Sunday, June 24, 2007

Song Number 2: "Wo bu neng shuo Yingwen"

Feng Laoshi told us that in one day we will study one week's worth of Chinese. He forgot to tell us that each day will also feel like one week.

At Beijing Language and Culture University (Beiyu) tall trees and bamboos are everywhere, with scatterings of raw stone tables and boulder chairs. Students from all over the world make the campus a global microcosm. One ear picks up West African French, the other Korean, blurred by Chinese dialect. I haven't found the mass of homogeneous black hair that I expected. Students sport the latest hairstyles, complete with red streaks, brown highlights, and perfectly uneven lengths. I feel somewhat at home, surrounded by fellow students and friends.

Outside the University, the scenery is different. Taxis and local buses crowd the streets, driving in lanes, on lanes, between lanes, whatever is necessary to go forward. American traffic control would probably have run of ticket paper by standing just at one intersection. The ever busy Chinese start their days early with sun, which brightens Beijing through the omnipresent gray clouds as early as five o'clock in the morning. A ten minute walk toward the Wudaokou train station already shows early-bird street sellers and buyers, bargaining for fruit, underwear, toys, books - five more minutes of strolling reveals Korean restaurants, karaoke bars, and Pizza Hut. The intersections are always busy, a crossroads for bikers, wagoners, walkers, drivers, and the occasional mule.

Before the first day, Feng laoshi, the program director, has the students sign the Language Pledge, or as we are now limited to calling it, "Yu yan shi yue." Chinese is our language. We know nothing but Chinese. We talk in Chinese. We listen to friends using Chinese. For the next 8-9 weeks, we know nothing but Chinese. English is nonexistent, except when we write emails, talk to our parents, and are in life and death situations. When talked to in English, we respond, "Wo bu neng shuo Yingwen" (I can't speak English). Chinese is our language.

The school day is busy, starting at 8 o'clock. For me, it starts at 6 AM. Despite setting the alarm clock to 7 AM, Beijing sun brightens the room and spikes my biological clock. After quickly getting ready, I sit down at my desk and quickly write down the characters I will be tested on for that day. Immediately after, I'm out of the dorms on the way to the classroom building. On the way, I'll pick up a couple baozi (steamed meat-stuffed buns) for breakfast. From 8 to 9:15 is DaBanKe (Big Class), where we are lectured on that day's lecture. Following DaBanKe are one Reading Class and two XiaoBanKe (Little Classes), where we are drilled on our understanding of the grammar and pronouciation of the text. Then, lunchtime. Finally, there is my favorite class, DanBanKe. During DanBanKe, students engage in one on one conversations with the teachers, the teacher giving out the frequent corrections to our sentences as we struggle to express thoughts with limited vocabulary. My conversations have ranged from love and women's rights to Chinese politics and linguistics. At 2:20PM, I return back to the dorms and unwind, relaxing by working out or browsing the extracurricular activities provided by Harvard, from wushu to Chinese cooking to calligraphy. However, relaxing doesn't last long. I'm back in my dorm, sitting at my desk, doing homework and memorizing new characters. In the past week, each day has averaged about 80 words a day. By midnight, I try to sleep, lest a character still hasn't stuck in my head, or I just have a big enough headache.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. On Thursday, I furiously review all the vocabulary and grammar in preparation for Friday's kaoshi (exam). Following the written exam, I must recite the essay I finished writing on Thursday, memorized. At last, the weekend has started. I am in safe haven.

But then there's laundry.

edit - Complaints of no photos coming in. Technical difficulties have been overcome as of Sunday, June 24, 2007. Please stay tuned for pictures of HBA life, shopping in Beijing, the Forbidden City, and Beijing Opera.

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Mentor said...

you forgot some main parts
1. ladies
2. ladies
3. parties

have fun with your essays, go on aim sometime if you can

Viola said...

The language pledge is intense. wow. No, wait, I take that back... your entire daily routine is pretty intense. I'm sure you're enjoying yourself while absorbing all the different aspects of Chinese culture.

I'm looking forward to seeing pictures.

p.s. 5 am is too early for it to be bright outside! >.<

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