I had my first oral Chinese class this morning. I really like my teacher, Yang laoshi, so far. She laughs a lot and seems very friendly. She told us a riddle today: “It has hair above and below, and a grape in between”. Only we didn’t know it was a riddle, so I just thought it was a really gross Chinese food – a hairy grape.
After class, I went to run some errands – I bought the wrong books yesterday and I needed to get the correct ones. My exploration these past few days paid off, because when someone told me about the book store across the street from the Pizza Hut, I knew exactly what they were talking about. I ate lunch at a new restaurant on that street that I’ve been exploring. I think what I ate was called a toufan – it’s like a burrito, only the outside consists of sticky rice. Inside, there was beef, some crunchy stuff (I probably don’t want to know) and some seasoning. It was pretty good, perfectly sized for one person, and only 6 kuai (less than a dollar).
I also bought a sun umbrella from a street vendor today, so I’m basically Chinese now. Here in China (not so much in the northeast, but definitely here in Xiamen), women use umbrellas all the time, to shield their faces and bodies from the sun. They do it out of concern for their skin, which they want to remain as light as possible, but I think it makes me feel a little bit cooler. Anyway, the umbrella that I bought can be used in the rain or sun. I’m not sure how any umbrella could fail to be suitable for both purposes if it worked for one, but the saleslady mentioned it as a special sales point.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my lunch hour is awkwardly long – 5 hours! After my errands, I finished going through the 1st-year books and recording new vocabulary. They learn a lot of fruit in these books, which I think will be very handy when ordering juice and desserts :) I also got to talk to Louise, a good friend from high school, on Skype for the first time!
At 4:30, i had my first listening class. We’re in a surprisingly high-tech room with some sort of playback machine and headphones, but the most uncomfortable (很不舒服!) stools ever. It’s also not a good time to have class; I was really tired. I do like the teacher, Ma laoshi, but I think we only have her for two weeks – if I understood correctly (which I may not have!). During class we basically have a listening exercise and then go over it. Listening here is way more intense than at home, where it consisted of hearing a dialogue spoken slowly twice, and then answering questions in English. Here, we only get to hear each sentence once, the questions are also spoken, and everything (including questions and answers) is in Chinese. I think it will be much better for my 听力 (listening comprehension) though.
It was an absolutely gorgeous evening when I got out of class at 6. I couldn’t stand to go inside, so I set out for the area outside of West Gate again (where I have been exploring these past few days). Just after leaving the gate, I came upon a foreigner friend, Peter. He’s probably 50 or 60 and from Australia, and he always seems to be surrounded by beautiful young Asian women. I’m jealous because he has so many Chinese friends even though he knows almost NO Chinese! Anyway, I asked to join them and we all went to dinner.
The food was great – I had xiao bai cai, Chinese cabbage, for maybe the first time, as well as the best tomato-and-egg dish I’ve had since coming to China. The conversation was really interesting, as we had Peter, who spoke only English; me, with my English and little bit of Chinese; Vina from Indonesia, who speaks English and very good Chinese; Lulu, who is Chinese but from Japan, who speaks both of those languages but almost no English; and Keikou from Japan, who speaks Japanese fluently and pretty good Chinese and English. Pretty much, someone was always left out.
After dinner, I went up to Vina’s apartment with the girls. It was really fun, just like hanging out with girl friends anywhere – except, of course, that the conversation was almost entirely in Chinese. With the help of context and hand gestures, I understood most of what was said, or at least got the gist of it. Every now and then, they would use English words and I would understand it all, and then there were times when Lulu and Keikou would speak in Japanese and my comprehension would go down to zero for a second.
Anyone have a punchline for my joke? So an American, Australian, Indonesian, Japanese, and Chinese go to dinner . . .