours away) using Alipay, which I don’t have and which requires a Chinese bank account (which, hilariously, I have two of but I don’t have enough finance-related vocabulary to know how to use them, nor did I actually try to obtain them. One was given to me by the school and I think it has my scholarship money on it, and the other was just given to me when I exchanged money because they didn’t want to go find small bills so they put 67.88 yuan on a card). I never did figure out how to pay online, but the next day the race organizer texted me to say that I could pay at their office on Huangpu road on the 24th when we pick up our race packets, which was handy because now I know when to pick up the race packet and which road I need to go to. I’m sure absolutely nothing will go wrong with this race that I am severely undertrained for, especially given that I don’t always understand the information people send me about it.

The next bit of craziness is that my parents decided to visit China over the Golden week holiday because I didn’t have school, so they arrived on the first. They were supposed to arrive at 6pm but it ended up being midnight because flights to China never go as planned. They were exhausted the next day, but marched around the underground mall and my campus anyway, then ate some Chinese cafeteria food, which actually tastes pretty good. On Saturday, we climbed some crazy stairs trying to get to a building that we saw at the top of a hill, which turned out to be a war memorial. Then we saw some graves on the hillside across from us, and realized that both our hill and the one across from it were basically giant graveyards, and we saw on the way down that we had walked right past at least 20 graves without noticing. It was creepy and a bit surreal and getting dark, so we made our way back down the hill quite quickly.

On the 5th we went to Beijing, which was quite crowded and expensive. In Dalian, nobody even tries to charge you extra just for being a foreigner. Even my roommate, who knows no Chinese, gets reasonable prices on everything because they post their prices and bargaining doesn’t really happen. In Beijing, however, people will gladly charge you three or four or ten times the normal price. It also is very smoggy. I had underestimated the amount of smog, but now I know, it really is terrible. I think I was there on some of the worst pollution days too, so it was awful. Despite Beijing’s shortcomings, it was still incredible. Unfortunately I had to come back to Dalian on the 7th to begin school on the 8th, but my parents stayed in Beijing until the 9th. I got to see the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, and a Beijing Hutong before I began the 6 hour train ride back to Dalian. The train was followed by the most frustrating taxi ride in traffic I’ve ever experienced. So frustrating, in fact, that the driver just stopped about a mile away and asked (probably would have begged if I had refused) if I could get out and walk so that he could just stop driving already.

As always, the break ended with a mad rush to finish all my homework, or at least just remember what it was. To be honest, I wasn’t successful in either endeavor, but it was worth it to travel with my parents, especially considering how good of a time they had. And I only forgot homework for one class, so it almost counts as a success. That’s it for now!

再见!

Running in Dalian

At first, running in Dalian seemed like it might be a nightmare. The streets are quite crowded and even on the sidewalk, you’re not safe from being run over by a car. Overall it’s just very chaotic. However, there are certainly good places to run if one just takes the time to look.

-The south end of the campus of DLUT is pretty nice, it’s fairly empty and shaded, which makes it not a bad candidate. However, it isn’t that great if you want to run for a long time, as it’s fairly short.

-Just about anywhere is alright before 7 am and after 8 pm. Luckily, Dalian is a pretty safe city, so I didn’t ever feel unsafe running at these times, even once it was dark as long as I stayed where there are some street lights (it gets dark here around 7 pm, and the sun rises around 5:30 am). Most of the shops shut down by 9 pm, but there are almost always at least a few people wandering the streets walking to and from their houses so it doesn’t seem strange to be out. They may give you some strange looks when you run by, but they tend to not really care and I haven’t had any bad experiences yet. There are often a lot of people near the North gate of the University and near bus stops, which can sometimes interrupt a run, but usually it isn’t too bad during the less busy parts of the day.

-The best place I’ve found to run hills so far is a large hill near the north gate of the university. It takes about 3 minutes to run to from my dorm, and there are a lot of connecting trails, which I haven’t had time to fully explore yet. It’s pretty much just half a mile of stairs that go straight up to a pagoda at the top. It’s pretty awesome

-A lot of people in Dalian like to run, but they all run on a track. As a result, there are countless tracks that are free and open to the public, and it is completely acceptable to run on them at any time. I really dislike running on tracks, but that option is definitely there.

Overall, it’s a bit difficult to match when you have time with when the streets aren’t crowded, and the footing is extremely uneven, even on the sidewalk, but it’s better than nothing!

First Day of Class in China!

Today was my first day of Chinese class. The placement test put me in Intermediate 2, which is essentially the fourth level out of six. There doesn’t appear to be an Advanced 2 class though, so it may be the fourth level out of five. I don’t know. Regardless, it’s very difficult. Today I had three classes, speaking, comprehensive Chinese, and writing. We have the comprehensive course every day, speaking three times per week, listening two times per week, writing and reading each once per week, and a class called “zhong guo gai kuang,” which I think means something along the lines of current events in China. All I know is that I probably won’t have the vocabulary for it so I should probably look up some words before Thursday.

My classes today were quite difficult. The speaking class wasn’t too bad, we all just introduced ourself and said the meaning of our Chinese names, as well as our other names if we didn’t really know about our Chinese names or didn’t spend long enough talking about them. A lot of the people in my class are really funny, and the teacher for that class also has a great sense of humor. I didn’t always understand what was being said and I wasn’t able to converse with the teacher as easily as most of my classmates, but I felt pretty confident that I could survive the semester. My second class was the comprehensive course, which is very vocabulary-oriented, as far as I can tell. Our teacher for that class was much more serious, and talked quite a bit faster, but I could understand at least part of what she was saying. We went over about half of the 47 vocal words for the first lesson. She explained the meaning in Chinese, since that’s really the only common language in our class, which resulted in me kind of knowing the meaning (luckily for me the book is in English), and also kind of knowing a bunch of synonyms for all the vocal words. By the end I had a bunch of messy notes to translate later and a pretty big headache, but I still felt like I could probably survive if I studied a ton and learned at least twice as much vocal as everyone else. My third and final class was a writing class. My teacher was very nice but is clearly from somewhere in the North of China because she has a very definite Northern accent. Basically, she adds and “r” sound to the end of every other word. It’s so hard to understand. She even spoke really slowly, and I still can’t understand. It took me so long to figure out that “berrr” was actually “ben” and I should be buying a notebook to write my essays in. Most of the class, she taught us some vocabulary and grammar (explanations in Chinese again, but this time mostly indecipherable) and talked about something. I honestly had absolutely no idea what was going on. No idea. I just sat there and didn’t answer any questions and wrote down whatever she wrote on the board because that was actually the only thing I could do. I understood a few things, but never enough to actually be able to answer a question. She kept asking questions while staring directly at me, but the guy behind me always had to answer because I simply didn’t understand. I do, however, know that we have to write a short essay before our next writing class so maybe I’ll be able to use that to prove that I do actually belong in this crazy class. In the meantime I’ll work on understanding people with northern accents. I also think that she used a lot more challenging words because she kept saying “HSK 6″ which I think was in reference to the vocabulary she was using. (HSK is a test of Chinese language for foreigners, and 6 is the highest level. The highest level I’ve passed is 3 so hopefully she doesn’t expect us to already be at HSK 6 level. This is an intermediate class, after all). After writing I was kind of panicking on the inside, but my friend (who is in the same class as me and has about the same Chinese level because we studied together in high school. Her vocabulary is way bigger though) and I calmed down and went to a coffee shop and sat there for several hours trying to decipher our notes.

At this point, I’m pretty nervous about the semester, but everyone says that the first month is really terrible and then it gets better, so I guess I’ll hope that they’re right. At least I can kind of understand what’s going on, and my listening skills have already improved a great deal so maybe they’ll improve more. I’ll also really need to work on my vocabulary, and on making friends with other people in my class. I know one person, but I haven’t yet talked to anyone else in our class. Most of them are from South Korea, and then there are a few people from Japan and one girl from Russia. They are all way better at Chinese than I am. I will definitely try to make friends though, because we can practice Chinese together and that will be good.

First few days in Dalian

My first few days in Dalian have been great! I have registered at the school, but I won’t have a class schedule until after I take a placement test tomorrow, and school doesn’t start for another week, so I’m really just exploring the city. Yesterday, my roommate moved in. She’s from Costa Rica and she’s very sweet. She made a lot of friends because she’s been here for a couple of days, and yesterday, while I sat in the room exhaustedly eating crushed portraits that one of my roommates in the U.S. sent with me, she actually went out and talked to people. I still got to meet some people though because later, she and her friends all went to the beach and they invited me, so I got to see the beach. So far there are 4 people here from the U.S., all of whom my roommate knows and introduced me to yesterday. They have been here for about a week and said they haven’t met any other people from the U.S. yet. There are also some guys from Germany, Japan, and various South American countries who went with us to the beach and dinner.

The beach was pretty cool, but I didn’t fully enjoy it because I was still operating on jet lag and about 3 hours of sleep. However, I think that just powering through all that definitely helped me today, because I was able to sleep through the night and not really get tired all day today. Anyway, the beach was fun. It only cost 2 yuan to get there by bus (about 35 cents). The two Germans swam, but the rest of us either didn’t realize where we were going (this was me) or didn’t want to swim, so we just sat and walked around for a while. Eventually the other person from the U.S. in the group started dancing to “xiao ping go” (a popular song in China) with a random Chinese man, who was very helpful and tried (unsuccessfully) to teach him how to dance. After we got back to campus, we ate diner at the canteen, which was pretty good (also very cheap – I spent less than a dollar for dinner), and then I returned to my dorm to sleep. My roommate and I both went to sleep around 8 pm, because we were extremely tired and because it gets dark around 7 here, so it seemed much later than it was.

Today was also a lot of fun, because my high school classmate/good friend finally arrived. She also had some flight trouble, and arrived in Dalian last night at midnight. She has a host family, so she had a bed to sleep in, but she was still pretty exhausted. We walked around for a while because she left some of her documents in her host family’s house and couldn’t figure out how to open the door (later her host mom showed us that you have to unlock it while kicking it in exactly the right spot for it to open). It was really great to see her, and I got to meet some of her friends from her school in Scotland who are also studying here in Dalian. Other notable highlights from the day include accidentally walking into a nice restaurant and having to order expensive food (although once you convert it back to dollars it isn’t expensive at all), trying to get bubble tea and ending up with a smoothie, and successfully ordering dinner which I subsequently spilled all over my room.

That’s it for now! I’ll post again once I’ve taken the placement test and started class!

再见!
Louise