Of school, school, and….whoops, lookie there, more school

Dear Readers, (sun, 6-22-08)

This was my first normal week, owing to the fact that last week’s schedule was put a bit off by having orientation on Monday instead of class. And I must say I am quite pleased with the schedule. As I believe I have already said, we have no class on Friday, it is a culture day. So, good old Monday through Wednesday was pretty uniform: class for four hours, go back to dorm and finish paper, go back to class and have it corrected, then free time the rest of the evening (we write three short papers a week and then have them corrected by our tutors). Thursday we had our normal morning class, then regrouped at 2:30 to visit a local middle school.

Alright, no one should ever, ever complain to me again about school, including myself complaining to other people, ever again. Do you realize that the average Chinese child does school six days a week from 7:30am – 5pm? And they do this until their senior year in highschool, at the end of which is the “gao kao”, the college entrance exam. They spend the WHOLE YEAR preparing for this. This one test more or less determines the rest of their lives. Those that get a high enough grade (which is very hard) get accepted into a college. Those who do not get a high enough grade can not go to college, and usually whatever their parents are, that is what they will be too (farmer, builder, laborer, tradesman, etc.). We have no idea how easy we have it in America. Even if someone doesn’t do swell on their ACT or SAT, or doesn’t get stellar grades in highscool still has a very good chance of getting into college. We only have to do school five days a week, and compare 8:30 – 3 with 7:30- 5. The main reason, of course, that the Chinese school system is set up this way is because of competition. China has X amount of people wanting to go to college, and Y amount of slots available. Unfortunately, X vastly outnumbers Y. In America there is room in college for anyone with a decent head on their shoulders. So, take note, and never complain about school.

So more about the middle school. First we had a brief introduction to the school. It is the first state run school ever to change it’s management system. It is overseen by the state, but the teachers are the ones who manage it and decide on the curriculum and teaching methods. It is, apparently, very successful. After the introduction, we sat in on a class (the subject was “traditions of China” and several student’s gave presentations), and then a group of Mississippi Students went up and gave a short english “class”. I was not informed that there would be any opportunity to do some english teaching, or I would most certainly have volunteered. It was extremely entertaining to watch a girl with a southern accent teach Chinese children english. At the end, she finally explained what “y’all” meant, after prompting from one of us Americans, and the Chinese students collectively said “oohhhh” (thinking “oohh, so that’s what it means”). Very amusing.

After that we separated into smaller groups and each American went to a different classroom to spend about 20 minutes talking with some Chinese students. I got an eager group of about 12 girls around me, probably between 14 and 15 years old. I told them about myself in Chinese and we more or less just chatted about American and Chinese things for a while. They were very interested in my drawings (I happened to have my sketch book with me), and I got the impression that they had never seen celtic knots before (my favorite thing to draw nowadays).

Friday we were free to do as we liked, except that we had to spend at least one hour with our Chinese tutor. I originally was just going to get together with her and chat for an hour. However, that morning I called her to ask where a good Chinese market could be found (I wanted to go shopping), and she decided she should take me. She insisted that I would surly get lost, and saying that this could be our activity together. Well, I would say she was correct in thinking I would have gotten lost without her. Street signs and the bus system is not quite as clear cut here in China as they are in America, and of course everything is in Chinese. Not that the Chinese was that much of a problem, but it made something that would have been second nature in America, something of a chore in China.

The market was AMAZING and soo much fun. Before we even got to the market I noticed a little jewelry store and stopped there first, making a few purchases. In the market there was a lot of stuff, and a lot of the same kinds of stuff. It sort of reminded me of Mexico, but a little bit cleaner, nicer, and higher class. There were loads of watches, shells, jewelry and jade (fake and real). I bought quite a few things, for me and for others. I got myself some jewelry and a compass. I find that I can function so much better when I know where I am, and being new to the city, I need to do a lot of moving around in places that I am not familiar with. So I got this little compass that can clip onto my belt loop. Of course I bought a map the first night I was in Qingdao, so I’ve already got that covered. I think I am a very directional and spacial person, if that is the right adjective. I just do better when I know where I am and it helps to figure that out if you know where north is. After we had shopped for a few hours, we went out to eat. Supper was a big bowl of noodle soup with some meat in it. I also had a coke and you have no idea how good it was to taste that. Despite the fact that I normally despise soft drinks, just the taste of something so American, something so close to home, made it wonderful. Not that I don’t like the food here, it is just all so different, and no one can help missing their native land or the things they grew up with and are used to.

On Saturday I spent most of the day doing homework and reading (I borrowed a very nice scifi book from a classmate). Around four, however, I flagged down a taxi and had it take me to the Qingdao east municipal hospital. I was going there to meet my friend, Hongmei, who is a respiratory doctor in that hospital. She got off of work at five, and was then going to drive me to her house to have dinner. I had a lovely dinner with her, her husband, her son, and his cousin who was there for a visit. Afterwards they took me to “little Qingdao” a small island off the coast that used to be a small naval outpost. It was very pretty, and I got to see several old battle ships and a submarine moored in the bay, rusting away their life as they sat out as curiosities to look at. I really wished I could have toured THEM, but of course they were not open to the public, for obvious reasons.

Lastly, we walked along the wooden pathway, whose name I have forgotten, that follows the Qingdao shoreline for most of its length. We only walked a little ways, finally stopping to get some ice-cream for her son and niece (the son was incessantly chanting “I want ice cream”, though not directly asking his mother for it). They dropped me back off at my dorm before 9, since I had a test the next morning. Hongmei and her family are truly wonderful and generous people. I am so thankful that the Lord led me to meet Hongmei and I hope there is some way I can repay them in kind for all that they have done for me.

Sunday morning, to my great displeasure, I took my real HSK test (the chinese proficiency test). I am just glad I won’t have to take it any more. I don’t feel like I did any better or worse on this one than the other two practice ones. Indeed, I feel like the whole thing is so above my level that I didn’t to much more than guess on every question. Sometimes it was an educated guess, but other times I just randomly picked a letter. The main reason for this, I think, is my sorry reading ability. There are so many characters I don’t know that it is hard to understand the meaning of something that you can’t read, or to answer a question when you don’t even know what the question is. I am not discouraged by this, however. It is done a good job of reminding me that I have very far to go and must work hard to get there. It is a nice challenge and I do enjoy challenges.

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