Last week we started classes and I can’t believe in the matter of a week we have covered what it would take my UND class over half a semester. We are moving at lightning speed and need to memorize over 15 characters a night just to keep up. Every day we start class with a dictation quiz, so we always need to be ready. We have class three times a week for three hours each, totally nine hours of class time. We don’t really go over the characters (that’s independent study), but we focus on new grammar and listening/speaking. Nearly every class we spend the last hour only speaking Chinese in a very informal but interview like setting. Professor Song asks us questions and we’re to answer them with our own experience and with the grammar points.
On Saturday we went out to the Panda Research Base which was amazing!
Just as we arrived it was feeding time, so all the pandas were out and visible. Unfortunately it was cloudy and hard for me to get a crisp, clean picture. Also, unfortunately, I earned myself a reputation for getting lost. I wondered away form the group because I wanted to see the Red Panda nursery which turned out to be really cool, but also really hard to find.
I ended up finding it just half an hour before we were to meet up. I knew the way back from where I entered, but got turned around in the nursery and ended up on the way wrong side of the research center. I figured out where I was five minutes before we were to meet up, I was at least a twenty minute walk from the front. Thankfully the USAC group waited for me, some grudgingly, but waiting nonetheless.
Afterword we had lunch and a city tour. I finally bought my first Chinese souvenir, I even attempted at bartering! I failed, but I still think the price was reasonable, $13. I’ll get better eventually. I mean, I have too, we’re going to the Antiques and Art street soon and they barter like it’s their job!
That night we celebrated Tyler’s 21st birthday. I went to his apartment and tried his 13 year old whiskey he brought from home, but when they started getting ready to hit up the bars and clubs, I wished them goodnight. I’m not yet comfortable walking around Chengdu sober, let alone when I and everyone I’m with are drunk. It was fortunate I went home. One of the girls kind of knew the bartender and the he gave them a round of free drinks. As it turns out, liqueur is also one of the knock-offs here. When you’re not carful bartenders will give you some homemade stuff that can be downright lethal. In one story our directer told us, a bar was giving out drinks made with rat poison. However beer is 99% of the time legitimately beer. That night these guys were not drinking beer, they might have been drinking rat poison though because most of them were not in school two days later.
On Sunday my roommate Anna showed me where to get some groceries. I can mostly get essentials at the market just down the street, or fruit and veggies from the street venders.
It’s surprising to find out what US brands have here. For instance, Oreo is huge! There’s the original cookie in vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, I’ve even heard of lime and cake. Also it comes in wafers, cookie straws, and soft cookies. At nearly every market I’ve been to, a good portion of shelving is used for Oreos. And odd, obscure flavors of Lay’s chips. There’s one labeled Hot and Numbing Pepper Lay’s chips. KFC is also everywhere, along with Starbucks. It’s good to know whenever I’m missing home that KFC is within walking distance.
Now that I don’t have the distraction of TV or Netflix, I’m focusing more on studying Chinese and even writing. I suppose I could get a subscription to a stronger VPN, but they are sometimes unreliable and you have to pay for them. Well, with UND’s I have access to facebook and pinterest and that’s all that really counts, right?
Little by little I’m seeing what is accepted in America vs. China, and even what I’m personally comfortable with. How food is presented was a big one, how things are purchased was the next, and overall manners. Food is largely presented in family style on a lazy-susan, the one who is paying sits in a certain spot, and arguments on who is paying usually involve people wanting to pay. In America when you are shopping you are able to putz around with little attention from the shopkeeper and buy the thing for the labeled price. Here, the shopkeeper is very attentive, making you feel like you have to buy something, and then you barter. This difference is a little unnerving for me and makes shopping a little stressful. However, some of my fellow students absolutely love it. It’s like gambling. You bluff, say it’s too expensive, say I don’t have that much money money, walk away, and then the shopkeeper comes to you. Overall manners are different. We were always taught “It’s not polite to stare” and “stand in a straight line.” Here, when we went to a Tibetan restaurant we sat near the picture window and there gathered a bunch of Tibetans and Chinese alike. Nothing is in a uniform manner except nature which is oddly very uniform and controlled in China; people on the other hand crowed around and even budge in line. Even some behavioral things are different like people approaching us because we obviously speak English, and simply wanting to try out their English. Sometimes though said person wants our phone number and address so we can meet up. I understand they want to practice English, but I’m still skittish to give out my information to someone I met five minutes ago. It’s just interesting to notice these differences; I’m just not sure yet what to make of them.
Friday 6:00 pm: The end of week two in Chengdu
Sorry everyone in North Dakota, I’ve heard you’ve had a rough week. Here in Chengdu we’ve had abnormally warm, sunny weather. Mostly I’ve spent my time wondering around campus, enjoying the weather, and buying fruit. I also found a street vender who sold Harry Potter books in Chinese. I got the last book for a dollar, my roommate got the first for $0.30. Speaking of which, Harry Potter has been helping me fight off homesickness. I’ve taken a hiatus from HP for various reasons, but now I find it comforting. Even Harry in music form (A Very Potter Musical) does the trick! Maybe it’s my lake of TV / English movies / Netflix talking, but I think I’ll be watching more of HP.
Saturday 7:00 pm: after a day of shopping
I think I hate bargain shopping. Scratch that, I really hate bargain shopping. My roommates and I went to a mass bargain market with the aim to buy shoes. The place was packed! It was just like crazy Black Friday shopping. I couldn’t get through anywhere without shoving someone, I even think I knocked someone over. As we wondered through the area, I noticed that the same product kept repeating itself, each vender had the same shoes as the other, the same t-shirts, pants, and jackets. It was just the same products displayed in different areas.
However the non-bargain markets are less crowded, you just end up paying a little more. I think I kind of prefer that even if I’m paying more, at least I don’t have someone shoving me in order to get to the other items.
Tonight we’re staying in, eating pizza, and watching Les Miserables. Poor Ann Hathaway is making me cry.