Maria Holland

China Puts the “Red” in “Red Tape”

In Uncategorized on September 7, 2009 at 10:09 am

Today begins the first full week of classes (because we’re not in America). We got the teacher to change the schedule a little bit, which is one benefit of nothing being organized here, I guess. Now I have class all morning (8-11:30) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and in the afternoons on Tuesday and Thursday (2:30 to 6). Each day consists of four classes, separated by breaks – two of them are a few minutes (enough for a smoke break for all the Koreans) and one is a half hour (enough for me to run over to the building next door and get a snack).

We started a new lesson today, learning about going to the doctor. It includes such valuable 生词 (new words) as “to have loose bowels”, “stool sample”, and “diarrhea”.

I felt like a philosophy student (i.e., Stephen) today. The teacher wasn’t feeling well (ironic after the content of our lesson) and canceled the fourth class so she could go to the doctor. Also, our 听力 (listening comprehension) teacher is in Beijing, so we don’t have class tomorrow.

I took advantage of the free time to try to get some things done in the office downstairs. I had heard, both from other offices and from other scholarship students, that this was the place to get everything done – pick up my health forms, get my student e-card, get reimbursed for my books, etc. This office, like most buildings on campus, is only open on weekdays from 9-11:30, 2-:30 to 5. Actually, to be specific, their schedule seems to be a randomly selected morning or afternoon within this range, perhaps once a week. It was open last Wednesday morning and rumors were going around that it was going to be open on the 8th (tomorrow). Maybe it will be open tomorrow also, but maybe not – I don’t trust China any further than I can throw it, and it’s a big country. So, I decided to try to get my stuff done today.

After a quick trip back to my dorm (including four flights of stairs) and about a 20 minute wait, I got to talk to somebody. He immediately started shaking his head and basically told me that it was none of his business. China is a big country, and there are a lot of people to point fingers at, so basically nothing is ever anyone’s business. It’s never anyone’s fault, and no one ever knows what’s going on because someone else is always making the decision. He helpfully gave me a phone number of someone whose business it was, but it unhelpfully was not an existing phone line. Thanks, 先生 (Mister).

I was not happy after this interaction (and I still have no idea what to do about all these yet unresolved issues!) Luckily, I had made plans to have lunch with my two Japanese friends from last week, Keiko and Lulu. We ran into Sonja, a German friend, on the way and she joined us as well. We went to Keikou’s favorite restaurant, where we had the best potato dish I’ve ever had in China. I had a really good time with them and was able to relax and enjoy myself, which I definitely needed.

This is kind of a short post so far, so I think I’m going to add some general observations from my time here in Xiamen so far.

  • I think I mentioned that I’ve been listening to Cities 97, my home radio station, online. I discovered a few days ago that the afternoon (right now) is prime listening, because it’s stupidly early/late in America. No one wants to pay for commercials at that time, which is great because I don’t want to listen to commercials. One of the simple pleasures of life on the other side of the world, I guess!
  • One thing that surprised me upon my arrival was the makeup of the international student body. First of all, there a ton of foreigners actually taking degrees from XiaDa. A lot of them can’t speak any or much Chinese, but I guess many of the technical and professional classes here are taught in English. It just seems weird to have African students (like my roommate) coming to China to study in English! Even in the Overseas Education College (the part of the university specifically for teaching Chinese to foreigners like me), the students are different than what I expected. Maybe only a third of us are current college students. Another third of so have already graduated, many with degrees in East Asian Studies, and are here to study the language more. Most of the rest of the students were sent to China by their companies to work, and they take classes on the side.
  • I eat out here every day, and for almost every meal. I have no food storage capacity in my dorm, even less than when I was a freshman at TU, so I can’t even keep the ingredients for basic meals on hand. I don’t have an e-card yet, so I can’t really eat at the student cafeteria. So basically, I go to restaurants about twice a day. This feels indescribably decadent to me, but I’m still shocked when I calculate the price of a meal out here. Most dishes are about 10 yuan – $1.50. If we go to a more expensive place, order more dishes than people, or I get a fancy drink (ice sand, milk tea, etc.) it can be 30 yuan, but this is still under $5. The variety is wonderful, and it’s a great way to explore the city.
  • On sort of the same note, I’m liking Chinese food already/still. It’s funny, because Chinese people ask if I 习惯 (am accustomed to) Chinese food yet, but the real question, at least on my previous trips to China, is: do I miss American food yet? I haven’t seen, much less used, a fork in almost two weeks now, and haven’t eaten cheese or butter in as long. This is just the truth of food in China. I heard a joke once about a guy who kept looking at a picture of his wife while he was drinking, because “when she looks good, it’s time to go home”. This is kind of how I regard McDonald’s. I remember Jesse around the 2- or 3-month mark last summer, telling me that he would eat absolutely any item at QT – even the hot dog that you know has been spinning there for 43 hours. When I feel that way about McDonald’s, I will let you know.
  • When in doubt of the correct verb to use in a Chinese phrase, opt for one of the all-purpose verbs: 上 (shàng, up), 开 (kāi, open), or 来 (lái, come). One can obviously 上 upstairs, but one could also 上 college, 上 class, 上 buses and planes, 上 the bathroom, and weather forecasts 上 the newspaper. Anyone can 开 a door, but some people can 开 a car and pilots 开 planes. Doctors 开 prescriptions and trees 开 flowers. You can definitely 来 to see me in China, and we could go to a restaurant and 来 some Chinese food, but if you can’t make it maybe sometime I’ll 来 you a phone call.

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