I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop on campus drinking an Americano, a 大 (big) one, so get ready to watch my writing get increasingly caffeinated. I just finished my first class (Chinese speaking), and that’s my only class today. I have some reading for my developmental psychology class tomorrow. I just managed to get the textbook yesterday… Since copyright isn’t really a thing here, someone in the class dropped off the textbook at a copy shop, and I just picked up my copy of the book instead of buying it new/used. The guy at the copy shop literally copies it on a Xerox machine page by page. Much cheaper than buying books in the US.
The psychology class will be interesting… I’m one of two foreigners in it (the other is Korean), but it’s taught by an American professor (from Chicago!). There are such huge cultural differences between child rearing practices here and at home. Last week during class, we broke into small groups and two or three of the girls in my group had been sent to boarding school as children at age 3 and saw their parents only on weekends. This was so their parents would have more time to work. It was interesting to hear the two girls’ different reactions to this… one of them said that it made her less dependent on home, while the other said the experience made her want to spend more time with her parents now that she was older. It’s also very common to live with relatives, and to have grandparents assume that they will have child rearing duties to allow the parents more time to work. Definitely interesting to hear different perspectives.
Meanwhile, my Chinese philosophy class is blowing my mind. We started with discussing the question “When you teach a child the word ‘pumpkin,’ what are you actually teaching him/her?” And how we all must take moral responsibility for the initiation of others into the network of information of what it means to have/eat/see/be a “pumpkin.” Ummmmm what? I have a feeling that this class is going to prompt one heck of a existential crisis. Next we start Confucius, so I’ll be sure to pass on any worldly truths I acquire.
I finally bought myself a tea water bottle (and some loose tea… no idea what kind, but it’s good!). Everyone has them here so it makes me feel very official. Oh, and I bought a bike last week! I ended up buying new, because I had trouble finding a used one that wasn’t, well, very heavily used. I named it Gertrude. So far, I’m the only person in my program with one, and I’m completely terrified to ride it on the streets, so Gertrude stays parked in a bike garage, except when I need to get across campus in the 10 minutes between classes.
Also, yesterday I (sort of) learned how to ride with someone on the back of my bike. So many students just hop on the back seats of their friends’ bikes and it looks really effortless. In practice, not so much. If you swerve even a little, that person’s weight exaggerates the swerve, which is a pretty vicious cycle. The person on the back has to seriously counterbalance. My friend and I made it pretty far until we both fell off in the middle of the sidewalk. We were sitting on the ground laughing and everyone was looking at us with a mixture of amusement and disdain.
That actually describes how almost everyone looks at us here. Most people aren’t actively mean at all, but there’s definitely a look that makes me feel really inept. I’ve gotten to the point with my comprehension that I can understand the first few words of what people say… For example: “Yesterday, I SOMETHINGSOMETHINGSOMETHING,” or “Make sure you dont BLAHBLAHBLAHLBLAH.” You’ll note the key part of those sentences are omitted… problematic. But it’s a start at least! Sometimes, I can understand what someone says after about 3-5 minutes of processing (usually much too late). If someone translates, I can usually replay the Chinese in my head to understand it once I know the English, which again, is only sort of helpful.
At the grocery store the other day, one of our friends was trying to buy milk. One of us knew the character for milk, and found a bottle that said something milk, so they bought it. Turns out that character before the word “milk,” the one word she didn’t know, meant “sour,” so she ended up with sour milk. Ooops.
I’ve been trying to be better about buying groceries instead of eating out. I bought some red bean rolls for breakfast, and a lot of ramen (IT’S SO GOOD HERE) for dinner, plus some fruit and (what I’m pretty sure is) yogurt. We went to Walmart on Sunday and I wish I had brought my camera because it was weirdly similar to the one in the states, yet completely opposite at the same time. Some household items were cheaper than our local store, but groceries were generally about the same price.
I’ve been struggling with the air a little bit here. I follow an account on Twitter that monitors the air quality, but it’s not really helpful because it usually said “unhealthy at 24 hours of exposure” and what am I going to do, hold my breath? I have a tiny bit of a cold now, but I think it’s mostly just my body reacting to the pollution and cigarette smoke, because I don’t feel very sick at all. In general, I’ve sort of adopted this attitude to pollution:
This weekend we’re planning to do some serious exploring of Beijing, so I should have some more pictures to post soon.