I woke up at 5am this morning to watch the USWNT in the final of the Women’s World Cup. Unfortunately, the game didn’t start until 7am – I had miscalculated the time difference (I think because the previous game was in a different time zone in Canada? Or I’m just an idiot).
I was too irritated at myself to fall back asleep, so I left the TV on CCTV5, the sports channel, and watched reruns of the 2008 Beijing Olympics (Usain Bolt winning the 4×100 relay!), an interview with a doctor about reducing oil in your diet, and a ribbon dancing exercise program.
I had committed to helping a few days at an English summer camp for rising sophomores in the school of Aerospace Engineering, working on their technical English and presentation skills. Today was the first day, and we were scheduled to talk about air pollution, so I did some reading while I waited for the game. It was pretty depressing . . . a lot of really high numbers and pictures like this, which is just about the worst thing I have ever seen. What have we done to this world?
The good news about being up so early is that the internet is fast. At Stanford, the internet is robust enough that I’ve never really sensed heavy traffic, but here at the hotel I am painfully aware of everyone’s else’s browsing/downloading habits. It’s nearly unusable in the evenings, but mornings are at least not terrible.
The game finally started at 7. At like 7:03, we got a corner kick and Carli Lloyd nailed a perfect shot into the goal, and I probably woke up my neighbors. The next goal came so quickly afterwards that I’m not really sure what happened; I was just posting something on facebook about watching the game, which I quickly changed to reference last year’s Brazil-Germany World Cup semifinal. Serious flashbacks to that day, that joy and that confusion – are they just replaying the same goals over and over, or are these happening live?
One of my EAPSI friends showed up a few minutes later, and was massively disappointed that he’d “probably missed the only two goals of the game.” Haha . . . not. The third goal was the most ridiculous, a lob from just inside center field that somehow went in. Jesse: “That’s gotta be demoralizing – I love it!”. After that, we had to wait a few boring minutes before the fourth goal. Jesse: “At least I got to see two goals. Haha, who just says that about a soccer game?!”
The worst part about miscalculating the start time of the game was not the two missing hours of sleep, it was that I had committed to being at Tsinghua at 8:30, before the end of the game. After the Japanese managed to get two past Hope, I was so annoyed at missing such an exciting game. As it was, we scored again to bring it to 5-2 as I walked out the door, and I ended up getting to see all of the goals. I was kept up to date via WeChat as I biked to Tsinghua, although nothing major happened. We won! Congratulations, team!
This English summer camp got off to a rough start, because I am an idiot. (Definitely a theme here.) I had put the location information, building and room number, into my Google calendar, as is my habit. But when I got to the building, whose name I had remembered, I had no way to look up the room number. Nothing Google syncs to my phone, I couldn’t get the VPN to connect on mobile data, I didn’t have the login information for the internet account I’m going to use for the rest of the month, and my own internet account was out of money. I was actually sitting on the steps outside the building when I learned that we won. Ugh, what an idiot.
The students all heard some opening remarks about the purpose of the camp and tips about making good presentations, I guess, and then I was able to get a hold of my contact and find my room. I’m working with a Romanian Masters student who will be there for the whole two weeks, and we have 12 students. We did introductions, asking each of them to say their name, their hometown, and what they like to do. Lots of ping pong and badminton, but my favorite was the guy who said he like to read science fiction and that his favorite book was Ender’s Game :)
We have one guy in the class who is a real character. We decided to go by English names if they have them, and this guy is named “Ancient”. In his introduction, he gestured to the two people before him and said that “unlike them, my grades are very poor.” He ended up being the most active participant in today’s group discussion, which was interesting because I don’t think his English is necessarily the best. Unlike everyone else, though, he seemed reasonably at peace with the possibility that he was going to do or say something stupid, which in my experience is one of the best things you can do when learning a language.
A few other conversational snapshots from the class:
- on the topic of air pollution, I asked if anyone had seen 穹顶之下, or “Under the Dome”, the recent documentary about air pollution in China. A few hands went up, and I asked them to tell me about it. Ancient shrugged and said simply, “It tells the truth, so it is forbidden.”
- when we were talking about biking (perhaps asking about helmet use? or green transportation? I don’t remember.), one guy started talking about a bunch of people riding bikes in Poland without clothes. This was one of those situations where what I thought I heard was so strange that I didn’t dare assume that I had heard correctly. I felt bad, because he actually spoke well enough but I asked him to clarify four or five times before repeating it back to him. Yes, something about a naked bike ride in Poland.
- I tried to introduce the concept of negawatts, which completely failed, but first took us to a discussion of watts. I kept saying the word “watt” and “kilowatt”, and my coteacher jumped in with “joules per second”, but we just got blank stares. Finally, I went up to the board and wrote “1 J/s = 1 W” and everyone immediately “aaah”ed with understanding. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we were doing a summer camp to improve their technical English speaking skills.
- They have to give presentations every other day on a science or technology topic of their choice. While brainstorming ideas for these presentations, I said that they could talk about the science in some science fiction book or movie. 三体, for instance, I suggested (this is the Chinese science fiction novel I’m reading right now), and wrote it on the board. I had told them that I speak Chinese, but maybe they didn’t expect me to be able to write, because they all flipped when I wrote those characters on the board. Never mind that 三 is literally the third easiest character to write, and 体 was among the first 100 I learned as well. I felt like the winner of America’s Got Talent or something.
When I went into work in the afternoon, I found that something must have been percolating in the back of my brain over the weekend, because a few more things made sense. Eventually I found a minus sign that I’d misplaced, and successfully derived the Euler equations that I had struggled with last week. Yay!!
I rewarded myself with a break and went up to the top of the building to take a panorama on a mild pollution day. According to different accounts, the AQI was either just above 100 (the point at which I generally wear a mask) or around 160 (on the low end of Unhealthy).
It was far from the worst I’ve seen (which is over 300) and looked only drab, instead of desolate, but it took a little bit of conscious effort to find the mountains off in the west:
which had been so clear on the horizon last week:
Over lunch, I told my coteacher that I think there’s something stifling, mentally and emotionally, about the gray Beijing sky and the way it shrinks your world down – lowers your eyes, restricts your gaze to the things near enough to be seen clearly. There’s something aspirational and inspiring about looking up to the sky, I think. Am I just being dramatic? These pictures make me think not. Today we’re missing the mountains for the smog; perhaps the forest and the trees as well. I’m sure that there are long-term physical effects from this pollution, but I think there must be psychological effects as well.
I stayed late at the office and got lunch with GuoYang and Zhao Yan. I asked them for the name of 伟花’s “zhāngfu”, a question that was met with blank stares. (Story of my day . . . ) I tried again: “zhángfu . . . zhāngfǔ . . . zhāngfù . . . “ Finally: “husband!” “Aaaaaah, zhàngfu!”, they exclaimed. Yes, that, of course that! I allowed myself to complain to them a little bit – how was I supposed to get “lùchī” out of “nùchī” but they couldn’t figure out “zhàngfu!” from “zhāngfu”?? They all agreed that it was a bit unfair, but what can I do? Tones are more important than consonants.
I think I’ve been a little heavy on the “Chinese is hard” side of things recently. I generally like to balance it out with some aspects of Chinese that are easy, so I told them that I have pity on students learning the English names for the days of the week and months of the year. Neither of them could spell February or Wednesday – such horrible words those must be to learn, although I don’t personally remember what it was like. They agreed, suggesting that English start calling months “Month Number One” and “Month Number Two” like they do in Chinese. It would be nice, but again, what can I do?