Monday, July 7, 2008

My Life

Dear America,

I have not written much about life at ACC now that classes have started. That is largely becuase once classes started, all signs of life disappeared; like squirrels in winter, the students all scurried to their rooms and huddle their until the storm outside is over (often very literally: it has been raining on average every other day here). We only emerge for our daily classes (kicked off with the ego-crushing vocabular quixz every morning at 8 am), only venture outside the camus for food, and only sleep when the work is done.

The first week was comparatively lax, lulling me into a false belief that I could manage the workload; little was I to realize that assignments would quickly get harder and more numerous. As it is now, aside from an hour here or there devoted to extra curriculars, My entire life is spent either in class or preparing for class. Even the extracurricular activities, such as the Chinese cooking class I'm taking, serves a triple purpose: a brief break from writing homework, preparating of necessary food, and a way to learn and practice new Chinese vocaulary.

Though it is full of dail frustrations, at another level there is something rewarding in being in an environment where no one bats an eye when you mention that you have been up since before 5 in the morning working on your homework; after all, we are all, more or less, in the same boat here. And, if nothing else, I'm learing large amounts of Chinese -- I am already full of misgivings that I won't have the opportunity to stay here for an academoic semester.

I've managed to hoodwink the professors here into thinking that I'm hardworking and industrious, primarily by stationing myself on a couch at the entrance to the building and simultaneously memorizing all the verbs related to Chinese lawsuits and people-watching. I doubt the facade will last long, however, as I have learned that I am at best only able to complete 95% of any given day's work. That last 5% adds up quickly.

I have mentioned this before, but it really is worth reiterating: the Chinese are obsessed with three things: the olympics, their fast economic growth, and Yao Ming/NBA/basketball. Not a day gos by without a reference to at least one of the three, and many jackpots days get three for three. Whether in oral language practice (say the following: "After Deng Xiaoping's Reforming and Opening Up Policy, although China's economy developed quickly, Chinese companies faced competition from international companies.") or in written assignements (write all the proper names in this paragraph: "Yao Ming and So-and-so of America's NBA have a certain skill set... the Bulls feel that their talent lies in the younger players...) or in our weekly exams (listen to the following and answer the questions: "The spokesperson for Beijing's 1993 bid for the Olympics is now full of confidence that China in holding the 2008 olympics will do so with the full support of the entire Chinese people...")

(That last example, taken from a newpaper, reveals the wonder's of China's proganda machine, as it can glory in the full support of all of China's people and simultaneously tighten Beijing security because of fears of ill-defined "terrorists" -- who, though of course not Chinese, might somehow originate from the Chinese provinces of Xi Zang (Tibet) and Xin Jiang. They are so worried, in fact, that they have been working with American counter-terrorist specialists to train up their troops. But I digress.)

In all honesty, I've realized that the Olympics are going to be more annoying than I expected, not so much because of the foreigners, as I originally had expected, but because of the Chinese! I have heard enough of how Yao Ming is going to play in the Olympics which reveal how developed China's ecenomy is (three for three), or how China's handling the Olympics has nothing to do with politics (and I have a bridge to sell you...). It's truly amazing. I yearn for September.

In other news in my life, I have at long last broken through with the front desk receptionists. It took a surprisingly long time, but I think I can safely say that I am on good terms with at least three of them; I'm not sure why I expend so much effort to befriend the front desk folks wherever I go -- perhaps a sense of self-preservation, as they hold the keys to my room. They also often can be very helpful when one needs directions, advice on good sentence construction, or hot water. So befriending them is a pleasant acheivement. (I suspoect that it took so long because foreigners are plentiful in the foreign students' dorm so I'm not anything special, and they also are surprisingly busy so have little time for idle chat).

This Friday our post-test activity is going to be a debate with Chiense students: the Americans can only speak in Chinese, and the Chinese can only speak in English. I and another clasmate are arguing that abortion should be illegal (a view conveniently in line with my own beliefs, and which I have debated before, albeit in English). It should be lots of fun. This Saturday another classmate and I have made tentative plans to make an "American Breakfast" for a whole bunch of folks. Those of you who read my blog two years agomay recall the fiasco of my last attempt to make an American Breakfast in China; I set out to get bacon, raw eggs, milk, flour, and oil. I came back with a grimy slab of pork, hard-boiled eggs, liquid yoghurt, and no flour or oil. My "American Breakfast" ended up consisting of boiling the pork slab in a wok that smelled of fish and then washing the pork down with the liquid yoghurt. With any luck, armed with greater breakfast experience and an improved Chinese vocabulary, I will perform better this year.

Sitting in front of me is a piece of paper. At the top is written in Chinese, "prepare the following argument: In the course of an adult's life, misfortunes are beneficial for an individual's development." The rest is blank. This, along with several other homework items has yet to be completed before tomorrow at 8 am.

Misfortune or not, I hope this assignment is beneficial to my development.


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