Day 33 (28th of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
To begin, I must clarify a few things regarding last week’s blog post. Firstly, the “shi shi shi…” poem is completely true. Every word in that poem is pronounced “shi”, and it tells the elaborate story of a hermit poet who hunts lions.
Secondly, the comment regarding my breathing difficulties was a reference to this recent Onion article, which I had linked some of you. It’s very, very funny. Like all good satire, it’s painfully true. Definitely worth a read.
Happy Easter Monday! I contributed to the festivities by illuminating my angel-lamp today. I always knew that feature would come in handy.
The slog of class went on as normal this morning. Following that, I had an interesting lunchtime experience. I used my normal technique of following a crowd of Chinese students to find my way to a good lunch. At precisely 11:20am, a horde of Chinese students came bustling out of the biology building all heading across campus. I slipped into the stream of students to follow them to their destination. They hardly would have noticed me. Sure enough, I ended up at a gargantuan mess hall. I happily ordered myself a wonton soup and settled in for a good session of reading.
Partway through the chapter, I hear the familiar accented “hello” snarled from the other side of the table. I look up, smile, and reply “hello, can you speak English?” I detest when I say “你好 ni hao” to someone in Chinese and they reply in English, and so I normally give people the courtesy of using the language they initiated the conversation in until it is figured out that their vocabulary does not in fact extend past greetings.
“Yes, I can speak English”, she replies in a remarkably good accent. “It’s my major.”
For the next half an hour we had a Chinglish (half Chinese, half English) conversation about her hometown of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province (same pronunciation and province as Xuzhou, but entirely different city… I’m not even surprised any more). Following the conversation and promise of snacks from Suzhou following her return over the QingMing Festival this weekend, we exchanged Wechat details and I left.
Walking out of the refectory, I browsed her Wechat profile only to discover that she had posted a photo of me before we had even begun talking.
The caption translates to: “While I was eating, a foreign bro sat opposite me. My eating posture became more lady-like.”
Xavo gettin’ the chicks againnnn
Following lunch I had an afternoon nap, only to sleep through my alarm and completely miss my afternoon class. Oh well.
This evening I decided to make some more use of my gym membership. 50 minutes of weights and a 1.6km run is no easy task for me, but I’m proud that I can at least hold myself to the routine every other night.
There were yet more interesting characters at the gym. I was the only one with a shirt on and not flexing into the mirrors after each set. The guy doing curls next to me was so egotistic, in fact, that he actually walked over to me with his mate and asked me to feel his bicep. I reluctantly poked it, afraid that doing anything else could come across in the wrong way. Yet another absurd situation which when with friends could be laughed at, but on your own you just have to accept as a strange part of the culture.
Following the gym, I bought an excellent cold salad roll and Papaya milk for the walk home.
While at the grocery store, I also noticed a drink of ‘coconut meat juice’. I’ll have to try that one soon.
Day 34 (29th of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
This morning I was greeted by the musical jingle which rings out across the campus at 8am daily to mark the beginning of classes. A young voice announces in both Chinese and English “Class has begun. Be quiet.”
My reading teacher was thoughtful in picking out a text for the class to study specifically about Sydney. It tells the story of a restaurant in Sydney (I’m not sure if this is actually true) which give discounts when no food is wasted.
Following class I visited a different cafeteria. I was caught by what I label the “deceptive tofu”. It’s a rookie error in China, but a mere Westerner like me falls for it frequently. Many a time I have ordered what looks to be a tasty plate of chicken, only to realise upon biting into it that it is in fact a dish of stinky tofu. See below.
Day 35 (30th of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
I finally got my VPN to start working with Snapchat today. It was just in time to load what I consider to be the most hideous photo to have ever made its way onto my phone’s screen. Credit to Soph for this one.
Class today was particularly content-heavy. Our three classes were focused on taxi-driver conversations, the detriments of being fat and a debate respectively. One thing which is very evident in education here is that the teachers make next to no effort to be even slightly politically correct (which in many ways, I like). After making the comment that I found Xuzhou taxi drivers’ thick accents difficult to understand, the teacher replied that their lack of verbal clarity was more as a result of their limited education and disrespect of Chinese language tradition. Furthermore, the class on fat-shaming had to have been our third or fourth one of the semester. I had noticed early on that a disproportionate amount of texts in both speaking and listening had to do with the topic of losing weight, and it hit me today that I don’t think it’s a mistake, but rather that it’s completely embedded in their culture to outright humiliate people who are overweight.
The debate was an incredibly difficult task. I find debating challenging enough in English let alone in Chinese. The topic was “That the old men should raise birds (as is a common tradition in China)”. I was on the affirmative. In Chinese school debating, the first speaker introduces points, the second speaker gives all of the substantive and the third speaker summarises. This structure is shown below.
I passionately argued my case that old men are superb bird-raisers. I couldn’t understand the adjudicator’s verdict, but I’ll assume I won.
For lunch, I finally got my hands on some genuine chicken.
Day 36 (31st of March, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
Today was the most laborious day of study I’ve had since Year 12. I’ve had to push myself to get through the next two weeks of uni work this week so that I don’t have to do any while the family is here. It’s incredibly difficult, but the beauty of it is that study has never seemed to produce as much of an immediate benefit. After studying a new word, I can use it minutes later on the street.
Times like this when I’m bogged down in Chinese study remind me of the very first time it was ever brought to my attention that this language might be something I could pursue. Our family was eating at Indian Palace in Balmain in 2007, and Dad was excitedly reading out the information notes for Riverview’s Year 5 curriculum. In it, he noted that I would be taught Chinese. I laughed at how crazy that was, and didn’t think I’d ever want to study it. I never would have thought I would be sitting in a Xuzhou dorm nine years later.
I had another interesting lunch today – cold chilli noodles. The chilli in this city is remarkably hot. It is far more of a sensation than a taste. I am growing to really love it, though. While shopping for lunch, I also came across the biggest rock candy I had ever seen. This looked like Walter White / Heisenberg-quality stuff. I couldn’t think of a practical way to eat it, so I bought it in an effort to figure it out.
The University switched on their fountains today. It was a spectacular sight at the entrance. I wish they were running more often.
I also finally decided to wash my piled up clothes today. I have been alternating between a very limited selection of outfits due to my laziness with washing, but it is something which I am determined to fix.
While removing all of my pants from the washing machine, I managed to spill a packet of stain-remover all over them. With much irony, I had stained my pants, and they needed yet another wash. I’ll do that tomorrow, though. Back in the washing pile they go.
Day 37 (1st of April, 2016) – North Korea
Yes, Papa, I know you didn’t want me to go. But I’m here. I didn’t want to tell you until I got here because I knew you’d do everything in your power to try and stop me from going, but I’m in North Korea. I promise I won’t steal any propaganda like that American student.
Today was spent in the safety of Xuzhou. During every lunch break, the University radio station blares through the tinny speakers across the school. Typically, it’s C-Pop or K-Pop songs which drone throughout the afternoon. But today, Dancing Queen came on. I was the lone Westerner grooving my way throughout the campus without a care in the world. A few onlookers thought it was hilarious.
Next Monday it’s the QingMing Festival (Tombsweeping Festival), where Chinese families pay respects to their deceased loved ones. It’s a long weekend, and so many of the international students went out to celebrate. I had dinner with two Koreans and a Moroccan. The dinner itself was superb, and the toxic fumes of soju soon filled the air (not from my seat, I’ll have you know).
I haven’t uploaded a picture of just myself in a while, so I asked my Moroccan friend to take one of me. Unfortunately, like almost everyone in Xuzhou, he interpreted this as asking for a selfie. I reluctantly obliged, and never got my photo.
Day 38 (2nd of April, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
Due to the earplugs I had in to shield me from my roommates snoring, I slept through 5 alarms this morning and was very late for teaching. “My bus crashed into a taxi and the passengers had to change buses” wouldn’t be a believable excuse anywhere except for here.
In the evening, I set off to a nearby hairdresser for a haircut. On the way, I bought a collection of street snacks for my dinner. One of them was from a new vendor who I hadn’t seen before. She was selling quail eggs on a stick. You could spice them up however you wanted afterwards. I thought the process of making them was quite interesting to watch too.
Once at the hairdresser’s, I found it very difficult to translate how I wanted my hair cut. They recommended that I find a picture of a similar hair cut so that they could emulate it. I thought through the celebrities I could google who look like me.
Of course, the one which immediately came to mind was George Clooney.
And so, I showed the hairdresser the following picture.
She didn’t seem phased at all. She must have also thought the resemblance was uncanny. Needless to say, she did a pretty good job.
Day 39 (3rd of April, 2016) – 徐州，江苏省，中国
The morning commute to the city was busy as normal. This is the University bus stop on an average morning.
To add to the chaos, the bus which I catch (the 11附) is always full when it arrives. Typically it takes some muscle to push your way onto the bus.
Today’s teaching was especially entertaining. In one of my classes, I was conducting an oral test. Each student would come to me at the front of the class and I would ask them a series of questions. Most of the questions were along the lines of “How do you feel in Summer?”, “What is your favourite animal?” or “What can you find in the kitchen?”. Even a one-worded answer following a translation in Chinese would be accepted as a pass.
A weaker student’s turn was up. I posed a question to him.
“What do you want to be when you’re older?”
Silence. I give it the standard 20-second pause while they formulate a possible answer. He looks at me for a translation.
His eyes widen, finally understanding.
“A penis. I want to be a penis.” he replies.
I take a moment to register what has just been said and burst out laughing. The whole class laughs and starts chanting “penis, penis, penis!” I desperately try to stop them – they have no idea what they’re saying.
“You want to be a what?” I enquire
“No, you definitely do not want to be that. Show me in your book what you want to be.”
He points at the ‘policeman’. I still don’t know how he got that one mixed up.
I was only just recovering from that situation when I found myself teaching another hyped up class in the afternoon. We were learning about different types of drinks: water, juice, milk and yoghurt. I would declare, “I want …”, and the students would bring the respective drink to me from the selection of props. After saying “I want water”, one of the students correctly brought me a cup of water.
The teacher’s assistant seized the opportunity to teach the students the word “drink”.
“Everyone, tell Eddy to drink the water!” she suggested.
“Drink! Drink! Drink! Drink!” everyone jeered.
I necked the ice cold water to the delight of the crowd. Never did I think I would end up sculling drinks with preschoolers in an obscure part of China like this.
I leave for Hong Kong on Wednesday. Expect the blog to break free of the normal class-dinner-work routine next week.
Until next time,