Saturday, July 7, 2007

Etude - 习惯 (getting used to it)

4 months later (technically 3 weeks, but considering each day's like a week) . . .

Through my window, I look over the tall trees of the university at never-ending construction in Beijing. The sky deceivingly looks to be covered by fog, but the locals are kind enough to tell the stupid foreigner that they are blanketed by polluted air. Inside my dorm, the air conditioner is always on, but outside the temperature spikes several tens of degrees, the humidity getting inside your shirt and shorts. As much as I relish the comfortable conditions of my room, my lessons demand my full attention.

The process is simple, but tedious - for every character and every new word, I write it over and over while pronouncing it correctly until I can remember it without sweating. The Chinese education system calls it 死记硬背 (rote memorization). I call it masochistic learning. After the second week, the process didn't torture as much as the first few days, but there's always that occasional character that looks ridiculously hard to remember.

With each new day, the grammar gets tougher, the characters harder to remember along with all the characters that I already had to learn. The phrase "越来越多" (more and more) is heard amid complaints from students, but this is what we signed up for. This upcoming week, we will finish one semester's worth of Chinese, and have our midterm exam. Oh joy.

Chinese food is good. Really. The only problem is, when you start to detect MSG (monosodium glutamate - makes food taste good, but gives killer headaches when too much is digested) in your food, or you wonder what your meat would taste like without all the oil, other cuisines start to look delicious. I forget what a burrito takes like. I crave bacon. A couple Chinese yogurts and stuffed buns in the morning, fried rice in the afternoon, and oil-laden meat and vegetables in the evening doesn't exactly bode well for the stomach. Thankfully, my Chinese has improved enough to request the cook to not add MSG and sparingly use oil, and I can eat without feeling too guilty after every meal.

After our midterm is our society survey week. Students will disperse throughout China and study the local culture, development, and economy. Some will go to Shanghai, some to Inner Mongolia, some to Shanxi. I will go to Shaolinsi in the Henan province to study gongfu, Eastern religions, and hopefully get a chance to talk with the locals. According to my teachers, Henan is one of the poorest regions in China, and is the home to a substantial percentage of Chinese with AIDS. It'll be nice to get out of the city.

Studying all the time sucks. I missed some instrument to relieve stress, so I went out with my friend to Xinjiekou and bought a guitar. After some bargaining, I got one for about 70 American dollars. The street was littered with every kind of instrument, from saxophones to clarinets, from trumpets to trombones, from violins to erhus. I'm tempted to buy a saxophone here - the best tenor saxophone in one of the stores is only $300. Ridiculous.

I don't think I'll ever get used to a daily routine at HBA. Everyday there's something new to take care of, whether it's buying groceries at the local supermarket or trying Chinese-made McDonald's. Not that I want a routine, of course.

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