Sunday, July 01, 2012

Essays in Chinese

I realized that in my last post I neglected to mention why I have been so extremely busy. It turns out that if you tell the teachers here that your class is too easy and you don't have enough homework, they devise fiendish types of homework for you to do. In this case, I got assigned an extra textbook and told to write an essay every day. There is no length requirement--"just write as much as you can"--but of course at first I wrote tremendously much. I have been coming close to a thousand characters per day. My goal for this week is to scale that back a bit. Less is more, right?

Cafe Zabu
On Monday, to my great annoyance, my internet was down. Actually it started Sunday night. When by Monday night it still wasn't back, I texted the landlord. He is such a nice guy! And so... Asian. He immediately started to fuss and worry, started doing all sorts of experiments on my computer, went and reset the router, called his computer expert, all as if it were his own problem rather than mine. This was all at like eight or nine at night. It turned out maybe something had to be replaced in the massive tangle of router stuff. He was profusely apologetic but said he'd have it fixed by later that night. I needed the internet to do my homework (online dictionaries--clearly my Achilles heel), so I went to Cafe Zabu. I had never been there before, but it is pretty near where I live. It's a place with so much character it's almost too much character. But it did have wireless. The password was written in magic marker on the wall, if that gives you any indication of the character of the place!

Ochazuke at Cafe Zabu
There were many framed pictures of cows on the wall, but the overall cultural orientation of the place was Japanese. So, since I hadn't had dinner, I had ochazuke. That's the Japanese take on bebimbap. Instead of broth, you pour a pot of green tea over your rice and other ingredients, then mix up. It was good, although not very filling. I had read about it in a book and attempted to make it on my own many times. However, it was interesting to finally get to order it in a restaurant so I could see how it was supposed to taste like. (Two of my three textbooks are in the background of this photo.)

Tuesday I had lunch with one of my fellow students, K. He has been here for a whole semester already, and is very outgoing and energetic. We had chewy scallion breads and he told me harrowing stories about his adventures. It's fun hanging out with advanced students because they keep to the language pledge even over lunch off campus. So here we were, two Americans walking down the street chattering in Chinese. I guess people around our language school are used to such things.

Cafeteria lunch, includes some blood tofu (upper right)
On Wednesday I ended up having lunch in the cafeteria again. It is really a great cafeteria, maybe with less variety than the Beida cafeteria, but all the variety there is you can have all at once because it is buffet style--rather than having to try to figure out the names of the dishes and order them. Here was my Wednesday lunch.

In the afternoon, I went to the National Library to hear my grad school classmate JC give a talk. I was very worn out from all my essay-writing, so it was a little hard to follow at first. But I got into it. I hadn't realized that the soul-summoning ritual had such a long history after the famous instance of it in the Songs of the South. They used it often when a person's body was unavailable for burial, which seems quite practical if you believe that there are souls that perhaps wander around and can respond to your rituals. The interesting question is what exactly was it they thought they were summoning. Ancient Chinese beliefs about souls are various and difficult to pin down.

The National Library
On Wednesday night, I got the best compliment ever for a Chinese language learner. There was this girl in the square by my house. She was awkwardly attempting to communicate with me via pantomime and I answered in Chinese. She did a startled little jump and said, 哦! 我以為你是外國人! (Oh! I thought you were a foreigner!) It was really marvelous.

On Thursday I ended up writing an essay on gender (in)equality, which I got way too involved in. It's a very standard topic for Chinese language study, but I happened to also have been sent this article ("Why Women Still Can't Have It All"), which has apparently occasioned some debate back home. So I thought I would talk about the problem of family and career considerations using some of the terms she introduces, but also from the perspective of me and my grad school classmates. Of course I ended up getting way too involved in my little writing project, but it was fun to stretch my Chinese that hard.

Balancing Family (on a Motorcycle)
Speaking of balancing family, I saw this well-laden motorcycle on the way home from school. You might have to click on the picture to see it clearly, but I believe there are like, three kids on that motorcycle. It reminds me of a story dad used to tell about his grad school days... The other day I saw I think a different family, five people to a motorcycle, including dad, one kid in front and one kid in back, mom behind the kid in back with an even smaller kid in a front pack. And the motorcycle was moving. I was in awe.

By Friday I was so exhausted I basically just came home from school and passed out. What a week! This week it is my goal to manage my time better and post a little more regularly. For now, though, I have to sign off and go get ready for class. I leave you with a picture of an awesome little guy I saw on the campus. Just like me--very hungry caterpillar--but I am eating up all the Chinese language skills.
Golden Caterpillar

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