MHC in Beijing

Mount Holyoke's intensive, eight-week course in Chinese at Beijing Language and Culture University

July 22, 2006

The long-awaited update

I'm sorry that it's taken so long for me to update. We had some technical difficulties in setting up Kaitlyn's blog and I didn't want to be hogging all the spotlight, :D !

What an eventful three weeks it's been! Three weeks? Has it really only been that long? I feel like I've been here for forever. I remember the first full day I was here I locked myself up in my room, terrified of having to go out and speak Chinese to get people to help me, because my roommate still hadn't arrived. Lol, and now I'm walking all the way to the bookstore near Wudaokou (about a 15-20 minute walk) by myself and even talked to the shopkeeper by myself! It's amazing how even a few weeks can change a person completely.

Beijing is, well, Beijing. It's smoggy, dirty, and filled with people selling stuff on the sidewalks, walking, riding their bikes, driving cars, and even the occasional donkey/horse cart or two. At this point I suppose I'm as used to it as I'll ever be, although it still can be a little overwhelming at times. The people (excluding the annoying peddlers) are nice, for the most part and very tolerant of my slow and often incorrect Mandarin. But still, I get stared at quite a bit, particularly when I'm talking to one of my classmates or my tutor in Chinese. At first it struck me as rather odd, but then I realized that it's far less strange for a Chinese person to speak English than it is for a white American to speak Chinese. I remember this one time in Hong Qiao when Megan rather loudly told Lindsey to wait for a minute in Chinese and the next thing I hear is some of the Chinese people behind us giggling and whispering among themselves "That must be here friend!" Lol, we must be very amusing to them!

Well, I suppose I should talk a little bit about our classes and what we actually do here for schoolwork before I talk about the fun stuff. Every week we have classes from Monday until Friday. Starting at 8 in the morning every Monday-Thursday we have a character quiz on the vocab we were assigned to learn the night before. After that until around 10 we have lectures given by Huang Laoshi on Grammar and go over the new vocab together to clarify the meaning of all the words. Then we usually read the text aloud once or twice, and answer the questions orally with a partner. Then after 10 we split up into two groups and have drill sessions with our two drill instructors, Xiao Wang Laoshi, and Guo Laoshi. Up until this point they've been mostly going over the same text that we went over for 2 hours before about 5 or 6 times and going over the same grammar structures we went over in the lecture, which is all about 10 or so times as boring and unuseful as it sounds. Fortunately though, a few of us went to Wang Laoshi (who is the Mt. Holyoke professor in charge of the program) and talked with her about our concerns. Hopefully next week everything will change and we'll get to do some fun things like read books, watch TV shows, and play games. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

After class we have an hour and a half lunch break, after which we either have (depending on the day) tutoring sessions with our tutor or Culture Classes, both of which are fun for the most part. All of our tutors are nice and are also very patient with us and our inability to speak Chinese even proficiently, and the Culture Classes are a lot of fun. Last week we had Tai Chi classes, and the week before we had calligraphy classes! After we're done with the afternoon activities we're done for the day, and I usually either go back to the dorm and fiddle on the internet or do my homework. We usually go out to dinner, but sometimes we stay in and eat peanut butter and jelly or Ramen noodles, mmmmmmmmm!

Speaking of food, the food here is very good, and remarkably cheap! At most of the restaurants its customary here to get several dishes and share them, so most meals usually cost between 10 and 15 yuan, which is between $1-$2. It's amazing how even students can go out to eat all the time and not go bankrupt! You could never do that in America! I'm actually going to miss it once I go back and have to pay between $15-$20 a meal, lol!

Writing those last few sentences made me think of my Chinese abilities, and how they've improved. I actually nearly wrote "Meiguo" instead of America, because my brain's very confused by all this Chinese and I have actually started thinking in "Chinglish," as we call it. While I feel that my understanding of Chinese grammar has not really improved as much as I would like it to have, my vocabulary, listening comprehension, and even my reading comprehension have improved in great leaps and bounds. My speaking, on the other hand, is still a little bit on the slow and hesitant side, but hopefully that will catch up with everything else soon! Still, even though I recongnize my general improvement, there still are good and bad days for me. Some days I feel like I can understand everything that's going on around me and have both answered and asked questions both intelligently and grammatically correct. Then other days I feel like I can't understand a word of what people are saying and can barely speak two words in Chinese. Hopefully this will pass with time and I can have far more up days than down days. It's probably just a phase.

Well, I should probably get back to work. I had planned on reading my Schaum's Book of Chinese Grammar today and finish my letter to my German penpal, so I really should get back to work! Until next time!