Monday, September 24, 2012

September 10-24: Classes, Meishijie, and Big News!

Wow! It certainly has been a long time since I've updated. Blame China's "Great Firewall"; my free proxy hasn't worked so I went ahead and paid for one. It's working! 

I got my first postcard today from Lily Hunt! It made my day! If you want to send me mail here's my address:

Elliot Dickerson
The Office of International Relations, North Campus, Guizhou University, Huaxi District, Guiyang City, Guizhou Province, China PR.
Postal code: 550025


I know a lot of my friends and family have been wondering how my classes are. After all it is the  reason I'm in China. I've had classes for the past 2 weeks, and I'm loving them! I'm taking 4 academic courses: 口语课 (speaking),听力课 (listening),写字课 (writing),and 综合课 (cumulative). Each week I have 20 hours of class. Each class period is two hours. We meet for the former 3 classes twice a week, and the cumulative class four times a week. In addition to these, there are some extracurricular classes: Chinese idioms, martial arts/taichi, and Chinese songs. You can choose to go to these 2 hour classes each week.  That being said, I'm in class for more hours that I was back at CofC, but I don't really mind.  In the listening class we have quizzes or tests every time we meet. I'm really thankful for that because it keeps me on my "A game". Literally. We're learning so much in /most/ of the classes.My writing class is very remedial, but I guess sometimes it's good to review the basics?

We also stay in the same classroom for almost all of our classes.
I remain with the same classmates for each class. Sasha is from Tajikistan, Longhui and Hejun are from Laos, Laura and Anna from the USA, and Mint is from Thailand. We almost always speak Chinese to each other because most of them don't have very good English skills. It's a great way to practice and we're starting to get to know each other.  (I mean, I know that Sasha likes to drink beer and he does not eat pork or beef, Longhui and Hejun are going to teach Chinese back in Laos, Anna studied at GuiDaXue last year, and Mint has a good sense of humor.) We all eat lunch together most every day during our lunch break. After lunch I usually do homework or take a xiuxi (rest/nap). The class periods each day are 8-9:50, 10:10-12 and then 2-4. Extra curriculars are from 4:30-6:30. I always find time for some badminton!... If it's not raining.

Playing badminton with my Cambodian and Chinese friends.

Meishijie- International Food Festival

Stars and Stripes
Chelsea and Matthew reppin' USA
So last Monday (September 18th) GuiDaXue hosted an ASEAN event and the third Guizhou University International Food Festival. This is a way for us to share our culture with people from different countries.  In the end, our group of about 10 Americans threw together french fries, hamburgers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fried chicken, banana bread, and flan. I know that flan is not a traditional American desert- and usually we don't serve french fries with spaghetti sauce- but we had a little help from Xiaoxiao and she insisted it be that way. Wait a minute--- who are the Americans here?!?  We were thankful for her help though because she helped us get organized and she worked her butt off in the kitchen that day. I also made a large American flag which we hung beside our booth and found some red, white, and blue balloons!

The guys from KY/TN and some locals
Chinese Tea Ceremony
The event was fantastic! I got to try food from Laos, India, Mexico, Cambodia, South Korea, and Thailand among others. Some of it was more familiar than others. (At the South Korean booth I had Korean sushi. Cambodians provided shrimp pancakes with whole baby shrimps baked into it. Even the few European students joined in on the fun. We had Belgian waffles and potato cakes from Czech Republic! While people were eating and cooking, we had ASEAN representatives tasting and asking about our countries. There were also some cultural performances, including a bluegrass jam session from Josh and Ed, Lao and Thai dances, and a Chinese tea ceremony. My classmates Longhui and Mint were in the dances from their home countries. I got a picture with Mint in her traditional Thai outfit.

Delicious Indian food
Sa-bay-dee krup from Thailand

The Big News!

I guess this is when I should mention that I have received the Confucius Institute Scholarship for the spring semester as well. Even though I was originally planning on just staying for one semester, I think it would be best for my language skills if I were to continue my studies here. So I'll see you in July, USA! Maybe I'll be home for January/February. We get winter break from January 1 until March 1. Judging how cold and rainy it is already I'm not sure I want to be here in the dead of winter.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

China International Alcoholic Beverages Expo 2012

Imagine that tomorrow as you're walking across campus or through the grocery store or down the hall at work, that everyone is staring at you. Perhaps someone runs up and asks to take a picture with you. Wherever you go, people pause their conversations briefly to examine you. It's truly an unnerving experience.

It's okay to stare at walking baijiu boxes

Laura and I with our entrance badges
So, how would you use this fascination with your appearance as an advantage, you ask? Well that's simple, you pretend to be a French guy and represent a wine company at the China International Alcoholic Beverages Expo 2012! The company needed more westerners to represent their section, so they paid for me to come and enjoy the finest wines the world has to offer, and the best baijiu (Chinese liquor) that China produces! Being one of the westerners in Guizhou has some pretty fantastic and unexpected perks! It also helped me learn how to deal with the staring that happens so frequently here.

The French Delegation

Laura and I, dressed in something between formal wear and business casual, were picked up in a Lexus SUV from the main gate of GZU early in the morning. Our driver got lost a few times on the way to the Expo, but by 9:30 we finally arrived- only to wait for the translator to come find us. Then, as it turned out the translator knew fluent French and Chinese but very little English. We managed. Laura and I were to work with these two Chinese girls (one of whom didn't look very Chinese at all; check the picture below) in the French table and just make sure our presence was noticed.  For the first half of Sunday only people with special passes were allowed into the Expo. That meant us! But since there wasn't a lot for us to do in the French area during the morning, we walked around to explore the other countries.

Italy's section looked like the Colloseum

While walking around the "countries other than China" section, we bumped into Miriam, a graduate student at GZU- originally from Mexico, who was representing the United Kingdom. She was with a few other people who were from neither the United Kingdom nor China. Our groups merged and we went to sample some of the baijiu and wine from different countries/provinces around China. Two hours later we were all feeling great. Laura and I headed back to the French section to learn more about french wine. We sat with the Vice President of a joint French-Chinese winery union and a Chinese gentleman who spoke French, Chinese and English. The two of them taught me more about wine than I had ever known in less than two hours!

Admit it, did you think Pocahontas, too?
It's such a pleasant change when you take something that feels awkward, like people staring at you, and spin it 180 degrees. At the expo our purpose was to let Chinese people see that we (as westerners) were enjoying their country, their culture, (and their baijiu). Everyone wanted to take pictures with us. At one point, a new friend, Henry, who is Nigerian, couldn't get away from a crowd who kept taking picture after picture with him. Yeah, most of these people have probably not seen very many westerners up close; so you are going to be out of the norm, and that's just it. Once you let loose and acknowledge the "elephant in the room" it make it much easier. By smiling back at someone who stares at you or even saying "hello" you break the tension and it's amazing how much better both parties feel afterwards.

The Expo was 'da bomb. (ooh, 90's slang)
Monday, September 10, we went to the opening ceremony for the International Students. The President of the University, a surprisingly funny guy, gave a delightful speech. He started by saying "Welcome to the Guiyang University family. I can speak Japanese, and some English. But it is very important for you, as a student in China, to learn Chinese language, so I will give my speech in Chinese!" His comments throughout his message were impromptu and hilarious! They ranged from reminding students to try the famous liquor from Guizhou, to telling students that if they wanted to look nicer they should wear the traditional clothes of some of the ethnic minorities because the minority girls were very pretty. After his warm welcome, we tried to understand a message on public safety and an address to graduate program students, which wasn't translated so most of us were lost. The Confucius Institute Scholars were then called up to the stage and we were presented with an award by the University President! It was cool to look back at all of the students- some of which had been at the University for almost 5 years! The room was packed with between 100 and 200 people. 

After the ceremony we met up with the other Americans to plan our dishes for the International Food Festival next Monday. This is a way that we can share American culture with the students from China and other countries around the world. We will be making PBJ sandwiches, chicken fingers, and banana bread to represent American culture. Before you say anything about hot dogs and hamburgers realize we have a budget and those ingredients are very expensive over here! In the afternoon I played badminton with some new American friends and some Chinese friends I had met on Friday.
We're surrounded on all sides by the most beautiful mountains!
Tomorrow we start classes. My Chinese speaking class is at 8 AM. I don't really know what to expect, but whatever it is, I'm psyched for it!

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Tour of 贵州大学 (Gui Zhou Da Xue)

Well, this post was going to be titled "Elliot's Guide to Chinese Dorms", but I didn't really have enough helpful tips to make an entire blog post about it. So here is a short description of my campus, called Gui Da (Guizhou University (GZU)), now that I've had the opportunity to explore it a little more. Lots of pictures!

 The main entrance to GZU is also a bus stop. This makes it very convenient to get to Guiyang. Guiyang is only a 40 minute bus ride away from Huaxi. Taxi's are also available, but the bus rate is only 2 yuan compared to 40 yuan for a taxi ride. The bus is great if you don't mind standing- with all the people here it's very unlikely to get a seat on the way into town.

Entrance to GZU

Once on the campus, you can either take a left to get to some restaurants, apartments, and shopping areas; a right to go to the banks, post office, and eventually a neighborhood; or proceed forward into the heart of campus. There is a large fountain where people do tai chi exercises in the morning and music blasts in the evening. In the evenings it is busy around this fountain, but larger group activities (dancing, vendors, and socializing) take place in Huaxi Gongyuan (the park). On Friday night I went to walk around Huaxi Gongyuan and I had such a nostalgic feeling. It was like being back in Yanqing with Lucila, Colin, and Meredith! I'm going to make an effort to return to Huaxi Gongyuan in the evenings. It's such interesting people watching! The whole town comes alive and people are just enjoying each other's company. Someone will bring a cd player and start playing some Chinese music. Within ten minutes there's a large group of people doing elaborate group dances. If I had to compare it to something in the US I would say it's similar to zumba. Maybe I should try to teach them the wobble?

 There may be a lot of trash around campus, but overall this campus is filled with tranquil and relaxing places, and beautiful statues, gardens and ponds. At anytime during daylight there are students, teachers, and locals hanging out and walking around. Music sounds between some of the class periods. Today I woke up to John Lennon's Imagine blaring over speakers at 9:50 AM. Yesterday Adele and "Call Me Maybe" were playing around 4 in the afternoon. Even though there is a fair amount of American music, I hear more Chinese folk songs in a day than I would have thought possible. Every day at noon they play more traditional music. According to my Cambodian suitemates it will get bitterly cold towards the end of October. I'll have to enjoy the outside while I can!
This office has traditional and modern architecture

One of the many ponds/fountains

It usually looks busier
Outside the Cafeteria

I mentioned the cafeteria earlier. This gigantic building is towards the back of the campus. Such greasy breakfasts! Upstairs there are a few restaurants with much better food. In the past week I've tried beef and potato noodles, hot pot, pork and asparagus-lettuce, and eggplant!

Guida New Sports Center
Behind the cafeteria is the New Sports Center. It's only open on the weekends for a short time span. I haven't heard much about it yet, but there is no gym inside and no swimming pool. There is an old sports center with tennis courts and another track- I don't really know where it is, and it doesn't seem like there are campus maps anywhere.

Here are some pictures around my dormitory.       (1)-Outside my window during the day. That's a small park. The building across the way is one of the Chinese student's dorm. On the first floor there are some stores including a small supermarket where you can buy anything from towels to sheets to snacks and drinks. It's like the CofC CVS of GZU.     (2)- Outside my window at night. This picture must have been taken before 11:30PM because at exactly 11:30 every night a trumpet sounds and the power to the Chinese girls' dorm and Chinese boys' dorm shuts off. I'm glad I'm in the International Students' dormitory because we never lose power.     (3)- This is the International Student's Dormitory. All seven floor of it with no escalator! It's actually not a bad building. On one hand we don't lose power and water at night, but on the other, we do have to be in the building by midnight. If you break curfew you have to call the security guard to come unlock the door. He's not a guy you want to frustrate.

Common Area/Kitchen Bench/Dryer
Here are a few pictures of my actual dorm room. I tried to squeeze as much of the room into the picture as possible- which wasn't really hard; it's fairly small. A bit larger than my room in Rutledge Residence Hall at CofC, but definitely lacking good storage. Our common area is pretty blank- There isn't much furniture that comes free with the common area. My roommates have made a "kitchen" by putting a rice cooker and a warming plate on our bench. The window is our clothes dryer. There are two washing machines downstairs to do laundry for the entire building. I've found that they are usually empty after 9pm, so it's not bad to have 2 washers for 42 suites.

My "walk-in closet"
What a nice area rug
The beds in China are notoriously hard, so my method of remedying this problem was to take the comforter supplied by the school and use it as a mattress pad. It's much too hot to use the comforter during the summer, but it provides enough padding to sleep better. I also bought new pillows, sheets, a rug, and a fan. I'm also using a large bucket for my laundry hamper. There's no air conditioning here, but if I open the window and the door I get a cool cross breeze. While my room lacks a kitchen, Mathew and Sara, who are living in a one bedroom apartment in the dorm, have one, so I can use it on occasion when we make group dinner. It's certainly different from living in the states, but nothing that I cannot adapt to. 

Confucius say... see you next time

Monday, September 3, 2012

Jia Le Fu, Culture Show, and Chinese Pizza: Sept 1-3

In the morning of Day 3 I got to put on new clothes for the first time since I left Charleston! I discovered one of our three cafeterias on campus and had breakfast with Marika and Laura. Most of the food was starch based; hello carb crash… which may be why so many people in China take rests throughout the day. The “uphill cafeteria” has a convenience store attached where you can buy teas, yogurts and cold drinks in addition to the stuff provided by the cooks. I think for less than a dollar for a meal I’m going to be a regular at the cafeteria. After breakfast I met another one of my suitemates, Rith, who was also from Cambodia and he speaks Chinese and English! He helped me get a new SIM card for my phone.

In the street outside of the City Mall

Laura, Marika and I decided to meet up with Mathew and Sara in Guiyang at Carrefour, a French supermarket chain. We all needed to buy some stuff for our rooms and I really wanted to go into the city to see what it was like. We got some directions from Carter (an English professor) and his wife, Xiaoxiao and then we were off on the bus to Guiyang!

We got just as many looks and people saying “wai guo ren” (foreigner) as we walked down the streets in the capital city of Guizhou province. This was a little surprising, but I guess even Guiyang does not get many tourists. The Chinese name for Carrefour is Jia le Fu (Happy Family). Located in the Guiyang City mall, we meandered through the mall before finding the supermarket. We met up with Mathew and Sara at a Dairy Queen and had lunch at a place where they grill meats and vegetables at your own table. We just pointed at a few random items on the menu and ended up with mutton, beef, potatoes, zucchini, and a pickled spicy cabbage. One thing I’m so happy for here is the food! Real Chinese food is so delicious; for those who have only had Panda Express and P. F. Changs, you don’t know what you’re missing!

Body painting in the Guiyang Mall
Later we passed by this area with photographers galore and Lady Gaga blasting over loudspeakers. Prints of photographs lined a seating area and a stage. As we slowed down to look at the body painting that was happening on the stage, I saw this lady start taking pictures of us. I smiled at her and she turned to her young daughter and pointed towards us. After a short discussion between the two of them, the mother gave the daughter half a glass of wine to chug and the girl walked towards me. “You can come into here as a special guest.” She said in fantastic English. She explained that this was a reception of some sort for a Guiyang culture and fashion show. She had won the photography contest. I was pulled into the middle of the crowd and given a glass of wine and a plate piled with all sorts of colorful sweets. I chatted with the girl, who had studied for a summer in the United States, about US and Chinese culture. She also explained that after they were done with the body painting that was happening on stage, there was going to be a party.
At the Guiyang Culture and Fashion Show
The girl’s mother wanted a picture so we went to stand near the stage, low and behold a mob of cameramen swooped down to film us! I realized that my American friends were not to be found, so after that I excused myself to continue on my journey to Jia le Fu. Apparently they were told they were not allowed in because it was only for exclusive guests. What a peculiar event on the way to a supermarket!

Shao kao dinner (Mathew, Marika, Sara)
On Sunday I reviewed vocab for the HSK test, and went out for pizza with Mathew, Sara, and Laura. All the kinds of pizza they served at this café have fruit on them, which although odd to you and me, is actually pretty tasty. The cheese is, um, bearable, but the overall effect is close enough to a pizza as we will probably get in Huaxi. We also had Shao kao, which is where each table has a grill on it and you grill your own meats, tofu, and veggies! It was pretty tasty!

Monday involved more studying, and then dinner at Carter and Xiaoxiao's apartment. Jada came by and we had a little party with Peking roast duck! Even though it’s only day 5, Mathew, Sara, Laura, Marika, and I are a pretty solid little group for now. I’ve seen other Westerners a few times but for the most part they seem to be in hiding. I know this is supposed to be an immersion program, but just like going into the ocean or the pool, I’m going to take it a step at a time. Well, at least for the first week.

Some of my spoils from Jia le fu. 3 Chinese Elementary Level Books and Mint Oreo sticks! Which would you rather have?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Welcome to Huaxi- Aug 30 to Sept 1

I'm finally getting settled in Guiyang, or actually Huaxi, a town about 30 minutes outside of the capital.  Here's an update on my first few days back in the Middle Kingdom.  It's a little long, but bear with me.  I know some people will want to hear every detail and more. *cough*Mom.

Day 1
As the plane neared the airport I was excited to see these beautiful mountains outside of the window. The scenery is fantastic!
Welcome to Guizhou Province
Once I got off the plane I met Pamela, a graduate assistant with the International Student Office at Guizhou University, and she helped me put in a lost luggage claim. Surprise! The lady at Charlotte airport lied and my bags didn't leave LA. Also on my plane was Marika, a graduate student from Milan, Italy who has studied Chinese for 5 years!

I was happy to be back in China, however the university was not what I expected. I'm pretty fortunate to go to such a nice school in the States. Guizhou University has no student center, no fitness center, and my suite is pretty devoid of furniture (Pictures in a later blog post). Part of the campus overlaps with the town of Huaxi, or maybe I just cannot really find the boundaries between the campus and Huaxi. Being one of the poorest provinces in China I guess I shouldn't have expected too much. When meeting my suitemate from Cambodia the immensity of the language barrier suddenly hit me. "He is very good at Chinese," Pamela says of my new suitemate, "but maybe his English is not great." Even after 3 years of studying Chinese I had a lot of trouble understanding him. I'm hoping that some of this lack of understanding is just the lack of practice all summer long. I unpacked the backpack that made it to China and realized how long this six months was going to be. Later that day Marika and I registered at the school and found out we will be taking the HSK test on Wednesday for placement into our language classes. I guess I'll be doing some reviewing until Wednesday. We also found out that classes here don't start until September 10th. More than enough time to get used to Guizhou Province and beat jet lag.

 I also met Mathew, a recent graduate from CofC, his wife Sara, and Eric, a guy from North Dakota, before going on a walk around Huaxi with Marika. We found a supermarket. An hour later, armed with a towel, soap, a cup, new sheets, a pillow, and a fan I headed back to the dorm, confident I could  make it to day 2!

Day 2
Tai Chi in the park

 Huaxi really starts bustling at dawn! I was awoken at 6AM by horns honking outside my window. This was followed during the next 2 hours by chatter, blasts of Chinese folk and American pop music, garage/store doors opening, the loudest birds and dogs imaginable and even the sound of someone playing a pickup game of basketball. (Maybe the next Jeremy Lin is right here in Huaxi).

Today I met up with Laura, originally from Furman University, Mathew, and Sara to take a walk through Huaxi Gongyuan (Huaxi Park). Laura has been here for a few extra days so she played the tour guide as we trekked through the city on the way to the park. Its hard to fully explain the number of people that are in China, but just imagine, it's 10:30AM on a Friday (workday) but the streets are literally packed like Black Friday! Outdoor markets are set up and food vendors are shouting prices of meats and veggies. Eventually we got to the park, paid our 6 Yuan entrance fee (less than a dollar) and explored the great outdoors!
Panoramic shot of a pond in Huaxi Gongyuan

Say Cheese! Photo opp with a Chinese family.
Huaxi Gongyuan is a maze of walking paths, gardens, stone trails into mountains, and lakes. The four of us got lost for a while and enjoyed the sights and people. A few groups of Chinese people wanted to take pictures with us, which makes sense seeing that there are probably not a lot of Western tourists to this part of China. For lunch we snacked on pickled lotus root and some spicy tofu from some vendors in the park.  No one like the tofu.  On the way back a lady tried to give Sara a rooster. Poor Sara, she was so confused and she cannot speak any Chinese!
There were so many fisherman at Huaxi Gongyuan

Day 3
My luggage arrived! Thank goodness for clean clothes and contact solution! More on the next update.